This thoughtful horsemanship stuff is a double edged sword. It seems that it can make horses happier, but a lot of humans less happy. Once people discover that horses can be happier with us and more engaged, it seems that this elusive goal of having a horse “with you” becomes the blue ribbon of choice. People start getting to be really good horse people and at the same time they become even more upset by their failures than they were when they were getting bucked off or not winning ribbons.
I think that thoughtful and engaged horsemanship is a great goal and wonderful concept, and is certainly what I am striving for every day. But it should not be something that sucks the joy out of horsemanship. If anything the goal of relationship with your happy horse should add joy! It seems that for so many people the guilt of their past crimes against horses and the disappointment of every bad day they have, now that they know it can be better, is all consuming. It becomes difficult for them to even approach their horse and so many people become paralyzed by fear of upsetting their horse. And in the process, they either ignore their equine friends, or drive them even more nuts by obsessing over every little thing.
I’m certainly not saying that I want people to not care about how a horse feels. I want everyone to care deeply. But in the process, don’t forget that there is more to life than perfection (as long as everyone is safe) and if today’s ride isn’t perfect, tomorrow’s might be.
Don’t forget that there are a lot more ways to work on a horse feeling good than doing circles on a line and at liberty, or walking straight lines and hindquarter yields and back ups under saddle. These are important, and I hope you can find joy in them, but they are not the only way to make changes.
Today I had an opportunity come up that allowed me and the horse I was riding to really have fun AND get something accomplished. I was riding a horse with a pretty strict background of robot show horse circles, who has since come alive with interest and wonder in a beautiful way this winter. A young friend of mine was hanging out in the arena with a frisbee, and we decided that there were some great opportunities at hand to work on this horse’s interest, his straight lines, his stops, and more. Oh, and have fun in this beautiful sunny weather, too!
My friend would practice his various frisbee tosses and the gelding and I would track the frisbee as it flew through the air and find a stop lined up at the frisbee. Sometimes, I would jump off and grab the frisbee and toss it back, or run and carry it back, or jump back on and bring it back. Once it went over the arena fence into the street, so my horse lined up to the fence, I climbed off ran to the street, got the frisbee and came back up onto the fence and slid back onto the gelding. Sometimes, I would let my horse rest and my friend would come pick it up. We created so many scenarios and the horse slowly began to track the frisbee almost like a cow. Then we expanded the game to timed events and having the horse mark the frisbee with a front foot, with his nose, or even hold it in his mouth. The game went in so many directions I’m sure I haven’t even mentioned them all. And we were all laughing, including the horse.
Now, in the midst of this, there were transitions, stops, backs, straight lines and turns, high quarter yields and stepping the front end across. I’m sure we did most everything one might see in a “training session.” I certainly was aware of my horse’s experience and helped him when necessary and let him be when that was best. But none of us were feeling punished, or forced, or..maybe the worst of all…bored. We all found some joy.
Horsemanship is about loving an animal. It’s about doing our best. And it’s about having fun. In the process I hope everyone gets a little better. But if not, there is always tomorrow. There was nothing to win today anyways!