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Reclaiming the partnership

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  • Reclaiming the partnership

    I need some encouragement. My mare has never been easy... that's why I could afford her... but what we had was good. Never perfect, but we enjoyed each other and managed to keep each other alive. We were going Training when I got pregnant. Mare went to my trainer on a broodmare lease last spring. I didn't ride any (except maybe a dozen rides on my pony since my baby was born in November), and she wasn't ridden any. I got her back in May after her filly died. I started riding her again 5 weeks ago, after she had had about 14 months off.

    Things were pretty bad right off. I mean, I expected bad... she had a long time off, after all, and I wasn't exactly in top form... I walked and trotted just a bit the first ride. Nearly experienced spontaneous combustion when I first asked for the trot... that was expected, I guess. I wasn't about to canter. Second ride went about the same... had one small bolt-then-buck experience, but got her under control. I wasn't too confident, so hauled to my trainer so I could have a little supervision for our first canter... spent a half hour just trying to ride through the bucks... which is much harder after a c-section. Mare has always been a bit of a bucker at home, but has never, ever done it away from home, so I was a little disappointed. The next ride, at home, we were just doing some easy hacking when she exploded into full-out bronc bucks... the angry I'm-going-to-kill-you kind. I've been a bit scared to mess with her since then... have pretty much just gone on trail rides and done a little walk/trot arena work. I attempted to canter again tonight... got two strides before her heels were in the air and wrenched my back pretty good and had to quit.

    I know part of it's pain. She's due for her hock and stifle injections, and she probably needs her back checked. And I know part of it is just built up excitement (despite being out 24/7 in a large pasture where she *could* be getting that excitement out!). I just feel so disappointed that there's not even the slightest traces of the partnership we once had. I mean, she's always been pretty hot and had a nasty buck... but she was patient enough with me that I got a couple tries to screw up before she did anything nasty, and there was always warning. Now there's no patience, no chances, no warnings... the nastiness is the first reaction, and I'm not in good enough shape right now to ride her through it and see what comes next.

    I don't know what I expected. I guess I should have known it would be a long, hard road getting her going again. And getting myself going.

    It's harder when I'm scared of getting hurt and not being able to take care of my kid... and when the baby is soooo needy right now and I don't have the TIME to really work with the mare as much as she needs. I'd love to put her in training for a month, but I can't afford it, and my trainer's barn is completely full.

    The fall trials at Texas Rose are on my daughter's first birthday. I really, really wanted to ride that wekeend, sort of to celebrate making it through a couple really rough years. I'm wondering if I need to just get the fat pony in shape and run BN on her. But what fun would that be? What I really want is my partnership back... the one that could always make me feel like I accomplished something no matter how things went. I want to be able to trust my mare and myself again.

    I guess I just need encouragement. I CAN get it back, right? Some days it seems so impossible. It took us years to get there to begin with. I don't know if I have the motivation to put years into getting it back. Not at this stage in my life.

  • #2
    I read through your whole post and was like !bleep! you are really doing a lot for (1) having a baby (2) having a freakin' C section and (3) getting a mare back who has had a ton of time off and even lost her foal, poor thing. It can take time to recover from (1) and (2) and get back into 100% of the shape you were in prior to that.

    I think you have a lot to feel good about giving that you are actually back on and riding!! Granted, it's not the fun type of riding that you have been used to in the past, but you are doing a whole lot more than most would be under the circumstances.

    There are going to be days when you feel like you suck big time and then there are days when the stars align and you get the most awesome ride of your life. I had one of those today (the sucky kind). Now I haven't been through anything like what you have and my mare isn't coming back from time off, but I had a day where I just didn't have it. IT seems like peanuts in comparison to what you've had to deal with, but I was still disappointed. My trainer and I talked through it at the end of the lesson and he helped put things in perspective.

    If you once had a great partnership with your mare, I'm sure you can get it back. Like you said, perhaps there are some pain issues that need to be addressed before your mare feels comfortable again. With mares, they tend to give 110% effort about 95% of the time as opposed to geldings where they give 85% effort 100% of the time. It is important to be fair to mares when they are going through that 5% where they aren't on top of their game so that they can work their heart out for you for the other 95%.
    Last edited by SnicklefritzG; Jul. 16, 2012, 11:03 PM.


    • #3
      ^^^ plus one.

      Perhaps it was expecting a lot out of yourself and your mare to jump into riding right off the bat. A lot of us have been guilty of playing the part of over achiever. It sounds like your mare might benefit from a few weeks of lunging before you ride again, for her mind and body. Just a little "p.s. you have a job again" session.

      I definitely wouldn't be getting back in the saddle until she wraps her mind around the concept of being back at work. It's not worth the risk to you and she doesn't need to decide getting you dismounted is an option.

      Relationships are tough. It'll take time but don't give up on it too soon. You've both been through a lot in the last 18 months. Spend some time just enjoying each others company. It'll get there. Best of luck.
      Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.

      The Grove at Five Points


      • #4
        I think a progression of ground work is called for, and rebuilding a work ethic, which it sounds like she has lost. Build a relationship back with her, don't have a timeline in your head, drop all expectations and deal with what comes up in the moment. Let her know that you appreciate little achievements, and make sure there are lots of rewards for those little achievements, totally stop thinking about 'what was' and deal with what is.


        • #5
          I wouldn't put any time constraints on the partnership rebuilding. Just let it happen or not.

          Meanwhile, if you want to go to a HT, then start working your fat pony and prepare for BN. Nothing wrong with that! Plus it gives you something to ride safely and build up your own fitness.
          Where Fjeral Norwegian Fjords Rule


          • #6
            I'm going to be a bit of a hard nose and say WHY I are you doing anything but walking a horse who has been off for 14 months? I would be walking this horse for at least a mont, if not 6 weeks, gradually building the time up, then progressively adding in trot, then canter. She is very out of shape and had has probably lost a lot of tone from being preggers (you probably know the feeling). If she's a bitch by nature, she may be reacting so violently because she feels so unable to do what you want.

            Slow down and stick to the trail rides for awhile. Work on your strength by standing in 2 point. Try and see if you can take some lessons on horses at your trainers. Do do a little ground work type stuff (which can be wonderful for building a bond). But SLOW DOWN. She needs to slowly get fit (as do you). Give her a chance to, well, feel good about herself again.


            • #7
              I totally agree that groundwork is a good place to start. Lunging is really tough on a horse that is out of shape so don't make her do a ton of that off the bat. Spend some serious time grooming pre-work. That has always been the best way for me to tap back in.

              Groom her every day. Become her "person" again. Bring a treat just to say "hi." Scratch her in her favorite spot.

              For the ground work: tack her up if you think it makes her think that she is at work. You can take your stirrups off if you need to. Do some walking exercises where you get her to walk nicely beside you, stop when you stop, back up, etc. If you can get her to walk on the lunge do some of that. Trot each direction for 5 minutes. If she's out of shape she will be puffing at that point. Then walk her out and put her away. You can hop on to cool her out and just walk around the farm.

              You CAN get the partnership back. Think about the experience that you shared this past 14 months. Be empathetic about that. I just brought my mare back into work after 3 YEARS off while I was in law school. She started work in April and we took it really slowly. She has been a champ and is 18. Mostly we just go on walk and trot hacks and enjoy each other's company (I'm incredibly busy studying for the bar right now). Some hacks have been 2 hrs. of walking. We also do flatwork in the ring occasionally but mostly at the trot. She was being really contrary at the canter and I realized about 3-4 flat sessions in that my sitting deeply on her back was totally unfair because she wasn't fit enough for it and it was making her balk. She has been lighter and more supple at the trot than she ever was before so I cut her some slack and when we canter I just pop up in my two point and giver her some rein. She'll get back there but there is no point making a fight over something that is genuinely too hard for her right now.

              Good luck. You can do this. Re-establish the bond FIRST and then work on the riding. You are TEAM and have been one in the past - you'll get there again.
              "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant


              • #8
                Agree with yellowbritches 200% but want to add not to beat yourself up, just start over at the walk.

                Actually I'd start with getting her hocks and stifles injected and then after the requisite stall rest start walking her and as yellowbritches said, walk for a month. After about the second week start adding leg yieldings, half halts, halts, speeding up the walk, slowing down the walk, etc. and all of this will lay the foundation of your re-relationship. This is just good old fashioned horsemanship that many skip but is the foundation of soundness in athletic horses.

                But first get those injections. Arthritic joints that haven't worked in a year are probably pretty stiff at this point.


                • #9
                  I've had two babies (now high school students) and I think I can identify with your feelings--that you've GOT to get your "self" back, right now. It's why I was riding two weeks after my daughter was born (yeah, that was too soon), why I went to an unimportant h/j show when she was six weeks old, why my sister-in-law was running on the treadmill five days after giving birth.

                  Because there's been this huge upheaval in our lives, and that while being a mother is the bomb, there's a huge fear that we are going to lose some really essential part of ourselves.

                  You won't. Don't worry about a timeline. Take everyone's excellent advice on getting your groove back slowly. Remember that horses quite often buck in response to pain, and that while you may be willing to push through your c-section discomfort, your mare may not be (probably isn't) feeling that awful got-to-do-this-now urgency.

                  It'll all be okay. They grow up so, so fast. You'll hear that a hundred times, and it sounds impossible to believe when you're mired in infancy, but it's true.

                  Good luck.


                  • #10
                    Patience Grasshopper!

                    I have 3 children less than 4 years apart. Those came with 3 c-sections and two other surgeries in 5 years. Once you add children to the mix, you need lots of patience in your riding. I second what others have suggested, but mainly I want to encourage you. You can do it! But expect a longer timeline. For morale reasons, I would get the fat pony out myself. I'd rather ride BN on fat pony than not ride at all.

                    Hang in there and find yourself some other riding moms. Get a support group at the barn and a baby-sitter if you can afford it.



                    • Original Poster

                      Thanks, everyone. I do think it's the urgency of wanting to get my "self" back. Maybe a little fear that I won't get to be normal again before having another baby and starting back from the beginning. And all my riding buddies seemed to think we'd just hop right back in with them... but they all have geldings.

                      I did start off with good intentions. Did ground work for a while, but obviously not enough, because I figured we would just be doing walking trail rides for a while... and then got up on that first ride and it felt so GOOD to be on her again... and took a nice walk to the end of the driveway and realized that she was so stiff I couldn't turn her around to go back... so I sort of lost sight of the take-it-slow- and went back up to the yard to do some suppleness and bending work under saddle that should have been done on the ground... and that spiraled into pushing for more... it's hard when she and I both *know* the job, and I know what I would have done two years ago if she was stiff one morning... I just forget easily that this is not two years ago.

                      You know the movie image of jumping up on the wild stallion and galloping off into the sunset? Or that scene from Black Beauty where they just hop on for the first ride ever and trot and canter across an open pasture? Why couldn't that be real? Oh wait... because I have a mare!!!!!!! Maybe that's why all my friends own geldings?

                      We have accomplished some things, anyway. I can now turn around at the end of the driveway without running into any trees.


                      • #12
                        You've been given some terrific ideas and lots of support above, all of which I second.

                        But I'll add one other thing: saddle fit. It is highly unlikely that after being a broodmare and having so much time off that your saddle fits your mare the way it used to. She's changed! And if she's anything like my mares, she won't like the feeling of a saddle that's not right.

                        I'm not advocating that you spend lots of money getting a good saddle fitting done right now, but look at your saddle fit very critically yourself. See if it could use a different pad or some shims. If you don't normally use an impact absorbing or gel pad, maybe borrow one to try. Her body is going to change as you work her, so keep re-evaluating and then get a good fitting when you think she's on the right track.

                        Someone who used to hunt in England told me that they kept a couple of old saddles just to use on the horses when they were first brought in to be fitted up. Once their muscles developed again, they went in their regular saddles.

                        And please, be careful. You have a wee one counting on you to stay safe.
                        They don't call me frugal for nothing.
                        Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


                        • #13
                          took a nice walk to the end of the driveway and realized that she was so stiff I couldn't turn her around to go back
                          Have you had her vet checked? I'd definitely have someone out to do bodywork before riding her again.
                          The all out bucking is her telling you something is wrong - I doubt very much that it is just poor work ethic.

                          Don't ride her again until her reactivity is sorted out - she is NOT worth you getting injured!


                          • Original Poster

                            Thanks, all. I do have a vet appointment schedules, but the vet I prefer (well, the only one I trust for more than a coggins) couldn't get me in until August 8. I will keep trying for something earlier. She does get lots of the grooming/petting/treats treatment... I must take the baby out to give the horses treats 10 times a day, and usually the pony snubs us so mare gets all the attention. Of course, she could be annoyed that cuddle time involves a baby! I'm on my way out to give her a nice bath now.


                            • #15
                              Give her time and give YOU time too.
                              I totally understand wanting your "self" back, and I really truly envy those woman who have a c-section and bounce 'oh, it was easier then natural birth!" and are back doing everything in a week (grrr, my sister lol)

                              I had the c-section from hell, got some pretty severe damage, and DS is a high maintenance kid. I went from riding constantly to not having the strength to even think about it for a year and it was over 2 years before I rode again.

                              But you CAN get it back. It will be on your own schedule (lol, hopefully faster then mine) and you'll feel great again. Really, you will.

                              In the meantime, go saddle the fat pony. You'll feel a LOT more confident on your mare after you've had more saddle time and recovered some muscle tone that you've lost. Remember that your core muscles got sliced open and you have to rebuild strength there. You'll be surprised how much confidence comes back with that strength.


                              • Original Poster

                                Riverotter-this was definitely a hellish c-sec, andDD is major high maintenance too. Trust me, I'm exhausted by the time she goes to bed. I guess if I was totally honest, I'd admit that I really don't have an overwhelming desire to go out and ride at night, and finding time means neglecting other things... I guess a lot of the problem is seeing my horses in the backyard doing nothing, and feeling so guilty. So I more want to want to ride, you know? Then when I make myself do it, I want to accomplish something for my effort. I think I really set the goal of showing as a way to make myself ride so I wouldn't feel guilty.

                                There's the problem... the mare knows I'm trying to force it, and she's not going to play along just to make me feel less guilty. Ugh.

                                Of course, there's also the issue of all of my friends being barn friends, and I don't see them if I don't ride. And if I don't want to ride, I feel like I'm so distant from my friends. And then there are all the people who say, "Just take the baby to the barn with you. My kids grew up in the barn. Just put her in a playpen while you ride." Obviously, they don't understand a high-needs baby. And then I feel more guilty because they make it seem so easy... so I push myself...

                                Ok, it's official. I don't need a partnership with my horse... I need therapy.

                                Mare and I will just try to enjoy eachother when we feel like it, and I'll give her a carrot and a pat when I just don't feel it. No guilt...


                                • #17
                                  Does she ground drive? That would be the first thing to do in my opinion if she knows how. If not, now would be a very good time to teach her. You can do lots of exercises with her if you ground drive her, and it isn't nearly as hard on her currently painful hocks and stifles as riding or longeing. I've got an old Irish horse training book from 1925, which says that its purpose is to preserve horse knowledge as the horse is replaced by the automobile. Ground driving is an essential part of their training recommendations.

                                  She can't hurt you if you ground drive her. and the exercise will be as good for you as for her.
                                  "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                                  Thread killer Extraordinaire


                                  • #18
                                    Archieflies- You will get it back!!

                                    But in the mean time, how 'bout some nice long walks with a touch of Ace on board to take the edge off her? At least until she is fit enough so that it is safe to lunge the bucks out of her? Treat her like she's rehabbing from an injury
                                    Unrepentant carb eater


                                    • #19
                                      Don't feel bad. I gave my mare 1 month off and I feel the same way you do. Except my mare was easy and sweet and didn't have a buck or a spook, and now.... not so much.

                                      I nixed all cantering and am sticking to walking/ trotting and all the associated transitions in an attempt to get her head back in the game. I'm trying to be patient and stay confident. But I've got the blues... bad.


                                      • #20
                                        Not all mares are like this, please don't steriotype them. Mine has been off for months before and I have hopped on her and chugged right off down the driveway bareback on the first ride after the break. Of course building up slowly but she was excited to be back in work and has so much try. It is not because the horse is the mare, but because of her personality. There are a ton of geldings out there that behave badly as well. Best luck with your horse.