Wednesday, June 2, 2010

MOMENTUM ~ Part 1.

Seven year old Brooke was one of the first neighbors that I met in my new, old farmhouse. She knocked on my door with her girl scout cookie order form in hand and her mom standing in the background. It was cold on the porch so I invited them in, and of course, bought Thin Mints and a box of those peanut butter cookies. A few weeks later she arrived on my doorstop again and delivered my order. YUM! As the weather warmed up I chatted with her and her mom walking their dogs or riding their bikes by my house. I had not met any other neighbors, one of downsides of living in a rural area where houses are not packed onto tiny lots, which of course was also exactly the reason I was living here on my small slice of heaven on earth.

I am not sure where or when the idea popped into my mind to invite Brooke over for horse back riding lessons and then to compete in the local gymkhanas. I had watched small kids compete in the lead line events during my first year of showing with the St. Vrain Riding Club. I do remember talking the situation over with my horse to see if she was up for this adventure. I told Lakota how blessed I felt to live on this little acreage and have her in my back yard where I could take care of and watch over her. I felt like offering this to a horse crazed young girl was one small way we could pay back for our wondrous good fortune. And Brooke reminded me of myself at that age and I will never forget the thrill of my first pony. They are nice folks and good neighbors but they cannot afford to buy their little girl a pony. It just felt right.

The interesting thing has been to watch Lakota with this little girl. Lakota is not an “old pokey nag” by any stretch of the imagination. She is not the most confidant horse in the world and, as a friend of mine so aptly described her disposition at times, “her survival instinct is incredibly strong”. She is built for flight and can be quick as lightning if she feels threatened. You may be wondering, as I have myself, if she is the best horse for the job, but she is the only horse that I have and there isn’t a mean bone in her body. And here she is with Brooke; just as mellow as I could ever hope for. These past few years Brooke has learned how to be with a horse; to groom her, lead her around the property, as well as our riding lessons. What little formal training I have I am willing to pass on to Brooke.

We began in the round pen, a fifty foot round pole enclosure where both Lakota and Brooke feel comfortable. Lakota actually poked around the circle with her head relaxed and hanging down, sometimes we wondered if she was actually sleep walking! Brooke was eight years old when we started and I was talking to her about momentum; how to keep Lakota walking, what to do when she comes to a complete stop, which she did any time she wanted to. But momentum was a brand new word and she had no idea what I was trying to convey to her. I watched how hard it was for a forty five pound girl to make a nine hundred pound horse pay attention. As much as I wanted to step forward and compel my horse to move forward, I wanted to allow Brooke to take charge and make things happen. But we had to come up with some strategy to balance the playing field. I have no trouble cuing Lakota to pick up speed using just my voice and my body position. Forward momentum has never been an issue with this cute little mare. And I did not want Brooke kicking on her sides as I have seen a lot of little kids do with their old slow poke ponies. I was not at all confidant that Lakota would put up with that, nor should she in my opinion. Brooke learned how to cluck to Lakota and how to pick up the reins and turn her head and ask her to step out in a new direction. This way she could lead her back to the rail and pick up a slow walk. We progressed to a fast walk and set up obstacles and she learned to guide her horse around the barrels or cones. She learned to stop Lakota (when Brooke wanted to her to!!) and how to back up.

I have a comfortable t-shirt with an old cowboy on it working with a young colt. The man is Ray Hunt, one of the founders of Natural Horsemanship, as we have come to call this marvelous movement. There is a quote from Ray under the picture that sums it all up.

“Believe in your horse, so your horse can believe in you.”

* annette

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