Learning and growing all the time.


Once in a while, you have a ride that reminds you how far you have come and how much you have grown not only as a rider, but as a person. Yesterday was one of those days. It was an uncharacteristically rainy day for summer in the Western Cape. The horses were feeling frisky and bouncy as we are in the middle of a drought and it is only natural that they would be “happy” about the rain.

I was riding a young thoroughbred off the track. We were the only ones riding and we barely got around the outside of the arena when all the horses in the paddocks decided it was time for a run to show their glee with the wonderful cool weather. The horse I was on, being a trained race horse, and with that the only thing she really knows how to do, decided that she needed to be running too. If we could have had a conversation at that point, it would have gone something like this:

“Oooh, the other horses are running! I should be running!”

“No, I think we should just keep walking”

“But that is what I was taught, I know this one! We have to go, lady!”

“NO, I think we should slow down and talk about this” I pull on the reins for a slow-down.

“No, no, NO! You are starting to get in the way of what I know I should do and I don’t like it! In fact, you are trying to stop my feet from moving and it is making me downright panicky! You are acting an awful lot like a predator on my back and I am starting to think I should get rid of you.” Horse gives a little buck.

Some people I know, and myself included a few years ago, would have just sat the bucking horse and ridden her through it, thinking that getting off would teach her that every time she misbehaves, the rider gets off. In some cases this may still be true, but in this particular case it wasn’t. If I had had a strong enough relationship with her, I might still have tried to lean on that and asked her to ignore her instincts and listen to me. The point is, we don’t have that strong a relationship and she was starting to get panicky. And the chances of something going horribly wrong were escalating exponentially.

There are many permutations of how things could have happened from there on out.  No matter what I chose to do, if that choice involved staying on her, she was going to be more frightened by the end of it. I chose to do an emergency dismount, lead her to the lunge ring and did some long-lining instead. Even from the ground it took a long time to get her to settle down and listen to me. But, I did get her to stop and pay attention and there were no big frights involved. I patted myself on the back.

Instead of thinking:”I will sit on this horse and we will go for a ride. She will learn to deal with someone on her back no matter the circumstances.”, I managed to choose the compassionate and less egotistical way around it that would in the end serve the horse and her education better. She had a workout and her trust in me is a little more, because I removed her from a situation that she deemed threatening.

Perhaps next time, I will take the weather into account from the start and begin in the lunge ring!

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