Lily, Lily, Lily!! That’s what I heard myself say as I watched in horror as Lily exploded into the air… with Amy astride! Oh my goodness, there is so much to learn from this horse. In the last update (Part 5), I felt confident that Lily and Amy had turned the corner in developing confidence, trust, and leadership. But as I helped Amy up from the wet muddy ground, I was in stunned silence. I reviewed the steps leading up to Lily’s explosion.
In the weeks prior, we had continued working in hand with Lily, and were continually pleased to see that she was indeed becoming comfortable with the process. She became accustomed to both saddle and bridle. She went over, through, around, and laterally over obstacles. She could trot and even canter without becoming mentally heightened. Amy had spent several days stepping up in the stirrups and lying over the saddle. She had mounted and just sat, peacefully praising Lily. Lily showed no difficulty with any of this, so I was perhaps a bit too comfortable when Amy suggested that it wasn’t necessary to lunge Lily before mounting. She also believed Lily was tired of the round pen and wanted to work out in the paddock instead. She reasoned that the round pen was a bit slippery from rain. This was a valid point.
I have started and worked with a large number of green horses, and my preference is to take all safety precautions until the horse is completely comfortable with walk, trot and canter in a controlled environment. I feel that some warm up, either free lunging or with a line, is important to connect with the horse and get a feel for their state of mind. But part of me thought Amy was right and I was being a bit too cautious. So we walked out into the paddock. With Brian standing at Lily’s head (another thing I don’t normally do as I feel too many people can cause anxiety and claustrophobia), and me holding the stirrup to keep the saddle from slipping sideways, Amy confidently put her foot into the stirrup and mounted.
I’m not pleased to say I did not follow my instincts and knowledge. I learned from a terrible explosion of an accident what can happen when a horse becomes girth-bound. When horses are girth-bound, they feel the girth’s pressure and panic – not understanding that the pressure will lessen by breathing and relaxing. They can become totally explosive. Because of this, I make it a rule to always tighten girths slowly, walking the horse a few feet between tightening, and then again before mounting. It’s also important not to squirm, move around, etc., until you allow the horse to relax and walk forward.
But I didn’t have a chance to warn Amy in time. She sat down in the saddle, and before I could stop her she tried to adjust a little crookedness in her saddle. It was 1, 2, 3, rodeo time! I must say Amy did an amazing job for a novice rider. She did try to stay on, and fought hard for it. Lily went up, then began bucking and twisting. Amy remembered me saying that if a horse is bucking, to sit back and bring one rein up and to the side to stop the buck. She was trying for all her might, but she had slipped sideways and lost her balance. And Brian, ever supportive of his wife, was innocently trying to hang onto Lily, which only escalated the problem.
Amy turned out to be fine, but at the time she was hurting, unsure if she had done damage to her hip and shoulder, and the sun was starting to set. Not an ideal place to stop, but working in the dark would have been productive. We agreed to review the situation and begin anew the next time. Amy was not to be deterred from her progress… or so we thought.
By the next session, fear had set in and Amy felt she needed to step back. She was frustrate and wanted a break. We decided it would be best if Brian took over working with Lily until Amy was ready. Lily responds well to Brian’s quiet yet confident manner, and she seemed not be bothered by the incident at all.
I have to chuckle at Amy’s “break,” because it was only a week before she was back at the helm. We discussed the accident and what caused it, and all agreed not to take shortcuts when working with Lily. Back to the round pen…but not back-tracking! Lily settled quickly and Amy was once again stepping up until she felt she could sit down in the saddle. Yes! She did it! Lily was quiet and did not appear worried. We are back on track.
Mistakes will be made, accidents will happen. It’s how we handle them that will make the difference between success and failure. Blaming the horse or someone else for our mistakes, or repeating the same mistakes without searching for the reasons behind them can keep us from developing our horsemanship skills. Sadly, it means the horses usually suffer as much or more than us.
I am always disappointed in my own mistakes, but I have to remember that never are they done with bad intention, and never will I blame someone else for my responsibility. I ask the horse (and the student) for forgiveness and go forward without dwelling on the error. I commit to improve life for the horse. Horses are incredibly forgiving. They seem to know whether someone has good intentions rather than being intentionally abusive. If humans can be just as intuitive and forgiving, letting go of innocent wrongs, the horse will continue trust us and follow our leadership. Amy and Brian are great at this, and it’s one of the many reasons I believe in their ability to succeed with this complicated horse.
Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily
Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue
Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings
Lily’s Story Part 4 – Following the Leader
Lily’s Story Part 5 – Learning “Feel”
Lily’s Story Part 6 – Making Mistakes and Moving on