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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

 

To Ride Or Not To Ride

In the world of humans and horses there is all sorts of debate about the morality of riding horses and it is something I spend a great deal of time thinking about.

Ari and I are getting close to a time where riding may be one of the things we can enjoy together and I find myself hesitating. The question is: Why am I hesitating?

Is it due to the morality of the subject? Were horses meant to carry weight on their backs? Do we as humans have any right to ask them to do so?

These are questions worth asking, but no matter how many angles I look at it from, the answer must be that it depends on the situation.

I firmly believe horses want some balance of easy harmony with friends contrasted by diversion and entertainment. The variety they experience of both harmony and entertainment determines the richness of their life experience.

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In an ideal world all harmony and all entertainment would be healthy for a horse, but in the real world healthy is a matter of perspective.

If you really enjoy something you might choose to do more than is absolutely healthy in a physical sense, but the emotional component of enjoyment holds its own value.

For a horse, the factors of physical health and emotional health all weigh in as reasons to do anything. How much time is spent eating, how much time is spent playing, how much time is spent walking, how much time is spent running, how much time is spent doing what the horse wants personally, how much time is spent doing what a friend wants the horse to do? For any horse, there is a balance in all this that works for them and brings a quality of life.

I believe being ridden by a human can add to the quality of life a horse has as it adds both experiences of harmony with a partner, and diversion and entertainment in the variations of experiences that can be shared.

Many people would ask me, what about the damage that can be done to a horse’s back by carrying weight? My reply is: The factor of weight and physical damage is one of many factors that is considered, but I do not think the fear of damage is something that should rule every decision we make.

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Quality of life considers potential damage but is not ruled by an absolute avoidance of it.

Horses eating grass is my favorite example of this. My mares are far too fat, and they are very happy. I believe they would be physically healthier if I put muzzles on them or locked them up so they couldn’t eat so much grass or forced them to exercise so they were slimmer and more athletic. However, I am not sure they would be happier. Given the balance of choices, they prefer to be as they are.

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I believe it is not so much about questioning if riding is healthy, it is questioning if riding adds quality to the life my horse and I share?

My warmblood Zohari is in his early twenties and had a bit of a health issue this spring when he got bitten by a spider and stopped eating for a while. He lost a great deal of muscle across his topline and we have been slowly working on feeding him back up to full health. Recently I have started riding him again, for five or ten minutes a day.

I must weigh the pros and cons of the enjoyment we both get from this activity together, against Zohari’s less than perfect back health. There is no absolute answer of right or wrong when you take enjoyment of the moment into account. There is only what feels right and a million factors that weigh into that feeling.

For me, the choice to ride without tack helps me feel the horse’s engagement in the activity with me. It helps me make the choice to ride or not to ride. It brings a richer, more connected experience for me and the horse together.

I do believe in tack and all the reasons for it. Saddles make carrying weight more comfortable for a horse, halters and bridles bring safety in situations where you must change a horse’s focus more quickly than the horse might choose. Everything has its time, its place and its reason.

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I would simply hope that quality of life for both horse and human become the driving force for any choices we make.

With Ari, I believe learning to carry weight on his back will allow him and I an interesting diversity of experience together.

Ari was an eight-year-old stallion living wild with a herd and thousands of acres to explore before he came to live with me. While I think he is grateful he isn’t starving anymore, has water easily available every day, and he enjoys his life here, it is not a very diverse experience. The things we can do together are limited by safe enclosure of the paddock fences.

Riding will open a new range of variations of experiences to share together.

Why do I still hesitate?

Two reasons:

The first is my interest in Freedom Based Training® and taking the time it takes to build enjoyment in everything we do together one tiny step at a time without any tools or incentives beyond our simple shared harmony. Every tiny step of diversity we learn to enjoy together brings richness to our shared lives. On the way to developing riding together, there is a vast and valuable range of experiences that do not need to be rushed, they want to be savored.

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The second reason is more personal and harder for me to share. Fifteen years ago, I rode with skill and ease that I no longer have. I remember what it was like to handle any challenge on horseback with total confidence that I could be in the right place at the right time with the right balance to allow the horse to carry me forward with ease. My life was filled with galloping and jumping and technical trails. While doing all these things I lived for analyzing and improving on the perfect alignment of the human body in dynamic harmony with the horse’s body at every turn.

Life happens and I got sick. I ended up with bouts of vertigo that come and go with random unpredictability. The powerless feeling that comes when you cannot crawl from one side of a room to another without falling on your side repeatedly is one I would not wish on anyone.

Fifteen years later I am better, I no longer have vertigo bouts of that severity and I know how to take better care of myself than I did then. However, I am not the same as I was, and my balance is a shadow of what it once was.

Now when I sit on a horse, I thank that horse for their patience and their kindness to me. When my head spins for a moment unexpectedly I will need to grab hold with my knees, contracting with an uncomfortable tension as I fight to stay vertical and find my center again. I will find center again; I will relax and release with the horse in flow and harmony and there will be many beautiful moments we share.

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I still believe those beautiful moments riding are worth the times I have to work through the difficult moments. The horses that know me well are comfortable taking a deep breath and stabilizing for me when I need it.

Ari has never carried a rider, and so I hesitate as I ask myself: Can I ride well enough, with enough balance and harmony to make this new experience good for both of us?

In all honesty, I don’t know, just as none of us can ever know the future.

I do believe I can do well enough for Ari as a rider, so long as I take it a moment at a time, a step at a time, and build one experience of enjoyment after the next with Ari. If we do this right, we will have as much patience as we need for each other when balance needs to be found again.

For now, until the time feels right for Ari and me to ride together, I will invest my time riding the horses that know me well. Honing my skills, rebuilding my riding muscles, and remembering how much fun can be had between horse and human in the whole range of activities riding includes.

For all of you who consider that question, to ride or not to ride. I would tell you, follow your heart, weigh each situation individually, and above all else, read the horse not the rule book.

There is no absolute right and wrong, there are instead a million variations in the ways we can improve the quality of life for everyone.

Consider them all and forge ahead into all the enjoyment possible for you and your horse.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

If you would like to see a video about my perspective on riding, join us on https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild where I post weekly update videos on everything Taming Wild.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and your thinking and your heart with us Elsa.

  2. Too big a subject to respond to in a few lines but the bottom line is that horses are evolving consciousness just as humans are. Looked at from a broader perspective, we evolve physically and we evolve emotionally and spiritually and we are all part of the evolving consciousness system sometimes referred to as being part of the One. At this stage in the evolution of the horse they are inextricably linked to humans due in large part to the fact that the majority of horses on the planet are now domesticated rather than wild. Perhaps it is therefore part of their evolution to develop emotionally and spiritually through their connection to humans and that may sometimes include the experience of being ridden? It is a fact that they are ridden, have been ridden perhaps for thousands of years and will no doubt continue to be ridden in the future.

    We can speculate (or assume) that most, horses would (given the choice) prefer not to have a weight on their backs. However, I am sure all horse carers can nevertheless point to examples where the horse seems to absolutely revel in the experience they are enjoying with their human rider. Perhaps it is these shared experiences which help to fulfill the continuing evolution of both species and to deny ALL horses that possibility would be just as misguided as pursuing the goal of having ALL horses spared a rider at all times, always and forever. That kind of presupposes that such an (apparently) compassionate human KNOWS EVERYTHING there is to know about humans, horses and the process of evolution and how the power of non-physical consciousness is expressed in the physical world – that would be quite a claim wouldn’t it? This is how horses are in the wild, this is how they have always been and should always be as domesticated animals as well and that’s all there is to it. Really?

    This philosophical speculation perhaps goes deeper than the question calls for but it is after all a very deep and serious question which goes to the heart of what is morally right. We all have to turn to our own conscience to answer that one!

  3. Dear sweet Elsa….. what can I say except I know you will figure things out and all will be well. You’re an amazing person. I remember when you suffered so terribly with the vertigo. You and I share this experience in the sense that a physical medical change within us has caused us to be impacted by the very thing that defines us. For me, rupturing my Achilles and no longer being able to play tennis wch was so huge in my life and defined me is no longer possible and many other physical activities are limited as well. It means we have to evolve both in our thinking and in how we think of ourselves and how we react to it all and go forward. Horses help heal. I think when you are at a point in your relationship and have the necessary trust you have working to attain you will know when the time is right to ride. I would hope your horse would sense your problem and, bec they’re so intuitive, would know it was medical and protect you.

    Love reading all your blogs! You’re terrific and have accomplished so much. I have all the confidence in you 🙂 Hugs !


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