Neu Perspectives

Taking Flight

Horsemen and the Western industry can weather the coronavirus storm.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, sound advice from both a horseman and a pilot can help us ride through difficult, even scary, situations.

I told myself before I started my blog this week that I wouldn’t mention the current state of our country.

However, I had a good friend in publishing once tell me that writer’s block only happened when the author wasn’t addressing what was truly on his or her mind. And every time I went to type something out about geldings or bridles or cattle, my mind was still stuck on the fact that we are all sitting in a place of real uncertainty and speculation on our near futures. 

So, here I am, addressing the subjects we would all like a distraction from: the coronavirus, the quarantines and the “social distancing” that has followed, not to mention the volatile state of our country and economy. 

It makes me think of a pair of ponies we once took for a lady. She was very tentative to ride at all, because she had several past experiences on other horses that scared her deeply, but she really wanted to overcome those fears. To try and build her confidence back, she bought two Norwegian Fjords, which were simultaneously the cutest and gentlest creatures I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They were strong and short and would take their riders anywhere, but this gal was still terrified to ride either of them down the trail. She sent them to us and rode with us several times while her ponies were in training. On one of those rides, she asked my husband, Luke, for some advice on how to handle her ponies better and build her confidence. 

As a side note, I need to mention that Luke’s uncle has a plane. Luke wanted to learn to fly, so his uncle volunteered his time and aircraft. With a little practice and instruction, he learned how to sort of fly this little plane. And the best advice he received when learning is that when a person is in the pilot’s seat, he is the pilot. That means you never stop flying your plane. If you feel like you’re going down, you fly that plane every inch, right into the ground if you have to. 

So, back to my trail ride with the gal with the Fjords. Luke was happy to give her some of his advice. The first thing he mentioned was the fact that it’s easy for anyone to get scared and have the mind stop working at its highest level. We need to train our body’s reflexes to properly take over when our mind freezes up from fear, as muscle memory can help keep us out of trouble when it’s had the proper conditioning. Practice, practice, practice getting short on your reins and gain control.

The safest thing to do when a horseback ride feels like it’s getting out of control (be that a buck, rear, spook or stampede) is to reach down your rein with one hand and get short. Pull that horse’s head around, disengage the hips and get ahold of its body. In doing so, the rider is automatically back in control and the horse loses most of its power and momentum.

Of course, we need to teach our horses to respond to that action properly, and our bodies to automatically do that when our minds blank out. But even more importantly, just because things start to get a little scary or we feel as though we are losing control of our ride (for whatever reason), don’t ever stop riding. Don’t give up. Don’t let your body and mind give in and let the horse dictate what’s going to happen.

Sure, you’re still in the saddle. You might even be stuck there until the crisis has subsided. But don’t ever stop riding that horse. And even if you feel yourself failing, try to gain control the whole way down. You’re the pilot, and you darn sure better fly that plane right into the ground if you have to. 

The advice made sense to that lady. She practiced getting short and started feeling better about what it meant to be in control. It may have given her a little confidence, as her body language relaxed and her capabilities improved on the ride we were on. 

I haven’t heard from that lady in several years, but I hope she is still enjoying both of those Fjord ponies we had the pleasure of keeping for her. The experience taught me a lot. I was reminded not to take my confidence horseback for granted. I learned how precious and valuable feeling comfortable and capable on a ride really is. But beyond that, I’ve held tight to that piece of advice any time I start to feel a little out of control or nervous about a situation. I’ve got to prepare ahead of time and train myself to react in a wise direction when I want to freeze. Get a grip on my mind and my body. I’ve prepared for this. I may not know exactly what to do, but in a time of crisis, I’m still the pilot.

I mounted up and got in that saddle. If it’s a colt that wants to buck, or a tricky situation with my pickup and trailer, or even a crazy period of time where a virus has put the whole world on standstill, no matter what, I’m going to get short, rely on my skills and past preparation and never let go of that wheel. If I feel like things are getting tough or going down, I’ll grit my teeth and continue to fly my plane every inch of the way down. 

For more information and resources on coronavirus, check out Western Horseman‘s “A Horseman’s Guide to COVID-19.”

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