Sunday, June 21, 2015

Slow Horse Movement - Proud to Disappoint You

I am a former speed junkie. Horseback riding speed, as in fast, heart pounding speed over daring fences.  I understand riders who want to experience that too, both experienced riders and absolute beginners. I am proud, at Kensington Stables, to disappoint every rider who wants to pay their good money to get that speed thrill that day as they walk up for their trail ride, their one trail ride they may have all year, or in the last five years, and hope they can get that TV vacation resort advertisement "Gallop on the Beach."

 I am a saddlefitter, I study the effects of rider's weights on the backs of horses, if you can't stay centered and still and deeply balanced in the saddle at any speed, even the walk, you are hurting the horse. Walking isn't too bad for them. Those riders expecting to blast across some beach, or trot relentlessly on any trail, bouncing your body and pounding your spine into some poor horse's back....don't come to Kensington Stables. We care about our horses.  We want them to remain motivated to work with and for those riders taking lessons who do want to develop trust, who understand you earn the right to speed. We feel responsible for the patrons of the Park not to have your inability to control the animal ruin some kid's future. Sometimes we have to be cranky to get that point across, as there is no time, zero time, to nicely explain all this to consumers who pay good money and expect their TV idea of riding to be laid in sparkling consumer researched and developed package at their feet. I think the fact that we provide and allow direct control of the animal at all, to any and all comers, is a generous and miraculous function of human to human trust, Please earn your patronage.

Where this desire for speed comes from within each rider must vary. Or it's just standard roller coaster thrill. And that's maybe the heart of the issue, the roller coaster being a pre-engineered mechanism, designed to keep us safe, while feeling vulnerable. We trust that speed machine. People get the idea that a horse should be pre-trained ( available at an hourly affordable price of $37) to perfectly deliver a breeze blowing thrill. As though the horse is a machine to be used. I can always recognize the true experienced rider who takes a trail ride with us...they never, EVER, expect to go any faster than a walk the first time, you just do that out of respect for other people's horses. Everyone else who says they have experience and proceeds to expect the gamut of privileges, from speed to being allowed to take the horse out by themselves, just displays all their ignorance, in marquis lighted glory.

This separation between the purchasing rider and the horse, maybe is the source of how Animal Activists come to believe that riders, and all horsemen, are abusers,  Those who ride without personally performing the long years of work to build trust, and believe their money grants them the  right to experience some version of speed, whether a one hour trail ride in Prospect Park, or some longer term arrangement where another individual and or/staff is responsible to deliver an animal for entertainment or sport value, no matter how much that rider practices their athletics of riding skill, is assuming that animal is safe for their roller coasting entertainment. Trust in staff and other humans to cover for possibility of things going badly under the transfer out of the hands of trainer into consuming rider's sole control allows these riders to be disappointed when that staff says "maybe not today, will you be going as fast as you would like." I wonder if the more wealthy riders threaten their staff if disappointment looms. I wouldn't know. But it might be how some truly lousy riders make it to the most prestigious show rings.

Taking a NYC Carriage ride is one of the safer horse activities, as the design itself, the driver being in charge while the patron sits, was "thought up" long ago in the age of horse culture, to compensate for those who needed the service of a horse, but did not personally have the time to develop trust.

Those riders who believe in their skill as riders, and take other persons property out for a mad dash gallop, because they trust their skill as a rider to "handle anything", and do so without specific request by owners of such horses to do exactly that, a mad dash chaotic gallop, are, in my mind selfish m------ ( rhymes with mashed potatoes). The equivalent of borrowing someone's car and doing donuts in a parking lot. Meantime the car owner next day mysteriously gets a flat tire, but thass not the borrower's problemo. At least not right away, keep doing that, keep thinking you can do that, keep escalating  unearned privilege, keep on.....I'm not going to say what can happen. Cause and effect are rarely connected by the ignorant and willful and controlling types. Horses are a good way to scare the bejeezus out of this habit of expected privilege, but that's another blog post.

When I look back now and examine how I went from being picked last in gym, to that day, that one single day I can remember when I passed through the "speed looking glass" and entered the world of athletes, it happened because I trusted my horse to protect me when I galloped through a wooded twisting rocky trail, and make it out the other end unscathed. This trust developed over the course of years, the two of us getting to know each other. My horse's ability to protect me came from years of physical conditioning that allowed her to negotiate all those turns, rocks, and leg busting footing over tree roots. She had learned how to handle that ground, learned what to look for, and was a pile of muscle and fitness ready to process it. I had learned how to stay with her motion and remain centered and balanced.

I was young, and took for granted all the small moments that created that trust. Or maybe, it's not that I took for granted those small moments, I just did not make the connection how that speed that day had anything to do with those small moments that created trust. I had been convinced that speed and daring feats of thrill, proof of my great horsemanship, were a result of me conquering fear. None of the rest of the fuzzy warm stuff, the small moments, counted. Not only did they not count, but you had to keep a lid on it. You couldn't let anyone know you were doing that because it was perhaps "baby-ish." You had to live up to the competition of who can be the least afraid. And to prove that, you had to boast and be non-chalant about all the near neck-breaking versions of stupid you did to regularly toughen your chicken shit heart.

Most people who I teach are afraid of speed, have the opposite desire, and want things slow and safe. I love teaching these people because I can open up to them to how, now that I look back on how I got there, how to bring yourself into speed and movement and potential things going badly, and how to come out unscathed, or at least not badly scathed. You do have to be able to break a fingernail, cut yourself, get klonked and bonked and suffer some straining. You will fall off. But falling off is a way different thing than getting thrown off. Falling off is about losing your balance. Being tossed is quite often about believing in your skill and assuming you can skip trust.

Small moments also do not mean, sneaking into the horse's stall and whispering love sounds, although that stuff you can do plenty of and it is effective. What I mean by small moments, are the invisible touches, invisible cues with the rein, the leg, the leadline, the pressures of touch and guidance, and the lack of any cues at all, when the horse has done the right thing. I had a great trainers who taught me horsemanship is not overt control all the time. They taught me a style of touch that works, and gently corrected the too strong signals which shut off lines of communication. They also taught me the backing off the cues is the second part of the deal.  I call this "The Window of Peace."  It's my shortcut term, don't look for it in any book.  And it is best delivered with a leading sound, to signify when the "Window of Peace" is occurring. That sound is your voice softly, and not "trumpet loudly", saying "Good Boy" or "Good Girl" in combination with your body relaxing, and ceasing to give direction for one second or if you can, for five seconds,

Wouldn't you want to work for a Boss like that? Wouldn't you want to have trust in someone like that? Wouldn't you actually consider trust in someone who did not need to be helicopter boss? Wouldn't you perform better for a non-helicopter boss?

Those who answer " Who gives a shit, every boss is bad, and I will make it my mission to get over on every boss I ever work for, now and forever" remind me of some horses who have lost faith in humans. And there are horses like this you can never fully trust, even though you may be able to work with them. And there are horses you must handle differently. Just like not all humans are good people, only most humans are good people.

 But not a one of those horses, a horse having lost faith in humans, is a NYC Carriage Horse. Bright examples of the most faith-in-humans soaked souls I have ever witnessed. We should not reciprocate by "doing them a favor" and relegating them to some pasture to do nothing and eat and beat up on each other for entertainment, oh, I mean horseplay. I wouldn't enjoy being put in a room full of other people with no private bedroom of my own, to watch TV and have sandwiches in constant supply as a measure of compassion for me who cannot speak for myself, so that somebody else may un-employ me and box me into a welfare room that somehow resembles asylum, When instead I could be interpreting the small cues and puzzle out the direction of those who attempt to create trust and offer me work, shelter and daily small digestible variety and purpose of work. I'm not an idiot requiring free food and TV forever and neither are our Urban Horses. If you are going to anthropomorphize, have some background in horsemanship, not just accept this separation myth of human vs. horse-useage as speed thrill machine, Or as work slave machine. That sleepy look on any horse's face, is the same wonderful sleepy look we have when we are fully immersed in work we know and respect, and are calm because we can handle the workload without stress. Wild eyed, chattering and "spirited" workers,with manes they toss about for attention, so beautiful they need martinis make the conclusion.

I have had a few speed junkie riders, who I have managed to keep occupied with the complex and deeply layered task of trust development. So much so, have they been occupied, that when they are allowed to plumb the depths of trust development, not that they would admit it right away, but after a while, the speed junkie students have confessed to me not in so many words, but in attitude, that they were only speed junkies because that's what they thought was expected. Imagine how many Animal Activists are fueled to abolish horse ownership across the board because they think speed junkie-ism is what all riders seek.

Urban Artists and Riders seeks to dismantle this mis-perception that riders and horses are separated and antagonistic entities, one controls while the other obeys,

Urban Artists and Riders seeks even more to share the reward of trust, coming from your shared urban horse, to you.  This reward will break all but the most recalcitrant pathologic speed junkie. Because it was not the speed thrill I got that one day, my kneecaps missing the tree trunks by millimeters. The best part was the fact that my horse knew where my kneecaps were in the first place.