Since moving to the new barn almost four months ago I haven’t had much to say about training. It’s been a rather intense period of re-configuring my relationship with the world equine, and often when you’re in the midst of something like this and you can’t see the light for the tunnel you’re travelling in, it can be an impossible task to describe the experience to others. These moments are deeply personal and life-altering and the moments must be fully lived in to reap the benefit.
I am aware that not all readers here are horse people. Still, the lessons of life ~ whether you learn them with reins, rigging or a nine iron in your hand ~ are universal. It’s the language of whatever we have identified as our passion that will speak the magic words of life’s meaning to us. It is up to each of us to pay attention. So, while endeavouring to grasp the language of the horse as interpreted by my new trainer, I’ve been doing my best to pay attention and take it all it in. Of course, there are plenty of old ideas to release before the new ones can take hold. I’m learning to forget who I was told to be and am finally getting a profound glimpse of who I am (never mind remembering.)
Being a “woman of a certain age” already managing the baggage that particular trip to self-awareness brings, this is no mean feat.
Finally I’m seeing beyond the limitations others had established throughout my life and am moving into a more expansive, authentic way of being. My awakening horse, the new nurturing barn environment and a trainer and yes, barn owner, who support my potential and judge me not by my past, have already, in just four short months, made such a huge difference.
There certainly have been, and continue to be, struggles, of course. One cannot extricate oneself from old patterns of behaviour and belief without profound moments of discomfort, doubt, sorrow and trepidation. Change means challenge, but being stuck in a frustrating and debilitating rut is, as far as I’m concerned, far less desirable.
There are moments when I wonder why Bear and I had to wait so long for this opportunity to expand. But then I remind myself that everything unfolds as it should and bemoaning what was only uses up whatever precious energy is available to enjoy what is.
The fact is, timing and preparation met opportunity. Bear’s current home, as it is now, didn’t even exist 18 months ago, and I was not ready to take this step. The cosmic tumblers hadn’t fallen into place. Last November things began to click and the transition from old barn to new happened in less than a month once I’d made up my mind to move.
Yes, life unfolds as it should; things happen when they’re meant to; when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Truth in abundance.
But enough philosophizing.
The reason this has come up is that last Thursday I was almost ready to put away my riding boots for good …
Any equestrian with a true passion for their sport and a love for their horse(es) will tell you that there are days when the effort just doesn’t seem worth the reward. You have an off day. The horse has an off day. You both have an off day at the same time. Conditions are too cold; hot; wet. There are so many variables. A horse has a mind of its own and on any given day he might just tune out and leave you feeling like you’re sitting on a brick wall for all the connection you have. Getting doggedly through these moments without berating yourself for being a crap rider and having a meltdown can be a challenge at times. Riding horses effectively and sympathetically isn’t all happy trails and fairy tales. It’s mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and, for many riders I know, spiritually challenging.
And just to set the record straight, not all horse people are sitting on piles and piles of cash. Many make great sacrifices to ensure the health and safety of their animals and to pursue their passion. Still, I’m happy to sacrifice a pair of fashionable shoes that’ll last me a season for a training session in classical riding with a Master instructor that’ll last me a lifetime. Prioritizing what’s truly important is all part of the experience. Is that not a life lesson?
So, getting back to Thursday, in spite of the fact Bear and I have made great progress during the previous almost four months I felt, on that miserable day, as if we were going backwards. He wasn’t moving off my leg. He wasn’t paying attention. He wouldn’t walk down the lovely lane by the pond we’d conquered the week before. And he wasn’t being particularly nice about any of it. It was old stuff ~ old stuff I thought we’d left behind. Bear was being a bear, and I was frustrated.
I blame some of this on his hierarchal arguments in the paddock. He’s established himself as alpha out there, so possibly he was laying a challenge for me. In the end I made it work but honestly, it felt like any progress since our move had been lost. It was one of those two-steps back kind of days. Argh!!!
After a few moments of weepy frustration (as we equestrians are wont to do at such times) I decided that rather than get mad I’d get even. I’d ask for help; call in the big guns.
I am fortunate in that Wendy, the barn owner, is an extremely knowledgeable horse woman and that my coach/trainer, Stefan, is formally trained in classical dressage and a seasoned horseman. When the going gets rough, therefore, I have somewhere reliable to turn.
So Friday, after a general meltdown in the arms of my long-suffering husband, I pulled myself together, consulted with Wendy by text and made a decision. Instead of riding, which I had no desire to do anyway, Wendy would help me school Bear on the lunge line.
The lunge work, with Bear in side reins, was to help him engage pushing power from behind and get him stretching over his top line and into the contact, which he generally finds creative ways to avoid. No contact, no connection. Just 10 minutes in both directions was enough to achieve the desired result. Bear’s a smart horse. He picks up on cues and signals quickly when I work with him on the ground.
Now, if only I could engage that in the saddle.
After our excellent lunging session I walked Bear, in-hand, down the lane past the bank barn, past the pond, over the bridge, back over the bridge, past the pond up the lane way past the bank barn and back to his stall. He was such a good boy. The more I can get him used to this routine the more enjoyable it will be for both of us. My intention is to get out in the fields and ride this summer, not spend every day in the hot sand ring so, he must learn to be brave.
The next step in this little remedial moment was for Stefan to ride Bear on Saturday.
Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond …
Stefan riding Bear is like Wayne Gretzky manoeuvring a hockey puck across the ice ~ effortless and intuitive. For an hour or so I watched as Bear was put through his paces by this great horseman. I watched closely the master’s technique. The pace and rhythm he created. Bear went so beautifully for him. Sure, my horse needs to continue to build strength from behind, but he was putty in the gentle master’s hands. I can hardly wait to see the difference a few months from now. 😉
Hands together and stationed just above the withers seems to be the most important thing I can remember right now. My hands have a tendency to get a bit busy. This impedes our connection and allows Bear to be evasive. Imagine if you’re driving a car and you keep moving the steering wheel unnecessarily ~ you’d be all over the road, right? Busy hands create confusion for the horse. A proper connection cannot be established like this. If I don’t commit to stillness, he can’t commit to straightness. It’s quite simple.
So, Sunday I took Bear out for a spin, determined to duplicate what I had witnessed the day before. My experience was night and day compared to Thursday. No, it wasn’t perfect, but working from a higher level of awareness and with my boy tuned up I felt like I was on the moon! This continued into my lesson on Monday, my coach and I quite encouraged by the profound progress made in just one week.
Of course, it’s one thing to find the connection but another thing altogether to maintain it …
This will come with time and practice. For one thing, both Bear and I need to rebuild our endurance. During the last couple of years, with adrenal fatigue my miserable companion, my stamina all but disappeared. I’ve been feeling better these days so I’m hoping that over the coming months I can, through riding and twice-weekly Pilates sessions and more walking, build this up again. I still need to manage my energy stores carefully. Pushing myself beyond endurance creates an energy deficit that my body can only manage by foreclosing for 24 hours. Still, I am stronger and this is most encouraging.
For Bear’s part, he’s on all-day turnout with his buddy, Dream, and the paddocks are large and rolling, so he gets plenty of exercise when I’m not around. That, and the new work we’re doing, will make him plenty strong.
Apart from that, this classical style of riding requires the creation of new muscle memory in mind and body. Building that takes time, effort and practice.
So, while things looked pretty bleak on Thursday it was, in fact, a pivotal day. And now, we rest for a few days to replenish our resources.
It’s said that things are always darkest before the dawn. It’s also said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Crossing the threshold to a new way of being can be a tough and miserable business. However, with the appropriate, knowledgeable help and a determination to get through the rough patches, the transition of old ways of thinking to new and the adoption of fresh ideas that more deeply resonate with our personal truths can mark a glorious beginning and reclamation of self.
Putting away my riding boots for good would not have been the answer. Symbolically, however, I traded in the beat-up steppers for a sturdier pair, tailor-made for striding positively, purposefully and powerfully into a future where I finally get a chance to remember, be, and embrace who I am.
And all because of a horse.
What helps you to remember who you are?
Nurture what you love.
©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014