Remember to breathe. Important stuff when trying to relax. In case you're wondering, this is filed under my mental, "notes to self". My list is getting quite long these days. But it sure helps.
"Whistle, grin and ride". Something Ray used to say. A lot. It's why I ride. I feel more pure and simple joy when in the saddle than at any other time. I can't whistle, but I sometimes sing and I'm real good at grinning.
I've ridden Eagle twice this week. First time, we spent the majority of our time doing groundwork, catching up and getting rid of my third thumb. *sigh* Remember that old saying? "If ya don't use it, you lose it". True enough.
I haven't done anything except for caretaking and some grooming since last summer, and it's showing. For the first few times, I feel like a total newbie. Like I've never done this before and I'm all thumbs. Then it starts to come back to me, slowly at first, and then it's like riding a bike. I just go with the flow, it comes naturally and it feels so good.
Eagle, of course, has been a perfect gentleman. *sigh* Dear God, how I love that horse. I often wonder to myself, what did I ever do to deserve such a horse? He is just wonderful.
So, getting a little ahead of myself. A week ago yesterday, May 3rd, Jessica came out to meet my horse. We decided not to waste the beautiful evening and got to work. We did some groundwork, saddled him up and Jessica rode him. Beautifully, I might add. I was just a tad jealous. Well, if I'm truthful, I was completely enchanted with watching how beautifully she had my boy going. Amazing what a little confidence can do. Or a lot. Just makes me sad that I struggle with my own abilities so much these days. Honestly, it breaks my heart. I sometimes think that I'll never get back to where I used to be. You know, completely at ease, and feeling more at home than at any other place I could possibly be? Yeah. That's how I used to be. My favorite spot in the whole, wide world was on my horse's back. Out in the woods, feeling so free. And peaceful. Joyful beyond explanation.
But, if you've been reading for any amount of time, you know that these days I struggle. I have to work so hard at my confidence, my abilities and my level of comfort on my horse. I've not suffered any wrecks, have no concrete reason to feel fear. But it is fear that I feel. It can be crippling on some days, but I'm not about to let myself be overcome. I will survive.
And more than that, I want to triumph over my fear. I choose to acknowledge my fear, give it its' due, but then put it down, and mount up anyway. I try to quiet my mind, squelch my thoughts and breathe. Sometimes I pray, sometimes I sing. Sometimes both. I've been known to cry. But, I have absolutely no plans of quitting. I want this, so I am willing to work at it.
So far, Jessica seems to be a good fit for me. She has the skills and the experience no doubt. But more importantly, she seems to understand and be willing to work with me, at any necessary level and speed, to bring back my level of comfort and revive my confidence in myself, and help me convince my horse that I am capable of taking care of him. That is my goal.
True partnership. True harmony. I do not believe in overpowering the horse, or manipulating him into doing what I want him to do, by any means at my disposal. Absolutely not. If that were my only choice, I'd never ride again. What I want is to see my horse as my equal, have respect for him and his emotions, his likes and dislikes, and yes, give him permission to feel his own fears. Show him that there will never be any punishment, no pain, no retaliation for any of his expressions, whatever they may be. Some things he could choose to do are unacceptable to me, of course. But I want him, to want to take care of me, just like I want to take care of him. It's the only way. For me, it is truly, the only way.
So. First ride was short and sweet. I won't lie, I was timid and nervous. But I got on, walked around for a short while, did some flexing and then just sat there and enjoyed being on my horse's back. I stroked his big, beautiful neck, ran my fingers through his mane and talked softly to him, told him how very amazing he was and what a gift I thought him to be. And after he let out a big, old sigh and started licking his lips and chewing, I got off. I felt good and so did he. It had been a good start, and was a perfect place to stop.
Last night, I did some groundwork while Jessica watched, then she mounted up and got Eagle good and warmed up for me, and then it was my turn. Again, I was a bit nervous. Not like the previous time, but still uneasy. I rode at the walk and the trot, did some flexing, some backing, some cross overs in the front and a lot of changing directions and practiced our one-rein stop. That is my go-to emergency button so it needs to be smooth as silk and as common to each of us as eating our breakfast, or breathing. Yes, I believe it's that important. If you don't practice it perfectly, you won't ever achieve a perfect one-rein stop. Bottom line - it won't be there when you need it. Notice I said when, not if. Because if you ride enough, you will need it at some point. Harley had the one-rein stop better than any other horse I've ever ridden, and it saved my butt more than once. It worked like a charm. That's how common and reliable I want it to be for Eagle. Harley wasn't a small horse, in fact he was a good inch taller, but he doesn't feel half as strong as Eagle does. Eagle is a powerhouse and having lived in the wild, his self-preservation runs deeper. I have the ultimate respect for that. I need to for both our sakes.
So, long story short. By the time I finished up with my ride, I felt good. I felt relaxed on my horse. And Eagle? He was like butter warmed by the evening sun...I couldn't have wished for more.
I can't wait to try it again. I'm a softer rider than Jessica. She's not aggressive, but she is more assertive than I am. That's not a bad thing, we're just different. I need to be a little more assertive for now, but in between lessons I'll be working on softness, lots of flexing, directing the feet, backing, getting that "soft feel" whenever I ask for it, and yes, that ever-important one-rein stop.
And, at the core of it all, maybe the most important element of all. I will give my horse the time that it takes for him to learn what I'd like, the luxury of not understanding, or even making mistakes without fear of punishment. Isn't that how we all learn, how we all learned? Rome wasn't built in a day. And my favorite horseman of all time used to say, "the slower you go, the faster you'll get there". The clinician that I'll be riding with this June, Joe Wolter says to, "give him time to soak". Important stuff, that.
It feels so good to be riding again! I just can't explain how good. So, although I'm just in the round pen for now, I'm looking ahead to moving into the corral, and even beyond to those glorious mountain trails. Jessica has already offered to bring her trailer and one of her horses, so we can go ride the trails. When I'm ready, no pressure...but I can't wait. She even offered to ride Eagle, and let me ride a more experienced, well-seasoned trail horse and if I want to switch, we can. I think we're going to get along just fine. I'm looking forward to more.
Courage was my chosen word for this year. And yes, this is exactly what I had in mind when that word came to me. My horse and my riding. Courage. Stepping outside that comfort zone even though fear is my riding partner.
My faith is bigger than my fear...
and it sure doesn't hurt to have the most amazing horse in the world. Seriously!! He blows my mind with all that heart, all that try. The willingness to please and be accepted and feel safe. So humbling for me to think about what an awesome responsibility I have to protect and take care of this horse.
And what a pleasure it is.