Today I wanted to share what I have suddenly realized after weeks and months and years of sending my DD1 to her horse riding lessons. Giving my mummy’s encouragement and sharing lessons I’ve learnt as a rider myself. I mean, week in, week out seeing similar things, you’re bound to pick up a thing or two. I want to share lessons about horses and horse riding and how you can benefit from it.
You have to bear with me, keep reading; all will be revealed at the end.
Let me tell you first about a horse’s typical character. A horse is a pack animal therefore it needs a clear leader. It can sense very well its rider’s feelings and also subtle differences in the surroundings that many people say they are psychic. Horses are very quick learners and therefore respond just as quick to changes to its habits and surroundings.
When you first get on a horse, you may feel a bit scared, worried, a bit wobbly maybe, but there are others who just get excited at the prospect of riding- the feeling of being free. You take the reins, put your boots into the stirrups and grip the horse’s flanks with your thighs. You take a deep breath, loosen up your shoulders, and straighten up your spine and then, what?
What happens next could be up to you or up to the horse. Scenario 1 is that you click your tongue to the horse, tighten up your reins, give a little snap of your crop to its shoulder, and encourage your horse to move forward. You let the horse walk slowly while you get comfortable. Then, you think, I can go a little bit faster. You encourage the horse to go faster by clicking your tongue some more, another snap of your crop and you press your heels into his flanks. The horse goes into a canter whereby you have to do some work yourself. You need to periodically straighten up your knees i.e almost standing up and down working with the horse’s rhythm.
Once in a while, you slightly lurch forward. At that moment you think, oh am I going to fall forward? No, it’s just the horse having to scratch an itch on its knee or lower shoulder. As long as you keep a good hold of the reins, your horse will keep going forward despite those slight setbacks.
You know that being an animal that needs a clear leader, you pull your rein to the left and you decide that you’d quite like your horse to take you for a tour of the dunes and beach nearby. You tell your horse to keep going by giving it the same consistent signals you’ve been giving it before. You are quite liking this feeling of being high above the ground and seeing the beauty around you. As you see the dunes coming nearby (you know too that the expanse of the beach is just beyond) you whisper to your horse to go faster. You don’t know whether your horse can understand English, Dutch, Spanish, Malay or whatever language you speak. But as I mentioned, they’re psychic, they can sense what you want if your body language is clear enough.
You go into an even faster canter; you have to move up and down more than you did before. As you move faster, you start to feel a little scared, will I fall off the horse, you ask yourself. But you have to trust the horse to get you to that beautiful beach you know is just yonder. You see, riding a horse is all about trust. If your instructions to your horse are clear, you have to trust it to take you there.
You can feel the sea breeze and hear the waves lapping at the shore, as you get closer. Your heart is leaping in your ribcage at the prospect of getting to be at the water’s edge. As you get there, you see the long expanse of white sands, glistening under the sun’s rays. You finally decide that this is it; you have to take the chance.
You crop your horse 2 or 3 times more, you click your tongue twice more to let your horse know you want it to go full speed, the gallop! You are still a little bit scared but the prospect of letting the wind throw your hair round at speed and finally seeing that trusting relationship to the max is just very exciting. Only this time at full gallop, your horse is doing 90% of the hard work. All you need to do is sit tight, slightly higher above your saddle and hold on tight to that reins. Your horse will now gallop at full speed right on the water’s edge, splashing some cool drops onto your face. Both your hair/mane are flying wild in the wind, both of you completely feeling the freedom of those moments, high above the ground.
You realized that this is the pinnacle of horse riding itself. Being able to build that trust with your horse to look after you just as that horse trust you to be an able leader/horseman.
Wow! Wasn’t that an exciting scenario? Now what about scenario 2? It can happen this way. You get on the saddle, put your boots into the stirrups, hold the reins and then you wait around. Your horse just stands still. You kick it hard in its flanks, it walks a few steps forward then stops. You pull the reins towards you thinking you’re jerking its head to let it know you want it to move, not knowing that that means to stop.
Your horse starts to get confused. It’s thinking, does my rider want me to go forward or stay still? You keep telling your horse to move. It moves forward, then to the left, making a circle after, then to the right. You are thinking, what is this horse doing, where is it taking me? Your horse now wants to go into the woods and starts cantering in that direction. When you get near, you start thinking, I don’t really want to go into this dark forest but you’ve forgotten that you are the leader of your horse.
All this while your horse is thinking, I fancy taking myself here and since my rider hasn’t given me any clear directions where I’m supposed to go, I’ll decide for myself. It stops periodically to scratch its knee and chew on some grass. You realize now it’s getting even darker and you are not where you think you want to be. But do you even know where you want to go? You start to get more panicky and scream at the horse to move along. In it’s scared state, it bucks and almost thrash you on the ground. Phew, you are lucky.
You are still on the horse and now it knows that you are not getting off its back. It accepts that you’re going to stay there. Now you have to learn really quickly how to calmly lead it out of the forest with the right instructions and body language. You know you can make it out as you begin to trust that your horse too wants you safe.
But don’t you wish you had given it much more thought earlier?
So what is the point of my story?
If you have been reading carefully, slowly start to ‘substitute’ horse for LIFE itself. For me, I am the horseman/woman of my own life and if I don’t have clear directions, how can I expect life to take me where I think I want to go. Like in scenario 1, when you have done the hard work, life will take care of you and itself. It rewards your hard work with beauty: in your mind, in your eyes, all around you. You just have to know how you want to get there.