I have been thinking a lot about how people approach competition with horses and how to nurture our relationships with our horses while we are asking them to perform for us. The reason why is because a lot of times horses experience burnout, as a result of their humans pushing for some kind of success.
This reminded me of years ago when I brought my gelding Khami back from an injury. I had been conditioning him very slowly and carefully, and he had done a couple of one-day endurance rides post-convalescence just fine. We went to a five-day ride, with the idea in mind that we would take it one day at a time. I didn’t know if he would be able to manage five 50 milers back to back, so I didn’t think of doing the whole thing. I thought of it just like I think of a ride itself – break it up by vet checks, then it doesn’t seem like such a long ride. Each day I’d call home and say, “I think we’re staying another day, we’re doing great!”
The first day of that ride was kind of a zoo because there were close to 100 riders and horses. I’d never ridden with that many other horses and riders and the energy in the horses was sky-high. My horse just wanted to run, he didn’t want to act silly, thank goodness. He loves to run, so as a rider it’s important to rate him and find a good pace where he can do that and not hurt himself, keep a steady rhythm. He was very smooth to ride, so riding longer distances on him was very pleasurable. Basically, in those days, you would just point him at the trail and he would go. We got through the first day just fine, even though the trail had been mismarked and we went about 15 extra miles.
Each day we grew stronger. Each evening I took care of him and sat with him. By day three we were a little lazy going out, but the aches and pains wore off as the sun came out and we explored new trail. I made a great new friend on that ride, Beth Menczer, whom I remain friends with, and we rode, talked and laughed our way through the beautiful Lincoln County landscape. We weren’t riding fast, only keeping a steady pace on a loose rein.
Day four was even better, we felt energized somehow. I’d put a sheet on Khami because it was raining terribly hard and I didn’t want him to catch a chill after the day’s work. During the night he took off the sheet and left it in a heap in the corner of the portable corral. When I examined it, all the hooks were still in place. He had gotten out of that thing like Houdini!
Day five Khami didn’t want me to put the bridle on, so I rode him in a halter. By then I had a very athletic, fit horse. The thing that was awesome about him was that he loved to do things with me. There were interesting things that happened on that long trail ride. Our rhythms became synced. Our energies were matched. We stopped to pee at the same time. We felt surges of energy at the same time.
In retrospect I think that because of Khami’s recent injury and rehabilitation, I did not expect much, in fact I told a friend I had no expectations. It was the best approach, not a lot of stuff attached to outcome. We would do our best and not push it. My focus was on my horse and his well being, and he loved what he was doing, so it all worked out. Beth and I hugged our horses and each other when we crossed the finish line for the last time.
I drove home elated: we had finished all five days – one of only 30 horse/rider teams out of about 95 horses starting out that first day, looking good. On the way we got stuck in a Fourth of July parade in a small town and I heard Khami jumping up and down in the trailer in tune to the band music.
This was before I knew how to do liberty work. Before I knew bodywork to keep my horse going down the trail. I was blessed to have a horse like him who loved what I loved. Other times since then I haven’t been so enlightened and then things didn’t go so well. I pushed, I didn’t listen to my horse’s rhythms or my own, got involved in my excitement about riding with friends, and my horse got sick or injured. So now I make a point to try to stay in tune and in the moment and not miss what my horse has to tell me. What I lose in time I will gain back a hundredfold in health, understanding and relationship.
Khami is now 23 and still my horse. He didn’t accummulate a lot of miles like some endurance horses, but those we did together were fun. He still loves to run for shorter distances and is a great trail horse. His personality is bigger than his 15 hand frame, and I feel he is grateful we found Liberty Foundation Training so we can enjoy more together. During semi-retirement, my grandson Obie rode him in some limited distance rides. He has taught my granddaughter Ariana and is also now teaching my youngest grandson Kaiden to ride. What this horse has to offer still surprises me. From the day I got him 17 years ago until today, he remains a great joy in my life.