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A “MARE” Project!

A “MARE” Project!

By Betsy Kelleher

     A new anticipation for 2008 has blossomed! I made only one New Year’s Resolution this year (to clean up and un-clutter the house), but now a specific horse-related goal has evolved from seeing a DVD advertised on the internet!
     I received a newsletter from Silvia Scott (, which contained a reference to this Road Safe Horse Video and I couldn’t resist! I clicked on and ordered the DVD. Haven’t even watched it yet, but I am already planning to get serious about making Lady a road safe horse in 2008!
     I know it won’t be as easy as viewing a DVD, but I’m determined to give this an honest try. By the end of the year, I’d like to feel confident and safe riding Lady on the road by our barn. It has taken me three years to get past having a panic attack just thinking about it. Ever since Lady’s first ride down that road in November of 2004, when a dumpster truck passed us and Lady spun with me, I’ve been trying to deal with this. It helped to have Cynthia Medina ride Lady down the road while I rode Rocky or Traveller. I could see how she was able to handle Lady, and I could relax and not worry about it.
     I rode Lady myself a few times, encountering a big tractor in the field (not running), a lawn mower going back and forth in the yard, and a big diesel truck parked with motor running. Each time, I felt I took one more baby step toward regaining my confidence. Once, I was riding Lady on the road when a big truck went by and she only backed up a few steps. I have yet to ride her alone very far from the arena, but that will be part of this year’s plan. I can only do what my limited courage allows. It has been a slow process so far, but the last three years have given me a good start toward my current plan. 
     I know better than to jump in the deep end when I’m not sure I can swim. At my age, I want to live to celebrate a few more birthdays, and I do wear a helmet. I am determined to work on this goal in baby steps that feel safe and to get help along the way. I will lay out the goal on paper, with each step defined specifically, and with definite progress recorded as I go along. Sometime toward the end of the year of 2008, I’ll share the results. If any reader has advice, I’d welcome it. Just send me an email!
     My first horse was also a headstrong mare. I was intimidated by her strength and energy, but I rode anyway. I had wanted a horse for so long, I was happy with anything! I rode her alone on a country road, a six mile trip around the block, several times a week. She spooked at a train once and when I kept her from turning to run home, she backed up into a cornfield, knocking down about 10 rows in a scary scramble. I still remember standing there in that cornfield, the tassels above my head, while the train sounds faded and Fanny stood there shaking and prancing, not willing to come out of her hiding place! I was a mile from home and we continued on and finished the remaining five miles of the ride. And I kept on riding her. Another time she spooked and ran into an adjoining field when a truck passed us pulling a small trailer home. And I kept on riding her. I was in my 30’s then.
     Some people think we can’t change our horses much, or they just don’t know how. I want to believe we can make a difference, with patience and persistence and the right procedures. Lady is very good in the arena, and very good on trails and she’s ok with regular traffic. Lady is an alpha mare, but she is very dependent on her rider for her confidence. I need to become the rider she trusts. I need to deal with my own fears. Maybe it’s easier for a younger person to have that kind of courage.
     I want to believe there is hope for this goal to be reached. Hope itself is a powerful incentive. Hope is the possession of a possibility, and I sincerely want Lady to become a road safe riding horse! I also want to get serious with this goal, not just think about it another year or two while Lady gets older and more set in her ways (she’s ten). So no more now-and-then stuff; this will be an all out every-day endeavor complete with a lesson plan! I want to do it RIGHT. If I thought shipping her off to a trainer would be the right answer, I would do it. But I’ve ridden Lady for almost four years and I know her. I can’t fix her alpha nature or the fact that she is a mare. Those qualities don’t create her problem; they define her wonderful personality! It’s her fears that need fixing, with confident handling (and maybe an extra dose of that chamomile tea!). At least I don’t feel that terrible panic anymore at the thought of riding her (what if we meet a big truck or a four-wheeler?), but I choose when and where I ride her, and we do a lot of work in the arena!
     If I had ridden Lady (instead of Rocky) last April when Russ tried out his new mare at Sand Ridge State Forest, I shudder at the thought of what could have happened! While both Rocky and Ginger stayed calm when we met two motorcycles on the road, I’m sure Lady would have reacted dangerously.
     I believe that I can and should apply Scripture to all my personal circumstances. God’s promises give hope, because we know He will do whatever He says he will do. So far, I haven’t heard Him promise that Lady will become road safe this year. But I do rely on His help for this project. I am praying for His protection and guidance, and I know that He has promised to be with me at all times. To quote Charles Stanley in a recent article in his In Touch devotional magazine, “If you allow fear to grip your heart, then you will never have the courage to complete the task.” Luke 14: 28-32 warns me to count the cost before starting a project. And Philippians 4:13 reassures me, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Charles Stanley’s article contained another thought that spoke directly to me, “Surrender is essential; until you give every area of your life to Christ, you will never experience the true success that God wants you to have.” I know that I need to depend on God and trust Him with my whole being, just as I want Lady to trust in me.
     Lady has been a joy to me over the past four years. She also has been a challenge, a frustration, and a teacher. She is extremely affectionate, but also very demanding. She is an Alpha, always taking charge, and she is a fast thinker and a fast mover. She learns quickly, and she tries to please. She is very focused and attentive, smart, and obedient, and she responds quickly to a very light cue under normal circumstances. While she is great in the arena, I wouldn’t call her easy to ride elsewhere, because her rider must also be a fast thinker and be ready to take charge with calm confidence if Lady feels threatened.
     After Russ bought her, I tried to “fix” her headstrong ways so he could ride her. I looked for help but only found books on breeding and foaling, nothing on actually dealing with a mare. So Russ encouraged me to write a book that would do the job.
     I asked other mare owners to join in on the project, and I received much more than I planned for! The new book, “MARES! (ya gotta love ‘em)” should be available sometime in February! This book is a collection of “fifty stories to aid and inspire mare owners” by 39 different mare owners, including myself. Julie Goodnight, a well known Colorado trainer who appeared at the 2007 Illinois Horse Fair, has given helpful advice on territorial mares, and Dr. Ron Meredith of Meredith Manor Equestrian Centre included a delightful article on gender training for mares (it was in the Illinois Horse Network last fall!). There are several stories about mares who touched their owners’ lives in special ways and one story on a mare that “saved” a young man’s life. Some stories will cause a few tears, and some may make you laugh. Many will be helpful as you deal with a mare of your own. One writer shares her struggles with a mare that became dangerous to ride and the only advice she got was to get a gelding. When someone finally took time to look for the real reason behind the mare’s actions, the answer was simple. We can’t afford to take things for granted or to judge a mare’s actions based on a prejudiced perspective! And the best way to handle mares is to love them. This book is about mares, but it’s also about women and the special qualities they share. The book is over 450 pages, a bit longer than I planned, resulting in a retail price of $23.99. It is a print-on-demand book, produced through Xulon Press. If all goes well, the book will be available at the Illinois Horse Fair in Springfield in the Illinois Horse Network booth. Check my website for the latest information.
(Originally published in the February 2008 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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