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Going on Gut, Rewarded by Growth

Published: 5/13/2015
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

I just couldn't resist: I had three other training horses to ride, but as I went out to the pasture, I saw her look up at me from her pile of hay. My mare had that look in her eye that says, “don't even think about it.”
But I thought about it, and the instigator in me took over. Riding her suddenly seemed irresistible. I swung my halter over the crook of my elbow and walked carefully to her. Of course, I had been warned. She turned away from me to trot off toward her buddies.

From her left side I worked a bit on line-driving her without any line, asking her to trot to the right and then bringing her hips to the left and her head and shoulders back toward me. We played like this for a bit until she was ready to be caught. When I did, she seemed pretty content to be with me.
As I brushed her, I saw that red-hot coat coming through winter’s darker chestnut coat. Something about this horse, her fiery demeanor, her sensitive nature, and the challenge of every ride speaks to the horsewoman in me, asking: Are you worthy of this ride?

I couldn't saddle up fast enough. My normally antsy mare stood perfectly still for me to mount, which was unusual. I pet her and set on down the road to my favorite riding spot – a big, flat, grassy field. A little wiggly to start out, her thoughts obviously with her pasture mates, but nothing too bad.
Once our warm up was over, we picked up a gorgeous trot that surprised me. Her back lifted, poll stayed relaxed and shoulders available. Superb. A little sticky here and there, but for not having been ridden in weeks, I was pretty excited with what I was getting!

I got greedy, wanted more, so we picked up our left lead canter. Our depart went well, and we were off on a nice canter. And then faster, and faster, and faster, and suddenly , she was taking off.
Great, I thought. Here we go again, back to the old days of blazing around totally out of control. But I noticed something different; her ears were forward. She wasn't tight or upset, and her gallop felt pretty nice! Balanced, and relaxed, but wicked fast. I got up in two-point position (out of the seat) and she ran her heart out.
We were at Mach speed, and suddenly I realized we were running out of room. No time to drop to the trot, but I recalled hearing an audiotape of Leslie Desmond, where she mentioned line of sight and staying out of the horse's way to switch leads. My knowledge of flying changes up to the point of hearing that bit involved having perfect timing and tons of practice, as well as many mistakes, upset horses, and late changes or split leads.
In Leslie's audiotape, she talked about flying changes: change your line of sight, leave the horse alone, and let him take care of his own feet, she said. Simple. I'd tried it before on an Arab I have in training and ended up getting run off on the wrong lead. Probably my fault, but as I processed all these thoughts, we were seriously running out of room. And my mare gets pretty panicked about being off balance, so it was worth a shot. I looked over to my left at a spruce tree I hoped to head toward, and no sooner had I done that than BAM.
Instant, perfect change.

At right: two-point position (with only legs in direct contact with horse).

I was so ecstatic I forgot about directing her or anything else, and leaned forward to pet her. BAM! Change. Back onto the wrong lead. I sat back again and another change. Oops! I was starting to have a problem. I slowed her to the trot and after looking over my shoulder to make sure nobody saw my accidental changes, and hoping someone saw my gorgeous change prior to that, I petted her thick sweaty neck and just about died laughing.

I think she knew how proud of her I was. On the way back she had that swinging ranch walk I love so much. I unsaddled her at the barn and took her to my pond for a swim, which is her favorite pastime after teasing the geldings and running away from me.
As she waded around in the water, splashing and dragging my 25 foot rope through mucky weeds, I sat back on the grass and contemplated the glory of getting something right, after getting it wrong a million and a half times. This, I thought, is what I live for.

View Reader Comments:

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5/15/2015 Debbie Hight
My "self confident" mare never seemed to have impulsion or lead change problems in the field, only in the saddle... hmmm.... In my new quest to ride without contact, impulsion has improved dramatically. Then as I crossed the diagonal, holy mackerel, a lead change with no cues! Not sure who was more impressed, my instructor, my horse, or me... I think that we were all laughing!
5/15/2015 Amy
Cool! Horses were born knowing what to do with their feet. Our job is to learn to stay out of their way :).

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