Over the last handful of weeks, previous blog posts have primarily depicted my in-the-saddle experiences with Leah, showcasing our strengths, weaknesses, and points in between. Naturally, I felt as if a small change in course was needed, so I brainstormed a few different topics that would appease my yearning for this specific idea. I landed on a theme that I feel can be easily forgotten within the world of equestrianism: the bond between horse and rider.
Riding is only a part of the equation when it comes to true horsemanship. As diligent dressage-ies, we have to remember that the relationship we establish with our horse is the foundation for which everything else is built upon. It is also important to note that a successful horse and rider combination cannot excel without trust. So, I decided to jot down 6 small ways Leah and I strengthen our bond outside of the arena, enhancing our partnership in our own special manner.
Allow me to get started!
1. Grooming That Riiiiight Spot
Grooming is so much more than running a few brushes over Leah’s bright auburn coat to whisk away excess dirt and grime. This procedure has become one of my favorite ways to study Leah’s diaphragm, learning the particular areas she enjoys my curry combing most. She now has absolutely no problem shoving her pelvis towards my entire body, contently pursing her upper lip outwards from her mouth when I’ve landed on just the right spot, which happens to rest right above her hip bones. I take a little extra time during grooming just so I can spend additional minutes on these two areas. Knowing how much she enjoys it warms my heart, and I can’t help but chuckle when she makes her silly face.
2. Grazing Time Is Quiet Time
Never underestimate the power of a solid grazing session. Instead of using this time to scroll through my social media outlets or text with friends, I prefer to set the iPhone in my tack trunk and focus all attention on Leah. You can always find me with one hand on her neck, back, or playing with her delicate strands of black mane. For me, grazing is the perfect opportunity to utilize a quiet moment, something that can be rare during hectic daily life. Few things are more relaxing than the sound of a horse munching on their favorite green treat.
3. Adventuring Solo
I’ve mentioned before that Leah and I have been taking small trail rides around the barn, meandering down the driveway… towards fire breathing cows. Bovines aside, this has been one of the best tools for building trust between the two of us. Like today, five new round bales of hay lay before our eyes on the edge of the driveway, and Leah instantly grew rigid underneath me. She gawked, stopped, backed up, and slowly spun around before I could give her confidence with my forward aids. I took a deep breath, mustered up the bravery, turned her back towards the bales, and encouraged her to move forward. We passed all five bales with minor hesitation, and then walked right back past them a second time. This little experience might not sound monumental to you, but to me, it was a much-needed reminder that Leah relies on me for strength, just like I do her. These tiny outings have led to big results, and that is why I love them and their relationship building benefits.
This horse is my heart horse.
4. Bath Time
Now, this form of bonding can go hand in hand with grooming, however, I find myself approaching bath time at a slower pace than I would preparing for a training session. Starting with a thorough hose down (and allowing Leah to slurp from the nozzle, of course) I fetch my Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo from my tack box, applying it to the coat in circular motions with an old rubber curry I’ve owned for God knows how long. Then, I take the Cowboy Magic Rosewater Conditioner and combine it with water in a small bucket, evenly distributing the product over her body once I have rinsed the shampoo away. While the conditioner sets, I use this opportunity to shampoo and condition her tail. The bath ends with another rinse of water, washing all product off, and a finally, lots of sweat scraping. I allow Leah to dry completely in the cross ties before she returns to her paddock, because the sun can heat any water left on the body to a stifling, and unsafe, 120 degrees. No thank you!
5. Just Hanging Around
When Leah resided in my backyard barn, I had the privilege of being her total caretaker. From feeding breakfast and dinner, to stall cleaning, turning out, bringing in, water bucket cleaning and refilling, supplement administering, night checking, blanketing; you name it, I did it. However, my most favorite moments were those I would find myself sitting in her stall, just hanging out with her. She’d munch on her fresh coastal hay, I’d gab about all my daily happenings. Even though I knew she couldn’t humanly talk back, she was listening. She became, and still is, my total confidant over last three years. And this… the moments like these… they are what strengthen our bond the most. I’ll also admit that I need to make these moments happen more frequently. Can someone invent a way to add more hours in the day? It would be much appreciated.
6. Be Present In All Aspects
I truly pride myself on being a very “hands on” horse owner when it comes to having Leah as my partner, and with that comes making her every appointment a top priority in my schedule. While I might not make every farrier date, you can bet that I’ll be present during massage, chiropractic, dentistry, or veterinary visits. First, I know Leah can totally sense my presence during these appointments, and I would like to think that having her human around serves as her security blanket. Secondly, I never pass an opportunity to further my knowledge about her well-being. As her owner, this is my ultimate responsibility. I take my role quite seriously.
Short and sweet, these are but a few small ways Leah and I develop our bond outside of the dressage arena. Completing the daily tasks for her lends greatly to our partnership, but it is important to always seek those extra moments away from the routine.