Did you know that a door can turn a horse into a quivering mess? It can. I don’t know why. It’s not like the door has teeth, claws, growls or pounces. It just stands there in total innocence, minding it’s own business. Sometimes it stands there open allowing the air in the barn to circulate. At other times it stands there closed protecting us from the weather. Recently I noticed a “Keep door closed at all times.” sign pinned to it. Poor door. It’s getting a bad reputation for scaring horses.

Not me but you get the idea.

Not me but you get the idea.

During the winter the door was closed at all times. Due to the cold in part but I think that the instructors were trying to reduce the number of spooks. In my humble opinion they only made it worse. You can’t put a horse in a bubble. It needs to be exposed to the world just like the rider.

So my lesson this weekend turned into a de-spooking the horse lesson. We were trotting along the track and one of the stall cleaners moved just outside the center arena door. The mare spooked to the right having decided that the stall cleaner and his vicious muck rake were coming to get us. Nothing bad. Just a jump to the right. Enough that we were off course though. (So later on I have a little lower back pain. No big deal. I sat it right?)

I immediately turned her in a tight circle to the right and made her trot past the scary door again. My instructor applauded my quick correction. The mare tried to shy away from it again. I turned her around toward it again. (I had no choice. The mare wasn’t going to let me go past the door.) My instructor encouraged me to move her closer to the door in a spiraling circle. Slowly leg yielding her out toward and hopefully past the door. The mare tried to out smart me by backing up several steps. I released the pressure on the reins and turned her in a circle again. Slowly we worked our way passed the big scary door. I immediately rewarded her with lots of praise and pats on the neck.

I then declared that my lesson could end there and I’d be very satisfied. Fat chance! My instructor laughed and said “Get back to work.”

We took the track at a trot again. As we approached A my instructor warned me to be prepared well in advance for the door near E. As we turned into the corner I started one big loop at K-X-H. I think it’s the best one we’ve ever done and she was bent nicely around my inside leg. We repeated the exercise but shallower this time to bring her closer to the door near E. Again we performed it quite well. This time my instructor said to trot her right past the door and to be prepared with my inside leg and outside rein. She also recommended that I flex her head to the inside. The mare’s spook this time took us one step off the track. I got her back on it and moving forward. On our next pass the mare tried to outsmart me by spooking well before the door. Once again I pushed her past it.

My instructor told me that I was doing very well. That just keeping her on the track was a big deal. She also said that only a confident rider would be able to do this and she would only have asked it of one. Other lesson students allow the mare to spook at the door and get away with it. Now it’s becoming a habit.

We changed direction and started all over again with the circles and loop. Finally we trotted past the door on the track. My instructor recommended that I take a deep breathe just before I got to it in order to relax myself and the mare more. On our last trip past the door in the original direction she was on the bit for the entire long side! A boarder astride her TB said “You’re brave.” I was beaming.

Oh and our circles…well let’s not talk about them.