September 02, 2013

Raisa Stone: Natural Horse Wisdom

When we are young and thought foolish, we sometimes have the greatest wisdom. Forty years ago, long before "natural" horsemanship became a trend, I'd arrive at the barn at 5 am so I could use the arena or head off for the trails unseen. 

I was a kid when I started leaving saddle and bridle in the bushes, and enjoyed the forest in harmony with the horse. Or completed a jump course in the silent arena.

No one saw me, and I told no one. I grew up in British Horse Society Pony Club protocol community, and to ride without tack was not only grounds for grounding or firing, but severely declasse. 

If you rode without, it meant you were too poor to afford it, or too uneducated to know how to use it. At least that's what my Dad said. I got my first pro horse job at 12 and had big dreams, so I listened.

Once I earned my driver's license, I made trips to small towns where cowboys held bareback horsemanship competitions. It was so much fun compared to the more traditional classes at home. I hid my ribbons. 

My sisters are timid riders, and gave me grief for racing on the dirt access roads between Manitoba grain fields. One burst into tears while accompanying me. To them, riding is for rings. I'll give them credit for achieving Lifeguard status, while I stalled at Intermediate.

My riding role models were two young neighbourhood women who didn't give a damn about the unspoken rules. One rode her sweet albino mare Sheba all over creation, bareback. I was so enthralled, one day I followed them for an hour. 

Our unique suburb had rows of houses and basic shopping amenities among acreages that held horse facilities---from humble backyard pastures to competition barns---gentle clay paths rather than sidewalks, and expansive green space. 

In summer, we used the outdoor hockey rink as a central practice ring, and played with our horses in each others' yards. Galloping your horse around the school track guaranteed the mean girls and other bullies backed off. Horses have that magic. Plus I rode better than the chief mean girl, and had the arrogance to wear English boots and dirty breeks to class. 

Our back alley 
Photo: Dan McKay

Just another day in my neighbourhood
Photo: Ken Howell

My first "real" boyfriend at 14, told me he'd fallen in love at first sight because of the way I look riding a Palomino bareback.

My friends and I rode to 7-11 without crossing a main road. Charleswood was a lot like Mr. Ed's neigh-bourhood.

My poor mother drove around frantically looking for her eight year old child. I was over a mile from home, my gaze fixed alternately on Sheba's snowy tail and her magical hoof prints on the damp path as I strolled behind her. Why her rider didn't mind me, I don't know. It was part of her Centaur mystique.

"Brat!" my seven and eight years senior sisters said when they finally pulled me into the car. They'd thought the shenanigans were over after I persuaded Mom to drag a washtub out to the curb, and posted a sign: Free Horse Water. 

Beside the zinc tub, I hopefully refreshed a stack of grass on a daily basis. Once, I emptied a sack of Quaker Oats, after which Mom went back to bed with a cold cloth on her forehead. 

Santa's reindeer required a bale of hay in the house (plus the washtub), so I don't know why she was surprised. 

"Eight flakes in a bale, and nine reindeer. Okay, everyone has to share a bit with Rudolph." Strategies like this kept my mind going for days.

Mom was raising us single, and it took time to accumulate quarters for pony lessons from our Metis neighbours every few days. I felt like I couldn't breathe without daily horse contact. 

My crafty lure occasionally drew an offer of a thrilling ride up our driveway on horses who seemed immense and infinitely patient. I suspect the cheerful riders were my sisters' acquaintances, but they aren't saying.

The other local rebel, I couldn't follow. She rode a wavy-tailed, fiery tri-coloured Paint (I think) mustang. She was an Amazon. Bareback, she sat easily while her horse reared and pawed the air. They jumped formidable drainage ditches and angered lawn owners with hoof gouges. They possibly floated through walls and walked on water. 

I remember this girl with her long dark hair as wild as her mustang's black and chestnut mane, her mouth wide open with laughter. People called her a bad name, though the only male I can recall seeing her with was her horse. Females who belong fully to ourselves, well, we suffer penalties.

People have commented I had a "girl crush," which leaves me incredulous at the base thoughts of the non-horsey. I lusted after the Paint. After the girl's style, her careless freedom and primal spirituality. 

I'm the great granddaughter of Ukrainian Cossacks. 5000 years ago, we tamed the horse. We grew intimate with its wild heart, subsisted on mare's milk turned to cheese and potent liquor. I can think of nothing better than living a nomadic life on horseback, evenings spent singing by firelight while our mounts breathe and graze nearby.

Riding horses without bridle or saddle have been some of the best times of my life, and created some of my closest relationships. 

Unfortunately, my current impeded balance from a spinal crush injury (not horse related, thank goodness) meant that last time I did it---at 50---I slid off. I pride myself on it being "very slowly," and only after the horse bucked. 

Unwilling to face the realities of disability and weight gain, I even briefly managed a Cossack-style underneck hang.

This gorgeous animal was lying in the pasture, sorrel coat gleaming in the sun. Who wouldn't throw a leg over? Long gone are the days I could hop up on 16 hands without a stirrup. Opportunity met regression to teenagerhood.

His bucking was my fault. I didn't fully obtain his permission. I neglected to determine that he was ticklish. My desire overrode my animal communication skills.

Buddy stopped quickly once I lay sprawled by his back feet. He turned a sardonic gaze and said, "I was sunbathing, a$$h##e!"

Despite my excitement that I only tore up my knee, my doctor sighed heavily and made me promise to use a saddle. However, she didn't mention a bridle.

Raisa Stone
Expert Animal Communicator 

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  1. Just a lovely article! Enjoyed it immensely and certainly can relate to most if not all of the desires to be "with" the animal, not dominate it with tack. Brought me waaaay back to my time as a girl, (about the same age as well) and the love of a horse, the freedom that he gave me, and the anticipation of waking up on Saturday mornings to muck stalls, groom, but having the ability to "ride like the wind". Many, many Saturdays we would ramble about in the Georgia woods, eating a picnic lunch I packed and climbing trees in order to pick the luscious muscadines that grew on vines high up in those trees. Memories....

  2. Thanks, Debra. Nothing like it, is there?