Green Means Go (Slowly)



The past week has been momentous for Alice and me. It was our first week of riding without any pitfalls of lost shoes, weather, or calendar conflicts.

This meant we actually had five days of work. While she would prefer seven, I’m forcing two days a week of NO WORK for her, at least for now.

The trot is amazing. Not only is she completely balanced, both directions, but she is softening her head, neck, and back! Of course if she gets tired or if there is a major stressor (crazy dogs, landscaping that results in a burst pipe about 20′ away, blah, blah blah) then her head goes up and her back stiffens. But this really only happened a few times and she’s back to relaxed very quickly. Her canter has improved vastly. Her right lead canter has surpassed the left lead. More balanced, a little adjustable, and she’s offering to go long and low. The left lead is not as nice, she bows her body to the inside and is a little stiff. But it will come.

We had a great trail ride up Table Mountain, though I’m not taking her all the way up to the top, yet. It’s quite a climb and though she’s done it without me on her back, I feel that it’s a bit much to ask with me on her back. So I take her about half way, with some trotting. She’s great, lazy uphill and away from home but not too fast downhill, towards home. She had one bad trail moment. So far the bike riders and fellow trail users have been SOOOOO very respectful. It’s crazy and very comforting. But on our way down there was a blind corner behind us and I saw her ears go back, her hearing is far superior to mine so I use her ears to hear for myself. But her ears went back and before I could turn to see what might be coming I heard squeaky breaks and a bike barrelling towards us rocks flying. Alice didn’t like that one bit. She circled, danced, and while I was kind of pissed at the biker (he knew we were there) I moved out of HIS way and let him pass. While I could have let Alice get all up in his shit. But better for her to NOT have a confrontation…this time.


The jumps at my barn are up every other week. Since there are many different types of riders that board there, this is how they find ring sharing to work best. So this week the jumps were up. I had worked on trotting and cantering poles with her a few times and she could care less and handled them fine. So I thought maybe I could trot an X, see how she handles that. No pressure, no expectations. Just a see what she does…

Well…she was amazing. Took to it like a fish in water. I hate those kinds of sayings, but it fits. She was eager, willing, and seemed happy to try something new! Remember, my initial plan was to trot an X. Period. But she seemed to catch on to it so easily that why not try to canter out of a line?


Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Wait. Let me add that this was also the first time we actually rode with another horse in the ring. By ride I mean the other horse was also moving while we were moving. Alice did GREAT, though didn’t like when the other horse was behind her…baby steps.

I was high on horse for the next 24 hours. Horse, horse, horse, jump, jump, jump, horse, horse, fun, cool, so cool…until the next morning when I went to the barn.

Then my head was out of the clouds and we headed to the dressage ring and did some flat work, of which was truly exceptional. I considered maybe trying an X on for size, but it had rained pretty hard and the footing in the jumping ring was pretty gushy, so I opted out and did another, shorter than previous trail ride. Good ride, happy days, GREAT horse!

I couldn’t be happier.

So Saturday came along. I was ready to try on Alice’s jumping legs again. This time Josh set jumps while I did some flat work. She, as usual, was more than happy to be working. I had told Josh to just lower the X’s. Though the back of my head said, “make sure to make a stack of poles, to warm up, get her to understand what we would be doing.” But nothing actually came out of my mouth. We just happily warmed up.

Her trot has just become more and more fun to ride. I feel like I could trot around for hours. But alas, we had more to do and I didn’t want to be on her for an hour!

After some more trotting and some cantering I felt like I (key word I here) was ready for some jumping.

We walked, got our (my) game face on, and that little voice of reason, experience, and wisdom kept telling me to get my head out of my ass. But I shooed that nosey bitch out of my head and picked up the trot and steered us towards the first X. Alice had her ears perked forward, one nudging back towards me as we got closer to the X. Then we got right up on the X and Alice slammed on the brakes.

Not mean.

Not bad.

Not stubborn.

100% genuine uncertainty.

That voice of reason punched me in the gut. I felt like an idiot. I was an idiot. I am an idiot. How dare I? If I were on the ground, I would have screamed at me, pulled me off Alice, and told me to go clean my tack.


But unfortunately I only had Josh on the ground who was, needless to say, worried.

I pet Alice. Poor horse.

I walked her over the X. She happily stepped her legs over. Good girl.

Now we trotted it and she understood what was being asked of her. Because she is a four year old Thoroughbred who has been off the track for eight weeks and I just trotted her up to an X that she has jumped two days before for the FIRST time and expected her to just “get it.”

I am a moron.

After the trotted X was done a few more times I figured, well we did canter out of this line on Thursday…

Yeah, right, could I get any more just plain ignorant?

So as you can imagine, that didn’t go well. She was like WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Yeah, Alice, good fucking question.

Maybe if I actually thought before I got greedy…well, we wouldn’t have done any of this…

But now we gotta finish this ride with a happy, confident and trusting horse.

So after going back to poles on the ground, like a smart person would have STARTED with, then moving up to trotting in and out of the line…

We did end up ending with a nice trot in and canter out. Alice seemed no worse for the wear. Lucky for me.

She even took a roll in a puddle, showing me how much she ISN’T afraid of water.

But I’m still beating myself up over this.

I know better. I am the first person who gets upset when people ask too much of a horse too early. Overfacing a horse is something I have learned through doing and I DO NOT ever want to overface a horse again. It’s irresponsible. It’s arrogant. It’s disrespectful. It’s greedy. It’s petty. It’s poor horsemanship.

I’m guilty.

I fretted over this for about 36 hours now. But if there is one thing I know it’s that talented horses are the ones that are easy to push too far too fast. It’s the smart, level headed horses that can handle the mistakes of their imbecile humans.

Alice is smart and level headed and though young, she didn’t lose her head about my poor judgement. She took it in stride and tried to clearly communicate her confusion with me. She had every right to have had a meltdown, a bitchfest, a temper tantrum. But instead she tried to answer the questions I put in front of her as best she could. Once I was CLEAR with what was expected of her within her level of training, she delivered 150%.

I let my greed of wanting to accomplish more than was fair to expect from Alice get the best of me. I promised to her after my shitty ride that I would try my best to never do that again.

I appreciate her age, her level of training and I will respect her intelligence, her talent, and her willingness and will not take advantage of that again!

I like the view from here, I want to keep her happy with my view too.



Equestrian author, rider, and horse advocate Kristine Oakhurst has performed every equestrian related job there is from being a groom, vet tech, stall cleaner, catch rider, barn manager, trainer, and even board member for a breed committee. Her first novel about a discarded ex-racehorse and homeless 16 year old girl has just been published. [Checkout Tall Omaha at Amazon]