For the first time since January, and just when I needed it most, Limerick presented me with a wonderful, calm ride on Sunday.
I did not ride her at all in April; instead, I did some ground work, hand-grazed her, and just hung out with her. I desperately wanted to ride but it just wasn't right. I am an anxious person, with a mind that can fixate on issues--real or perceived--and blow them out of proportion. Unfortunately, Lim is also the same way. If I am already stressed or anxious about other issues in my life, I can't help but carry these issues with me when I ride.
And of course, Lim will pick up on my anxiety and adopt it as her own. Or she will become fascinated with or unnerved by outside influences that she would have ignored a year ago. Thus begins a vicious cycle that we cannot escape from--she will become anxious, I will become anxious about her anxiety, and so forth so on.
Three weeks ago I had a lesson of sorts with Mary, an life-long horsewoman and fellow boarder. The goal of the lesson was not to learn or polish riding techniques, but to work on relaxing within the saddle. Mary first asked me if I was familiar with yoga.
Why yes, I practice it a few times a week, I thought. I also do sun salutations almost every morning. Then before she explained, I understood what I had to do.
Mary had me sit straight and deep and breathe, drawing air deep within my lungs. She explained that when she is tense, she sometimes holds her breath. I do, too. Who knows why--perhaps it's a leftover defense tactic from ancient man--he who breathed as he hid got eaten by the saber-toothed tiger.
Mary also told me that I had to ignore whatever Lim was hearing or looking at. She said that when Lim paid particular attention to something, my own attention would also become riveted upon whatever she was looking at or hearing. Then in turn, I would become curious and worried about whatever was happening.
"It's like you guys want to skip riding and just go out together and see what's going on!" she said. Oh so true.
Long story short, Lim was not exactly well-behaved during the lesson but, unlike what I expected, she did not spook or shy. Every time she began to stare and mentally get worked up over some small issue or the other, I would breathe deep and do my best to divert her attention with small circles and serpentines. For the first time since January, we successfully walked, trotted, and cantered without incident. I was thrilled but still a bit concerned about Lim's behavior during the lesson.
At least I had some new tools--or should I say, re-discovered some discarded tools I had long forgotten--to use with her.
Sunday was gorgeous. It was in the mid-70's and perfectly clear with nary a single breeze in the air. How could I not try to ride outside? Limerick was perfect from the first step. While energetic and motivated, she paid no attention to activities happening outside the arena. At one point early in the ride, another boarder put her horse in the round pen next to the outdoor arena. She then grabbed a lunge whip and went into the pen with her horse.
Oh no, she's going to wave that around and make her horse run, then Lim will be startled, then I'll get nervous, then Lim will get nervous...
Like a runaway horse, my brain was off. The woman flicked the whip at her horse. I held my breath and gathered up the reins to prepare for the inevitable.
But you know what? I realized Limerick was strolling along calmly beneath me, not a care in the world. I let the reins out again. She reacted by putting her head down lower. I realized I was holding my breath and let it out slowly, then inhaled deeply.
It was going to be alright.