A few weeks ago I was getting on bareback for a little winter ride. Mounting up on Riley without stirrups takes a bit of effort as he is just under 16 hands. As I pushed off my left leg from the mounting block I experienced an intense pain in my knee. I doubled over on his back, did some deep breathing, and waited for the pain to subside. Riley stood stock still there in the paddock with the other horses looking on. After regaining my composure, I considered my options. I could stay on and ride, or I could get off. Of course, I chose staying on 😉 Whatever was going on with my knee surely wasn’t going to get worse by sitting on my horse. We had a nice ride. I returned to the paddock and carefully dismounted. The intense pain returned as soon as I found the ground. My husband and son came to my rescue and helped me get up to the house.
Fast forward a week later and my knee was feeling much better. Ice and elevation seemed to have made a difference. The swelling behind my knee only flared up when I did too much. I grabbed my helmet one day and moved the block into the paddock. I decided to stand on it and see what Riley might offer me. The thoughts that flittered through my brain were that my knee wasn’t really 100% and there was still some ice in the paddock and pasture. However, I had decided that everything would likely be fine. Riley approached me within a few moments. He stood by me and we hung out for a while. I invited him to step up to the block, but he didn’t take me up on my offer. He responded by reaching out and lightly touching my left knee with his muzzle. He lingered there for a bit, never moving his feet. We continued to relax together for a while and then I turned to leave. It wasn’t until I was walking away that I realized what had happened. Was it just coincidental?? Possibly. Either way I’m quite certain he made the best decision on my behalf that day. It was still a bit icy, I wasn’t 100% and he was naked.
A brace, ice and elevation mostly controlled the swelling and discomfort in my knee while I waited for the X-ray and MRI appointments. I realized that mounting and carefully dismounting on the off-side worked quite well and prevented reinjury. One day I decided it was time to get back to more serious riding and tacked up with full gear. Riley was a bit edgy that day, protesting about almost everything I did in preparation. I took my time and we were finally ready to head out to the newly dried out ring. Anxious to get on and begin some real work I led him up to the block.
His attitude for the day continued at the block with him refusing to step up. Every time I lined him up and prepared to mount he would slowly take one step backwards. Ugh!!! I tried to remain patient but admit to feeling a little frustrated, knowing that I could just insist he do it. However, I have worked hard over the last few years to really listen to him and not fall back to using my “training tools” to get things done. That is when it happened, again. Riley reached out and touched my left knee. I stood there a moment in disbelief. He was right! I had forgotten to line him up on the off-side. Last time I had mounted from the left it had turned out badly. I turned him around, he lined up perfectly and stood calmly while I got on.
Clearly, this was no coincidence. Horses are more sensitive than we are. Why should we doubt their ability to communicate with us in this way? Science has proven that other species, such as dogs, can sniff out cancer, notify people in advance of seizures, etc. One of my clinic students told a story about her horse of many years suddenly not letting her mount up. During that time she went to a routine Dr. appointment where it was discovered that she had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition that causes rapid heartbeats. She was totally unaware of this. Once she was on medication to regulate her heart rhythm the horse again allowed her to mount him.
Over the last few years I have gotten much better at slowing down and listening to the horse. Horse Speak® has taught me how to create space for the horse to communicate more freely and how to better understand his messages. It has also taught me how to respond in a way that is natural to him. Horses do NOTHING by mistake. Every gesture, posture, and signal mean something and are done purposefully. Often, they are incredibly subtle and easily missed. If we can become present and open, letting go of our intentions and agendas, we will be able to “hear” what they are saying to us. We can answer their most pressing questions, create enrichment and assure safety, thus demonstrating our strong leadership skills. Then we become the one they want to follow with trust and heart. It is an amazing journey.
Next time you are with your horse try spending a few quiet minutes just “being”. Open yourself up to receiving the subtle messages that come your way. Resist the urge to touch him, allow him to touch you. Notice how and where he does that. Is there a message he is giving you? Learn how to respond in his language. (Horse Speak will get you there.) This is how, where and when the magic happens. Enjoy!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am writing this as I recover from knee surgery to remove a torn meniscus and cyst. Looking forward to getting back to the barn, back to my friends and back in the saddle in a few weeks 🙂