Getting Our Butterflies in Formation

I was watching an online class by Tik Maynard, and he talked about getting butterflies during competitions, I guess a well known jumper once said, “The difference between my butterflies and your butterflies, is that I get mine moving in formation.” Dulce is such a smart horse. He is kind, he is powerful, he is brave, he is curious, he is playful, he is caring, and he is really good at causing butterflies to scatter.

The moment he knows we are going anywhere, he does what he can to cause butterflies or situations to scatter with the wind making it hard for me to stay collected. I’ve learned though. I learned how to help him, which I detailed in my last blog about Dulce, and I’ve learned other ways to help us.

For instance, when I feed in the morning, I unplug everything all of the extension cords that run to the cameras, and then I walk away. He knows that something is up, but he stays relaxed. I hook up the trailer the night before….these simple steps reduce his anxiety about leaving Chaco and his home. He moved around a lot before he came here, and he gets separation anxiety.

Best laid plans with him though always seem to scatter with the wind, and the day of our first trail ride was no different. Everything I thought I had perfectly planned, was not. I couldn’t find a darn thing, and each time I came up short, he got a bit hotter. I thought it was a sign that I should let it all pass and try again another day. However, I was determined to get Dulce out there. Despite all of the obstacles, I got him loaded with Harley, and off we went.

My plan was to ride Harley and pony Dulce. Immediately, that fell apart. Harley began spinning the moment he realized he was to be the lead horse despite our practicing it several times at home and in the arena. I hopped off, put a saddle on Dulce, and said a prayer. This is not the ideal way to take a horse out for his first trail ride. Usually, you pony him and give him a chance to figure things out without a rider on his back. However, I’ve never done it the ideal way. Shandoka’s and Chaco’s first trail rides were with me riding them; not ponying them. Why should this be any different?

What is so cool about this video is that there is some solid, white, flat rock in the ground. Usually, horses will try to avoid this if they’ve never come across it. They’ll walk around it. He had no problem walking on it at all.

I got on Dulce, and he immediately acted up. He thought it was time to be turned out on pasture, and was ready to take off at a full run. I did a one reined stop, hopped off again, and decided to walk him alongside Harley for a few hundred feet to see what would happen.

Within a couple of minutes, his excitement level dropped from a five to a three. Much more manageable. I hopped back on, and it was as if he knew exactly what to do. My only goal at this point was to remain present with him and help him. I slowed down my breathing, relaxed my back, and I softened my hands. His ears were forward, and he moved forward at a good clip. One thing about Dulce is that he takes care of me when I get on him. He may act up for the first few minutes, but not out of malicious intent, but because he feels so good. He immediately settles down and focuses on the work in front of him. He is a real honest horse.

Poor Harley was none too thrilled. Harley, likes to stop and smell the grass, eating along the way whenever possible. Now he was trotting alongside Dulce to keep up.

There is something so amazing about that first ride; when all of your work and time with your horse comes together in a beautiful moment. He didn’t fight me, struggle or spook, but stayed as present with me as I was with him. Not one word needed to be said between us, because we both knew what the other one was feeling. To feel such a powerful being beneath you willing to work with you instead of overtake you is a blissful, blessing that is beyond words.

What made me really happy was that he loves being out there. It is so good for the horse’s mind to go out on trail rides. It not only heals the rider’s soul, but it heals the horses mind. It brings their soul back to their nature despite the human on their back. We ask them to do so many things, and to me this is one of the best ways to give back to them; let them travel over the ground and see new things….be out in the open country.

This is the third Thoroughbred that I’ve trained to ride on the trail. Lots of people tell me it can’t be done, because they are too spooky and dangerous. I’m hoping that Shandoka, Chaco and now Dulce (and one day Mojo) will convince any doubter out there that a Thoroughbred can do anything. They are as versatile as any horse out there.

Dulce is an incredible being, and we have a long way to go until he isn’t a neon green trail horse. Riding him now two times on the trail, I can feel how he knows who he is, and he doesn’t let me forget it. With that said, somehow he and I both got our butterflies in formation, and it feels so good.