Cantering on Merc is one of my favourite things to do. It hasn’t always been this way. His body has only just started unravelling, at times feeling like a randomly knotted ball of wool where you just hit your stride, the line seemingly to untangling effortlessly, only to abruptly hit another knot that you need to massage and stare at for a while and figure out which direction would be best to approach it from.
I already look at Ada, my small but wot will be massive Irish baby and imagine us cantering across the inlet. In the merry land of my mind, I am always Arwen from the Lord of The Rings, but with a jousting stick. The jousting part is most peculiar I admit, but I can’t deny the strange attraction. This is juxtaposed against the understanding that cantering with a large tree such as that looks awkward and misplaced, and I neither like hurting people or getting hurt myself, a prerequisite I imagine I will need to overcome should I actually end up being Arwen with a pole.
Stick or no stick, the thing about flying trotters and going fast and in this case cantering (but for some it could be a few gaits less or a few gaits beyond) is that you have to really want it. The forward, the moving up a gear, the activation of the jet engines, starts in the mind first.
As horse people, I’m sure we all agree that the moments of covering the ground at great speed can constitute the best and the worst of our riding adventures; it all depends on context.
I speak of cantering today, and the feeling of most definitely wanting it, but there have been times when I most definitely haven’t. In fact, one of my earliest memories is a visual of flying mane, and wind whipping past my face in time lapse style fashion that I’m sure I have dramatized in my mind over the course of thirty years.
But then again, maybe not.
Both my parents were professional runners, my mother in particular owning a form of competitive spirit that sees her race other people on the treadmill at the gym, regardless of whether they realise they’re racing or not. A tiny, unnecessary fact that she seems to overlook.
In my early pony years, I used to go gymkhanas, and one of the races they had there was the walk, trot, and lead.
The rules were this: You started at one line and walked to the next one. Once there, you turned around and trotted as fast as you could back to the start line. Then, you would get off and lead your pony like a bat out of hell to the other line again, the first person over being the winner.
In cases like mine, where it was deemed you were too little and too young (read: too vulnerable) to dismount and run with your pony, a designated handler was allowed to run back with you back to the start. Up steps my mother to the plate.
Everything passes for safe and normal until the third leg, where my mother activates her turbo charge. Not looking back, she streaks towards the finish line, in her mind sprinting the Olympic qualifier, my pony breaking into canter (my first ever time) in a sturdy effort to keep up with her.
And me screaming all the way.
At the end she looks thrilled, and me slightly rabid. And for the record, yes, we won the race. Or at least, my mother did.
The thing about going fast is that we only want it when a few things are in place. Control is one of them, the ability to change gears up and down on request.
Relaxation is another. Adding power to tension just breeds more tension, and there’s no fun or joy in that.
We want power and forward in conversation; not with one or the other in control and the other stuck on mute.
There have been many times over the course of my horsing career where I’ve beat myself up and berated myself for my lack of wanting to go forward, and each and every time this was the case, I recognize that it was my intuition talking; that my horse and I neither had the conversation, balance nor relaxation required to press the power button from the position we were in.
There have also been times when my body has communicated concern to my brain that was not real, where I’ve realized I’ve been waiting until my horse is half dead before I’m happy to get on or turn it up a notch. Where I have been holding the hand brake, and in doing so, causing many a problem that I was looking to avoid.
Making friends with forward is a process of paying attention and consistent curiosity. It’s picking apart, where is the primary problem here right now, and how can we address it?
In our horses it might be balance issue, a misunderstanding of the aids, a communication of pain, or a tightness in the body where they neither have the strength nor capacity to do what you’re asking of them in that moment.
For us, it could be that our body lacks the ability to harmonise with our horse’s movement; that we have some stuck fight flight patterns that need to shift; that we have developed a dominant way of operating around the idea of forward that needs to be gently pulled apart and shaped in a different direction.
There’s something magical about moving at speed with your horse. It’s not the be all and end all, but it warrants a superlative that expresses a connection to something bigger.
I believe at our essence, both our horses and ourselves crave the freedom of forward. The looseness of body and mind that allows for it. So if there’s something in the way of that currently, it’s worth looking at. It’s worth spending the time asking, what’s getting in the way here, and who can we call on to help with it?
To your imaginary jousting,
If you want help making friends with forward, I have a three part workshop in my membership that deals with exactly that. Click here to check out the membership!