I am one of those people who always wanted a horse as a little kid but never had one. I loved horses from the moment I saw one (from what my parents say, I don’t remember because I was 3). Every year we would go to Michagan where my mom grew up to visit her relatives and my favorite time there was when we would spend a week or two at my great uncle and aunts small hobby farm. They had two show Arabs we would get to sit on the horses as they were lead around. I remember how happy I felt as we spent time grooming and feeding the horses.
When I was 8, my parents put my sister and I in riding lessons at a local ranch. I remember every horse I worked with and how different they were. It wasn’t all fun and games but with our trainer Mark’s guideance he really helped keep us safe. Looking back now, I see he did something else, something very important. He challenged us to understand our horse and let us see more of what a real horse is; For instance, he would have us go catch our horses (under supervision of course) One of my favorite horses Brutus would only let someone halter him if he could run at you and stop a few feet away and you didn’t move….If you moved, you would have to start again. I know that sounds like aggressive behavior but the horse Brutus, was just very smart and really non aggressive, it felt differently then an aggressive act. I guess he felt as a school riding horse that if you could pass his test then you could be his partner. That’s the only time I had witnessed that type of behavior and it both tested and scared me but that was the only way I could ride him so I did it.
After a few years of riding lessons, my parents seperated so lessons were no longer an option for us. Years went by and eventually the only contact I had with horses was visiting the barns at the state fair every year.
Something snapped inside me one day in 2008 and I decided it’s time for me to get back into horses.
I did some lessons, not knowing what exactly I wanted out of it, I quickly realized spending an hour on a horse’s back training myself in technique was not what I wanted. I wanted to know the horse, I wanted to groom, spend time and develop a friendship. The lesssons didn’t offer that. So my next move was to try leasing a horse.
I ended up finding a horse in Hugo, she was a western pleasure solid paint QH named Dinah. SHE was wonderful but people in the barn were not, Every time I had her out I had people coming up to me complaining about Dinah, saying she was a bitch and was mean and stubborn, crazy…whatever…Someone at one point told me I should beat her. Another person a ‘friend’ of the owner yanked on her bridle and as a reaction the horse reared up. I watched for a half hour as the owners daughter attempted to lay the horse down while beating her and kicking her to get her on the ground. Long story short, I told the owner the things people were saying and doing, she confronted them, they all said they never said/did that and she ended our lease. Knowing what I know now, I feel very badly for Dinah, she’s one of those really nice horses that won’t make anyone into a statistic because she’s so calm and accepting but like so many other horses she’s stuck living with an unknowledgeable owner who thinks she’s done learning about horses.
One night, out with some friends from my old Jiu Jitsu gym, I started talking about my experiances and fustrations in my search on different lessons and leases and I said I just don’t know if I would ever find what I was looking for. One of the girls I didn’t know spoke up and said her friend was looking for a rider for her horse. She hooked us up and I met Collen and Wakan, little did I know this was a life changing point in time for me.
When I met Colleen, I liked her immediatly. Her personality and positivity was so bright. We met at a McDonalds so she could size me up and see if I was the type of person she wanted to introduce her horse to. We went to the barn and I met Wakan. A Colonial spanish mustang, he is beautiful, solid black with a thick wild mane and build and the thing I noticed about him right away is that he was interested in me, he wanted to engage and mug me for treats and investigate me, I had never met a horse that was so interested in strangers….Usually it’s a sniff and soon as they know you don’t have a treat they are back to that glazed over look, ignoring people. Wakan was nothing like this but what shocked me more is what Colleen showed me next, how she ‘talked’ to him with body language and follow up with different kinds of reinfocrement. She told me if I agreed to help her with her horse I would have to do it the way she had learned. She explained she did a natural horsemanship method called Parelli. This was my first introduction to natural horsemanship and I know there are a lot of opinions every which way about horsemanship in general but I decided to re learn everything I thought I knew and learn Parelli.
I worked with Colleen and Wakan for about 2 years learning natural horsemanship and developing some very dear friendships with both of them. Colleen introduced me to more and more horse friends and I was adopted into thier group.
Even though my initial introduction was with Parelli which gave me a great base, I felt I needed to explore other natrual horsemanship methods since there are so many different opinions. I felt I really needed to make sure this was the best there was, I needed to explore and see if I can learn more, see if I can mix it up…afterall, the best martial arts fighters are born of blends of different forms….what if it’s the same for horsemanship? Colleen introduced me to her trainer, one of the most skilled horsepeople I know to this day. She’s devoted her life to learn everything horse and everyone knows it, most of all, the horses. So with Colleen, Wakan and the new trainer I started to learn and tried to suck it all in, be a sponge.
Sometimes I would go home really pissed at myself, sometimes I would be so elated that nothing could bring me down. It was a really long road I was on and I would get fustruated at the slow pace somedays and other days something would just click and I had a lightbulb go on. Day by day I learned more and more. I can’t lie, It wasn’t super easy for me….being with the horse felt natural but working on timing and refining my actions, reactions and controlling my emotions was not. I’m really glad I didn’t give up. I couldn’t. Sometimes I would say what business do you have trying to do this but just as soon as it would come to me so would the next statement this has a LARGE learning curve.
Late 2010, I started and very quickly ended my search for my own horse. I had been browsing for a while. When I announced it to my husband I told him I wouldn’t buy the first horse I saw and I was not going to get a Chestnut/Sorrell color horse because there are so many of them……I really need to learn to NOT make bold statements like that. On a suggestion from a few friends they strongly encouraged me to go view a horse that was owned by a buddy of thiers. Colleen and I went out to meet Kiko, a solid paint Sorrell. Keeping all the suggestions of my trainers and friends in mind about what kind of horse I should be looking for, I pretty much knew the second I got off him that I really liked this horse….but the kicker was when I let him go in the pasture, he wanted to hang out with me instead of running to his buddies, he wanted to just stand there with me and relax. That was it…..I knew he had more go then woh, he was over 15 hands, he knew natural horsemanship, he was gentle and aware of space and manners and he wanted to engage with people. I fell in love right there and arranged to buy him that day.
I realized very quickly after our first overnight trail trip I needed to work on being a better leader and becoming INTERESTING as soon as I possibly could. Compared Wakan where I had to work hard on keeping him going and getting him to walk faster then a snail, I had to work harder with Kiko trying to get him to slow down! We were either trotting or cantering and knocking into other riders….yeah I was that chick, I’m suprised they didn’t just leave me at the campground. He also gets bored easily so keeping his mind engaged was different. Wakan spent his time playing me while I was playing with him and this must have been great amusement for him but Kiko, well he will do that for like a minute then get bored and check out…wow, this was a whole new ballgame for me!
After a long engagement and the help of my friends and trainer Kiko and I decided we could partner up from time to time…..but I still wasn’t happy in what I lacked.
Durring this time my trainer had been going to clinics learning how to start wild horses. The Nokota horse from North Dakota. She talked me into attending one. I am going to do another blog on Nokota horses because there’s so much to go into so here, I will just say it’s nothing short of amazing….and I say amazing using the true original meaning of that word. There I was working with wild colts learning more about behavior and timing then ever before. I came back a new person and when I showed Kiko what I learned he seemed impressed. Every clinic I go to, I come back with more to share with him and both the respect and bonds deepen for us.
Kiko and I today are a lot better. We are not perfect and we have loads to improve on, he has holes in his training we needed to find and fix and I can still be weak in my leadership and focus but we are so much better now, He is the perfect horse for me and he seems happy. He started meeting me in the pasture and refuses the halter so he can walk with me by choice to the gate, we have discussions now over what we do and when. It’s not a one sided conversation and when I start talking more then he does or when I check out, he lets me know. He checks in with me more then he checks out….all in all I am very happy we are where we are right now, this is a journey and it will always be a journey. It does not end…I beleive now the first second someone says they know everything there is to learn about horses is the first day they start to fail. I’m not willing to put those blinders on and thankfully I know Kiko would keep me in check if I did. I am so grateful to be on this journey I can’t get enough of it and I am really happy I have a partner that’s just as excited to learn as much as possible with me.