Fae’s my horse. Fae’s my dream! My life-long horse-dream come true!
When I ride Fae, my home-bred half-Shire mare, now twelve years old, she’s perfect! Glassy, smooth gaits, willing mount, responding lightly to my every whim.
But why is it that when certain other people ride my perfect mare, she responds poorly to them? What could be the difference between how I ride her, and how another rides?
(My kids and I must ride the same, for she also glides effortlessly for them.)
And Fae’s not alone. I see the same thing with Starboy. His walk completely influenced by the rider. When I ride him, he strides out. With another, “heavier” rider – not in weight but stiffness of movement – he lags and drags behind. Oy!
So I rode Fae into the wilderness tonight, free-flowing, strong, setting out to solve this mystery – paying attention not just to the jubilant experience of our swift endurance-style ride, but how was I able to get this out of her? What was my role in attaining her perfection?
I’ve named the phenomenon: Finding (My Horse’s) Dream.
Every good horse has a DREAM HORSE inside – but how do I, as her rider, discover her dream? How do I mine it? Unleash it? Coerce it out of her?
Yes, every good horse has both an indwelling DREAM HORSE and a demon – the instinctive, spooky flight-or-fight creature who resists any attempt at control.
(I say every good horse, because in fortysomething years of horsing, most unfortunately, I’ve discovered – due to limitations beyond their control – certain individual horses operate outside the realm of “normal” and pose a serious danger to whomever tries to bond with them. Certain horses should not be ridden, and are not capable of rising to the dimension of the human/horse dream.)
I’m a trail rider, an endurance rider. That means I’m an Arabian rider. And all my horses have varying amounts of Arabian blood. Arabs, as a rule, want to go – and go, and go, and goooooo!
That’s why they excel at endurance. They endure because they want to endure. Not because somebody’s pushing them!
I don’t like to have to kick a horse, goad a horse to get her to move. I like a horse that wants to move out as much as I do.
Fae, being half-Shire, a “heavy” draft breed much like a Clydesdale, tends to be on the lazy side. (She’s only 1/8th Arabian – not that much!) But fortunately she’s not completely dull. She inherited some spice from Fanta, her dam, my tireless Appaloosa/Arabian/Thoroughbred/Racing-Quarter/Endurance-Dream-Horse-Mare.
Yet in order for Fae to perk up and move out, she needs something to motivate her. So I notice with Fae that I use certain tricks in order to get her to go.
Strategies & Tricks:
Rather than ride alone, I’ll bring along another fast-moving horse, so she’ll have a “target” to keep up with, creating a bit of competition. In this case, “ponying” along on a rope, I brought Starboy, her half-Arabian brother – another one of Fanta’s. (Starboy also happened to be in a lazy mood today.)
Say it Out Loud
I notice how much I talk to my horses as I ride. Romancing, praising, singing, in an on-going, energetic dialog.
I remember years ago observing this while watching a carriage driving competition, how verbal the communication between horse and human. Horses respond well to our speech and tone, so I use my voice to encourage her.
Last night I began with camp songs in the meadow area outside the woods (“Just give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don’t fence me in…”) then Beatles songs (Norwegian Wood) as we re-entered the forest and came up and into the straight-away, gaining steam.
I heard myself repeating over and over (in melodic tone), “That a girl, Fae,” “You’re soo good, Fae,” “What an AWESOME mare!!!” – talking to her constantly in a perky, peppy way, to overcome her heavy-slow-Shire side, and bring-up the Fanta in her.
I notice that my riding is very light as far as rein control goes. I’m not “on” her mouth, rather allowing her, encouraging her to move forward. But this isn’t just done with my hands.
I bring my energy UP so that she will mimic my behavior. My body rides forward and light in the saddle, encouraging her movement to match mine.
Actually, I end up doing far more “surfing” than riding! Like bodysurfing a wave in the ocean, my whole body communicates with my mare. I notice how sensitive she is, and that subtle changes in my muscle tension, incline, and cadence affect her gaits.
After all, I’m RIDING the horse, bringing the horse’s energy up – not merely sitting, kicking, waiting…
Riding’s a vigorous physical activity, and I’m often winded by the effort.
1) I find that I incline my body forward, a bit like a jockey, upwards in the stirrups. This places my weight and energy ahead of her center of balance, and acts as a gas pedal to cause her to go. In this manner I either post, lifting out of the saddle with each rhythm of her stride, or I stand somewhat in the stirrups (two-point), leaning forward, letting my legs act as shock absorbers – so that I’m smooth, not bouncing.
2) I use my legs to encourage her on, but not my heels. I “kick” with my upper calves, bump, bump, bumping, in rhythm with her stride. Like a metronome, my active legs set and keep her beat. Another way of thinking of it is like pumping your legs on a swingset. Rhythmical, in, out, in, out… Bump, bump… Pumping her motion in beat with my own.
3) I strive to anticipate what she’ll do. I know where she tends to go faster, slower. At the first feel of her slowing down, I use my tongue against the top of my mouth in a tisk-tisk fashion (rather than a cluck-cluck) to encourage her on, and I do this in unison with the movement of my calves against her, which is in unison with the movement of her stride. All the while, inclining my body forward.
4) I always ride with a Dressage whip (better known as a “wand”) and only use it sparingly, as a reminder, with either a brief snap against her shoulder or flank, or series of tap, tap, tapping – once again, setting the beat. (Just carrying the wand lets the horse know I mean business – I rarely use it, but apply it as a back-up to my other aids.)
Turns out, I’m playing music. Fae’s music. My wand-baton, my legs, my body – keeping the beat – like a dance, like a drummer, like an orchestra. I, the bandleader, conducting a symphony upon her forested stage…
Popping out of the woods, we hit the soft-sand wash, leaping sagebrush and logs, legs flying beneath me. No need to encourage her here, as she grabs the ground and pours on fresh steam with the change of setting and footing. Fae snorts the wind and opens up, Starboy flying behind us.
On we soar, rising, dipping, until she finally slows, signaling that she’s had enough. We walk a beat, taking in the beauty of the evening. Watching the trees and brush and animal tracks that make up our wild-land home. Her neck stretching, swinging.
Out of the wash, at the “galloping place” now – onto the firmer ground of smooth-surfaced dirt roadway, slightly climbing upward – Fae, sufficiently rested, tosses her head and signals that she’s ready to roll.
I ease my body forward, no leg needed. She picks up pace now, her smooth stride heaving in a mad-dance of pure-raw-powered horsey joy!
Starboy, next to us, stretches his nose, legs flying, pouring on speed. The three of us careening forward – just because we can…
Oh the excitement of a warmed-and-ready horse – finally cut loose, galloping full-out – just for the fun!
Whoops and hollers! Exuberant hearts! Broad smiles!
Starboy bursts into a fresh round of speed. Fae following suit, with quick large strides.
Neck to neck. Encouraging one another. Taunting one another.
“Come on, Fae, he’s whooping you! Are you going to let him get away with that? No, you’re not going to let him win! You’re going to whoop his…”
Fae matching, pouring it on… Legs, hooves, blurring, striking the earth. Stretching muscle and tendon and bone.
Manes and tails tossing with joy!
Looks like I’ve found Fae’s Dream!