Over the weekend, Candy transformed from sweet, tractable, try-hard mare to some kind of demon-possessed dolphin impersonator.
I hacked her out for an hour at a walk in the hay meadow on Saturday under Gina’s
baleful watchful eye. One of the barn rats was on Queen G, and our ride went very well. Candy started out a little up and anxious, but settled quickly and was perfectly nice.
On Sunday, a big group of us went out hacking; my friend Holly (who’s been riding Gina while her horse is lame) and I got on a little late and had to play catch-up to the group. By time we entered the lower hay meadow, some of the kids in the group were trotting and cantering in a big circle in the upper hay meadow. Candy froze as we approached them. She stared, got very tense, and then started jigging as we moved toward the group. I tried to soothe her by stroking her neck and talking quietly, but her brain was slowing leaking out of her ears.
By time we made it to the group, Candy was having a full-on meltdown. She was too nervous to walk, too nervous to stand, and attempted to bolt more than once. I sat as quietly as I could as she put on her best post-parade jig, but once she started humping up her back and hopping around, I opted to dismount before things got any worse. I hand-walked her back down to the lower hay meadow, where I got back on and walked her with the group around the field. She was still tense, but didn’t offer any more dolphin-esque antics.
When the group left the field, I put Candy to work in a little flat area between my barn and my neighbor’s. She was super zoomy at the trot, which I expect. I gave her half-halts and tried to ride quietly. When she started trotting like a sane horse, I patted her and told her she was a good girl. Then I asked her to canter. In hindsight, this was a mistake- she was already wound up, we haven’t done a lot of cantering to begin with, etc. etc. But hindsight is 20/20, and in the moment, it seemed like a not-terrible idea. Candy stepped into the canter pretty easily, took a couple of nice strides, and then went full-on dolphin. Head down, back up, head up, back down. Just like a majestic dolphin. Her antics led to her tripping and scaring herself a bit, which led to more flailing, which ended when I decided we ought to just go canter in the indoor arena. We did, and Candy was fine, and no one died.
Yesterday, I hopped on her in the late afternoon with the intention of riding her in the large outdoor arena. I dug out my neck strap (aka an old stirrup leather) and buckled it around her neck just in case the dolphin emerged. The pony parade was making its way out to the hay meadow again just as I got on, so Candy and I accompanied them. She was much calmer and less tense than she had been on Sunday. She jigged a bit when we turned to head back to the barn, but it wasn’t anything dramatic. Progress!
In the outdoor arena, Candy was fidgety and restless. She was fairly well behaved trotting around (with other horses, even!), but was unable to stand quietly for long. I’d make her stand still for a couple of minutes, then let her walk on a loose rein. Repeat ad nauseum. One of the kids set up a tiny crossrail, and after jumping it a few times, set it to a ground pole for me to take Candy over. Candy marched up to it, then channeled her inner Gina and backed right the fuck up. I had the jumping pony give me a lead; Candy walked up to the pole, eyed it hard, then leaped over it, crashing into the pony’s butt. I was very grateful for my neck strap.
I kept Candy circling around and going over the pole, but it didn’t seem like she ever really relaxed. There were huge leaps followed by uncoordinated cantering post-pole. There was head-shaking. There were dolphin movements. It was, as I like to say, A Time.
Candy’s been over poles before. She was very nervous about them last year, but seemed to have determined they were no big deal when I had several set up in the indoor in early January. I’m not sure if she was simply nervous because this pole was in the outdoor arena, a place where she hasn’t spent a lot of time- that’s currently my best guess. I’m hoping that with further exposure, she’ll learn that poles- no matter their location- are not scary. After all, the world does not need another Gina.