This week I was reminded by Facebook that it was 4 years ago since Bud and I had rode our first ever dressage test.
The Facebook post was full of excitement and included many thanks to those people who had supported us along the way and on the day as well.
But it got me to thinking, that day was a huge turning point for me personally and for Bud and I as a team.
Bud is known in my part of the world- they may not know his name or mine even but they would recognise him or have heard of him. He is just too big to just blend in. And he tends to get photographed quite a bit.
And if you were to ask any of these people to describe Bud, I’m confident that they would describe him as a gentleman, a sweetheart, quiet, very easy to handle and a pleasure to ride.
I would even go as far to say that he and I have a wonderful bond and he could be called a Unicorn.
But what many people don’t know is that he wasn’t always like that, and I am only a confident rider on Bud - because of all the work we have done.
That first dressage test- It had taken 3 years of consistent boring arena work, frustration and weekly to fortnightly lessons to get us to that level.
I had so many fears, having returned to riding after 24 years. I was now a middle aged, over-weight mum with a lot of insecurities.
The worst one being that I was deathly afraid to mount my horse.
In fact the only way I could get on Bud was if someone was there to be with me to hold my stirrup as I mounted and there again when I was ready to dismount.
Eventually (5 years later) I worked out that this irrational fear had come from an experience I had as a 14 year old with a friends horse where had been given a boost to get on bareback, resulting with me landing on the other side, in the dirt. In excruciating pain, I had found myself at the local hospital where I stayed for 2 nights. We didn’t know it at the time, but my pelvis had actually rotated resulting in my right leg being shorter than my left by 8mm.
So nearly 30 years on I found myself having to deal with this buried trauma. This coupled with my past experience of riding as a teenager which up till then had only consisted of OTT’s, who basically felt comfortable with only two paces. So I was constantly waiting for Bud to take off and bolt.
That fear seems so ridiculous now, but back then it was a very real fear for me. To the point where I would only ride in the round yard. So I really was dealing with my own baggage.
At the same time Bud was still really only a baby, around 5 years old. He was very green, with minimal education. He was pretty lazy, and at times really arrogant- especially when he didn’t want to do something.
I was very lucky to have befriended another agistee, who became my friend and mentor. And through her help we were able to educate Bud.
He would always be tripping over his front feet and stumbling, and at one point I nearly went over his head as he had stumbled and promptly landed on his knees. He was totally on the forehand, and I spent hours riding transition changes to get him working off my seat and leg and to work from the back end.
He tested me! My god- he totally tested me.
Every single ride he would try something new on with me. Something that if he did it today I would just laugh at, but back then it would really put a dent in my confidence.
The worst thing was a cluster of 5 double pig roots. I managed to sit them all. All because he had decided he no longer wanted to work on canter.
I can assure you, he regretted that decision- as he got to canter for a lot longer!
The simple task of putting a bridle on took ages, as he would put his head up really high, like giraffe and then refuse to open his mouth. It was so frustrating.
We eventually came up with a way that suited Bud, and I have used this technique ever since.
I always get a giggle when someone offers to pop Bud’s bridle on as I know the giraffe will return and they wont be able to reach.
I can remember one day he was refusing to stand at my mounting stool. Every time I climbed up the stool, and put my foot in the stirrup he would begin to walk away. I had to quickly remove my foot from the stirrup and get down from the stool. This went on for about 15 minutes. I couldn’t just hop around with him, as he was too big and he knew it.
I could go on and on with all of the things that we experienced in those three years before Bud and I rode that first dressage test. But I think you all get the picture.
Bud wasn’t born as a Unicorn. He hasn’t always been easy to handle, and a pleasure to ride.
In fact there have been times when I have wondered if maybe he might be better off with someone else, somebody who is more experienced or a better rider than me. But I have always returned back to Bud and worked on our partnership so that our bond could grow.
So in essence my take home message is that Unicorns are not born, they are grown through trust, bond and training And if you currently don’t yet have the relationship that you are hoping for, I want to reassure you that it just takes time.