February was a rough month for Athena and I.
In the beginning of February Athena was out of control. Athena had learned some pretty nasty habits over the past few weeks and to be honest she was getting back to her old dangerous self again. It is hard when you love an animal so much as we do to not take things personally.
Athena would yank and drag you around when leading her. When tied, she would paw the ground endlessly. She would toss her head and do little half rears until she untied herself or busted the halter or the tie. She would push and shove you with her head, and smack her head against you when she didn’t want to do something. She would dance around while tied, and even lifted her leg once like she thought about kicking me. Getting her into the barn was a fight. Getting her into the round pen was a fight. Getting her to stand still while I got into the saddle was a fight. And if she didn’t want to do something, she made your life hell. She started doing half rears in the saddle, until one day she went completely up on me. She tried bolting with me a few times when asking her to canter, and although she never did buck she started thinking about it and positioning her body to do it. She almost flipped in the barn while trying to saddle her. She jammed and bruised my hand really bad while in the wash bay one day. She knew she was stronger than me and used it to her advantage. I am not even joking that every interaction with her was miserable. I had no idea what happened to my sweet horse, and to be honest I was pretty heartbroken.
I kept running over everything I did, wondering where I went wrong. I felt guilty for letting her backslide, I was frustrated with every interaction with her, and honestly I dreaded going to the barn. I finally brought up my frustrations with Sherry and we had a very long lesson the next day.
Before I even pulled her out of the pasture Sherry gave me a long talk. Basically, I had to give Athena some really tough love. I couldn’t coddle her. No more treats. I had to be the boss 100% of the time until she got her head back on straight. I had to be tough and assertive. While I was pretty stern with Athena, I never got really tough with her because I was so afraid to cross a line considering her abusive past. But I had to step up if I wanted us to both not get hurt. Sherry told me I did nothing wrong, and every young horse backslides at some point in their training and that every horse has this moment. It made me feel so much better to know I didn’t do anything to cause all this and that her behavior was normal for a young horse, but it would not be tolerated.
When I caught her, Sherry had me put a stud chain on her. When she tried to walk over the top of me I got onto her. She looked at me with bewilderment. Yes, I finally had some power! Every time she tried to walk past me or over the top of me I would stop and get onto her. It took awhile to get to the barn, but by the time we did she wasn’t yanking me around. We left the chain her while grooming and instead of tying her up we left her standing there. Anytime she got pushy or tried to walk off, we got onto her. I saddled her and Sherry met me in the arena.
I normally had lunged Athena on a lunge line just to get her used to it as if we were at a show. But after her injury, Athena would yank the rope out of my hands or try to drag me across the arena. One time she completely knocked me down. Sherry took a hold of her and anytime Athena would yank or ride on the line she would yank her back. Eventually Athena got the point. Normally I would only lunge Athena for 5 minutes, if at all. Today Sherry wanted me to lunge her for a long time. Immediately Sherry could tell that Athena was full of fire and was being really naughty. Our sweet, easy going horse was galloping as hard as she could, back bowed up and ears laid back. Sherry had me lunge her until Athena was more submissive and not so defiant. It took us about 30 minutes.
When I got in the saddle, I was a little nervous. Athena had been so bad and I was nervous she would get us hurt. Sherry walked us through several techniques to get her to stop rearing if she didn’t want to do something. She was so tired from all the work before that she didn’t even attempt to bolt or be hateful at the canter. Sherry taught me what to do if Athena didn’t want to do a specific maneuver and how to handle her. By the end of the lesson, Athena was finally listening to me. FINALLY.
I got off and Athena already seemed different. Instead of trying to bully me, she was looking towards me as a leader. Not completely as before, but she was getting there. I left the barn completely wiped out from our very long day.
Over the next few days/weeks, I was very tough with Athena. Yet with everyday that passed, Athena was returning to her normal self. Every now and then we had a battle, but Sherry equipped me with the knowledge and tools to win every time. Athena was never afraid of me, but she definitely regained her respect for me. Slowly going out to the barn became more pleasant again. I would come home telling my husband “Athena didn’t run me over today!” or “Athena stood quietly while I groomed her and tacked her up!”, or “Athena didn’t rear when I asked her to pivot to the left!” all proud and happy. They were baby steps, but with every basic remastered I slowly got my horse back.
For those few weeks she was really bad, I really felt like I lost my horse. Instead of nickering and meeting me at the gate, she would stand defiantly in her pasture and made me walk to get her. Instead of nuzzling my hair, neck, chest and shoulders, she would look at me out of the corner of her eye with her ears back. Instead of patiently and loyally walking beside me with no lead rope, she would run over the top of me or rear up if she didn’t want to do something. I didn’t recognize her and I was very upset about it. It seemed like overnight someone swapped out my amazing, sweet, loving Athena for some crazy, mean mare.
By the end of February, Athena was finally back to her old self. She would have her stubborn moments, usually in the saddle but she was nothing like before. We have a few theories as to why she got so sassy so quick. It could have been how she was on stall rest for 2-3 weeks. She could have been in season (we keep her under lights, so although it was winter it is still possible). She seemed very herd sour towards her pasture mate, Nay Nay the mini and that could have been part of the problem. It could have been a combination of all three. All that mattered was that Athena was back to her loving, kind, calm, intelligent self again. She began to nicker when she saw my car pull up or saw me walking around the barn. She began to sweetly walk next to me, stopping as I stopped. She began to bring her head down to me, resting it on my chest and letting me pet her again. Instead of fighting me, she would simply sigh and trust me. I finally had my best friend back!
I was so grateful for Sherry, who took the time to teach me how to handle her in this new way without breaking her spirit or beating her. Even though there were times I want to scream, yell and throw things, I am grateful for this learning opportunity. I feel I have grown so much as a horsewoman and I am more equipped to handle really difficult horses. Seeing Athena so terrible makes me really appreciate her when she is “normal” and gave me a sharp reminder that she is a young horse.
Thank you for reading and being so supportive of Athena and I!
Read more about our journey together by CLICKING HERE! You can read how I found her, how we overcame an injury that most said she wouldn’t recover from, and how she went from an aggressive and scared rescue to a stunning and loving friend and show horse!
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