Monyana’s story part 3: From 2-speed racer to graceful companion
In the first and second parts of Monyana’s story, we described how she came to be stabled with me and some of the work we needed to do before we could begin tackling her rideability. This is the final part of her journey in The Horses that Taught Me series….
We continued groundwork, but now began to introduce the riding techniques. Aside from the fact that she was completely unresponsive to asks from the reins, I noticed instantly that she would run around stiff, hollow-backed with her head right up, indicating several things (including stress and anxiety), but meaning she wasn’t using her body optimally. In addition, to begin with, Monyana had 2 speeds: walk and gallop – she couldn’t do anything in-between. She also didn’t know how to stand still. She was generally very unbalanced and was a bit of a mess, to be honest.
As there was no response on the reins, I felt using a bit would be unfair to her, as it clearly made her uncomfortable and I didn’t want to hurt her. I introduced a bitless bridle, which was also a necessity as her owner was still a novice rider, and I tend to advocate for novices using gentler aids while they are learning the subtle art of applying pressure correctly.
We tried numerous ways of getting her to slow down, because she just wanted to go. I tried all the things that I knew, and none of them worked. Eventually I turned to the owner and said “You know what? I’m just going to let her run.”
And that’s what I did – I let her run…without trying to stop or turn her, I just let her go. I’m pretty sure I now have a good idea of what it feels like to be a jockey! She galloped me around that arena for 2 or 3 sessions before she began to slow down and realise that she was just running against herself. I wasn’t trying to stop her; I was just a completely neutral passenger. It slowly sunk in for her that it was kind of pointless to be running around, and that that’s not what she needed or had to be doing. And so, we introduced a couple more gaits to her repertoire – she could now trot and canter without feeling the need to be a speed demon.
Now that she was more manageable, Candice began to ride her in earnest. We did a lot of desensitising with her as she was quite a spooky horse – Candice took a couple of spills when Monyana spooked sideways at ‘all the scary things’, but we soon overcame that, and she became a much more confident horse.
We also had to work on teaching her how to stand still and to stop when we asked her to stop, which was quite a challenge. As part of training her to be a safe horse, both on the ground and in the saddle, we worked on training her to respond to an ‘emergency brake’ signal (one reign stop), in case she started getting too fast and Candice needed to halt her quickly.
From there we moved on to getting her to use her body and her muscles correctly, getting her to round her back and be more flexible. We spent a long time working on her frame which was key to her being able to carry herself without rushing forward. It also did wonders for her anxiety, as such work does with many horses – it helps gently ‘bring them back’ to focusing on you and what you’re asking for, which relieves any unease that may build up. From rushing around hollow-backed and disengaged, we worked on getting her posture and carriage correct which in itself made her a much more engaged horse, who listened and responded to our aids.
For Candice, at last, she could finally and reliably have a good ride on her horse.
Today, Monyana is one of the safest and most reliable horses in my stable. In the paddock, she is absolutely fine with other horses. I absolutely love to ride her and often use her as a leader horse on outrides and when I am working with clients to train their horses. I basically know I’m completely safe with her, which is worlds away from where we started. It took a good 6 months of work to get her from that scared, angry girl to being predictable, safe and pretty much my ‘no surprises’ go-to horse for a lot of the work and recreation I do in the yard. I trust her with my life, I can pretty much do anything with her, anytime, anywhere and I know she will look after me.
So much of the credit here must also go to her devoted owner, Candice, who was just so fearless, determined and committed to putting in the time and effort to help Monyana become that reliable go-to companion that she is today.