The transformative nature of the horse never fails to astound me. I suppose that in working with Tiva over the last year, it has been a bit like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Not that her progress does not feel like progress, but looking back to where she began, I can hardly believe she is the same mare as that petrified, snorting creature who arrived last February.
I’ve taken Tiva in all 4 of the Joel Conner clinics this year, two of them saddled. While we have been preparing to ride from the very beginning, it feels a bit more real now that we are doing our groundwork in the saddle. While we are still working on hindquarters, frontquarters, and the unified circle, we’re also putting more emphasis on being able to bend down to a stop, roll the hind with a stirrup, bump up to the panels, and step up in the stirrups, amongst many other things.
This clinic, we worked a lot on Tiva’s expression – which was really me working on my releases. Tiva is a Sensitive mare with a capital S. When I ask things of her, she often pins her ears, but when Joel works her and asks the same, she is ears forward. This says a lot about me (story of working a horse!), but what I was really trying to dial in this clinic was proving to Tiva that I could, in fact, release her. She is the first to tell you when you are asking too much, and that ‘too much’ is often incredibly subtle. But despite the frustrations that understandably come along with this (me at myself, not at this spectacular horse who is only just mirroring what I already know to be true), it is tremendously rewarding and quite amazing to see exactly what I am doing and feeling telegraphed so clearly back at me. While not perfect, by the end of the weekend, Tiva’s expression had definitely improved.
A lot of Tiva’s groundwork is checking out nicely, but I know that there are still troubled spots that remain in there. But I also know that she is overly capable of overcoming them. At one point over the weekend, I had Kaya wave a flag so I could change eyes on it, something that once sent Tiva into a panicked tizzy. Now, she is able to pass between myself and the flag with ease, with whatever initial trepidation she feels significantly more mild than it ever was before, and able to be sorted out within moments. She is incredibly smart, and learns quickly, even in the hands of a teacher who still has a lot to learn herself. But now the challenge comes in finding the things that will set her off. I don’t mean to make it sound like she is bombproof, but to go from hardly being able to wave a flag nearby without her fleeing the country to being able to bend her down to a stop with that flag flapping and petting on her off eye, the spots she struggles with have certainly become less obvious. As we work up to a ride in 2024, we will continue to spend lots of time on changing eyes, as well as doing more things like stepping up in the stirrups and working on closing in the boundaries a bit further in order to make her first ride as successful as it possibly can be!
It is always such a pleasure to work with this intelligent and forgiving mare, and I am grateful for the opportunity, always.