The Daily Educational Opportunities of Life with Horses
by Catherine Madera
After 5 years of riding my Arabian stallion, Eli, I feel I know him very well. I know when he’s happy, insecure, or cranky. I know his idiosyncrasies pretty much inside and out. That’s why it was humbling at a recent dressage lesson to discover what I still don’t know about him. Let me explain.
Under saddle, when going to the right, Eli and I have a routine that goes like this: I put my leg on him asking for a bend; he pins his ears and gets his grinchy-face on; I become insistent; he pins ears some more and throws his head up; I give him a bit of spur and/or work him through “attitude”; he eventually gives in to my leg and bends. When I am feeling generous I chalk this behavior up to stiffness. When I’m annoyed, I defer to things like stallion attitude and unwillingness to work.
At my last lesson, we were commencing the Right Side Routine when my instructor Kim gave me simple instruction: “Open your left knee slightly as you ask him to bend.” After shifting my weight to the inside I squeezed with my right knee while opening my left. Eli moved over instantly, no ear pinning or grinchy-face making. We practiced some more and soon he happily complied with the slightest weight shift and opening leg. All along his attitude was the frustration of being asked to move while feeling trapped by the tightness of my outside leg/knee. It was just that simple.
Horses are perhaps the most generous creatures on Earth, but we quickly label them stubborn, lazy, stupid and emotional. Too often they are trying to tell us something through behavior that is misunderstood. Being open to listen, learn and change is so important. Enjoy the magazine this month. Learn about a great program educating both youth and Oregon mustangs on page 6. As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ride On and Learn!
Originally Published August 2014 Issue