It’s All About Training – Horses as a Mirror for Life
“Training trumps bloodlines.” – Allan J. Hamilton, MD. Lead with Your Heart: Lessons From A Life With Horses
Have you ever experienced a moment where something woke up inside of you, or perhaps a feeling of remembering something special, yet long forgotten? A couple of years ago, I visited the Colorado Horse Park to watch a friend perform with her horse. I remember walking into the barn and breathing in the smell of horses, like inhaling a long-forgotten memory. My heart burst open and a familiar passion awoke inside me. I wanted a horse.
Horses were not new for me. I had several as a child from the time I was about 11 years old until I graduated high school. I rode my first horse Romeo miles and miles in the summer through the woods, down back roads, across streams — at times getting lost for hours. It was a precious gift of my childhood. I loved to gallop through the fields and even began to learn a little about barrel racing. My second horse’s name was Smokin’ Sunday Special and she was a dream. I thought she would be my barrel horse. That is, until she got sick and my parents sold her. That was the end of horses for me. Until now.
After feeling my heart wake up, I bought a beautiful bay 16.3 hand Appendix quarter horse named Providence Angel. He was bred to run with an award winning barrel horse for a sire and a Belmont Stakes winner on the dam side. I remember being so excited to have such a beautiful and powerful horse. It didn’t hit me till later that he was more horse than I had the experience or training to ride. I had never actually been formally trained in horses. I had always just got on and rode my horses. Even the barrel racing I did as a child was without formal training. When I told Joey and Mandy about my new pride and joy, they drove out to Elizabeth, Colorado to meet him and watch one of my riding lessons.
I’ll never forget the day I visited Joey and he said to me “You know Heidi, you really need to get a trainer for your horse. You bought the Ducati of horses. I don’t want you to get yourself killed.” I thought to myself, What? I’m sure I’ll be fine. I rode a lot as a child! Thankfully, I took his advice and began working with Kate, who is now my horse trainer. She agreed to meet with me every week for a lesson. Kate is an amazing horsewoman with a lifetime of experience not only riding, but also performing with horses.
I remember her being out at the barn with me a couple of weeks after I brought Angel to his new barn trying to find the right fit for his saddle. We were in the back arena, and two other women were also there riding their horses. Growing up in the country, I had never been in an environment quite like that. Angel had a lot more training for a horse than I had ever experienced before, and as I was trying to trot around the arena with him, he started bucking and I couldn’t quite steer him as I had hoped. I remember feeling so inadequate and embarrassed at my lack of ability compared to these other women. In fact, as time went on, I noticed how much more experienced the others at the barn were and how much I had forgotten regarding technique and muscle memory for riding. Even with what I did remember, I had to unlearn many old, bad habits in favor of proper equitation.
Kate met with me weekly for more than a year. Each week she focused on exactly what I needed to build riding strength and skill. It wasn’t always a linear path, and I had to work through many challenges. For instance, when I first began learning to transition from a trot to a canter, I sent Angel some confusing signals and he proceeded to buck me off. He then ran what I called a “victory lap” around the arena. In addition to a softball sized swelling and bruised leg, I lost all of my confidence after that experience and it took me many months to regain it. Another challenge was water crossings while trail riding. As it turned out, Angel was afraid of water. For a time, we had to avoid all water crossings. When we finally approached a creek, he reared up and refused to cross. Another time, he simply launched through the air across the water, and it was all I could do to stay in the saddle. It again took many months just to move to the point where we could cross the water without any issues. I was grateful that I stayed with my consistency and training, though, because the level of trust that we built with each other, made the journey worth the challenges.
Then it hit me one day, about a year after I started training with Kate. I looked around the barn and noticed something different about myself. I was no longer the new kid on the block. I had become a more skilled rider like many of the other riders at the barn and in a few cases I had advanced beyond their skill. As I reflected on my journey, I realized the only difference was that I had worked with a trainer consistently each week and practiced what I had learned in between lessons, while many other riders did not engage in any additional training for themselves.
Before this experience, I had never really consciously understood the true value of ongoing training. There were some places in life where I received training and other places that I just took life as it came. Through this experience with my horse and trainer, I gained a valuable life lesson that expanded to every other area of my life. It’s not about the past. It’s about training. It’s not about natural talent. It’s about training. There is no shame in not being good at something. It’s about training. It’s not about pedigree, or where you were born or how much money you have or the color of your skin. It’s about training. It’s not about the destination of galloping through a field or winning a barrel race. It’s about the training and the ongoing experience each day of improving oneself. More than anything, I discovered a profound peace and joy in training because it empowered me to see that I can truly create who I choose myself to be. The joy became the journey for me. To this day, I still continue with my weekly training.
I invite you to take a moment and reflect for yourself, in what area of my life would I benefit from consistent and ongoing training? Then take a next step and explore what that training might look like for you. Commit to making the investment in yourself and your own personal or professional growth. And most important, enjoy the journey!
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