Horse trainers today are kind of different than the ones I knew many years ago. It’s good that we know more now than we did back then about moving in harmony with a horse. As a new veterinary technician/nurse working in mixed animal practices, I got to know quite a few trainers – mostly men. I think I remember one woman in those days who tried to make a living training horses. Not surprisingly, she stood alone with her approaches.
The first reference
One time, when I was a teenager, I met a trainer working with a few horses in the area. One of them was a young stud I’d known since he was a foal. I loved this rogue of a youngster. Smart and cunning with a sense of humor.
The trainer was getting him ready for his first season showing under saddle.
Knowing this youngster as well as I did, I was paying close attention to the trainer’s methods. I tried hard to soak it up like a sponge. There was a strong pull in me to learn it all – right now.
Stud boy was a quick study and just silly enough to give him an edge in his lovely movement. The trainer liked him. But there were those times that he could be a handful. A cuddly bad boy.
A matter of focus
The trainer was very good, his focus being dressage. Stud boy was built old school quarter horse type with lots of power, but so fluid and athletic too. The two of them looked great in the ring.
There were those times, though, when one of them would get up on the wrong side of the bed. Once, I happened on a training session on such an occasion. I was watching them saddle up and saw the trainer lower his stirrups a tad. When I asked him why, he said, “I think I need to sit a little deeper today.”
They went on to do well that show season. And the one after that. And, the phrase he used came back to me from time to time over the years.
Sitting down deep
Sitting deep in the saddle on a horse puts me centered, butt and hips sunk in that center. Deeply balanced and fully connected, I can feel every shiver and shake or tightness. I’m in a better position to roll with the movement of this creature beneath me.
So it is, when life serves up a curve ball that threatens to bowl me over. I lower my stirrups to sit deeper in the saddle. I try to sit so deep that it feels like I have roots.
Instinctively, when decisions have to be made or I’m faced with a crisis, I consider all those that traversed the earth before me. I watched my own, generation after generation of ancestors. I saw them get stuck from time to time and not know which way to go. Decisions had to be made and trails needed to be blazed. I have to believe it was at those times they, also, sat deep in the saddle.
They moved the bullshit out of the way and saw an opening.
A story about practice
In the early seventies, one of my clients was a youngish farmer. Small in stature and soft of voice. He and his wife were raising two girls and milking what was considered a large herd in those days. As most farms, he also kept some small livestock. Sheep, goats and the usual barnyard fowl. The first time I made a farm call to him the cows took me back to school.
A lesson to pay attention!
Happy at my job, I got out of my car, grabbed my stainless-steel bucket/brush and medical bag and headed to the barn. Loudly, I opened the barn door and yelled, “Good morning”. I clomped and clanged around making my way through the barn and I saw sixty-six doe eyed Jersey’s try and back out of their stanchions.
Mister came from the back of the barn, red faced and smiling. He spoke to me happy – in a soft tone. Poor cows. Sweet teachers. The message was loud and clear. Watch the caretaker and notice his relationship with his cows. In this case – slow down! You’re too loud!
A mystery illness
There was a serious illness going through his herd and even the small livestock. I was sent out there a lot to draw blood and send out for test after test. The diagnosis was not coming easily.
He had a dying calf that the University of Minnesota wanted for testing, preferably before the calf died and I offered to drive the calf there. So, we got me fitted with a tarp in the back of my ’66 tan Chevy Impala station wagon. The calf was recumbent and not long for the world. We didn’t know if I could get him there in time but we were going to try.
On a mission
Flying down the interstate, I kept an eye on his breathing in my rear-view mirror. Let’s just say I pushed that carboned up carburetor to the max. Such a responsibility at twenty-three years old.
But, the one time I looked back, I saw him not breathing. It was at that time, heart pounding, I drove my backside deep in the saddle and with focus and intent pulled the car over on the interstate, gravel flying. With a mixture of panic and knowing, I jumped out and started CPR on that calf.
The end destination
I pulled into the yard at the UW with the dead calf in the back, apologizing. The meltdown of tears I had was left out on the interstate. And, honestly, I believe my disappointment was greater than theirs. No one but me actually believed this calf would make it there alive.
One other run
I made one other run to the UW. This time with a pair of sheep lovingly called, Fred and Ethyl. The same carboned up carburetor of a station wagon pulled a very little, open aired trailer just big enough for the pair. Once again, I was flying down the interstate headed to Minnesota. This time I was yelling at two sheep to keep their heads down!
Cargo delivered safe and sound
I got there and wove my way through Minneapolis city traffic. This time with passersby pointing at the two sheep in tow, who occasionally had a lot to say about the whole thing.
Fred and Ethyl got there in one piece and I left them in the hands of intake people and UW students who assured me they’d take good care of them. None the less, I left in tears knowing their fate in the end. I wouldn’t be going back for them.
It’s a practice to sit squarely centered and balanced on a horse. Especially a young horse that is still corkscrewing from time to time. It’s practice, too, to find the steeliness to navigate the zigging and zagging that life serves up.
Sit deep. Balanced and centered. Connected and aware. Soft and deliberate and purposeful. Not easy, I have to use my fingertips sometimes to feel around for these familiar tools. But I know they’re already there. When I need to reach out, there they are, embedded in me from those who have already done the work.