Today I rode my beautiful mare, Domino for the first time. Ok, technically, I threw my leg over her and took her for a lap around the round pen earlier in the week, but this was the first REAL ride.
Domino came to me in early October, 2011. She had been a pasture ornament since the time four years earlier, when she almost killed her owner. The story I got was that she had been a lovely riding horse for 10 years until she suddenly began some erratic and dangerous behavior. First, she fell over on a trail ride when her owner put her foot in the stirrup. Then, several months later, her owner took her to a clinic, and seconds after getting on, the mare took 2 steps and went straight up in the air, flipping over backward, breaking the saddle, and nearly killing her human passenger, who managed to bail out just in time.
Most horse people know, as I do, that this is usually a behavior issue, and once a horse learns to go up in the air to avoid pressure, it is rarely repairable. That was the official assessment of the clinician present for the horse's final ride. So when it was suggested that Domino needed a home, and mine would be perfect, I immediately said "no thanks."
But then I met Domino.
From the minute I met her, she showed none of the usual symptoms of a "flip-over horse" that I was expecting to see. She dropped her nose to the ground when I applied pressure to her poll, she backed and moved forward with my lightest touch. I agreed to work with her for a few days to see if she would be a good fit and in 3 days of round pen work, she was supple, responsive, careful and sweet. She displayed none of the traits of a horse that goes over backward in fear or anger, as she was purported to do.
As you may be aware, 2011 was a challenging year for our family. Many a fruitless battle was waged and lost. By October, I began to feel I needed to do something productive to recharge my spirit. Domino became that catalyst. Knowing there was a strong possibility I would never be able to actually ride her, I agreed to take her anyway, reasoning that I could always breed her if she didn't work out as a riding horse. And, since the cows had to find new homes, Blacky would need a new companion.
When the trailer containing Domino pulled onto our property, Blacky didn't even look up, probably convinced we were just bringing in a new cow. But once he got a whiff of equine, he let out a whinny I will not soon forget. He came to the fence to meet her, and it was love at first sight. One hurdle passed, now the work would begin.
First off, I scheduled her a massage and a chiropractic evaluation. It was the chiropractor who gave me a new piece of info, and a clue to the flipping and falling. It was her opinion that Domino may have contracted a mild case of a neurological disease several years ago, that left her with slightly diminished nerve function. Nothing that the body couldn't rebuild with the amazing redundancy God builds into every living organism, but enough to have caused some short circuiting that may have resulted in erratic, unbalanced behavior...like flipping over.
She is one of the most sensitive horses I've ever worked with, and a bit of a worry-wart. But, once trust is established, she is golden. So, it was with great optimism that I approached our first ride. And I was not disappointed.
In my prior groundwork, I learned that she is not comfortable or happy in a bit. A more responsive horse to pressure, I have not yet found, so rather than try to force her into a bit of my choosing, I simply switched to a bosal. This appears to be a perfect solution.
First, I worked her under saddle on the ground. A few times each direction.
Then, I got on. She was even more relaxed and less worried than the first time I got on earlier in the week. Progress already.
The first few steps...
Change direction and suggest a little leg yield...
Another change of direction and a few more laps.
Nothing to worry about...
I spent a good 20 minutes atop Domino, and she was lovely. Soft, supple, responsive at walk, trot, halt and back. She yielded easily to leg pressure, and while I felt she was a little weak behind, but it's nothing shocking given the fact that she's been out of work for four years.
Well done, Domino.