Have you ever had a horse that you were sure you’d never have a great connection with, could never fully trust, or maybe you even had remorse buying? My horse Poncho was spooky, reactive, and borderline dangerous in certain situations when we first got him. He was actually purchased along with my dad’s horse, Raven. They came as a pair. That was the deal. We were told by the previous owners they didn’t mess with him much because he was too difficult. Anytime I rode with my dad, I rode Poncho. We mostly did trail riding, and he did okay just following Raven. As an experienced rider, I didn’t have too much trouble, usually.
But he was trouble. If Raven got anywhere away from him, he would panic. He was also hard to put shoes on and was nearly impossible to ride out alone. Oh, and he was a nightmare to catch. So he was a bit of a handful. But we thought with more miles, he would improve. So my dad was trying to do just that, put miles on him. One day while out riding, a group of cyclists came up and Poncho almost came unglued.
We finally spoke of selling him and getting us a “better” horse. I’d been working with him some, but the progress was slow and my time was limited with two babies to care for. He wasn’t going to be easy to sell and I always worry about what someone else will do with a horse like him. Then it seemed cruel to separate him from Raven. They’d been together for so many years.
In the summer of 2021, Sam Van Fleet, a trainer I follow, offered her very first virtual liberty course. I always wanted to learn more about liberty, so I jumped at the chance. Turns out Poncho was really good at it and we were finally making some headway. Plus, it was something I could do after I put my kids to bed. I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a game changer for him. You can actually read my review of the course on her website under virtual series and coaching.
After that course, I turned around and signed up for her trick training course, where I introduced positive reinforcement into our training. Turns out that, too, made a tremendous difference. Especially when it came to being caught. He began to wait at the round pen gate for our sessions! We built an amazing bond that summer. It was a magical time for me. After seeing what I’d been able to accomplish with him, to my delight, my dad officially made Poncho my horse. He simply said, “He’s your horse now.” That meant so much to me because I’d sold my previous horse to downsize before our twins were born. A great sacrifice at the time.
In 2022, I unfortunately didn’t get to mess with him much because of a very difficult pregnancy. But when the time came to work with him again, he didn’t forget anything. I began riding him out alone, too. The first few times were terrible. He would whinny out for his herd even though we were a mile away. Or he would stop and refuse to go any further. I would have to get off and walk him several times. Sometimes I’d urge him on asking him to be brave and he’d reach back and nudge my leg with his nose. As if to request me to walk him. I obliged him several times just to settle his nerves.
Then, on the way home, he was a ball of energy trying to hurry back to the house. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, how a horse will suddenly change gears on the way back to the barn. It was a fight to get him to slow down. Not fun!
One day, I was determined to ride him to my daughter’s grave. By horse, it’s about an hour and a half there, but Poncho was so nervous and slow it took us two hours. Therefore, it was four hours there and back all by himself. He didn’t hurry back home either. And for some reason, it caused another turn around. Ever since then I haven’t had to get off and walk him one time riding him alone.
But the biggest strides he’s made is he’s become my go to horse for the beginner riders in my horsemanship groups. I lead a group from my church and let people come out and play on my horses. All beginners and I have trusted Poncho with all of them. I’ve also given lessons on him with a boy as young as 6. And I’ve ridden him with my kids in front of me. I’m very careful and take precautions with everything I do with people, but I couldn’t be prouder of him.
People can’t believe it when I tell him how spooky he used to be. “But he’s so calm,” they will say back. And people love him. Just recently I had a girl on him that was terrified. We literally took only two steps at a time to build up her confidence. She kept saying she was scared, so I told her, “Look at Poncho’s eye. Do you see how relaxed he is?” Poncho was actually half going to sleep. By the end, she was talking so much that she didn’t notice we were taking more than two steps at a time. Those are the things that make my heart sing.
She overcame a great fear that day and not many people can do that. I think you can never really give up on a horse or person. Sometimes they need to find their niche. Sometimes they need to build up trust and confidence. Some people wouldn’t have taken the time it had taken me, nor had the patience to get off and walk their horse when they needed it. I have so much more confidence riding him. He once almost threw me because he spooked at something so severely. But he now he rides out with more confidence and I know I can control him if he does get scared.
I believe a good horse is worth their weight in gold. But every horse needs training and time. They don’t just magically get there. I hope this inspires someone else who is in a similar situation with a horse. Don’t give up. Don’t stop learning and don’t stop trying. Whether it’s with a horse or something else in your life. It’s worth it!