Energy and horses

Banderas was out of control. He trotted full speed around the arena while his rider bounced about on his back close to tears.

She clung to the horn on the saddle, tilting her weight forward and gripping the horse’s sides with her knees. Banderas usually dropped back to a walk when he felt a rider losing their balance, but today he was different. His head jutted up high, his eyes were rolled back, and his ears were pinned. With a hollowed back he increased the speed, cutting the corners of the arena and threatening to break into a canter. It was an odd sight watching this huge, generally lazy horse so upset.

At this point, I intervened. I nudged my horse forward and rode over to them. I looked at the girl and asked her to take the reins and sit deeper in the saddle. Use your voice I urged, say the word slowly “Eaaaaasy”.

She turned to me. Eyes wide and scared. “EASY” she barked at the horse. Banderas didn’t even seem to notice. Her position was awkward. Physically she was struggling.

Her knees gripped hard meaning her lower leg upturned and she lost her stirrups. I trotted alongside her for the length of the arena, and Banderas slowed his rythem to that of my horse. At the corner I asked her a little firmer to take the reins and bring the horse down to the walk. Banderas listened this time, but he continued to prance resembling a spanish stallion much more than the overweight Argentinian/Percheron cross that he was.

Something was amiss. This was the horse that I used for the most novice riders. He carefully looked after children, grandparents and nervous riders. What was going on?

I glanced over to my co-worker who also found the behavior of Banderas confusing.

The rest of the riding group had matched well with their horses and were all standing side by side wondering when they would depart on the planned trail ride.

The girl with Banderas was now close to tears. I sensed she was feeling frustrated and asked my colleague to take the rest of the group out alone. I would follow later with the girl but wanted some more time in the arena with her first.

He turned his horse and exited the school with the other riders. I asked him to pass on a message to one of the grooms as he rode past the barn, requesting another horse for the upset girl.

I dismounted and tied up my own horse and walked over to the girl. She was tense in the saddle and was arguing with Banderas as he flicked his head up and down, hauling the reins out of her hands. As I moved closer, Banderas eyed me strangely. His eyes were hassled and he was blowing hard from his nose. He was not happy. The girl looked at me both irritated and upset. “Why is he acting like this” she demanded.

I asked her to dismount and as soon as she did, feeling inadequate she began to cry. Banderas beside me was still upset too, and even though I was now holding him, he moved about as if he was in pain.

I tied him up next to my own horse and watched the stress ease out of him slowly. It was like watching a baloon deflate. Within moments he had calmed down and dropped his head in a relaxed resting position, moving closer to my horse for comfort. It was bizarre; almost as if he couldn’t physically stay near the girl.

The girl standing in the center of the arena was now in floods of tears. The tension had been building all morning and she began to tell me why.

She knew she wouldn’t be as good as the other riders, and therefore felt judged in the school with them. She didn’t understand why the horse wouldn’t listen to her aids and felt incompetent … but really it had very little to do with riding in front of a group of strangers, or Banderas and much more to do with the trauma she was holding inside.

I stood down in the arena with her for twenty minutes as it all came pouring out.

She had been a victim of sexual assault as a child, and the man who had abused her was only now being charged (ten years later).

The tears fell, and as she spoke and her whole attitude changed. Before she had been short, haughty and officious. Now she was just a wounded child struggling to comprehend what had happened to her.

When the groom came down to the arena with another horse, the girl had already calmed down considerably. When we put her in the saddle she no longer gripped with her knees or snatched at the horn, but instead listened calmly to instructions.

The new horse (a wise old quarter horse gelding) followed her cues willingly, and calmly; mirroring her current (calmer) mood.

After a half hour lesson, we went outside on a short trail. She was a different person when we returned, and later that day, we gave her back Banderas.

The difference was significant. The horse that only wanted to run from her on in the morning was fine when she managed to express her pain. They had a great week together, and I watched the difference with much interest. This same horse could always pick up energies (storms arriving for example) before any other horse, but the fact he picked up on a girls energy like that was simply magical.

Horses are so affected by our moods. This particular case was an extreme example – Banderas felt the angry and frustrated energy that the girl was vibrating on the first day and it literally affected him on a deep level. When that energy became fragile and acknowledged, the same horse became a confidante to her pain instead. His nature as a prey animal made him hyper-vigilant and sensitive, consequently making him an acute observer of human pain.

The horse has an innate tendency to mirror the riders behavior, physical movements, and emotions, which helps the rider learn to be more aware of herself. Banderas was an incredible horse. Sadly he passed last month, and we all miss him a lot.