BY KELSEY SIMPSON
This was it. After the last few days of preparation, learning, and practice, it was all coming together. We were so eager, and perhaps a little nervous for the outcome, but today we went on our first ride with our horses.
We spent the morning watching Glenn work with a black mare. He was demonstrating the importance of proper warm up on the ground to prepare our horses for the upcoming trail ride. The mare, Spider, was on high alert, and only got her first ride outside the round pen just last year. Glenn is the only one that has worked with her, just a little on each of his trips here for the past three years.
Glenn figured it was time to see what she remembered. Like Elvis from the day before, she started off a little uncertain but it did not take long for her to remember the training from previous years. She trusted Glenn so much that he was able to trim her feet with the lead rope on the ground, while she stood perfectly still with out problem. I know of many domestic horses that don’t stand well for the farrier. This mare was very well behaved and clearly enjoyed her “pedicure”.
After some minor maintenance, Glenn started with the fundamentals. We all watched with our glued eyes on him and the horse to gauge her reaction to his cues, which in many cases were so subtle they were undetectable to all but Spider. Again, his horsemanship development program was the key throughout this session. I don’t like to say training, because it didn’t really feel like a training session. It felt more like a dance, and the development of a harmonious partnership. When I picture a training session, I picture intense, hard work, running around with sweat pouring off the horse and a frantic expression in their eyes. That was not the case here. This was unique, as it was done with ease and had a flow that built up communication, trust and understanding.
As he continued, Glenn talked us through each step of preparing our horses on the ground and offered key advice of what to do in different situations with our own horses. It was clear that every horse and human can be improved, no matter how advanced they may be. There is always something more to learn.
Eventually, Glenn had the mare accepting of the Australian whip, red flag, blue tarp, and lariat, just as he had with Elvis from the previous day. He saddled and even hopped on her, demonstrating a show of great trust and teamwork between the two.
This display of terrific horsemanship and precise instruction had us all inspired to see what we could do with our own horses. It wasn’t long before we took the horses out to see what we could accomplish with them. It was wonderful to observe everyone applying what we had garnered from the demonstration to their own horses. All were working on following a feel, drive and draw games, moving the different body parts in yields with relaxation, lateral flexion and, most importantly, building a relationship of trust with a lot of friendly games.
My own steed was a stout bay with a neck thick enough to hold up an elephant. His kinky and curly black mane was just long enough to fall onto his eyes, mimicking a “punk rocker” look, and did he ever have the attitude to go with it! The number one thing on his mind was eating, and my trying to play with him was certainly getting in the way of that. However, we did finally reach a compromise. He would give me a little appropriate response, and he could have a little grass. Who says wild horses starve? I have seen much skinnier horses on self-feed.
Eventually, it was time to saddle, and after Glenn inspected our skills with our horses from the ground, we were allowed to hop on to demonstrate them from the saddle. What had seemed fairly easy while on the ground became obviously less so once we were mounted. Glenn offered some additional training instruction and safety checks. Then, we were off for our first trail ride. This was the moment most of us had been waiting for since our plane’s wheels hit the ground. We were riding. We were riding horses that were born here in the wild, in the most beautiful places we had ever seen.
One by one, in a single file fashion, we weaved and snaked around trees, through ditches and over fallen logs following one of the many game trails. Glenn was in the lead, and he was riding Spider, the mare from this morning’s demonstration. It was hard to believe that she has only been ridden once before, and not for over a year, and she was amazing.
We skirted around the river following its bend and flow, with mountains surrounding us on all sides. My eyes were wandering around, observing the beautiful mountainside, the trees and wildlife. I was so impressed with all of the horses. They were calm, steady and sure-footed. Even the most nervous of the riders seemed relaxed and steady. The horses all knew the terrain, and if you did not get in the way, they easily went down trails that most domestic horses would have a hard time managing.
One might think that traveling this amazing trail would be enough. However, I am learning while working with Glenn that he will take any opportunity to challenge us emotionally and physically to enhance personal growth. He led us to a side trail and instructed us to dismount and tie our horses to a tree, up high and secure. He took us toward the rushing river, but in order to get there we had to cross a bog by balancing on the “ever so skinny” felled trees that were lying across.
“It is mind over matter” Glenn said, “and pretend you’re walking on your kitchen floor”. That did work for the first three people over, but after awhile one by one we slid off the tree and ended up stepping in the water to keep from falling completely into it. Of course I had my slick souled cowboy boots on at the time, and those mixed with water and an old tree with a 4” diameter did not do me any favors. Down I went, just barely catching myself (or dropping my camera) by submerging my foot into the water. Needless to say I came out with my boots full of water, and they even made the slushing sound when I walked. However, I can save face by pointing out that I was not the only one to get wet.
We continued to the banks of the river by scrambling around the bend, across more felled trees and large, jagged rocks, finally arriving at the river. It was truly an amazing sight to just sit and look around. It was a fabulous and fantastic sight to behold, with mountains in the background, lush green clearings and trees along the banks. Add the rushing clear river, and the whole setting was picture perfect.
After taking in these glorious sights, we headed back across the rocks, and back over the log to get back to our horses (I might add that I made it completely across without falling but of course no one was there to witness my success). Fortunately the horses were all still there, standing quietly where we left them.
After we were all safely mounted, we backtracked a little until Glenn wandered toward the river. We crossed a shallow side stream and sat on a rock built up in the middle of the river.
To my surprise, and probably a few other people’s, Glenn seemingly casual, talked about crossing rivers and the importance of following his footsteps, avoiding the big rocks or boulders, and not to stare into the water. What great advice! However, we have all learned this week that Glenn doesn’t say anything casually. It was all-important, and it was clear that you could risk your own safety if you do not listen to every word he utters.
Before I knew it, our entire line of horses and people started across. I might also add that this was my first river crossing of this kind, well of any kind. Puddles and maybe the odd three foot wide, shallow stream back home was more my speed. It was my time to stretch my comfort zone, and with Glenn leading us and my big war horse carrying me across, I felt confident.
The freezing water came up just past my horse’s belly, and immersed my toes. As I looked down at the water, it felt like I was drifting away. Yes, Glenn said don’t look down at the water, and I can see why. It was like an optical illusion. Every step my horse took I felt like we were floating sideways with the current and further and further from the rest. However, eventually the deep water got shallower, the river stones turned to slick bank mud, and my big trusty steed climbed the out to the meet with the other horses.
“WE MADE IT,” I thought to myself. I gave my horse a quick pat on the back and we were off again down the trail, this time angling back towards the lodge. The sun was just coming down from it’s peak in the sky and when it hit the tops of the trees just right, it would make beams of light that accentuated the true beauty of where we were riding.
Of course to make it back to the lodge we had to cross the river, again. This time was much easier, because though wider at this spot, the water was quite a bit shallower than the last crossing. Add to that, the horses were eager to return home and to the herd making them move with ease and speed across the river.
We unsaddled with smiles on our faces at what we had accomplished that day. And boy, did it feel satisfying. We brushed down our horses for a good day’s work and let them out for the night. They ran just far enough to drop and enjoy a roll in the dirt before running over the hill to join the rest of them just as the sun sank behind the toothed peaks signaling the end of another day.