This was my sixth year of riding with Brent Graef at his yearly Virginia clinic. I learn so much from him each time, but this year was huge for me. I recently had a BIG setback in my horsemanship. It took me down to not being able to turn loose at all, to an humiliating degree.
What stemmed from a terrifying horse bolting experience seemingly fused itself to some other non horse related terrifying experiences. I tried to solve it the usual way, by fighting myself. In ki aikido, this is called fighting mind, and I had a terrible case of it. This was not directed outwardly to the horse, or other people, but inside myself. However, a fight is a fight, and I’m sure the horses I ride, even good old solid horse Ben, interpreted it that way.
I expect I will be a beginner rider for the next couple of decades at least, and I know this because I have exposure to some really great riders. My teacher, and several others at the clinic this weekend are really good horsemen/women.
I had noticed cantering in the field would start out okay, but lacked any degree of real quality. It was either slow and tight, or fast, unbalanced and undirected. Even when riding without reins, there was this energy deep down that held me, and the horses I rode, back. I do know to ask for help, but turns out I don’t have a lot of trust in life. It was hard to accept help from people well intentioned, but lacking in an empathic understanding of my experiences.
Brent, like any great horseman, has the ability to read the energy of horses and their humans. He looked at me and said « You might have trusted someone before and it didn’t work out so well, but you can trust me.» It was real hard, but all through the weekend we had some pretty deep conversations, and I knew that he had life experiences that could relate to mine. He counseled me better than any psychologist could.
I wanted to get back the younger version of me when I would jump anything, and just ride out laughing and free. Here I was in the clinic unable to even trot out without tension. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life. I was thinking, this is just a friggin TROT for goodness sakes. How many years have I trotted around the arena, and out in the field? What the heck is wrong with me?!
This had been brewing, and gradually taking down my canter, my trot, even down to the walk, where everything starts (after leading and groundwork of course).
Everyone was real supportive, and I became a clinic crier. Yes, I cried. I cried because I was embarrassed, I cried because I let myself and the horse down. I cried for that bolting horse and the punishment it received from an ignorant trainer.
Brent told me that horses can have flashbacks too. I know that to soothe a frightened horse you have to direct with compassion, kindness, and respect for their self preservation. That’s the way you would work with the human as well. I wasn’t doing that with myself though. My solution was to admonish myself more and more.
The horse world can be kind of cliquish, and sometimes there are those in the stands watching that are critical. It’s easy to imagine working with a horse from a lawn chair it seems. When I was a kid I did jump courses and I certainly did not come from the same class as the fancy horse people in my group. I don’t participate in things like that anymore, but the social shame remained. One would think it’s a kid thing, but it remains in the adult world-both the horse and music world.
The Wiseman Farms family, and the groups that show up at Brent’s clinic, are there for good horsemanship. Not only was there no judgment, but there was compassion, and several people shared their « riding and crying » experiences. My teacher told me not to be embarrassed. She said « it shows you’re doing the work. »
As surprising and embarrassing as it was, It really brought home the saying that you’re not working on the horse, you are working on yourself.