This weekend was what I consider ideal riding weather. A cool nip in the air but no wind, the sun out to warm things up and the ground dry and friendly.
On Saturday Annie was so nervous I couldn't get on her. On Sunday she was wonderful and we had a nice long ride.
What was the difference? Who knows. All I know is that before I saddle up I usually walk Annie about to gauge her mood. If she spooks more than three times in ten minutes, guess what? No way I'm getting on her.
All great horsemen say the same thing. You know your horse. If you feel today isn't a good day to ride, then don't. Be safe and reasonable. Your horse has moods just like humans, good days and bad. Unless you are an idiot, you don't push your horse if they are having an 'off' day.
On Saturday when we took our walkabout Annie's head was high with her ears pricked, quickly looking this way and that. Horses are often photographed in this posture because it looks so pretty but it's not what you want or I should say, what I want, before getting on. What I look for is what the horses in the photo look like. Heads down, not lazy down, just relaxed. Ears floppy, eyes soft. These horses are taking it easy, just as their riders in the unfortunate jackets. Taking it easy yet ready to get to work when asked.
Annie often starts out a little tense and then settles down. I talk to her quietly walking a little ahead of her, stopping once in a while to pat her gently to help her relax.
She jumped when the boys in the gelding paddock tore around at a gallop showing off. That was one.
We walked on. Same routine, me chatting about the glorious day or humming a tune.
When I stroked her neck, the muscles were tense. She didn't lower her head or relax her ears. Her tail switched. She was acting agitated. Then a bobcat machine used on farm roared to life. She leaped and spun. That was two.
I took a deep breath trying to model a relaxed attitude for her. That may be nuts but it's the psychologist and mom in me.
We walked into the hunt ring where I was still hoping to get on. She was just beginning to show signs of settling down, lowering her head, letting her ears flop a little, licking her lips – when a huge construction truck rumbled by!
On a normal day it wouldn't have phased her. That truck would have been business as usual. But no, in the anxious mood she was in, that truck was Godzilla, King Kong and the Kracken all rolled into one! She not only leaped and spun, she did it with such force she almost knocked me down. That was three.
I sighed and gave up the idea of riding for the day. We walked around some more. At least I got some exercise even if it wasn't in the saddle. Putting her back in her stall in such a high state of anxiety was not what I wanted to do.
We all have our moods. Just the day before when my husband reacted to something I said in a way I wasn't expecting, I was angry at him for hours. Hours!!! That isn't like me but I couldn't shake it off. Before something really stupid became a shameless argument, I told him I was being unreasonable, that it was best if I just went to bed. It was 8:30 but I was exhausted. After sleeping it off, the next day I was back to 'normal'. Here's a tip: If you have an irritable day, before you snap at someone, ask yourself if you are a. tired, b. hungry, c. scared or d. all of the above.
Back at Maple Row, the next day, on Sunday, I could tell immediately her mood was completely different from the day before. Her head was down, the muscles in her neck were relaxed. Stuff was happening all around her. She looked but didn't jump, not once.
And we had a lovely ride.
Photo courtesy of Thowra-uk via Flickr