If I didn’t have a carrot in my hand, GM would turn away and leave me staring at her butt as I entered her stall. This gesture did not improve my confidence and, in fact, scared me. If she was eating, she would hunk over her food and not budge. My approach was to beg. Not pretty, and certainly humiliating. "Please let me cross-tie you. Here's a carrot....please!"
Putting the bridle on GM was becoming the most stressful part of my riding experience. After going through the Chicken Dance while grooming and putting the saddle on her, I could feel myself getting more and more anxious as the time approached to put on the bridle. I was terrified that those large teeth were going to connect with one of my fingers. Snap, snap! I was grateful that I was able to tack her up in her stall because I felt better about the fact that she couldn’t run off while I fumbled with the halter then the bridle. I knew what I was supposed to do and, in reality, she was pretty darn patient in this area. But, I would work myself up into such a tizzy that my fingers would not work. It didn't help matters that I couldn't actually see what I was doing - magnifying reading glasses were not part of my ensemble. I would end up poking her in the eyes or banging the bit into her teeth or try to put the bridle on backwards. The pressure was on. My classmates would be walking by GM's stall on their way to the arena. I'm late! I would eventually panic and ask for help.
Word got around about what a baby I was about the bridle and how intimidated I was by GM. One day the barn manager told me she would help me get GM ready for my lesson. We entered the stall. As GM started to turn, the barn manager quickly put her arm under GM’s jaw and softly stopped her from turning. Then she quietly started scratching GM behind her ears, slowly down her neck and withers all the way to the base of her tail. She found a sweet spot on GM’s rump. GM's body started to relax and she was totally glazed over. I think I heard her sigh!! The barn manager continued scratching her for about 10 minutes. The saddle and bridle went on without incident. I was in awe. No begging, no carrots. “You wouldn’t want someone barging into your space during dinner and throwing a saddle on you, would you? Stop and say hi and then ease into it. Don't rush her. Respect her.”
I came 20 minutes earlier than usual the next time. There was no activity in the barn, other than the munching of horses eating. I stood just inside the stall and talked to GM for a while and let her continue eating. Her ears twitched. She was listening to me natter away! She did not show me her butt. Then I started to slowly scratch her all over. No Chicken Dance. No cross-ties. No begging. No carrots.
This exercise was supposed to be for her, but I think I benefited from it more. Taking that extra 20 minutes for quiet time with GM helped me calm down after a busy day at work. I could feel the stress leaving my body, my mind started to clear. In some ways, it was almost as good as having a vodka soda - almost!! She did not attempt to bite me that evening, or any other time after that. There were still times she thought about it....but she didn't. Old habits die hard. We had reached a mutual understanding. Another lesson learned.
Not having to do the Chicken Dance or beg someone to help me with the bridle was a BIG boost to my confidence. I think GM felt the difference because she seems to be a little less grumpy with me. Unfortunately, this exercise did not eliminate her need to pin her ears back and kick if one of the other horses got too close during lesson. My vise-like thighs still came in handy!
What was I thinking…..?