Unplanned adventures often become memorable experiences. One morning when I went to the boarding stable to visit Lady, my black Tennessee Walking horse mare, I noticed the next door neighbor had a sofa in front of his house with the sign, “Free.”
I wasn’t interested in his sofa. When I got to the barn, a fellow boarder asked me, “What would Lady do if you rode her past that sofa next door?”
Karen was honestly interested in Lady, but I was also very curious. I brought Lady in from her paddock, saddled her and started down the road—of course wearing my helmet. I hadn’t ridden Lady for a month, and the road past our stable had long been a scary place to ride—since Lady had spun with me my first ride on that road when a noisy truck passed us.
Looking Past the Scary Object
So here I was, riding on down the road without thinking about it, only one goal in mind. Perhaps that was a good thing. At least I remembered the words of my riding instructor, “Don’t look at the scary object. Look past it. Relax and just think about going forward.”
So here’s a lesson for today. It pays to know your horse—what scares her and how to help her work through her fears. After riding Lady for more than ten years, I had learned how to work with her. I started down the road past the sofa with a relaxed rein, feet solid in the stirrups and heels down. I focused on the road ahead, not on the sofa, and I made myself breathe deeply, sitting down into the saddle, relaxed and looking up with soft eyes (Centered Riding principles).
When Asking is Better than Telling
At first, Lady was more interested in the “For Sale” sign in the yard across the street. Suddenly she noticed the sofa, and I felt her body tense. She stopped. That is Lady’s way of saying, “Wait! I am not ready to go forward here!” At this point, I let her look for a moment, to think about the situation. I don’t push her to go too close too soon. She did not try to whirl around and run away, which was very good. After a few seconds, I asked her to go on a step or two. I simply asked; I did not force her. She took a few steps and stopped again. I let her stand quietly, as she turned her head and looked at the sofa. And then I asked her to go on by, using the opposite rein against her neck to keep her from moving too far away. The sofa was on the lawn to our left. I asked her to move on down the road without going into the lawn on the right.
We didn’t go far, and then I turned her back toward the barn, going down the side of the road near the sofa. As we got closer, I turned her into the yard to ride her around behind it. I knew this neighbor wouldn’t mind. After riding around the sofa at a safe distance, I directed her to go around it again, closer to it. I let her stand for a moment before asking her to go between the sofa and some bushes. But she decided to first go put her nose on the sofa! I was a little surprised, and proud of her brave curiosity. I sat ready for any sudden actions on her part, but she stood. I asked her to go between the sofa and a nearby bush, and she did.
Another Monster Appears
Just then, the neighbor across the street from the sofa had finished mowing his back yard on his riding mower and was coming toward us to mow his front yard. Lady has never liked noisy riding mowers coming toward her, so instead of making her stand there and face it head on, I turned her into the driveway beside the sofa, taking her a few steps from the road. A little distance usually lessens the fearfulness. As I turned her back toward the riding mower, it was moving on past us, and Lady stood and watched. This whole situation was going quite well, I thought!
I started back toward the barn as soon as the riding mower was going away from us. But of course it turned around, coming toward us from behind. When Lady wants to get away from something or go back to the barn quickly, she does a slow prancy running walk with her head tucked. Usually I enjoyed that smooth gait. I don’t need to pull hard on the reins and she doesn’t pull on me—but I know she really wants to go faster even while she is trying to be obedient. I never let her run back to the barn. Never.
Transformed by Trust
Back at the barn, I rode her in the outdoor arena a few minutes, letting her move in a good running walk to get rid of her tension. I was actually very proud of her. Lady and I had come a long ways in the past few years. It’s amazing how we can use any scary obstacle, such as an old sofa, as a learning opportunity.
I’ve also seen how God has used Lady to teach me how to develop a rider’s patient confidence. It’s the bond between horse and rider that can build a horse’s trust. And it’s the transformational relationship between God and human that helps to overcome fear.