~about 7min read
The relationship between horse and rider – the delicate thread that is ultimately the base for success.
Without that we have nothing. Without that there is no meaning in equestrianism.
Sometimes, the bond is built effortlessly, naturally and fluidly – much like a sip of cool water on a summer day.
Other times it requires more effort, patience and the ability to deeply understand and ultimately accept a horse in order to connect.
In any case it is the responsibility of the rider to foster that relationship – much like we would tend our garden – planting flowers according to seasons, according to the climate or the soil.
I have been immensely lucky to have experienced an effortless bond with Quanderas. I knew we were meant to be a partnership from the moment I saw him.
However, the flip side was that, without realizing it, I got spoiled.
Sansoucie was on the other end of the spectrum – fiery and strong willed, a true chestnut mare through and through.
We have been working together for the past five years. Five very intense years with trips to the emergency room, cracked ribs and tailbones, shaken confidence, arguments, tears…
“Why?” I’d often ask myself. “Why am I not good enough?”, “Should I sell her to someone with whom she will have the success she deserves?”.
I was right to blame myself! I am the “gardener” after all. But I was missing the point.
Even though she was my first younger, less experienced horse and I did have a lot to learn, it wasn’t (just) a matter of skill!
It was rather a matter of understanding her better. Something I hadn’t realized until the COVID-19 lockdown forced me to take a 45 day break from riding.
Mind you, the longest break from riding I have ever taken since 2006 (when I got my first horse) was the 10 days of vacation I sometimes take during the summer.
When the government issued the lockdown earlier this year I admit I had a panic attack! Amidst my concerns for the health of my loved ones I now worried what this lockdown would mean for the health and well-being of my horses.
Thankfully, while we were not able to ride, we were allowed to go to the stables -following a very strict protocol- in order to take care of our horses, hand walk them or lunge them.
This was a blessing in disguise since the time I got to spent with Sansoucie off the saddle seems to have been the missing piece of the puzzle!
I learned that the small paddock (in which she was previously turn out) was pissing her off and that the large one scared her. So finding the specific single paddock she liked transformed what we previously had thought was a ‘mare-ish attitude’.
I also took the time to experiment with different lunging systems and discovered that the Pessoa system works wonders for her! In the past Sansoucie was very difficult on the lunge. It had to happen very early in the morning when no one was around and even then, she did utterly dangerous and terrifying death-drop worthy rears…
Since we started lunging her in the Pessoa we have been able to do it any time of day – even in the big arena!
This in turn has helped her now that we are back in full training mode since she is able to get an extra ‘active rest’ day when she is exercising but doesn’t have to wear a saddle. This system also urges her to balance herself while engaging the hind legs!
Finally, we were lucky to have a new indoor arena in the stables right before the lockdown! So taking a HUGE leap of faith I decided to let her loose in the indoor to gallop and let off some steam.
During those sessions I also noticed that she had sudden bursts of energy with many small breaks in between. So when the lockdown was over and we were able to ride, I decided to train for slightly longer periods of time but with many small walk breaks.
In turn I realized that what I had perceived as ‘reacting’ to the training before the lockdown was actually her putting 200% of her energy for short period of time which she could not maintain for too long. When she was getting tired she would pull on the bit, get tense, lean on the hand, reacting to the leg etc.
In essence therefore, what she lacked was muscle stamina! So we started giving her more muscle aiding supplements and have been trying to increase the work-walk increments slowly!
So far it has been working (and I say this while crossing fingers 🤞, touching wood and any other superstition I know🍀🐞)!
These off-the-saddle changes in our routine have been detrimental to her psychology! Her face has calmed down and she is so much happier during our work.
I also make sure to spend more time with her over the weekends when things are less hectic and plan to try to get her to go to forest hacks (an ambitious project considering we have to cross roads and the forest near the stables is not as smooth and quiet as the forests in northern Europe)
All in all these past few months have taught me a lot. If I could sum it up in a few words they would be “The power of slowing down”.
They have also helped me to re-connect with myself – with the little girl who wanted a pony in her back yard, not to compete and win trophies, but to pet and groom it and feed it loads of carrots.
I always am and will always be that girl but the goals, responsibilities and aspirations had caused me momentarily to lose focus of the true reason I fell in love with riding.
I will keep you posted with our progress with Sansoucie! It is an incredible journey for me and I am utterly grateful.