Since my first riding lesson at age five, I was in love and instantly knew that I much preferred horses over people. Their soft manner and subtle way of communicating were easy for me to understand, whereas trying to understand people – with their tendency to say one thing and mean another – felt impossible to me.
As a highly sensitive child, I was quite cued in on the energy and body language of horses and was hungry to learn how to become better at communicating with them.
For several years, the instruction that I received was aimed at standardising my riding cues and the responses of my mounts – not so much about learning how to work together in harmony.
I wanted to explore how I could connect better with the horse and achieve a state of flow where my mind would meld together with my horse’s.
I had many teachers that were coarse and downright hard. One of them was even called “Whippy” and she was tough as old leather boots (and as tanned).
Nothing made her happy and her ear-jarring sergeant’s bark echoed across the field in every kind of weather.
I disliked her with a seething hatred and felt like I could do nothing right with her, but she mostly taught the adult classes so it wasn’t my problem.
Until I got moved up at age 13 as an advanced rider and was in her classes a few times a week
One day, she did something that completely revolutionised horses and riding for me. For whatever reason, I was put on the young warmblood that had a hair-trigger temperament.
It took three grooms to hold him in place and another one to throw me up on his back before immediately backing away from my horse that was spinning in place.
I remember holding on to the saddle with both hands as one of the grooms tightened his girth.
He was anxious to be on the move, constantly dancing around. He had a bouncy step like he wasn’t really touching the ground and a natural lift to how he carried himself.
Within the first five minutes, I learned that I could hold the reins like I would hold a piece of paper that I didn’t want to crease and that if I relaxed, I could more easily meld my movements to follow his.
We were like one. I thought about what I wanted to do and he offered it.
We were often on the inside of the track, flying past the other students because he had an explosive energy that I struggled to harness.
I was shit-scared for most of that class but had moments where everything fell into place and it felt like we were water flowing in a river
That one experience blew my mind and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of what could be achieved with a horse.
Since that day, I redoubled my efforts to approach what I was taught with scepticism and often found little ways in which to go against the norm when I felt there was a better way.
I was rewarded with the tenuous trust and guarded attention of horses that were labelled “fractious” and “hot” – just like that warmblood.
I earned a reputation as the girl who had a way with the irritable horses
More and more I worked with how to motivate horses rather than putting them to work regardless of what they thought of it.
I got asked to train the ill-tempered and strong-willed horses
Those that were beyond the control of their riders and to retrain those that had cost a lot of money but weren’t obediently performing the tasks they were bought for.
Eventually, the realities of life took me away from the stables for a time, but I never stopped learning about horses or let go of their presence in my heart.
I think my time away has even made me better, as I got to put things into perspective with distance and experience – and because eagerly compensated for not being there with heaps of theoretical learning.
On this blog, I’m working through the body of knowledge and experience I have acquired over the years
My sole intention is to clarify my own thinking and uncovering personally meaningful truths about horses and working with them.
My goal is, as it has ever been, to learn and to find what can be learned from any situation.
We’re all on the same journey together, we’re just at different stages of it, and I hope that everyone can find something useful or learn something new (or be reminded of something old) from this journal I’m writing.