Happy, Healthy & Horsey: The Gift of Trust

Esther gets back in the saddle.

‘Tis the season of giving. Some folks give socks. Some folks give cars. Some folks get gift cards. Some folks regift their gifts. My journey towards being happier, healthier, and horsier has brought me down a quasi-minimalist path. By that I mean I would much rather give, and receive, non-tangible gifts.

Recently, a friend and I spent a couple of hours relaxing and chatting at a new coffee shop. (You can also get tats there – just sayin’.) My friend’s time was a fabulous gift. We trust each other so much we can literally talk about anything. Any.Thing. That trust is an amazing gift and one I cherish.

This week, another friend gifted me with time. And on this occasion, his gift of time was one of great healing for me. This friend, Kyle, who also happens to be my horses’ farrier, is a military guy, so his personality is a great combination of no-nonsense and wicked-fast humor. I trust Kyle like a brother – indeed, I think of him as a brother (right down to chastising him and offering advice in true big-sis fashion when I think he needs it).

And so I asked my brother to give me a little time, because I needed a human I trust implicitly, both with respect to his care and concern for me, and with respect to his understanding of horses. Kyle used to ride professionally, currently competes some really fine reining horses, and is, in sum, a “top hand.” He’s also not gonna coddle me or put up with any B.S. Nor would he ever push me beyond my comfort zone, nor ridicule me.

And all those elements were important, because this week, Kaliwohi and I gave each other the gift of trust.

Back in the saddle. All photos by Kyle Hancock.

Getting injured in a fall off a horse is no laughing matter, especially when you’re not young, not thin, and not especially confident.  I’ve discussed my injuries, and fears, here in prior columns as honestly as I can. I’ve also received tremendous support from this readership and my editors while I was grounded and healing. And I’m deeply grateful to each of you for your support.  I’m even grateful for the few snide comments that came my way – because those negative comments, while mildly hurtful, helped me learn to give myself the gifts of time and trust.

I had to trust my body to tell me when it was healed and ready to return to the saddle. I had to trust my mind, and my heart, too, to tell me when I was ready to be able to give Kaliwohi the gift of trust I knew he would need from me so we would both be relaxed and focused again as a riding partnership whenever I climbed aboard again.

I did not know what I would feel when I stepped back into the irons.

Would I feel like an excited 9-year old getting on her first pony?

Would I feel like a middle-aged “has-been” whose fears would rise right back up and demonize my mind forever?

Would I feel like a successful “overcomer” who had just toppled a major foe?

Would I break down and weep with gratitude for being completely healed and back in the saddle, doing the one thing I enjoy above all others?

I had no idea, and told Kyle so, just in case some emo outburst occured and caught both of us unawares. #NoTearsPlease #CowgirlUp

I worked Kaliwohi at liberty in the round pen for a few minutes, and he was – ahem – full of pi$$ and vinegar, as the saying goes. And as I watched him, with his tail flagged and running wide open, I wondered if I were really ready to get back on my mustang.

I waited for my gut to contract in fear.

But it didn’t.

I kept watching Kaliwohi as he ran and snorted like the wild animal he was born to be.

As he finally slowed to a walk around the perimeter of the round pen, I turned my back to him and slowly walked away.

And the most marvelous thing happened.

Kaliwohi hooked on, of his own accord, and followed me.

The gift of trust.

At that moment I knew we would be okay.

When I stopped walking, he stopped.

When I turned to take his reins, he followed me to the mounting block.

Kyle encouraged me to relax and breathe deep, and, for a little extra boost of confidence, he came and held Kaliwohi while I mounted up.

And as I settled in the saddle I’ve ridden in for decades, on a horse I’ve not been on in months, I did not weep. I didn’t feel overwhelming excitement. I didn’t feel those demonizing fears I had battled earlier this year, right after the “great fall.” Nor did I feel like an “overcomer” heroine in my own story.  What did I feel?

I felt like a horsewoman.

As I gathered the reins, my brain went straight to the matters at hand. What’s my horse doing? Are my signals clear enough? Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Transitions are the key to suppleness. Turn. Halt. Turn the other direction. Halt. Walk. Halt. Back-up. Forward. Walk. Bend. Flex. Is he listening well enough? Breathe deep. Relax your legs. Wrap around and lift the horse to the trot. Trot? Yes, you’re ready. All is well. Trust him. Trust you. Trust us. Trot. Walk. Trot. Bend him around your inside leg. Walk. Halt. Walk. Trot. Walk. Halt.

Working like we’d never missed a day.

And before I knew it, the session was over and both Kaliwohi and I had worked, and worked well, together.

Even a fairly square final halt! Woo hoo!

As riders, our very lives depend upon the mutual trust we build with our riding partner. How fast, or how slowly, we get there is really not an issue. The only thing that matters is that the foundation of trust be built, and built well.


What a beautiful gift.


Go Riding!

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