What is a quiet ride to you?
Is it making it back from a hack without falling off? Is it keeping your horse under control in traffic, in the fields or on a new route? Or is it enjoying the moment, on the trail with your horse?
I have sworn that I will never take a quiet ride for granted, ever.
Gone are the days that I would have to psyche myself up to take my horse out on the roads, or that I would have to postpone when the wind was up. Taking my horse for a stroll down country lanes, across fields and down dirt tracks safely is an absolute privilege; one for which I am incredibly grateful.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I felt the undeniable fluttering - a feeling which is so familiar, yet one I hadn't experienced for a while. As I was riding in the sunshine, I couldn't seem to let go of that feeling; even now, unable to decipher between anxiety, or excitement.
Thor and I had set off along a country lane. Within half an hour I had made the decision to go for a canter. This would be his first canter on a hack since last summer. A "non event", right? I chose a long, straight field margin to set off. I could see it approaching and with each step forward, I felt a surge of adrenaline.
So many riders are well acquainted with good ol' adrenaline. It is anxiety-inducing, sometimes difficult to control - an energy high!
With anxiety, nervousness, or even excitement, comes tension. It is easy to become unaware of tension in the reins, in your stirrups - even your butt cheeks! Whilst you are focusing on your emotions, quite often the smallest tension is being picked up by your horse. Immediately, they are ready for flight mode!
In this state, your horse is ready to spook. With heightened emotions, it is translated to your horse that danger is imminent. After all, why else would you be so flustered?
In this instance, I always allow my horse to stretch down to graze. We are in this together. I ask my horse to lower his head right down to the ground, to open his jowls and to fully relax. A grazing animal is never a stressed animal; this is a point of relaxation. This is my moment to lower my own energy, if needed. This is our moment to be back to the same place. As horse and rider, we owe it to one another to be calm, happy and considerate.
After a few moments, we were ready. I asked for a couple of walk -> trot -> walk transitions before asking Thor to canter, to ensure we were both relaxed, ready and responsive.
What. A. Ride.
It is truly the first time Thor has been there with me. We were moving as one; a soft, steady canter - slow, uplifting and simply glorious! Riding bareback, it is easy to lift up whilst cantering, so the horse can move freely underneath you and for it to be as comfortable as possible. I do this by lifting at my thigh and riding a two-point (or half seat!) canter with my horse. When ready to slow down, I simply sit down gently and lower my heels, becoming a human brake! Absolutely no weight in the reins - they may as well have not been there at all. It was flawless... We steadied down to a halt with such finesse.
This was our togetherness.
That canter was really something special to me. I hope I never forget it. It takes a ride like that to help you truly appreciate how far you've come; yourself and your horse.
Anxiety and fear are natural responses. Excitement is manageable. With the right tools, exercises and support, anyone can overcome these niggles. Our horses are great teachers - if we would just take time. Time to listen, feel, try and try again.
For help to find calm with your horse, please do feel free to get in touch.