When I moved my business to my new barn in Petoskey, I was thrilled to have my own place. There was tons of work to be done initially to get set up, and I spent time and money setting up my barn just the way I liked it. Everything was going really well, but there was just one problem : I had no arena to ride or teach in.
My horses at first were pretty nervous to be ridden in the near 40 acres of undeveloped land we had to ride in. They spooked at deer, balked at puddles, snorted at the pond and jumped when the ducks and geese suddenly took flight from its surface. The wind blew, the rain fell and stung, they pranced with their heads down and ears back. They wiggled, crow hopped, bucked, and took off from time to time, feeling the invitation of all the open space and threat both of no fence to contain them. Teaching students at times was tense as well, requiring focus on the student’s part, a balanced seat and a very positive attitude coupled with a sense of humor.
In time, my horses settled. We expanded our territory to the property across the road from us with its shrubs, hills, wooded trails and interesting old rubble dumped by some careless person. My horses got fit, tough, and brave. They got reliable enough to have a gallop in the field and come right down to a walk for the trek home. They got balanced enough to go up and down steep hills and ravines, and they got great experience in the meantime.
There were a handful of times I grabbed the back of my saddle, a few pretty hairy situations that came a little close to disaster for my liking, and some good lessons learned on my part. But we’ve had incredible fun, seen some beautiful sights, and created a strong type of bond that comes from relying on each other and experiencing things together.
My interest is not to get people into to situations above their ability. If your seat is unbalanced or you are nervous, get some help from friends or a good instructor. Nothing beats a good seat and you can’t get far with horses without one. But if you feel like the last thing you and your horse will ever be able to do is lope in a field on a loose rein, challenge yourself. Break it down into smaller pieces, go riding with a friend, get ponied down the trail; anything to help you expand you and your horse’s comfort zone. It’s how reliable partnerships are made: by pushing past where you both are comfortable.
Believe me, once you get out of the arena, you’ll never go back.
On a very important side note: getting your horse good about having his feet and legs touched, roping his hind feet and teaching him to stop and give to a rope around a hind foot pays off in dividends doing this type of riding. In this tall grass you never know what you are going to come across – we rode into some old farm equipment lying covered in the grass and I was so grateful the horse under me was prepared for it!