I hate rushing the grooming process.
For more than ten years, I’ve been riding a chestnut mare. She’s bears a strong resemblance to the great racehorse Secretariat. She can be a handful, and she is not free with her affections. But she loves her work and she and I have learned to read each other fairly well. Together we practice dressage – a form of riding that grew out of military applications and is now sometimes referred to as “dancing on horseback.”
For me, grooming isn’t about doing fancy wraps or braiding, but about taking ten or fifteen minutes to connect with my “dance partner.” What kind of mood are we dealing with? Is the horse hurt or stiff anywhere? Grooming brings my own mind to the present moment and helps me shed worries or stresses that a sensitive horse like this mare will latch onto.
There’s a rhythm and order to it. Remove the blanket. Curry away the mud. Brush the coat smooth. Pick the hooves clean. Brush out burrs from the mane and tail. With each pass, the accumulated grime is brushed away and, more importantly, both the horse and I are moving towards our working frame of mind.
Even after all these years of riding, I still get a little thrill when I saddle a horse. The young girl inside me who never thought she’d ever get the chance to ride a horse still delights in the whole process. The adult equestrian has come to appreciate the work of art that is a well-made saddle.
After double checking everything and donning my own gear, it’s time to head to the arena. Based on the mental inventory I was taking during the grooming process, I’m planning what we’ll do. Is she skittish and spooky today? Better keep her busy so she doesn’t decide to shy away from every shadow and shape. Is she tired or stiff? Spend extra time on a long, gentle warm up, stretching cold muscles and easing into the work.
My own head plays a role too of course. Some days I’m chock full of agendas for the ride. Other days, I’m feeling battered and wounded and want nothing more than to let the gentle clopping of her hoof beats soothe my own weariness.
Before mounting, I’ll tighten the girth one more time, double check her tack and then look her in the eye. “Ready to go to work?” I ask her quietly.
So far, the answer is always yes.
Pictures of Uninhibited Red (known to those who love her as Hibbie)
taken with an iPhone. She only tried to eat the phone a couple of times.