Archive for April, 2010

TO HAVE A HORSE IN YOUR LIFE

My friend and riding mentor and instructor sent this essay to me last week.  As an adult rider, learning courage and conquering fears applies to me. It’s a good thing to happen at any age.

TO H AVE  A HORSE IN YOUR LIFE

To have a horse in your life is a gift. In the matter of a few short years, a horse can teach a young girl courage, if she chooses to grab mane and hang on for dear life. Even the smallest of ponies is mightier than the tallest of girls. To conquer the fear of falling off, having one’s toes crushed, or being publicly humiliated at a horse show is an admirable feat for any child. For that, we can be grateful.

Horses teach us responsibility. Unlike a bicycle or a computer, a horse needs regular care and most of it requires that you get dirty and smelly and up off the couch. Choosing to leave your cozy kitchen to break the crust of ice off the water buckets is to choose responsibility. When our horses dip their noses and drink heartily, we know we’ve made the right choice. Learning to care for a horse is both an art and a science. Some are easy keepers, requiring little more than regular turn-out, a flake of hay, and a trough of clean water. Others will test you – you’ll struggle to keep them from being too fat or too thin. You’ll have their feet shod regularly only to find shoes gone missing. Some are so accident-prone you’ll swear they’re intentionally finding new ways to injure themselves.

If you weren’t raised with horses, you can’t know that they have unique personalities. You’d expect this from dogs, but horses? Indeed, there are clever horses, grumpy horses, and even horses with a sense of humor. Those prone to humor will test you by finding new ways to escape from the barn when you least expect it. Horses can be timid or brave, lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing. You will hit it off with some horses and others will elude you altogether. There are as many “types” of horses as there are people- which makes the whole partnership thing all the more interesting.

If you’ve never ridden a horse, you probably assume it’s a simple thing you can learn in a weekend. You can, in fact, learn the basics on a Sunday, but to truly ride well takes a lifetime. Working with a living being is far more complex than turning a key in the ignition and putting the car or tractor in “drive.” In addition to listening to your instructor, your horse will have a few things to say to you as well. On a good day, he’ll be happy to go along with the program and tolerate your mistakes; on a bad day, you’ll swear he’s trying to kill you. Perhaps he’s naughty or perhaps he’s fed up with how slowly you’re learning his language. Regardless, the horse will have an opinion. He may choose to challenge you (which can ultimately make you a better rider) or he may carefully carry you over fences – if it suits him. It all depends on the partnership – and partnership is what it’s all about.

If you face your fears, swallow your pride, and are willing to work at it, you’ll learn lessons in courage, commitment, and compassion in addition to basic survival skills. You’ll discover just how hard you’re willing to work toward a goal, how little you know, and how much you have to learn. A nd, while some people think the horse “does all the work,” you’ll be challenged physically as well as mentally. Your horse may humble you completely. Or, you may find that sitting on his back is the closest you’ll get to heaven.

You can choose to intimidate your horse, but do you really want to? The results may come more quickly, but will your work ever be as graceful as that gained through trust? The best partners choose to listen, as well as to tell. When it works, we experience a sweet sense of accomplishment brought about by smarts, hard work, and mutual understanding between horse and rider. These are the days when you know with absolute certainty that your horse is enjoying his work.

If we make it to adulthood with horses still in our lives, most of us have to squeeze riding into our over saturated schedules; balancing our need for things equine with those of our households and employers. There is never enough time to ride, or to ride as well as we’d like. Hours in the barn are stolen pleasures. If it is in your blood to love horses, you share your life with them. Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and whisper our hopes into their ears. A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled world, a sheltered place where life’s true priorities are clear: a warm place to sleep, someone who loves us, and the luxury of regular meals. Some of us need these reminders.

When you step back, it’s not just about horses – it’s about love, life, and learning. On any given day, a friend is celebrating the birth of a foal, a blue ribbon, or recovery from an illness. That same day, there is also loss: a broken limb, a case of colic, a decision to sustain a life or end it gently. A s horse people, we share the accelerated life cycle of horses: the hurried rush of life, love, loss, and death that caring for these animals brings us. When our partners pass, it is more than a moment of sorrow. We mark our loss with words of gratitude for the ways our lives have been blessed. Our memories are of joy, awe, and wonder. A bsolute union. We honor our horses for their brave hearts, courage, and willingness to give. To those outside our circle, it must seem strange. To see us in our muddy boots, who would guess such poetry lives in our hearts? We celebrate our companions with praise worthy of heroes. Indeed, horses have the hearts of warriors and often carry us into and out of fields of battle. Listen to stories of that once-in-a-lifetime horse; of journeys made and challenges met. The best of horses rise to the challenges we set before them, asking little in return.

Author Unknown

I had my lesson on Monday.

I had my lesson on Monday.  I rode Ivy who is a level IV dressage horse and belongs to my instructor. Ivy has such suspension in her gait that I still find it a challenge to ride her.  I like to remember the first time I rode her a few years ago.  I was accustomed to riding Sonny, a smooth gaited quarter horse who was (and still is) my “teacher”.  But Sonny just wasn’t bred or trained for lively gaits.

I could feel the difference between the two horses at the walk, but when I asked for the trot I was totally unprepared for my launch into space.   I felt like I was bounced upward and was still going up when the horse began going downward. By the time I was going down, Ivy was again coming up.  It was bone jarring. My balance was non-existent. I found it impossible to use my leg aids I kept loosing my stirrups. For the nano-second that I was in downbeat of the trot, I was so busy trying to regain my balance that I couldn’t use my legs for anything but to hold on.  It is to Ivy’s credit that she put up with me. My bone jarring ride couldn’t have been very pleasant for her any more than it was for me. We kept working on it.  I got to the point that I could actually sit the trot and alternate between sitting and posting.

It has been several months since I’ve ridden Ivy.  The indoor arena we use during the snowy, icy Connecticut winters, often has snow or ice on the roof. When the sun warms the roof enough, sheets of ice slide off, spooking all but the most calm horses. Ivy spooks at the sight of a butterfly. For this reason, I rode Sonny all winter. So when I rode Ivy on Monday, it had been 5 months or so since I had experienced her lively trot.  I surprised myself.  We walked around a for a few minutes to get our sea legs. Then I asked for the trot.  This time, I was able to stay with her.  I could use my leg and seat aids.  We did serpentines, leg yields, large and small circles. I didn’t loose my stirrups.  I’m learning how to keep steady rein contact.

Even though my progress seems to be at a snail’s pace, when I look back and remember the first time….   I guess I really am making progress. My mind and my body are active, yet able to release tensions. During my lessons I can think of nothing else. I concentrate. I balance and center my body and my mind. An hour flies by. I go home relaxed and exited at the same time. I smell of horses, manure, and my own sweat. I am content.

Keys to making a good diagram of horse’s back

Keys to making a good diagram are Placement, Angle, Spacing, Amount of Drop

Placement: Find the back of the shoulder muscle.  Then take your first measurement 2 to 3 fingers width behind that point.  This allows the shoulder to rotate back without interference from the saddle.

Angle: Be sure that the wires used for taking back tracings hang vertically and do not tip forward or backward.

Spacing: Take tracings at even intervals and let us know how far apart the tracings are taken.  (I usually take measurements every 7″. More often for unusual backs.)

Amount of Drop: If you have a carpenter’s level, place one end on the spine where the first measurement was taken, hold the level level, and measure the distance between the level and spine at the third measurement.

This is not rocket science – just make the diagram as accurate as possible – you should do fine.