I had never approached a horse before a ride and had thought, “Where’s your brain today?” As I worked on the ground or warmed up a horse I never noticed things like his ears, the worry lines above his eyes, the wrinkles from stress on his bottom lip, his inconsistent breathing, the inconsistency in the size of his steps, the tightness in his back, if he was moving as if he were on a tightrope or more like he’d had a few beers, if his tail was clamped down against his hindquarters, if the muscles along the underside of his ribs was engaged in a resistant manner, if he was turning left but “quietly” leaking out towards the right, the degree of his “heaviness” or subtle resistance against my aids because eventually he’d get the job done. And for me, whether it was racehorses to Three Day Eventing horses to Jumpers to Dressage horses to young horses, as long as I kept one leg on either side and we managed to “survive” any negative portion of the ride that was good enough. I had no standard other than performing “close enough” to the ideal (which was a very broad spectrum to measure the quality of a ride by.)
It NEVER occurred to me that the note I was finishing on today was going to affect tomorrow’s ride. I never imagined I was there to HELP my horse, but rather it was a dictatorship, which sadly too many times led to constant badgering from me towards my horse on all of the things he WAS NOT doing right. I NEVER assessed my horse from the ground before the ride. Fussing, fidgeting, pawing, and spookiness were all NORMAL parts of working around horses, right?
There was never room for my horse to have an opinion, because they only opinion I ever saw was not a good one, such as when he refused a jump or behaved like an “idiot” on the trail with a group of horses. It never occurred to me that there could be a quality TWO WAY conversation.
To me training with the mentality I’ve described above was an uphill battle as you can imagine. Theoretically we all talked about the ideal ride, the soft, light, balanced, supple and collected horse, but reality included whips, spurs, martingales, severe bits and other “torture” devices so that we could manhandle the horse into eventual submission. If this didn’t work, the animal was deemed a bad horse, and you got another one.
So long story short it took a lot of re-evaluating everything I thought I knew and having to spend many hours assessing, questioning and thinking about ME and what I was doing. For me it will be a forever ongoing process, which is exciting because you never know how “far” on the journey of quality time with the horses can bring you.
And this all brings me to a funny little story; it’s moments like what I’ll describe below that makes it all worth it. The occasions that catch you off guard, the ones where an accumulation of the hours, energy, and effort pay off with simple experiences that leave you smiling with that warm and fuzzy feeling for a long time.
Now I know there are plenty of horses who load quietly and of course plenty who don’t. But my point was how many people have ever created the opportunity for the horse to make a decision- and feel good about it- while the horse still retained the ability to hear what the person was communicating rather than just completely taking over? For me that’s the point. No matter what is presented, whether we’ve done it before or not, (Pico had never done this before) my horse needs to participate and think of how to behave reasonably with an intentional manner. It’s those scenarios that build the confidence for a horse like Pico to come up with the idea that he too, wanted to go, wherever the trailer might have been going. The two horses in trailer weren’t even his pasture buddies and there were other horses loose that he could have easily stayed out grazing with. But HE made a choice to participate. And moments like that, are the ones that make it all worth it!
As the song says “Little moments like these…”