ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
I keep telling people I’ve retired from teaching and training in order to pursue The Compassionate Equestrian project and network. However, as in the past when I’ve “quit” the horse business, a horse always manages to slip into my world and insist that I keep at least one foot in the stirrup iron so to speak.
Yesterday was one of the more “trying” days in the saddle as the lovely Arabian gelding I ride through the winter months had spotted the herd of sheep well off into the field, plus it was feeding time, and he was pumped up and spooky all at the same time. I hopped on and then after a few minutes of reading the tension in his body I got off and put him on the longe line for a few minutes until he settled. He pranced around, tail up, snorting away and putting on quite a show.
Not wanting him to get too hot I remounted once he calmed down a bit and went on with our ride, which has been primarily about stretching and relaxing. I call it “arena-yoga for horses”.
As we traversed a relatively small area of the very large outdoor ring, I was still feeling the tension and potential spook in Nick’s body. The sheep, after all, were on the move. Innocently grazing off in the distance, unaware of the potential chaos they were creating in the riding arena.
I don’t like a horse to push me into an over-ride situation so we remained on a 20 meter circle in the part of the arena where he couldn’t see the woolly beasts in the field. I proceeded to develop the long, low, swinging walk that has been the basis of the program I’ve set out for Nick’s 17-year-old body that needs to learn how to become more supple and create a more natural neck position that will relieve pressure on the upper cervical vertebrae.
At about that point another rider in the arena asked if the white (sort of white… he’s a champion mud-roller!) horse was fun to ride.
I had to think about that for a moment. “Fun to ride”. Hmmm. After riding as a professional for about 30 years, and even as a retired professional, riding for fun is trumped by riding for what is best for the horse. At least that’s how it is for me.
I keep a sense of humour – always. The horses seem to enjoy light-heartedness as well as an empathic rider. If they want to play, I generally let them play. It took me a lot of years to determine “play” responses from “pain” responses. So my biggest concerns now, rather than thinking of a horse being “fun” to ride or not, is the question of “is the horse comfortable?” I ask myself, “is he happy doing what I’m asking, and could I get the same result with even less pressure, or lighter aids?” “Is he at the point of his athletic development that I could ask a little more without it being too much?” And onwards and onwards… my mental check-list is constantly “on” during the entire ride. I check, check, and check again for comfort, soundness, lightness, and finishing a ride with a super-relaxed, very happy horse who comes back into the arena the next time willing and eager to be there.
OK, I admit to having moments of sheer fun too. That would be when I feel a horse suddenly lift his entire front end off the ground for the first time in a lengthening of the stride. When the back rounds and his nose is to the ground on a loose rein, and the trot is so huge and springy it’s like sitting on a trampoline. When it’s no effort at all on my part to produce a few steps of collection entirely from my leg and seat. Yeah, those things make for a “fun to ride” horse. Happy, sound, healthy, and loving life. That’s fun!
BLANKET ON, BLANKET OFF
Sigh, well, thanks for the roll in the mud people. Good to have the blankie off for a few days. Glad somebody noticed my “suffering” (mm hmm – getting itchy under there). I guess you prefer that I be white, warm, dry and appreciating the fact that you care enough to keep me covered and well-housed in the winter weather of the far north. Next up…SPRING!