Stand­ing firm

Three times my young trail horse re­fused to go where I asked---but I was the one who had some­thing to learn.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Mar­ian Ver­meulen

Stan­ley is my best friend. My lit­tle palomino geld­ing has trav­eled back and forth with me to col­lege, and he’s been my part­ner on many ad­ven­tures. He of­ten seems to know what I’m think­ing, and he is a first-rate trail horse. We’re de­vel­op­ing real team­work. It wasn’t al­ways this way. In spring of 2010, I had been rid­ing Stan­ley for only about six months, mostly in an in­door arena. He was still very green, but he im­pressed me with his pa­tience, will­ing at­ti­tude and quick mind. That sum­mer I brought him home to Michi­gan and we be­gan ex­plor­ing the lo­cal trails.

One day, we were fol­low­ing an old spur of the rail­road track in the woods. It was a piece of trail that I had not ex­plored be­fore, and it slowly dwin­dled, leav­ing us bash­ing through the un­der­brush.

At one point, I asked Stan­ley to head through a thicket of bushes into a leaf-filled de­pres­sion but he hes­i­tated and look­ing un­cer­tain. It was the first time he had ever been un­will­ing to go where I asked him, and I urged him for­ward.

He ar­gued, but I softly urged him on, keep­ing his nose pointed in the di­rec­tion I had cho­sen, un­til he fi­nally com­plied. As we stepped into the de­pres­sion, Stan­ley promptly sank into thick muck. He lunged his way out and stood ner­vously, with black mud all the way up his legs. I apol­o­gized sin­cerely, pat­ted him and we found a new route to continue our ride.

A cou­ple of years later, Stan­ley and I found our­selves lead­ing guests on trail rides through the rocky foothills of Roo­sevelt Na­tional Park in Col­orado. Stan­ley grew up a lot dur­ing our so­journ in the West. My slightly clumsy young trail horse was be­com­ing a tough, con­fi­dent moun­tain pony, ex­pertly guid­ing his string of horses over the rocky trails.

On days off, we would head into the pine for­est, spend­ing hours alone in the wilder­ness. On one such trip, we came across a wide, flat area cov­ered in a car­pet of leaves. I asked Stan­ley to cross it and he re­fused. I urged, he obeyed---and once again we

STU­DENT TEACHER: “I am slowly learn­ing from Stan­ley that if I try to un­der­stand his rea­son, he usu­ally has a very good one,” says Mar­ian Ver­meulen, shown here with her geld­ing.

sank into deep mud.

Back home in the sum­mer of 2015, I was rid­ing Stan­ley along a dirt road when I de­cided to take a trail through some trees. Stan­ley went read­ily down the shoul­der into a fairly deep ditch but stopped dead a few feet from the bot­tom. As in the past, Stan­ley rarely re­fused my di­rec­tion so this time I drew on the ex­pe­ri­ences from our past rides and gave him the ben­e­fit of the doubt. We climbed back up and con­tin­ued down the road. Sev­eral yards later I no­ticed a deer trail head­ing down into the ditch I had just tried to cross. The deer tracks had sunk deep into black, wet mud.

We rid­ers talk a lot about gain­ing the trust of our horses and earn­ing their re­spect, yet we must also learn to trust them enough to some­times give them a say in the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process.

This is dif­fi­cult. It’s nat­u­ral to fear that if you give a horse too much free­dom, he will try to take ad­van­tage of you. Yet what I am slowly learn­ing from Stan­ley is that if I try to un­der­stand his rea­son, he usu­ally has a very good one.

The more I learn, the more I re­al­ize that when a horse of­fers you un­ex­pected or un­wanted be­hav­ior, he may be try­ing to tell you some­thing. Whether you al­low his mes­sage to in­flu­ence your de­ci­sions is your choice---but give it a go some­time. You might just be pleased that you did.

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