There is a feeling that happens, a split second maybe, more if you are lucky, when the feet land just right. Mind, body, and spirit are connected, yours, his and you are not merely a passenger but a partner.
Those moments are what make it worth doing whatever you have to do to get there. You won’t know what it is I am talking about until you felt it for yourself and, if you are a horseman, once you have felt it, nothing does until you can feel it again. If you have not, but your spirit leaps a little at the idea, well, then, hang in there. It’s waiting for you.
I count among my many blessings the sure knowledge of what is out there, for me and my horse. The bliss of attaining pieces, here and there.
Okay, now that we have had the metaphysical ooh that’s awesome, how about the practical? Your horse (mine) is tossing his head restlessly, eye and ear rolling relentlessly in the direction of the barn, or his buddy, disappearing over the hill in front of him. The mind has left and it’s not long before the feet make their attempt to follow.
We had that part the other day. Royal was unenthused at going back to work after a nearly uninterrupted three weeks of bellying up to the round bale, with his best bud. He was rude, I was rude in return. I asked for a foot, he gave me a finger.
When I pick up a rein, I want to move a foot. Not “left foot, right foot” but whatever foot I want. Peter has taught me if I want to go forward, shift the weight back, backwards, well vicey versa, right? I want one foot, not four, not twenty. It was not pretty last Saturday, but I hung in there, let my horse fuss, work at the wrong thing, and tried to be aware enough to pick up when his resistance turned to try. I am undoubtedly late on that. I can see it when you are. Just not as easy when it is me, up there.
A gal posted on the Peter Campbell Facebook group page that her horse will probably get easy in his skin when she does. I remarked it is well my horse is young. Easy in my skin, I am not.
I don’t have anymore on my plate than the next guy, less than many. My life is the calmest and best directed it’s been, maybe ever. I am still likely to look inward to a seething cauldron of simmering doubts, fears and what if’s. Finding that Zen place of oneness with myself and my horse? Takes some doing, let me tell you.
Eventually it occurred to me to wonder if I quit picking at my horse, would he just settle down and ride? Turns out, yes. We had a good hour, head down, loose rein, settling for obstacles when I asked. I still didn’t dare get off to open the gate to the back 80, none too sure he would stand for me to mount again and knee too stiff to be confident of the attempt. Made note to self, you cannot avoid this issue forever.
Last night, it felt like a beginning, right here in the middle. He isn’t meeting me at the gate anymore and sniffed me skeptically when I asked him to accept his halter. No lip games.
Saddled quietly, the dark of the yard peaceful, a warm light emanating from the office telling me Charlie hasn’t gone down the hill yet. I know he worries about me riding by myself. It feels good that someone cares, and I am sure to call before I leave to let him know we survived the experience.
I send Royal around me, letting him find where to place his feet. As he rounds, hip disengaging, I ask him to come back through. We do this a couple of times, just standing there, and then I walk in a straight line, sending him around me, asking him to keep his ribs out and away from me. It goes well enough, he stutters his hind a couple of times, but I don’t worry about it, just keep my ask quiet and let him figure things out.
Mounting, I get him ready. When the feet are set, I step up. As I do, he is in motion and I bend his head sharply. When the motion ceases I swing my leg up and settle. Royal wants to get going but I ask him to wait. Be still. Don’t hurry.
Down the lane to the other barn where the indoor lives, it is very dark. I smile at my horse’s cheerful willingness to make his way. We have ridden at night a ton, it is very natural to us.
A lot less scary than the lighted noisy indoor arena it turns out. Birds flutter and squabble in the rafters. Horses, curious at the invasion, nose buckets, move restlessly in their stalls. Royal can’t see them, there is a wall that divides the stalls from the arena and he is very worried at all these goings on. Curly ears prick sharply here, there, nostrils flare suspiciously. The jump standards, what the heck are those?
Again, more groundwork. Thinking about the Foundation class , the changes made in our horses before we ever got on.
“You have got to get him to relax” Peter says to me, eyeing us both intently, “you are not going to get very far until you can do that.”
When Royal sends calmly without hesitation over the poles scattered here and there, I know it is time to ride.
I take him to the mounting block. It is awkwardly placed in a corner and neither of us like the squeeze. Making a hard thing harder was not my goal. I send him around it a few times and then start asking him to stop where it would be good to mount. Royal is uncomfortable with the situation and I can’t really blame him. He discovers a salt block setting down there (I don’t know why, but there it is) and I let him lick at it. I touch him, rub him, move the saddle, set his feet. The next time I bring him around, he stands.
First I walk him around the perimeter. I am looking for my purpose. There are things I want to do but I need to know where my horse is, so I can do my best to work forward from there. It’s a heck of a lot easier to have him be straight with a rail, and I set us up for good corners instead of lallygagging through them any old way. “Your horse is moving like pony!” It’s Jose. I nod. I tighten my legs and ask Royal to extend his walk. He says “jog?” No, buddy, walk out.
And that sets the course for us. Royal moves into a free long walk. What a difference from the tight pokey “I don’ wanna” walk or the tense jiggy “I wanna leave NOW”. All I can do is continue to lay down these layers, build our trust and confidence in one another. You get to the mind through the feet. Get the mind and the body will follow.
We get a good working trot, there are those moments I was talking about in the first couple of paragraphs. Floating along, straight, balanced, each foot landing equally in space and time. We squeeze some gaps, I am timing my turns, giving him room to make it. When my courage fails going between a couple deeply frightening jump standards, his does, as well. I don’t let him down the next time and he sails through.
As he tools along, I practice picking up diagonals, changing reins. Occupy me, leave him alone to work.
I drop the dressage whip I had stuck in my back pocket, thinking it might be harder to extend that trot. Looking at my horse, he is not looking back at me. His eye is still hard, stony, ears turned back to some noise outside. He is bothered.
I am thinking back again to the Foundation class, and yes, I have done this before too, and I ask Royal to lower his head. Softly. No demand. Easy. I stretch my own neck down. Relax. Breathe. Roll my shoulders, feeling tension I didn’t know was there. Deep breath in . . . out. His head dips quickly to the ground and back up again. Okay. How about just a little? Slowly, his neck settles down. I am waiting for the change. It has to happen. I have to wait . . .
. . . and eventually it does. Luckily for me, didn’t take til midnight. The flick of the loosening ear, the softening of the gaze, a change in the breathing.
We ride back to the barnyard and the pen Royal lives in, both of us easier in our skins that we’ve been for awhile. There are no boogers worth mentioning, not even in the dubious rows of stark and shadowy round bales, that could have been hiding dragons, just the other day.
We didn’t leave our troubles far behind, I am sure they are following just behind like loyal dogs. Still, it was a good night for us.