My route back to the saddle

I have been an enthusiastic horse lover for the greater part of my life. Since I was 6, I have been going to lessons, and pretty much spent all possible time at stables. Before long I got my parents to buy me my own horse. She ended up being one of the most important friends of my youth. Then, after 10 years together, her journey came to an end.  Afterwards I resulted into renting a couple of horses, until that, too came to an end, as I moved to Belgium.

After the move, life happened. I was busy exploring my new home country and quite some of its surroundings. Then came work, and an utter lack of time, plus I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go and search for a place where there wouldn’t be a massive language barrier. And also, from owning and renting horses, it is kind of a big step backwards to return to a riding school. So, life went on, for almost 4 years, with no horses.

This spring we moved, closer to work, which meant a lot more free time. Additional free time was the key to light the spark again. Somewhere in the summer I started to search for stables in the area and contacted a few.

A couple of days later I got a reply from one of those stables. Welcoming me to a workshop, where I could get an idea of the functioning of the stable and the of the philosophy they follow. I was through the roof!

So, on a warm Sunday morning in August, I found myself sitting in a circle with ladies of all ages, talking about the feeding of a horse; in Dutch. I tried to follow, googled the names of plants and body parts of horses they were mentioning, taking in the smell of sand, hay and horses. There was a welcoming atmosphere, everybody seemed to have the same goal in mind; how to have a healthy, happy horse.

The horses had plenty of space to roam around, which is not always the case in Belgium, where some stables don’t let the horses out at all, so I was happy. The herd seemed harmonious and well cared for. The well being of the animals was clearly the first priority there. Without too much doubting I enlisted myself for weekly lessons. This has been going on for about one and a half months.  Now I have also started to rent a horse once a week. Centered riding is the way of riding here. Everything is to do with breathing and balance. I am excited about this, since I think this will be a great way for me to get back into riding and become better in it.

Every lesson before we even get on to the horse, the teacher busies us with ground work. Which I find also a very smart approach. If you think about teaching a person to ride, without teaching them how to be with a horse, read it and handle it, you are cutting quite some corners short, eventually asking for trouble. By working on the ground first, you get the first contact with the animal on the eye-level. You see its mood and the way it moves easier. And everybody gets a little warm up.

The lessons advance slowly, focusing much more on the thinking side of the whole thing, rather than getting through complicated exercises. So we learn to lead the horse, learn to balance our own energy so, that horse follows and listens. We search for the movement of the horse, while on horse back and try to follow it and see and feel, how your seat affects the horses movement and mood. It all is very slow, the riding skills are really being built from the bottom up, block by block.

I have been happy to notice that this break from horses has done some good for me. I am a fairly reactive and nervous person by nature. I used to have a horse that was the same. Which was not necessarily a good combination if you wanted to stay on top of the situation. But we both had fun, which back then was the most important thing!

Now during this break I think I have matured. I am less hasty. I am not only reacting, but am able to stop and asses the situations before doing anything. I find myself enjoying the moments when I can just watch and see how the horses interact with each other and try and learn from that and interpret it to my own actions with them. I am learning loads more now, than what I was capable of, or willing to, before!

The horse I am renting, she is lovely and ridiculously pretty palomino. She most definitely is not the smartest of the bunch, though some things she learns quickly, others she takes ages to figure out. Plus she is completely new to this way of working. But she is sweet, and trusting and I am very much looking forward to learning together with her.

This is a completely new start for me, to be with horses and to ride. There is a serious bunch of things to learn and find out, of the sport and of myself. I am so very happy I finally got to find a stable to continue my dear hobby. Once again I have a place to forget all the stress of work and just be present and have a horse to develop with!


Sink or Swim

So many of these learning experiences in my life are related to horses. This particular one, has to do with the very first steps of owning one of those magnificent animals.

I got her when I was 12. She was 12 too. I had 6 years of experiences about life among horses, mainly in riding schools and private stables. She had full 12 years of experience in being a horse. Here we can find a small disadvantage on my side.

I soon noticed, that owning a horse, it was very much a different deal than going to stables to learn to ride them. Owning one is much more, well, wholesome experience. In the very first steps becomes the realization, that a balance and leadership must be attained. This is the game of either sinking or swimming.

You swim, if you manage to win the trust and friendship of the horse. You swim, if the horse understands, that you are worthy of guiding and leading the pack of you two. You swim if you are firm and fair.

You sink, deep, if you are scared of the situation, scared of the half tonne animal, who is now sharing your life. You sink, if you are unfair, if your guidance leads to pain or fear. If you are unreliable, honesty is the key.

The narrow strip between victory and failure is sometimes narrow. It requires a fine balance. As a newbie horse owner, you make mistakes,  sometimes costly ones. You might let the horse push her own mind too far, tripping you down from the leaders position. No fun. You might lead her to a situation that causes her fear, too much pressure or pain. Gaining back the trust from there, is a hard and rocky road, one that has to be walked.

Sometimes you get it right, you reach the surface again and swim. You got her motivated into learning something new, find the excitement in her.  You find the way to get her into a relaxed and open minded position. Lead her to over come a fear. You are her friend and companion, at best. Those moments are wonderful. You find a flow, not just on your own, but you share it with her. You join with that horse, and work together. This is what gets you hooked into this sport, the beauty in those moments.

Yes, I am still missing her.

Thanks to the Prompt of the day: Sink or Swim

Safety First – Or maybe not

The moments I have felt the least safe, are most somewhat related to horses, and the high probability of sudden injury – or death. 20 years spent in the stables, gets you to plenty of not so safe situations. Trust me on this one.

Well, my horse, Hiksu, she was known for being a bit stubborn and mean, my special one. Sometimes trying to get rid of the rider, or at least scare them so hard, they would not dare to ride her again. Just for fun, apparently.

Sometimes she also got really scared herself. One of these times was, when we were returning home from a short cross country ride. We were approaching the road,  covered in ice. Just as she stepped onto the road, turning towards home, there was a tractor appearing from behind the corner. A particularly noisy tractor, with chains in the tires, for better grip. That noise my dear mare had never heard before, her solution was to panic. Blinding panic.

The direct outcome of that panic was speed. Quite some of it. Hiksu headed away from that tractor, at full gallop, on the icy and slippery road. I could not see anything, thanks to the snow, flying into my eyes, stinging, cold air biting to me cheeks. There might have been cars, or who knows what, coming from the opposite direction. At this point I think I started to get a bit nervous, afraid for the safety of both hers and mine.

She had lost her ears, no matter what I yelled, no reaction followed. She had taken the bit tightly between her teeth. So I basically had no brakes. At one corner I heard one of the shoes flying off. Not that it seemed to be of any interest to Hiksu, we were just slipping a bit more.

Picture from here.

She pushed on for about 5 km, not showing any signs of slowing down. I had lost all hope of getting her listening to me again, and basically just hoped that nothing too bad was lurking behind the next corner, and holding onto the saddle. The only thing to do for me, was to make sure I would not fall off.

Finally there was an uphill, which ate her speed. The tractor was long gone too. She was foaming from sweat. I was shaking out of exhaustion, too. She turned around, head held high, nostrils wide, ears pointing sharply to the direction we had come from. I was genuinely worried what would happen if the tractor would appear again.

I slid down to the ground. and started to lead Hiksu back home on foot. She was still very nervous, taking a good look at every moving thing. I was talking to her, to make her calm down and to focus on me, rather than on a moving leaf. She was not willing to let me walk too far, but kep her head right next to me arm. Except for a couple of nervous jumps and side steps.

That day I almost became religious. I was so happy to get to home safely, I even found the shoe, we dropped off, hanging on a tree. Long walk had relaxed us both and I was feeling extremely tired. After a good brushing and check up, Hiksu stayed at her pile of hey, and I dragged myself to the house. Just giving mom a yelp to let her know, I was home again.

This was not the first, or the last time, Hiksu arranged some excitement to my life, but this must have been one of the scariest.

Safety First