Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My working partnership with my horse

I'm in a therapeutic riding class with two other women with special needs (and a third who hasn't been showing up lately so I have a lot less to say about her.) These two women ride these other two horses and they work wonderfully together. These horses wouldn't work for me. These women are paraplegic so they need horses that are very steady and slow. They literally need to be hoisted onto the horse with three other people in order to mount. The horse needs to be lined up exactly so sometimes the horse has to go through the mounting blocks several times. The horse I ride tolerates this but he's not great at waiting without a rider on his back. With a rider he'll wait until the cows come home but until he gets a rider he's a bit impatient waiting for someone to please ride him. He need to be walked around and around and around. Other horses don't mind just standing there waiting. In fact they seem to rather enjoy it.

I can mount a horse pretty quickly. I need a horse that can trot and later canter. I also need a horse that is responsive but yet also gives me feedback on how I'm doing. I have a movement disorder so I sometimes jerk so I need a horse that doesn't mind that. Another horse is responsive but also twitches every time I jerk. It makes me nervous so that horse is not a good match.

The horse I'm riding now is a great match for me. After a few times he got to understand what my jerks were and ignored them. As he ignored them I relaxed more and jerked less. I tend to grip too tightly and this horse slows down in response. Other horses pull back with their heads. This is what horses "should do" as pulling too hard does hurt them. And it's a great response for someone else but for me it just leads to a negative feedback loop where I pull tighter. When I loosened my grip and moved my reins with the horse the horse went faster. It taught me fairly quickly to have softer hands and bend my elbows. My instructor had been telling me for months and I'd been steadily improving but there's nothing like direct feedback.

I'm sitting on a blanket so the horse is in close contact with me. He's sensitive to how tired I'm getting or how nervous I feel and will slow down if he feels those things. The horse is "not supposed" to do this. He's "supposed" to stop or slow down when I say so but it worked really well for me when I was learning to trot. I tend to push myself too much. He started out trotting slower which was less comfortable for him but he trots faster now as I can handle it better. This gives me a great sense of security and trust in the horse. I feel more confident. And I've learned a lot faster.

For these two other women this horse wouldn't be a great match as they have little feeling in their lower body and so can not respond to the horse in that area. This horse also tends to trip sometimes quite badly when he's not paying attention. It's never been more than a minor annoyance to me as I can feel when he's about to trip and compensate but for these women they could fall off. And in fact the tripping also lets me know that I need to engage him more and make him use his shoulders which is another weakness I have.

In the first class where I could trot for longer distances I encounted this problem with this other horse that this woman doesn't usually ride. This mare doesn't like my horse a gelding who apparently herds mares in his free time. If my horse got too close then her horse would stop. Did this woman or anyone yell at me and tell me I needed to control my horse better? Or did someone tell this woman who can't kick the horse that she should never allow her horse to stop. Of course not. Someone simply gently pointed out the problem to me. It took me a few tries to get the distance right and learn how to control my horse at a faster speed but we worked it out.

My instructor told me this horse used to ride with a girl who had brain cancer and he took care of her in much the same way. Even though fortunately I don't have brain cancer we're similar enough in the way we ride that he understands what I need.

This horse has strengths and weakness and so do I. This horse is a great match for me and a wonderful horse in the program. But I would not recommend this horse to everyone. For another person with different needs this horse would be absolutely terrible. For me he's absolutely wonderful. He has taught me so much in the few weeks I've ridden him than I've learned from riding other horses in the past 9 months. I really love this horse. He was in a demonstration show with another rider and I felt so extremely proud of him.

I hope this horse and I will be riding together for a while. But if I ride another horse I will have to learn to ride him or her and she or he will have to learn to be my rider. Some horses will be a great match and some won't.


Charlotte's Mom said...

I haven't been on a horse in 5 years and your post makes me want to get to a stable as quickly as I can.

Our friend's daughter worked with hippotherapy as her mitzvah project for her Bat Mitzvah--she would be thrilled to know how well riding is working for you!


Thida said...

It's really a wonderful experience.