Life is full of surprises. Some good, some not so great. Last week provided a surprise in a not-so-great form. I have had blessedly few accidents with horses in the last 15 years. Only 3 have been serious enough to merit a trip to the ER, and one of them came last week. To make a long story short, I took an unscheduled dismount off my partner Crest, and managed to dislocate my left shoulder during the fall, and then to add insult to injury, Crest stepped on the same arm scrambling to get away from my flying body. I have a high threshold for pain, and I’ve never experienced something quite to that degree, in that universe. Fortunately the consequences have been pretty kind, just a few bruises and a week of being immobilized in a brace, but during that immobilization period, I managed even then to learn some valuable lessons from my horses and horsemanship, which I hope to share with you here.
I don’t deal well with not being able to move. I am the most stubborn recovery patient ever, and often will tolerate ridiculous amounts of discomfort to carry on with my routine. However, with the risk of reinjury being high after a dislocation, and given the physical demands of my means for income, I chose to stay in the brace I was given. But I didn’t choose to stay away from my horses, in fact 5 days after the incident, I left for a trip to Florida with horses in tow.
Usually I don’t get bracy about driving cross country with my horses, but there is a certain level of unease about handling horses, alone, with a sore arm, and frequently after dark. It didn’t actually occur to me until I was in the moment just how much of a challenge it was going to be to handle my horses with only one arm.
Think of all the things you might do with your horses on a day to day basis. As you think about it, take into consideration just how much mobility it actually requires. Not just physical strength, but even more-so in flexibility and the ability to lift, reach, and and bend. Two hands to halter, to trailer load, to tie, to bridle, to saddle, to pick feet…on and on the list goes. Hard enough when your horse is compliant, even worse when you’ve got an argumentative 1200 lbs on the end of the rope!
But what if….your horse actually helped you in this process? There are not limits when your horse starts to think like your partner.
Pat Parelli has a list of 12 things. 12 Behaviors. 12 Tasks that EVERY horse should be able to complete. I’ve heard it said to a Level 4 standard, but one of my mentors takes it one step further and says these 12 things should be developed to be “as good as they possibly can be”.
Here is a list of the 12 Things:
5. Lateral Flexion
6. Indirect rein
7. Direct Rein
8. Supporting Rein
9. Hands-free Farrier Prep
10. Trailer Loading
11. Soft feel at the halt
12. 9-Step Back-Up
**If you have any questions or confusions as to what any of these things are, or what they look like at a L4 standard, please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to offer clarity**
I have a list of these things hanging in my bedroom, I have them listed in my phone, and on the inside of my trailer living quarters door. I don’t profess to have them all mastered. But you can sure bet they’re burned in my brain, and they will often prevent me from becoming frustrated as a learner if something isn’t up to par.
This list came back to me in a FLASH as I was driving down the interstate on my way to my first stop-over destination on my trip. A little late to be doing any “Fixing”, I realized, and not about to leave the halters and leads on my horses overnight, I sure hoped I had prepared well enough to act like partners when it came to these simple tasks.
The test came the next morning. Up early, and ready to hit the road, packed into 5 layers (it was 5 below outside!), and one arm strapped to my side, I headed out to the barn to halter up my “kids”. I walked into Prin’s stall first, knowing she would be most willing to help. I untied my halter and offered it to her. Much to my appreciation, Prin lowered her head to my knees, and virtually haltered herself, then kept her head low while I fumbled to tie the halter with my hand tied to my side. An even more pleasant surprise came when Crest did the same, and then when both horses loaded themselves into the trailer and waited patiently, not tied, while I got the dividers adjusted and set and the door closed.
Since then, it has been much of the same. I’ve been able to saddle, bridle, mount, and ride this week, and all with minimal use of my left arm (which, by the way, has healed remarkably well and isn’t too much of a hindrance anymore).
My point in sharing this is with the hopes that I have given you an accurate example of how these 12 things, if given the proper attention ahead of time, can aid you. What do you do when you don’t have the mobility? When you can’t do what you’ve always done? Though Pat’s alliteration about Prior and Proper Preparation Preventing P-Poor Performance is cute-cutesy, it’s also a very valuable lesson in disguise.
In closing, it is my hope that you are inspired to expect excellence from the simple things. I can’t tell you how grateful I’ve been to my horses for their help as I heal and get back on track after this incident. I wish that every one of you gets the opportunity to feel partnership that way.