Timing is everything. How many times have you heard that before? True, not only of horsemanship but pretty much just every little thing in life. But, especially in horsemanship.
My lovely spotted Arabian is making a change. I sit him, scowling. The calm, level headed animal I have been on the past hour is becoming anxious. He is bored, and things that didn’t bother him a bit 20 minutes ago are now worth a great degree of stimulation and interest. He is suddenly buddy sour.
I see the change taking place and I want to nip it in the bud. Anticipate what is going to happen before it happens so it doesn’t have to happen at all. Too late for that, I surmise as we are already full in progress.
There’s some nervous head tossing, rebellious bumping at the bit, back talk. A certain slinging that can turn into crazy 8’s, a frantic figure 8 style movement that I am pretty sure could dislodge his brain right out his ears and my bridle with it.
I pick up my reins, timing my response so Royal runs into his bit, sharply. He doesn’t get annoyed, he quiets. Then his weight shifts, a foot leaves the ground restively. I am late. I move the foot but a half dozen more unasked for steps follow that one. Damn it.
There is nothing like the joy, the smooth communication of picking up a rein and being attached to the foot you want it to be. To complete a maneuver, have the horse land solidly square, waiting for his next instruction. It’s a subtler better communication than give and take, pressure and release. A true wordless commune between yourself and your horse.
I have felt this with Royal, with other horses, and once you know that kind of thing is possible, it’s frustrating to be in a different place. I can get caught in my horse’s drama (quoting Susan) and let my emotions rise with his. I match his strong reactions with reactions of my own. The very word “reaction” tells you I am behind the situation and my timing is stinking.
I back him up, reaching for the corner of his mouth with one rein, steadying him with the other. I don’t kick or brush with my spur. As he backs the half circle, I feel Royal soften to my hand. His mind is back. The tractors, the crowds, the kids, lights and sounds, none of the bustle of a Friday night parking cars for Shady Lanes Ranch hayrack rides is a problem for him now. It comes and goes, that mind but I can see daylight and I know what to do. It’s the when of it requiring the work.
Day Three, back at the Peter Campbell clinic, the cattle come. They arrive in the morning and the little bay NHS horse, Duke, takes the newcomers completely in stride. He is interested, but not afraid. His life is good for him right now, and that is his response to most everything we are asking. I have done the groundwork with everyone else. We are all bridled, as we have been since Day One. They are riding.
I do a few more things. Blend with the Foundation class, me riding Duke from the ground, he sees horses around him, in front, coming up behind, doesn’t rattle him at all. When I pick up a rein, touch the corner of his mouth, he sweetly softens, and moves whatever foot I ask him to. I glance at Peter, talking to Trina. He is paying no attention to me and what we are doing, or at least that is what I think.
Finally, as I am restlessly awaiting my next instruction, I walk up to the pair and ask Peter should I not be getting up in the stirrups, or something??
He glances at us. “Well yeah. Get on him, even. Ride him around a little.”
Heck yes I am ready to ride this horse! Duke has told me in no uncertain terms he is ready to be ridden and I am excited for this next step. Then, I realize, Peter had fixed it up and waited. On me. I grin a little. He’s pretty good.
The riding goes well. We were ready.
That afternoon, I am a hairs breath from being late to class. I had put my phone away so no time piece and suddenly I realize the alleys are empty and quiet. Dammit!!
Royal and I head for the arena at the toppest speed I can gimpily manage. He is sky headed as we enter, planet sized eyes fixed on the horrendous beasts in the pen beside us. Feet skitter everywhere.
No way am I climbing up on that.
I go to the far side of the cattle pen, put my back to them and send Royal back and forth around me. Approach, retreat. A steer moves and he levitates six feet sideways. Great.
We do this for awhile, it seems to get better but I have little confidence I can get him to stand at the block for me to mount. My knee is swollen and painful now and I can barely bend it enough to reach the stirrup.
“I advise you to get on your horse,” Trina enters the arena on the big gray warm blood mare she is riding for a client. I nod. I take a half hearted stab at getting him to the block. They want a steer out and we are in the way.
“Take him to the far end of the arena,” Peter. “Get on him there.”
I nod again and we head away from the ferocious Arabian devouring cows.
He is so high there is no keeping his feet still. I hop around after him, leg at half mast nowhere near the damned stirrup. “Bend his head” instructs Peter. “Get up there beside him, get there! Come on! Get there!” I make a mental note to tell him about the accursed knee as soon as possible. Not fair to me and not fair to Peter, either.
I jam my foot in the stirrup, the horse jumps away from me. I spin, catch myself and at least avoid an ignominious tumble to the ground.
Now my knee hurts for real. I glare at my darling, fully ready to kick him square in his short ribs. He surges forward and I snap him back with a fierce yank on the reins. Respect that, bitch, I think furiously.
“Trina, you better hold that horse for her.” I know Peter can’t read my mind, but it’s probably pretty clear I am about to blow and absolutely zero good will come of that. I know that, but it isn’t going to stop it from happening, in front of God, Peter Campbell and everybody else. That damn horse is going to stand still.
Trina rides up, takes a hold and I get on. As usual, once I am up, Royal settles and calms beneath me. I calm as well and turn my attention back to the matters at hand.
Before the day ends, my horse is following those cattle, level headed and on a loose rein. We move them in pretty figure eights, to the rail, back off, circling and back. I am working with Trina’s group, and she tails us, her clear quiet voice cutting through the rattle and hum in my brain. She gets me to trust my horse, slip him more rein than I want to. He gratefully lowers his head and relaxes. I am so proud of him, I am, once again, about to cry.
“Now that you are finally riding it on a loose rein,” she says, “we can get something done.”
Timing is everything.