Photo by Michele Dodge

By Vicki Frey

My 10 year-old mare, Rousseau (Roo), and I have been together for six years. Roo lives at my house and we trailer out to various local arenas to train. Unfortunately, I have come off of her a few times and gotten hurt in the process. I never blamed Roo, as these incidents have all occurred following a period of lack of work. Instead, I blamed myself and my busy life.

When Roo was four years old, she kicked out during the canter and unseated me, then started bucking. I ended up in the hospital with two broken wrists and doctor’s orders to stay out of the saddle for up to four months. With Roo being the young and inexperienced horse that she was, I wasn’t very scared to get back on her at that time, thinking that her bucking was something she would eventually grow out of. But she repeated this behavior twice more over the course of the next few years. I wasn’t seriously injured again, but as time went on and her bucking continued, my fear began to grow. This past December, she threw me a fourth time due to a nasty spook, which unseated me. Fortunately, I had no broken bones and ended up with only a bruised rib and sore body, but the fear really took hold. I love my horse and I don’t give up easily, but it was evident that I was now living in fear of riding Roo.

All my friends told me to sell this horse and get something calmer, with less nervous energy. Unsure of what to do, I gave my trainer of many years, Carrie Harnden, a call. Carrie had moved out of my area several years ago, but she told me to bring Roo down to her ranch, as she might have a potential buyer. I promptly loaded Roo into the trailer and off we went, on a seven and a half hour drive, to Carrie’s place in central California.

My goal was to have my trainer ride and tune-up Roo to sell her, but deep down I really just wanted to regain my confidence with her. After three days of watching my trainer ride my beloved mare, I mustered up the courage to get back on Roo and work through my fear. I only trotted that first day under Carrie’s guidance, but it felt so good to ride without incident. I decided to stay at the ranch for three weeks and get my in-saddle confidence back, under the tutelage of my trusted trainer.

Carrie rode Roo five days a week. I would get on at the end of each ride to understand what my horse learned from the exercises that day, and to gain more trust with Roo. We changed my tack and equipment, and I found a new saddle which made a huge difference in how secure I felt. By the end of the three weeks, I was riding with more confidence and casually hacking Roo around the open spaces of the ranch. My trust in my lovely mare was slowly but surely being restored.

I now understand that this mare needs consistent work, and I am grateful to have a good trainer that helped me overcome my riding fears. The decision to keep my mare was the right one, and I look forward to a buck-free future with Roo.

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