Just the challenge Esther and Kiwi needed.
Building mutual trust, respect, and confidence takes time with any horse/rider team. RE-building mutual trust, respect, and confidence can take even longer.
This week, I decided to go all the way back to the beginning of working with my mustang, only with a slight twist. Instead of working him in the round pen, I took him for a little walk in the woods…
Natural horsemanship implements herd dynamics within the human-horse “herd” of two. I realize now that my own self-confidence got horribly eroded over the past several months due to job and relationship stresses and, sadly, that damaged self-confidence had a negative impact on my riding and my relationship with Kiwi. Horses are mirrors of our own state of being. Whatever we’re feeling, they reflect, and often in amplification.
So. I need to re-establish myself as the “alpha” in our riding herd-of-two. And, instead of giving Kiwi any opportunity to mentally “lean” on the round pen panels as a safe haven, I took him out into the woods on my farm. Kaliwohi has access to these woods when he is at liberty in the field, so he is familiar with the trails and byways in these photographs. Still, the woodland animals provided some extra stimuli; also, Grace (his horse herd alpha mare) whinnied for him from back at the barn a few times. He could hear her from a distance.
All these distractions provided exactly the environment I had hoped for – one that challenged Kaliwohi to maintain his focus on me, no matter what. No matter what.
As you can see in the first photo, Kiwi is walking along with me into the woods, but he is noticing everything around him.
I stopped Kiwi in this spot because the log on the ground provides a great visual as to where he and I are, in relation one to another, as we work. In this photo, I am asking Kaliwohi to simply stand still, relax and breathe, and focus on me.
In the sequence above, I am adding energy to the lead rope to encourage Kaliwohi to move backwards, away from the energy. Notice I am not forcing him to back up. I am making his immediate environment such that he would prefer to back up than to stand so close to the moving energy of the lead rope. In the middle photo, Kiwi has backed up several steps and come to a halt. Note there is no movement in the lead rope; it is soft and giving. In the third photo, Kiwi has relaxed his topline, which the “whole body” equivalent of a deep, relaxing exhale.
In this photo, I have asked Kaliwohi to move up towards me. He maintains his relaxation, despite any distractions around us in the woods.
As he completes his approach, you can see the lead rope is soft and quiet, and Kiwi has “hooked on” to me with a soft eye and a quiet mind. This is the mustang I know and love. This is my riding partner.
We repeated this and other exercises during this session, and, overall, Kaliwohi was quiet and willing the entire time.
For those of us who are stress-eaters, and who have pounds yet to lose, finding new and healthy ways of dealing with stress, sadness, or any negative emotion can be challenging. In my case, over the spring of this year, I allowed myself to internalize way too much stress and sadness, and all that negativity found its way into the saddle.
I paid a rather high price physically, and my body is still healing.
Sadly, the price paid between my riding partner and me was higher still, as we each began to wonder if we could truly trust the other member of our herd-of-two.
Thankfully, horses are incredibly forgiving souls. As you can see in the final photograph, Kaliwohi is relaxed and happily checking in with me as we stroll along, looking to his alpha for leadership in our herd-of-two. I will be back in the saddle before too long, and I expect my relationship with my mustang will develop and grow beautifully.
Since the “great fall,” there has been so much swelling in my body the scales have not moved much at all over the past four months. But I have gained more upper body strength and stamina, so the overall goal of going from “fat” to “fit” is still making some progress, and I am grateful for that. I feel more energetic and I am accomplishing more each day. In order to have more time to exercise and meditate, I am rising thirty minutes earlier each day. That adds up to 3.5 more waking hours each week, woo hoo!
I invite you to comment below on what tips and trends you are using to help you on your own journey towards becoming a more fit rider. We’re all in this together!