Building Habits

Academically, I knew why Spicy and I had to spend four months only walking. The Cowboy told me we needed to learn how to communicate, which makes sense. I was very anxious to get trotting but he kept saying no, not yet, and every time I tried to trot it kinda fell apart. I'd try trotting, I'd have a couple explosions, I'd send The Cowboy a panicked text and he'd tell me to go back to the walk. If I didn't feel comfortable and safe at the walk, go back to ground work.

After awhile I stopped trying to forage ahead. I gave up trying to sneak trots or trail rides in and resigned myself to walking in figure eights in the arena.

I wasn't even that disturbed when the pandemic precluded us from having lessons. That's fine, I told myself. This will take trotting completely off the table until he's back, and we can cross that bridge then.

So we walked, and walked. Sometimes, for  a change of pace, we would halt! It was scintillating stuff. I would've been bored, but something was happening.

Sept 2019

He was getting this like, really killer walk?

Early April 2020

May 2020

He wasn't trying to teleport out from underneath me anymore? Even when something 'scary' happened, I was able to diffuse the situation easily. Before either of us really realized the transition, we were trotting.

And then last weekend, it happened. The neighbor did something UNBELIEVABLY TERRIFYING (slammed a car door) and Spicy tried to leave. Which normally looks like this:

In that GIF I choke up on the reins, my body goes rigid, I lose my seat. All bad stuff. But this time I just did what I always did when we were walking - I sat tall and lifted my inside hand. He responded how he always responded - gave me his shoulder back, relaxed over his topline and dropped his poll.

At that moment I realized why I had to walk 'so long', and why four months was actually a small price to pay. For years (a decade, probably) I slowly built habits. I learned to be rigid and grip with my hands and legs mercilessly. Most horses I rode tolerated it. Spicy really didn't. It was imperative we spent the last four months just walking because I had to retrain my reaction. When a horse spooks I can't lift my hands a foot and creep forward with my upper body.

He stands at the mounting block now too...

Not only did I have to retrain my reaction but Spicy had to learn that this was the new normal. I wasn't going to ride him backwards and be undisciplined with my hands and upper body anymore. He's really effectively trained now to just stop if he hears the whisper of the cue to stop. I know it, which relaxes both of us.

It takes ages to build a really good habit, but as long as you care for it you only have to build it once. Now that we have the foundation, I get to do the fun part.

Enjoy it.


  1. Breaking old habits can be so hard!

  2. Creating new habits is the hardest! Your body is all naw dude, we do it this way. And your brain is all but that way doesn't work! And it's a lot of arguing. Nice job taking your time and really creating new, good habits.

  3. Bad habits can be so annoying, but the moment where you feel yourself doing something different, it's soooo eye opening. Also nice to know that you can do it differently even if you haven't perfected it yet.

  4. This makes me so happy. As always I relate so much with this- I am still working on not being rigid. It's coming, but sometimes an after thought. I am so happy that you stuck with this program.

  5. I have loved watching you rebuild things from the ground up with Spicy. That Cowboy was a real find!

  6. I'm impressed you didn't go insane doing the same thing. It obviously worked for you guys which is great. But wow that must have been hard.

  7. Walking seems like it should be boring, but you can really get so much done just walking! I'm so glad this worked for you and Spicy, so awesome!


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