BY PEARL RUNNING DEER
There he is. You picked him out of a herd of horses. Or perhaps you rescued him from a kill pen. Or maybe your trainer brought him to you and you clicked right away.
No matter how you got your horse. He’s yours. He is looking at you with his big eyes, and you’re in love.
You tell everyone at the barn you finally got your “Mr. Ed,” “Flicka,” “Fury,” King of the Wild Stallions, “Raven,” “Spirit,” “Wildfire” or any of the other horse names you could think of that came from the TV horse shows you grew up with. You can’t wait to tell your friends at school or work or really, the whole world, that you have a horse!
But now what? You want him to love you just as much as you love him. You want him to be your best friend—just like in the TV shows. But even better, because he is yours.
The first thing you want to do is let your horse know that you are his owner. It doesn’t matter if you have personal grooms or you’re a working student. Your horse should know you, and you want him to know and trust you.
This kind of bond starts from the bottom up. Caring for your best friend. Do you clean stalls? Even if you don’t, let me tell you, there’s something satisfying about looking at a fresh clean stall. The smell of fresh pine shaving/sawdust does something to the brain. I don’t know what it is. Maybe because you did the work yourself. Maybe because you want him to be as comfortable as possible. Or you added your love into the work. Whatever the reason, when it’s done, you let out a sigh of happiness. It has its benefits too. You look at his stool, making sure there are no worms. How is his urine? What color is it? All this becomes preventable medicine. Catching any problems before they get worse.
Do you clean your own tack? Nothing is better than the smell of a freshly oiled saddle. It’s intoxicating. It’s hard to explain how you feel staring at your cleaned and polished saddle. Only a horseman could understand.
Brushing your horse is therapy for both of you. Starting with a hard brush first, getting rid of the dirt, stimulating oils in his coat. It can help get rid of any anxiety. Body brush, nice long strokes. You can see if he has any nicks or cuts. Guess what? You’re getting great stimulating exercise, and he is getting the best body massage. You show him you’re his buddy. You care about him. Then comes the face brush. You give soft careful strokes around his ears and eyes. Watch him close his eyes and quietly absorbs the love. You feel the bond. He feels safe and contented.
If you’re boarding or own a place where you can go trail riding, great! Just you and your horse, the sound of hoof beats, smelling wildflowers and pine trees—the wind in your face. Hearing the birds, looking at the blue sky, and all the soothing greenery around you. You will see life through your horse’s eyes. Become aware of your surroundings just like him. A relaxing ride in the woods can refresh the soul, and bring you peace of mind. Just spending time with your best friend can make you forget the problems of the day.
When it comes to riding, especially in the show ring, you want to work together as a team. You already practiced at home, working on the flat. He knows your aids, both verbal and silent. He can tell when you’re tense, relaxed, happy sad, overjoyed, and peaceful. You know his moods also. Spending all this time with him has made you two grow together. Bonding.
In the ring, he hears your silent and verbal communications. He wants to work. He wants to please you. Your horse now knows why you pat him. Not because he is a “good boy” but because you love him, and he made you happy—that’s what makes him happy.
Now, your buddy looks forward to seeing you. He nickers to you when you walk up to his stall. He comes running when you call him out of the pasture. Not just for treats. He’s genuinely happy to see you. Your horse is thinking (and most importantly reacting), my human is here. We are going to spend time together. I’m going to get brushed, talked to, get treats, and we are going out riding together. I’m loved, protected, and cared for.
After bathing your horse, let him graze if possible. The massage of warm soapy water then eating afterwards makes the horse feel closer to you. Horses are herd animals, and you are part of his herd.
You’re going back to your car, driving home looking like a complete mess. Hay in your hair. Shaving/sawdust down your shirt. Horsehair, all over your clothes (when he’s shedding). Dirty shirt sleeves, filthy arms, and legs. Boots muddy with traces of manure. You’re sweaty from the heat. Everything is sticking to you.
Sure you’re a mess. But how do you feel?
How did your day go?
Are you ready to do it all over again?
Pearl Running Deer was the first Native American who rode on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. She would follow Frank Chapot or Bert De Nemethy teachings. In the 2003-13 she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she working with film directors, being a girl Friday. Ms. Running Deer teaches, coaching at horse shows and gives clinics. She has founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc. Starting a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also is a Freelance writer.
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