The pony and I are having a hard time.
She’s been pulling me in a cart for seven years now. Out of nowhere she’s gotten anxious and persnickety, not wanting to go full circle in a clockwise direction. Counter clockwise is no problem. Reversing directions, she shies and crow-hops sideways—dangerous for me as well as others in the indoor training arena. It’s as if she’s forgotten how to do her job.
Nothing seems to be wrong physically: her feet are fine, no abscesses, and her teeth check out. No issues with the fit of her bit and harness equipment either. While the Vermont winter has been a mild one, perhaps she’s just a bit stir crazy from being stall bound for so many months.
Others at the barn are also having performance issues. Once teen rider saddled up, but knew something was not right. “I feel like I am riding a volcano,” she called out. Seconds later, she was thrown from her over-excited horse. Another older rider was about to mount, when her horse reared. She wisely decided to lunge the animal on a long line and not get in the saddle that day. Even as the thermostat warms, my equestrian friends and I must be patient and carefully warm up the animals.
Driver error could be setting the pony off stride, so I bring in my trainer. With him, the pony is well behaved and on task in both directions. Not so when I drive by myself; her disruptions continue and my frustration builds—it’s just not fun. I like working through problems and making progress in training, but feel a bit helpless and stuck.
My coach notices that clockwise she is not moving forward straight between the shafts and leans into her left shoulder. I work to correct this on the ground as well as in the cart. Small micro-calibrations focus on strengthening and straightening.
Some days, progress is made, other times, she is discombobulated. Here, I try to stay calm, ending with success. Small victories are important. Although, as her misbehavior lingers, I am at a loss as to what to do. It’s important not carry over anxiety from one session to the next. All too often we trigger our animals unknowingly, as equines are extremely empathetic.
I’m hoping all of this is just a seasonal wintry residue. Spring can’t come soon enough, before the horses are outdoors in their pastures every day, working off pent up energy. Until then, patience and persistence must prevail. Barn issues are no different than life issues. Tomorrow I plan to return and begin again.
John R. Killacky is executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT..