When I started Tristan, in January 2006, basically everything was difficult.
Every day, I would catch him in his paddock, lead him into the indoor, and groom him.
He was so nervous that he would tremble, sweat, or spook away, to the end of the lead line. When he got back to his paddock, he would drink gallons of water; the stress dehydrated him.
Eventually, I could groom him inside. Then I could longe him. Then he wore tack while longeing. Bridling was especially difficult.
I cried a lot. I am not really a person who cries from frustration. Adversity usually makes me grit my teeth, get angry, and push through. I cry at other people’s pain, real or fictional, but not at my own. So when I tell you I cried a lot, that should give you some idea of how miserable I was. For months.
Early on, my trainer gave me one tip that really helped, and I used it for years.
Always keep emergency chocolate in your tack trunk.
I bought peanut butter chocolate bars, much like the one I have pictured above, only not nearly as nice. They were 2/$1.00 at the grocery store, and even that was a stretch, because I was on a really strict budget so I could afford my horse.
But I always found money to keep one in my tack trunk. On really bad days, I would put him back in his paddock, and I would go sit down on my tack trunk. Sometimes I would not even turn the light on in the tack room. And I would eat some chocolate.
Blood sugar is no one’s friend. Stress does crazy things to my blood sugar. Forcing myself to sit down, have a moment of pleasure, get some sugar into my stomach, and breath deeply for a few minutes, was a key part of readjusting and getting myself ready for the long, cold drive home.
I haven’t kept chocolate in my tack trunk in years, because even our very worst days now are lightyears better than even our very best days were that winter.
But it was still one of the best pieces of advice I ever got for training a young, green, volatile horse.