One of the most difficult things about learning something or challenging yourself to do new things with your horse is the lack of lived experience you have to draw from. What this means is that paving the way forward relies as much on your own belief, resourcefulness and imagination as it does on drawing on the experiences of others to inform and guide you.
With this in mind, you can really only be certain of the result you are producing, or the efficacy of the techniques you are using once you are in a reflective place; a place where you have actually already achieved the result, or upleveled in some way, and can look back and see how all the various pieces fitted together. Your vision is only clear in reverse. Up until that point, you rely as much on self-belief and faith as you do on the skills of others more practiced in the process than you.
Today was one such experience for me. Over the last couple of weeks, Dee and I have been working to establish the most basic of understandings under saddle. Legs on means go. Rein out to the side means bend this way. This means stop. A deliberate consolidation of the ABC’s. Having not been this process of doing all the work to bring a horse under saddle before, and having no one on the ground to assist me, I’ve found myself in a state of perpetual reflection and contemplation, reaching out on a near daily basis to those that I respect with questions that have come up during the session.
I have a clear vision of what I want; a relaxed and happy partnership. And I’m willing to wait for it.
In the first instance, Dee was what you might describe as backward thinking. He lacked a bit of forward under saddle, and I worked carefully and methodically to establish a clear cue. Then, one day a couple of weeks ago, he really clocked on. He was light, forward and responsive- so much so that we swung to the other side of the pendulum and had much more go than whoa.
As a consequence, I’ve spent the better part of two weeks- maybe longer- walking and bending and encouraging relaxation. The slightest hint of leg would send him forward into trot, and while I didn’t want to block the forward, the reactivity was also not desirable. Going strictly on feel, this definitely felt like the right thing to do.
It’s once I got off that the problems really began. Along with my contemplation of how to take things forward, I began to question what I was doing.
Was this coming up due to my lack of skill? How long was I just going to be walking for? Maybe someone who trains horses for a living would be in a better place to do this.
Was this the right thing to do? Were my expectations too high, to expect a young, big horse like Dee to be capable of the level of relaxation I wanted so early under saddle?
The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee was having a field day with me.
On a logical level, I knew the value of what I was doing. I believed in it. I had seen it in others. But I had yet to really live it. And so I had to trust that what I was doing was right, and simply, keep on going.
I made a commitment to myself that rain, hail or shine I would show up. I would only go as far as the next good step. I would go by feel and stay responsive to the moment, letting go of expectations of where I should be by now in training, or comparing myself to anyone else.
I would simply show up and do the best I could with what was presented to me with the skills and resources that I had.
Today, for the first time when I got on, I could rest my leg against his side without any reactivity of his part. I could open the rein and have a soft, downward stretching bend in response. I could ask for trot with it being rushed or braced or unbalanced.
It felt wonderful.
And in that moment, I could look back over the past few weeks and see how it all added up to that very moment.
It made sense. And it was worth it.
Going outside your comfort zone and extending yourself means you will be walking a road you haven’t travelled before. It means at times you will question yourself and your abilities. It means that you will wonder if you are doing it right.
And in those moments, check in. Ask for help if you need it. And keep on moving forward in a way that aligns with your values and the intention that you have for both you and your horse.
Today was a moment in time, but it’s one that will inform many moving forward.