Into the Scary Corner, We go!
and we lived to tell the story!
Today is a warm late spring day with gusty winds and dark thunder clouds in the not too distant horizon! The horses feel good with bellies full of green grass and the last remnants of their winter coats on my barn aisle floor. The mares are cycling and my neighbor’s stud colt calls and flirts with my mares across the tree line! It is the kind of day where trees are swaying and leaves are getting kicked up into mini tornados across our property. Our little corner of the world is bustling with activity as everyone tries to get work done before the rain. Our Amish neighbor’s woodworking business across the road is sending clanking mechanical noises on the wind to our riding arena and paddock. The corner neighbor is ‘under construction’ with hammering and saws working away. On our other side, the neighbor’s farm has a steady stream of traffic up and down our shared lane as his bee supply business hits high gear with the arrival of a new shipment of queen bees in what will be their busiest week of the season! Yes, it is active and noisy and just a teeny bit unnerving for my hormonal mare.
This is just my second ride of the season, after the winter off. She is still in ‘refresher’ mode. And I am in ‘finding my seat again’ mode since I too have had the winter off from riding. It always feels a bit like starting over at square one on these early spring days but I know, if we keep at it, the cobwebs will clear and my mare will remember and I will have my seat back. But first, we have to get these first rides of spring over with.
I could just not ride today because of the wind, the noise, the commotion…. but I have been waiting for what feels like forever for the weather to improve and to get back into the saddle! No, I am not going to waste this dry, warm day because tonight and tomorrow they are calling for rain and my arena just now got nice and dry!
Backlit Horses in early spring.
I typically start off these first spring rides in the arena even though my favorite riding is on the trail. My mare is still green enough I need to ease her back into riding away from the barn. Plus, it helps ME get back into condition too.
So we ride in the arena for starters. I usually expand the area into my larger paddock and them up and down the lane, then to the trotting track around the perimeter of the property… and then, finally, off on trails. I do this for my horse…and probably more so for me but it keeps us both from being overwhelmed and I feel it helps my horse feel confidence in me– that I would push her into too much that she isn’t ready for. I make it my goal for my horse to enjoy our rides as much as I do. So to do that, I have vowed to not get into fights with my horse- no bullying or manhandling or intimidating (not my style at all!!) …but to keep pushing the boundaries of our respective comfort zones in ways that build respect and confidence but not overwhelm. But enough of my horse philosophy… and on to our ride!!
My mare is feeling energetic and a bit anxious realizing her winter break has ended and trying to acclimate to the bustle and wind. I get a reaction, not quite a spook, but a tensing, in the scary corner. I know every arena has one corner in which the horses think the bogeyman lives!! My bogeyman corner is the one closest to the woodworking building.
My mare, a grey TW.
I remember a trick a friend shared with me on a way to handle this avoidance of a corner of the arena. He suggested I work, ride etc. everywhere but that spot, and then when we get to that corner...we rest! I stop my mare as her nose points in the corner and give her a loose rein. And I wait. I make sure to relax MY body, breathe and sit deep, center myself… and wait to see signs of relaxation in my mare.
Sometimes, I’ll get a big exhale and a noticeably dropped head. Other times, it may only be a flicker of her ear, a blinking of her eyes, or a barely detectable millimeter drop of her head. Depending on how tense she was or what I am asking her to do, I accept that as enough… enough to pat her neck, reach up and rub her head… and walk off out of the scary corner. I do that until the corner is no longer scary. It works like magic. And I love it because it gives her the ‘release’ that horses seek and builds her trust in me and I in her and trains ME to be preceptive of HER and what she is telling me.
More spring flowers. Photography by Sue Steiner.
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