Welcome Home Athena!

In July of 2015, I welcomed Athena into our family. She had just turned 5 years old and was very green. To say I had no real idea what I was in for is an understatement. But, with excitement, a healthy dose of apprehension and a lot of logistical planning, Athena traveled from Washington State to Maui, Hawaii. Her journey included a 2 day trailer trip with a commercial horse transport company from Seattle, Washington to LAX International Airport. Arriving at midnight she hopped on a horse dedicated 747 Jet from LAX to Honolulu, HI to clear quarantine before proceeding on the last leg of her adventure, an overnight barge trip from Honolulu to Maui where she finally settled into her lush 2 acre pasture and our journey together began. 

During my pre purchase visits I could see that she had some basic ground schooling and had been lightly started under saddle. However, once settled in her new Maui home, it became very clear she was a handful. I had seen indications of this but now that it was just her and me, her true colors were  showing like a bright rainbow banner of spirited personality. Despite her sass, she had many endearing qualities and I saw loads of potential. To this day, I still believe we were meant for each other. 

To begin with, she had zero ground manners and would frequently take off, zipping the lead line out of my hand as she galloped off, clearly very proud of herself. I learned early on to ALWAYS wear gloves, or suffer the blistered, rope burn consequences. 

She was hard to catch. In her two acres of pasture I would spend hours chasing her around, just to put her halter on. I quickly decided we needed a “Catch pen” where I would lure her into the smaller space staked out with temporary hot wire fence, feed her a small bowl of Timothy pellets and close the gate behind her while she was eating. It was still a game of chase, but at least it was one I could win now. 

Grooming her was an ordeal. I couldn’t pick her back feet up without her kicking out at me. If I touched her chest, she would bare her teeth as if to bite. Although she never did “get me”, it was none the less unnerving. I would get through the currying as quickly as I could, doing my best to dodge her tossing head, tail swishing and overall pissy nature. When she was in a “good” mood, which was completely on her terms, should would approach me, looking for wither scratches.

It was endearing, in a way that made me think there might be hope that she might want to be with me. But, with a kicking habit it was also scary and I found myself  trying to push her away which ultimately lead to her spinning around, pinning her ears, pointing her hind end at me and giving a little bunny hop buck in my direction. Then trotted away tossing her head, satisfied that she had shown me who was boss. 

Tacking up was a wild dance. With saddle in hand I would approach her and proceed to chase her around the hitching pole until I could get close enough to throw my dressage saddle over her back. As I would tighten her girth, I had to jump back to avoid a nip as she reached around with her teeth. Installing cross ties, helped. Instead of going around and around in a circle at least it was just back and forth.

Getting on was an adventure at best. It was a solid 45 minute ordeal of asking her to stand next to the mounting block. Once I finally had her standing, usually crocked, I would put one foot in the stirrup, which always illicited a side ways and/or forward step away. Thinking I could still get on, I would begin hopping around on one leg as she circled around and around the mounting block, moving further and further away with each step. Eventually, she would step far enough away that I could no longer remain on the mounting block and keep a foot in the stirrup. In the last moment of tension, I would slide my foot out of the stirrup as she backed even further away pulling me completely off the block. On occasion the reins would rip out of my hands, leaving Athena “free”.  Sensing her new liberty she would run off, parading around the field in full tack, reins dangling around her neck and me hoping she didn’t get her leg caught.    

Once I finally managed to get on, the presence of my legs made her jump forward. To her my, leg always and only meant go forward and go faster, even to the slightest touch. She was always tense and unsure. Nothing I seemed to say or do helped to calm her down. 

With jazzy steps, her head held high like a giraffe, we would venture down towards my makeshift grass arena at the bottom of the field.

 If we were lucky, we didn’t encounter any flying pheasants which would inevitable send Athena into a spooking tizzy of whirling energy, trying to escape the “monster” from the grass. It was quite an ordeal. Many days, I found it was  “enough” to get on and go for a walk. 

For six months, August to January we continued to push through all the ground and mounting issues and persevered to get to the highlight of the week, our one hour Dressage riding lesson. But, that proved to be just as frustration and pointless. It would take a solid 30 minutes of walking and struggling to get Athena to be calm and focused. She fought every request. Pushing against my leg and shooting forward into a faster trot. She had no supple movement and no left or right lateral movement of any kind. She would get her tongue over the bit constantly and then toss her head vigorously, swishing her tail in even further protest. We mostly worked on walk and trot. In January we introduced a little  canter. That was another exercise in courage, as every canter started first with a bucking fit. Once the canter smoothed out, it was nice, unrefined and fast, but had elements of riding a rocking horse. A sign of good things to develop in time. But, by that point my nerves were shot, my heart pounding and my legs were Jello. I ended our rides exhausted and distraught. Athena ended our rides pissy and anxious. She didn’t understand what I was asking and I didn’t know how to explain my requests. There was a huge gap between us and it was growing bigger with every session together whether on the ground or in the saddle. 

Canter Transition Success!

Headed to the barn, ready to ride, ready for the day to unwind. I slipped my Blundstone much boots on. I love these boots btw. They are so easy on and off, are super comfortable, great tred and the best part is they are still holding up to the rigors of days at the barn; the mud, the rain, the manure, the post ride paths, the dust etc. But, I digress.

I walked over to Athena’s stall and gave a quick call, “Athena” She lifted her head up and came cantering up to me, sliding to a stop in front of me, her hooves leaving groves in the fresh grass still wet from the nights rainfall. “Easy there girl, love that you are so excited to see me, but let’s not pull a muscle. “ Ha Ha  I slid her halter on while feeding her a piece of carrot and out the stall door we walked. I paused  long enough for her to grab a bite of grass at the small patch just outside her stall door. It’s sort of become a bit of tradition. The grass is always greener on the other side… Athena is sure of it! 

Grooming was just like previous grooming sessions except that I started with my new grooming gloves. Love these. No more dirt under my nails, or trying to grip a rubber curry comb. With the tiny grippers on my finger tips I curried in a circular motion, Athena’s neck stretching out long and her lips wiggling back and forth in approval. “That’s my girl”. So happy you are enjoying the scratches. 
I picked her hooves, one at a time, applied tea tree oil with the eye dropper to any cracks or divit spots in her hoof to prevent bacteria from establishing a foothold.

I could hear her playing with something in my grooming box. What now had she gotten into?? As I put her last foot down I looked up to see her happily eating my flower lei, string and all! “Hey there!” I grabbed the lei, carefully, trying not to break the tiny string holding the flowers in a circular necklace. “Give it back Athena…” she only grabbed harder as if to say “ no, this is my treat”.  “Come on…. Let me have it. It was hard to look serious and she knew it, as I was laughing, finding it oh so humorous that she had again, gone digging in my grooming box and found something she knew she shouldn’t have and was now playing with it. I love seeing this softer side of her. I was finally able to trade a carrot for the lei. Ah silly Athena. Always something with you. 
We had a lovely ride on the trail. She was alert and calm, curiously checking out the different sounds and sights, ears pricked forward, fully engaged in the world. 

We finished our ride with a quick arena session. I wanted to try our canter transitions. We completed a lap around the arena. It was speedy, it was not fabulous, but I didn’t care about the trot today. Today I wanted to canter. With Kate’s words fresh in my mind, “shorter rein, stay behind her, close your knees” I proceed to form a circle at the walk. I applied the my inside leg at the girth to ask for a leg yield step to set up for the canter, I kept my reins shorter( they felt too short, but I was open to giving it a try), asked for a slight flexion to the inside, slid my outside leg back, leaned back, gave a kiss and as if by magic I felt her back round underneath me and come up into the canter. Success!!!!! I couldn’t believe it. Or I should say I could believe it, but was so excited that Kate’s suggestion had worked. I immediately praised Athena, giving her a soft pat on her neck and brining her back to the walk, now rubbing her and praising her for such a good effort. Her ears flicked back at me as if to say “ oh, that’s what you’ve been wanting.” I’ve got this. I applied the same cues and asked again. She picked up the canter even smoother this time. “Good Girl” Good Girl!” I’m so proud of you. Now she was super excited and tried to offer it up again. No no, that’s enough for today. So proud of you Athena. That’s a great note to end on for today. Let’s take a bath and go get your Scooby snacks. 😃