A Green Bean Story by Beth Cochran

A Green Bean tale:
This is the first picture I ever saw of my girl, three years ago. And, this is our story, so far:
When I named her “Journey”, I really didn’t know it would be so prophetic. I felt a connection to her from the time I saw her on the Camelot Horse Auction Facebook site, a pretty bay Morgan cross mare. I hadn’t had a horse for 18 yrs, and I wasn’t looking to buy one. Then, she didn’t sell. On the last day before she was to go to the kill pen, I bought her with a credit card, over the phone, sight unseen, knowing very little about her, wondering from her description if I had gone in way over my head. And, she continues to amaze and surprise me.
She was quite green when I got her-part of her history being that she wasn’t even handled until she was 3, and I bought her at 5. She had lovely ground manners, and was very easy to handle. Though her description indicated she had been known to bite and kick, I saw none of that. I noticed when I lunged her if she was confused she would stop and hop up on her hind legs, not really fully rear, but jump up and down a bit. We worked through most of that. I had her for almost 3 months before I decided to ride her. I had been told she was green broke, but that’s all I knew. Again, she was a pleasant surprise, very green, but very responsive to leg cues, and has a wonderful, soft mouth.
We moved to a barn with an arena and trails, and I started riding her more. She was perfect on trails, not spooky, very calm and sensible. She started to learn about collection, and how to balance herself with a rider aboard. She had one unpleasant quirk. Sometimes, related to nothing I could determine, she would, just after starting into a canter, stop dead, crow hop and buck like a rodeo horse. More often than not, I’d end up on the ground. She would look at me like “what are you doing down there?” Other times, she was fine cantering.
As we got to know each other, I got the sense that, at some point, she had been handled roughly. The “hop up” little rear she did came mostly when she was confused or frustrated. Not reacting to her and calmly asking her to do whatever I was asking her to do seemed the best approach. Though, at times, I wondered if she was yanking my chain, just a little.
We got started in conditioning for a sport new to us both-endurance. With getting in better physical shape, she also got a little feisty, but never mean.
We tried our first endurance competition ride in October of 2014, completing only half of the 25 mile ride that day. Journey got a serious case of “race brain”, and we hit a rough patch in our training/relationship. In January, she did a spook sideways, twisting buck and I came off, cracking a couple ribs. The reality of being a 50-something who hadn’t ridden for 18 yrs before buying this horse reared its ugly head. But, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. We did more ground work, including some liberty work, and grew closer.
In the spring, we went on a walking trail ride with several people, some endurance folk, some not. Journey was wired up, dancing, prancing, half rearing, jigging, jogging, and generally having a horrible “race brain” attitude. But, her behavior really wasn’t that bad, she just wouldn’t settle down. She had a taste of the endurance world in competition, and had liked it. She wanted to be in the front with her endurance riding buddies.
The next time we rode with a couple endurance friends, she was even worse. She seemed totally determined not to let the other horses get even a short distance in front of her, and refused to settle down. It was the worst ride I’ve ever had on her. At one point, she bucked, spun, crow hopped and reared straight up. I bailed off. We were totally out of sync. I was angry, she was acting like a fool. We battled for the rest of the ride, and I insisted that she walk, alone. When I felt like either of us was about to boil over, I got off and led her. It was disheartening, and I felt like our partnership had come apart, and I had started to be just a little afraid of what she might do, how I might get seriously injured. I had one professional horse person (though not an endurance person) tell me she was dangerous and I should either have her trained or sell her. I didn’t have the money to send her to a trainer, and I wasn’t going to sell her. I had some very kind experienced endurance riders tell me this was pretty normal in the big scheme of getting an endurance horse started, and offers of help from several people, and lots of encouragement to keep going.
We worked on groundwork. I rode her alone, in the arena and on the trails at home. We tried another limited distance competition. She was awesome. Yes, somewhat anxious about staying with other horses, but not out of control, or overly stressed, and no tantrums. We rode the first loop with friends. The second loop, we did alone, being passed and passing other horses. No problem. We got our first 25 mile ride completion with the turtle award and a whopping seven minutes to spare!
We continued conditioning, and in May went to a tough ride in Alabama. We had a first loop fraught with delays helping another rider. It was hot, and humid. It was a really tough ride. I knew we wouldn’t make time with the delays on the first loop, but I really wanted to ride the second loop for the beautiful scenery. So, out we went, planning to take it really easy and just have fun. We rode for a while with someone else, then alone. We got to the canyon and entered a magical world. I knew the trails there would be hard, and we were both hot and tired. So, I trusted my horse. I held the reins by the buckle, with thumb and finger, and told Journey to take her time. She carefully placed her feet on the rocky, sandy, steep trails. When she got tired at the top of a steep climb, she stopped. When she was ready, she moved on. The beauty of the canyon was simply breathtaking, and being there alone with Journey was its own magic. And, a huge step forward in our relationship. I realized I’d fallen into the trap of “poor rescued horse” and worried so much about her baggage and what experiences she had that might have shaped her behavior, I forgot to expect her to trust me, to look to me as a strong leader, to be a partner. I forgot to trust her, to listen to what she was trying to tell me. I sold her short. That day, in the canyon, I gave her the credit she should have had all along. Smart, sensible, sound, wonderful pony.
Since then, we have continued to train, and become more of a team. I’m learning the balance between not letting her “take a mile”, and giving her the benefit of the doubt. Most of all, I’ve learned that demanding she do something isn’t the best approach (yes, you really do “discuss it” with this mare), but she is kind and fair-minded, and the “asking” approach has worked well. And, at the Skymont ride, we cemented our partnership and found a whole new level of oneness-just a glimpse of what we could be. We attempted the 50 mile ride that day, in sometimes pouring rain, fog, mist and cold. The first 25 miles felt like flying. We were in sync and on a mission. Journey was feeling fit and confident, and her “go all day” trot felt smooth as glass and effortless. Despite the rainwater running down my legs and sloshing in my boots, I was having the time of my life, and Journey was looking down the trail with eagerness and controlled energy. We started out alone-I was going to ride my own ride. We caught up with and rode with others for a while, then let them go on, as they were going faster than our pace. We rode off and on with another rider whose horse’s pace matched ours well. We passed the first 2 vet checks with flying colors and headed out on alone the 3rd of 4 loops. Within about 4 miles, I started to think something was going on with J. She was slowing in the really muddy spots (she actually likes mud and happily splashes through it most of the time), not picking up to her normal pace even when the footing was better (it was all muddy to some extent). First, I thought it was because she was alone, no other horses with us, or because she had never been asked to go out on a third loop before. But, as time went by, and she let a couple horses pass us and leave us behind without a fuss, and continued to slow, I knew something was wrong. So, we slowed our pace considerably, but not wanting her to cramp up or get cold, we needed to trot intermittently. The last 5 miles of that 13 mile loop seemed to stretch out into forever. We made it back to camp, and to the vet check, where the vet confirmed that, indeed, Journey was very tight and sore in her back and hip muscles, but otherwise she was fine-pulsed down well, good gut sounds, good hydration. We optioned not to go back out. So, we got 38 miles, but not 50 that day, but we got a big lesson in trust. We trusted each other on that last 13 mile loop. I trusted that she wasn’t goofing off, and she trusted that even though she was uncomfortable, she needed to move out when I asked her to.
On our last couple rides, I realized that we are steadily becoming real partners, and she is a horse I am having a wonderful time riding. I’m still probably overly cautious, and I still worry more than I ever thought I would about injury, but, my riding is improving, and with it, my confidence. On our most recent ride, she was calm and though eager to move out, I felt her quickly settle in to a steady, controlled, business-like pace. For most of the ride, she was in a frame and feeling light and smooth. Though happy to move out, she didn’t protest slowing to a walk, or stopping. She led bravely, confidently going down an unfamiliar trail, and she followed without being anxious to keep up or try to outpace or race the other horse. She is getting into the “job” of endurance riding, and I think she loves it as much as I do.
I’m so thankful to have found this fantastic mare, and the endurance community that has become such a big part of our story. The Journey continues. Stay tuned.

CHW Network's photo.

Good luck in the future to Beth & Journey


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