Saturday, October 8, 2011

Happy Horse, Happy Rider

Yesterday, Starlight and I rode to the end of the gravel road and back, a ride that lasted an hour.  Except for one car, we had the road to ourselves.

 It was one of those idyllic autumn days, sun shining warmly, fall leaves showing golds, oranges, greens and reds, vivid against the clear blue sky, small flocks of migrating birds busily gathering seeds and bugs and berries in the trees and shrubs, and the prettiest array of butterflies I have seen in a while, collecting nectar from purple and white wildflowers.

Besides the beauty of the day, another notable part of the ride was that Starlight seemed more relaxed than I have ever experienced with her on a ride.  Not that she is normally tense, it’s just that, yesterday, her head was low, her ears were pricked and she seemed like a happy horse.

On the way home, I realized that I hadn’t needed the reins much at all, they were hanging loosely as we walked along.  I even dropped them a couple times to take photos (albeit bad ones, with my phone) and she just kept walking along.

It made me think about horses, and working them, and the idea that working them “on contact” is desirable.   I’m not opposed to the concept, exactly, mainly because, as I learn more about riding, I realize that I must not truly understand it.  I’m sure that the version I learned in my years of lessons was not correct.  It certainly wasn’t at the euphoric level that I read about when I pick up an article about classical dressage.  It was merely applying pressure on the bit until the horse dropped its head to avoid the pressure.  Then the teacher would say, “That’s it!  Good!” And so that was the right way to get a horse on contact.

However, I can’t imagine a happier, more fun ride than Starlight and I had yesterday on a loose rein, and she did whatever I asked in her bitless bridle.  Granted, I didn’t ask for piaffe and passage, but then, I doubt I ever will.  I just don’t have the patience to practice dressage long enough to get that good.  I’m afraid that tearing across the countryside, preferably with jumps in the way, is about the most fun I have on horseback, as opposed to the excruciating, boring lessons I used to have when seeking bend and contact and collection and all that.   

Other people might love that, though, and I hope they do what they love and that their horse loves it with them.

I’m in it for the fun, and for the joy of a ride on a relaxed and happy horse.

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