Well, it finally happened - I rode Bridget! Rising seven, and me still on the ground; something had to change. I'd been putting off taking that last step of swinging my leg over her back because of wimpiness really. Unlike a great many horse people, I am risk-averse. My daughters have become too busy and important to help with the task of spotting Mum while she does kooky and age-inappropriate things with horses. However, the opportunity to get something going presented itself along with our recent move to Texas, where the horses are boarding again. The barn manager is a professional trainer and instructor, and I decided to ask her to help me with the transition from on-the-ground to on-board. She and Bridget like each other, so I put aside my misgivings about working with an unspilkered (Communicative Horses) trainer and decided that if I wasn't willing to enlist someone's help to Move On, I would remain forever on the ground.
So I ordered a test ride saddle, stuck in the extra-wide tree, and pretty much up I got. It all went very smoothly. The following week, the test saddle having been returned and the new one not having arrived yet, we did some ground work, involving free lunging and trying different bridles.
And then this week for the first time in her life, Bridget was not very keen on having her halter put on. She did let me, but walked away twice before doing so. Not a good sign.
So needs must break it to our trainer that we're going to have to do things differently. Quite right, of course. But I felt I had to try and let someone do things in a more conventional way to see the result. Maybe Bridget would have been fine with it. It was good to find out for sure. My intention was to trust someone who is trustworthy and be willing to relinquish, to some extent, my own control over the situation. But the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding didn't want her halter on. There's no way to let someone into this gently - you have to just say it: the horse gets to say no, and if she really doesn't freely choose to do this, then what's the point?
After I said my crazy things, we spent an hour in the round pen - me, the trainer, a three-year-old boy, and Bridget, who was at liberty. We (mostly me and Bridget) worked on shoulder yielding and backing and turns on the haunches and forehand, and standing by the mounting block, and putting reins over her head. She was free to walk away, but she kept coming back for more. remaining placid and content throughout. Toward the end of the time, she came and stood by the mounting block and kept putting her foot on it. That's Bridget - she wants the human role in the exercise. She would like to be the one climbing on the mounting block - it looks like fun. Anyway, she was keen to be in the centre of things, making suggestions.
Riding is such an intimate activity. Why is it that we start by keeping the horse at a distance? We send them away from us to the rail and don't allow them to come close. We use commands and instructions which operate like a remote control device - how often has one read in horse classifieds the term "push-button"? As we sit on the horse, all the distance of the lunge line is present, holding us apart still, and the remoteness of our control remains even though we're in close contact with their bodies.
Horses love intimacy. Not the sentimental kind involving kisses forced upon them. But an intimacy where you share your thoughts and listen for theirs. Intimacy can remain over a distance or be lost in close proximity.
I've sort of done our trainer out of a job; although her expertise is still very reassuring, it's no longer the principal driving force behind what we're doing. However, I'm still glad to have someone around for moral support (I've been doing this on my own for so long), and it'll make me feel safer when I'm riding. Also Bridget loves the company. Two people to hang out with, and no George to chase her away and take them for himself.
The saddle will arrive soon. I'll keep you posted.