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January 1, 2011

Baby Steps

I began telling people that I’d be riding from Canada to Mexico in June, 2010. The question that I’ve since been asked is, “How do you train a horse to do an undertaking of the kind that you are proposing?” My answer has been “by focusing on teachable moments.” Learning, I added, is a two-way street. There is much that the horses teach me, and vice-versa.

For example—I could tell that yesterday was at least, weather wise, going to be a good riding day. The wind had died down, and the temperature was in the twenties. Raudi was feeling good. I saddled her up, and down our residential road we went, at a good clip. Raudi tucked her head nicely, and when I asked, she did several walk-trot transitions. All was well until she was distracted by high pitched whine of-a-half-dozen or so snowmobiles. Up went her head, and down went her back.

They came up behind us and stopped. Raudi was by now a dancing dervish. I dismounted, lead her over to the machine, and told her to touch it. She stretched her neck out, nibbled at the handlebars, and when I asked, took several steps backwards. I scratched her neck and gave her a treat. At the same time, I chatted a bit with the snowmobilers about Icelandic horses. I then stepped to the side of the road, so that they could pass. Once they were out of sight, I got back on Raudi. As I rode, I focused on what I’d learned from centered riding and connected riding clinicians. I practiced using soft eyes, kept my butt in neutral pelvis, pictured my legs being like melting chocolate, and pretended that the reins were baby birds. The effect was synergistic. Raudi became increasingly more relaxed, and this relaxed me further. No surprise here, this horse has always been able to read me like a book.

This had been a short, but a good ride. I dismounted, and walked Raudi the rest of the way home. The sun’s breaking through the cloud cover seemed to me to be a good omen. The year ahead, I said to myself, “is going to be a good one.”