There is a saying that goes something like students who beginners are always trying to work on advanced things, but the truly advanced are always circling back to the beginning, the fundamentals. If this is true I feel like I might be light years ahead because I feel like I’m constantly going back, and then circling back even farther again.
How is my 100 mile endurance prospect doing this winter in our training program?
What does it look like?
Well, sometimes I talk quietly to her while she grazes, I thank her for being such a solid herd leader and for being a great partner in my adventures. Sometimes I ask if she wants to dance with me and she says: maybe later— sometimes I can hardly get my barn chores done and see her waiting for me in the pen (she invites me to dance). Sometimes I stand next to her for periods of time hoping to eventually convince her I have truly broken the law of predator-prey between us…
This seems like an unconventional way to train for endurance riding.
Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been labled conventional.
The truth is I don’t know if this is a colossal waste of time or the most important thing I’ll ever do. But I have this feeling it’s probably one or the other, and I’m wiling to find out. I do know that I don’t have the typical obvious candidate for a 100 mile horse. As it stands I don’t know if she even is one. I’ve heard that any horse can do 100 miles but I think that’s plainly untrue. Yet my gut tells me more horses could be successful in the 100 mile distance if their mental-emotional state was understood and invested in as much as the physical is– and also if their physical bodies were not only conditioned for speed and endurance, but for form and substance.
I love the underdog stories and unexpected plot twists so this journey still suits me more than finding the perfect Arabaian and sailing seamlessly (as seamlessly as possible for an endurance journey!) up through the mileage layers soaring across the 100 mile finish. My story has come with a decent amount of plot twists and learning curves, but I find that I love it because it’s mine.
The physical conditioning is the easy part. If I’m going to get this mare through a 100 mile single day event I’m pretty sure it will require total buy in from her. She’s only going to buy in if she trusts me. And I was recently reminded, everything about me says: Predator. It’s hard to trust a predator when you are so clearly prey.
I sense in a nutshell this will be what this season is about. Convince my horse (because it’s true, not because I’m good at deception) that I have broken the rule of predator-prey in our relationship. I can remember hearing echoes of this early on- how to act like I’m not a predator but I don’t know looking back if I ever took seriously that the heart of the matter is needing to actually not be one. This means not pretending to not be a predator, it means I have to become not.
So what exactly is a predator?
According to Miriam Webster: a person who looks for another in order to use, control, or harm them in some way.
Unfortunately regardless of the journey I’ve stayed on to become better, still the shoe fits a little too well. The bare truth of it is I do seek out my horse to use her for my recreational enjoyment, and I absolutely have preferred to control her more often than not. Thankfully I have never sought her out for intentional harm, but I can look back to times where I have caused her harm with my own goals growing bigger than my ability to see how it was taking a toll on her.
I suppose there are likely people who would argue this is what horses are for. We use and control them for our needs- it’s their purpose on the earth, and most people are a kind of “benevolent predator” maybe. Many people expect their horse to be used and controlled in exchange for providing a good home, food, care and the necessities the horse needs the best they are able to provide.
I can accept that. I think mainstream horse ownership on the whole probably fits that description.
Is there a fine line between using my horse and inviting her to partner with me?
Is there a fine line between training and willingness?
What if she remained unwilling?
This entire experiment is to ask: is there another way? A better way? A more excellent way?
I have a theory, an underlying belief that horses are wired to eventually say yes. That they will partner with us willingly if they are shown the honor and dignity of real choice and my hypothesis is that’s where the magic begins…. for those willing to try. For those willing to change.
I would like to break the predator-prey law in my own herd and see if it creates a horse that truly has buy in, what would it look like and what would it do for us? Is it a possible key to our journey to 100?
There are more questions: how much time would it take to erase the predator history bond and create a new kind of trust? Am I really willing to give it that time? As a human am I even capable of not being predatorial toward my horse? I’ve met someone who is doing this in her own herd, and what I’ve seen gives me the hope that this could be not only possible, but even worthwhile.
I certainly hope to get back in the saddle this year. We had a great year last year and I still hope to see that deepen and grow into a solid ride season for 2022. I hope to move closer toward that 100 mile goal, but I never was and still am not willing to do it at any cost.
And so… I hope 2022 will bring deeper buy in from my horses so that my hopes, dreams and goals because they know that in the end I am for them too, not willing to use or harm them in the pursuit of these goals. Relationship first. Trust. Partnership.