To be completely honest, I've never actually minded much that I can't ride my horse.
I realize that to the average person, that sounds slightly like insanity. Horses can be tremendously expensive animals to keep, and in my experience, most people balk at the idea of holding onto one that doesn't have a use. We're a little less sentimental about them than we are our mostly-useless dogs and cats, and I think most people who own horses want to be able to participate in the full horse-ownership experience -- trail rides, shows, incredible feats of equine athleticism, the works.
So you can probably imagine the kinds of looks I get when, after trying in vain to keep myself to myself, I have to admit that my horse isn't trained to ride. Oh, and also, she's around 16 years old. Surprise! In my defense, she hasn't been sitting around in my backyard, all potential wasted, for all of those years. She was wild until she was around 9, then she was rounded up, then she was starved and needed time to recover, and then I embarked upon the daunting task of turning a wild animal into a willing partner.
The saying in the horse world goes that "green on green equals black and blue." It's not a sentiment I'd disagree with: an experienced horse person can be paired with an inexperienced horse, but an inexperienced person should be teamed with an experienced horse. In whatever situation, one part of that horse and human duo should know what they're doing. But reality has a way of intruding, and sometimes we let our hearts rule over our better sense. Plenty of horse owners get into trouble this way... and plenty of horse owners who make the "right" choices, who buy an experienced horse, still end up in way over their heads. Horses are living creatures with ideas of their own, and some of the most seemingly docile horses only seem quiet because they're quietly planning your demise. (This is particular true of ponies. Evil, evil ponies. ILU, ponies. Call me.)
I would never recommend that others do what I did -- adopting a wild horse as a novice horse owner -- because having worked in rescue, I've seen too many times the end result of that kind of foolishness, and it's usually the horse who suffers because of our ignorance. For me and Juno it's worked out pretty well, but only because I had quite a bit of wild horse experience (just not riding
experience) before I took her on. Still, in a way I'm grateful that I set out into horse ownership with an animal that isn't trained to ride: it forced me to spend a lot of time building our relationship, building trust, and perfecting ground skills, instead of just climbing on and riding headlong into anything I wasn't prepared for. For the most part I didn't rush, because I couldn't
Granted, five years or so is a long time to work on ground skills, but at least now Juno and I have reached a point where it's not her lack of knowledge holding us back, it's mine. I'm not qualified to start a horse under saddle, and recognizing that is a pretty big thing for me. (Let us not speak of the long-ago days of yore when I thought that I was perfectly capable of starting Juno under saddle myself. Suffice it to say that were I not a huge advocate of wearing helmets for all equine activities, I would not be here at this moment, typing at you. Aw, bless, Juno, you didn't kill me after all!)
One of the big perks of living in Pagosa Springs and working for Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship
is that I'm surrounded by people who share my philosophy on horse training, who I can count on to handle my horse as I would handle her, and for perhaps the first time I have the option to hire a trainer who I would have no reservations about. (Look, I'm really particular about my horse, okay? I won't let just anyone touch her, much less train her. I'm not going to apologize for it, because I think my overprotective mama bear impression is totally awesome.) Of course, I can't afford to pay any of those people to start her for me, and having lived with that state of affairs for years, I had thought I was getting used to it. But now that I'm finally working on my horsemanship in earnest again, and getting instruction from qualified people, and really getting somewhere with my horse, I have become sharply, keenly, pathetically aware of just how much I want to ride her
. Oh, Juno, I want to ride you so badly
, you poor oblivious creature, and you just have no idea.
This is how our saddle-training sessions usually go (though not usually with a borrowed Aussie saddle). I put the saddle on and go, "Yay, Juno, you're wearing a saddle! Move around, do a little twirl, let me see how it looks! OMG, so fashionable!" And Juno says, "Well, okay, um, I wore it for awhile. Like, maybe two whole minutes. So, I'm good. You can take it off now." "No, really. Off now. Please. Please and thank you." "It's not my color. Really. It's... I don't want it. Do not want. Remove. Now." I'm pretty sure she's caught on to the fact that if she's okay with the saddle, I might try climbing into it. So instead she makes sad faces and demands that I rub her forehead to comfort her.
It was one thing when I was living at random locations around the west and watching other boarders in my barns have a series of misadventures: horses that kicked, bolted, ran off with riders aboard, ejected riders before running off, rubbed riders off against fences... the list goes on. (On one particularly memorable occasion, my then-landlord pulled up his shirt to show me the series of purpling bruises on his chest, each perfectly western-saddle-horn-shaped, which had been inflicted as his horse tried -- ultimately successfully -- to buck him off.) I've known some great riders who have great relationships with their horses, but mostly I've known people who are scared and won't admit it, who aren't scared but should be, who get on and ride by the seat of their pants but not necessarily with the input of their self-preservation-oriented hindbrain, and I've wondered what exactly about the horse experience appeals to them at all, because a lot of what I've seen just does not look like fun. It just looks like an emergency room visit waiting to happen.
Watching people play with their horses at the Parelli campus has been a different experience, though. Sure, I see students who aren't as safe or savvy as they seem to think they are, but for the most part, what I see at the Parelli campus is people and horses having a good time together, doing incredible things, and for maybe the first time I've really looked at that, and realized that most of those people haven't had some amazing childhood equine education that I missed out on -- many of their histories are much like my own. And it's made me realize not only how much I want what they have, but that it is attainable. It can be done.
My excellent and talented instructor Chris -- who I have decided is my BFF whether he likes it or not, poor sod -- has been searching for a way to get Juno into a training program, either at the ranch or with a qualified local Parelli instructor. I'm determined to make it happen one way or another. Maybe I'll just show up at the ranch and put her in Pat's barn and hope that nobody notices she doesn't belong there until after they've ridden her for a few months. Maybe I'll spray-paint her a nice chestnut so Pat's proteges will think she came from Atwood Ranch. Maybe I'll launch a Get Juno Started Under Saddle Before She Dies Of Old Age fundraiser and actually get the money together. I'm determined to get there in the end, onto that path toward excellent horsemanship, but hopefully this time doing a little less walking... I'll let my horse carry more of the weight.