By Maddy Butcher
“You need to get a horse to where you can open him up and go…A horse is pretty incomplete if you can’t just open him up and not have him lose his mind.”
Buck Brannaman uttered those words, but he’s not the only one. Most clinicians I interviewed urge their students to “go there” with their equine partners.
What is going there?
It is going very fast with both of you being okay with it. Going there – for many of us riders – means stepping outside our circles of comfort, pushing fear to the back, and entering new territory with our equine partner. Read about comfort.
It is like having sex with a human partner you’re beginning to love, when going there contains heavy doses of trust, vulnerability, and excitement. It’s scary stuff that can take the relationship to a whole new level of commitment, understanding, and mutual experience.
Like galloping with your equine partner, sex is a crucial component of a healthy adult relationship. It can be the glue that binds you. Conversely, when you don’t have it, this missing element can be a chink in the armor, the overlooked flaw that eventually may unravel the relationship.
[Please note: We’re not talking about drunken, one-night stands here. Nor are we talking about the horse-rider equivalent: those chance moments when your horse takes off and you happen to stay on.]
“You have to go there. It’s important to go there,” said horsewoman Amy Skinner, who incorporates more galloping with her horse training since working with Leslie Desmond. “But it can be scary to take the steps to do it. At first, both parties hope the other doesn’t hurt or take advantage of them. It takes a lot of trust. Once you get comfortable doing it, it can really deepen the relationship. Getting accurate at the gallop is like that committed relationship, not a fling.” Visit her site here.
Horseman Warwick Schiller often correlates horse-to-human partnerships with human-to-human ones. “I use that parallel as much as I can,” he said when I reached him at a British Columbia, Canada clinic. “Most of my students are women and they understand the trust element involved,” he said.
Schiller sees the correlation also apply to personal space issues, in which many women riders don’t demand space between
themselves and their horses.
“Most will say they don’t like clingy men, but that’s what their horses are doing and they think it’s cute. Clingy men are insecure, you don’t really want a relationship with one of them.
“I use a First Date analogy to talk about pushy men, who want to get intimate before certain levels of trust, respect and boundaries are established. Well, if the guy is all over you on the first date, what’s going to happen later on? He will have no respect for you. That’s like a pushy horse.,” said Schiller.
Preparation is essential and involves ground work, riding exercises, as well as emotional preparation. It’s about creating a foundation of safe, progressive experiences.
Galloping is something we work towards. It’s not the first thing we do. There may be plenty of adrenalized moments along the way.
“It not just about galloping,” said Schiller. “It involves adrenalin. How to bring up the energy and come back down safely.”
Initially, for the horse, this might mean going from a contained trot to a big trot, added Schiller. For the rider, it might mean cantering for a single stride, then two strides, then four.
For sure, my mistake during the recent incident was a lack of partnership preparation. I’d loped with Jolene, but never galloped. With other horses and in the past, I could open them up in open fields and grassy lanes. Since moving to Utah where riding is straight up, straight down, and rocky everywhere, there is literally no safe place to go fast.
— Should I have trailered somewhere to get it done? You bet.
— Should I have gone fast with other horses around us? Absolutely.
As with any committed relationship that’s gone off track, it will take a lot of thoughtful, honest, confidence-building work. We will go slowly, like we’re back on those first dates. I hope to show Jolene that anytime she feels uncomfortable, we’ll back up and reconsider. I hope to teach her that adrenalin does not default to a panic attack, that speed does not devolve to fear and lack of control.