Then this morning I’ve had my first session with Katie and Grace. Katie has owned Grace for several years, and has accomplished much of the backing process herself and then Grace was ‘professionally schooled’ at some point also. She has had a show jumper come to ride her over the last couple of years too when she has struggled with time to get her ridden. So the session was mainly for Katie to see how I got on with her, get a little exercise for Grace and see where to take it from there. I had been prepped with the stories of her bucking, running off, not standing at the mounting block, not liking other people riding her etc etc, but that these things weren’t all the time and she usually chilled out after a few minutes. So taking Grace to the school I could already see the tension rising in her, she had fidgeted to be tacked up too. So I first walked with Grace around the arena a little asking her to stand and walk on a couple of times before we approached the mounting block to get on. Although Katie held her while I mounted I didn’t get a feeling that she wanted to walk off today and she stood happily while I got my stirrups and so on. I began very gently just walking, asking grace to turn here or there, getting a feel for her and giving her chance to get a feel for me. She was definitely holding her breath and I could feel huge waves of anxiety radiating from her, although this didn’t seem to go to a tension in her muscles or that buzz you get through the saddle from some horses, it was just the feeling. So I worked on gradually breathing through the feeling she was sending me and trying to send her some calm relaxed vibes, letting her know that there was no pressure, I was only going to go slowly and take things one step at a time. After a couple of circuits of the school Grace relaxed and did a good snort, releasing her breath and lowering her head. It was only then that I knew that I had Grace’s attention and her willingness. We moved on with the session gradually working through trot, calmly over a pole, and some canter, also incorporating the pole. She was very sweet and tried everything that I asked but wanted me to ‘hold her together’ between my leg and hand. Most likely from her schooling days she was prepared for a rider to push her from the leg to the hand and needing the support of the riders leg and hand quite firmly, in a similar way to Jazz leaning on the line. However, Grace is a much stockier breed than Jazz and I find it is very important not to have a pulling war with the bigger horses as they seem to progress to being heavy very quickly (And I don’t have arms of steel!). So my focus through the most of the work was on Grace not leaning in to the hand and towards the end of the session there was significant improvement so I was very happy at Grace’s tries, especially given her apparent dislike for new riders and the antics she has shown before. I cooled down with some work on seeing how ‘pliable’ Grace was to requests to move her body around. It was quite clear that the majority of Grace’s understanding of the leg aid was forward. One leg or two, back or forward, pressure from the leg meant forward. Although on her softer rein she did give a try of some sideways steps so she does have some knowledge that legs sometimes mean something else. This was all we had time for and was only a quick test rather than the main part of the session so I left it with a good try and talked through with Katie where I would like to go from here. Further sessions now I would like to work on Grace’s understanding of being able to move parts of her individually, encouraging her to be responsive and getting her to start to balance herself a little more. This should work her brain and gently start her body changing to work more independently of the rein and balance herself. I very much look forward to working with her again.