“You get out of a relationship with a horse what you are willing to put into it. The horse does not have the dishonesty or sociopathy to fail to reciprocate.” – Delphi M. Toth, ‘The Psychology of Women and Horses’
I've been riding Tara for almost two months now, and our connection during the last workout session was above and beyond any hope that I could have entertained when we started out eight weeks ago.
Her owner had gone off to college, so prior to meeting me, Tara had been little more than a pasture pet for four months. The stables owner, along with the manager, both experienced and no-nonsense riders, watched our first warmup closely. Tara began to prance sideways beneath me, ears alert, gorgeous head high.
“You have to let her know she’s back ‘In the Army Now,” the manager called to me.
I was Tara’s drill sergeant, yet at the same time willing to be her friend and partner.
First impressions are lasting ones, and a rider has big shoes to fill when working with a new horse. It's difficult to be strong-willed but soft-handed at the same time, but I could tell there was a sweetness under Tara’s anxiety that would come out if she saw some sweetness in me. I knew she was my kindred spirit and I hoped she would come to know it too. Every ride resulted in seeing her high head drop inch by inch, as her comfortability with me increased incrementally.
Fast-forward to yesterday when we worked in the arena, which we don’t usually have to ourselves. I liked to not have to worry about ruining anyone else’s planned pattern, but Tara doesn’t like to be the only horse having to work. She kept wanting to return to the gate, so I took it as an opportunity to work on backing her up once I let her go there.
Her owner had said she could back up but I had yet to get more than one grudging step back from her, and then she would plant her feet. I was beginning to think she had forgotten how, but once again, I sat back, took the reins up, and cued for the backup. Tara gave me the smoothest, most fluid four steps back as if there was nothing to it. It was like up until then she had been saying, “Oh I know how to, but you have to make me want to.”
Up to that point. I hadn’t felt truly comfortable with her and sometimes tried to force things. Yesterday morning I had finally learned to grease the wheels in warmup first with a little lightness and laughter, and a patience which I never knew I had until I started really working with horses.
The lightness with which she reciprocated resulted in not just an effortless backup but also a trot forward that felt like she was prancing on air. Words don't do justice to how it felt when the switch flipped from me trying to force it to her willingly releasing it. As soon as she finished her trot and gave me one more smooth backup, I jumped off and ended our session, thus rewarding her for rewarding me.
It’s a beautiful thing when your horse finally thinks, “Hey, is she trying to work WITH me? Maybe I might work with her too.”