Saturday, November 12, 2011
It blows my mind when I let it sink in that just six months ago I wouldn't go near a horse and now I find my greatest moments of victory on their backs. I started this journey accidently in May and what a ride it has been.
It has been exhilarating, challenging and at times terrifying. To use a phrase my riding instructor used about her horse, I am not "brave by design". This is especially the case when it comes to physical challenges. I fear falling, I fear pain and most of all I feel looking like a fool. That last part leads to me hiding many of my "adventures", riding only in an empty arena with the doors closed or heading out to a field to practice. No one knows about them til I have done them and succeeded. The multiple attempts that fail are only mine to know, and well now my horse's also.
The great part of riding Joker is I have the most trust worthy horse in the world and can try new things on my own. Don't get me wrong, he's a horse, I don't lose sight of that, at any moment he could decide to take charge and take off (most likely back to the barn) or spook, but what I have learned as Joker and I have built our relationship is even on his worse moments, he doesn't have a mean or spiteful bone in his body. He feels he is protecting not only himself but me, and I am blessed for that. He is a partner I can believe in when I am not feeling brave, he is in it with me, he is on my side and he will do all he can to take care of me.
This is going to sound very strange to my non-horse friends (and probably even to some of my horse friends) and if you are one of those "they are just animal" people you may want to stop here, but Joker and I have a mounting ritual we go through before every ride. Before I step into the saddle, I stop, I go to his face, I stroke his blaze and I look him in the eyes and ask he if I may ride him and also ask him to help me through the ride. In my mind he understands what I am saying and I see a change in his eyes, an understanding of his role in my life and a softening. I realize that may be me wanting to impose my world view on him, but even if he doesn't undestand it is important to me to acknowledge that I never take him for granted, that I respect and appreciate that he allows me on his back (let's be honest, this is a 1200 lb animal who could easily be rid of me if he wanted) and takes such good care of me. And to thank him for keeping us safe even when I question my seat.
The ride started out as a behavior lesson for Joker. Since the season change he has been getting a little lazy riding when the light changes. Even if we are in the indoor arena, he had been deciding he should be done as the sun goes down. So my goal has been to change up the times we ride, to ride him more after dark, to remind him he doesn't have banker's hours.
We set out at twilight, my plan, ride him around the driveways at the barn before we lost all the light. I had no plan for a great adventure. I wanted to be back to the safety of the barn before dark. We did our planned ride, and something came over me. BTW there is a thin line between brave and crazy *smile*.
Not sure if it was beautiful moon, the stars, the previous conversations with Joker's owner about her night trail rides or just how great the ride was going and wanting to test our limits. But something lead me to take it to the next step. Despite the light being gone I headed us out around the track. For those not familiar with Woodloch, there is a 1 mile sand track, that starts out in the open and then cuts through a wooded area and returns back into the open. It is somewhere Joker and I have been multiple times (it is our escape ride when we don't want to work too hard but want to be alone). Last night however was a whole new experience, for me at least.
Not being able to see the ground in front of us (or below me) was not a factor in this outing I had considered til it was too late and we were already on our way. As someone who panics and doesn't trust her own footing when walking in the dark, to cede all control, to have to trust my horse to find his way and to keep us safe was difficult at best. Many times I considered getting off his back and leading him home. But I think what kept me going and not trying to take back control from him was that part of me that hates failing. Because I can't ground mount Joker, it would have meant doing the "walk of shame" all the way back to the barn and that people would think less of me was a lot more scary in that moment than trusting Joker.
And as usual I am glad I rode it out, it was the most fulfilling exhilerating ride I have had yet. Far better than learing to trot or canter, even better than the stream ride (which was pretty darn cool in its own right). Because this meant a level of trust I have never given willingly to any living being. Trust is such an issue for me, but last night I learned that well placed trust is a great thing. That when you have a parter who deserves your trust it can be very liberating to hand over the reigns.
Joker of course handled the entire ride with the same "come on this is no big deal, I got it under control, chill out" look he gives me during our mounting ritual. He safely and calmly rode the entire ride and lead us home like a champ.
And for those wondering, yes he was definitely rewarded with lots of treats. Truth the boy could have had anything in the world he wanted last night, because he let me feel the one thing I have rarely felt in my life, completely secure in where I had placed my trust!!!!! I love you my friend!