Yesterday, I achieved a milestone that was a long time coming. In fact, it was one of my “life goals” since I was a small child, and something I never thought I’d be able to do. On the surface, going over to the barn, saddling up my horse, and going for a nice ride doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it was. A huge deal. The amount of personal growth, courage, emotional maturity, and understanding of another living being required to get to this milestone was huge, and I’m just going to say it – I’m really proud of myself.
I’ve been riding Apache for a good number of years now, at least five. One of my life’s dreams came true when Sara generously gave me Apache (and his expenses, ha ha) when she realized that his health challenges meant he’d never be the hard-driving athlete she needed to fulfil her own dreams. It was obvious that I loved that generously rounded horse, regardless of his rideability, and I’d be just fine hanging out with him and doing things on the ground, if it came to that. It also helped that he seemed fond of me, too.
We took some Parelli lessons (a natural horsemanship style) back when I had money to do that kind of thing, and we got a pretty good foundation from it, though being in crowds with people barking orders at us made both of us nervous. That is an important insight.
Since then, we have worked at our own pace, getting better at various horse/human activities, and understanding each other more and more. I am sort of glad I didn’t have the money for more lessons, because it was good to work things out on my own, with Sara providing guidance. The progress was slowed down by the fact that Apache has metabolic issues, so sometimes his feet hurt and I can’t ride him…like much of last year, right when we’d been making really good progress going out in the ranch with Sara and Spice, exploring. I learned that Apache is as curious as I am about seeing new things, as long as he can take his time.
I’ve been working on getting past my hesitations about trying new things, myself, which I’ve talked about before, and with having more fun. Becoming a Master Naturalist took a lot of courage for me, for example. Learning to dismount from Apache is a good metaphor for this. I like to see where I’m going, but I can’t see where my feet are when I dismount, and I really used to hate falling that foot or so I need to fall to land on the ground. I finally can trust myself to survive that, so I can now take that leap of faith, which carries over to others, I think!
Fast forward to last week, when Sara and I both had more than the usual amount of riding time (plus it’s spring and not too hot or cold). She took Apache out a few times last week, and said he was still showing his “druthers” as she calls them, but that they still had some good rides. That was important, because Apache has been notorious for needing a buddy going along when he heads away from his pasture.
Then, I rode him for the next three days. I talked about how we had a breakthrough over the weekend, and that was the milestone that led to the big milestone. It dawned on me that he is just like me. He does GREAT when doing something he’s familiar with or wants to do. When asked to do something new or that he would rather not do, he can get all worked up, just like me.
So, what do I do when I’m all worked up? First, I shut down and really can’t process what people are telling me, even if they repeat and insist. That just gets me more worked up and I start saying unhelpful things. What I need to do is take a few moments to get centered, breathe, and think about the situation.
Guess what? That’s exactly what goes on with the horse. All that time I spend repeatedly asking him to do something, making it stronger each time, just doesn’t work. It just gets him more jiggety and jumpy. He needs to stop and breathe.
So, now what I do when I ask him to do something new or that he’s not wanting to do (like go cross some obstacles rather than head to the barn and end the ride), I ask him a couple of times, then I distract him by asking him to back up or turn in a circle. Then, we sit for a few minutes, facing the unpopular option. I breathe calmly and talk to him a bit. Then we are quiet. This all takes about 30 seconds. Usually, he then heads off to do what I ask, and we have a good time.
If he really, really doesn’t want to do something, I figure I’m pushing a boundary and come back to it later. That worked great when he didn’t want to go into the bottom pasture a week or so ago, with Lakota. This weekend, we tried it again, and he was ready. Now, isn’t that how it works with anxious people? Yes! And horses tend to be anxious, since they are prey animals.
I’m so happy I worked this all out for myself. This led to me being able to take him out of the little pen, groom him, saddle him, mount, and head over to where he wanted to go at first (as if I didn’t know he was heading toward the Evil Green Grass). I dealt with his displeasure at not being able to stop and eat that grass, and after that we had a great ride, at least 45 minutes, which included marching down the narrow space beside the windbreak of trees (which he handled better than usual), having to turn around and go back, because I can’t open gates on horseback, and the big one, going over the obstacles.
By the time we got back, we were both SO damned pleased with ourselves. A lot of hugging (mutual) and eating of treats (horse) occurred. He acted like he didn’t want me to leave, which was so sweet. And even Fiona, who was out while we rode, saw we’d gone in and ambled on over to the gate without me having to fetch her, and walked in like it was her job to do that. Wow.
I have to say I was in heaven for a while. I felt good about making my dream come true, conquering my fears of riding solo and falling, creating a great relationship with a horse, and ending up feeling calm and happy, not shaky at all. I see a lot of fun in my future, especially if I can figure out a way to remount on my hybrid saddle after getting off to open gates. I need little stools by each gate, or a rock to stand on (the stirrups are higher than on a Western saddle).
Well. That was a lot. And not only that, we have a new supporter for The Hermits’ Rest! My friend Louise Cox will get to choose a color and pattern for her dishcloths. Thank you, Louise, for your monthly contribution!
PS: That ride yesterday means Apache’s feet don’t hurt so far. Whew, maybe the Evil Green Grass didn’t get him this time.