#5 A Broken Back (Part 1) and a Wealth of Lessons

Jul 14, 2021

On the afternoon of November 13, 2020, soon after I'd sent an email announcing my resignation as a Parelli Instructor, my world took a major shift... and so did my spine. 

Have you ever had a really crappy experience end up transforming into something positive? My fractured vertebrae did just that. It turned into a wealth of lessons and an opportunity to meet and learn with a special human being (I'll tell you more about him in next week's post). I'd like to share a few of these lessons with you today. 

Lesson #1- your horse can only be as connected as you are. 

If you're reading this, most likely, you're a horse-lover (or you're my mom 😆). If you're like me, you're probably also on a lifetime quest for harmony and connection with your horse/s. You may have had the experience of going somewhere new- a clinic, a trail ride, a new barn and your concerns about the new event took up your head space:

Worry over not looking stupid, or what-if (fill in the blank) happens,  or hoping your horse doesn't do that thing that embarrasses you. When your horse starts to act in a disconnected way: calling out to the horse he met 10 minutes previously, pulling you across the parking lot, spooking at every new sound or movement; you're worry just goes up a notch and you start attempting to get them to calm down and be connected with you. The only problem is, until your mind is free of all the garbage filling it up, your horse won't be able to connect with you because you aren't available for connection. Connection is a 2 way street and takes 2 to tango. 

The day I broke my back, I had no business riding a horse that needed me to be fully present. I had it in my mind that a ride would do my broken heart good- but this wasn't a horse that filled in for people and due to all the things on my mind, I wasn't available the level of connection he needed.

Suede had been with me for about a year. Originally, I took him on as a project for my own learning. He belonged to a student of mine. She'd gotten into trouble with him several times and had sent him to a local trainer who does a good job with lots of horses. Suede was with him for 7 months and hadn't improved much- he was still wound up like a caffeinated squirrel and was terrified of learning with humans.

A fabulous colleague of mine, Cezanne Decristoforo came up to my place and was doing lessons with several folks in the area. Suede's owner was one of them. I watched what Cezanne did with Suede and how he transformed from a super skeptical prey animal to having a glimmer of trust that he was okay in her hands. It was one of those experiences, watching the 2 of them together, that you could feel in your heart. I knew that Suede had a lot to teach me and an idea started to take shape... (this is usually a sign that things are going to change in my world 😆)

I talked to Cezanne about it and asked if she'd be willing to help me if I took him on- she said, "sure". I pitched the idea to Suede's owner that he come and spend some time with me and with Cezanne's coaching I could learn a ton and hopefully help him out. Suede came to stay at my place in November of 2019. Six months later, after his owner decided that she didn't think she wanted him back (which was a courageous decision on her part) Suede became the 4th horse in my herd. 

The day I broke my back it was a cold, blustery November afternoon. Suede was a bit more tense than usual, but was able to relax during our warm up. This brings me to...

Lesson #2 Heed the lights!

There's a way of assessing horse behavior that Pat Parelli shared with a group of instructors a few years back that I like a lot. As you're playing with your horse and asking them to do certain things, be aware of what they're telling you. You can compare the messages they're sending to a traffic light. If what they're doing is giving you a GREEN light (they aren't bothered at all) move on, don't stay stuck there waiting for the light to change! 

If their behavior is giving you a YELLOW light (holding their breath, spooking a little, not yielding, etc) then you'll need to proceed with caution. Depending on the horse, you might need to stop there and not proceed until you can help the light to turn green.

If the behavior is giving you a RED light, STOP or proceed a great risk to you and possibly the horse!! Keep yourself safe and do what it takes to get to a yellow or green light before continuing. 

The day I broke my back, Suede was giving lots of yellow lights. When I stepped up to the mounting block, he lined up nicely but when I put my foot in the stirrup he moved off to the side. YELLOW light. I did what it took to have him line up and relax at the mounting block and allow me to mount. I thought the light was now green.

It's funny because a few times during that session I thought to myself- 'I probably shouldn't be riding today.' After this happened at the mounting block, I thought it again but quickly told myself, 'it's going to be a short ride and this isn't the first time I've seen this behavior and he's been able to find relaxation in the past.' 

Next, I tested out our lateral flexion and he was stuck- no yield. YELLOW light. When enough yellow lights come in succession- you might think about ending your session on the next positive change OR making darn sure that you are fully present and ready to be there to help them. I again, listened to him and knew he was tense and stayed there until he relaxed and could yield on both sides. But it was yellow light #2. 

The next thing that happened leads my to... 

Lesson #3 Being aware of where your horse's mind is

I'll be sharing this one along with a few more in next week's blog post #6 A Broken Back- The Power of Perspective. Thank you for joining me for this jog down memory lane and I hope some of it resonates with you and it can help you on your own journey. 

Have a great rest of your day and I look forward to sharing more with you next Thursday! 

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