An Ex-racer, and the very long road to recovery

So at my barn there is this tall thin TB ex-racer, 17.3 hands, copper bay. We call her Miley.
Miley is 6 years old. She ran one race before being sold to an owner that longed her before every ride, which about once a month if that. She said she used Miley as a trail horse. Eventually her owner decided this young spirited horse was to much for her, and my trainer took Miley in in hopes to help Miley become the wonderful horse she has the potential to be.
Right now Miley is in the lesson barn. The thing is only one person other than my trainer rides her now. All the best riders got on and her not one, not even the girl who's been riding for thirteen years and is considered the top rider in the lesson barn could handle her. Miley has a reputaion in both the lesson and the border barn. Everyone knows about that crazy mare. Then one day my trainer, Abby decided to put a girl on Miley who's only been riding english for a year and a half, and western one year before that. That girl, me, had only been on little Rarity, the 20 year old pony. Abby saw something in me, heaven knows what...
The first lesson she said we were only going to walk. I looked at her like she was crazy, I was used to walk, trot, canter, and jumping, just walking? Why? Why was she even putting me on this crazy horse if she didn't think I could handle her at anything other than a walk? She told me just keeping Miley at a walk would keep me busy for my entire hour private lesson. We ended up walking and trotting that day. No major problems.
But let me slow down, I'll tell you why everyone hates this mare. First and foremost, she has no manners, she pushes, she pulls, she rubsrubs on you, she throws her head around, and paws constantly. And thats just on the ground. Miley has a very excited trot under saddle, in fact its more excited than her canter, which is quite rounded and lovely actually. Miley pulls on the bit and ignores most pulling of the reins. The only way to handle this horse is, one be patient, two sit deep, three, keep your heels down, four more patience, five leg, leg, leg. You cannot hit Miley with a whip, smacking her does no good, it only makes her more excited, and makes her move bigger. The other riders at the barn smack first and ask questions later. So they get no where with Miley.
This is where I'm different, and I believe it's the only reason why I can handle her. I don't need to smack her. I use my body and hardly ever touch my reins, but when I do, Miley knows she seriously needs to stop. I use reins like some riders use a crop. I don't yank, just a nice sharp half halt if she's out of control. Other than that I use my legs and keep her underneath me. I've been working with miley for over two months now ( two lessons a week). I've learned so much about her, and from her. The other rides, even the owner of my barn watch my lessons. They all said that without a crop I'll never get Miley to respect me. But honestly ever lesson, I see Miley improve. Abby says she sees it too, both when she rides her, and when I do. It's amazing. I've always dreamed of training and rehabilitating horses, and I feel like this is my first real step in that direction.
The first time I worked with Miley she didn't respect my space, or well, she didn't respect me at all. Now Miley stays about a foot from me, and if I step into her space, she moves away, and now, she lets me rub her whole face without her rubbing on me. I walk trot canter Miley twice a week now. We're working our way into jumping. I'm not going to say I'm a great rider, I'm not going to say I"m even a good rider. I'm very green, and Miley teaches me just as much as I teach her every lesson. Miley and I just work well together.
I just want to say that contrary to the belief of the other riders and trainers at my barn, you can work with a rude horse without beating them with a crop. In fact you can do it completely without a crop or yanking on their mouth constantly. Sometimes what makes the most difference, is not how you hit the horse to 'make them respect you', but how you sit in the saddle and handle them. Don't get me wrong, I don't take rudeness from Miley, but I can use my voice, or body language instead of a whip.
Sit deep, keep those heals down, pay attention, some horses are really predictable, be patient, put your crop down, sit up tall, stay out of your horses mouth, think about transitions in gait before and as you do them( it really helps), keep your heels off, use your legs to control your horse, this is what Miley has taught me so far and she'll continue to teach me for some time. It may not work for every horse, but just because it didn't work for your horse doesn't make it 'wrong'. All the people in my barn said that Miley will never be a good horse, but I see a wonderful one. She truly is a diamond in the rough. She's not a mean horse, nor is she stuborn, she's a very quick learner, she just can't handle being hit.
I will continue to work with Miley, but Always with Abby's words in my head, " Expect your horse to be on his best behavior, but never trust him to be."
Have a great weekend everyone and remember, always keep an open mind! :)

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on June 12, 2010 at 7:54am
Good work Amy! The really good horses are often difficult as they do not suffer fools gladly. Isn't it nice to know that your horse does not consider you a fool?

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