What about a Sofa?
By Betsy Kelleher
Unplanned adventures often become memorable lessons. Not long ago, I had decided to sell my Lady, because I have lost the energy to do the work. I realize that depression depletes energy, and I’ve had my share of loss. I was ready to walk away from horses altogether. And then I was asked a question about an old sofa.
My husband and I were driving to the barn to clean Lady’s stall, when I noticed it. The next door neighbor had set out a small sofa with a sign, “Free.” I wasn’t interested. But in the barn, a fellow boarder was just putting her saddle away after a ride down the road past that free sofa.
“What would Lady do if you rode her past that sofa next door?” Karen asked me. Although Karen had expressed some interest in Lady, I suddenly felt a real curiosity of my own. So I brought Lady in from her paddock, saddled her and started down the road. Of course I wore my helmet. I hadn’t ridden Lady for a month, and not much this year before that, maybe 4 times. I always start in the arena with some warm up, and I’ve always been a cautious rider. That road past our stable has long been a scary place for both Lady and me, and we had not ridden down that road since last summer.
So here I was, just starting on down the road, not taking time to think about it, with only one goal in mind. Perhaps that was a good thing. I headed toward the sofa, remembering the words of my riding instructor, Cynthia Medina, who has always told me, “Don’t look at the scary object. Look past it. Relax and just think about going on ahead.” I’ve had success with that kind of focus in the past.
So here’s my lesson for the day—or the month. It always pays to know your horse—what scares her and how to help her work through her fears. After more than ten years, I know my Lady and I have learned how to work with her. I started toward the sofa with a rather loose rein, feet solid in the stirrups and heels down. I focused on the road ahead, not on the sofa, and I made myself breathe deeply, sitting down into the saddle, relaxed and looking up with soft eyes (Centered Riding principles).
At first, Lady was more interested in the For Sale sign in the yard across from the sofa. But suddenly she noticed the sofa and I felt that tenseness in her body for a moment. She stopped. That is Lady’s way of saying, “Wait! I am not ready to go forward here!” At this point, I let her look for a moment, to think about the situation. I don’t push her to go too close too soon. She did not try to whirl around and run away, and I was happy with that. After a few seconds, I asked her to go on a step or two. I simply asked; I did not force her. She took a few steps and stopped again. I let her stand quietly, as she turned her head and looked at the sofa. And then I asked her to go on by, using the opposite rein against her neck to keep her from moving too far away. The sofa was on the lawn to our left. I asked her to move on down the road without going into the lawn on the right.
We didn’t go far, and then I turned her back toward the barn, going down the side of the road near the sofa. As we got closer, I turned her into the yard to ride her around behind it. I was sure this neighbor wouldn’t mind. After riding around the sofa at a safe distance, I directed her to go around it again, closer to it. I let her stand for a moment before asking her to go between the sofa and some bushes. But she decided to first go put her nose on the sofa! I was a little surprised, and proud of her brave curiosity! I sat ready for any sudden actions on her part, but she seemed only slightly tense. I asked her to go between the sofa and a nearby bush, and she did so. And just then, the neighbor across the street had finished mowing his back yard and was coming on his riding lawn mower along the edge of his lawn, right across the road from the sofa.
Lady doesn’t like noisy riding mowers coming toward her, so instead of making her stand there and face it head on, I turned her into the driveway beside the sofa, taking her a few steps from the road. A little distance usually lessens the fearfulness. As I turned her back toward the riding mower, it was moving on past us, and Lady stood and watched. This whole situation was going quite well, I thought!
I started back toward the barn as soon as the riding mower was going away from us. Of course it soon turned around to come toward us, right behind us. Lady was doing that short-strided fancy walk of hers, which I usually enjoyed! When she wants to get away from something, or go back to the barn quickly, and I’m holding her back, she walks slowly but it’s a prancy walk with her head tucked. I don’t have to pull hard on the reins and she doesn’t pull on me—but I know she really wants to move a little faster even while she is trying to be obedient. I never let her run back to the barn. Never.
When we reached the barn, I rode her in the outdoor arena a few minutes, letting her gait once around each way to loosen her muscles and get rid of her tension. I was actually very proud of her. And then I realized something. I felt again the bond that this headstrong mare and I have developed over the years. I see how much she has learned to trust me, and I am no longer afraid of what she might do. We can accomplish so much more now, together. For a short while, I felt more energy. Perhaps feelings of accomplishment help to defeat depression, as well as building confidence. Maybe it’s not time yet to let go. Maybe we just need another challenge—something to work on, together. It’s amazing what an old sofa can do. Instead of a scary obstacle, it became an opportunity!
This tells me once again that God sometimes uses horses. He has used my relationship with Lady to teach me a lot about how He works with me. It’s the transformational relationship that helps develop a strong faith—a faith strong enough to banish fear. More on that—next month!
(Originally published in the September 2014 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)