“Every time you ride a horse you teach it something,” Big Lee
For the last month every interaction with my new horse, Zeus, has been about getting to know each other and building trust. I have spent time in the barn brushing his face and neck with a soft brush while talking to him. There have been long Sunday morning rides on our neighbor’s farm with my dad, Big Lee, and his horse joining us. With each interaction I check on what I am communicating to the horse through my hands, voice and body as well as what he is telling me with his body and ears.
The first time in the saddle, I did not know what to expect, but it was critical that I calmly set boundaries and expectations. What did I want to teach and not teach this horse about me?
When I felt nervous or unsure in the saddle, I checked my legs and hands to ensure I was not gripping and adding to his energy. I used my breath by taking a long, slow inhale through the nose and a slow exhale out of my mouth to relax both of us. I engaged my pelvic floor (Mula Bandha) and knitted together my lower ribs together (Vddiyan Bndahs) to activate my abs so that I was not dumping into his back like a sack of potatoes. When his running walk was more of a trot, I would bring him back to a flat walk and check my seat, the tension in my reins and my shoulder engagement so that I could give him the set- up he needs to gait smoothly.
I noticed that he reacted to my body adjustments. It wad subtle, but he noticed and reacted positively.
On each ride the biggest challenge has been coming back to our farm and barn. There is a gate to enter our farm and the long standing rule is that the gate must be passed twice. To ensure two passes, we ride down a long access road, cross at the end, come back along our fence row and a take a few steps past the gate. Zeus has shown his displeasure with this rule, he has challenged this rule, but he has followed my direction. I have used my body, feet, hands and voice to be calm and firm.
After one of my second time bringing Zeus through the gate, I remember turning to Dad and saying, “That may not have been the way you would have handled the situation, but I have to find a way that works for both of us.” Dad let me know I did fine.
I have trusted my body and my instincts to react in challenging moments. I have noticed my fear and nerves, but I have not given in or allowed these feelings to spiral. I have reminded myself that this horse is what I wanted and that I love to ride.
I hope I have taught Zeus that he can trust me, that I am calm and confidant. Each ride is a practice with new challenges and accomplishments. The joy and fun is in the practice.