It’s that time of winter when you half-think spring isn’t real. Are you frustrated with how you and your horse are progressing? As if it’s even warm enough to take his blanket off. Do you ride in the same place in the same way? Do you do the same groundwork in the same order? Do you find you and your horse wandering aimlessly in the pasture but are you not willing to haul somewhere else? Would it help to buy a new saddle pad, or will it take more? Roman riding for women over sixty maybe? Are you just a bit bored? Or worse, a bit boring?
Even if you keep your horse in a lovely facility, even if you have the prettiest horse property ever, there is one truth that will not be escaped. Working with a horse is a solitary endeavor. Even if there is a loud trainer in the middle of the arena, it’s always just you and your horse. We love to wax on about passion, but if we are honest, there is much about horses that can become routine. Not mundane, but habitual. So, you idly gaze at your mare considering horse yoga. It’s a testament to your distraction; a tourist looking at her could tell she has no intention of being anybody’s yoga mat. What about working equitation, that’s popular now and they wear flat-brimmed hats and chinks with fringe. Would you need a new saddle?
Meanwhile, as you meander through your upcoming wardrobe purchases, you ponder the fads you’ve dragged your horse through already. Your horse convinced you that jumping wasn’t for you. Mounted archery was a bad idea from the start. And really, shouldn’t Western Dressage be easier than that? Too bad there isn’t a ribbon for Jack of all trades, master of none.
Moments of silence will be involved. Is your brain too crowded for that? We’re back to that feeling of solitude and if you’re lonely with your horse, if the silence needs to be filled with another fad, perhaps the real question is what you need to release to progress with your horse. Rather than bringing more in, wouldn’t it be progress to let go of things in your way? Excuse your mental railbirds who judge you harshly. Dump the faddish arm-swinging or tight-handed behaviors. Let your shoulders soften and feel your jaw follow. Begin by letting go of distractions. Accept being here. Not mystically, not in some ethereal way. Lay a hand on your horse’s flank and bring all of yourself to this moment. The other word for that is listening.
Meanwhile, your horse is not who he was last summer because horses are creatures of change, always on a slippery slope, their behavior altered by the direction of the wind, the age of their joints. They couldn’t stay the same mentally or physically if you promised they could be donkeys in their next life. Horses are intuitive and wild and as fragile as cut flowers, not that we will ever regret a moment. But still, precious moments pass as we seek the eternal and elusive goal of finding a better partnership. That’s all we want as if the trainer’s promises were easy and the path ahead well-worn. Things aren’t bad exactly but you aren’t ready to sing a maudlin version of “Yesterday When I Was Young.” So, maybe you and your horse make a plan to go to India to learn to meditate?
It’s so like us, besotted yearning humans that we are, to think that the answer is somewhere else. It isn’t that the answer is right in front of us and we are leaning from side to side to see past it. The answer is even closer; it’s inside us. Buy all the new tack you want, but progress will be made internally and at the same time, at a distance. Partnership is based on two souls maintaining their autonomy but joining in movement. Force won’t work, it has to be an invitation taken with lightness in both hearts.
You’ll hate the first step. Give your horse some room. We always think having a connection with a horse is literal; we stand too close and maul them with our hands. I like the smell of a mane as much as anyone, but we smother horses. Connection happens when the horse volunteers and we have to bite our tongues and stand back to give a horse that choice. It’s the minute trust begins.
It’s time to find a shared meditation with your horse. If the word meditation makes you fidget, you aren’t alone. But meditation doesn’t mean sitting still till your butt hurts. If you ride, it will begin in your seat moving with your horse’s back. If you do groundwork, then it will be in your feet sharing the earth with your horse’s hooves, no less intimate or connected. If the silence feels too vast, put music on. Don’t think you should; literally do it.
Instead of looking for more complicated work, look for clarity in the simple things. Sound so intangible that you want to puke? Simplify. Start with the foundation of all movement, the walk. Recognize that horses walk faster than we do. Their balance improves when they cover ground. Do you ask your horse to walk too slowly? Do you constantly stop him or do your hands distract him? Just walk on. Let your mind settle and feel your horse’s movement ripple through your body, counting his strides to match your inhales and exhales. Notice his rhythm become steady. Notice his body respond to the balance of his rhythm, surrender your body to that swing, but stay conscious and energetic. It won’t be perfect, but when thoughts get in the way, let the music bring you back. As good as it feels, hold a soft but clear focus.
Let the walk be fascinating. The relaxation and energy of the walk must be fresh and light. The kind of walk that will give you a fluid and balanced trot. Your trot defines the quality of your canter. Does your horse become more anxious or tense the faster your go? The answer isn’t to get used to going faster, the answer is to get inside of the movement and we learn that at the walk. See the circle? Advanced work is a deeper understanding of foundational movement. We feel more but do less. Our hands become settled and our minds available to listen, our bodies supple and active as we allow our horses to carry us with more trust. Let there be peace at the center of a gallop.
There are no “finished” horses unless they are dead. Change is inevitable, so steer it. Progress is finding that solitary place and then inviting your horse inside. It takes the time it takes. There is no magic but the work isn’t hard. You have everything you need. If you are looking for progress, it’s right there napping in your quiet place. Probably a little bored, just like your horse.
Kindle inspiration with your horse in the infinite space inside each of your hearts and celebrate the simple pleasure of a walking rhythm. That’s progress already.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward, now scheduling 2022 clinics and barn visits. Information here.
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Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.
23 thoughts on “Forging a Path: What to Do Next With Your Horse.”
I am drawn like a moth to the flame.
“They couldn’t stay the same mentally or physically if you promised they could be donkeys in their next life.”
“It isn’t the answer is right in front of us and we are leaning from side to side to see past it.”
Then the meat of the lesson ….. So well written my friend.
Thank you, Kim. and who doesn’t want to be a donkey?
I just had to say I love you. I still don’t have a horse (or a mule) but I read and share your words and they give me hope for the future of horse-human relationships. Thank you.
Thanks, Amanda. I have hope too.
It’s fun imagining advice about cultivating patience with the awkward, slow-learning (but mostly well-intentioned) homo sapiens – in an alternate equine-iverse (or canin-iverse.) The feline version would likely be another matter… 😆
Heheh, thanks, Christian. Horses are so patient with us. Cats, not so much.
Anna, thank-you! You seem to have written right into my reality this week and I am grateful ! Jinnie
Hi Jinnie. Thanks. Hi to the herd.
I keep having to check myself from pushing my daughters into horsey activities (pony club! 4h! more shows!) because shouldn’t we be working towards something? But lucky for us all they brush me off with “we just want to RIDE mom, it doesn’t have to be a big thing”. And truly, we’re happy as clams meandering through the woods on our ponies. Also lucky for me, our trails are incredibly varied and some quite technical so my goal-oriented inner self can be placated without ruining it for everyone 😀 And yes the trails are a great place to perfect that swinging walk!
Thanks, Shaste. So good for your daughters. I always wanted more, even as a kid.
Beautifully put, thank you Anna, just what I needed and we love riding to music.
Thanks, Sue. It seems so many of my memories of good rides had a soundtrack.
All I can say is “WOW”….thank you once again Anna!
You’re welcome, Pat. Thanks for reading along.
This was written for me today. I am forwarding it to my friend , as we are both looking at our horses saying just that. Thank you for sharing this, keeping me on your mailing list. You wrote this for me!!!
Music to my ears, thanks, Cordy!
“It’s so like us, besotted yearning humans that we are, to think that the answer is somewhere else.”
That illusive “somewhere else” easily revealed if we choose to let ourselves be?
Thank you, Ann. Ruminating on the rest but not too obsessively!
Really, wouldn’t we rather buy something off a shelf? Ruminating with you, thanks, Lynell
So many of us feel this was written just for us. Raising my hand. Between the meditating, the frozen landscape, the “finished” horse, and the fact that “goals” for good riding begin with an excellent walk, I feel like the over-eager student, hand up and waving a little too enthusiastically. I feel a little special right now. And so does my donkey. It’s difficult to express how deeply grateful I am for your wisdom. Thank you, Anna.
Julie, I love this enthusiasm, wave that hand, I’ve certainly been that student forever. And I think your mare is doing it too. Thanks, Julie.
You are so stinking’ profound it makes my head swim!! You nailed it. The whole vibe. The reason to just be with your horse. Not seeking the next big trend (or being left behind). You’ve said more in one essay than horse book I’ve ever read.
That’s about the nicest thing to say that I can imagine. But then, it’s what I do with my writing too. Just be with it and go deeper. Thank you, Nancy.
‘Just be with it and go deeper’ – an epiphany.