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Just What I Needed

Just What I Needed

By Betsy Kelleher

     NOTE: This column ends with a contest challenge for my readers! So read on, my friends, and see if you’re up to the game! You could win a book!

     I haven’t ridden since the middle of November. I have two horses, and the stable where I board has an indoor arena, and I have no excuses. I’m just not a winter person. I hate cold weather, and the older I get, the more I hate it!

     I recently received an email newsletter from Mary Midkiff, and it was exactly what I needed. She mentioned an article by Debbie Moors in the September 2012 issue of Horse and Rider magazine, titled “Easing Back In.” The article was written for those who haven’t ridden for years, but it was also appropriate for my current situation.

     When I don’t ride for several weeks, the whole process becomes something I dread. Right now, I don’t care if I never ride again! With this attitude, I’ve been thinking I might as well wait until spring, when I can start over again and stay with it. I’m just hoping my attitude will change after I make myself get back in the saddle again.

     Usually, by the first of February, I can’t wait until the Illinois Horse Fair the first weekend of March. I guess horses are no longer at the top of my list. Things change. Life has dumped other concerns into my lap the past few years. I’m seriously wanting to sell a horse and cut down to only one!

     On the other hand, riding a horse has often been my escape. So I will focus my efforts in that direction again come spring, as I ease back into the saddle and back into the routine of riding. First, I’ll have to clean my tack and make sure it is in good condition. That’s the easy part. Grooming a horse that has rolled in the mud all winter will be more difficult. I’m thinking of Lady as I say that. Rocky stays relatively clean, but his mane is a tangled mess. I have decided this year to start with some different ground work before riding. It’s time to scan through all those books I’ve bought over the years (and haven’t read). Trying something new should help me. Back in February of 2005, I wrote a column titled Anticipation is a Tonic. That’s what I need—a spring tonic of anticipation—something to awaken my desire to be with a horse again!

     My goals will be different this year, and maybe that is one of my problems. I’ve always needed a goal to keep me on track. This year, I don’t plan to go to any horse shows, or take dressage lessons, or condition for a competitive ride. I just want to enjoy my horse on a leisurely ride on a nice day, stay safe and relax. Even such a lowly goal will take work. There are physical, mental and emotional aspects to meeting that goal. Not riding for several months, my muscles are not used to that kind of exercise. My mind is not focused on thinking like a horse and my emotions need to rebuild confidence in my riding skills.

     I know enough to start with the basics. Grooming is a needed task but also a way of rebuilding the horse and human relationship. Groundwork will help to establish that relationship and to build my horse’s physical stamina as well as his/her respect and trust for my leadership. If I do it right.

     Mary Midkiff’s article reminded me that mares often become distracted, flighty and unfocused in the spring. Lady might need extra help with her hormonal situation, and I’m prepared! I ordered a bulk package of raspberry leaves, the same ingredient in Mare Magic. I haven’t had “mare” problems with Lady before and I don’t expect it this spring.

     I plan to focus on one thing this year more than ever—to take my time when working with my horse, to relax and have fun, and to just enjoy the moment instead of trying to make anything happen. I intend to let the relationship be what it turns out to be. I do have a goal, however. I want to teach Lady something new, simply because she responded so well when I taught her to pull a small log back in 2011. During her first ACTHA ride, I saw a different mare. I saw a horse that had often reacted quickly to anything unusual suddenly seem to actually think about each obstacle in front of her. I saw her do things I didn’t think she could do. And when we got home and she backed out of the trailer slowly for the first time since I owned her, I thought I’d witnessed a miracle.

     So this year, I hope to find another challenge for Lady that we can work through together. If anyone has a good idea, just shoot me an email at and include your name along with an adequate but brief description of the task. I’ll choose the best idea by March 17th and announce the winner in my April column. Winner gets a free book, MARES! (ya gotta love em). If you’re not familiar with this book, you can check it out on my website, It shares true stories of mares who have touched their owners hearts, and many of those stories were written by Illinois mare owners! There are also a few articles in the book about training mares, by Julie Goodnight and Dr. Ron Meredith, as well as an insightful commentary by the late Janet Hill. A complete list of writers is on my website book page, at the bottom right.  

     As with any challenge, there are guidelines. It has to be something that Lady and I can do. Keep in mind that I’m an older woman, and Lady is a strong minded alpha mare. I’m not interested in mounted shooting or jumping. I am interested in a project that will help Lady build confidence (especially if it involves tractors or trucks!). Deadline for emails is March 17th. Put “Contest entry” in the title of your email, so I won’t mistake it for spam. Include your idea in the body of the email, not as an attachment, please. I will not judge on the complexity of the task or on the presentation of it, only on the appropriateness of the task for me and Lady (in other words, if we are able to do it). Send as many ideas as you like, one per email. And if I get more than one great idea, I might award more than one book. We’ll see.

     I know that God can use our horses to teach us, to provide companionship and comfort, and to help us grow emotionally. I know our horses need our care even in winter, and I’m feeling a little guilty in that regard. But I’m thankful God has provided hay for my two horses during a time when some have had trouble getting hay. And I’m thankful for His help in their care while I’ve been distracted with other things. So here’s looking ahead to new plans and another spring! May it come soon, because I think we all are ready for it! Take time with your horse and stay safe.  

(Originally published in the February 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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