I'm usually considered a pretty brave rider, or dumb depending on how you look at it, but there are some things that just fry my brain. Too many bad experiences to be able to handle going into that situation again without my flight reflex kicking in. Riding in a mixed group with horses I don't trust in the open? Yeah, heart starts speeding up just thinking about it.
I went to the beach today with four other riders, ranging from the little bit that bravely jumped everything at the fall hunter pace to Miss Thang's junior to Trainer A and another instructor. Some of the horses were old beach pros, some were going for the first time. While loading this morning, I was asked what bit I packed. I stared at Trainer A blankly and said 'D ring, because it's on the bridle that I don't care if it gets salt on it'.
"Do you want his kimberwicke? And I'd grab a martingale."
Hold up, wait a minute, kimberwicke? Martingale? I've never used either of those items with him, even when doing cross country. Everyone said he's perfect at the beach, what the heck? So the adrenaline starts going. Clearly he's not that perfect.
And then I got to spend the hour long drive thinking about what I was going to have to deal with. We arrived with a biting, cold wind and Theo inflated to his full height. Oh fricking hell.
Fire breathing dragon mode: go!
So now I have left the confident, capable, former professional head space and have plunged head long into IMGONNADIE head space. Theo is feeding off of me like a fiend and starts to act up. I put his martingale on and swing up. We're managing pretty well at first, but when he decides to fight his martingale so he can look like a giraffe then starts flying backward, I bail. And immediately get back on because really, Catie? Really?
I managed to stay on the horse for the walk down to the beach and start toward the water. I start chilling out, Trainer A is talking about whatever to make me breathe and stop freaking. Then Trainer A's green bean sees a kite and freezes. Fun fact, Theo did not care at all about the kite. He cared about having to stop and stand for no good reason while the green bean snorted and contemplated her mortality. He starts to snort and shake his head and fight that martingale again (seeing a theme?). I can't leave the rest of the herd that thinks the kite is horrifying, he starts to ball up, bail #2.
We find a picnic table so I can get back on.
At this point I decide that Theo and I are going to go in front and walk forward briskly because he's not actually scared of a darn thing, he's just very up. So long as we have the marching walk going, we're good.
Trainer A's view for most of the ride
After a bit of this, I get brave and start doing some trotting bursts. Then longer bursts. Finally we were able to happily trot down the beach, splashing through some water.
Hey, check it out, I can ride!
Some of the girls were taking turns cantering and there was no way I was going to be the only one that didn't canter. So I took Theo off away from the group, then cantered back. It was short, but at least I did it. Trainer A insisted I go out and canter again with her and Theo really enjoyed that. A lot. He wanted to open up and tear around, but I couldn't do it with the herd separating and recombining. While we were waiting for the teens, he started to flail hard with me (I'm picking up on the cause of the problem at this point) and I , once again, bailed.
We found some old pillars to help me remount.
Heading home was good. I had a big swinging walk, I did some bursts of trot, I schooled him rather than jump off when he started to bow and act up because the other horses were heading down to the water and he was going straight. I thought I was home free. Then the baby pony comes cantering up and doesn't stop very promptly. He starts to pass Theo. Theo hits the martingale (ding ding ding, she's figured it out), starts to tantrum, and I was off. Bail #4.
At this point, Theo was just cranky. He was not having it any more. I decided to take his standing off to see if that improved his mood and he struck out at me. He never, ever threatens me, but he was just looking for a fight. I managed to get the martingale off and walked very briskly down the beach with him while he shook his head and snorted. Once he was able to get his nose out as far as he wanted and walk as fast as he wanted, he settled down mentally. Still very up, but not looking to take a piece out of me.
Note to self: no standing martingales. EVER.
I didn't bother trying to get back on. We'd been out for over an hour and were most of the way to the trailer. I just walked him back so he could go to bed. I didn't want to risk what positive experiences he'd had. Clearly we have a lot of work to do to get both of us comfortable playing in the open. I'm not at all comfortable going out with a group to the beach. With Fiona I was fine because she was completely non-reactive about it. Theo? Yeah, different story completely. As soon as I came unglued, we were toast.
He was never actually naughty, but he had some strong opinions and he now has some very strong hindquarters to go with them. Being who I am, I'm now sitting on the couch completely exhuasted and checking the schedule to see when we can go to the beach again. No, I did not enjoy today's ride and I probably won't enjoy the next one, but I know we need to keep going so we can get over this.
Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway. I was at my most courageous today.