Amongst the women in our barn-well, let me qualify that. Every horseman in our barn is female. Husbands tread very warily on "our" turf. They know they are only enablers of our equine addiction. Like mine, the horse husbands of our barn keep the entanglement to a minimum. "I don't know anything about horses and don't want to." says my husband.
(yet he is an incredible photographer of horses:
Gretchen is a lovely person. She has The Eye of the Master. She's the one who caught Raven's last bout of 'colic' (I'm still not convinced it was colic but what the hell, we'll call it that.). (See my post, "Paying it forward")
I (and Sue) are so grateful for her discerning eye. It takes a real horseman to develop that instinct of NDR- some animal Not Doing Right. (Not to boast, but I have that instinct, too.). As well, it is a pleasure to be in a barn where anyone who sees a horse-even one not her own-that she thinks is in trouble, can speak up and call attention to it. I've done it. I'd rather be wrong (and in our barn, not considered a fool for calling attention to something that ultimately is found to be inconsequential) than to be right but too afraid to say I think this horse is sick. I've been in barns where one doesn't dare to bring the owner's attention to her own horse, because then it will be YOU to blame..or worse, How Dare You Insinuate That I've Done Something Wrong. Or whatever it is that makes some women react as if you're blaming them for a horse's medical issues. (maybe it's because it usually IS their fault, and they don't want to admit it. Or realize it's that obvious.)
Gretchen's mare is a mustang. Sunny is a lovely horse, not mareish at all. She was captured as a three year old (we think) with a foal at foot. It took a great deal of time to tame her. The people who claim they can tame a mustang in an afternoon, like Monty Roberts the "Horse Whisperer", are charlatans. His so called 'Join-up' protocol is nothing but fraud, animal abuse, and out right lying.
Mustangs are wild animals and it takes a VERY long time to get them to 'tame'. Sunny, a mare with an awful lot of sense, and without the need to be dominant, would not let someone so much as enter her pen for the first six months without her trying (and more than once, almost succeeding) to escape by climbing over the 7 foot fence.
Gretchen tamed her, with love, patience, and a kindness that radiates from her. (She did not break the mare. That was done by an expert). Gretchen is the gentlest of souls.
but she's also, I think, afraid. Of Sunny. Or of falling, or of losing control.
She rides with an iron fist. This is more out of fear, I am convinced, than cruelty. She is afraid and so she hangs onto the reins.
She is like me in that I came to riding very late in life. She, like me, had to work for a living for years, moved every two years (as one does when one is in the military), and lived in military installations that had no room for horses. Unlike me, she had children. Her daughter Sadie rides like a centaur. Unlike her mom, Sadie was given the opportunity to ride from a very early age.
The difference between me and Gretchen, when we got back into riding, is that I gave it all up. All the things I'd learned from the handful of 'lessons' I had had, all the advice one reads in the books-I let it go. Other than keeping my ear, shoulder, hip and heel in a line, I 'forgot' all the rest. I figured, I might be old in body, but I am very green in my riding ability. Why not start like the greenest of riders? Start from scratch?
When Sue finally allowed me to ride Raven, all of it was (and continues) to be bareback. The first several times I rode, Sue led Raven. I was embarrassed, but I also wanted to really and for sure learn to sit on a horse with balance, not hanging onto something. So I shut my eyes...yes...and kept my hands behind my back.
I tuned my attention to the horse, and how he felt. Once I had her permission to ride him without her presence, it was much easier to direct all my attention the horse underneath me. It was just him and me. We developed a conversation that continues every time I ride him. As time has passed, I am more able to actually get into his mind, and he mine...and now we talk. I can feel him. He is a stern teacher. He won't do what I ask him, not out of meanness or stubbornness, but out of duty. He is my teacher. He knows this. I ask him to do something. If I don't ask correctly, he gently refuses my requests, but is patient with my fumbling about on his back. Sometimes I get off wondering if I'll ever learn, or if I even have any business being on a horse. I must ask him, the right way. When I do, oh my god, the reward is instantaneous and fabulous.
That was several years ago. I still ride him bareback. Now I can sit his trot without fear. I have learned harmony and balance. I seldom use the reins. I can drop them, and direct Raven with my weight, my leg aids, my head turns. Sometimes I touch his withers to tell him to turn.
Gretchen cannot bring herself to do that. She clings to her reins like they are lifelines. Poor Sunny, she asks, she pleads, please, give me my head. I want my mouth back. Please. Gretchen does not hear. Consequently, they argue. There is no happiness, no willingness in Sunny when Gretchen rides. On the ground, they are lovers. In the saddle, they are arguing.
Sue has very gently tried to tell Gretchen that she is too tight. The Barnlord, who is a professional trainer, has given up. Gretchen does not want to hear it. Is it pride? It shouldn't be. Look at me, I want to tell her, I'm not afraid to look foolish. No one here has ever laughed at me, or thought me a dumbass for admitting I was green. We all were novice riders at one time. No one will make fun of you for admitting you are afraid of a horse, or don't know what to do, or are worried you'll look foolish. It doesn't matter. Let it go.
Is it fear? I think so, but I wish to heaven she'd face up to it rather than cling tightly to the reins.
Sue, ever the diplomat, gently broached the subject. She got a terse excuse back.
I would dearly love to ask Gretchen if I may lead her on Sunny, bareback, eyes closed, hands behind her back.
But I don't think she will listen.