Monday, June 4, 2012

Fear and Resolution

I tried a horse on Saturday that was the stuff of my dreams on paper - under-saddle PRE mare - and even more stunning in person. From her back, though, and even before, I knew she was not the horse for me, or perhaps more importantly, that I was not the person for her. Losing confidence like that I can feel like I don't have any business with horses at all, but luckily that fades quickly and I remember there are plenty of horses I have trusted and been able to ride well. 

It was more disappointing than I expected - an example of that inevitable disconnect between the dream and reality of horses and riding.  For most of us it is a deeply passionate affair rooted in childhood and, in a sense - fairytale.  We can't help but create these lofty dreams and images of the ideal creature, the magical communion.  It's why it can be the most soaring fulfillment - a connection both earthly and otherworldly - and also heartbreaking - a fall you can feel in your bones and soul.  The unrealized dream of bonding with my mother's horse.  The diminishing dream of my reunion with Coro (anything but endless is crushing).  There I was, the decades-old dream of an Andalusian (who will always be the ultimate fantasy, with their noble eyes and royal heritage - why do you think they are always in movies?) within reach, and yet slipping almost immediately through my fingers like smoke.  The day took on a heaviness reflected in the darkening skies, and my hopes of a renewing ride on my beloved familiar boy were swept away in thunder and lightening.  I met up with friends later for a birthday dinner, but I was distracted and pensive. I had another full day of horses on Sunday, and I wondered if I hadn't taken on too much.

But Sunday morning came with a welcome, if inexplicable sense of positivity. I woke feeling the thread of possibility glimmering with fresh dew, and I wanted to follow.   Since I was venturing south, I had arranged to have breakfast with my oldest friend at her house in Palmer Lake - a beautiful rustic cottage tucked in the trees.  It's interesting how my sense of perfect habitat has changed over the years - I envied just a bit their wilderness perch.  We chatted over pancakes and fruit salad, talked of our respective new additions: my horse search and her pregnancy - still hard to believe my friend of twenty-five years will be a mother before the year is through.  A Halloween child, perhaps! A shorter visit than I would have liked, but still a wonderful opening to the day.

I went on my way to a farm in eastern Colorado, where my trainer was presenting a "Riding to Music" clinic in the afternoon. I wanted to catch some of the other trainer, but they had already finished the horse work and were just having an informal pre-lunch discussion.  The clinician said a few things that stuck with me - common sense but worth remembering. One was "Small steps prevent big mistakes."  I found that reassuring since I often have a self-imposed pressure that I should be doing more and faster, but there is no reason for it.  He also said that he never, ever wants a horse to buck under his control. He does not believe in "getting the bucks out" on a lunge line.  He said he would rather turn a horse out loose if it has any inclination to buck.  I'm not a huge fan of lunging myself, just because I'd rather be riding or walking with the horse, but this made a lot of sense to me.  My trainer's introduction was very emotional for me.  She shares my same reverence for horses, my awestruck appreciation that they let us ride them at all, the philosophy that we owe them, not the other way around.  There were some good laughs thrown in to lighten the mood.  It felt so good to be in a room of similar-minded people, blinking back tears, breathing in horse sweat and Show Sheen and knowing that, yes, this was without a doubt where I belong. 

I watched the two groups of riders, the horses' varying reactions to the music, each gaining confidence and relaxation as they learned some patterns and discussed using music as a training tool and creating playlists for your horse - things I've already been working on with myself with the help of my trainer.  I admired the amber-eyed Morgan, the grey Quarter Horse, the Paints, the Percheron cross, the black Appendix and the palomino.  I admired them all.  And then I drove back to my own barn under alternating blue and grey skies and spent a deliciously leisurely few hours with Coro.  His breathing was quiet and easy.  I groomed him thoroughly, brushed his forelock the way he loves and leaned against him with my arm slung over his back. this is one of the perks of a short horse.  I swept his back clean and put his saddle and bridle on, a process I could do with my eyes closed, the ritual of it so calming.  In no hurry.  I talked with my barn manager about my horse search, my discouraging ride, while we both smiled at the ever-lovable Coro.  He told me one of the barn cats had jumped onto Coro's back going after a bird that was already there - I so wish I'd gotten to see that! We rode indoors since it was so hot, I played our music, and I just settled into his sweet trot, his willing sighs.  I let the reins to the buckle and steered with my seat - we did circles and serpentines and leg yields with no hands.  He had a bounce to his step for a Gipsy Kings song, a swing to his back for Rodrigo y Gabriela.  The thunder began to rumble again and we cooled out as the wind started to knock at the doors.  I untacked him and let him eat the long grass by the picnic table as the storm blew in, utterly happy and at home.


  1. This post gave me goose bumps.

    "One was "Small steps prevent big mistakes." I found that reassuring since I often have a self-imposed pressure that I should be doing more and faster, but there is no reason for it."

    The above lines resonated in a comforting way. I have to remind myself periodically that Val and I are not training for the Olympic trials. ;)

    We've got all the time in the world. Our only really bad rides came about from ego driven rushing, and worrying about what someone else besides my horse thought about what we were doing.

    My trainer, who sadly has moved out of the area, sounds a lot like yours. This plaque (an Erik Herbermann quote) was over the wash rack at her farm where I began my dressage journey:

    "Enter the sanctuary of the horse ever with honor and respect."

    1. "Enter the sanctuary of the horse ever with honor and respect."

      I love that.

  2. Don't get discouraged - there are a lot of good horses out there. You will find the right one.

    1. I'm less discouraged about the horse hunt - I know I only just started - than I am about my lack of confidence. I wish I knew where it went. There was a time that I could climb on anything without a pounding heart and shaking hands.

      There is a false sense of urgency - it's silly. I guess I just don't want to miss any potential ones, but at the same time I don't need to look at everything. It's hard to narrow down what is really worth my time and you don't really know until you get there. If I was absolutely set on an Iberian breed there'd be no choice but to sit and wait.