In December EN blogger and Vermont eventer Kate Rakowski spread her snowbird wings and flew south to Ocala, Florida with her horse, Kissa. The mission: training with Tik Maynard. Today she reports back on their slow but steady progress. Read Kate’s previous blog posts here

Photo by Kate Rakowski.

It’s starting to look a little like progress around here. Tiffany hasn’t shown her voice since I called her out in my last post. Kissa has demonstrated several moments of significant maturity as well as a general attitude difference in her flat work. Even her eye and her hind leg scratches/summer sores are better.

I was on a hack with a friend and her Morgan gelding when he spooked at a horse head on a pillar. In order to appreciate what happens next, you need to know that riding out has never been amongst Kissa’s strengths. You know how ads for horses say, “Rides out alone or in groups.” She does neither. Riding out alone in a field near our house at the end of her 3-year-old year was how she exploded, porpoising so much I went off over her back end. She ran into the road and it was only luck that brought her home with road rash but no injuries to either of us. So, she saw Mario look at the pillar, she stepped up to it (I swear, I didn’t even add leg, she just did it), sniffed it and the horse head on top, stepped back, sniffed Mario’s nose to tell him it was OK and stepped up to it again to invite him up. She was so clearly being the brave one and showing him that it was OK. I had never seen her do anything like that.

Another lovely sunset from my door at the front of the barn aisle. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

Out on a hack with Tik, we walked and trotted together for 15 minutes or so. Then Tik wanted to do some gallops so he cantered off across the field. And Kissa only got a little bit jiggy for a few steps, then just quietly walked on a lose rein back to home. Just walked, when another horse had just cantered off!! Do you understand that teenage girls never go anywhere alone. He left! and she walked!

There have been several times that she’s been around horses in distress and she hasn’t picked up their energy. She used to be all for any kind of wildness that anyone offered. She was turned out in a paddock next to a new horse that had just arrived from Germany; he was running around and screaming and she just stood calmly eating hay. There was a mare getting ridden who was lonely because other horses were eating dinner and getting turned out. I was finishing my after ride walk nearby and when the mare whinnied distress, Kissa nickered back in a deep, “it’s OK friend” kind of way instead of also screaming matching distress.

And then there’s the Red Dragon incident. A fiery young, chestnut Thoroughbred was losing her cool, spinning and running backwards toward the barn when we walked by. Kissa remained totally calm and provided the horse a lead back to the jump field and back home. It was challenging because Kissa didn’t know the mare and Tik, who was the one riding, said, “Be as close as you can, but be aware that I’m like 90% out of control.” So, we had to go close, stop until the mare came forward a step, go quickly when she started walking, but stop so as not to get out ahead of her too far and lose her. Kissa was a perfect leader. Where did this good, thoughtful, responsive horse come from?

In our daily flatwork, Tik said, “I feel like I’m finally actually training her now. She’s looking to find the answers instead of overreacting and avoiding.” And I feel the difference too. If we can take that attitude change back to the jumps, I think his prediction that this work will fix 80% of the jumping problems will be totally true.

My friend Melissa once posted a video of us teaching/reteaching a horse to relax about dropping into water and mentioned that many parts of horse training are about as exciting as watching paint dry. But I had good fun that day and I’m having fun riding my horse now, even though it’s been almost two months since she’s jumped and I do really want to get back to that before I have to go home.