I’m delighted to share with you the sweet story of my friend, Courtney, and her horse, Dusty. She is a great horsewoman, so I was honored to interview her — on a trail ride, no less!
Slowing Things Down
Courtney began riding at a young age in English showing circuits. She had ridden and even owned a show horse for several years. Courtney had loved being around horses as long as she could remember. Yet the pressures that came along with the show circuits slowly diminished the joy she found in riding and replaced it with fears.
More and more it seemed as though riding was all about troubleshooting tense and aggravated horses. Instead of her love for horses and riding being at the forefront of her time at the barn, she experienced more of a dread from the things that she knew could go wrong.
Courtney and Dusty began their journey together when Courtney was in the market for a new horse. Her horse at the time had been given to her, but was not proving to be an ideal match. A trainer at the barn knew of some friends who were selling horses. Courtney met all three of them, and was strongly encouraged to give Dusty a try. He had been trained on a ranch in Eastern Washington and had plenty of trail miles under his girth. Plus, he was a beautiful, strong buckskin Quarter Horse.
Love at First Sight
Courtney fell in love with Dusty right away. She seamlessly found a good home for her current horse the very day she planned to bring Dusty to the barn. Eager to get to know her new horse and partner in crime, she started Parelli games right away. They worked on friendliness and ground work together. She soon discovered that Dusty was sweet and calm.
But he did come with some unwanted habits. The first week, she realized he had a terribly adverse relationship with trailers. Anytime she tried to load him, he would get scared and immediately pull back and continue backing up until she gave in. He also had a habit of darting around the arena when lunging. Settling him down in the arena just took some practice and familiarity, but the fits about the trailer took longer.
Courtney said it came down to teaching him how to respect her: to respond to her, not just to do what he thought was best. She was consistent with her expectations of him, but she was also gentle. She said she spent a lot of time with him, just hanging out. It gave them the chance to grow accustomed to each other. Their bond grew, and they began to trust each other more as time passed; she got him through his trailer fear in due time. Knowing that she had gained his loyalty, Courtney beamed as she said she was so very happy she was introduced to him.
Because of Courtney’s experience with wound-up horses, Dusty’s little insecurities have been easy to handle. She showed him week after week that lets him know she can coach him through his fears, and she is confident and glad to help him. In turn, his trust and loyalty towards Courtney continues to deepen as their partnership develops.
Because of his steady personality, she is more confident to go fast on the trails without fearing loss of control. She says she loves certain quirks of his, like how he loves to get butt scratches and how he always sticks his tongue out.
Just a Dream?
When considering her dream horse, Courtney’s priority was having a solid trail horse with a sweet temperament after years of working with a variety of difficult personalities. Dusty turned out to be this dream horse and then some. She has taken him riding in the back country, on prize rides, and even on a camping trip with her husband. She hopes to take him out with Back Country Horsemen to learn more about trail maintenance, safety, and backwoods camping.
Sometimes, our journey with horses takes unexpected turns. The adversities we face can make it harder to enjoy the sport we love so much. And other times, we meet horses along the way that help us conquer our fears and reignite the passion that started us down this path.
This has been overwhelmingly Courtney’s story since she brought Dusty home. She rides with growing excitement. Even her friends at the barn have noticed a difference. Courtney is happy, and now rides with a smile on her face. When asked about what surprised her about Dusty, Courtney replied that she was relieved that he, unlike others, didn’t spook or fight with her all the time: “I finally have a horse that I feel safe to ride on the trail. I feel happy. I can let go of the reins and not worry about what he’s going to do.”
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