Changing Horses: Who’s in There?

“Changing horses is my opportunity to figure out who’s in there – inside the horse – and me.” Ever working to learn more, Candace Wade discusses what it means to change horses.

Amber, my schooling horse, is a Tesla. I just stay out of her way. She does it all while I hum to myself and muse what an accomplished rider I am. The new horse, Willow, is a five-speed Alfa Romeo Giulia. Ego crush. Frustration. A lovely, kind horse that needs my help. Needs me to know what I thought I did know. Unless we throw ourselves on their funeral pyre or are content languishing by the pasture of our favorite horse when she retires, we will be astride a horse that’s new to us.

A wave of success on Willow. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

I was bursting with confidence after I managed to wiggle the bit into Willow’s clamped lips. Off we went into the arena to go for a spin. “Stay out of her mouth. Willow hates to be manhandled by the bit,” I was counseled. I have soft hands (one of my good qualities – ah, seems one of my few). Willow is a bit-fusser and head-tosser. “Hey, chick, the reins are almost loopy, what the heck?” Seems I needed to truly perfect the give and take with my hands that I thought I had mastered.

Willow will wander around the area, cutting corners, drifty hither thither while I work on my hands and using my leg aids at the appropriate time. “If I point you to the fence, Willow, you are to go there and not arc away. I’m the boss!” Now I’m sweating.

Photo courtesy of Candace Wade

At a trot, if I lean a millimeter forward, Willow speeds up and doesn’t seem to want to slow down. I’m well into my 60s with two hip replacements. I don’t want to speed into the curve in third and accelerate out in fourth. I want my brakes to work. Seems I wasn’t sitting back enough on my seat bones, tended to lean forward a bit when nervous, and was bumping with my leg to gear up rather than using pressure and releasing and being patient about it. I was impatient and not mastering the seat and cues I thought I had nailed. My confidence and ego were deflated. Just hanging with Amber in the field held growing appeal.

I looked into Willow’s lovely eye. Who’s in there? What does she need? What kind of rider is she used to? What do I need to do – how do I need to ride — to help her help me? I don’t trust her, but then, she doesn’t trust me, either.

Who’s in there? Photo by Candace Wade.

Deciding that I do want to continue to learn and to ride, I needed to:

  • Review my sloppy habits
  • Hone the skills I know, but may not truly use
  • Be patient with Willow
  • Be patient with me
  • Take the progress in small bites
  • Be nice until it’s time to not be nice (quote from Road House movie)
  • If Willow is fussy, why? (I learned that her glacial pace down a grade is because she hates pea gravel. She wants to walk on grass. Not much to ask.)
  • Willow doesn’t know all that Amber knows. I don’t know all that Amber knows!
  • Imagine success
  • Breathe

Note: Before Willow, I tried Camo. Camo is a bit nervous. She shied at the UPS truck. I almost came off. When we walked past her field, her pasture mates snorted, cantered, and dogged us. Camo dropped into, “What’s that?! Why are they running?! I should run too!” She also blows through turns. What I learned from her:

  1. My right leg is a bit shorter. Drop into that leg (and give myself a point for being solid enough that I didn’t get tossed off when she shied).
  2. Don’t curl into a fear ball when stressed.
  3. Catch her drift before she commits to blowing through and pull all my cues/aids together.

Willow is an easier step after Amber that can lead me to success with Camo. Small steps.

Changing horses is my opportunity to figure out who’s in there – inside the horse – and me. I still like to pull Ambs for a stroll – a bath – and a cuddle. I won’t abandon her now that we are both old mares.

Candace and Amber. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.