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What My Horse Has Taught Me

Posted on: August 03, 2018 by Ellen Brunelle

I was very lucky to start riding as a kid, 23 years ago, and to be able to continue to do so through the years. Initially, I used to ride lesson horses, or catch ride any horse I could just to get saddle time. I loved learning what each horse could teach me. I then had my first horse, and partner in crime for 15 years, from middle school, to my mid-20s, and we had many adventures together. About seven years ago, I found a green, 7-year-old Morgan that looked like he could be a good project horse as my childhood horse was entering his senior years. I’ll be honest and say that, while my initial plan was to bring him along and have him be a sales project, I immediately fell in love with him, and just couldn’t part with him. Needless to say, my happy Morgan buddy Nemo will I are psyched to have each other and we go on so many fun adventures together. In looking back at the years I’ve enjoyed with him and being very excited for the many more to come, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my best friend, Nemo.

1) Make sure to not take life too seriously.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit introverted, can be quiet, and am very serious about riding my best at all times. I take training Nemo very seriously and want him to be brought along in the best way possible so that he is happy, well-rounded, and comfortable for the many years we plan to spend together. Nemo has a sense of humor, and a mind that tends to over-think and worry, so sometimes we run into snags. The horse show warm up ring happens to be a particularly challenging place for us. I remember, with a laugh now, our first time in the warm-up ring. In typical warm-up ring fashion, horses were going every which direction, practicing different patterns, and as Nemo and I walked in, he got overwhelmed and exploded. There was loud calling to his buddies at the trailer, prancing, spooking, and some canter transitions that were a bit too enthusiastic. I remember initially being horrified. My otherwise good-mannered horse had transformed into a dinosaur, shaking the ground with his antics and calling out to his friends. I was worried that everyone was looking at the naughty big black Morgan in the ring. However, when I took a step back, I realized that this wasn’t the case. Other horses were up as well, and if anything, fellow riders were very encouraging and understanding that I was working with a green horse and was helping him experience something new in the most positive way possible. As time has gone on, I’ve realized that there will be days when he’s overly excited, and if I just take a step back, make sure to not take life too seriously, and with a sense of humor, we have a more relaxed and positive ride.

2) Be patient.

Nemo is the first green horse that I’ve owned, and it’s been very rewarding to bring him along. Some things have come naturally, such as his impulsion and forward energy. He’s also very eager to please and truly wants to do the right thing. Other things have been more challenging, such as helping him overcome new experiences that are scary and working on getting him to relax his poll and stretch down onto the bit. With Nemo, I’ve found that taking things slow and having lots of patience makes for the best rides. Sometimes, when he’s truly afraid of something, such as walking over a tarp in the indoor, or past a green “slow” sign at the barn entrance, taking a step back and rewarding baby steps toward it help him to build the confidence to succeed as time goes on. I’ve also found that, the more patient I am with a horse that is eager to please, the less flustered he gets. Nemo is the type of horse that really gets worked up when he knows he’s done something wrong, or when he doesn’t understand something, so quiet, yet assertive encouragement works best for him. It’s so exciting to see how far he’s come, and I’m looking forward to planning new goals for our rides together.

3) Don’t be afraid to take risks.

My initial goal for Nemo was for him to be a well-rounded pleasure horse that I could enjoy for many years of adult riding. I didn’t have any big goals for him other than flatwork, dressage, some great trail rides, and just enjoying each other. As he progressed in his training, and I met some great new friends at my barn who show locally, I started realizing that it wouldn’t hurt to break outside of my initial plan and take some risks. We did several years of showing at local open shows and learned a lot. I found that he loves Road Hack classes where he can really extend his trot and hand gallop, and that these classes make both of us smile. I also found that he can be very anticipatory, and he tries to listen the ring master’s directions as well. This brought on new goals and working on helping him to relax and wait for me to give him transition ques and helped us to work through this together.
More recently, I took a big risk with him, and started showing him in jumper shows at a local farm. As a rider, while I love doing anything new, the jumper ring has always been my happy place. There’s nothing better than the adrenaline rush of galloping over jumps, making tight turns to try to get the fastest time, and the smiles that both Nemo and I have on our faces after a great round. In the past, I’d done small jumps here and there with Nemo, while doing flatwork, to keep him engaged, but I’d never pursued truly seriously jumping with him. Over the past two years, I’ve started focusing more on this, and I’m so glad I took the risk. It’s hard to say who loves jumping more, and I’m so happy that my buddy enjoys something that’s so important to me too.

4) Expect the unexpected.

Nemo has taught me this well. My childhood horse was fairly predictable as far as turnout and vet visits. Every year, he’d have his typical shots, floating, farrier visits, and things mostly went like clockwork. He also wasn’t very destructive in the barn and was very stoic and always sound. Nemo on the other hand, is a completely different story, and while it has been challenging at times to keep up with him, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Since getting Nemo, I’ve experience everything from broken cross-ties, broken fences, and paddock escapes with all the fencing intact (how did he do that?). I’ve also learned about stifle weaknesses and conditioning, and how beneficial regular chiropractic work is for a horse. Nemo has a wonderful vet that has also helped me treat him for anything from anaplasmosis to mysterious upper leg injuries that we have no idea how he possibly could have done to himself. We’ve missed shows at times due to injuries, but we’ve gained extra bonding time through hand-walking, cold hosing, and even simple late-night barn visits to check his temperature when he isn’t feeling well. While this has been challenging at times, I’m so grateful to have been able to experience it with him and spend time with him throughout each situation.

5) Enjoy the ride.

Considering all of the things I’ve mentioned that I’ve learned from Nemo so far, the most important thing would be to enjoy the ride. Nemo and I have had amazing rides together, challenging rides, and rides that may not have happened due to minor injuries. I’ve found that, at the end of the day, I truly enjoy spending time with him, whether in or out of the saddle. Sometimes, a jumping round is the best way to spend our time together, other times it’s a trail ride, reading a book in a beach chair in his paddock with him, hoping on him bareback to go ride on the track we have at the barn, or a beach ride full of smiles with awesome friends. I’m so thankful for the time I’ve had with Nemo so far, and everything I’ve learned, and I can’t wait for the many years we have to come together.