I have been thinking of late, of the amazingness of horses. As a species I've never met one that failed to impress something upon me, but none yet so much as my mare Honey.
A couple months ago I went riding for 3 days down in Southern Indiana at Harrison-Crawford forest. We rode some 17 miles the first day, and at about mile 18 on day two, my knees gave out. My knees don't like riding, but then they like very little in this life. My knees dictate that I ride English, and they really really hate any rides over 15 miles. So by mile 18 I was in pain. Intense, take-your-breath-away pain as something slowly ground the cartilage out of my joints.
I stopped riding. I sat on my horse. She immediately stopped dead. I have spent lots of time teaching her to stop off my seat, and she now does it beautifully. She'll stop on a dime if I so much as sit crooked. This is partially because it's harder on her to carry my lard ass if I'm just sitting on her back, not 'riding' and moving along with her. So some of it's training, and a whole lot of it is that I have given her full permission to correct my bad riding by stopping (which in my view is a lot better then correcting it by bucking me off).
So I sat and wiggled my legs a bit, asked for a soft trot to catch up with my friends again, then returned to walking in agonizing pain. A few minutes later I couldn't take any more, and sat down again. Honey executed a beautiful halt, watched the other horses walking away around the bend, then looked back at me with the calm patient look one may give a slow child.
After a few minutes we again took up a slow trot to catch up, and resumed walking. We repeated this about three more times, each time my knees getting worse, Honey getting irritated with my silliness, and my friends wondering what on earth was wrong with us, assuming it was something bad Honey was doing. So the fifth time Honey stopped dead, I nudged her on. She turned back with her, "Are you sure?" face, and took about three steps before stopping. I nudged her again, she slowly walked about 30 ft. like she'd never been ridden before, and stopped again. By that time our friends were out of sight, and I simply could not trot again. I couldn't hardly move. I tried to 'ride' along with her, but I ended up grinding my teeth in misery and 'sitting' down.
I asked for a walk. She took her head and slung it in a huge circle, from nose nearly brushing the ground to straight up to the sky. It's a gesture she used to give me on a daily basis, but it was the first I'd seen of it in probably a year. A full on "Up Yours" (to say it politely). I could get off and walk, or I could ride my horse, but by God she wasn't going to move again until I did one or the other. We weren't going to have any of this sitting, bracing nonsense like I couldn't ride. I damn well did know better, and I was to get with the program.
This is, in my full opinion, an invaluable horse. This is a horse worth her weight in gold and diamonds. This is a horse I could have so easily destroyed by giving her a good kick and telling her she'd do as I say no matter how stupid it is.
I laughed good and hard, and slid off. I loosened her girth a few notches, worked my knees a few minutes, and limped along toward my friends. She walked slowly with me, let me throw an arm over her neck and use her as a cane for a bit until the blood returned to my joints, and took the opportunity given by my slow movement to grab a few mouthfuls of grass as we went along.
We caught up with everyone, because they had stopped to look for us, and I walked for a good mile or so until I felt workable again and got back on. We rode about 2 miles more then got back to camp. I gave her extra cookies. I really couldn't have been prouder of her if we'd just won the Grand Prix. She is working on teaching me invaluable things you will not learn anywhere else for years of trying. And of course everyone I ride with just thinks I'm insane.
We were riding through the park Sunday at a trot, and I was leg yielding her around trees, soft and light as air. I will shift my seat, and we pick up a trot, sit and ask, we are in a easy canter. Look and touch with my calf, we slide around a tree like a river around a stone. No more then sit down, and we can slide to a perfect halt. Before any of that, when I hook up the horse trailer, she meets me at the gate. She's ready, soft, and willing before she's even caught.
This is the horse someone paid me $100 to get off their property. This is the horse who had been severely laminetic for 2 years, and who used to tell me off if I so much as looked at her. This is the horse who meets any resistance with a full on bull-headed stubbornness that would put any donkey to shame. This horse has caused me more irritation, headaches, and cursing fits then any other animal I've worked with, and yet now that I can sit and look back at it, she's also taught me as much as anyone ever has.
I can work with her. She'll do about anything I ask, though maybe with some forethought. Also in Harrison-Crawford, my two friends horses spooked at a wooden bridge and had to go the long trail around. With the other two horses spooking, refusing, then turning and leaving her, I asked and she calmly walked across that bridge like she did it every day, then stood at the other side and waited for the other two horses. She's never been on a wooden bridge in her life, and anyone who trail rides with a group can tell you the misery of having one horse suddenly by themselves. But as long as I treat her right, she will do this kind of thing all day long.
It's the moment I decide we are going to have an argument, I may as well go home because I will lose, and from then on out it's practically war. She is teaching me an obscenely difficult level of patience and self control. Any temper tantrums, stubbornness, or anger out of me will be met head on by ten times the emotion and sheer body weight. Come hell or stubborn Haflinger, I will not get my way. But if I remain calm and soft, offer a logical reason as to why we are doing this, reward her efforts, and treat her as a partner, we have no limit on what we can do. She'll do anything, go anywhere, and jump the moon. She is really one of the most amazing horses, and anything she can't or won't do I must take immediate blame for. I am our only limiting factor. The more I am willing to learn, and behave myself, the more she is willing to work with me. And we are having a lot of fun.