“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain
I hope you’ll indulge me today as I spend some time reflecting on partnership. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot this summer and I think now is the perfect time to write about it as Aspire is launching the “My New Horse” program. Yes, I know I’ve owned Flirt for about 3 and a half years and she’s not exactly “new.” But with everything that has happened in the last year, we did have the opportunity for a new beginning. Now I find myself continually staring at her and taking so much pride in how healthy, fit, and simply happy she is – such a change from even one year ago!
In many ways, Flirt and I are very fortunate – a lot of partnerships that encounter as much trouble as we had do not end so well. I often see other riders who fix problems by selling one horse and buying another. But does that teach you or simply put off the issues to a later date? I tend to believe the latter and have gained such a sense of accomplishment from working through the steps and ultimately finding ways to improve. Prior to my accident last summer I was on the toughest plateau of my life. And while I can’t recommend a major trauma incident to anyone, in a way it was just what I needed to move forward. The second time around, Flirt and I built on a stronger foundation and we finally have a partnership that we can be proud of and confident in.
Speaking of accidents, it’s important to note that first and foremost – health is key. If you or your horse is not healthy and pain-free, you’re in trouble. Flirt was injured last summer and managed to hide it too well… we had so much trouble and were so angry at each other… and I feel so guilty that I thought she was being bad, that I didn’t see it sooner, but she only ever felt stiff and then trotted sound. However, I can certainly promise that I will not suppress the instincts that told me something was wrong again! On the bright side, Flirt’s rehab from the injury triggered bi-monthly visits from the chiropractor and monthly visits from the body worker. And now, one year later, wow does my horse feel good. So out of the bad came exactly what Flirt needed to feel her best.
Then came my own accident.
It was two weeks before I was allowed to visit Flirt and then I was only given 15 minutes since we didn’t want my lungs to inhale too much dust and have trouble healing. My visits were slowly allowed to increase – once a week for 30 minutes, then an hour just grazing her. I spent hours on the ground just handling her – grooming, walking, simply being. It’s fascinating to be with a horse and not ask anything of them other than to be your companion. During that time, I discovered where she likes to be curried, what muscles were tight and where she needed to be rubbed. I spoke with the people riding her and watched her move. And I learned.
Two months later I was allowed to ride for the first time – but only on the flat. From the moment of my accident, I had never questioned that I would get back on a horse. But that moment of truth when you are actually standing on the mounting block and staring at the saddle… my heart was pounding, my muscles were shaking – it was terrifying. The amount of trust that I put in Flirt at that exact moment was extreme. I was putting my life in her hands because I had no muscle tone anymore – no way to stay on if something went wrong. Her new job was clear: take care of me. To this day, I constantly remind her that her sole purpose in life is to take care of me – if Flirt does that, she will ALWAYS be a good horse.
Next came the flat lessons – three months of them before I was allowed to jump a fence. The training and rehab Flirt had while I was not allowed to ride was amazing – she had learned so much and carries herself a million times better than before. My trainer had taught her to canter on her hocks, to collect, and to be confident in her ability to do so. What happened during my three months of work was to have me learn all of those techniques as well. And oh – it was hard work indeed! No stirrup work, building muscle, and cantering over so many poles until I could find the perfect distance with just the right amount of space to each… take out a stride, put one back in. In this day and age, it’s so rare for any student to learn all of these skills on the flat before learning how to jump. Of course, I will admit that the skills we spent time on were advanced and difficult to master and my riding experience and knowledge helped tremendously; but was my experience absolutely necessary? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the months of flat lessons, per the doctor’s orders, were truly a gift.
When we started back over fences, it was so different – so smooth. For one, I was much fitter than I used to be. As part of rehab I had started cross training with swimming and Pilates. Not only do I feel stronger than before, I also feel better coordinated and balanced. I am able to keep up with Flirt physically, which is something I know is often overlooked and undervalued in the horse show world today. I was also thinking a whole lot about her fitness. I want to make sure she is ready for the challenges that come up. I still think about it all the time and have to brag just a little at what we’ve accomplished: this weekend we happened to warm up for 20 minutes and jump around a 0.95m course without even breaking a sweat. 🙂 We’re taking confidence seriously this year as well – competing in a lower height division to build a solid foundation and gain experience. I promise you, it has made a difference. The feeling of going into the show ring with no doubts – knowing that you are capable of every challenge, every question put before you is so wonderfully empowering. And to have it validated by consistent success is all I can ask for. I’ve attached pictures from our shows in July and August to the post – do you see how amazing Flirt looks?!
It’s common knowledge that it takes time to build a partnership with any being – horse, human, dog, etc. The true shame is that so many people simply give up and move on without ever experiencing that real, effortless harmony. I consider Flirt to be my family – I trust her with my life and she trusts me with hers. When relationships get tough, we both need to dig in and work. Sometimes that means starting over and it’s so worth the effort. Having a partnership with a horse is not just about riding. It’s about knowing your horse inside and out, on the ground and on her back, and ultimately letting yourself open up as well. When you and your horse start thinking on the same page – there is no feeling like it in the world.
In the past, when Flirt and I would have a good day, I used to think it was lucky. Now I’m learning to be confident in the fact that we know each other and I know how to ride her. I can feel her moods and her stride, compensate by instinct, and move with her easily. A good day is not luck anymore, it’s part of who we are. And while there will always be mistakes, they are ones that we learn from rather than ones that strip our confidence away. I look forward to the challenges of the future and am so excited because I know that we have the ability to tackle whatever we put our minds to – together.
“If you can change your mind, you can change your life. What you believe creates the actual fact. The greatest revolution of my generation is the discovery that individuals, by changing their inner attitudes of mind, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
– William James
To read all posts by Candace please see:
From May 2013 to current: Guest Blogger Candace
Before May 2013 (the accident etc): Guest Blogger Candace