I promise that there will be another post at some time in the future in appreciation of all the amazing human teachers out there, but this is not about them. It’s about horses.
First of all, I don’t presume to know all about horses, or really anything, for that matter. But what I do know is this: we have a lot to learn as humans, and they as horses have a lot to teach us. With horses, you can only be arrogant until your next fall. Regardless of how well or how badly you ride, or how much or how little you know about interacting with horses, or for that matter how well trained the horse is, if the horse is in a bad mood, then a bite, kick, or shove is just around the corner. Someone once said that horses are happier than people, because horses don’t spend all their energy trying to impress other horses. Well, this is more than true; and they don’t try and impress people, either.
This afternoon, I went on an outride with several other people, including my instructor’s husband, who sort of takes her place when she doesn’t come along. I’ve been a little stressed and nervous about Fire all week, because he’s been rather competitive lately with some of the other horses, and it makes him…er…gallop? Gallop is an understatement. Let’s go with race. It makes him race. I’m fully open to admitting I did something wrong, since I’m really only a beginner, but…I didn’t do anything wrong, at least not more than usual.
On the outride, he galloped. Sorry, he raced. There is a difference, at least in my very inexpert opinion. I felt him shift under me, and then suddenly we were going at such a speed that I felt nothing of my body or the cold wind or the hard saddle or my sore back. I didn’t feel anything except an explosion of adrenaline in my chest. We were in a vineyard with creeks and water and turns and bushes, and we went about a mile, probably a bit less, turning this way and that, jumping over pools of water that did not need to be jumped over, and so on. For a brief few seconds, I leaned forward and put my hands forward because otherwise I would have fallen off. In those few seconds, I felt so unbelievably with Fire; it was like I was the one racing. At the first turn, it was very sharp and there was a serious drop on the other side, so I yanked the reins left and leaned back. After that I had to lean forward again. He kept jumping over things. Then, at the next turn, it wasn’t so sharp, it was uphill, and I could see the road ahead; so as he slowed down slightly to make the turn, I pulled his head around hard and quickly so that his nose was suddenly at my knee.
I had to keep this position, as he kept breathing heavily and the whites of his eyes were showing, which usually means they’re afraid or overly excited. The rest of the outride was stressful because he was obviously still charged.
When I got home, after I’d had a while to think, I remembered the movie Dreamer, where one of the major lines is, “You are a great champion. When you ran, the ground shook, the sky opened, and mere mortals parted; parted the way to victory, where you’ll meet me in the winner’s circle, and I’ll put a blanket of flowers on your back.” And I know Fire used to be a racehorse. And then I found myself feeling indescribably sorry for him, and I got tears in my eyes. Because can you imagine? Can you imagine running so that the ground shakes, the sky opens, and everyone parts before you? Can you imagine touching heaven, and then, just because you get older or injured or sick, you’re suddenly stuck in a school with inexperienced riders bouncing around on you, and you never, never get the chance to race? I think I would do what he did, too.
Horses will teach you a great deal; about themselves, yes, but also about you. You find that you have much more courage and bravery than you thought; you might find that you’re strong. Horses won’t reward you for anything you do right, but they will let you know when you do something wrong. They don’t teach by sugar coating, they teach honestly, and they don’t expect you to take anything personally. If you do, that’s your problem. Horses don’t. They are honest with you, and expect you to be honest with them. If you aren’t, believe me; they can see the real you anyway.