This past weekend, August 20-21, I had a wonderful time with Buckshot. We had good weather, not too hot, humid, sunny, with fluffy clouds in the sky. On Saturday, we worked in the arena, and walked on the trail, and rode in the field arena. It was wonderful. I practiced my equitation – sit up, stretch from abdomen to neck, use good boobies, shoulders of a princess and hips of a whore, feel the horse. I practiced trotting and cantering, trying to give Buckshot the right amount of rein, keep my seat swinging in good rhythm with the saddle, steering, trying to calm and lead him while still learning the many facets of the canter. Wonderful.
And on Sunday, we went to a reining clinic at the reining trainer’s farm. There in his huge arena, we walked, and then trotted and then cantered. We rode straight into the fence, and quickly stopped, and backed up. We stopped from trot and from canter. Buckshot gave it his all, and came down from speed to a halt in his own capable way. One reason I love the clinics is because the trainer has me do things with Buckshot I never would do on my own, and we do great! I am amazed at what Buckshot can do, and at what I can do. That is one reason a trainer or an instructor is so invaluable. They can get more from me and Buckshot, and therefore prove that both of us can do more than I thought we can do. They challenge both of us in the best ways.
A few days ago, I was feeling reflective and I wrote the following thoughts. I call it “I Came to Love You Late.”
I Came to Love You Late
You see, dear horse, Buckshot, I am a latecomer to the world of horses. I was in my late forties when I discovered horses. That is so very late in life. It seems most of the people around me in the horse world were around horses very early in their lives. When they were children. Or perhaps teenagers. I think that few discover the magic of horses for the first time while in their twenties or thirties. But in their forties, like me? It sounds like old age.
But there it was. One innocent horse back riding lesson. On one quiet, dark fall night. At one obscure horse farm in the country. And I was hooked, drowned if you will, in the magic of horses. An animal both awesome in frame – big, very big, strong, no doubt, deadly – and magnificent in spirit – forgiving of an old person climbing on her back, talking out of nervousness, from twenty or thirty or fifty feet off of the ground. Yet a thread of something ethereal spun out of the mare’s heart, and wound its way to my heart, then around and around and around, until a horse-shaped growth appeared on my heart. And I have never been the same since.
So, dear Buckshot, this, eight or nine years later, is my prize. You. You are my prize. You are my first horse. Maybe the only horse I will ever own. I am so appreciative of you. How can I tell you how much you mean to me, my first horse. My most special horse. My most precious, special, unique horse. But I came to love you late in my life. That is why I don’t take you for granted. A young girl might say, well, someday I’ll have a better horse than I have now. Maybe I’ll have lots of horses over my life. So I will wait to love the best one, when I get him. Until then, this is just my today horse. Others are better. Someday I’ll have a better one.
But I don’t say that. I say, what a precious gift you are to me. You are my only horse. My first and special horse. Maybe the only horse I’ll ever have. You are worth three times, five times your weight in gold to me.
You captivate my heart and my mind. I wonder what you think when I am around you. The other day, as I was leading you down a road, you stopped at a very specific place, and you lightly touched my hand with your muzzle. You communicated to me. I think you were saying, this is a place you give me a treat. May I have a treat, please? And I am so touched, by your remembrance, and by your soft touch to my hand, that I give you a treat. You are happy. I am happy. We continue to walk.
Then a few more yards down this same road, your thoughts change. Something doesn’t seem right to you. We are in danger. And so you quickly and smoothly, without my realizing it, turn us around on the road. I hold the lead line softly, with a drape in it, so you are able to direct our feet with your smooth turn. I stop you. You are worried about going forward. I am puzzled. I know that the road isn’t dangerous. It is quiet. There are no cars on it. I have walked further on this road many times. But not with you.
This road, this section of road is new to you. You don’t know it yet. And it worries you. So you take our walk in your control and make sure we turn away from the danger. Communicating to me again. Softly, in your horse talk kind of way. With my limited communication I don’t know how to reassure you that the road is safe. So I gently ask you to walk a few more steps, and I promise you a treat. Pure bribery it is. I want you to trust me but I cannot say it well enough. So I use a treat. And because you know the word “treat” you trust me and walk on, a few more yards. But you are still worried. Your feet dance a bit, you try to turn us back around, away from the danger.
You must be in conflict. To get the treat, you must go through dangerous terrain. Oh, my. What a problem. What to do? Somewhere in your mind, you say to yourself, yes. A few more steps, just a few more steps. I hope she will then stop leading us into danger. And I do. I stop and give you a treat. And true to my word, I turn you around and we walk back. Away from danger and back to safety. You must breathe a huge sigh of relief. We are now going back to safety. You have saved me. But I made you go through such mental anguish, all for the promise of a horse cookie. And go you did. Not in a straight line, of course. But you went into the danger zone, and then ate the cookie. And then we retreated.
Oh, how I wish I could explain it to you, from my perspective. How I wish I could see and hear your perspective clearly. Yet, even with the limited communication, I still treasure these moments. When you whisper something to me, hoping that the ears of my heart will hear you. And if I am still, and look at you, and touch your neck, I might just hear you. And we communicate. It is magical. And precious and wonderful. This careful, whispering, subtle talking we do with each other.
How can I not love you, who give me such gifts like this. Gifts in the form of horse whisperings. Protecting me. Leading me away from danger. Trusting me all for a horse cookie. And walking softly at my shoulder, your breath grazing my hand and arm. How I love that feeling. Your warm breath, pulsing down softly onto my hand and arm, your head swinging lightly from the lead line. I long to touch your forehead and I do. I rub it gently and tell you, with my touch, you are a wonderful horse. Can you hear me?
I often imagine that Buckshot has a place inside of him, where he feels my love. He feels that he is loved and valued and it feels good to him. Similar to how it feels for him to graze and eat grass, or eat hay. After we eat, we feel full, and it is a good feeling. An eaten meal nurtures us from inside. We feel satisfied.
For a horse, eating the tiny bits they eat, all day long, is a need like ours. But theirs is born of their nomadic history; they must always be ready to move to another plain, or over a mountain range, without knowing if food is waiting. So they need to eat nearly constantly, small amounts, to enable them to survive the nomadic life of a horse. Even domesticated horses, that live with humans who feed them in feed tubs, and spread hay out in a pasture or a corral, feel the need to eat for nomadic life. I think it gives them both a physical sense of rightness and an accompanying sense of mental rightness. They can handle life; they are prepared to move if they have to. Competent, ready, able horse.
Somewhere in Buckshot, beside the heart or spleen, is a place where he can feel the emotions that humans give him. He can feel useful and important and needed. It is a good feeling, one that horses want to have. But it is one that humans have to give. I think that maybe it is something that horses treasure about us. That we make them feel important and valuable. Not all owners do so. If you don’t think about what your horse is thinking and needs, you might not attend to this at all. But I do.
I think, from all my interactions with Buckshot, that he loves to have a job to do and to do it well. He loves to be told “time for us to go to work, Buckshot!” and that inside of him, he rises up, stands straight and tall, and says “You bet! Let’s go!” And when we have done some work, whether it is ground work, or riding, or walking down a potentially dangerous road, I am careful and consistent to praise him and tell him “Good work, Buckshot! You did great!” and rub his neck and give him treats and tell him verbally how strong, or brave or wonderful he was. I think it feeds him on the inside to be praised and told he did well. He has a purpose, he has a job, and he does it often and well. He is a successful horse. I want him to feel that deep inside of him.
Buckshot lives with one other horse in a pasture. His pasturemate is named Lucky. Lucky isn’t ridden very often any more. He isn’t a reliable riding horse and so lives mostly in the pasture. I feel a bit guilty when I take Buckshot out of his pasture for our work and leave Lucky behind. I fear that Lucky doesn’t feel that same sense of successful horse-ship that I make sure Buckshot has. But I can’t worry about that.
Some horses get less attention and have less work to do than others. I hope their inner selves can accommodate that. I hope he isn’t jealous of Buckshot and the attention Buckshot gets. I occasionally treat Lucky in a special way, and groom him, or share Buckshot’s treats with him. And I always acknowledge Lucky with a greeting when I am in the pasture. I later tell him that Buckshot will be back in a little while. I hope it helps.
I know that horses have different types of owners. I am the way I am partly because I don’t take Buckshot for granted. After all, he is my only horse, and I don’t know how long I will be priviledged to have him in my life. Every day is special to me. But other horse owners have a different perspective. I know that. Mine is a unique horse journey. And Buckshot is the horse on my journey.
I wonder about choices given to horses. I read a wonderful book some time ago about a horse named Jim Key. He was able to count and answer questions that his owner posed to him. A truly remarkable horse. His owner took him around the country to different shows to demonstrate what Jim Key could do. But what I remember the most about their story was when the owner would turn to Jim Key and ask him if he wanted to go home. He let the horse answer. He allowed his horse to have choices. I am amazed by that.
Giving choices to a horse and seeing the response. So I have incorporated that into my journey with Buckshot. We often ride in an arena at the farm he lives at. Sometimes during our riding warm up I will take him into the center of the arena and stop, and give him a brief break. Then I noticed something. He would start to walk to the open gate. Slowly at first, then a little more purposefully. The first few times, really, the first many times he did this, I turned him around to stay in the arena. I was puzzled by his walking to the gate, but I knew we should stay in the arena.
Then one day, I decided to let him have a choice. I decided to let him walk on out of the arena and see where he would take us. It has been an amazing thing to do. The first few times he walked purposely out of the arena and stopped. He seemed confused and didn’t know which way to go. Other times he has led us back to one of the barns, specifically the barn where I groom him and tack him up. I didn’t let us walk into the barn because the doorway was too low. Yet how interesting that he wanted us to go back to the barn. Perhaps he wanted me to dismount. But I led him away from the barn entrance and back to the arena.
Sometimes now when we walk out of the arena, I will direct him to a specific area and ask for a circle. Then we may stop and stand for a few minutes. A few times I have ridden him down the farm road, but he gets nervous and doesn’t want to go very far. It’s the same road I mentioned above. What is amazing is that when I give him a choice, he takes it. He has some thoughts of going, somewhere. He may lose his purpose quickly, in which case, I take over and direct him to some specific area. Or he may know exactly where he wants to take us, like the barn, and I have to intervene lest my head get hit by a low doorway. He has ideas about these things. And he seems to like to be able to exercise some choices. How wonderful!
I think, perhaps naively, that these choices are part of our journey together. That he knows his person will sometimes let him lead us. I always keep an eye out for our safety and quickly take away his choices if they seem ill advised. But if there are no safety concerns, he is allowed to make choices for us. I hope that it gives him a gift of sorts. That I trust his judgment in a way. And like Jim Key was allowed to decide when it was time to end the traveling and go on home for a rest, Buckshot is allowed to decide to go see some new sights on his own as well. I think it is a developmental thing with horses. But I am relatively new to horses, and I am not really sure. I have never heard trainers or anyone else mention this. I guess it just isn’t talked about. Still, I am delighted to see what happens with this part of our journey.>