Karin got right to the point: “I’m not going to ask you what you want to do.”
That was good, because I didn’t know I what I wanted to do. My plan was to just show up and see what happens next.
By the end of the lesson, I was beginning to understand why Karin takes this approach.
I didn’t spend much time riding. And that was another thing Karin told me right away: “We’re probably not going to get you on a horse today.” She changed her mind later and toward the end of the lesson I got to spend a few minutes learning the proper way to say “whoa” and “giddy up”.
We started with the halter. Under normal circumstances, I do okay with halters – as long as the thing remains untangled. But once one section gets twisted around or gets turned inside out, a halter becomes a Chinese puzzle for me and the more I mess with it the worse it gets. In the old days, I would just hand it to one of the girls or go get another one.
Karin deliberately tangled it up and looked at me.
I stepped back and put my hands up. “Please, don’t do that!”
She chuckled and put it on the horse herself.
The horse was Caspian, a nine-year-old, 17.2 hands Percheron-Thoroughbred. Karin got him about four years ago.
“He was completely unbroken, no training at all. He was a blank page. And I wrote on him.”
I thought, “Now you have another blank page to work on. And never mind the doodles – just write around them.”
In four years, Karin has turned Caspian into a good boy. I’m glad of that, because this big guy was our demo horse for the brushing lesson. First with the currycomb, top to bottom, front to back. Followed by the regular brush, same pattern. Karin demonstrated on one side of Caspian, I returned the demonstration on the other.
Karin patted the top of the horse’s rear. “The kids always miss this part.”
As we led Caspian into the arena, Karin explained how it is for horses in nature – how they follow the lead horse and how their sensitivity toward each other’s movements and body language allow them to gallop in a tight pack without running into each other.
“Imagine a mob of people trying to do this. What would happen?”
I wanted to make a reference to the Detroit Lion’s offense, but I settled for: “They would stumble all over each other and somebody would get trampled.”
“That’s right. Now you have to be the lead horse and get them to respond to your movements. Use your body to communicate with the horse.”
She led Caspian around the arena, turning her shoulders to cue the horse on the direction she wanted to go. It was pretty cool.
Karin gave a quick tug on the lead rope. “Even this is too much weight. Leave slack in the line.”
It occurred to me that the rope isn’t for the horse. It’s for us.
Then, I got my turn. Holding the lead rope a few inches to the front and side of Caspian’s mouth, I squared my shoulders and we walked.
“Also use your voice in combination with your body. And look in the direction you want to go.”
It was working. I didn’t have to pull on the lead line at all. The horse was responding to my physical cues, not the tug of the rope. We went all around the arena, snaking through old tires Karin had laid on the ground. We stopped when I wanted to stop and proceeded when I decided to go. I thought about the direction I wanted to go first, and then I cued Caspian. I’ve led a lot of horses – to and from the barn and pasture, etc., etc., etc., – but I never did it this way. This was fun.
I think this what I need to learn first: to communicate with these guys on their terms. I’m guessing all the technical riding stuff of the various disciplines doesn’t mean much until that fundamental lesson is learned.
I got chance to ride Caspian a bit at the end, but I’ll tell you about that next time.