It is a glorious summer day and I just returned from adventures down back country roads, where folks pull over and fill up water bottles at natural springs; where you slow down and smile as you pass the 1950’s tractor steadily rolling down the road after a hard day of baling hay. It is a place where you wave at the passing train and the engineer honks the horn and waves back enthusiastically… Where you watch elk graze in the early dusk, eagles and osprey soar above the hay fields, and deer help their young cross the road. Whether it is folks casting their reels hoping for the next great fishing story, families and friends floating down the emerald rivers, or children making memories at summer camp that will influence their future perspectives on life, nature and decisions, nothing holds a candle to watching a group of riders emerge between the same mountains that Lewis and Clark, David Thompson and other explorers have made famous.
It has been unseasonably warm and at 104 degrees F, and as I sat watching the riders make their way down to a creek that intercepted with a phenomenal river, untack, climb aboard bareback, and without hesitation plunge into the waters, was priceless. As the scene before me unfolded, a newly released song came on the radio; it was talking about the “last firsts.”
And often as it seems to be with music, hearing it, along with seeing the horse events unfolding before me, brought me back to my own many firsts I’ve had with horses. I was feeling a bit emotional as I reminisced about how many memories I had that were horse related, and how quickly I could close my eyes and “be” immediately back in a time and place many years before. I could smell the horse sweat, taste the grit in my mouth, feel the heat of the sun glaring down on me.
It didn’t matter if it had been years before when I’d been riding in the snow crested peaks of the Pacific Northwest mountings (even in July,) battling a blizzard trailing sheep in tip of the Patagonian mountains, taking a Mediterranean “short cut” crossing via an inlet feeling the power of my horse swimming through the turquoise ocean, trailing cattle through the high desert with giant saguaro cactus towering above, or riding barefoot, bareback and in a halter at the rear of a herd of summer camp horses… whether it’d been 30 years ago or just a few years prior, those experiences are forever imprinted in my mind and emotions.
I’m not particularly a touchy/feely kinda gal; a lifetime of living in a “man’s world” creates an emotional distancing of oneself, a lifestyle of relying solely on yourself creates callouses not only on your hands but in your ability to rationalize decisions and a self imposed “durability” over the years leads to a relentlessness that would overwhelm most folks if they were faced with the decisions I make on a regular basis. But when I think back to those invaluable equine moments, all of my toughness dissolves immediately.
The point of sharing all of this is that as I drove the other day and watched the kids and adults share that bonding moment with their horses, I realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment that they’d never lose. I find most things that get shared via social media are done so because of the emotional draw. People who’ve been in major traumatic accidents with horses and yet push through the recovery with the goal of returning to the saddle again are inspired purely based on their emotions. Those folks who save horses from abuse, potential slaughter or neglect, to those who see colts and dream of their future blue sky potential, (if a person has nothing financial to gain,) the draw is always the emotional release horses offer us humans.
For some reason from the time of marching into battle thousands of years ago with the armies of Genghis Khan to jumping insane modern day obstacles, to the backyard kid, to the die hard Pony Clubber, from the hunter who religiously packs into the backcountry in search of their winter harvest, to the social trail rider, from the Amateur competitor to the rehabilitative experience of just being within close proximity to a horse, these equines continue to give, and give and give to us humans.
I was recently regaled with a few stories from new clients, returning clients and folks I’d just talked to and given advice to over the phone and via email correspondence. They each came back with these heart-warming stories of the life-changing experiences they’d had recently with their horses based on advice I’d offered or after lessons/training with me.
The one shared theme as they told of their individual experiences was the emotional release, empowerment and long term confidence they had developed from their journey with their horse.
Because I don’t “only” work with one discipline, breed, or level rider, I’ve begun to realize a huge part of the inspiration of what I try to offer folks is the ability to “read” the horses, make rational decisions riding in “real time,” and offer them effective tools to clearly communicate. This all can contribute to them then having those “life changing” moments with the horses. It also allows a mental and emotional "freedom" that I find is rare within the equine world of rules, traditions and restrictions.
Often the conversation one has with the horse, really resonates in all aspects of the person's life, it isn’t “just” about horses or riding. The horses tend to draw the best and worst out of people; I imagine it has a lot to do with their honesty and black and white interpretation of the world around them.
I’ve found that this summer I’ve been slowing down more, I’ve been watching more, listening more, and more contemplative. I feel that sometimes as I watch the behaviors, I yet again refine my initial interpretations of what I see, to best understand and improve how I communicate with horses and humans alike. And it all comes out in my lessons, clinics and training. I can literally see the changes in humans and horses alike. I believe our journey of horsemanship never ends; there is always more to learn, see, try and do. Every horse and every scenario is an opportunity for us to learn from, embrace and evolve from.
So, maybe you can take a few minutes and whether you just stroll down memory lane or actually jot something down, perhaps you can practice a few minutes of thankfulness as you explore memories of what horses have taught you, forced you to confront about yourself, and inspired you. I think if we brought more appreciation to the horse (even the frustrating, challenging and difficult ones) then our partnership with our horses, would have stronger bonds and increased quality experiences. If we humans spent less time comparing how much “we” accomplished and more time on making quality memories, ironically “we’d” get a lot more done with our horses.
So please, I encourage you to set out with a smile the next time you approach your horse, take every unexpected experience as an opportunity to evolve and build upon, and I promise you, it’ll make you a better leader for your horse and emotionally happier.