My stomach came up into my chest and I got short of breath as I saw the commotion below me. We were descending a very narrow set of switch-backs on a steep hillside. Kit’s horse had spooked dropping a foot over the edge. It was a tense moment, but they recovered nicely. I was glad to be on the ground leading my horse.
I had gotten off Curl a couple of miles earlier, on top of the narrow ridge. Years of dude string use had worn the trail into a deep rut and Curl was having a problem with that. The ridge was narrow enough I did not feel comfortable with the way she kept jumping out of the rut, so I chose to walk. Now we were coming off that ridge into the valley below.
When I reached the bottom, Linda commented on how nice it was that I had a horse I could lead down a narrow trail like that. She said her horse would crowd her too much and she felt safer on its back. I pointed out that I had been working on having Curl stay back for two miles before we got to the switch-backs. Even though I had been doing a lot of walking on this trail ride, I was getting some good things accomplished with my horse.
We were in an area none of us had ridden before, the map we had was not detailed enough, and Curl was very green. All that boiled down to having a good ride until the group became confused. We would be riding along nicely, come to a trail junction, and in the midst of the groups indecision, Curl would just fall apart. I didn’t feel capable of handling the situation well in the saddle, so when ever that happened, I got off and walked a ways. When the group was more focused, and Curl was in a good frame of mind, I got back on. I walked about eight miles that weekend, and Curl got exposed to a lot of varied terrain that I don’t have around home, without me over exposing her because of my lack of ability to handle it well from the saddle. I was concerned that I may be teaching Curl to act up whenever she wanted to get out of doing something; that proved not to be the case. It actually was a turning point in our relationship. After that experience I was much more able to support her when she was troubled, or should I say, she was much more able to trust my support?
Here is my take on it. Horses know their survival depends on the herd leader. They are much more at ease following a leader, but, because of the way leadership is tied to their survival, they are ready to assume the leadership role. In other words, when I failed to be a worthy leader Curl’s self-preservation came up, and she took over with ideas of her own. There is an awful lot involved in being a worthy leader. Having a clear plan in mind just happened to be the aspect of leadership that Curl initially reacted to. My insecurity in handling her in that situation, quickly led to an avalanche of failure in other aspects of leadership. By getting off I was able to put aside that insecurity, and could again be a worthy leader. There was no magic in getting off, it was just what I needed to do for me to make the necessary change in my mental state. By giving Curl the experience of being able to trust me to be a worthy leader, our relationship strengthened. This is what I see as supporting the horse, being a worthy leader.