If we never examine or give thought to our lives or the reasons why we do things, we are at the mercy of our reactions and whims.
The subject of thinking, truly giving thought, is on my mind frequently. I don’t think we as a species are taught to mindfully think about all that much, beyond academics, and even then, we are encouraged to study and memorize. We are not asked our thoughts and opinions. We are not asked to question the subjects we are tasked with memorizing.
In an effort to better understand myself, to distill down some of my thoughts around my horsemanship and how I can do better, I ask myself this question: Why Do I Ride?
People ride for lots of reasons; because we enjoy horses, it gets us outside, it’s a challenge, it’s a sport, the horses need exercise, we need exercise, there are any number of reasons for riding.
Of course, I ride because I enjoy it. That’s easy to put out there, an obvious conclusion, but is it true?
Let’s dig deeper.
Truth – I don’t actually enjoy riding all the time. There have been many times I end up with jelly for legs and knots in my shoulders from attempting to seize control over an 1100 – 1800 lbs. animal who expresses very clearly that they are not enjoying or interested in the experience. They often, very loudly in their own way, decline.
Then, in my bid for “control” I inflict pain by pulling on a pinchy, metal bar that digs into the tongue, and cracks against the molars, and gags the creature who is supposed to be my friend.
I dig my heels into their sides to encourage them to go. I pull on their face to change direction. If their response is not what I’m seeking, they are corrected with force to get the response I want.
This does not fill me with joy, but sorrow for my animal friend, so Why do I ride?
All that said, I am not a harsh rider or harsh trainer. I do my best to be as gentle as possible at all times and I teach my clients to be as respectful and thoughtful as possible. More often than not, I don’t use a bit at all, I use a Spanish Sidepull, and if I do have a client who insists on a bit, I do my best to use the “gentlest” bits I can find.
All of that is just peachy until the control on the trail or in an arena is slipping literally through my fingers and I must stop a runaway horse who wants to go home, or steer an unwilling horse the direction that I, not he, wants to go. Even the gentlest tools can inflict enormous pain when too much force is exerted, but this is what we are taught we must do, we must be in control – it’s all part of riding.
Usually, when I dismount, I find myself apologizing for my riding. My mount is always relieved to be done, eager to spit the bit out of their abused mouth, or have the saddle taken from their sweaty back, even if by my standards “We” have had a good, calm, relaxing ride.
Is a “good” ride enjoyable for the horse? Some people will argue yes, as I would have at one time.
I ask you, if you give your horse a loose rein and the option to choose, what would they do? Stay the course? Turn around and go home? Look for the closest patch of green grass and have a snack?
The truth is, I’m happy on the back of a horse with nothing between us, and just a halter and lead rope for any neck reining that must be done. I’m happy just sitting and being, if I’m on them at all.
Happier still if I’m on the ground and we can connect through different means, where the playing field is equal and they have the free choice to stay in my presence or go about their business.
I know this is the preference of every horse I work with. Certainly the preference of my own beloved mare, Molly. The result, when given a choice, is nearly always that they prefer to remain close or in fact in physical contact with us, like true friends.
I have a contract with my Mollygirl. Our last ride was in the Fall of 2021. I promised her I will never get on her back again. She is free to just be a horse, in the rolling acres of my home away from home. I hope to have the opportunity to read a book in the pasture with her again, on a sunny summer day (or several days, I’m greedy) before her time on this planet is up. I will ask nothing of her, except her company, which she is free to give or not.
I realize this is an uncomfortable subject so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations, I’m proud of you.
As a horse trainer, it is not my goal to never ride a horse again or to discourage anyone from riding.
By asking these questions I seek understanding. I seek empathy.
I seek a better way to be with our Equine friends.
I seek better ways of going about Horsemanship and Stewardship of these sentient creatures.
I seek gentler, kinder, freer ways to ride and train our horses.
I know the Equine industry is not going anywhere, so rather than walk away from it and the creatures I love with my heart and soul, I have a deep desire to change it.
I have a deep desire to bring compassion, connection, hope, and joy to the lives of horses and humans alike.
I cannot do that if I ignore the incongruence of my actions and my beliefs. I must dive deep into the why’s and the how’s of my own self, my values, my beliefs, my actions, if I am to make an impact.
So I leave you with this question today, if you are also a rider of unicorns; What do you get out of riding?