The Perfect Lesson
July 14, 2015
When I first met Bella and her owner Lisa, Bella was occasionally ridden by the husband who admittedly “just rode” and she was the bottom horse on the preferred ride list. Lisa’s old horse had come up with ringbone and the search for a replacement horse “the big dream warmblood” was not going well. Bella is a little chestnut Arabian mare around 7 or 8 who had somehow managed to slip through life mainly being green broke and ridden out on the trails I suspect because of her king nature. When she came to Lisa she had an “ear thing” that precluded easy bridling up and she’d get flustered being tied and pull back now and again. She wasn’t exactly Lisa’s dream dressage horse.
One day Bella was the horse Lisa used for her lesson. Lisa saddled her up slowly and carefully managed to get the bridle on. The lesson proceeded with ole Bella moving around with her nose stuck up in the air ala Arab. What caught my eye though was what a beautiful moving horse she was when she relaxed. There was talk of selling Bella. I lobbied on behalf of Bella and said to sell her “green” at age 8 would condemn her to the downward spiral of one home after another if no one took the time to “train” her.
Lisa decided to work with Bella even though she was 15 hands or less and didn’t fit her profile of a dream dressage horse. We went back to the basics for both horse and rider and started at the beginning with Bella. Lisa is an athlete and fit. She has ridden all her life and my job was to give her some classical riding techniques and layered learning suitable to become a dressage rider both in her equitation and Bella’s training. That was a year ago last summer. I’m happy to report Lisa rose to the occasion and when I came back after the winter break Bella was a new horse. Lisa had put in the time and attention necessary to build trust with Bella. Bella stood quietly while I put the Heart Rate Monitor on her. Her heart rate was in the normal range for just standing there. Sometimes you’ll see a big spike in HR when a horse is being saddled but this was not the case when Lisa saddled and bridled Bella. This really caught my attention. I mentioned this to Lisa and told her she had done a good job in building trust with Bella and off we went to the arena to work.
This was a different horse. Her balance was better and as reflected through her HR she never spiked emotionally with stress or anticipation. Bella had shown up for work! Lisa and Bella do lots of trail riding and both are in fit condition which quite frankly is unusual. Many times the people and horses I work with are not. In our busy lives people don’t seem to have the time to be fit themselves let alone their horses. If you look at the speed graph and the heart graphs below you’ll notice how in sync they are hence the title the “perfect lesson”. Bella’s HR throughout both lessons shown below reflects a horse well within the physiological parameters of walk trot and canter with no visible jump in her HR. So why is this significant? It’s significant because it reflects a horse that is in a calm frame of mind and trusting of the situation. She was not afraid and she stayed calm throughout the learning process. I’m not saying she performed perfectly I’m saying her state of mind and her emotions didn’t waiver when new things were asked of her. To my way of thinking what the HR monitor reflected was better than any blue ribbon I ever won and Lisa did an excellent job of schooling to build that kind of trust. Fit horse, fit rider and trust. To a riding instructor that’s the perfect lesson.
The perfect lesson is also in the karmic sense of those two words. The perfect lesson is that we embrace the totality of mind, body and spirit, both ours and the horse. We can use the Heart Rate monitor to help guide training protocol based on input from the other half of the partnership…. the horse. The HR monitor shows us in the moment where the horse is emotionally and physically as it can reflect fitness, pain and stress. It’s an amazing tool to remind us to slow down, to be aware of the moment and acknowledge and appreciate the emotional and physical state of our horse. Seeing heart rate can help teach us “the human” to acknowledge our partner by showing us and by calling us to attention in the moment. Feel is that elusive “thing” that all horsemen desire and all great horsemen have.
Think about what his heart rate may be reflecting the next time you are with your horse. What do you suppose his heart rate would tell you?