February 7, 2014

Rebuilding connections with horses

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It’s been several weeks since the car accident. I’ve been cleared for riding for a while. I’ve ridden a little during the weekends, usually only for 20-30 minutes at a time. I’m mostly healed from the neck injury, but there are lingering issues I’ve been working on with a physical therapist. Periodic neck pain and soreness on the coccyx (alleviated immediately by moving or standing up) have lingered. Seems like the last 5% takes the longest.

I haven’t paid as much attention to Kasane as I would have liked. Our communication and relationship have suffered because of it. Relationships with horses are like ones with people: you have to actively work on them in order to maintain and develop it.

In my case, I hadn’t been paying as much focused attention on Kasane. I’d been grooming her and periodically riding but not spending time doing ground work and connecting. I’m not sure what I was expecting that I could go back out and have her run to meet me at the gate. Instead, she would look up at me and go back to eating. One time she even walked away from me.

That was when I realized I needed to focus on being more relaxed and more present with her. I needed to focus not on going out and riding but on going out and being with her. Doing things that will interest her to rebuild our connection, instead of me getting on her and asking her to do things when we aren’t at top shape. When I’m hurting a little when I ride, which makes me less focused on her.

And she’s reminding me of this. Last Saturday I rode for about an hour and a half trying to just maintain a trot at an even tempo. I couldn’t seem to work together with her to keep the pace. Coming down the long sides of the ring, she would speed up. I’d try to sit back, post slower (with my rump hurting), legs following but not squeezing. When I felt like she was speeding up I’d try all of the things I knew, and when those didn’t seem to work, I’d try half halting. She would yield to the increased pressure on the reins and tuck her head. I’d ask her to whoa, and walk, and whoa, and walk — transitions to bring her attention back to me and work on shifting back to her haunches. We worked on half-halts off of my seat and not using my hands. At one point she ignored when I asked for a whoa, so I had to get after her about that (a slap on the neck) and then she stopped immediately after that. She knew what i was asking for and (like me) she got frustrated too.

Several times during the ride I stopped, grounded, centered, let the frustration go, and then started again.

We weren’t communicating like I know we should. Like I remember we can. We have had so many rides where I just thought something and she did it. Easy, effortless, joyful. This ride was work. Luckily, one of the instructors was available to come watch me and help me work through it. We ended on a good note and were able to maintain speed several times around the ring.

The key to it was me leaning back, relaxing more, and loosening my grip on the reins. I have to move with her more, to be more connected with my legs and especially with my upper arms. Connection through the reins comes from the shoulders and whole body down to her mouth, not just from the elbows and hands. It all has to be relaxed and connected.

Connection in all respects is the key and I need to rebuild that with her. She is such a patient girl. She deserves to have that patience rewarded and respected. Times like this I feel like I’m not doing what I should be doing. We’re going to do things this weekend that she’ll find fun, maybe only ground work but there is a lot we can do that she will enjoy. I want my girl to be happy to see me and to have fun together. I don’t want riding to be work for either of us. It should be joyful.

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