Caring About Attitude: Finding Ways to Nurture Your Horse’s Spirit
My husband and I have the good fortune to run an Inn to Inn ride business
in British Columbia. We take guests by horseback for all-inclusive vacations,
riding from one remote backcountry inn to another. One day a guest looked
at me sideways and asked, “How do you keep your horses so nice?” She
was referring to attitude. Our horses are ridden by quite a few different
people, sometimes several days in a row, and the boys all get up and come
to work in the morning with a cooperative attitude.
There are the obvious answers: good feed, care, equipment, vetting, conditioning, schooling, sufficient rest days, a natural living environment… and fortunately, the vast majority of our guests are good riders (What a pleasure that is!). We make a point of using all of the horses as guide horses, to help keep their minds on the job and to offer them some consistency in their riding.
But that’s just the basics. The secret ingredient is heart - being empathetic and trying to see life through their eyes, and understanding what they need to cope with a variety of riders of different skill levels and styles. Sometimes we’ll go out for very short jaunts that are all about fun for the horses. We may ride a mile and get off to let the horses graze, just so that it’s not always about long days. We’ll get off, remove the bridles, loosen the cinches and walk home, horses dawdling on their lead lines, picking at snacks along the way.
There’s more to these guys than the physical. They are feeling, thinking, reacting beings. They use all the language skills in their power to communicate their needs and fears, and many people are often too busy or too uninformed to recognize them. It’s sad. More horses would work harder and have more satisfaction out of life if we took the time to share their language, and work on more energetic levels.
Do you know what horses love? Other than food… they like stillness.
Watch horses dozing in the sun. Not a thought passes through their heads,
unless something attracts their attention. They are utterly content to just
be in the moment, in their own company, and that’s where they like
to meet us. The more we can quell our never-ending thought babble, and the
stiller we can be inside (think meditation and breathing), the more horses
will trust and want to be with us.
Sometimes, you just need to “be” with your horse. If you want him to be a friend, treat him like one. Make sure you take moments to just enjoy the ride, and not make it about something, just be together, wherever that may take you. You need to take a few moments, minutes, hours to truly, deeply appreciate the day, your horse, your life… and as you think about the things you appreciate, your horse will soften and relax, too. Try to quiet your mind. Breathe, empty your thoughts.
To be mentally quiet, in the moment and with the rhythm of the horse - his breathing, heartbeat, the rocking of his gait - this is horsemanship at a spiritual level. If we can find it, even in tiny increments, our horses will feel more peaceful with us, and be happier. A happy horse has a good attitude, and a good attitude equals cooperation.