When I look back at my life with horses, I remember a lot of things…a lot of people. I remember a lot of wise words and a lot of wisdom that has been imparted to me, both by those who “know horses” and those who simply give good advice that I can apply in my own way. I have learned little lessons that matter.
This morning I was thinking of when I was about 9 years old. I had a pony – who was the sweetest and most gentle creature in the world – AND I had a POA who was 14 hands of spunk and feisty stubbornness. These two horses were really my introduction to this “world”, and the little lessons that matter stick with me even today.
The Perfect Horse – A Myth
If there was a way that I could have combined my little pony and my feisty POA, I would have had the perfect horse. But as is the way with all things, there are times when we need something kind and quiet and times when we want to harness the wind and ride the storm. Okay, so maybe my “feisty POA” wasn’t exactly a “storm” waiting to happen, but he challenged me.
I can still remember my summers at my grandparent’s ranch. The ponies “wintered” on pasture the entire time I was away, and when I would go up for the summer it was always the first thing on my agenda to “lure” my POA into a corral – usually with food – and then attempt to catch him. When I was young, my grandpa was the one charged with going into the pen and chasing around this horse who thought he had reverted to wild status. “Sarah,” he would say. “I don’t know, maybe we should wait until tomorrow.” To which I would answer, “No, grandpa, you have Keiser (insurance), go in and catch him.” Looking back, maybe I was a bit delusional.
The truth was that once “Smokey” was caught, he calmed down immediately. He knew the jig was up and that for the next few months he was going to be ridden on a daily basis. And ride him I did. I would go out to the corral, throw a saddle on him in the wee hours of the morning and take off across the 20-acre pasture, or down the 2 mile dirt road leading to our ranch, and I would make up stories in my head as I rode. Of course, I always remembered the warnings that my grandmother would give me before I would head off into the wild blue yonder. “Sarah,” she would say, “be careful. Don’t get too comfortable.” Great advice, because I think that sometimes we all get a little “too comfortable”. This was one of those little lessons that matters, and there are times when I wish I would have kept this in my head a little bit more.
A Lesson that Mattered
“Keep your wits about you,” my father would tell me, every time that I would go out to ride. And I learned that this meant, stay focused, be smart and be safe. Don’t do anything stupid. It was less potent advice as a child, but the lessons I’ve learned as an adult make his words ring even more true. There was a time when I was working a young horse – much later in my life – and as I was leading him back from the round pen he spooked, my foot got stuck in a hole, and just like that I had a spiral fracture in my leg and my knee was crushed. I think that maybe I had gotten too comfortable. Maybe I had forgotten that I always needed to be on guard, no matter how kind or how sweet the horse I was working with truly was.
When I was finally able to get back up into the saddle, I didn’t necessarily have “fear”, I had a sense of “respect” for every horse that I threw my leg over. My respect for horses in general tripled during those 12 weeks I spent in bed going over my life as a horsewoman and the little lessons that matter in my life with horses. Now, even with my own horse who I have owned and shown for 6 years, I never forget that she deserves respect – that she is doing me as much a kindness by letting me ride her as I am doing caring for her.
Words of Wisdom : Little Lessons that Mattered
I could go on and on with the things that I have heard from people I respect. “A good horse is a good horse, it doesn’t matter the breed,” my reining horse trainer said to me once. “You are always in control, but you can lose control in an instant,” another trainer told me. “Your horse is an extension of you; if you’re happy, your horse will be happy, but if you’re in a negative mood, expect a bad ride,” a trainer friend once said. All of these little things reverberate in my head. All of these things have shaped who I am as a rider, horsewoman and how I relate to horses in general.
The horse is a magnificent creature. Atop a good horse, you can feel like the ruler of the world; you can feel as though you’ve harnessed the wind and you’re riding thunder. Atop a good horse, you can feel a sense of power and pleasure that is not equally matched by anything else in life. Still, atop a horse you must give respect. You must remember all the little lessons that matter most, and you must never allow yourself to be hypnotized by the beauty so much that you forget logic and reason. Be kind to your horse. Respect your horse. Be safe and remember…