Horsey Therapist

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Am I ready to ride?

I won't ride my Rusty gelding unless I can meet certain condition. In fact, I won't mount any horse unless:

1) I check him out before I ride doing ground work to connect with him and see how directable he is at walk, trot, backing, turns, standing still.

2) I can be present enough to notice what he can handle today and not take him anyplace (even to the other end of the arena) if he shows ANY concern whatsoever. If my mind is preoccupied, I cannot offer that to us.

3) I can ride out any expressions of his worries that might happen despite all my best precautions. If my physical and mental abilities are limited and I cannot promise us that I will ride those first seconds of power burst then start directing him, rather than let my fear reaction take over and add oil to the fire (grabbing with my inner thighs, holding my breath, picking up the reins with the hope of slowing him) then I have no business being on top of a horse.

Hence I have not ridden Rusty often since I'm still healing an injury from last March. It's a tall order for me as a human and a rider. One I can fill now and then. I have ridden Rusty 4 times, all in the ring, since March. I am certain I cannot count on myself to ride through any big, worried movements he might offer because I have missed signs of his smaller worries -- my survival instinct is still too strong as I want to protect myself from further pain.

I have ridden my Morgan mare, Kacee, many times. Her concern shows itself earlier and smaller, or at least I can recognize it sooner and direct her to something that suits me better. Plus I follow the same rules for her as for Rusty but have found that if I take care of 1 and 2, then 3 doesn't arise. And if it arises, her survival instinct in action is more a straight forward gallop compared to Rusty who will buck and bound, almost not really knowing what is his own plan to get to safety. Kacee's plan is clear and distinct -- run for home -- and I can ride that until there is room in her mind for some direction from me. But as I indicated, I like to answer her questions about who is making our decisions before I leave the ring.

Anyway, following an injury -- especially a horse-scared-me-scared-me-hurt event -- I do a ton of thinking, wondering what did I miss leading to this event, and what can I do differently to prevent any recurrences. And then approach the whole relationship more cautiously but at the same time with more certainty about what I have learned and can now do differently in order to keep us connected and safe or at least within sight of our comfort zones.

It is too easy to forget all the possible ways we can be in the path of harm. Those moments of forgetting -- of diminished awareness -- are the moments that leave us vulnerable. Developing a clear sense of whether I can stay in my own thoughtful and aware state while riding -- that is my main job. I know how to ride, I have adequate technique under my belt about horses and riding. It is the other stuff now that will only grow and expand for the rest of my life. And wanting a long and active rest of my life, I'll stay on the ground with a horse until I am confident we are connected -- not just that the horse is doing what I ask, but that the horse and I are tuned in and on the same wave length -- the horse is feeling open to my leadership presence and looking for my direction, not just accepting it or worse, just tolerating it.

And my baseline of what a calm, ready horse looks like and feels like keeps changing as my awareness grows.

And actually, after an injury, I am riding less as I become more aware. I honor the (temporarily greater) gap between my mind and my body -- my body is not as strong and agile as it could be right now (the injuries) and my instincts to protect myself are stronger than my intent to behave as the best rider I can be. So I am on the ground for the most part and learning, learning, learning as I interact, pay attention, interact some more.

These words come to mind (attributable to Tom Dorrance as well as Alexander Graham Bell): Observe, remember, compare...


At 10 November, 2008 13:51, Blogger llm said...

Thank you for this post! It helped clarify some things for me. I can't always explain why it doesn't feel safe to ride Chance, I just know that it's not okay. The more I work with him the better I'll understand this and have clearer guidelines to go by, which will also make it clear when it is safe to get on. And when it isn't okay, I'll ride a different horse. Part of me feels defeated when I can't ride my own horse, I'm learning to get over that. I think, like Rusty, Chance's reactions are strong and quick and it's not always about me. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with either of us. But if I don't know that I can handle what Chance may give me than I better not get on. That survival instinct is very strong and I'm grateful we come equipped with it! It's up to us to listen to it.

At 13 November, 2008 07:24, Blogger Victoria Cummings said...

Why don't more teachers and trainers tell their students things like this? What you are saying makes so much sense and leads to a healthy, happy experience with horses. There's so much pressure and competition among riders and the "experts" are so often inclined to push too hard and take people out of their comfort zone, not to mention the horse's. More times than not, when I talk to people about horses, they say that they used to ride but they got hurt or got scared and gave it up.

At 14 November, 2008 15:15, Blogger Grey Horse Matters said...

All good rules to live by and ride or not ride by. Great post, everyone should know there comfort zone and respect it.

At 15 November, 2008 11:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... well said... sometimes we forget to do the "pre-flight" checklist... thanx for the reminder


At 19 November, 2008 19:58, Blogger Breathe said...

I've had your post on my mind all day. I know where you are, because I ride a bucking horse. We are improving, together. And you're right, you can't get out there unless you know you can keep your cool when he loses his.
But you have to practice it together. Of Course I don't have a choice, I only have one horse. We've had to work on everything - turns, control of gaits, communication, sitting the trot, everything. All in little steps, al in as controlled a setting as I can find.
I read that you have to ride where you can, not where you can't. Is there a place you and Rusty can ride frequently? Won't it take that to learn to read him, read his subtle moves that speak volumes?
I am thinking of you, hoping you find a bridge over this tough time. A way to be safe, yet move forward.


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