Friday, January 29, 2010

Horizons and riding toward them

I was driving home after a long day in the office, and was watching the sun make its way over to the other side of the world.

A thick band of cloud formed a hard ridge in the sky, and it created a false horizon line, creating the effect of an earlier sunset.

There is something poetic about a horizon caused by a cloud bank, clouds rising up to form a solid bit of land in the sky.

Riding towards a horizon means, of course, that you never reach it. and yet this horizon you could reach. You could drive under those clouds and be within the horizon itself.

(yes, this is about horses. stick with me for a moment.)

The next day I was flying to a meeting. I do many one day trips, which I don't mind, really, as long as I don't have to spend the night away from home very often. Flying is a drag, but often the sky makes up for it.

Again, there was a cloud created horizon as we flew between layers of clouds. A wave of a cloud bank above us cast a shadow on the clouds below us, another horizon in reach.

That's what it's been to face this fear. As I thought of riding, thought of facing this, it was as if I was riding toward a horizon. A place so impossibly far that I could never reach it.

And then, suddenly, I had the horizon under my feet.

Today was another test - both of determination and of facing my fear. The weather was lousy. Cold and wet. (Okay, you snow bound people, it would have had you all running around in flip flops, but you're made of sterner stuff than me.) I set about trying to find an indoor arena we could ride in since I had mentioned to Stephanie that we could ride today. I had half a day off coming from all my long days and I was determined to take it.

The sky cleared up at a late lunch, I found a place that allows you to come by and ride for a modest fee. I went out to lunch with DH to go get the horses while Stephanie finished up some computer work.

Then I walked out side. It was 42. That is waaaay too cold. I called Stephanie.

Me: "You know, I think it's too cold."

Steph: "We'll be fine. We'll be in an arena."

Me: "It's an outdoor arena."

Steph: "The wind will be blocked and we'll do fine."

So I sucked it up. This is why it's good to have a Stephanie in your life. You'll ride even when sensible people would stay indoors.

So DH and I loaded horses and I went home and added more layers of clothes and we went over to Cibolo Livery. It's a great facility on a lot of levels. Here's a picture of the place. They hold a rodeo there every Saturday from March to November.

I prefer the more personal feel of our barn, I like knowing everyone and all the horses. I like that horses are always turned out, that they don't live in stalls. Sure the paddocks are small, but they are paddocks.

But there are serious riders at this place.

But none so serious that they'll come out in 40 degree weather, apparently.

When we first got there, I was feeling that nervousness again. Cibolo exited the trailer with some snorting and high head. Lily was as calm as could be. We walked over to the arena - they'd been here three weeks ago for shoeing. We wandered in to the empty place. The outdoor round pen was too much of a mess, so I tried to work Cibolo on his lead. It was fine, but I didn't have him with me. I urged Stephanie to ride while I tried to get my courage up. I had him just tied to the rail and he started dancing around, looking around. Flashes of Conception, frankly.

Another lightbulb off in my head..

Don't let him try to figure this out. Help him.

I untied him and we went for a walk all the way around the arena. I didn't get irritated (as I had been when I was lunging him, trying to keep his attention on me). Instead I just introduced him to this place. We checked out the flappy banners, the weird shetland pony, the cow chutes, the big yellow barrels. He calmed down dramatically. I got on and we walked it again, this time with me on board, keeping his attention the entire time.

I'd called my friend Rudy to let him know we were there (he lives nearby) and offered to let him "ride the snot out" of my horse. I had just worked up to my second canter run when he arrived.

He rode Cibolo for a bit (after expressing amazement that we were out there) and commented on how solid he was. He also told me that he never doubted I could do it. That makes one of us! LOL

There were two head checks in our ride which I caught and corrected. I cantered all around without a lick. As you can see, Cibolo found the entire experience quite relaxing, and Lily too. We are a bit worried about Lily who seems to be heavy on the forehand and tender in the front. I'm going to check her over the next few days. I hope she won't need another injection.

Another goal met. I figured out how to bring my horse back down, how to understand what he needed, how to keep pushing him through to keep him in the canter.

It was crazy fun.

Two other riders did join us in the arena. One was a young girl working on her barrel pattern. The other was a man working with a paint he had rescued.

The mare was an emotional mess. He was riding her hard, trying to get her to calm down. It was like she was in a state of desperation. She was a whirling derbish. She would run and run. People told him to run it out of her but he told us - this horse will run herself to death and not stop along the way. She was panting afterward, nudging him hard. The mare was scared, she was over anxious.

He asked for advice and Rudy told him to start over. He had similar (though not as dramatic) issues with his Paso Fino. He had to teach his Paso to relax and learn to relax himself as a rider.

"I hate to give advice," he said as we were walking back to the trailer.

"Well, he needs to do something different. That horse is not going to respond to what he's doing," I said.

"She's so scared," said Stephanie. We all agreed.

It made me think. Sometimes it's only people outside you that can help you see what is right before you, clear as day...

And sometimes the horizon is within your grasp. You just have to reach up and take a hold of a few clouds of dust. And you're there.


Leah Fry said...

What a great experience. As for the guy riding the scared mare too hard ... that will come back to bite him when he least expects it.

Wolfie said...

Loved this post on so many levels. I also believe that there are horizons that are within reach! Facing your fears is another big step, and you did it! It's fantastic that you were able to work through Cibolo's uneasiness and get him to focus on you. It's also terrific that you have such supportive friends. Great way to start your weekend!

BTW, the current temperature here is -22C! :-)

Best Horse Gifts said...

Thanks for this inspiring post! I agree w/ Leah about the scared mare - these things have a way of returning...

Shirley said...

Excellent and thoughtful post. THe opposite of fear is trust, and to build trust in your horse you have to understand your own fear, and build your own trust. Our fears often trigger a flight instinct in us, we'd rather hide or run away from the problem than stand and face it, than take a walk and look at each thing that scares us; get familiar with it and dismiss it as not so scary after all.
You are your horse's support system, your friends are your support system. Horses have so much to teach us. May we never stop learning.

Jane said...

Amen to having people in our lives who nudge us forward. Lovely post.

I know a trainer who had a horse come to her with a similar problem: she ran through everything when she was scared. Which was all the time. She tried everything. Nothing seemed to work. Then one of her students, a kid, said "Why don't you just stay on her all day and teach lessons from her back, you know, like holding her hand?"

Good trainer. She listened to her student, tried it, horse relaxed and was completely calm in two days. In this mare's case, she had only ever experienced an arena as a place to be feared, in short bursts of time. Amazing, huh?

Susan said...

I love reading about the progress you're making, and the analogy is way cool.

Trailrider said...

I've been thinking about that anxious mare all day...I agree with Jane's could take an anxious horse like that and just spend time on it's back or even leading it around. Let it learn to relax in your presence. Take it here and there, and tie it close to you while you work on something else. Just being with a horse like that will help it to relax around you. I really had very little to say to that fellow riding the hell out of her, because it's not really about training the horse so much as it is educating the rider, you know? And he seemed like he wanted a magic solution that would fix her in a minute, and there's just no way to "fix" a horse like that with a "magic" technique.

Gail said...

This is a great gift for the horse and rider, maybe the advice will help.

It is too cold for me to even think about riding!

Kate said...

Very cool post, and great stuff you're doing! Sad about the anxious mare - riding her hard won't solve the problem. 42 degrees - I don't do flip flops in the snow but I'd take temps in the 40s right about now!

Rising Rainbow said...

I'm glad you're getting through your fear. I'm working on that issue myself with one horse.

I feel sorry for the frightened mare. Sounds like she needs more help than he knows how to give. Too bad for both of them.