There were so many ways that yesterday's ride could have gone. I even jokingly considered writing a "I'm sorry, but if you're reading this, I must have fallen off, bashed myself into a wall and this scheduled post declaring a "hiatus" is now in effect" post.
Seriously, I thought about it. Given the last couple outings, I was fairly sure there was NO WAY for me to have a happy ending last night.
Buuuuut, lucky for me, I talked to P's Super-Mom during my lunch break, and she gave me a lovely pep talk (though I'm sure she didn't know it was a pep talk at the time..) regarding the mare-face.
Essentially she said that Pia is a big girl, she might be itchy, or her pad might have a wrinkle, but she doesn't get to be the title character of the-princess-and-the-pea and keep throwing conniption fits every time she has to do something aside from eat, look pretty, or play with her friends. (although in fairness, I generally throw mini conniption fits every time I have to do something other than eat, look pretty, play with friends, or pat a pony...). Long story short, she told me to put my helmet on, yell at the mare and ride the crap out of her until she decided to play along.
Good Plan. Great plan, even. Assuming that the twit doesn't unseat me halfway through our conversation. (details, details...)
When I got to the barn, there was one other rider tacking up (bad news in case Pia went wild in the ring, good news in case someone had to call 911...). Also, while P's worked with other horses in the ring, she's typically taken it as (yet another) opportunity to act up and decide to be excitable...
The good news for me was that I had an incredibly frustrating day at work, so by the time I dealt with crap, talked to super-mom, and sat in traffic on my way to the barn, I was thoroughly NOT interested in the mare flipping my any shit, least of all on the ground.
I was pissy. But I think it worked to my advantage. Any misstep, any attempt to rub on me, or look at me crosswise was met by a loud "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaare!!!!!!!!!!!". and a smack.
P was probably confused, but she seemed to figure out right quick that not a lot was going to be considered "charming." She was good tacking up, not fidgety, not snarky, so that was a good sign. However, as soon as I got her in the ring, she started her "itchy" fit. Shaking, wiggling, biting at her saddle... All things that I was no longer concerned about. I yelled and smacked her every time she itched or shook and it took about 5 minutes for her to "get over" whatever it was that was bugging her. Given all the head waggling though, I snapped her side reins on without any free lunging or warmup time. She was just going to have to deal. Tough it out, mare...
Our groundwork was GREAT. I definitely upped my expectations, and she rose to meet them. Any hint of her attention going to another horse, or something outside the ring was met bah another loud cry, pop of the whip and tension on the line. Any delayed response in a downward transition was met by a serious pull on the line, and reeling her in to a halt. Sounds exessive, and the cute Lusitano mare at the other end was confused by all my clamoring, but Pia got the message, which I think was something along the lines of "crap, the girl is pissed today and apparently, 'whoa' means 'whoa NOW'".
(such a smart little mare...)
Then P gave me my golden opportunity. During our first canter depart, she threw in a fun little "woo" buck.
Oh hell no. Not today. Not when we're learning about undivided attention... That little (non agressive) buck was met with another banshee yell, smack with the whip and getting her butt backed down into the ring wall. then standing stock still for 60 seconds. Yup, a full minute. 60 brilliant seconds of me staring the mare down puffed up and glaring at her.
She tried one more buck, got the same response and that was it. After about 25 minutes she was moving like a DREAM, soft, pushing, and listening so closely that we even managed some halt/trot transitions as well as walk/canter departs.
Needless to say, I was feel pretty damn good about things. I decided that she was as warmed up and attentive as she was going to get, so it was time to (da, da, DUM) get on.
As I walked her back to unload our lunging gear, she started trying to shake/itch/scratch again. Immediate yells (seriously, I sounded like a lunatic) and hand smacks, stopped her from getting all wound up and she stood like a champ while I tied up the lunge line, put my spurs on and grabbed a whip.
At this point, the BO came home and wandered out to the ring to see how things were going. P was getting distracted by horses walking around outside, so I made the executive (and extremely un-Pony Club) decision to leave the side reins on. I loosened them, but left them clipped from her bit to the side of her girth and felt pretty good about it. Even if they were my version of Dumbo's Magic Feather, I felt better knowing that they were on there in case she got seriously wild.
Mounting Block. No shenanigans. Swung my leg over - no shenanigans. picked up my reins and asked for a walk - No shenanigans!!
Seriously. No backing up, no ears pinned, she... just... went.. forward. Like a normal horse!
We took two laps around the ring on the contact, nice and relaxed, but forward and she didn't bat an eyelash.
Up into the trot... and she was forward. Not perfectly rhythmic, but I was pushing to get her forward and in front of my leg, which was enough of a victory for me. She stomped all over the ring like a champ, circles, diagonals, serpintines, champ champ champ. She switched her bend without snarking back against my leg, accepted the whip and moved off. Stiffer to the right (as always), but waaaay less sticky than she's been. After about 10 minutes we attempted a canter depart, which was (not necessarily flawless), but certainly clean. Immediate, balanced and notably lacking any bucks/kicks/sucking back.
What a stud. I was still in "angry mom" mode, so any of her head tossing, jigging or breaking to the canter when I asked for a bigger trot was met with more yells, aggressive half halts and every-once-in-a-while a serious slam stop.
I was so proud. Proud of her for listening, proud of me for being a hard-ass, proud of us having a good ride together. Just proud.
We ended with a few attempts at some leg yields. They weren't gorgeous, but she didn't resist my leg, and she managed some really decent crossover. Mostly my goal was to keep her energized and FORWARD even when asking her to bend or move over, so we sacrificed some form in the name of impulsion and I'm ok with that.
Yessssssssss. So happy. and more than happy I'm relieved. SO SO SO relieved that all she needed was a stern talking to, and not skin medication, or back x-rays, or some other therepeudic treatment for another obscure medical condition. Also relieved that I don't have to send her off to a cowboy. :)
We can do this. We will do this. And we will look damn good doing it. :)
Amazing how much of my journey with horses (and ultiamtely other obstacles in life) comes down to just putting your damn leg on and not taking it off till you get what you want.
So, here's to hoping this sticks, and here's to keeping your Leg On.