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Learning Sierra | Let It Go

It's been quite some time since I have done a "Learning Sierra" post.  I did a few when I first bought her back in June. I essentially used them to highlight things that I learned about her in those first few weeks.  I feel like every day I get to know her a little more but I began this blog to track and document my riding journey - with that, comes times where reflecting on past lessons learned is beneficial.. and I can't reflect if I don't remember to archive the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Farm Life has had me busy, and it's always even crazier during the cold snaps!
Sierra has had a week off, and my last ride was a walking ride so we didn't expel a tonne of energy.  As the Weather has continued it's ridiculously wavering path in addition to various appointments and personal engagements, I wasn't able to do much with her until yesterday (Monday).  I ventured to the barn after work and took note of the ominous and daunting ice-fog that had socked in all around the area, and contemplated just turning Sierra loose in the arena while I did some work on the footing but quickly changed my mind - I decided I was there anyway, and had might as well tack up and ride.
An unimpressed mare who lost this round of "Ima Hold My Breath While You Struggle To Do Up The Girth"
I took Si to the arena and lead her around a lap, which is the norm for me.. I don't really care about her 'seeing things' as she sees them every time we go into the indoor, but I find it helps me warm up a bit before I mount, so it's been apart of my subconscious routine for years.  As I walked into the arena, I noticed it was surprisingly dark. I had chosen not to turn on the lights (which is done from in the barn, across the yard) and assumed it was due to the fog and the fact that the arena was completely encased in snow. I walked around the perimeter as per usual and banged my hand on the canvas wall between each metal beam to encourage the snow to fall off.  Though it didn't really register at the time, I do have to give Sierra props as she couldn't care less.. she was more concerned about wanting to walk faster than I was moving.  We meandered around the ring as the boom, swish, boom, swish of sliding snow followed us.

When you're too tired to cook an actual meal
One thing that Sierra has helped me slowly over come, is my weird fear of mounting. I think it started because it's when I feel most vulnerable and Kidd has scooted out from underneath me on several occasions while mounting.. I often joke that the day I mount at the buckle and walk off large [on the buckle], will be my own personal Olympics.  That being said, as much as I have been aware of this goal, I've never really set out to accomplish it.. While yesterday wasn't much different, I did take a baby step towards it by getting on with a small drape in my rein, and walking off on a much longer rein than usual. #SmallVictories

As we marched off towards the far end, I decided to aim for that lovely stretch we found in our last ride, but Sierra had different plans.  She was suddenly awake, hyper-alert and trying to convince me she has NEVER seen this scary door on the back wall. I acknowledged that there was snow that had blown through the cracks of the door could certainly be home to teeny-tiny horse eating gnomes, but assured her it was highly unlikely.  She obliged, and tip-toed through the short end with wary hesitation but as we rounded the second corner [I like to think] she strongly considered the repercussions of taking off and pitching me into the rafters, but luckily she thought better of it.  I took the opportunity to ride a circle at that end until she relaxed and once she realized that I wasn't buying her shit, she decided to try other tactics which included rooting on the reins into the requested contact, and when that didn't work, she decided to just plow her shoulders into the ground and be OTF as much as physically possible.  I found myself getting quickly frustrated and reverted back to my old habits of 'muscling' her around.  I gave her a few good ol' justified pony-kicks for walking at a snails pace and ignoring me followed by some unnecessarily strong half-halts and I felt the frustration well up inside me. It grew and festered until it nearly bubbled over the pot. While I often joke that she's not very marish, when she has days like this I have learned you're better off to just dismount and call it a day than keep bugging her, but I aint no quitter so this never works.  She can often be a bit of a turkey after some time off but yesterday was by far the worst she has ever been.  For the first time ever, I saw glimpses of how things might escalate to resemble her broncing episode when I lent her to a friend for a lesson back in October.

We walked quite a lot!
To keep her mind focused on me while picking away at her wanting to pull down on me, instead of reefing on her (How to Start a Fight 101), I did some walk-halt transitions. I haven't spent a tonne of time on this but she was surprisingly responsive and I decided to graduate to some walk-trot-walk-halt transitions.  As I have previously mentioned, after time off when we first trot she feels like a coiled up bomb just waiting to explode. She used to give a sassy head shake but after continuous reprimand, she seems to have knocked it off.. but she still does her goofy little 'cannot go forward or will die, so i swing my bum left, then right, then left again, then right' while trotting at the speed of a sleeping sloth.. You know, otherwise referred to as the infamous "Racehorse Jig".. so I thought if I just got the reaction of forward to trot, then brought her back to walk, then halt, then gave her a pat, it might help. Wrong answer. Everyone knows you don't ask a hot, jazzed up OTTB to stand, let alone GO FORWARD, then STOP and STAND.  Rookie mistake, from an otherwise fairly well-versed Thoroughbred Person.  Thank goodness it only took three attempts at this exercise for logic to prevail and I decided to sit the trot, cuddle her with my legs, and just wait.  As I waited for her to get her shit together, I did my best to stay soft and fluid, forgiving of her inconsistencies and I reminded myself of Janine's words "Tension Breeds Tension"; I took a breath and let relaxation wash over me.  I stayed in sitting trot which isn't my preference for a warm-up, but it seemed the best option as she surged forward, lagged back, and wiggled between my aids.  When she flowed forward I did my best to follow with my seat as I cooed to her about being a good girl, and eventually (albeit far later than usual), I felt her topline relax and I progressed to posting the trot.  While she was still on edge and gave a fairly committed, inverted scoot over a noise she thinks she heard, we recovered wonderfully and had an impressively lovely ride, including some of our best leg yield to date.

What did I learn?  Well, perhaps what didn't I learn is a better question but regardless, it showed me how much Sierra is a mirror of her rider.  She's far from a 'packer' type though she is kind, she is also particular.. Her rider needs to always strive to be better if you want her to meet you in the middle and and she relies on this for support, but when you work out the kinks she is exceptional. On a relatively unrelated note, I also realized that loosening my right thigh doesn't mean taking my right leg completely off, so I need to continue to pick away at this.  Regardless, I've been blessed with many wonderful horses in my life and despite only knowing her 6 months Sierra is already leaving a lasting impression.  It's surprising to note the various, substantial lessons she has taught me in a short amount of time, and I can't wait to reflect back on this in another 6 months.

An awful post-ride selfie on our way back to the barn from the indoor.. Note to self, clean helmet


  1. Glad you guys had a productive ride and you were able to glean some helpful insights!!

  2. she sounds like such a cool mare, i'm glad you're enjoying getting to know her better and better!!

    also idk what it is about mounting, but that's a shockingly common point of anxiety for many many riders. i worked with a horse in college who would rear right when the rider would get on, and as you can imagine it could be harrowing. i found that practicing by getting on and off a couple extra times was most useful at the *end* of a ride, vs at the beginning. for whatever reason we would both be more relaxed and more in tune with each other at that point, and then i could just do a couple quick practices that would generally be nbd.

    1. Right! I used to be really uncomfortable talking about my 'fears' but now that I've gotten over that and opened up to people about it, it surprises me just how many people have the same anxiety about mounting - even people who had never had an issue with it!

  3. I do love when the horses are a mirror of the rider it really helps keep us accountable. Sounds like a really great ride!


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