By Jennifer Klitzke
Lawn mowers, mosquitoes, flowering trees, song birds in chorus, and the return of hay fever—in March!
Midwest March heat melted previous high-temperature records. Perhaps the March heat is what inspired my mare’s record-breaking heat that showed up the day before our western gaited dressage demonstration this season.
Up until last year when she turned seven, Makana had been a saint 95% of the time. That’s when I began to notice a change in her behavior. Saint one day and erratic the next. It was nearly impossible to get her moving forward.
At first I thought it was my riding position, then I explored saddle fitting issues, tried some supplements, and changed her diet. The one thing I hadn’t considered was a change in her hormones, mainly because I can never tell when she’s in heat. She shows no physical outward signs.
Makana and I had a terrific time riding through the mild winter temperatures, until March, the day before our gaited dressage demonstration at the Western Dressage Clinic. The day before the clinic I had my record-breaking worst ride ever! Explosive, distracted, spooky, unwilling to turn or bend to the right, I couldn’t believe this was the same horse I had been riding all winter! Getting after her only made her behavior worse, so I asked for my saintly husband’s help.
Dan grabbed his helmet and said, “How about if I get on? I’ve never experienced what you’re describing.” He calmly climbed on and walked her around singing, “Rawhide.” Makana mellowed out within a few verses. Was it the song? Not likely, but my husband’s approach made a profound difference, and he taught me an important lesson. He patiently wooed Makana out of her frenzy by inviting her into relaxation. My approach of reacting to her behavior by getting after her only stirred her up more. Ding-dong!
So, at the Western Dressage Clinic, I didn’t sing “Rawhide,” but I did apply Dan’s approach as I dealt with Makana’s marishness and it worked. No explosions; no erratic behavior. My mare could have been more forward and paid a little more attention to me over that handsome demonstration gelding, but I didn’t react to her marishness by getting after her. I kept redirecting her to relaxation through long and low stretching, leg yields, shoulder-in, hauches-in, rein back, transitions between the working walk, flat walk, running walk, free walk and canter. In fact, we even rode through first level, test one!
The success of Dan’s approach really doesn’t surprise me. After all, he knows how to gently love me out of a rather marish day and turn it into smiles and sunshine.
Video: Western Dressage Demonstration: NWHA First Level, Test One
As a “thank you” gift from the clinic organizers, Makana received her first bag of “Mare Magic.” I’ve heard good reports and will keep you posted.