I walked into the indoor arena, the little bay Morgan gelding is patiently waiting as his owner, Joan tacks him up and gets him ready for me to ride. I get my saddle, Joanie and I gently settle it on his back and we finish getting him ready together. This little horse’s name is Chance, and he came our way through a summer camp for kids. He was donated and its pretty shocking that such a nicely put together horse was donated to a riding camp. He was eventually sold to us because he had a bit of a bucking problem and at times would buck with the campers. It didn’t sound like it was a huge problem, but enough of a problem that he “failed” as a camp horse.
We felt lucky to get him, he came here and actually fit right into our lesson program for my advanced riders. There were times he would get a little nervous, or a worried look in his eyes, but my girls were advanced enough to help him through those times. He never did buck with lessons, or out trail riding. When I eliminated the lesson program, Chance needed a new owner and I wanted to go back to basics with him, because the worried look was more noticeable, or else I was more sensitive to his needs. I was slowing down and becoming more in tune to my horses without the stress of constantly giving lessons with them. I was finding out they had a lot to teach me, especially Chance.
Joanie offered to help me with his retraining process. We started working with him, letting him set the pace and we discovered he had a hard time just being a horse with us. The two of us started him from the ground, moved to saddling and ground driving. During his re-training, Joanie lost her beloved horse, Kona. I think Chance played an important role in helping her heart heal, and in the process she fell for him and offered to be his next owner.
Time passed, Joanie and Chance were doing well together until about a year ago. During a lesson, Chance bucked and Joanie came off. It wasn’t pretty, she ended up in the ER with stiches and Chance had a sore back.
Fast forward to this summer. We’ve started him over again and now it was time to put him under saddle. We still see the worried look in his eye, but he’s starting to trust us. Our theory is that he may have been pushed in his training in a way that didn’t make sense to him when he was started under saddle originally. We think he shut down in his past life because he didn’t understand his training, Our theory is that he couldn’t take it anymore, then he started bucking. When he bucked he got moved on to the next owner. We of course aren’t sure this is true, its just a feeling we have about him.
Riding him had been going okay and I was pretty excited that we were making headway. Joanie bridled him for me and handed me his reins. I felt up to him through the reins and he felt solidly blocked, so I walked him around, until I heard him sigh, then walked over to the mounting block and swung my leg over. As I settled on his back I felt a zing, my heart rate accelerated as I gathered up his reins and felt nothing, absolutely nothing from him. He was a block of wood beneath me. I couldn’t ask for a release through the reins, and I didn’t even feel his ribcage expand with his breath. I asked him to open up a little bit and he said, “No!”.
His energy was so blocked that I thought to myself that I should walk him forward a bit to get things moving inside of him. I asked him to walk forward and he did, but there was no head movement, his ribs didn’t swing from side to side, and his gait was very choppy. I picked up the left rein and asked him to turn to the left. When I made contact with his mouth he locked his jaw against me and pulled to the right, hard! I softened my arm, but kept the contact with his mouth. I then shortened the left rein until his head and neck bent to the left. He pulled against me so hard that my arm started to ache and my stomach muscles burned, all I felt was a pull against me with all his might and his jaw locked down tight, no softening, no release, and no try, absolutely nothing. We walked several circles like this, I asked him, ” Chance soften, come to me, let me in, I’m right here”. I sent light down my arm, it bounced right back to me and he said, “NO, I can’t! “
I replied with, “trust me”,
He said, “no”,
I said, “trust me, let me in”,
He said, “no. I can’t.”
I said, “I’m going to move you out faster, maybe that will help.”
He said, “try, but I can’t let go.”
I said”, ok, here we go”.
I helped him up into the trot, the brace got bigger, he pulled harder. I tried to soften my body, his rhythm was wrong. It made no sense, all his effort was concentrated on pulling against me, he lost himself in the pull. It made him jumpy, everything was scaring him, the shadows on the ground, the hay bales, the mounting block. Everything was scaring him, because he was leaning so hard on my arm
I said, “please, Chance trust me and let go”.
He said, “I can’t”.
I said, “please I am here , I won’t leave you, I won’t let you go.”
He said, “I can’t, It’s bad, I can’t. ”
I said, “lets move up, you have to breathe follow me, breathe with me.”
He said, “I’m scared.”
I said, “I’m with you, trust me.”
He said, “I’m scared.”
I said, “I”m here. I won’t leave you.”
He said, “it’s going to get bad.”
I said, “I will try to go with you. I’m here, I won’t leave you. Try to canter, it will help you breathe.”
He then let go, he cantered. He became more fearful, He jumped away from shadows, he tried to shy away from the bales, the mounting block, the door opening. He was scared. I was calm. A calmness settled over me, I felt his fear, but I knew I could handle it. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew to my core that we would go through it together and I wouldn’t come off.
I felt him hit the top of his fear, energy was bouncing around in him, then he kicked up a clod of dirt, I saw it fly by us like slow motion, I thought to myself, “here we go”! Lainey walked in, he jumped away from her, the clod of dirt hit the mounting block with a loud bang, I leaned forward to gather more rein, I knew he was going to blow, but he needed to. I felt a calmness over take me, he started to buck, I let him, then he continued to buck, I asked him to stop, he couldn’t, I asked him to move forward, then with all the strength I had left I lifted his head up and turned him to the left until his head was on my knee.
I said, “don’t buck, lets run!” I kicked him forward into a canter, he cantered and cantered and cantered. I felt the tension leave his body as we shot around the arena, I felt his fear drain away. He started to relax, I asked him to trot, he followed my lead. I asked him if he was ok, he softened in response. I picked up the rein, and said hello, he said hello back to me through the reins, I felt him chew the bit, his jaw softened.
I said, “can you follow me now?”
He said, “I’ll try.”
I picked up the left rein he followed it. I picked up the right rein, he followed it. I asked him to walk he dropped down from the trot. I asked him to canter again, he popped right into it. I settled my body into the trot rhythm. He followed. It was beautiful, I felt tears in my eyes, and goosebumps break out on my body, he was relaxed and just trotting with me!
I turned to the left, he followed, I turned to the right, he followed. All by feel. The reins were open, we had communication. I felt his ribs swing in rhythm of his walk . He quit jumping at shadows. I asked him to trust me and he said ok.
I asked, “can you give me your feet?”
He said, “yes”.
I said, “wow!”
He said, “I know. We were there together,”
I said, “yes, we did it.”
“I wasn’t scared,” he said.
“I know,” I said, “thank you.”
He then showed me he was happy.
I said, “thank you for showing me”.
He then opened up some more. I eventually got off and handed his reins to Joanie. Joanie and I talked quietly about what happened, what she saw and felt, and what I saw and felt.
The bottom line is that I can’t explain what happened, or how I stayed on. I’ve never ridden a bucking horse for that long and stayed with him. I’ve never gone to that dark, scary place, I’ve been too afraid I wouldn’t survive and come out the other side.
I don’t think I want to ever go there again, but I’m glad I did and I’m glad Chance was willing to show me what he needed. Sometimes we do have to go to the dark place to help them find release.
As the day progressed, I pondered what happened. I thought for sure I would be sore, tired, and scared. But the weird thing is that I felt stronger, energized and more sure of myself as both a horsewoman and frankly more confidant as a person.
Did Chance have the dark place inside of him, or did I, or did both of us? I will never really know the answer to that. But I can tell you I have ridden him a few times since that day, so has Joanie, and there is a change in him, he is open and soft. There also is a change in me, I’m open, softer, and taking more time with enjoying the world around me.
Yes, we went to the dark place together, but it helped us find a path to better understanding and a better ability to feel secure in what we know about each other. I have a feeling Chance helped me as much, or maybe even more than I helped him.