Sunday, October 2, 2016
I hope you have enjoyed riding high with me through my blogs lately… as sure as the world turns nothing lasts forever.
Balance has been a key theme in my life for a long long time. A long time.
I’ve heard that slightly ‘unbalanced’ people are often very effective and change the world… I’ve also heard those people can be hard to live with.
In my horse world the balance I most often struggle with is the concepts of leadership vs force. I don’t want to use force but at the same time I don’t want to my horse to take over thinking I’m not a suitable leader. I want her to know I listen to her and value her opinions, however I do not want her to decide she is the one really making the decisions.
My desire is to create a partnership where my horse and I work together with us both agreeing that I am in charge in the end. This is a balancing act that might take me the rest of my life to fine tune. And my hope is I learn how to understand individual horses better in the process.
The other option is to create a safe, respectful horse that is a good soldier and when you ask for something he wants to do it every time in a basically robotic fashion and you never need to worry he will question you. He will ride you over the cliff if you asked him to. Without a debate or question.
My way is a little trickier. I get some debates and questions from my mare. Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes not so much.
Be careful what you ask for!
Yesterday I went to the field and Khaleesi came right over, put her head in the halter and walked in with me, tacked up easy and we were in the yard for the first time in a while. I’ve been trailering to ride off property because I enjoy skipping the drama of having to leave the farm horses and return home. She resists the gate. It’s slight resistance and once we’re out we’re fine, but she doesn’t like to leave.
Oh- and sometimes she can be in a hurry to get home. Not every ride but the trailer to separate location just skips all that completely.
I decided to try a ‘Birdie Book’ suggestion of just pointing her where I wanted to go (out the gate) and not forcing her to walk there but waiting for her to want to.
I thought if nothing else it would be interesting to see what happened. We got close to the gate and then just stopped. I kept her head pointing that way and waited with my energy moving OUT the gate. I imagined her right, rear, white sock foot picking up and starting a nice forward walk. I actually looked down at that foot and willed it to move.
And it worked.
We got a few more steps.
In total leaving the property took me about 12 minutes but in the end she went more willingly than usual.
I decided that I was not in any hurry, no mileage goal, and that we would just enjoy some time together alone.
The balance began to tip right away.
And I let it.
First she was pokey with her walk. I didn’t want to ‘argue’ and wasn’t in a hurry so I let her pick a slow pace as long as she kept moving.
She’d grab a bite of grass once in a while (something I usually allow especially if we keep moving). I’d have to ask her to keep moving…
I stopped to clip some more briars (more grazing for her) and when I asked her to stand next to a down tree for me to mount her she kept stepping over the tree- she even walked into me! I got on and she walked off…. so I got off again…
Pretty uncooperative with the mounting (unusually so) when she offered me the other side to get on… well, I thought that’s fine. As long as she’ll stand still.
We continued on leisurely and at some point time was running out on my day and though I’d hoped to wear her out a little more (we didn’t make it to the big hill) I needed to turn around.
She was thrilled. She immediately offered a nice trot and we were in a good area for it so I said ok.
Not really my idea… she is still basically in control here.
Then one of my favorite canter spots and she began to run…. against my better judgement I gave in to her super fast canter up the hill and felt the wind in my face loving how strong she felt and how fast she could run when she wanted to….
Then at the top we return to my rougher trail. We are not running all the way home. I made her slow down and she was not happy with that. I had to do some figure 8s to get her back with me and once I felt her comply (though somewhat resentfully- not with softness) we moved toward the trail which begins with a dirt hump that is a quick but steep up-down.
I knew she (like all my horses) would want to run up that little hump and I knew today she would take that little opportunity to rocket us onto the obstacle like trail that was still a bit wet and occasionally slippery in places.
As we reached the top of the mound I was ready and so was she. I pulled back on the reins as she began to try to run down and she tossed her head and bucked.
Now she could have felt off balance up there but make no mistake, she was mad. This was a tantrum. And considering I had not acted like much of a leader all morning she was going to use this moment to see if she could shift that balance completely and go all out for the hostile take over.
Being at the top of that little hill gave her buck some extra destabilization and I tipped forward onto her neck with one foot coming out of the stirrup. I was still on but we were now heading down the mound hill dancing with us both trying to gain control.
This was the first time she has intentionally tried to dump me. I decided to bail as I could still control a slight fall instead of ride it out and maybe end up tossed at a higher speed.
I pulled my leg over and dropped to the ground clear of her legs, not holding the reins (no way did I want to pull her onto me) and I watched her feet move away from me sideways then once she knew she was clear she hauled ass and thundered away as fast as I’ve seen her run.
Oh well. Here we are. You can’t ride horses and never end up on the ground. It sometimes amazes me it doesn’t happen more often.
I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t really hurt (a little bruised where I hit on my lower side). I was about 4 miles from home and assumed I’d find my horse grazing in the yard and hoped no one would panic when they didn’t find me anywhere.
I had my cell phone I could probably find a spot to text an ‘I’m ok‘ message at least to Ed.
Thankfully there was a massive downed tree that we had taken a large detour down into the hollow on our way out. It was about 1/4 mile from where I was left, and I found her waiting for me not too far from the obstacle.
I wasn’t sure if she’d evade me… she did not… also I was not emotional or angry.
I was in the moment. The bucking was in the past. It was over. She was calm and so was I. And I did not allow myself to think about the future maybe she’ll do it again!
She was in the moment too. Not fussy or agitated. She wasn’t grazing, eating or looking for a way through. She was just standing there watching for me. As if we hadn’t just had a fight.
One small (or big) difference was that now I was more sure of being the one in charge… the leader. Apparently I’d lost my balance on that earlier and being tossed in the mud had been enough of a wake up call that seemed to give me an immediate shot of ‘leader’ energy.
I picked up her lead rope and walked her in hand down the ravine and insisted she stay slightly behind me and she was good as gold. We navigated the muddy hillside with downs and obstacles with no trouble.
When we got back onto the main trail I required her to stand still-then expected we would walk calmly. She could move as fast as she wanted as long as we were in a walk gait.
A tiny part of me asked: do you think she’ll throw you again now that she learned she can??
Doesn’t matter, I answered myself. Right now she is walking calmly and I am fine.
After long stretches of loose calm forward walking I asked for a trot and got one in control and at the slow speed I wanted.
Then walk again.
She was fine the entire ride home.
But I learned about balance… and the loss of it in the wrong direction…the hard way.
I have heard more than one horse-person I respect say that 100% is what is demanded. You can’t be a leader unless you are a leader 100% of the time.
Of course being a leader isn’t a simple as it sounds. It doesn’t mean being bossy, or doesn’t mean being critical… it doesn’t mean being demanding. It is never about being mad, mean or nagging. Those things are easy.
Being a leader is a fine balance of staying unemotional, knowing what you want and sticking to it firmly and fairly. It’s being able to listen to your team (in this case a horse- which has its own language barriers if you are a human like me) and take their thoughts and feeling under advisement using the information to move forward.
Imagine working for someone who is sometimes a great leader and sometimes just not ‘there’. I imagine that could be frustrating. I know that for this to really work I have to strive for 100% consistency.
It would be easier to create a soldier horse and be bossy…..
Today I woke up with no bruising and a little stiffness but no real damage. I plan to get out again on Khaleesi tomorrow. I expect to be a better leader from my experience.
Still learning. Every day.