When I was just a girl, horses filled my heart and soul with wonder and love. In my dreams, I ran with the wild horses.
They set my soul free with their untamed spirits. I never wanted to break them, hurt them, or change them in anyway. I relished in their fire and freedom/free spirits.
In my dreams, the horses and I were never constricted to the limits of an arena – we never needed the confinements of a bridle. In my dreams, both day and night, horse and human ran wild together – a true partnership driven by trust, fun for all, and unconditional love.
As a girl, I yearned for a very special horse… a horse I could run and play with, a horse I could adventure and explore with, a horse I could call a true friend – a horse whom I would adore that loved me the same. Thankfully when I was twelve years old, fate brought me to that very horse, and I found my soulmate here on earth.
When I met Annie, it was love at first sight. She was the only girl I wanted to spend time with after that first meeting. I was absolutely wonder-struck after meeting her, and that Christmas, my dream of partnering with a horse of my own came true – Annie and I were officially a herd.
Annie and I were both lucky enough to find each other when we were both young and green. It was not your typical, ideal pairing – a 12 and 3 year old new to the equestrian world – but it was meant to be. We had no trainer to correct our mistakes, so instead we learned from each other. In the beginning, no one was there to tell me I was being too “soft” with my mare or that I didn’t have her “respect”. I was not dominant; I was not feared by my horse. All I knew was an incredible amount of love for my Annie, and that was what mattered to me.
Because we weren’t involved in competition and didn’t have the pressure of being watched by others in our early days, our friendship always came first even when it came to “training”. Most days, we would trail ride or gallop around the ranch for fun. I threw Annie birthday parties and we played games like “bobbing for apples” during our time together. I would sit for hours just reading to my baby, watching her and her herd graze in the pasture. Everything we did revolved around our enjoyment and relationship.
When I was a bit older, I was exposed to a more “traditional” horse world when I started taking lessons for the first time. I had just entered high school and was told that I could get out of PE if I joined the Equestrian team. This sounded amazing - I got out of running track just so I could play with my horse! Serious score. We chose to compete in Dressage, and I looked at this new endeavor as a fun new adventure that Annie and I could bond over. When I first started training, I was looked down upon for my laissez-faire approach to horsemanship and lack of traditional training – meanwhile I felt very uncomfortable about what I was seeing at the barn and in lessons. Training all the sudden felt cold and disconnected. The horses didn’t act like the ones I was used to seeing at the ranch – they were blanker, more distant, and they didn’t seem happy.
I saw young people whipping and yanking on their horses, and I started to wake up to something I hadn’t noticed earlier; I started to recolonize a pain in the horses’ faces that I hadn’t seen before. I started to notice a blankness - a brokenness - in the horses around me. All of the sudden the term “breaking” took on a new meaning, and I felt suddenly so sad. I also noticed that most people did not have the relationship they were looking for with their horses. Something was missing, leaving even the humans feeling unfulfilled. I felt sad for both horse and human.
All of these realizations made me question my own methods with Annie – I started to think that while my intentions have always been good, perhaps I wasn’t as kind in my methods as I thought. Perhaps Annie didn’t feel as free and respected as I hoped she did. As I peeled back the layers and started to see the force I was using with my best friend, who I had always thought of as an equal, things started to really shift for us. Taking an honest look at how Annie felt about training and riding and our relationship led to my first identity crisis.
I decided to drop all force – I wanted to know her true feelings on everything. I was a little shocked the first time I went into the arena with Annie, intentionally at liberty for the first time, and found that when I didn’t have the ropes, when she didn’t have to do the things I asked, she didn’t want to. She didn’t to ride - she didn’t want to train - force had been the thing keeping her engaged, and without it, her engagement was lost. Ouch. As much as I wanted to put the ropes back on and forget, the box had been opened, and I couldn’t close my eyes to what I now felt. I decided that if I could not ride, play, train, etc with Annie without the use of metal and ropes, then we just weren’t going to do those things any more. It was a terrifying thought; I wasn’t sure we were ever going to be able to do any of it together any more, and I made the promise anyway.
Many days, I sat humbled in the arena as Annie walked away from me and my attempts to reach out to her. Many days I left the barn feeling nothing but frustration and defeat, unable to connect with my best friend. Many days I felt the sadden by the thought that this whole time, perhaps she had only been doing what I wanted because she had no other choice - perhaps I had been using her body against her will for quite some time. Things that had once seemed so easy for us with the use of tack we were suddenly having so much trouble with or could not do, and that was hard to face. Also, outside people had their opinions; it was disheartening to hear my equestrian friends and people I looked up to tell me that what I was doing was wrong - that I was going to “ruin” Annie’s training with all of this freedom. With no one to turn to, no trainers, instructions, or guidance to turn to, I nearly gave up many times. The only thing that kept me going was my love for Annie – I wanted the absolute best for her - I wanted to treat her right - and one day I wanted to ride bridleless down the beach with a horse that wanted to be there (lol honestly, this thought did help me persevere). So with through my doubts and breakdowns, we kept trying.
We searched and we failed; we searched and I learned. Finally I stopped trying to mentally force myself into Annie’s space and started to focus on listening – this was one of the most an invaluable lessons Annie needed to teach me. One day when I was sitting in the arena with Annie, dishearteningly eating the carrots I had brought for Annie, looking at her butt in the far corner of the arena as she very purposefully ignored me, I finally had the thought that freed us both. If this was it - if this is all we ever did - this was enough. All these expectations of training and riding down the beach bridleless and all these pressures - yes I had taken off the ropes, but the expectations were still there. Finally, I decided to let them go, and be happy with Annie how we were. When I finally had that thought, crazily, that is when Annie turned her butt around, came up to me, and reached out.
From there, things got easier.
Once I began listening to Annie above anything else, things began to click very quickly for us. All of the sudden, we were trying new things that we both loved and deepening out bond in ways I never new possible. Training was flowing, and that next year on my birthday, I went riding down the beach, bridleless, with my best friend. She actually had the choice to say no now, and she stayed with me the whole time. My mind was blown.
The hard part all along, had been changing my mind. This new horsemanship wasn’t so hard - switching my perspective was the real work.
You can watch the video of our first bridleless beach ride, dream come true, here.
Now, Annie and I are on a new adventure - looking at a new level of freedom. We live together on a piece of land where the herd (now including 11 horses) runs free-range on the property. Besides the perimeter fence, they are free to live as they please, with the choice to move as they please, around the house, the barn, everywhere. They no longer know boxes or fences or containment in the way we all used to, and it’s been the most incredible experience witnessing them like this. They are so full… so themselves… in a way that I have never experienced horses. Personally, less focused on training, this is our new adventure. The herd and I are rediscovering our freedom together, and exploring the nature of the horse/human relationship when horses get to be horses - when they are fully fulfilled without us. What is our relationship with the horse when the pressure to train, the confinement of domestication, and the expectations of others are out of the picture? We are finding out, and in the process, we have all been rediscovering something inside I think I’d forgotten - our wild.
Rewilding is the next step in our journey.