Horses read people.
No matter how sure of ourselves we think we are, or we convince ourselves we are, horses know.
I’ll never forget my first lesson after 15 years away from any serious riding. The trainer knew I had previous experience and she had seen me helping my daughter prepare for her lessons. She felt comfortable enough with what she had seen to send me down to the lower barn to prepare a horse to ride.
I was so excited and I must say, a little apprehensive. I had ridden for a long time as a kid and had been super comfortable in my skin back then, but now I was different. I was older now, and a single mother of two girls who needed me. You know how it is when you’re a parent. All of what you have goes to support your children, especially when resources are limited. I couldn’t afford to waste time, energy, or money, and I certainly couldn’t afford to get hurt. On top of that, this dream to ride again seemed extravagant.
What was I doing even toying with the idea of riding horses again?!
On one hand I was energized and excited. At the same time I was feeling anxious and intimidated. “This is kinda scary” I thought to myself …
and then I wondered where that thought came from.
When I was 12 or 14 or so, I was fearless. I rode around barefoot in my bathing suit, riding bareback and double, standing up and sliding off rumps in the fields at a gallop, and jumping off swimming horses into Crystal Lake. I was the type of kid who would get on anything. I would be the first one on a young horse right after spending a few weeks of round pen work with a bag of feed in the saddle on the filly or colt’s back.
As an adult returning to horses, I felt intimidated by the large animal in the stall with me.
The horse was a male chestnut gelding that lots of kids at the barn rode. His name was Fred, and much like his name, he himself was nothing fancy. He was just a simple and reliable citizen. But in that instance, there in the stall, just him and I, he didn’t seem like a willing partner. I didn’t know why he was moving around so much. He seemed so unsettled.
I had no idea that my own energy was affecting the horse.
I spoke quietly at first and then I thought I should be more dominant so I tried being firm. The more I tried to be in charge, the harder my heart pounded.
He sent every signal he could to tell me he wasn’t a happy camper, including short of pinning his ears (a sign of serious irritation from a horse). I just didn’t understand why he was so unhappy. I got him brushed and tacked up, but it wasn’t an easy or pleasant experience. It seemed more like work than fun.
Interestingly now, 15 years and many equine partners later, I reflect on that first adult experience with horses. With my understanding and knowledge, I recognize other would-be horse lovers in my old boots.
When it was happening, I didn’t understands why Fred was anxious and irritated. Never did I imagine at that point that he was reading my energy.