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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Questions of the Month

Questions & Answers

I have been taking notes on questions and issues that I’ve heard from you and around the horse community for awhile and created a new section on my website called “Questions of the Month”. I am not going to use any names but will rephrase the questions and provide the answers to be helpful to everyone.

Q:

Hi. I'm an experienced horsewomen. I have two horses, a quarab x warmblood gelding and a AQHA mare that wont move. They have not been ridden in about 2 to 3 years. I have tried everything! Also they won't lunge eihter. My mare will not respond to the lunge whip and turns to face me when i try to make her move. I have even tried tin cans, they worked for about two circles and then she gets mad and either trys to bolt or charges straight for the person that is lunging her. Im not a pro. or a trainer. but I have tried everything that i have found. Can you please help me! ~MA

A:

Dear MA: Thanks for your letter. I'm not sure what you mean by they won't move, but guess you mean they are stopping and unwilling to move forward both on the ground and under saddle?

What is their living environment like? What are they eating? How old are they, etc.? Where are you/they located? Let me know more and I can answer your questions a bit better.

Thanks, Mary Midkiff

Q: I figured out how to get them to go forward. They need a little encouragement and they need to ride together. My mare is a 9 year old AQHA and my gelding is about 15 year old quarab x warmblood. They are both very healthy. They each get a coffee mug of sweet feed to make their hooves grow faster and a slice of hay. They live in a part field/part woody area, it's a little less than an acre. They are ridden every day. I have a new question. Do you know how to get them to ride seperate!!!???!!?!!?!!?
A:

Dear MA: To get them to go out and away from each other you are going to have to start separating them and adding a surrogate friend in. I would recommend getting a couple of sheep, llamas or goats or ponies or retired horses to "baby sit" the horse that is left alone while you take the other out for a ride. This may take some time but creating the safety of a herd should work for separation anxiety.

It sounds like they are bonded very deeply and depend on each other. So try adding in a few more friends and that should help.

You can also give the one left behind a flake of hay while you ride the other.

Another idea to help you out at least temporarily is to give Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to the one left behind. You can buy this product at any health food store. Just put about 3-4 drops in the mouth of the horse you plan on leaving behind and this will help ease anxiety and create relaxation. If the horse you are riding is upset too, give him or her 3-4 drops in their mouth about 10 minutes before you ride. It really works well to help their emotions but they will still be active and working forward.

Best wishes, Mary

[Final note from MA: Thanks a lot for your help. I tried the Rescue Rememdy and what do you know! It works. I went out and bought some of it yesterday! Thank you, MA]

Q:

Dear Mary, Here's the scenario. I rode my mare today, first 30 minutes in the pen, after groundwork. Groundwork went fine, she seems to enjoy our time together. Saddle is a different story, typical of what it's been like so far. Lots of ear pinning, threatens to buck, reaches around into increasingly small circles. I spent the whole time at walk and trot, working at moving forward in a straight line. Finally felt like I was making some progress and had decent control. As an experiment I had decided to go "outside the box", so opened the gate and went out into the plowed field. She immediately was a different horse. Walked and trotted willingly, no head slinging, no ear pinning. Went west away from the barn with only slight anxiety. Rode to the fenceline then south, turned around and rode north to the corner. The ground is very soft but no resistance on her part, only some anxiety about the idiots in the barn calling to her. At one point she(on her own) fell into a canter and so we loped for a ways. She was for the most part controlable, though by no means the compliant ride I envision. Still, we had a great time and it did feel wonderful.

So any suggestions on combining the work we need without playing into what she clearly thinks is a miserable way to spend our time? I know the logical thing to do would be to work outside, but I"m not sure I feel safe without some time in the pen to establish and practice control. Sue H.

A:

Sue: Thanks for your letter. I will send you an article about feeding alfalfa and all that it does in and to the horse’s body. Changing to grass hay will be one step toward gaining relaxation and focus from your mare.

Since you have already shared some of her history with me, I can deduce that in the pen environment she only thinks about the work, the pain and tightness in her body, the saddle fit, and pressure to do something with/for the rider. The pen represents a highly pressure packed environment and her nervous system gets defensive and elevates to handle the stress, therefore, releasing adrenaline into the blood stream and shutting down the healthy brain function. It sounds like in the past the person that was asking/telling her what to do did not listen and did not care what she thought as long as she obeyed. They also did not teach her to think on her own and allow her time to process. So you’ve got lots of “pen work baggage” you/she is dealing with. I’ll give her lots of credit for keeping her soul in tact through all of this. Some horses get wild and neurotic others go deep inside and become dull and lifeless. I think you rescued her in time to where she is not beyond help. When I met her she seemed to be saying she wants a way out and to be happy with you as her partner.

When you take her out of that environment into open land, her thought patterns shift from all the baggage to looking out and exploring the horizon. Her mind is off all the bad baggage. This does not mean she is okay or in control it only means that the bad stimuli is absent.

We/you have to take care of all the baggage before you are going to have the safe, comfortable, compliant, enjoyable horse that you want. I think this is within the realm of accomplishment but it will take probably a year (maybe less, depending on how quickly she gets comfortable and can enjoy being ridden without problems) of working with her, establishing trust, getting her in good physical, mental and emotional condition, understanding your ways of communication with her both on the ground and mounted, body work, low protein feeding, foot balancing, teeth and mouth balancing, proper saddle fit and gaining trust in you as her partner.

It would really help you both if you can get your round pen set up. The enclosed area you are using now is too large for teaching trust and communication. You need the close contact ability and the sending away ability within a confined space for her to start letting down and “joining or hooking up” with you.

Since you are local we can work together to rebuild your mare into the partner you want. We have to remove over time the baggage and any pain and tightness in her body. We have to slow the world down for her to be able to process and release, process and release. We change/shift all of this into a very relaxed comfortable safe sense of well-being. I don’t think she’s beyond rehabilitation and will make a very lovely partner if you are willing to play the holistic game with her. I would be more than happy to work you toward the goal of safety, comfort, reliability and cooperativeness. But you will have to make the commitment to get the body work done, the feet and mouth balanced, the saddle properly fitted, feeding her a very low protein diet and working with her at least 4 days per week.

Sincerely, Mary

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female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

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