Monday, April 21, 2008

Riding the wind

I fell off Bar again and have been struggling over the last few days with how I'm feeling about all this. It's certainly better today than it was last Wednesday night, though it's been an interesting philosophical journey for me so far.

I love that crazy horse, but I've been trying too hard to control him in ways that don't work well with his personality, causing frustration and outbursts on his part and more fear and attempts at control on my part. Ugly spiral. In this case, the outburst was him launching himself like we were leaving the starting gate, only he left something behind - me.

After our successful trail ride, I was determined to relax more and not hang on his head so much. I started out okay, but he was very fresh after two days off and really wanted to run. I tried to work him through it from a pretending-to-be-relaxed-but-really-utterly-fearful mindset, which didn't work at all. He spooked and off I came, flying backwards, suddenly suspended in thin air like a cartoon character. I do have to say that if that was even half of his starting gate speed, it's no wonder he won races. Now, had I been paying attention to him and not had my head on some other thing - not a good plan, by the way - I might have had enough wherewithal to stay on. Peter's comment was that I had probably relaxed just a little too much. Hard balance, that one.

I was really disappointed in myself, totally unsure how I was going to deal with this horse without changing my personality or his. It's more than his need to run or "have a job" as some folks say. It's also crucial to my growth as a rider and his growth as my horse to trust each other, and part of the way that happens is to have fun together. When I try to hold him back, hold him in, turn it into a constant battle because I'm afraid - even if I have reason to be - we're not having fun anymore, we're not learning, leaving stagnation as the very best thing we can hope for.

That's not what I want and I wasn't sure what I was going to do about it. I watched both Steve and Katie let Bar run - within limits - and I saw him respond to them and work with them in ways he and I had lost along the way.

At Steve's suggestion, I rode Lena for two days to try and get some of my confidence back and it did help a lot. Friday, even though it was windy and she was a little spooky, I managed to feel like I was moving with her, pushing myself just a little, still able to stay (mostly) relaxed. Saturday, though, Katie was riding Bar and came up on our inside just for fun, and I felt Lena gather up to take off and race them. I got scared, snapped at Katie, who couldn't possibly have realized where my head and gut were at that moment, and reined Lena in. Katie backed off and she and Steve took Bar to have a bath, leaving me alone in the arena to push myself past my comfort zone and prove to myself I could handle it. I'd like to say that didn't add to the pile of guilt and sadness in my heart, but you all know it did.

So by the time my Sunday lesson rolled around, I had myself in quite a state. Guilty, afraid, upset -- all things that would not translate well to a horse still so sensitive to my emotions he couldn't help but sense how on-edge I was and respond in his larger and more dramatic way.

I actually sat and talked to both horses while I waited for them to finish their grain. Bar nuzzled and rubbed his big head on my knee and Lena groomed my arm and hair with her gentle and flexible lips, almost like she was trying her best to get me to relax and have a little faith.

It's not that I want to let either horse careen recklessly around the arena, either. It's that in order to improve them and improve my own riding, I have to be able to handle that possibility without going into a gibbering, tight-handed, panic because that won't work. They will both throw goofiness and power at me and I need to be able to ride it out and get them refocused so none of us gets hurt. I AM a good enough rider to handle both of them - when I'm not anticipating so much I over-react, when I can relax and experience them as horses I actually really enjoy riding. I forgot that last part for awhile and it caught up to me in a big way.

Besides, it's that very energy that makes them both so fun to ride, makes you feel like you are part of something magical and powerful.

So I went down for my lesson and - much to my surprise - it went really well. We did try a running martingale (I think) on him, which seemed to help with his head position, though it wasn't set to be too restrictive and he could have been responding more to day 3 of good workouts, too. We did a lot of long trotting, working on my hand position and posting - and "staying supple and alert" to use Peter's preference to "relaxed." With Bar, as with any horse, really, supple and alert is probably better.

Then Peter told me to take Bar up into a canter and I took a deep breath and did it. Okay, actually I held my breath while I asked Bar for a canter and was not particularly successful until I let the breath out and pushed him forward into hands that weren't trying to hold him back for a change.

And I did it.

I kept him at a nice and steady canter - apparently he has a big English canter, not a more sedate Western lope - and slowed him down easily when he would try to speed up in the straight-away, even brought him back down to a slow (for him) trot.

Steve says I was grinning, even.

And now I'm away from home, working our huge Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, really wishing I could get back on him and try again sooner than Saturday. The thing with horses, as I continually relearn, is that there is always a chance to go back and do it better. Of course, just like everything else, some days run a little smoother than others.

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