Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog entry.
The fear had taken over my mom. Tapper had stopped when he reached Rocky and I, but a part of her knew that she should redo the hill. The panicked part tugged quickly back on Tapper's reins, and he obligingly backed under a pine tree. Snow tumbled down around my mom, and she had to hunch forward under the branches. Her eyes were wide and I could tell that her mind had fractured with fear, not processing the situation clearly.
I suggested that she dismount and do some ground work, joking about "surviving the experience." Her terse reply of "No shit!" told me where her head was, and it wasn't ready to ride. She got off, and proceeded to lunge Tapper going up and down the hill. Her cues were a little off, and she would tug him toward her at the bottom of the hill. He obediently would turn and face her, but she hadn't meant to tug on him. She would briskly send him off again, and he was starting to get agitated from all of the mixed signals.
I asked if she meant to pull him in, and she said no. She stopped doing it then, now that she realized what was going on. I told her to change his direction more frequently, which helps him to relax and gives her more to think about in terms of cuing properly rather than just letting Tapper trot around her. Within a few turns, Tapper's eyes were quiet and calm. He was doing what she asked without issue, but my mom hadn't completely left The Fear Place yet.
I pointed out that he was behaving himself and seemed over "his" issue. She slowed herself down, and was able to agree with me. I told her that instead of riding straight down the hill, which seems to make her more fearful, I suggested riding circles on it. She ended up going down the hill to the side of the main trail where the slope wasn't as steep. She rode up behind me, stopped and looked at me.
I told her to go do it again.
She let out a reluctant breath but she knew I was right. She went down the hill twice more, each time becoming more confident as Tapper didn't put a foot wrong. Finally her smile was back in place, and she was able to laugh about the experience. I reminded her that she needs to work on just going up and down that hill until it gets boring for her. She said I was right, and that she would plan a time to do it one of the next times she went to the barn.
Working through fear isn't easy, and I'm not sure if it's something that ever completely leaves you. With horses, nothing is ever guaranteed other than the fact that they can be unpredictable. I love them anyway.
Sorry for the poor quality of this image, but it was the only one I could find of it! It's from Bonnie Timmons' book, "Hold Your Horses." I recommend every horse aficionado own a copy.