Essays of an Equestrian

I’m happy to be back! Please excuse my short respite from blogging as I was trying to develop the next generation of my blog – DressageForTheRestOfUs 2.0 as it were. It’s still not done, but I didn’t want to stay away any longer. I’ll just have to add more piece by piece.

An experience over the weekend has provided the fodder for this next essay. I hope you enjoy it and can identify with at least part of the experience.

We are all very busy people, especially us amateurs trying to juggle a multitude of things in one day. In the winter it’s often easier in one respect: It’s a lot less complicated stopping to do an errand after the barn. You tend not to be as icky. But in the summer, it can be most problematic and embarrassing at best.

I don’t know about you, but I won’t shower before going to the barn. There just doesn’t seem to be a point to it all since you have to fling yourself into the shower when you get home anyway. So last weekend I spent the morning doing gardening chores in the heat then returned to the air conditioning to cool down and have some lunch.

Afterwards I pulled on breeches and barn clothes and jumped into the car. On the way to the barn I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a gigantic coffee and uncharacteristically decided to get a jelly donut as well. Since it had been so long since I’d had a donut I figured I deserved that jelly donut.

I knew my day’s agenda called for three things for me to do: go to barn, stop at feed store for animal food and then stop at a grocery store to pick up a few goodies to go along with dinner.

I got to the barn in the afternoon and it was hot, too hot to really work the horse in the sticky indoor given the high humidity. I decided since it was so hot and humid to take my horse instead for a “relaxing” walk around the farm. I figured it would take about ½ hour to walk around and this way my horse wouldn’t be all hot, sweaty and hard to cool down before he ate his afternoon meal.

It seemed the perfect plan. Really, it did.

When I got to the barn I took my horse from his stall and began to brush him. I noticed that despite the heat my horse was a bit antsy. Normally in that situation I’d work him in the indoor first but I decided to just suck it up, plop a crash helmet on and just go for a farm perimeter trail ride and see what happens. Either I’d live or I’d die but since I’ve never managed to die before I figured the odds were in my favor of living. I believed I could trust him enough and I figured I had to respect my own skills for keeping him focused as well.

My horse seemed very eager to start his ride so I figured if he was eager to please then maybe he’d be “eager to listen” too.

From the moment I swung a leg over his back he was ready for the races. Ready to spook at any given thing…. That bird maybe. Or that tree. Perhaps that tall evil looking weed would be his undoing. He was so incredibly stoked a funny looking cloud in the sky would have spooked him.

I decided to give him stuff to think about rather than him IMAGINING stuff to think about and I began working him in a level area and started immediately doing shoulder in to haunches in, mini half passes and walk/trot/walk transitions. Every minute or so his head would swing up as he’d look into the distance making sure Godzilla wasn’t approaching. He’d swing his head this way to look for Godzilla every two minutes or so.

I began to sing his little song and walked him on in a long, ground covering walk. I had to ride every step forward, always going forward. He began to swing his neck and bob his head to the rhythm of my off tune song.

He apparently appreciates my crappy voice. Lord knows no one else does.

I then mixed in more walk/trot/walk transitions seeing how light we could be. The transitions also helped unlock his jaw which would become like concrete every time he would perk up his head to look into the distance. Surprisingly, he wasn’t as sensitive as he normally is, and needed heavier aids, but after a while I was able to lighten them up significantly. You would think that him being so “amped” he’d be more sensitive, but as it turns out the opposite was true.

At that point I rode off to the perimeter trail, praying no deer was planning on popping into or across our path. Sudden deer appearances would probably not go over too well especially given the path was only about ten feet wide and once side sported electrified fencing.

I then found myself quickly wondering what would transpire if I were to fall into the electrified fence and one part of my body, say a leg, would go into a water trough. Would it sound the same way as a mosquito hitting a bug zapper? Would the barn end up smelling like BBQ me?

He spooked once, and it was one of those spooks that happen in place. Excellent! I’m glad he no longer does that spin and spook he was so fond of when I first got him ten years ago.

I continued to ride every step, my body moving with his in order to proactively make my desired destiny of the ride being uneventful. This began me thinking that surely every stride is a decision. Every stride necessitates a conversation with the horse.

The conversation begins with you feeling each stride, listening to the joining of your bodies. For each stride the conversation is “Feel, decide, act”. You ‘feel’ where the horse is at body and mind wise, deciding if it’s desirable and if correction is required. If correction is required then you must act correctly to change the undesirable to desirable. If all is well you do nothing until the next stride where the process begins all over again.

It’s such a delicate thing this conversation that there isn’t time to think really, just feel. Familiarity with equitation and with your horse should make it possible for your reaction to occur in a nanosecond just like an ingrained physical response like swatting at a biting mosquito.

Famed English eventer Lucinda Green calls it “A constant nuturing of the marriage between horse and rider”.  I like that description.

The rest of the ride he was real “looky” but never took a wrong step. His black tipped ears were very active, listening to me as I rambled on talking to him. “Come along you big bum, just walk, you know you’re okay. Good boy, C’mon you big ole bum, you big ole jerk.”

What you say isn’t as important as how you say it.

Such conversation continued and when I returned him to the barn he was only the slightest bit warm and I was able to give him a nice shower, beginning with warm water and slowly graduating to cooler water, but never cold. He hates cold water.

Well, by the end of all this my horse was cool and clean but I was a hot, tired, dirty, smelly, sweaty mess and I still had two stops to make! This walking stuff was murder! Thank goodness I was wearing breeches because at least when smelly me entered a store people would see the breeches and at least know why I am so smelly.

On the way to my first stop, the feed store, I began to eat the jelly donut I’d bought as a little treat hours before but hadn’t yet eaten. Since it had been months since I’ve last eaten any donut I was looking forward to the treat. Well as I was happily munching, a big glob of purple jelly fell, landing with a purple splat right in the middle of my chest. Almost looked like a shot gun blast. The splat was about three inches across. I tried to wipe it off, but apparently there is no way to remove a three inch jelly donut splat from your light colored riding shirt.

So now I’m smelly and jelly stained in a very big way.

I went to the feed store and thankfully it was empty. Quick as I could I made my purchases and left.

Next was the grocery store. That too was empty and I rushed my purchases. The lady behind the counter was familiar with me, but couldn’t help giving my appearance the once-over.

I felt so very pretty…. Not! I almost felt obligated to explain my appearance to her, but I couldn’t think of way to do that without making things sound worse.

I drove home and literally dove into the shower, embarrassed but none the worse for wear. As I showered I thought of how many dirty, sweaty horsemen were at this very moment experiencing this very same thing, no matter where they are in the world.

Later on in the day I spoke of my dirty, smelly day to a friend over the phone. She told me that perhaps this one our way of connecting with our ‘primitive’ selves. I said “Nah, let’s face it……. We all just stink”. There is no redemption from the stink other than the fact that the dirtier we are, the cleaner and fresher our horses are.

Horse dirt is universal isn’t it?!

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.