Look back at our struggles for freedom,
Trace our present day’s strength to its source;
And you’ll find that man’s pathway to glory
Is strewn with the bones of the horse
– Author Unknown
My journey with horses began when I was very young – about four years old. I remember being in awe of them as I watch them in the field. I remember feeling odd as I watched people ride them – curious and uncertain. I remember feeling terrified when asked to sit upon their broad backs.
I was never a natural rider, and it is somewhat a miracle that I ever made it to the point that I did in my riding career. The horses were my path to freedom and my source of strength. Yet, I have undoubtedly left a wake of pain along my treacherous road to find that freedom.
It is ultimately in the choice to no longer ride that I have found my true sense of peace and unity with these majestic animals.
This decision has been a challenging one. Just last week I was setting up my “Ride with Me” page on this very blog to begin teaching lessons and clinics once again. In that decision, the truth has hit me with such force that I have to look at it.
It this series of posts on looking back, I am going to question my assumptions and stand in the truth of the horse bones strewn along my path. I believe that it is only by looking at the truth that we can find a new way to move forward in our relationship with horses.
I must begin with my earliest memories with horses – my awe and my fear. It starts with questioning what I was taught.
- Why are my earliest horse memories of smacking horses with whips?
- Why was it that as a young, gentle child when I played “horse” I always had unruly imaginary horses that must be punished?
- Why was I always so keen to stop riding and do anything else when all the other children were clamoring to climb aboard?
I am starting to see that this really speaks to 2 things that I was learning from this early age:
- I was learning to control the horses through dominance, coercion, pain, and fear.
- I was empathic enough to feel their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain.
I was taught to “not let that pony get away with anything” and to “be the boss.” I was taught that if I wanted to change my mounts behavior, a swift kick, a smack with a crop, or a good yank on the reins would by the most effect means of communication.
Simultaneously, I just wanted to get off my pony and sit in a field of dandelions watching the herd graze. I wanted to be my horse’s friend – and even 5-year-olds know that you don’t make friends by hitting others. I was frightened, and my pony was frightened. I think I could sense that the behavior I was told was “lazy, stubborn, or bratty” was actually fear and discomfort.
I worked out this discrepancy the way that children do – with my imagination. I rode imaginary horses who were struggling as evidenced by the constant bucking, rearing, and refusal to jump couch cushions in our living room. These imaginary horses were really pushing their boundaries – because that is what I felt from the live horses even if they weren’t acting that way.
It was here that I practiced what I was learning. I would “get after” these imaginary horses with my imaginary whip, spurs, and reins. I was practicing the behavior that I felt required of me to be around horses. I didn’t want to leave the barn, and so I was learning to survive.
At that time in my life, there was no way to just be with horses. It would take me 30 years to realize that not riding was even a possibility.