Around 2 years ago I discovered Barnmice and started blogging for the first time in my life.
I was in shock, for I had been on the net for several years and could not believe how much the horse world had changed since the last time I had been involved with horse shows and riding. I couldn't afford the magazines and I had just stayed in my little corner of the universe blissfully unaware of all the changes going on elsewhere. Rollkur and behind the vertical were NASTY shocks I can tell you, and Western Pleasure equally so. Then since William Micklem's site recommended Barnmice, I went to look and joined up within half an hour. At last I had found a horse community where I could be heard. I noticed that people at all riding levels were blogging and thought why not me? So I started with my first blog "A Matter of Comfort" about some of my experiences with bitless bridles. When I told Debbie, my riding teacher, that I had found this wonderful on-line community and had started blogging she said "good...people need to hear what you have to say." Besides, no one else was writting about Forward Seat riding!
After my first few posts I had a moment of writer's block, and then I looked at Barnmice's logo "share your ride" and proceeded to blog about my rides. I had not originally intended to write about my riding, I have Multiple Sclerosis and all the riding I do is plodding around a riding ring at a walk and trot for 30 minutes, I just can't do much more than this. No shows, no trail rides, no fox hunting, just slowly plodding around the ring for 30 minutes. Boring. Then I thought back to when I first started riding and training (my first horse was green broke Anglo-Arab and I was an elementary level rider), how much it would have helped me to read about someone else's problems and how they dealt with them. How much it would have helped to learn the first signs of a problem when it is easy to correct it and how to correct the problem. How much it would have helped to learn to understand a horse when they told me I was doing things WRONG. After all the horses have not read the books and they rarely react like the books, articles or videos say they will! Well, as far as the horses are concerned, with my MS I am sort of permantly at an elementary level of riding. I have to negotiate with each horse until they accept my aids and consent to obey me. I regularly run into difficulties just because I am so klutzy physically. Luckily I have been reading horse books for almost 50 years, been riding seriously and had owned horses for almost 40 years, so I know what I am doing and how to overcome most of the difficulties I face. I've also been riding barefoot and rasping hooves for over 38 years and I started riding bitless with my Jumping Cavesson bridle 38 years ago though I usually used a bit. I know what to do. It just takes me a LOT longer than everyone else to succeed!
Of course, when I blog about my riding, it is a wonderful opportunity for me to spread my horsie philosophy to the rest of the universe. I ride Forward Seat because to me it is both the most humane riding system and the most secure seat for me. I listen to my horses, and this has become even more important as my physical abilities deteriorate. As a physically weak, unbalanced, and slow moving rider I am pathetically dependent on the horse's cooperation and good will. THEY have to put up with my unsteadiness in the saddle poor balance, the tremors in my hands, my quick exhaustion and my weak legs. THEY have to decide if a movement in my hands, legs or seat are just a symptom of my MS general klutziness or if the movement is an aid to be obeyed promptly. THEY are the ones who decide to moderate their speed and impulsion when they feel me become even more unsteady in the saddle. Like fox-hunters I NEED a horse who can think for itself and disobey me if my aids make no sense. I don't want to get a leg crushed up against a fence just because my inside leg all of a sudden starts jerking uncontrollably. If both of my legs start jerking uncontrollably I don't want the horse to start running as fast as it can! Since the horses are so good at figuring out my confusing signals it is just pure politeness for ME to listen to them just as closely, and to give the horses the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong. If I was a perfect rider I wouldn't be just plodding around the ring. I am the boss, but I listen to the horse's comments with respect, and alter my riding if I think that the horse is right. They often are. In return the horses slow down or freeze when my signals make no sense, and this gives me a chance to get my body back under some type of control. This really counts when my hands all of a sudden just drop the reins! Needless to say this is not the reigning riding philosophy of our age. But it works for me.
I have also become a position fanatic. So long I can keep my position good I can deal with most of what the horses come up with. With me it is an absolute necessity to keep my head up, heels down, my lower leg steady, my knees down and to grip just with my upper calf (except for emergencies.) By working on my upper body position I gain the strength necessary to walk erect. All the time I ride I am continually checking myself, feet, legs, knees, hands, back, shoulders and head, over and over again because my body does not do it by itself. Back when I was younger keping my position was automatic, now it is a never ending process. By describing how I learn to keep my position decent and how it helps me I hope I can inspire others to work on making their positions more effective. With my correct Forward Seat position I am a much stronger and more effective rider than I would be if I just slouched in the saddle like I want to. Good riding is hard work for me. VERY hard work. But it is the best pysical therapy for my MS. I never did replace the electric wheelchair I wore out because riding horses keeps me strong enough to walk on my own two legs (with 2 canes.) Natural riders with exceptional balance and timing do not need correct position all the time, but for all of us who are not natural riders it can be a life saver. Literally.
I am not a natural rider, I am a complete physical mess and I have always been a physical mess. I could not afford many lessons when I started riding seriously. I just had my wonderful horse Hat Tricks, "Common Sense Horsemanship" by Vladimir Littauer, and a burning desire to become a good rider, trainer and horsewoman. Nothing in riding has come easy to me. With a lot of reading of equitation books (100 to 200, somewhere in there), a lot of experimenting, and a LOT of listening to my horses I have finally started to figure out what all those horsemen were talking about. And it often is not what they wrote! Good horsemen are rarely good communicators in human language, 6 different authors may have 6 completely different methods of dealing with something, and some 20 different ways of describing it, and when the horsemen try to describe what something FEELS like often does not coincide with what the horse is actually doing (especially with collection.) Luckily I am pretty good with words, and in my blogs I am trying to get a lot of these ideas across in a way that anybody with some riding experience can understand. I also hope that riding teachers find my descriptions useful! So many times in a lesson my first reaction would be "What?", because what the teacher said did not make sense at all. Hopefully my descriptions make sense to you. When I started blogging, deep in my heart I hoped that some riding teachers would refer their students to some of my blogs. Since I am so hopeless as a rider there is a good chance that what I say will work for you no matter how uncoordinated, weak, unsteady and unbalanced you are. All it takes is hard work and listening to your horse.
When my last horse died I finally had enough money to start experimenting with horse equipment, both old and new. I have never gotten any money, tack, or other favors from any of the manufacturers or dealers. I always pay full price. All of my opinions about any piece of horse tack are purely mine. I noticed that a lot of the tack reviews are done by people with some ulterior motives, often promising miraculous results. I'm different, I have no financial interests in anything, I have no "reputation" to keep, I am not trying to sell "my" system of horsemanship. If something does not work out I try to figure out why and then I decide whether to try it again or not. Of course it is up to the horse! On the other hand if something does work for me I will tell you so, and I will also tell you why I think it is working. About miraculous results, I've only gotten them with one piece of new equipment (Spirit bridle for advanced bitless riding), and marked improvement with the horses with one other piece of equipment (the Corrector pad and shim system.) Since I have decent hands when my MS is not acting up and because I know what I am doing, most of the "miraculous" cures are just minor variations to me. I promise to always tell you the truth as I see it about everything I write about. I'm not rich so I can't try everything, I do my research and I try the new tack that I think will help me. Sometimes I am right, often I am wrong. I can always count on the horses telling me when I mess up!
I really, really, really hope that all of you, my readers, enjoy reading my blogs. This is the most writing I've done since high school. I also hope that you all pick up some ideas and methods that help you improve your riding and training. Horses are endlessly fascinating and complicated creatures, each one is different and what works with one will often not work with another horse, and what works one day may never work again. Since my body changes so much all the time I get a good education in how to change what I am doing when it no longer works! I just listen to the horses I ride and I listen to Debbie, my instructor, and because of their cooperation I have become a much better rider than I should have considering my handicaps.
Ever since I first met a horse when I was six years old horses have been the center of my universe. I owe everything to them because often they were the only things that kept me going. If anything I write helps make a horse's life easier then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. Horses are just simply wondrous beings, fully deserving our respect and consideration. It used to be when I saw a horse I just saw a horse, now I see a person, one worthy of my patience, humanity and respect. They give us so much back. Treat them well.
Have a great ride!