For a change of pace, we set up an obstacle course this week. It was a combination of things you might see in Working Equitation and Western Trail classes. I worked Coffee on Sunday, interjecting the obstacles here and there. He took them all in stride, with the exception of a pile of logs. On his first attempt, he decided that the middle pole must be for stepping on, not over – so we had a momentary loss of equilibrium.
On the second day, mom and Coffee were on their own. They managed the obstacles, with the only hesitation being that same pile of logs. Apparently his first boggled attempt was enough to make him hesitate to try again – but mom persisted and was triumphant. Overall, the ride went well.
Then there was the third day …
Mom and Coffee were once again on their own. Apparently the obstacle work had done its trick – they were able to trot fluidly through, among, and around the obstacles. That is the beauty of obstacle work – it gives the horse and rider a concrete object to focus on, and can improve accuracy and maneuverability.
After a particularly lovely trot through the course, mom stopped and gave her boy an appreciative neck rub. They walked off, reins to the buckle, to have a rest before another go. Coffee had other ideas.
At this point, Coffee began to navigate the obstacles completely on his own! Around, between, over … he took mom through the whole array. He even voluntarily took on the log pile! Then, when he was apparently done amusing himself, he walked to a nice patch of shade and came to a halt. Could there be a clearer sign that it was time to quit? Mom, completely amused by the whole thing, gave in and let her boy be done for the day.
There are those who would say that letting a horse “take control” in this way is a dangerous path to take. But why should that be? Do you have a single relationship in your life where one of you always calls that shots and is always in control of the other? If you do, I would suggest you reconsider that relationship.
There is no doubt that a partnership with a horse is not fully equal. They are in our care, much as a child is in the care of a parent – we provide food, care, shelter, love, and preparation for life. But do we consider it healthy for a child to be fully controlled by a parent? To never have the opportunity to express themselves? To never indicate a preference? Not allowing some independent thought, and control of self, can have devastating psychological impact – learned helplessness – whether the individual is human or any other sentient being.
Coffee was not the only one to benefit from his moment of self-expression. His humans now have an even greater appreciation of his personality and intelligence. And how can that possibly be a bad thing?
Be good to your horses!