Sarah Journey with Pheonix (Part 2)

When Sarah attended a clinic day at Just Equus she watched from the sidelines and immediately knew that she wanted Pete to work with her young horse, Phoenix.

Sarah was at a loss to explain why Phoenix was behaving the way he did.  Purchased as a young green horse barely ridden since being broken to saddle, Phoenix had become both anxious and intimidating.

“He is not a big horse,” says Sarah “but I was scared of him and had no clue how to proceed further without doing more harm.  There was simply no bond of trust or understanding between us. He developed quite an attitude for a small horse.

Phoenix is only 15 hands; small compared to my retired eventing horse Harley, a thoroughbred of over 16 hands but Phoenix’s biting, rearing and laying his ears back at me only widened the gulf between us.”

Sarah stood back and let Pete evaluate Phoenix.  For a time he worked on positive re-enforcement with him, letting him take in his messages in his own time.  When Pete works with horses, nothing is rushed and nothing is forced.  Pete came to understand the issues at work, causing Phoenix to be reactive and tense when actions were asked of him.

All horses have their own character and patterns of behaviour.  Phoenix was a horse that liked to please, he just needed to understand what was required of him.  “Once Peter had analysed what caused his anxiety we began to make progress,” Sarah relates.  “Phoenix learnt to follow his clear instructions and was happy to oblige, but once the task was performed he wanted his reward to be for Pete to back off.  He was suffering from sensory overload”

“When you ask too much of your horse it just stresses him out – you ask, he obliges, don’t keep asking.  The slightest response deserves reward and positive reinforcement.” Pete says.

With understanding and reward, Phoenix became a much happier horse.  It was time for Sarah to step in, under Pete’s guidance.  Knowing when to use your energy and when to back off, how to ask questions of your horse and recognise his answer is a fine balancing act that requires skill and finesse.  Sarah and Phoenix gradually built a connection based on understanding.  This connection requires feel, timing and balance but once established a strong bond exists between horse and rider that can only lead to better and more respectful communication.

After two years of progress with Phoenix, Sarah took time off once again during her pregnancy with her third child.  Eight weeks after the birth she was eager to get back in the saddle.  After only one lesson with Pete, Phoenix was right back to where he and Sarah had left off.  The bond was as strong as ever but the learning continues.

“Phoenix has become more affectionate towards me since our training together began,” says Sarah “and that’s a wonderful thing.  I think it’s what every horse owner looks for.  We still have our moments, though.  There are days when Phoenix mentally ‘gives me the bird’.  He likes to push the boundaries and doesn’t allow for mistakes.  In a way he reflects my insecurities.  If I don’t ask of him in the right way he teaches me ask again until I get it right.  He is very straightforward like that.  I have to be nothing but honest with this horse.”

One of Sarah’s proudest moments happened just recently after a pleasurable ride; Phoenix rewarded Sarah by self-loading onto the float without the use of any aids.  “He’s certainly come a long way since that first lesson with Pete,” Sarah says with a smile.

Read Sarah’s journey with Pheonix – The Beginning, Part 1.

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