I have been having an amazing time with Luna, my hopeful Mustang Classic mare. I have learned so much from her in these past three months, and we have made incredible strides together. I have pulled from every drawer of my toolbox to start her from scratch and have reached out to friends and fellow trainers along the way when I have had questions.
I thought I was checking all of the right boxes, and the progress Luna and I were making seemed to indicate just that. I felt like I was reading her well every day and that we were making slow but appropriate gains in the right direction. I had been eagerly looking forward to being in Ocala for the winter season, and having more hands-on help with her there. Then, four weeks ago, the old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” literally hit me in the face…
I had sat on Luna five times prior. We had walked around my indoor like it was nothing, and had even taken some baby trot steps under saddle with absolutely no problems. It was my last day working with her before heading south in three days, and I opted to sit on her at the end of our session.
For some reason, when I got on, Luna walked away from the block when asked, as usual, but then picked up a little jog on her own. I asked her to slow down like I would a domestic horse, but the combined pressure of someone above her and something pulling back on her was too much for her to reconcile, and she bolted.
Of course, I was in my indoor, as my round pen was outside, frozen solid, so Luna had a wide open runway to pick up steam and buck. About 8 seconds in, I did my best lawn dart impression over her head and into the dirt. My helmet did an excellent job of protecting my noggin but also of coming down on the bridge of my nose and breaking it. I am INCREDIBLY lucky that this was the only damage done, as unpleasant as it was. I have imagined what could have happened so many times.
My very first thought when I got up and tried to stop the bleeding from my nose was, “But it was going so well!” I was heartbroken that things had taken this turn and felt like an absolute idiot for letting it happen. At first, I could not understand why it had. I had checked all the right boxes in Luna’s training, hadn’t I? I had done everything right, right?!
In the immediate aftermath of the fall, I was so embarrassed. My face was a mess, and my confidence was shot. Half of my thoughts were telling me that I was clearly not up to the task at hand, and the other half were reminding me that this was my first time ever starting a Mustang, and to try and cut myself a little slack.
Slowly, over the 24 hours after the accident, I began to reach out to people I trust who have experience starting Mustangs. They universally told me that this kind of thing happens to everyone at some point and encouraged me to keep moving forward with help.
I am beyond grateful to have people in the horse world I can turn to in these moments. I am so fortunate that my personal learning journey has connected me with amazing trainers in the worlds of eventing, dressage, reining, mustang and colt starting, positive reinforcement, and liberty work.
And even though I know it is literally impossible for any one person to hold all of the knowledge that these individuals carry, sometimes I have a hard time admitting that there are things I can’t figure out myself if I just try hard enough, so reaching out when things go wrong isn’t always easy for me.
I recently read a post by Amy Skinner, in which she writes, “As I tell my students often, I am critiquing the technique - not YOU as a person. So listen well, but don’t smear it all over your heart because if you fail, it’s a moment in time, not who you are as a person.”
This is something I have to remind myself of over and over again. Making a mistake or not knowing something doesn’t make me “bad,” and there is no endpoint to the accumulation of knowledge that makes anyone “good.” It’s all just learning, not a determination of self-worth.
My good friend Tik Maynard is preparing for Road to the Horse, a colt-starting competition at the end of March, and my winter farm is just down the road from his and his wife Sinead’s Copperline Farm, so I am getting some hands-on help from Tik while I’m in Florida. Luna is at the right stage in her understanding to be great practice for Tik as he prepares for this event, while I also benefit immensely from his help with the next steps of her training.
Here, I get to follow more of Amy’s advice when she says, “The sooner you can develop the ability to differentiate criticism about something you are doing from your self-value, the sooner you can learn and learn well.” While no one has blatantly criticized me for the work I have done with Luna, there has been more than enough self-criticism along the way.
So now, every day that I watch Tik work with Luna, I have the opportunity to recognize those critical voices for what they are: immaterial roadblocks to my own development. I get to consciously practice allowing them to dissolve back into the space they arose from and float away on the Florida breeze while I refocus on the daily journey of learning.
Special thanks to co-sponsors Alison Brigham and Michael Frankel, as well as the barn staff at Unexpected Farm who help make this journey possible.