In which Du and Freya have an adventure and it's not terrible

Time to check in with Duana and Freya!

Ready for the weather...mostly...

What have you been working on lately? 
For the past several months, my focus has been dressage work.  In part because the weather has been so wintery, but mostly because I really needed more skills and confidence before getting out on the trails. 

What seems easy with this horse?
What seems to be harder than it should be with this horse?
 Neither of those questions particularly resonate for me as I didn’t have any really good expectations, having never worked with or owned a young horse.  My community has grown immensely and I’ve found lots of great friends through the process who struggle with similar learning curves and confident related challenges.  

I think for me the hardest part really is my personal confidence and lack of experience.  I’m learning to forgive myself and also to ask for help even if it seems like I’m doing so over and over.   Since I have the gift of a fantastic trainer/mentor/confidant (now two with John) and a strong community of mentors, the work is really more psychological on my side.  Similar to raising a dog, it is often more important to teach the owner/rider than teaching the animal – Freya is a very fast learner, brave, kind, and very willing to work.  I struggle with her youth and sensitivity but realize that her personality is an excellent fit for me in the long run. 

Talk about the trail ride on Sunday.
Loading, tacking up and heading out all were very positive and without incident.  The primary working point was mounting without her walking/moving away, and instead standing calmly.  This is an ongoing training aspect for both of us.  

Weather was extremely variable –sun, wind, rain, hail, snow ranging from light to extremely heavy hail/snowfall.  Conditions were tricky as there was a lot of hail and snow on the trail. She was very positive, forward and interested and generally unconcerned about the weather.  Her hooves would accumulate snow and that would kick off – she was pretty unfazed by all of that, which was wonderful.  Her primary focus of attention is either side of the trail and watching what is going on in the woods beyond the trail.  She’s still pretty sure she needs to constantly be watchful for surprises in the woods.  

"We sailed away on a bright and sunny day..."

We lead for a while with much energy and bravery.  Then when my brain was full and confidence lagged, we pulled to the back of the pack and then middle of the pack.  When trotting she occasionally would get fussy and want to express opinions about either wanting to go a different pace or just showing that her brain was full.  She would vigorously shake her head or break into a very slow canter.  Each time she settled back into a trot without anything more after I sorted out what the right cues would be to get her focused again.  

This was the second intentional conditioning ride and a little longer than the first (first was 6 ½ miles; this was 7 ½-8 roughly). 

She spooked less than the last trail ride, but both rides her spooks were very manageable and related to new experiences/encounters. 

We worked a lot again on walking and trotting through puddles with increasing success through the ride (she started with trying to jump over them to finally contentedly trotting through with clear recognition that that was good behavior) 

We worked a lot on letting the other horses walk and trot away from us.  I would stop her and try a ‘salute to the judges’ (Monica’s suggestion) so that I had a task.  Since she has a big walk, she could catch up to Ariana, who was hanging in the middle of the pack to be available if I needed help or advice (I’ve gotten incredibly spongelike again in gathering advice from my peeps)

Du listens to Monica, Freya copies Ariana

In all, it was a highly successful second conditioning ride with throwing some increasing challenges at myself and really starting to understand what ‘ride every step’ means and how to incorporate what I’m learning in the arena into the trail work.  I was able to think about some of the finer points that I’ve been learning from John as well and play with how those make a difference on the trail – for example the difference the intensity of my grip on the reins makes on Freya’s responses.  

Now set us up for "The Incident."  You were walking beside your horse.  Then what happened?
Once I was really tired (and had to pee like, well, a racehorse) I got off to walk the rest of the way back to the trailer.  She was pretty animated but no more than she is sometimes when being lead in new situations.  

I was working hard to get her attention, so we hung back from the group and  a couple times turned around and walked the other direction for a while to get her focus back on me.  Walking/leading her is something I want to do a lot as it is as challenging skill-wise as riding and something that we need lots of practice at.   

So far, so good

 We were walking alone and got to a fallen tree that looked like it totally covered the road – was several feet in the air and branches hanging to the ground.  Aarene and Dragon were waiting on the other side (as she said later, seemed like a rather major obstacle for Freya and I to tackle alone without support if we needed it).  

I took a moment to look at where best to get around or through, and saw hoofprints up and over that looked pretty calm and well placed.  So I decided to follow those.  I worked pretty slowly/calmly, having her stand still while I found a good place uphill to stand/walk to lead her through.  I put her where the hoofprints were.  I was unable to totally follow her side-by-side so planned to use a leading technique I’d learned from Dory in having her cross past me and which I’ve practiced a lot.  

That seemed to work well until something caught her in her stirrup/rear right leg/tail area (I couldn’t see) and appeared to pull at her.  That scared her and she pulled back hard on the reins.  I had those looped in my hand (as I was taught when learning sailing –never loop a rope around your hand – always long or folded in as it can pull away any time on a sailboat just as a horse).  Her reins and the snap were jerked out of my hand in an instant (I have a bruise on the inside of my hand today) and the rein snap immediately hit the ground and swung up over her head.  At that point she just spun and ran as fast as she could away from the tree. 

She passed Dragon and Aarene at a full blind bolt.  She disappeared from view and Aarene yelled ‘loose horse’.  Aarene had to manage her horse for a moment and then quickly headed at a calm trot down the trail with me running behind.  Because of the snow we could follow Frey’s footprints down a trail and  down a field.  I was panicking as I was having visions of Freya spooking Flower and Ariana, who were well ahead of us, or breaking a leg/pulling a tendon in the very loose duff/mud.  

Aarene and Dragon, and me behind, went as fast as we could safely down the very long field following her hooprints. Finally at the bottom (after maybe 10 minutes of running? Hard for me to say) we saw her at the bottom of the field.  Monica and  Ariana saw her as well, and were trying to carefully call her around a portion of old barbwire fence.  She was calm enough at that point to make her way around the fence and walk shakily to Monica, who caught her.  as soon as I saw her, I slowed to as calm a walk as I could manage, called her name like she was just in a field and dug out cookies like I was just going to catch her for any old thing (that took all my bullshit lawyer skills to muster).

By the time I walked up Monica/Ariana and Aarene/Dragon had her and she was tucked in between the two horses clearly happy to be between the two horses.  She let me take her rein and untangle it from her hair – she took the cookies with a medium tight lip, but not the tightest she’s ever had.  She  let me give her a big hug and pat without any objection.  

Freya lost a front shoe in the slorky mud she ran through, but was otherwise un-marred

I was able to quickly assess that she didn’t have any major wounds and sound enough to walk back to the trailer.  (everyone did that together immediately of course)  I lead her to the next gate but was extremely shaken and asked Patty to lead her around that gate as it was a tricky/muddy mess and I needed to suck some confidence from Patty.  Patty led her like a green horse, one step at a time and it was no big deal for Freya.  I then took her from there and  walked along with Monica/Ariana to the trailer.  Aarene/Patty went ahead again and eventually disappeared from view.   

I was incredibly shaken up as this was the first time I’ve had a horse spook and bolt (not surprising, I’ve not done this for very many years and this is my first young horse).  Monica worked with me very carefully to help me establish my ground work again.  We had one more gate to get around, which she rushed a bit, so I lead her back and through once more to be more attentive and calm.  Got back to trailer and she was still a little nervy but very well behaved.  Hopped in the trailer like her normal self.  We stopped for our usual lunch break, by which time she was calm and her usual self.  By the time we unloaded, she was her normal self and she then had a good roll in the arena.  

We located her after about 15 minutes (sn*w on the ground is useful for something!) and "recaptured" her without incident.  How did she look?  How did you feel?

She was sweaty, had nervous shivering and very pleased to see her herd.  She was very accepting of being caught and ready to connect back up with me on the ground.  She was pretty ‘amped’ but very willing to walk with me.  While being very concerned about whether something was following her for quite a while longer, she also responded well to ground manner instructions.  By about 10-15 minutes later she had returned to her usual self, which does include paying a lot of attention to the forest and keeping a watchful eye out.  

Right front shoe missing, otherwise unharmed

You were beating yourself up pretty thoroughly yesterday.  Wanna talk about that a little?
Not really.  My first fear was that my horse would cause another rider to have an accident or that my horse would be badly injured.  That automatically felt like my fault.  I also had never had a horse spook and bolt, let alone to take off for a good ¼-1/2 mile, so for me it was incredibly scary to worry about where she was and if she was injured.  Her responses, as Aarene said, were pretty darn normal – she didn’t invent anything new.  

My responses as well were not new – I immediately blamed myself for pretty much every possible horrible scenario and decided I am never going to be a true horse woman.  Letting my friends take over and gently but firmly work with me has been key to gaining perspective.  Hearing everyone else’s stories about going through similar things really helped normalize things for me and take me out of my emotional habits and look more closely at what a ‘guardian angel moment’ it really was and how much I could learn if I could set my emotional habits to the side. 

You are feeling more robust and "lessons learned" today.  Share some thoughts?
After a shower, good dinner and a lot of wine (following Patty making me hydrate and eat in the afternoon, thank you forever for always taking care of me – we are all crew for each other even when we aren’t at ride camp!) I slept for a long time. Today, I worked my thoughts into four lessons learned:
  1. Shit happens, I’m not immune and I can’t avoid it in life
  2. I can keep learning about ways to limit shit happening and add skills to deal with shit happening, because shit is going to happen and sometimes it is going to be very scary.  We will have scary moments together and we’ll have to deal with them.  Sometimes we will have to learn together and deal with the fact that we both are learning at the same time. 
  3. Freya did not grow big fangs or turn into a terrified unreliable horse after her scare – it didn’t take all that long to get back to normal and would have been quite a bit faster if I wasn’t so freaked out.
  4. There will always be lots of learning and ways to grow her and my experience. Training both rider and horse is a life’s work. 
It's going to be important to not only "get back on the horse" but also get back on the trails to rebuild confidence

What are your plans for the near future? 
Work with Dory and my mentors on ways to simulate the circumstances and make them much less scary. Also what skills I can learn as a result of these events.

Reach out to my trusted friends and mentors for ideas on ways to widen my skill set and work with Freya in a broad range of new environments and experiences over time.  I need to balance comfort and confidence in knowing what I do with pushing my limits and learning new things.  That’s why I work with Dory as I can trust her to be honest about when I’m having a crisis of confidence but have the skills to handle something versus when I need to learn a new skill. 

I want to work more with obstacles and strange encounters in the arena or outside at the barn as well – pool noodles and such. 

Then also to ride in different arenas, hopefully a schooling show at some point soon, new trails constantly and such. 

What else?
Patty/Monica/Aarene and I talked at length about what I did and whether I could have done things differently to change the outcome.  

While that talk helped me realize that I actually did pretty well considering the circumstances, I am deeply reminded that I need to push my and Freya’s comfort level often to find new experiences and learn together as a team and so that she learns to listen to me when she encounters something new.

Okay, Readers, NOW IT'S YOUR TURN.
At the post-ride lunchtime de-briefing, we all regaled Du with our stories of the time(s) our horses blew a gasket and ran away/rolled down a mountain/got lost etc.  

I'm pretty sure the readers of this blog have some good war stories to share, and we all wanna read 'em.  The comments box is wide open!


  1. I've not had a horse bolt & get away from me, but my first horse bolted with me on him, in an arena, & even my instructor trying to act as a human gate did not deter him. I had to bail off, & even though I wasn't hurt (EXTREMELY sore, but not hurt-hurt), the nerves took me over. I had been riding for oh, 10 years or so & had always been a cautious rider, but that REALLY shook my confidence.. things that I had always been able to do, I could no longer do, no cantering, very little trotting, wouldn't go outside or on a trail ride..

    It wasn't until someone made a snide comment about me (to my face no less) that I was finally like, WTH.. I CAN DO THIS, I DID IT FOR YEARS! & that was how I learned to squish my fear down to a tiny kernel & ignore it. I acknowledge it, but I can ignore it now. :) (most of the time!)

    That's (one of) my war story(ies) ;)

  2. Oh lets count the times and there are many. Most of my "incidents" are usually because I get to relaxed our causal about possible catastrophes! Two recent-ish stories stick out for me.
    The first one is with my younger mare Amira. I live in Snoqualmie near the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, but to get to the trail I have to ride from Meadowbrook/Reinig RD to Tokul Rd (3 miles total from my house). This is the length of Millpond RD which has almost no shoulder. Amira has been ponied down this road and ridden down this road easily 15 to 20 times, with out incident. Well on a lovely day in September I wanted to take advantage of my time after work and ride Amira to the SVT. She was tense, but good. We made it thru the intersections, a semi passed us and a few cars. All was going well and I RELAXED which is good, unless you relax TOO much and the litter monster is lurking on the shore of the Millpond and scares your horse. Who then pulls one of those magic maneuvers where they are suddenly going the opposite direction and on the other side of the road. Needless to say I hit the road hard. A car that had passed me a minute before I fell watched it happen in the rearview mirror and was nice enough to pick me and my dog up and follow my horse back towards home. I had visions of her being hit by a car, slipping on the asphalt all sorts of things. Well the silly mare followed all of the rules of the road, stayed on the tiny shoulder AND stopped at the stop sign. By the time she got to the Snoqualmie River a local who was swimming had caught her. I got back on and we went back to observe the litter monster again (much snorting and panic), got over it and went home. It wasn't until I was half way up my road that I realized one of my middle fingers wasn't straight or bendable. Apparently when I fell I left my finger behind in the reins!
    The second story is with a mare (Splendid) I have owned since she was 4 and I was 12. We have been thru much together and know each other really really well. As of this year we will have been together for 16 years. I have fallen off her many times, I have also asked her to do some maybe not so wise things that SHOULD of resulted in someone's injury. But again its often for me, that moment when I'm not really paying attention that gets me. Splendid and I had spent about 3-4 hours checking out the trails around our house (we had lived there less than a year at this point) we had had a lovely ride, saw some elk and it didn't even rain! I often ride alone because my schedule so rarely meshes with anyone elses, and I enjoy it. Well we were about 2 miles from home when I asked Splendid for a nice little canter on the old logging road that leads to the woods home; which she obliged. Then the stupidest thing happened. Her hoof boot came off. Which caused her to trip. Which turned into a horse/human somersault. Which HURT. She pops up and walks over to me, I stand up and just when I'm about to pick her reins up, she takes off towards home ..... Mandy (my dog) had a moment of watching Splendid galloping away and looking at me and followed the horse. I then called my husband to tell him that the horse and dog were coming home with out me, but not to worry I was still in one piece and after he caught them could he please come get me? When he found them, 1/4 mile from home they were calmly walking and greeted him happily. Luckily I was riding on Hancock Land and the roads Splendid took home were all our dirt road, where there is little traffic and pretty horse friendly people. So I wasn't as worried. But there is a definite sense of hopelessness when you horse and dog leave you stranded.
    Now.... I have fallen off of Splendid (another one of those "shit" moments not her fault and not my fault) during an Endurance Race with 20 other amped up horses rushing past her, and she has stood waiting for me to get my shit together so we could continue on. But on this day I learned if she's within 2 miles of home. She's not waiting!

  3. Well, there's this:

    As for me personally - I've lost one horse due to my ASSUMING that Mr Ol' reliable would stay put while I cleared a path for us. Nope - he went 2 miles home. Across 2 roads. With the dog.

  4. Goodness, where to start? I have to choose only one? Ima gonna hafta think about the one I wanna share.... which scars to glory in.... you know? Great story Du and Freya!Thank you for being willing to share!

  5. This has been on my mind all day as I could do virtually nothing with my horse.

    "I am deeply reminded that I need to push my and Freya’s comfort level often to find new experiences" - Hey, you cannot blame yourself, you did nothing wrong. You did very right and had bad luck. You are so very, very luckily not alone in the woods with a young horse. Which reinforces my opinion that being along in the woods with mine is a bad idea, no matter how often people push me.

    Then again, your statement of commitment applies to everyone, on every horse. And I thank you for it - I am so anxious to get out and do nothing but in-hand bushwhacking with my horse now! If only the rain would come straight down and not sideways, and liquid and not solid.

    Strangely, I remember that exact moment with my first horse, his legs got tangled in a tree. I resorted to WHOA. Somehow that worked. I was luckier than I deserved. I was alone.

    I am so envious of people who have any consistent reliable help with her young green horse. Even as I am getting some of that now, it's not consistent, I have no idea if anyone will help me in my last 3 weeks. No idea sucks.

    I feel this pressure, this stress, constantly, to find someone to help me, but I tell myself, self, stressing about finding help is not helping.


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