There are some moments that may live in my muscle memory for the rest of my days, should I be so lucky. Sending Royal forward after the steer, and having him surge forward, straight, balanced and with impulsion. Picking up a rein attached to the corner of a green gelding’s mouth, having him soften sweetly to it and back a lovely half circle, setting the outside front leg in behind, each step carefully timed and executed. The timing, the horse, the person, all in one place, all at the same magickal wonderful time. There is nothing on earth like feeling at one with a horse.
Maybe from the moment I unloaded Royal and put him in his stall I had an inkling he would have been better served in the Foundation class. Beautiful head sky-high, big eyed, mind on anything but me. This was the crux of our matter, how to keep him from leaving mentally and perhaps physically when something more exciting than I am shows on the horizon.
Entering the arena, afternoon session, day 1, I use the block to mount. It’s a moving target, pausing briefly to allow my foot to reach the stirrup, and I am gathering rein to bring him to stop as I settle into the saddle.
Horsemanship is for the better broke horses, or the people who have ridden a few times with Peter and want the next step. I was thinking I had Royal far enough along to be okay there, and we were but my concerns about how he would hold up when the pressure showed proved to be valid. Riding alone, we get all kinds of things done. Gait transitions, soft, loose rein, follows my seat and leg. Lope pretty circles, change leads, no problem.
Add 17 other horses and the story changes. My thought is if it works at home and falls apart in the world, we don’t have it.
We all ride around the arena and I am happy for the company. My horse is excited but not out of control, this is exactly what we need. He doesn’t like several things. Doesn’t want any part of the fence where the people are, doesn’t want the speakers in the sound system and pushes on my my leg, through my hands every time he thinks we are going to get close.
“Your horse must have the utmost respect for your leg and your reins.” I think I heard that 30.000 times that weekend, not all directed at me personally (I don’t think) but applicable each time.
Peter has me ride a circle around him, soft soft. Easy! I am not entirely sure what we are doing here but I follow directions as best we can and eventually it occurs to me it’s a kind of approach and retreat, allowing Royal to relax, approach the fence, get close and then leave again, without me forcing him to it. My attempt at establishing respect and not allowing him to run through my leg was making an unpleasant situation more unpleasant and it was escalating the tension in my horse, rather than abating. I have been here before and it did not end well for Royal.
Peter asks me if this, then, is my horse. Yes. This is the one I am committed to, heart and soul. He doesn’t know me, really, Peter Campbell, but one thing he will find out is that while I do not make commitments easily or lightly, once I do, I am in it for the long haul. I am committed to his horsemanship and I am committed to one goofy, lovely spotted Arabian.
We do an exercise, lining up facing the short side of the arena, count off by two’s. Half of us leave, walking as straight as we can to the point directly across from us. We do this at the walk, the trot and then lope it, if we can. Royal gets to experience horses moving beside him, leaving him, and coming up beside him. It’s excellent and eventually he stops quitting six feet before we arrive. He trusts me and I trust him, trotting out on the long rein. It feels an auspicious beginning and I know we are going to get the help we came for.
There are cattle coming Days 3 & 4 for the afternoon group. Peter watches us ride around and allows as how before we work cattle, our horses have to be made ready to work cattle and not a one of ours are. Days 1 & 2 are all about that getting ready.
The point of working cattle with Peter is not about the cattle, it’s not about chasing it, stopping or turning it, though we might do those things. It’s about becoming aware of where our horse’s feet fall, developing precision, straightness and balance.
“Bring your horse along the rail. Move the hind over an 8th and stop. Bring the front end around 7/8’s. You can see if you brought them around a whole turn, you would end up crooked to the fence as you have already used an 8th of your circle.”
What!! MATH now?? Are you kidding me? I watch, scowling. I hate math. It makes sense to me though, we are stepping the hind over to make room for the front to come around.
“If you complete the maneuver and the horse’s head and neck are not level, you have succeeded in the operation but the patient is dead!”
Royal’s butt is all over the place. He is indeed a “slippery little bar of soap.” We are anything but straight and precise. Our work on front and hind control is not for naught, I can feel him under me wanting to come through but that busy Arabian brain is in the way. I get it.
I don’t cry that afternoon, but I kind of want to . . .