When I was a child, I cantered my horses everywhere! Fear never entered my mind. For at least three years of my life as a child, I wanted to become a jockey. Now, with my plus sized jeans I have outgrown the notion to become a jockey and fear is alive and well when it comes to cantering my mule.
At our ranch, we have two mules, JoJo and CoCo. JoJo has been with us for going on four years. Cantering on him is as smooth as butter left on the counter. There is not one ounce of fear with cantering JoJo. You would think I am a completely different person when it comes to cantering CoCo. I am scared. Scared of hitting the ground, scared of her tripping, and scared of not being able to stop her.
CoCo joined our herd one year ago. She is a Tennessee Walker mule that stands over 16hh. Not only am I dealing with my fear of cantering but currently CoCo is my tallest equine to own or ride. My husband and I own a trail facility where I also instruct lessons. It is exceedingly difficult to expose weaknesses and put myself in a vulnerable position. This article is written in hopes of showing others they are not alone.
There have been three main components in place to combat this persistent fear:
- Weekly riding goals.
- Participated in clinics.
- Rode with others.
Setting weekly riding goals was essential to my success. Each mule has its own personality. CoCo tripped multiple times when I first started riding her. This has decreased over time. For the fear to subside enough for me to canter, I needed to know this mule. I must know how she is going to respond to her environment. Weekly riding goals included ranch dressage practice, obstacle training, and arena riding.
Participating in horsemanship clinics was beneficial to have an instructor there to assist in correcting any riding errors present. My fear was creating problems in my horsemanship that was getting me further from my goal of cantering. The main issue involved me tightening the reins as soon as we did break over into a canter. Through the help of clinician, Lee Hart, I was able to work on releasing the pressure to make the transition from trotting to cantering pleasant for CoCo. This in turn made the mule more confident in her rider, which made me more confident in the mule. Clinician Lee Hart was also able to canter CoCo before me to show she had no bad intentions and that she would slow down within a few strides after not being pulled upon as I was doing.
Riding with others was key to overcoming my fear of cantering. Drills such as riding in different positions in a group cannot be done by yourself. Having more seasoned horses and mules with us lent courage to CoCo and to myself. It was on a group trail ride that I finally had the courage to canter CoCo outside of the arena and without another clinician present. I had to wait until I was ready. I believed in my mule, I felt safe, and I trusted her. It is okay that a year has passed since CoCo first came to our ranch. If all goes well, we will have decades of riding and cantering in our future.