I had it coming to me.
I rode that pony to within an inch of her life. I thought riding was a simple proposition: climb on a horse, dig in your heels, and go. My pony knew better and tried to tell me different, but I wasn’t listening, no matter how many times she tossed me. I had my own agenda.
Forty years later, I’m a better listener, which helps explain why I’m getting a master’s in counseling and also studying natural horsemanship. I want to listen and learn and forge keen-spirited relationships that bring out the best in each of us, whether horse or human.
Maybe I’m on the right path, because something wonderful happened to me.
My white horse appeared.
Actually, I’ve been walking past him for three years without paying much attention. Mystic lives at the stable where I ride, Fiore Farms, but he’s been declared unrideable. His past and heritage are uncertain, though he looks Andalusian and was reportedly a high performer who got pushed into burnout. I’ve known him only as a pot-bellied pasture horse, sweet but emotionally distant.
Now Mystic is my special horse and I’m his special person. He and I are learning natural horsemanship together with James and Kate Cooler. We’re starting at square one, finding out how to understand each other and communicate our wishes and needs. Groundwork—or groundplay, as James calls it, reminding us to have fun—is where we’re beginning because that’s the foundation of natural horsemanship.
The notion of working with a horse on the ground is new to me: I always thought horses were for riding. To my surprise, groundplay actually is fun. It’s a chance to bond, to learn each other’s cues, to sort out leadership issues, to warm up and calm down. To romp.
In just a few groundplay sessions, I’ve learned that Mystic and I share certain similarities: we’re both hypersensitive, eager to please, and have performance anxiety. He’s a little baffled by my ineptitude; I’m in awe of his gracefulness but am not sure how to channel it. I’m constantly entangling myself in the lead line and dropping the progress stick and string. Mystic’s anxiety frequently causes him to stop, lift his tail, and squeeze out a few plops of manure while looking at me with slightly desperate eyes. We both exhale gratefully when I pause to rub his neck, giving us a break from our beginners’ confusion. We’ll be working on these presenting issues and all the others that are bound to emerge, with James as our master teacher and couples therapist.
But I’m excited about doing the work because I’ve been waiting a lifetime for my white horse. Funny that Mystic was there all along; I just wasn’t looking and listening hard enough.