Old School Training: For those of us who learned how to ride horses at a riding school as a child, you probably remember the routine. We were taught where to put our hands, where to put our feet, to keep our backs straight, eyes forward, heels down and all those other wonderful basics taught to beginning students. Some teachers are obviously better than others and I happened to have one that was an old school cowboy as my first teacher and, as with most, he had his good points and his bad points.
Let me give you an idea of where I lived: I lived in a very rural area of Southern Maryland where it took 30 minutes just to get to the grocery store. This was a time when neighbors raised a variety of crops and we shared with one another. We canned our own fruits, built are own greenhouses and barns, never locked our doors and just hollered as loud as we could to say hello to the closest neighbor.
The neighbors were part of my extended family and we always helped each other out, even if it was just to walk over and borrow a cup of sugar. We built our own well for water and when it snowed we might be snowed in until another neighbor would dig us out with his snowplow. In those days this was horse country where you could even ride your horse to school.
Horses, Horses, Horses: I took my first riding lesson when I was 6 years old and I just couldn’t wait. I was so excited! Like most little girls, I had horses on the brain. Being a small town, I think we only had one riding school. I still remember jumping out of the family station wagon eager to run to the horses. This is when I got my first whiff of that wonderful horse scent, which I still look forward to today. I saw a big red barn and then the horses in the pasture beyond. But before I could run down the hill towards them, this really tall older man with a scruffy face, big cowboy hat, western boots with spurs and dusty jeans came out to greet us with a cigarette in his mouth and dog at his side. This was Buzz, the man who would become my new best friend and teacher.
Even a few lessons down the road I was still a small, bright eyed, innocent, young child excited beyond compare and I couldn't get enough time with the horses. I loved every second I could be with the horses and absorbed every single word Buzz offered me. One day I went to my riding class excited and curious about what my new lesson would be. Buzz told me that we were going to learn how to fall off a horse safely. However, I couldn’t understand why I needed to learn how to fall off. It's funny how children think sometimes...I never intended on falling off. It was a long way down from the top of my horse and I just wanted to learn how to ride, not how to fall off. So, I refused to fall off when Buzz asked me to. I was a spirited little girl.
Cowboy vs. 6 Yr. Old: Buzz on the other hand was not going to let a little 6 year old girl disobey him. So the first thing he did was put me and my Welsh pony, Farnley, in front of a 6 foot solid wall of cinder blocks, walked behind us and whipped the pony as hard as he could. This sent Farnley, and me, up and over this cinder block jump from a stand still. We "popped" it. We both made it up and over safely and landed still together, albeit both shocked.
Ok, maybe it was a 3 foot wall, but it seemed like a 6 foot wall to me. It was tall enough that neither I nor Farnley could see over the top of it. In any case, Buzz came around the other side and to his surprise said, “Oh, you’re still on?”. That told me that it was now a game (remember I was just a 6 yr old little girl). I needed to be more alert and stay on Farnley's back because Buzz was trying to get me to fall off. So it became me and Farnley against Buzz.
The Big Beautiful Black Stallion: Lesson after lesson, Buzz kept trying to get me to fall off but Farnley and I kept winning. And then one day Buzz upped the odds in our little game. He asked me if I wanted to ride his beautiful wild stallion that he kept in the barn. Now, I loved all horses and thought they were just sweet, lovable creatures that loved me as much as I loved them. So, of course I jumped for joy and said “yes, yes, yes!”. I had no idea that “wild stallion” meant a horse that had never been ridden. I did wonder why it took Buzz so long to put on the saddle and bridle and why the horse was so hyper and seemed mad at him. Hmmm?
I jumped on this big beautiful black stallion, so excited, while Buzz was holding him down. Before I even got my feet in the stirrups the horse was off and running. We were in the field at a full gallop and racing into the woods at top speed. Wow, was this great!
Soon I realized that this horse didn’t want me on his back. I never thought that he was a bad horse or that he was a problem, just that he didn’t want to go riding with me. He was trying to knock me off with low lying branches, rub me off on the trees, kick, buck, shake, rear and everything else he could possibly think of. Being a small child did have its advantages in this case. I just curled up into the saddle, pulled my legs up behind me and gave him the reigns. I tucked my head in as close to him as possible so he would have to hit himself before he got me. I figured he wouldn’t want to hurt himself and I would be safe as long as I was smaller than him. Luckily I was right. I was still having allot of fun holding on though!
We went about this way for quite some time. But, sooner or later, he got tired and I was still on. I had no idea where we were as we had left the farm a long time ago and were now somewhere in the country. Oh yea, we had jumped quite a few fences too. Even though I was a only six, I figured my horse knew where home was and that he would go home in order to get fed. He did. We had a great time going home. We walked, trotted, cantered, jumped some more fences and just had a ball together. It was so much fun!
You should have seen Buzz’s face when I rode the black stallion back to the barn, got off, took off his tack and started washing him down. He never asked if I was ok, but did ask if I had fallen off and I said no with a big innocent smile on my face. I’m not sure whether Buzz was happy or sad. I think he was happy because he said I could “break” his other wild stallion tomorrow and I was thrilled!
A Mother’s Love: I was so happy about the ride that when my mother came to pick me up I told her the whole story all the way home, over and over. She didn’t seem quite as thrilled about it as I was though. I rarely saw my mother angry, but boy did she let Buzz have a piece of her mind the next time we went for a lesson. Oops.
I never did get to ride the other stallion. Looking back, I realize that the black stallion could have killed me, but in my innocence it was just fun and exciting.
Buzz gave up trying to get me to fall off, I think, and we continued with our training. He said I had a “seat of glue” so we entered all the jumping competitions we could. I had a blast! And yes, I had my first fall many years later; but it was one of those that happens in slow motion where you lose your balance, hold onto the horse's neck and slowly slide off, while you're trying to figure out how you could possibly pull yourself back up. Immediately, I thought that falling off wasn’t as bad as I had believed it would be and had fought so hard not to do when I was six.
The Waterhole Rituals:
Obviously, looking back I realize that Buzz’s training methods were not always the wisest and safest, although I appreciated everything he taught me (intentionally or not).
Growing up my whole life with horses, I was sure there was a better way to train horses other than "breaking" them, and possibly a six year old child at the same time. Many years later, now older and presumably wiser, I was lucky enough to find the Carolyn Resnick Method. She doesn't "break" horses, she "talks" to them and they understand her. It's absolutely amazing to watch her work with horses.
After reading Carolyn's book, "Naked Liberty", and watching her DVD's I realized that the reason I was able to connect with the black stallion, and why we had so much fun together, was because I had given him the freedom of choice and I just had fun with him. I didn't try to stop him, fight with him, hurt him or yell at him. He learned to trust me because I gave him his freedom to do and go wherever he wanted while I was on his back. He obviously wasn't use to putting the ideas of "humans" and "freedom" together. I was just a friend going along for the ride, so to speak.
My energy was high and I was extremely happy. The stallion had to feel my joy and excitement and he joined me with his enthusiasm. After a while he trusted me so much that he responded to my aides when I asked. It all happened very naturally. We just understood each other.
That "naturalness" is what I love about Carolyn's Method. She observed and learned these natural ways with horses as a child and into her adult life and was able to turn these natural ways of communication into a program that she could teach others. Everything about her Method feels so natural and right to me.
I've always had a wonderful relationship with my two horses for over 19 years. I honestly didn’t think the connection with my horses could get any better. However, to my delight and joy it has become even more magical. And since I am only just beginning to learn the Rituals, I know it will get even better.
Carolyn has opened my eyes to a world that makes me just as excited now about developing the magic with my horses as I was when I was 6 years old and getting on that big beautiful black stallion for the first time. Wow!
Thank you Carolyn for the amazing joy that I have been able to experience, and will continue to experience, with my boys - Jazz and Apollo. They thank you as well.
Thank you Teddie for your charming story. I'm so happy to have been a part of bringing more joy into your relationship with your horses. I look forward to our continued training together and the fun we'll have.
Watch out for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.
Here is a video of Teddie and her boys, Jazz and Apollo, being spontaneous with the Waterhole Rituals. She is limping slightly in this video because she had a broken foot and was in a walking cast. The break was not horse related. You just can't keep a good horse woman down.