Friday, January 15, 2010

Walk Dammit!

Sometimes I help people learn to ride. I wouldn't say I'm a riding instructor, but sometimes I help people learn to ride. When they want to really learn to "ride" as in dressage, jumping or just the proper way to sit a horse, I usually send them to friends of mine who are riding instructors...and most of the people who I help to learn to ride do end up with proper instruction at some point.

So what do I do? I really like to start people in their quest to learn to relate to horses. I particularly like to help women in their early days with horses. Women have a special love affair with horses. Horses are beautiful, strong, soft, gentle, powerful, fast, free creatures...horses are all that we all want to be and often feel we aren't. But horses can teach us so much as well, much more than we realise at first. On weekend mornings I host the local American school riding clubs for the middle and high school, most of whose members are teenaged girls. Some of them have established their relationship with horses and some of them are just trying it out. I teach them about the kind of animals we are, horses and humans, and how it is little short of miraculous that our horses learn to trust us predators so completely. I teach them about the natural hierarchies in a herd of horses, how the older mares who have the nerve to push up to the hay pile and tell everyone else to move over get the respect. I point out to them that the horses are not saying "please" or making quiet requests but they are asserting what they feel are their natural rights. Most teenaged girls are a bit fuzzy about what their natural rights are, so I think that it's good for them to learn to boss someone around.

When I got my first horse, Dorika who is currently my partner of over 20 years, I was in heaven and hell simultaneously. I wanted desperately for her to be my friend and ally...and she bit me. A wiser horseman told me that before she could be my friend, she was going to have to respect me. In order to earn her respect, I had to be able to order her around, tell her what to do, have her obey me. In short, I had to stop saying "Please" and just say "Do it". I tried it and we found a new way to work together.

Most of the girls who come to ride here are really polite young women. I put them on horses who will stand around looking at the flowers until they are told in a believable way that the rider wants them to move. Don't get me wrong...these horses know how to move just fine. Tell them to go for a two mile canter in the desert and you will get one you'll never forget, but if an unsure student is sitting on their backs, they will await their orders. We start out with "Please walk" and work our way up the ladder of intensity and force. After a while, I tell them that I promise not to tell their mothers but they need to be able to at least think "Walk, dammit!" in order to get their point across. Giggling nervously, they mutter "Walk, dammit!" and lo and behold, the ponies amble off around the arena and young women grin.

As I point out, if you can boss around a horse, the sky's the limit.

copyright 20010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


Merri said...

sounds to me like you are a bona fide riding instructor, and a darn good one, dammit!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Anonymous said...

I had to giggle at "Walk dammit!" Chicky and I are still working on that one... Except for us it's more often, "Spin, dammit!!!"