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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

If I never thanked you, My sweet Mare

I was obsessed with horses. When I was a kid, I would stand by the road and wait for this married couple to ride by on their beautiful horses. I did not have my own horse, but we lived in a mountain neighborhood where most people had a horse in their yard. I knew the couple would be coming by every Saturday morning. “ Can I ride your horses? “ I would beg every time…”No” they would kindly answer. Finally, after a few times asking, they let me know it was VERY rude for me to ask. So I moved on, I decided to befriend a girl that rode my bus, she lived at a beautiful horse property. “ Can I ride your horses? “ She said yes but would set it up with her Mom. I was 9 and I was so excited!! Her Mom would be the one to lay the foundation of important knowledge of Horsemanship. I could not wait to climb on that black Welsh pony. You have to “ learn “ to ride and care for the horse and tack, is what she let me know. “ You don’t just ride my horses, you have to LEARN to ride them.” I took lessons and took care of her horses when she was away. Fast forward to a very rebellious teenager. I studied all I could about horses, I did not focus on education ( regretful now ) I searched for every wild, untrained horse I could find, I was fearless. I still needed knowledge though; people didn’t believe I knew how to train at such a young age. I was so impressed with anyone that said they were a trainer. I believed that the word “ Horse Trainer “ meant they were honestly knowledgeable about the practice of educating horses. I did not understand that any individual could label themselves with this title. I called every horse stable in the area to see if any trainers needed help, I wanted to learn to be a trainer. I was hired as an exercise rider for a trainer. She interviewed me by taking me out on a trail ride and was impressed with how I handled the horse. On the third day on the job, she told me to tack up and longe a horse that I would be riding up the mountain with her. This horse was wild, it was bolting out of control and actually slipped and fell. I wasn’t phased by it’s behavior because I was there to learn from a horse trainer! Off we went, the horse I was on had a bosal, a hard noseband used for pressure on the nose, and no bit.

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When we reached the top of the mountain, I turned around to let the trainer know I felt the horse wasn’t listening, and before I knew it, he was bolting out of control. He took off so quickly that I dropped my left rein ( I only ride and teach with connected reins now ) and was crazily headed straight for a cliff. I could not stop this horse so I did what I was always taught…pull the horse round in a tight circle to slow or stop. When I brought my one rein to my thigh, the horse lost his balance and fell on me. Unfortunately, when it fell on me,I was between a good sized rock and the horse. I was unconscious, i’m not sure for how long but when I awoke, the trainer was praying over me. Turns out I had broken my upper back, crushed my lower and was two inches from being paralyzed by a hairline fracture. One week in the hospital and three months in a back brace. I was devastated, ashamed, and contemplated giving up on being a horse trainer forever. I remember my Sister bought me a get well card with horse magazines and told me to never ever give up my dream. I still have the card. It turned out the horse was in training as a “runaway” The trainer had used my fearless character to test ride the horse never warning me to keep an eye on it running for home. Hopefully she learned a little more about safety and horses from that…

I had to ride again, it was like an addiction that I could not ignore.

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Almost 6 months later, I was able to buy a horse for only $ 500.00. She was a beautiful Thoroughbred cross with Mustang/ Morgan. When I went to try her out, she would not move, they had to lead her to the end of the driveway so she would walk back to the barn. I had to have her. I had a secret that only that mare and I knew- I was scared to death that she might bolt off. What they deemed stubborn, I saw as safe. I kept her at a ranch that had 60 acres of trail riding. Off we went, she would take 5 steps and refuse to go any further. Kicking, swatting with a crop did nothing. She wouldn’t turn for home, spook, back up, just froze up in her tracks. The previous owners said she had started doing that recently, but she used to love galloping everywhere they went. She would climb on and run this mare everywhere. Well that was my answer, this horse was so resentful of being ridden that she figured out a way out of it. She was too kind to try and hurt anyone or become aggressive, she just turned sour.

Bam!!, my eagerness to fix horses was coming back! I would take the mare out, go three steps, turn around and come back. Unknowingly, we were helping each other stay in our comfort zone. We were both taking baby steps toward confidence. Each ride brought us both further and further until the desire to refuse just went away. We rode all over, then when I had to live in the city, we continued to ride all over, picking up milk from the gas station was always the best! This Mare ended up being one of the best teachers not only in my life but instructing so many children as well.

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I will never know completely if she sensed my fear and that made her unsure of going forward or if she became balky from her previous owners. I believe perhaps a combination. I am so thankful I acquired this mare that I named “ Tasha “ after the Welsh pony I learned to ride on. She brought me back to my dream of becoming a horse trainer and helping horses and owners overcome problems.

I wanted to share my story for a few lessons…

  1. Respect the horse as an animal and know they can be unpredictable

  2. Anyone can be labeled a trainer. Be enamored with their knowledge, their empathy for the horse as well as the rider, not just their title.

  3. Respect and understand riders that have fear.

  4. Do not use fearless young riders to accomplish what you are afraid of. Hire a professional. Communicate why you are afraid of the horse, be honest and allow the trainer the time it takes to help you and the horse overcome obstacles.

  5. There is power in prayer

  6. There are questions surrounding the use of terms such as leader, submissive, and obedient. One term we can all agree on in horse and rider is confidence.

  7. Admitting and facing your fears of your horse is not shameful, it’s smart!

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

– Winston Churchill

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