If I Only Knew Then…

Grady stood like a gentleman at the mounting block as he always did.  I swung my leg over and settled gently into the saddle.  He continued to stand quietly until being asked to walk off.  After only a couple of steps, that sinking feeling that I had felt all too often lately resurfaced just from the energy that bubbled underneath me.  It is hard to describe but it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt in a horse before…and I’ve ridden over 500 horses in my life.  It was Autumn 2010 and I was at a complete loss.

To call it tension would be an understatement.  To call it freshness would be inaccurate because he wasn’t fresh or wild……he was terrified.  Of what, I had no idea but it was my mission to find out.

It would start with just that indescribable feeling but would often escalate quickly to what I began to call panic attacks.  Mind you, this was just at the walk at home in our ring in which he had been working successfully for the past couple of years. The panic attacks weren’t scary and he never felt like he was going to buck me off, but they were extremely frustrating because I didn’t know what was causing them and therefore could not prevent them or fix them.  They consisted of his tension building to such a level that he would bolt sideways, always to the right, like he was running away from something.  I was always able to stop him so it was never really a dangerous situation and we were in a controlled environment, but when he was like this our rides were never fun, never successful and often ended with me in tears because I didn’t know where my sweet little Grady had gone.


{Click here for a little video snippet of what I’m talking about…}

Even though I didn’t know what he was afraid of, I did know that to him, the fear was very real.  Of that, I was 100 percent sure.  If only he could talk…


She’s right, you know.  I was terrified.  It used to be just an uneasy feeling that she was able to work me through.  But over time, it became this thing that consumed me.  This terror that overtook my entire being and I was no longer myself.  I hated that I was letting her down (even when she told me I wasn’t, I knew I was) but I couldn’t help it.  It was like I was trying to escape my own skin. 

It wasn’t always that way.  Things had started out pretty well and I liked the work we did together.  I even let other people with less experience ride me and I liked feeling that I had something to offer them. 


Over the couple of years leading up to this time, Grady had been doing so well that I began putting some of my students on him for lessons in order to give him more experience with different riders.  He was always well behaved and everyone that rode him enjoyed him.  I took him on some off-property schooling sessions and, other than having some trailer loading issues, he did well.  We had started addressing nutrition and saddle fit concerns during these couple of years and it was always a little tough to get Grady to gain weight but he was coming along.  His level of relaxation during our rides varied but overall his training was progressing nicely.  Since the original goal had been to train and sell him, I decided it was time to advertise and see what happened.

It was August 2010 when I got a call from a woman who was looking for a project horse.  We set up an appointment for her to come to the farm and ride Grady.  She was not a professional but did not come with a trainer.  She said she had some experience with Thoroughbreds.  I rode Grady around for a few minutes so she could see him go and then she got on.  The walk and trot work started out very promising with Grady listening to everything she asked and keeping a nice rhythm.  I had been giving her some pointers here and there but then, out of nowhere, while heading down the long side of the ring toward the barn, she decided to ask him for a left lead canter.  He was obviously surprised by this and over-reacted, picking up the incorrect lead and gaining speed toward the gate.  She was able to make the turn and Grady changed leads out of self-preservation but he was not slowing down.  I told her to bring him onto a circle and then she was able to get him back to the trot.  After regrouping from that, she did a little more at the walk and trot and we even added in some short bits of canter on a circle and it ended well.  She didn’t seem scared by the experience and told me she would give it some thought and let me know.  She called back a couple of days later and had decided that she wanted something a little less green and I agreed that was a good idea.

Grady and I went back to the drawing board and I was pleased that he didn’t seem affected by the slightly scary experience…..right away anyway.  After about a week, I started feeling more tension in Grady.  He seemed very nervous and, over time, his tension and spookiness increased.  Ultimately, the panic attacks began and I could barely ride him anymore.  We investigated every aspect of his physical well being.  His eyes were fine and, although he did have some stomach and back issues, none of his practitioners felt that anything he was dealing with was severe enough to cause him to behave in such a crazy way and none of the treatments we did improved his behavior. To me, he felt like he had literally lost his mind and it broke my heart that I had no idea how to help him.


Funny thing is, as she was trying to help me, I started to sense that I was on a mission to help her.  It’s something I began to feel deep down.  Maybe that’s what this fear was inside of me.  I knew her plans for me weren’t what was supposed to happen.  I wasn’t meant to go on to someone else and do whatever it was that person wanted me to do.  I was here for her; to change her life.  But she didn’t know that yet and I desperately wanted to tell her.

One day when Francie, the nice lady that came once a month to give me a massage, came to work on me, I felt like I had a chance to spill my guts.  Becky wasn’t there that day and, not that I couldn’t open up in front of her, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to speak up.  Francie had earned my trust and I thought she might be able to hear me……and she did.  I could tell when she put her hands on me that she felt it.  Strong emotions came over her and I could tell she knew this visit was different.  I told her I was not going anywhere and that I was here for a purpose.  I told her I needed to help Becky make changes in her life and show her a different way.  I knew it deep down in my bones.  I knew Francie heard me loud and clear and I knew she would tell Becky and that she would listen.

Watching Francie leave


I can’t remember why I wasn’t at the barn that day in October 2010 when Grady “spoke” to Francie, but I got chills when Francie told me about what happened.  Although Francie is not a communicator, she has very deep connections with animals and is a very intuitive person so I felt there was complete merit in what she had experienced with Grady that day.  I knew it didn’t mean he was thinking “I have to misbehave so that she can’t sell me” but I knew it meant something.  Now all I had to do was figure out what to do with this information…

“Help me with what?” I wondered.

Looking back now, nine years later, it is all beginning to make sense but back then I just had to have faith and keep going.  It was time to start thinking outside the box and figure out what it was that Grady needed to get through this difficult stage in his life.  If I only knew then what an exciting journey was in store for me.

Stay tuned…