Today I went out to the barn, determined to have my fourth day in a row working on myself and my horses. The weather was stunning, a preview of spring without the flies who still haven't quite made it back yet from the hard freezes. The sky was the blue you think of when you think of Texas, ridiculously clear, full of promise.
When I got there, Lily was waiting at the gate when I walked in. I get the sense she's enjoying getting out. Maybe she wants a break from Armador, maybe she just looks forward to the extra hay and cookies that come with a riding session. Either way, it's a change from her usual attitude and I'm glad for it.
I feel a connection with her growing, she's giving me less attitude as I become clearer in my requests.
But the most interesting thing was when I went to get Cibolo out of the herd.
Usually I'm chasing off the other three horses with a wave of hand and rope, wanting to get to my horse. I might say hello, but mostly I'm focused on getting in and out, making sure no one is pushing me around.
Today I felt different. I read a few posts on this thing called the "water hole ritual". I actually have no idea what it is because I'm not buying a DVD training set, but the gist I picked up was about herd dynamics. And a mutual respect. And speaking horse. A little new agey, maybe. I can't really say. But interesting.
So I decided to change my approach. Enter quietly. Stand.
After a moment, the herd leader of the little group of geldings came up to me. It's QH Amigo, who looks alot like Cibolo. I greeted him, and we had a brief conversation. I asked him, politely, to step back. He did, dropping his head to my hand slightly. We stood there in silence for a bit. I told him I was going to take Cibolo out for a ride and he'd be back pretty quickly. Right then Cibolo came over, and hung back a bit behind QH Amigo, while the other horses hung back further. The herd leader dropped his head even lower, and I stepped in and haltered Cibolo with no problem. In fact he dropped his head into the halter and kept it low for me to tie it (we've been working on this and nothing was really working). Then we walked out, the herd leader walking beside us quietly until I went through the gate.
I felt calm. Confident. Happy.
I saddled both horses up and began working with Lily. It's amazing the difference between our round pen session four days ago and today. Today was effortless. And when I got on her back and we rode, it was easy. I had no anxiety going into the canter. None. She started to get a little "rushy" and I worked the reins lightly and she stopped. And we loped and loped.
I then switched out with Cibolo. There was one very minor head toss in the round pen, and I turned him and we had a few quick turns while that was worked out. Then, I rode him and kissed him into a canter.
It was gone. The anxiousness was gone. I felt light and yet deep in the rythmn of the canter. My seat was back. I drove him forward, keeping him in the canter when he thought of dropping off. I found that one slight head check which I fixed with a clear, consistent no.
We loped and loped, going each way, then walked it off.
I laughed as we walked back into the middle of the circle.
And I wasn't afraid.
I don't think this is over. But I do think this was an important day and that I've gotten somewhere, I've got a foot hold.
Horse and Rider has a quote from a woman this month who talks about her journey with horses, how she kept getting all these horses and how they'd all start out great, and then they'd just become a wreck. And how she figured out, finally, that it was her. That she had given up the reins, literally. She worked with Clinton Anderson training and found her way back.
And how she fixed it with a horse she had let become a wreck.
I have seen that woman in my mirror, and I was determined not to be caught in the same loop.
The article is part of a series that has been all about ground work. I don't agree with the theory that if you have respect on the ground you have it in the saddle. I had it on the ground. But you have to keep the reins, too. You have to know what to do in saddle, know the signs of unraveling from on top, not just on the ground.
Today I know just a tiny bit more. And that feels like a whole lot.