Now and then I'm caught in philosophical pondering concerning what the heck I'm doing in relation to my horse. What have I the right to ask of him? These ponderings can be fuelled by a day when my horse and I have had completely opposite ideas of what to do that day. But I can also be attacked by them after a day when my horse has been quiet, calm and responding to my every thought.
It is the dream of having such a light and close relationship with my horse that gets me out of bed all these early mornings. One would think that the days when the dream comes true that everything would be just fine. Apparently not. After a day like that, I sometimes take a step back and look at what I've accomplished with amazement mixed with horror at the extent to which the horse have given himself to me. The better leader I am, the better posture and balance I have when I ride, the more influence I seem to have.
Let me give you two examples.
The first is my mum's Arab, Pargon OX. Those of you who have been through the seat training with me know him as a very quiet and steady horse. He has not always been like this, very far from it. Today he is 16 years old. When he was 9 he still wasn't started under saddle. The previous owner said it couldn't be done. Pargon OX was afraid of everything and would take off in a complete panic,. He would not allow you to even brush him, let alone put a saddle on his back and mount. That was Pargon OX seven years ago. Today he is the most mentally stable horse I know. This change is visible, not only in his way of interacting with humans and the human world, but also towards other horses. He is more prone to defend his space instead of running away from other horses in the field. Has his personality changed? Has his soul been taken away from him? Or, deep down, has he always had these traits but the high level of stress he lived with made him seem half crazy, spooky and unmanageable?
The other example is my Connemara, Hagens Yeats. He is a former school horse and has had some difficulties in adjusting to life as an individually and privately owned horse without the constant company of all the other horses in his herd of school horses. I vividly remember the first few weeks after I brought him home. He was fully aware of where all the other 20 horses in the new stable were at all time. Me he didn't notice. He walked on my feet,squashed me against the wall and dragged me around at the end of the lead rope. Not that he was trying to be mean, it was just that he did not see me and definitely did not understand that I was trying to communicate with him. Today it is very different. I have his attention and, although he probably still knows what all the other horses are doing, he communicates with me and can even leave the herd and be OK with being alone in the indoor arena or out on the trails. Since he is calm, I have been able to school him according to classical principles, giving him a whole new way to use his own body. Today, just as before, he occasionally runs around the hilly pasture playing happy, frisky horsey games. The difference is that, in the past, I used to close my eyes and pray that he would not take a tumble because his movements were so uncoordinated, heavy and clumsy. Today I enjoy just looking at him because he moves with such grace and ease. The stiff school horse has turned into a master of motion and posture. Have I changed his self-image and his use of himself? Or have I helped him to rediscover a way to be that he had as a foal? Even if I have changed his self-image, would that be a bad thing?
That horses are affected by the people that surround them has been shown by research. There are, for example, studies that have shown that a nervous rider makes the horse nervous. But this is a temporary emotional reaction. What I believe I see with my horses is a change that is there even when I'm not in the close vicinity. My intellect tells me that this change is positive. Is it not better for a horse to live without high levels of stress than with them? And even if both of my horses now interact with other horses in a different manner, and also use their own bodies differently, is there anything wrong with this? Yet, my heart trembles with the realisation of the incredible power of influence I seem to have.
Such possibilities. Such responsibilities.
Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for checking my spelling and grammar! All other errors are my own.