If you have read the story of the struggles that I had with Promise, you are somewhat familiar with my feelings towards her dam, Annabelle. She was frustrating to deal with when I was already tired from dealing with a sick foal. I blamed her for being such a klutz and stepping on Promise anyway. So the story of my journey with Annabelle is entangled in Promise’s story, too.
So to tell this story we need to go back to the beginning when I first met this beautiful, black mare. She was located at a breeding farm that specialized in Western Pleasure horses. Supposedly Annabelle was going to be trained for the Quarter Horse Congress as a 3 year old, but her trainer just couldn’t get her ready in time. “Hmmm, how interesting!” I say now that I have more experience with how complex she is to train. When I rode her the first time in their arena, she was a dream. I asked her to jog and she maintained a nice even cadence jog, following the rail like a robot. I asked for a canter and she obliged, with a speed a little faster than would be desired for showing. I was in love. I had never owned a horse that had this much training at such a young age. I spent way more than I ever had on any horse and convinced her owner to throw in a “free” breeding to make it more worth my while. I would use the breeding the next year since it was so late in the season.
Things went fine for awhile, until I decided to start asking her to extend her trot. She had been asked for so long to be slower and slower that this just blew her mind. Asking her to learn something new made her shut down. The harder I pushed her the more she resisted me and would just stop. I had no idea how to handle this. My knowledge of training was to just get a bigger stick. This wouldn’t work on a horse like this. She was too smart and too unmotivated. Thank goodness I found Parelli soon after this. I followed the Parelli program and quit riding for awhile. I worked on ground work, getting respect and communication. We finally advanced to riding, but I still didn’t have the savvy to motivate her in an arena. Trail rides were fun as she liked going somewhere, especially with other horses. During this time, I was finally able to get her pregnant. So I then quit riding during the last few months of her pregnancy.
So after weaning Promise, I started working with Annabelle again. She became my Parelli levels horse kinda by default, as 3 of my other favorite mares were pregnant at this time. It was just a timing thing that she was the horse that I started taking to Parelli clinics. I thought she would be a good one to take, though, because she was my most challenging. My other horses seemed to accept me as their leader. Annabelle was constantly trying to take over that leadership. As I went to each of the Harmony clinics, my leadership skills improved. I was still easily frustrated by her, though. I knew this was my fault. I thought I needed better strategies. I got these strategies through Parelli. Strong leadership and having a plan really did help a lot. However, we had a big break through at our Refinement 4 clinic. Promise had just been put to sleep and I was still very upset and sad as I went to the clinic the next week. It was time to let go of the pain and frustration of the last two years. Maybe the pain ending for Promise and my not having to see that pain everyday was able to let me start to think about forgiving Annabelle. I know she is just a horse and didn’t hurt Promise on purpose. There was more to it than that. Anyone that was around knows how horrible Annabelle acts in a stall. She poops in her water and on the walls. She chews. She paces with no regard to where obstacles, even her own foal, are located. She has done this even when riding, being a klutz when stepping over obstacles. She hasn’t acted like a partner to me in ANY way. That is finally changing now, and it didn’t start with her. I had to see things from her perspective. My wonderful instructor Kerri Joosten helped me to see that. Annabelle never asked to even have a foal. She sure didn’t know how to deal with all of the commotion of taking that newborn to an unfamiliar stall at the vet. She despises stalls and I totally don’t blame her for not wanting to be locked in a small area for 3 months. Her early training was not natural horsemanship. I doubt her feelings were ever considered. I thought that I had changed and was considerate of my horses feelings, but I was still making the same mistakes. I was still trying to force behavior with her. Yes, maybe I was releasing and rewarding, but I was really still MAKING her do things. For example, she was still having unconfidence problems with trailer loading. I was telling her, “You can do it. It’s not that scary.” Instead of just waiting and saying, “I understand, it’s really scary. I know. Good girl for trying. You are so brave.” I was always pushing and asking for more instead of accepting what she offered. I guess I didn’t want to understand her before. She frustrated me. She was stubborn. She didn’t respect me. I was still seeing all of the negative characteristics, not acknowledging that these were just areas where I lacked leadership.
Leadership isn’t about being a tyrant though. It takes many different forms. What I needed to do was understand her and wait. This has made a world of difference. This may seem so simple, but I had put her in a box and defined her as confident and introverted. However, in learning situations she really does go quite unconfident. Her lack of confidence just goes internal and quiet. You can totally miss this if you are too goal oriented and push too hard. This is what I did for too long. No more! I can recognize that subtle wrinkle of her eyelids now. She’s saying, “I can’t.” not “I won’t”. How did I miss this before? I was able to work with my other right brain introvert with no problems, but I couldn’t seem to adjust my thinking when Annabelle was concerned. The blinders of unforgiveness are off now!
You should be able to tell a difference in our relationship now. You won’t hear anything negative about Annabelle anymore. If something is going wrong, it is definitely because I am communicating it wrong. We still have much to learn but we will be learning it together on this wonderful journey. She is my perfect partner.