I used to believe that nothing could ever compare to a rider’s high (you know, the one that lasts for days after a good ride). Those few moments when you could not tell where your horse ended and you began while floating over the earth in bliss and harmony. It has been a while since I have had that experience… but I can recall the feeling like it was yesterday.
When Whiskey entered my life my mission was to master working in hand and to see if he could be comfortable under saddle again. He was 19 then and hadn’t been ridden in a while. His back had dropped and he deeply resented the slightest notion of being asked to perform a tummy lift. Tension in his body mirrored anxiety in his mind. This was especially noticeable when I took him for hand walks around the farm. As soon as we ventured a little ways from the barn he would become tense and act quite ‘nappy’. I would ask for a few exercises in hand to regain focus, offer a nibble of grass as reward and to get his jaw moving and stoke his legs with a branch (a version of a TTouch exercise which has a remarkable effect of grounding him). Once I saw signs of relaxation I would return to the barn and call it a day. Each time he would be a little braver and we could get a little further.
Two weeks ago I decided we were ready to put our efforts to the test and head out into the woods. Whiskey and I had only walked around the farm a handful of times and we hadn’t ventured past the paddocks where he could still see the barn and other horses. (It was my birthday and admittedly I was a bit selfishly motivated) I also felt we could handle it and sometimes you just need to go for it. I am so glad we did, Whiskey was a total rockstar and I couldn’t have been more proud of him. We went up and down steep hills and wound around trails for at least 20 minutes. He walked a quick pace and occasionally braced up a bit and each time I was able to help him regain his confidence and keep going. It was one of the most rewarding days I have had the pleasure of spending with him and it only gets better from here.
We haven’t mastered much in hand and not everything has gone as planned… but I wouldn’t change a thing. Whiskey demands as much from me as I ask of him and that lesson alone has been one of the greatest he has shared with me. I am committed to helping him find his best body through a remedial program of bodywork and groundwork. Through this journey with him I have had many experiences that resemble that rider’s high I last experienced many moons ago.
While I don’t consider ‘pets’ to be possessions or ‘non-human kids’, they may be the closest thing for those of us who do not have children and I make a point to spend extra time with them on holidays. My ‘entourage of furry companions’ keep me on my toes, challenge me some days and comfort me others. I don’t hesitate to consider them family. From our family to yours, Happy Mother’s Day.
Below: While hand walking your horse through the woods might not seem like a big deal to some, many people have expressed to me that they don’t believe they would be able to control their horse from the ground. My hopes are to inspire others to take some time to explore the power and achievements that can be accomplished with teaching groundwork. (It is actually a lot of fun!)
Holly & Whiskey