We all have a comfort zone, a place where you are confident, where you know what to expect, a place that makes few demands on your ability to improvise or deal with the unknown or unwanted. Cassie’s comfort zone is of course first and foremost just being out in the field with Minnie. As far as riding is concerned, her comfort zone would be the lane where I used to walk her in hand; down the hill, turn right, walk to the entrance of the forestry, stop, graze for a bit and then turn to go home. If it was up to Cassie, that is where we would ride to and no further. As long as she is in her comfort zone, she can more or less deal with the unexpected because she doesn’t immediately loose her head. She is also less inclined to look for danger; she knows what lies ahead and predictability is reassuring.
The comfort zone is a nice place to be, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere. It’s a stagnant pool when you should flow like a river.
The first time I tried to ride past the forestry entrance, Cassie threw a major fit. I am not confrontational and I never fight a horse, so in a situation like that I don’t try to make Cassie go where she doesn’t want to go. Instead, I just block where she does want to go. Then, when she has calmed down enough to review the situation, I’ll ask her again. Cassie is a smart girl. If I go back the following day she’ll usually go past the scene of the crime without a problem.
I have my own comfort zones in life and I know where they are. My comfort zone with Cassie is less easily defined. After a ride, I do a sort of mental re-run to think about how Cassie went and what I could have done better. It took me a while to realise it, but it finally dawned on me that I was riding Cassie defensively. I was riding her in a way designed to keep her mentally in her comfort zone. Somehow, keeping Cassie calm had become an excuse not to push her. By focusing on containment rather than stimulation I had become a passive rider. Cassie and I were getting stuck in that stagnant pool.
I have ridden quite a few horses for other people. Most of these horses I really liked, but I was riding them for a reason. It didn’t matter if it was fittening work, exercise or schooling, I would let the horse know what I wanted and expect them to work with me, no nonsense. It didn’t matter what their background was, we had a job to do and that is what we did. Riding your own horse is different. Love can get in the way. But when I first got Minnie I took the same approach, I would ride actively, with gentle firmness and it didn’t take long before Minnie and I had a very good partnership going.
Why then didn’t I do the same thing with Cassie? When I got Cassie she was fairly traumatised, which is one of the reasons why I took things so slowly with her. If I ask myself if I would ride Cassie differently if she wasn’t my horse, the answer is yes. I would accept less and push her much harder. Over the past few weeks Cassie has shown that she trusts me and feels safe with me, even when we ride out alone without the company of another horse. We have come through some really tough and scary situations without rearing or bolting. Cassie is ready, it is time to move out of the comfort zone and take a different approach. All I have to do is ride her as if she is not mine.