In my experience, there is no better teacher of humility than a horse.
IF you have a heart open to hearing.
This point was driven home for me the other day by my mare Sugar.
Sugar (Miss Doc Alena) is a wonderful cutting mare who came into my life around the time I was first learning to hear the horses speak to me. She and I had bonded well, and on the ground, she is very much my friend and companion.
On her back, well, that was another matter. I just haven’t quite been “clicking” with her. And I was a bit stumped about why.
She has loads of training in her background. She was super smooth and super sensitive when I rode her before bringing her home.
My first clue that maybe I was missing something, was her reaction to the bitless bridle compared to wearing a bit. I figured she would enjoy going without a bit. I mean, after all, who wouldn’t, right???
Sugar likes her bit. Her whole expression softens. Put a hackamore on her, and she is tense, no matter how padded the nose. I just wasn’t listening, because I had made my mind up that I knew best.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to figure out what was wrong. I was still getting on her with an attitude of “I’m the teacher, you are the student.” Even knowing that Lucky, my Arabian, had already insisted on giving me lessons about how to use my seat, somehow I just didn’t stop and think that maybe Lucky was pointing out that my skills aren’t quite as good as I thought they were.
So I was getting on Sugar, and thinking, I’ll do some basic bending, and some yields, and start to show her the different types of rein (direct, indirect). Maybe ask her to yield her hindquarters or open her shoulders.
Sugar was not amused.
So a couple days ago, I had my new-to-me Bob Marshall treeless to try out (this one has the setback stirrups) and my new-to-me SaddleRight pad (I had been using a Skito). I tacked her up, mounted, and as soon as I started asking for some movement I started to get attitude from her. Nothing mean, nothing strong enough to dump me, just unhappy and cranky.
I started to cue Sugar for a move – maybe it was opening her shoulder? – and suddenly we were spinning. After finding my balance again, I thought, “well gee, she didn’t understand” so I changed my cue a bit. And I got a quick light sidepass. I almost fell off. Then I started laughing, and I’m still grinning as I type this. She was trying to tell me all along, she already knows this stuff, and more. It’s me that needs to learn how to ride her.
The instant that thought crossed my mind and settled in my heart, her attitude changed. She calmed. She softened. I felt a clear sense of relief from her that finally her person is getting “it”. She’s got it covered. She knows what to do. My job is to learn to stay with her, and learn to lend her confidence and courage when faced with something scary.
Since that ride, our relationship has deepened. She comes to me more often. She comes to me and relaxes and sighs. And chews. And falls asleep.
I’m very excited, and perhaps a bit daunted as well, to see what she will teach me about riding a highly-trained sensitive cutting horse.
So, if you are ever feeling a bit overconfident and need a dose of humility, open your heart and listen to your horse. Amazing things can result!
PS – If you are wondering how we liked the new style of Bob Marshall, for riding her, my more forward-set stirrups on my other Bob Marshall seem to suit us both better. The SaddleRight pad we both like.