I stood in the ring holding a lunge whip and Shadow, my lesson horse, by a lunge line. For me, this was new ground, having jumped at the opportunity to participate in an hourlong session at Course Brook Farm with trainer, Beth DiCicco of Wolf Ridge Farm.
My session was scheduled at 3PM, as the fifth participant of six. Just prior to my session Beth demonstrated her genius by lunging a Percheron mix into a trot and canter in the round pen, a mammoth of a horse who had refused to move a foot forward in two years.
The temperature was ungodly; close to 90 degrees and the air hung thick like soup. I was soaked through, hadn’t eaten lunch and when I walked into the ring with Shadow, I became overwrought in nerves, thinking I’ve never done any groundwork before and what was I thinking signing up for this? For life experience has taught me valuable lessons. At 55 that means eschewing situations in which I don’t excel (which in my current repertoire is limited to riding).
I found my voice and laid out the truth to Beth: I was a novice, low in confidence, high in over-analyzing and possessed a startle reflex that doesn’t in any way shape or form align with being in the saddle. My goal for the session I told her? I was to walk away feeling more victorious than discouraged, no matter how little progress we were to make.
We did the groundwork. Lead exercises, leg yields, keeping my horse out of my personal space, moving him backwards, halting, turning on his forehand and hindquarters, use of a flag stick on six different touch points on his body to earn his trust. I felt supported and by everyone there.
But the lunging! I was tripping over the lunge line and hitting Shadow with the whip despite him moving right along in a circle. It was the last exercise and I finished the session feeling exhausted and disappointed at my botched attempt at bonding with my horse.
I woke up the following morning in a dark and heavy cloud, feeling blue. I closed my eyes and questioned myself: What is it at the core of that session that is really eating at me?
A voice whispered into my ear. It said, you seek to be one with a horse, not in charge.
I know all you horsey people out there bank on the relationship between horse and rider to be a partnership; but ultimately, the rider is dominant over the horse for a myriad of reasons (e.g. safety, discipline). I get it. The thing is to “dominate” the horse is not in my nature.
When I was making contact with Shadow with the whip by mistake while I lunged him, I kept telling him “Sorry, Shadow.”
This sentiment did not “resonate” with Beth: “Lisa! Don’t apologize!”
See, this is my point. I’m really after some kind of fairy tale version of horse and human interaction. You know, like Black Stallion. This is why my riding lessons don’t go well. My aids are limited to little taps with the crop and subtle kicking after I’ve made “the ask” two times.
I am not an alpha, I am not a leader. Coming from a woman who has rescued a number of fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, lagomorphs, cats and dogs, which could in itself constitute its own rescue, I am…strictly…a nurturer.
My horsewomanship is not only flawed, it’s a gaping abyss.
But wait—what is it that they say about taking the path of least resistance?
Last winter I got so frustrated with my lack of riding skills (aka command over the horse), I put off lessons with Linda, my riding teacher, telling her it was too cold to ride. (Well, twenty degrees is too cold.)
But I’ve since returned to Course Brook, taking trail rides on Shadow because Linda, being the good soul that she is, encouraged me to come back and do something “fun” to feed my “love of horse.” Consider this a reversal of the damage done by Dink Ironsides, my riding teacher in early teens. While I cantered and jumped, I still trotted on the wrong diagonal. He fired me as his student for” riding like a savage.”
I had tried doing the groundwork, pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
The other victory?
Electing to do the trail rides with Linda—that’s the path of least resistance. It’s the Black Stallion thing. See, we’re always learning. Life is a journey filled with good teachers and good lessons. And for now, this path on my journey suits me just fine.
This essay was published in Horse Network, August 20, 2020.
Oh, and incidentally, I came across this meditation by Jess of Rising Higher Meditation. I traveled ‘into the void’ mounted atop a black stallion!
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Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021 and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.