Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A breath and a whisper.

On Saturday, I had some of the greatest breakthroughs in my riding yet.

It helped, a great deal, that I came to the ranch feeling centered and at peace. To be sure, I've had sorrow this past week. But I have also had closure, and I have had comfort. The evening before had been spent with friends, and my dreams were good. The energy one brings to a situation makes a huge difference.

Solomon has dropped too much weight, in the cold. He is a slow eater, he is pretty low on the totem pole, and he will share with the young horses that he is friends with. He's going to be getting regular senior feed buckets. That ought to help him. Otherwise he is a good and happy horse.

Then I went and got Teddy Bear.

Straight away, things felt good and right. She is a mare that one must carefully ask for the feet of, because she gets paranoid about her chestnuts being picked at. Well, once I got her first foot, she actually volunteered the other three! She picked them up before I even touched her leg, and held them up until I took them to pick them. It seems like such a little thing, but really it is a big deal.

One thing I did differently, besides being calm and happy, which I know she could pick up on, was that I brushed her out BEFORE asking for her feet. Usually I'll pick a horse's feet first, since it is more important than prettying up their coat, but I decided that Teddy Bear was a mare who needed a little more comfort, and she just loves being brushed. I could tell that she appreciated the consideration.

I took her into the round pen, and Bo put the saddle on her back. She was wearing her halter and lead rope, which we did not tie off like reins. Bo told me that we were not going to think about reins at all. That we would use the lead rope as just the barest directional guide, but mostly we would work on being present and centered, keeping my canter of balance at my pelvis, guiding with my body position... but mostly, having the right energy.

Look, a lot of you are going to think "wow, they're off the deep end into new age land!" But let me try to explain this to you. See, there's this thing about horses and their sensitivity.

I know I've mentioned this before. Bo and I have discussed it many times.

Humans are okay with admitting that a dog has a better sense of smell, a hawk has sharper vision, a cheetah can run faster. But we like to think that we, as sentient beings, are the most sensitive. The most able to pick up on the subtlest of cues. The best at reading body language. The best at detecting emotions. We have a hard time admitting that other creatures have emotions at all. Admitting that makes it harder for us to feel okay about doing the brutal things we do to other animals. And, really, we want to feel special.

The thing is, horses are more sensitive than we are in that regard. They have to be. They are prey animals who rely on reaction speed to survive. They rely on each other to survive. They have to be able to pick up on the slightest, slightest cue from their herdmates to get away before the lion can pounce. Before the wolves can circle. And they have to maintain some semblance of order and hierarchy in a large herd. So they will pick up on the slight swivel of an ear. They can also feel a mosquito land on a hair on their hide. They are incredibly sensitive creatures- so sensitive, that when we realize it, it feels like magic.

Even knowing that, it feels like magic. They are so sensitive, so open, so able to perceive things, that words cannot really effectively describe it. We don't have that level of sensitivity, so our language is not equipped to explain it. One starts to use words such as "energy" and "feel." I hope that you will, then, bear with me, and understand that while it might seem a little metaphysical because as human beings we cannot fully comprehend their experience in the world, it WORKS.

So.

I sat in the saddle. Centered, relaxed. Bo told me to close my eyes. He told me to sink into my hips. To feel the mare underneath me. To feel her breathing. To feel her heartbeat. And I did. I felt her breath, and her breath became my breath. We breathed together, standing, just standing. I was focused entirely on her. And I swear to you, I could feel her. Her presence. And I knew that was not even close to what she could feel from me. So we sat, and we breathed, and the entire world fell away from me, until it was just her breath and her heartbeat and her body and mine.

And Bo told me, "now open your eyes... and think about walking forward. Use the least amount of pressure you possibly can, and just relax into moving. Just let your legs drape. Keep your hands still."

And with the barest breath of a whisper, and the lightest relaxation of my body, I told her, "go." So quietly I could barely hear it. So quietly I could barely feel it. But I could feel HER. And she went. It was a great and precious joy. Such a simple, simple thing. But so very very light. And Bo told me to not think much about where we were going yet, though I could look where I wanted to go. I found my body gently giving cues... a little more leg on one side than the other, my head turning to look where I wanted to go, and that is more or less where we went. Then we came back to the center of the circle, and I thought "whoa," I just thought it, I didn't even SAY it. I just sank myself back into the "neutral" headspace... and she stopped.

And it worked every time. Over and over again. I had to work on just how much energy I needed to put out to get her to move, and to get her to keep moving. She never once trotted without me asking her to. She was so very relaxed, her head down, nothing braced, like any great natural Western Pleasure horse.

And then we worked on departures. Going from standing still to making a U-turn and going straight into a trot. We didn't manage every single time, but a lot of the time. And her trot was a gentle, relaxed jog, which was perfect. She went back into a walk when I thought it. And I had another breakthrough.

I never seem to know what to do with myself when a horse is trotting under me. Post, sit it, what? I never know what to do with my body. But today Bo said "just sink into it," and somehow that made a light go off, and I did... and I didn't feel out of control. I didn't feel like I was about to fall off to the side, or get flung over the front of her. It was far, far, far from perfect, but I did it!

And Bo told me, "you know Ev, there are a lot of riders who can't do a departure, like what you're doing now, with stirrups and a bridle and reins. But look, you're doing it with just a halter and lead rope, and a saddle with no stirrups!" And I was very proud. I was even more proud of Teddy Bear, because she was such a good and kind and clever mare, picking up on my confused cues and doing just as I asked without complaint.

After the lesson I slipped her a peppermint, brushed her out, and then ran next to her as she trotted back to her pasture. I think she felt just fine about the lesson, which makes me very happy. I am not sure I can say it was interesting enough for her to be joyful about it, but I don't think it caused her any distress. There was no tail swishing that I can remember, no ear pins, no little bucks, and her head stayed down, her body loose.

In time I think that we will find joy together. I hope so, for she has certainly given me a great deal of joy. Her, and Bo, my great and patient teacher, who maybe has some hope now that I won't just go cantering off at the first opportunity, haha!

Bo says that if you GIVE your horse softness, then you will GET softness. He says that a lot of horses could have that level of softness if only they'd been taught it. If only they'd been shown it.

The thing is, we humans are very impatient. We focus so much on goals, we focus so much on time, on shortcuts. Get it done. Faster faster faster. Results results results! We don't always consider that the longer road may be the better one. And the kinder one. But if we can come at horses with a goal of mutual TRUST and forming mutual GOALS instead of simply gaining CONTROL, then perhaps horses can teach us a little bit of magic. All it really takes is a breath and a whisper.

2 comments:

Joey & Rick said...

Girl, I don't even know you and you got it. It's like I was there watching, and feeling, your anxiety and absolute joy. They are the truest "wear your emotions on your sleeve" beings. EVERYTHING, until they're 6 or 7, IS a mountain lion, a wolf, the boogie man. Desensitizing is KEY. Force them to deal with scary things, scary situations and you will have a rock solid youngster. I have a 4 year old, near dead broke, gun broke mare, Lace, and a yearling filly, Bella, that I hope to do the same training with. Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship training is FANTASTIC. It not only develops the horse and you, it teaches everyone about trust, and love, and boundaries. Check out my blog if you have a chance. I write about more than my babies, as much as I love them.... www.joeyboshart.blogspot.com. I'm a "Joey" girl. There's just something about girls and horses. Live isn't lived until the little girl that loves the horse owns one.

Gentle giants show amazing grace. Amazing grace is love ten-fold.

Evergrey said...

Why thank you so much. :} I'll be sure to check out your blog!