I saddled Galahad and rode him yesterday for a bit. It was the first time I’ve ridden him in any serious way in nearly four years, so it’s a big deal. A friend whom I haven’t seen for quite a while was surprised that I hadn’t been riding him regularly, like I was when she was here in town last, and asked me why.
I used to ride Galahad a lot–pretty much every day. I always hopped on him (bareback, rope halter, no helmet) as soon as I took him out of his stall, then rode him down the lane past the other barns and into the arena barn where Midnight lived. I’d feed him a snack there, and we’d decide what else to do for the day. Then I’d ride him back home. He wasn’t even four years old when we started, and he was a frisky fellow!
He’d crow-hop once in a while, but I’d stay on him anyway, even bareback. One time he actually bucked, and I stayed on that time, too. I wasn’t fearless, exactly, but I was more or less confident. We got along well. We rode in the arenas; we rode on the trails, by ourselves and with others. I entered him in a horse show—“Western Walk-Trot,” and we won second place! (Don’t ask me how many were in the class, OK?) I even managed to avoid letting him gouge his eye out on a tree with three-inch thorns one time when he decided he didn’t want to stay on the trail.
So what happened?
Well, you can read about it here, but basically, a jogger came around from behind some bushes and leaped into the creek; Galahad spun and I did not. Bareback/rope halter/no helmet (our standard riding attire) resulted in a minor skull fracture for yours truly. I was banned from riding for 2 months. Immediately following that, Galahad injured his leg badly, and I couldn’t ride for another two months. By the time those four months elapsed, the fear was set in stone. All my friends telling me to “get back on!” only made things worse. In the end, even going to the barn at all became enormously stressful.
I did ride him a little after that, sometimes with a saddle and sometimes not, but never regained my confidence.
It was a great blessing that about that time I found Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals. Liberty work is what I had been looking for all along—I’ve never, EVER liked bits, spurs, whips, and MAKING a horse do things. Carolyn’s method let me train Galahad while we both have TONS of fun without riding him, while at the same time building a relationship that isn’t based on making him do something. Over time, I’ve learned to trust him again.
So no, I’ve not been riding him the last couple of years, but we’re starting again now…and it just happened. Three days ago, I had no plan to ride for the foreseeable future, but yesterday it felt right.
I bought that pretty saddle for Nevada, actually, who’s now 5 and mature enough to begin riding in a serious way. Her personality is totally different from Galahad’s, and I’ve never been afraid of her at all, but her itchiness has kept us from doing much of anything with her until recently.
On a whim, I put the saddle on Galahad the other day, just to see what would happen. In the past, saddles haven’t been his favorite thing; occasionally he’s reported that he cannot remember how to move forward when wearing one (ever put a leash on a cat?)—and no, it wasn’t the fit, as far as we could tell. He just wasn’t ready.
This time, though, it was like there wasn’t a saddle on his back at all. He ignored it completely!
So yesterday I saddled him again, and we played some games in the small arena so that he could get used to moving in it. No problem. On a whim, I got up on the mounting block and patted my leg—his signal to step over so I can get on. He practically scampered over—I am NOT kidding—and stood quietly, waiting.
Now, Galahad knows that he can say NO if he wants to. We practice that frequently. And if he’s not in the mood, he may come over, but he’ll stand crooked, or only come over halfway; he sometimes won’t step over at all. And he knows that I’ll respect his wishes. So when he came over and stood square and still, there was NO doubt at all that he was happy to oblige.
I got on and we did a little flexing, some backing up (which he does way faster when I’m on his back than he does when I’m standing on the ground, for whatever reason), and then walked off. I could feel his energy—happy, excited, ready to play! There is a HUGE difference between a horse who’s not thrilled about having you on his back and wants to trot and hop, and a horse who’s delighted because Mom’s back in the saddle and just wants to toss his head and hop with excitement.
Riding Galahad must be rather like riding a cruise missile or maybe a great big Harley. You KNOW you’ve got some serious horsepower between your legs. So I didn’t ride him long, and I didn’t let him trot. That’s for later—when I have a few more riding lessons under my belt. But ride we will—and we will have fun doing it. Both of us.
The best part is that he is happy to have me back in the saddle!