My grandpa was probably the kindest person I’ve ever known. Our horses loved him, and when he went in with them, they all ran up to him. I remember the first time he taught me to shake hands with a horse. I have no idea how old I was, and to see it, I need to close my eyes. It is more a sensory image, because I was so small. I know that my mom was standing behind me. My grandpa urged me to hold the back of my hand up to the horse while tucking in my thumb. He always said that you don’t want the horse mistaking your thumb for a carrot. I’m not even sure which horse it was…I think one of the mares. Maybe it was Chiller, our racing quarter horse at the time. I can feel the soft nose on my hand, that warm breath, and a smile that emerged not just on my face but my entire being when the horse accepted me. I then looked up at my grandpa, and there was that smile of his that I lived for.
He had a way with horses that I’ve never come close to. I loved it when my mom dropped my brother and I off at his home, because he almost always took us to see the horses. When we were there, except for the time spent following Charlie the turkey around, I watched him. I watched how he caught the horses, brushed them, checked out their legs, loved on them, played with them, and how he simply stood with them. I think a lot of us forget to do that; just stand with our horses. We’re always doing something….picking their hooves, brushing them, training them, taking them for rides, but we rarely hang out with them. He did and the horses would walk up to him and then walk off. He never chased them.
One day I wanted to pet my horse Big Ruckus. I followed him everywhere, and I never could get a hand on him. The faster I walked the faster Ruckus walked to get away from me. Frustrated and broken hearted feeling like my horse hated me I went up to my grandpa feeling like an utter failure. When he asked me why, I explained how Ruckus would never let me pet him. He told me, “Stop trying.”
He didn’t mean give up and walk away. Rather, in order to find that connection with Ruckus, I needed to let go of my need for it and chase Ruckus around with it. Horses don’t always agree or understand our goals that we impose upon them, so they run away from them. Sometimes the best way to get anywhere is to surrender it and simply be with your horse. My five year old mind wasn’t too sure about what he meant, but I decided to copy my grandpa. I went back down to their pasture, and I stood there doing nothing. Within a few minutes Ruckus came trotting up to me, and I got to pet him. He then grabbed my shirt, and he started dragging me all around as we played.
I’ve spent hours asking myself what was it about me that caused that to happen that day. We were riding around so relaxed, and when we went to a trot, it all changed. He had been a bit nervous in the arena, and this is why I spent a lot of time introducing him to it. When he seemed settled, I asked him to trot. Was he settled? I don’t think so. I think he was anxious horse, but he knew how to bury it like all horses do. However, that day something gave, and he showed me what he had been burying. My failure to acknowledge that the muscles underneath me were saying, “I don’t like this place or this situation,” pushed Dulce to that watershed moment where I could finally do the bodywork he needed, which is a good thing, but…..it isn’t good that I misread him.
Now that it seems time to ride him, I’m hesitant. I finally got him to such a great place, and even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all, missing out on what his body is telling me.
I can hear my grandpa whispering in my ear saying, “Stop trying.”
I think I was trying too hard with Dulce. I wanted to show everyone what a great OTTB he is by what he could do instead of paying attention to the fact that his mind needed extra help. Work for him meant anxiety, and I want work for him to mean fun. So, I need to stop trying.
I keep thinking about Shandoka, and how we always played together during training. I don’t want to trigger Dulce again, so the other phrase my grandpa said a lot about horses that is being whispered into my mind is, “Get creative.” The word “deconstruction” keeps going through my mind. I need to deconstruct. I need to deconstruct the way he looks at what work is, and recreate a new and better way for us to enjoy our time together.
Some may say he is a hot horse, but that really isn’t it. He gets anxious the moment he sees a saddle, he paws and shakes the trailer when loaded, and that day in the outdoor arena, he went into a posture I never asked for, and began grinding his teeth. Work stresses him out, because it caused him pain. I need to deconstruct everything with him in order to rebuild. I want to show him that our work together won’t cause him any discomfort, and if it does, I will stop. I’m listening to him. Currently, I’m breaking everything down into small blocks, and going over them slowly with him. If I notice any anxiety, I immediately do the Masterson Touch on his TMJ area until he relaxes, and then I break up what we are doing into smaller blocks.
This means that I need to deconstruct my views on training, and explore new and different ways of working with a horse. I never thought my training methods were harsh or wrong, but I do think that there are other more creative ways. I’ve been looking at Mark Rashid, Tik Maynard, Alexander Nevzorov, Carolyn Resnick, Manolo Mendez, Ray Hunt, and others.
I have the chance to create something so different for Dulce and Sueño, and to do that, I need to change me as well. No more goals the way I’ve used them. Throwing out expectations is required, and time to work in a way that allows their bodies to stay in balance. I have no idea what this will end up looking like, but I’ve begun to experiment.
For the past three days I’ve gone out and done what I would call interactive groundwork. What is that? I have no idea how to tell you. All I can say is that I am as involved in the groundwork as they are. We move around together. I keep my eyes on theirs. We yield hindquarters and forelegs, but it is all through a dance that I do with them. Twice I’ve done it without a lead rope and once with. I’ve never done Liberty work before, but it amazed me at how quick Dulce and Sueño picked up on what I was asking them to do. Most of the time we work at the walk, but every now and then we go up to the trot. The thing I like about it so far is that Dulce and Sueño seem to be having fun. They let out these great sighs, their heads and ears are up and on me as we dance with one another. Will this help in the saddle? I have no idea. Time will tell. All I know is that I stopped trying, and that part of me that died with Shandoka came back….that creative side that loves to play with horses….that five year old standing in the pasture imitating my grandpa as Ruckus walked up to me is coming back to life and my horses seem to love it.