Like so many people, I have had horses most all of my life. I have owned them, challenged them, and told them what to do. I have fallen off, been dumped and been in challenging situations with hundreds of horses. In growing up I thought I knew them, understood them and could get the results I was looking for. I searched out troubled horses with a sense of pride of how I could handle them. Unaware of what they were actually teaching me. So from each experience I grew and changed, thinking I had them figured out, and each time walking away a better person for what I had learned. I have loved them on a human level but have not respected the communication they have offered.
From mustangs to ponies, from saddle to draft horses. I was always looking how I could better the horse, but all the while the horse was bettering me. After I graduated high school and I had gotten married I went to my first riding clinic, and realized there were words and descriptions to the feel I had for the horse.
People were saying words like, lateral flex, bending at the poll, lounging, all words I had never used and I felt my knowledge begin to dwindle because I had no idea what the conversations were about. I began to try to live up the the words used by other people instead of the feel of the horse, and ignoring their try. I was so wrapped up in the wanting to please the instructor, try this bit, that martingale, this spur… I lost the feel I had spent my entire life feeling and tried to bring words into play. “Leg in, leg out, rib in, rib out, head down, hip in, leg back, leg forward, words haunting my motion and loosing my feel for the horse.
Then on top of all that the instructor would say, “Did you feel that?”
“Hell no! I didn’t feel anything… I was thinking of the words you were saying.”
Then we would start again all the while the horse shaking his head in disgust as I again tried to listen to the teacher of the class who was getting disgusted with me as a rider. Who was beginning to think I needed to go back to the beginning because I was to stupid to ride a horse without the help of an instructor, who was all words about all they knew, who they knew and the DVD’s, halters, and carrot sticks they had available for me to buy to help me get the knowledge I needed to be a better horseman.
I would feel inadequate and frustrated to near tears, wondering how I had become so stupid and questioning my knowledge I thought I once had.
Asking one time, a question I had known for years but now asking out loud to a well known clinition “How do I get this colt to pick up his right lead?” in vein looking for ques I might not of known.
When the reply back to me was, “You should be able to do this with your horse.” As the instructor lifted his horse into a lead change ever other stride. “If you can’t do that then you don’t have control of your horse.”
I started working on a quarter horse ranch where again instructors were giving me more words to how I needed to feel the feel with these action or that leg. Driving the horse in unnatural positions and mind blowing stops on babies just under two years of age. With wounded heart and several clinics and lots of money invested, I felt my knowledge I had, was so mixed up, I thought I had no right to handle horses, I had begun to focus on the words and goals instead of the feel and try. And with a few other reasons, I withdrew from horses and questioned my own ability. I was getting my horses as confused as I was. I had felt the loss of feel in the attempt to do what others were doing.
Years later… I began again to play with horses, this time with the knowledge that I would “play” with horses and see what that got me. Allow my feel to come back without words. I began to start colts to lead, play with a troubled horse here and there, then a troubled little mustang and a little red colt that had come trotting into my life.With four years of watching a certain horse clinic in a little town, I thought I might try one more time and walk away not only a better rider, but a little better horseman and person.
Joe honored my try. In my efforts I was able to take my little red horse to another level of understanding me, and of me understanding my action and my horses “try”. In four days I had found the language that I had and a language my horse could understand. This is beyond the idea of “I want a better turnaround”, or “a better stop”. I was learning how, my actions and reaction to my horses action or try, began to develop into a sense of feel. I began to ask myself, “Am I setting him up to try again or ignoring his efforts and expecting perfection?” Hmmm.
I was given direction, not from the instructors idea of where I should be but from where I was at with my horse. Someone who was able to allow me feel, while my horse had a reason to try. I didn’t have to buy another DVD, or a special halter or invest in some kind of partnership program for hundreds of dollars. I found a place I could excel and honor myself for the knowledge I had and I could respect the new knowledge given, to do the very thing I came to the clinic to do. And that… well… it is not only understanding the horse, but how the horse understands me. What I say on a deeper level and how he interprets it by feeling resistance or acceptance. With no arrogance, but setting the horse up to succeed with understanding and follow through. Bringing the reality of when a horse stops or “sulls” he is beyond try and is put in a situation that he does not see a way out of.
These last few days of working with my horse on this deeper level have brought out a question that I am now learning to play with, in timing and release. A deeper level that honors “try”, when it becomes try, and allow him to carry out his efforts in release.
So why did I write this for the public to read? Well because I feel we get so busy with life and goals and ambition that sometimes we forget to honor try. We become numb to the thought of effort and allow words to get in the way of horses. Holding them responsible for our actions that they silently have to filter through their thinking process. If we are able to release as they begin to try and full fill our goal. With consistency on our part the reward is amazing and the horse is more willing to try more often. looking for the release.
Let’s play for a minute. What if you was riding your horse toward the fence straight on and wanting to turn left, you give your consistent cue that you would normally use to turn left while preparing for the turn. As the horse took a step toward the left, what if you released and allow the horse the opportunity to finish the turn on his own, allowing him the quietness to finish. In doing so, a few times, would you notice a difference in the way the horse responds to your cue to the left? He is ready to respond without question because of the release you gave him as he started to respond, and you not carry him all the way through the turn.
If we played that kind of game in different avenues of our riding, releasing on the first step, if they step out of our intention redirect our cue and release again on the attempt of correct response, that practice would not only change the horses idea of riding but it would challenge us to focus on intention and release.
For the four days that I practiced this I found, I began to know exactly where my horses feet were and the feel of his try. and my horse? Well my horse was less worried about doing things wrong, or anticipating correction from me and focusing on what I was asking to receive the one thing that all horses want, and that is release.
In all the years of my riding and challenges I have considered myself a student of the horse and am always looking for how I can get better at understanding them and the unspoken way about them. And now I can honestly say, as I begin to teach another maneuver, I will do my best to quiet myself and to honor his try.