Learning to Speak Horse in the Wood Between Worlds

It's been almost a year since I last wrote about where I'm at and where I plan to go as a rider and a horsewoman. Until now, I didn't have all that much to say. 

Dino is still retired from dressage and competing, still fat and happy, still doing quite well with a handful of easy rides each week. He's barefoot and hairy and living a life of leisure, and I feel he's earned it a thousand times over. 

I'm still catch riding. I'm catch riding a lot. There are plenty of days when I don't have anything to ride, but then there are days when I've got three horses to work and it's stressful and exhausting and absolutely wonderful. They're teaching me so much, and I'm trying my best to teach them, and it's been so challenging and fostered so much growth in my ability to Speak Horse. They are all such unique and precious beings and I am beyond blessed to have been invited to dance with them. 

I'm still window shopping horse ads online every day at lunch, hoping I'll find the next Very Special one that's worth making a horrible financial decision for. I haven't found it yet. 

I've started weightlifting. Did I mention I've started weightlifting? I love it more than I thought I would. 5 or 6 days a week in my garage I power through a CrossFit-style workout at 6am. It's transformed me in so many ways - my body, my strength, my balance, my confidence. I never knew what it was to ask my body to do something truly difficult and for it to say, "Yes, ma'am," and just... do it. I have muscles now - wow do I have muscles! My riding is so much stronger and I have a vastly more thorough understanding of how to use my muscles, and which ones to engage when to achieve a certain response from the horse. It's life changing, honestly, to be a human in a body that's capable of so many things. 

It's been almost a year and so much is the same, but the tone of my soul has changed. 

I'm no longer anxious being in this Wood Between Worlds. I've pitched quite a nice tent here, and I'm content to stay as long as God would like me to, until the next thing is ready for me, or I'm ready for it. Whichever comes first. 

The horses are teaching me so much here, and I'm busy soaking up everything they have to give me. 

Dino, of course, has taken on the role of my greatest mentor. He is generously showing me just how much he has to say about everything - which is naturally quite a lot! I'm (finally) giving him space to talk when we work together, and now that I'm listening, I hear that he's asking for help with his posture under saddle to help him move more freely and confidently. He's asking for space to processes the release of tension in his body, to sit and absorb how straightness feels, to let whatever processes that happen in his body flow without interruption or too much input from me when we align ourselves to achieve balance as a team. He's telling me when he's ready to move forward in our session, and when he needs more time to let his body get un-stuck. Dino has plenty to say about grooming and groundwork as well: where he feels tightness or soreness, if he needs more brushing or more massage work, if he can release tension by stretching in a stationary position or needs to "walk it out" in order to unlock his body. 

And because I'm listening and letting him lead the way, not rushing anything, and becoming more aware of my own body and how it influences him, in retirement he's perhaps become more rideable than he's ever been. 

I can move his neck up and down with the angle of my pelvis. I can ask for bend and engagement and lateral movement of shoulders and haunches by changing the way I weight my seat. I can't remember the last time I had to squeeze him hard with my lower leg to achieve forward movement, because I'm learning lately that if he's not moving forward willingly, he's generally not physically ready for it yet. He rides like a drunk sailor unless I'm purposefully riding him straight, because he's so much more laterally responsive than he's ever been. And I rarely put him on the bit - we work mostly on the buckle at the walk these days to avoid stressing his hind legs too much. 

Do you know when he's the most sparkly and forward these days? After we've walked and stretched slowly for at least 10 minutes, lifting up through his withers on a loose rein, and then STOOD STILL in the middle of the arena while he relaxes and releases tension and licks and chews and processes how he feels. After that physical preparation and a little break? Dino trots off happily from a seat and a voice aid. Anyone who's ever seen him take a break in the center of the ring during a lesson and then throw an unholy fit about going back to work might not believe it, but it's true! 

Dino is retired from hard work, but he is teaching me more about how to speak his language than I ever learned from him when he was a show horse. I took a long break from riding in the last year or so, and my time in the saddle nowadays is either feast or famine, but I'm a far better horsewoman than I was a year ago. I'm a better rider. My seat is better, my leg is more correct and effective. I'm more patient. I give more space for the horses to speak. I try my best to listen and acknowledge that when they say, "No," it's for a reason. Without the pressure of preparing for competition or moving up the levels I'm taking my time, and Dino especially is thriving within that peace and quiet.

I can hear him better than I ever have, and he's telling me the most wonderful things. 


  1. This is absolutely beautiful <3 Love the journey you're on.

  2. This is just the best update! Dino will always be my favorite blog pony <3

  3. Long-time follower but this might be my first time commenting? I love this post SO MUCH! (Also a fellow strength athlete here :) : bodybuilding, CrossFit and powerlifting. Isn't it AMAZING what our bodies can do?!)

  4. This post was so moving. I love what you're sharing and that it is far from what anyone would have expected after retiring a beloved horse.

  5. LOVE THIS! He looks fab as do you. Miss you guys!


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