It’s been a tough few weeks. There has been a lot going on in my life, both exciting and not-so-exciting. All fairly stressful. It has really tested me on staying centered in my life outside of the barn. If I’m being honest, I haven’t always succeeded (but that’s okay).
In my lesson last night, we were working on speeds within the gait and one of the riders asked, “is my horse getting better at the lengthened walk?” Mr. K responded with something that hit me as very profound and applicable to most anything. Basically, he said that we can always be “better,” but that’s not really the point. Instead, we should focus on those little moments when everything clicks and you really connect with your horse. It might only last for the space of one step. But, in that one little moment, we should celebrate success and focus our attention on it. I thought that was really lovely. And it’s true in our general lives, as well: sometimes things are sucky, but other times they’re incredibly perfect. We should focus on those moments of goodness and let them fill us up so that we don’t have space to dwell on the bad. I have been trying to internalize that idea and it’s helping me have some more clarity and – yes, balance.
Lessons with Mr. K are a great experience so far. We are focusing on horsemanship – not the heels-down-chin-up-shoulders-back kind of horsemanship (i.e. equitation), but the kind where you practice being a horseman/horsewoman. It is all about relating to your horse, making a connection and building a partnership so that your horse is totally with you at every step. When we accomplish this (and it’s not easy), the smallest change in your seat should create a change in your horse because he is right with you, intently focused on you and ready to do anything for you. A lofty goal, indeed. It’s fascinating.
I’ve been riding Knightwind the last few weeks and we’ve started building a relationship. It can be difficult to expect her to be focused on me, though, because we simply haven’t been together long. In addition, she has not been ridden much for quite a long time. As Mr. K explains it, Knightwind is used to looking after herself, and is not used to allowing her rider to be the leader. All that being said, I am really happy with how things have been going with her. She is smart, responsive and sweet. Unfortunately, she also tends to have pain in her hindquarters, which flared up again on Tuesday.
On the bright side, I got to get back on Husky for my lesson on Thursday! I don’t think I realized how much I missed him, and the relationship we’ve been building over the last 14 months. He was fabulous…especially since I’ve heard he’s been a naughty boy lately and has thrown a couple of the younger girls. I suspect he knows that I won’t put up with his sass, and he was a good boy. We worked on speeds within the gaits at the walk and trot, along with being in tune to my subtlest cues. The challenge is knowing how and when to clarify your request when you don’t get the response from a light aid. To an outside (non-horse person) observer, it might seem that a firm kick or strong rein is being “mean” to the horse, when in reality it is the exact opposite. If Husky doesn’t respond to a soft cue to walk off, for example, he gets a kick. Next time, he responds to the soft cue. Instead of nagging him all the time with useless cues, we have been working on clarifying our light aids so that eventually the kick disappears altogether.
The most difficult part of this – and any riding, really – is setting aside frustration. You are not kicking or picking up the rein in frustration, but purely to clarify to the horse that they have not responded appropriately to the light aid. Ideally, everything comes from the seat and can barely move your legs while leaving the reins alone completely. It just takes a long time and a very strong connection with your horse to get there. There’s no room for frustration. A horse will remember if you acted out of frustration, but he’ll also remember if you act calmly and predictably, which allows him to do the same.
I’ve been trying to approach my life the same way. There is no room for frustration. I needed to stop beating myself up about things, stop pressuring myself and remember to approach each situation from a place of calmness and clarity. And all of a sudden, I felt myself relax more than I had in weeks. Things started to present themselves as solutions instead of problems. And all because I could apply my “horse mindset” to my “life mindset.” It made me think of that article, “Because my daughter grew up with horses.” There are all these wonderful qualities that I’ve developed from riding all these years. It’s pretty freakin’ awesome.
Not to mention that there’s something magical about experiencing a warm fall evening from the back of your favorite horse.