By Missy Wryn, Gentle Horse Trainer
After ten years without a horse I finally had the property and the means for a horse to live with me instead of boarding. I had bought the “dump on the block” with 4 acres for which my mother cried when she visited and my dad said “I wouldn’t have paid for it”. The outbuildings were in great disrepair filled to the rafters with goat and chicken manure while bunnies were loose from scattered hutches. All of that didn’t matter to me, I saw the potential of a country home to raise my sons and a place I could have horses at home. It took another seven years of fixing up the house and property, building a barn and putting in fencing until finally I had two mares delivered to me. WOW my dream was coming true!
My riding style was traditional English which I took to running the mountain trails just across the street (an added treasure I discovered after buying the property). However after two concussions in one summer from one of my mares I set out on the path of finding a better way to control her. My greatest problem was stopping her once she bolted into a run. No matter what type of bit, from snaffle and curb, to mechanical hackamores and every gadget available I still could not stop my mare once she was in a run. I hated inflicting pain using painful gadgets and unbearable mouth pressure all to no end anyways. Obviously all my traditional training was missing a vital component so I set out on a quest to learn how I could control my horse.
To my amazement I discovered bitless riding as the best and safest way to control my horse. Sounds nuts right? Letting your horse ride without a bit, how is that going to give better control than a bit? The answer astonished me. I discovered some valuable communication techniques that when applied to my horse she turned and looked at me, dropped her head and sighed as if to say “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up. What would you like me to do?” wow I didn’t expect that. I also discovered as I spoke in herd language and respected her autonomy, she became compliant and even excited to be with me. This was a horse that would walk off as I entered the pasture, turned her hind end to me when I entered her stall and basically didn’t want anything to do with me. Now she was excited to see and be with me!
Many wonderful years were spent running the mountain trails together with just a rope halter and an English saddle. My mare would do flying lead changes on the switch backs, spins at a dead end trail, and swim me across rivers and streams. As time went on she began to slow down and become noticeably sore after our rides. She still had many great years ahead of her, but not running mountain trails anymore. Luckily I found a wonderful woman whose 11 year old daughter immediately bonded with my mare making a great match for both of them, though she’d be over 100 miles away from me making visits unrealistic while my training business was heating up. So I waved goodbye to my old girl brushing away the tears while trying to push down the sentiment that was aching in my heart.
Five years went by since my old mare had left when I met a woman at one of my clinics who recognized my mare by a story I told. “I know that horse” the woman said, “she lives down the road from the barn where I board my horse”. The woman went on to say she was in great care with the same woman whose daughter was now 16, but the old mare was used for children’s riding lessons as the girl had outgrown the horse. The woman went on to schedule a 1-day intensive with me and her horse at her barn which meant I would be able to visit my old mare!
The day had come; the training intensive went great and it was time to go visit my sweet old mare. “Will she remember me” I wondered. The two women chatted as we ventured out behind the barn with rain drizzling overhead. We found the old girl dosing under a tree in a large paddock. The old mare casually glanced at us when her owner called her by a different name explaining she had changed it. Then I called her by the name she had for 15 years before I sold her, “Rusty” I softly shouted, “Rusty” I repeated a little louder. The old mare turned her eyes to me looking puzzled at first and with a deep soft voice of recognition she began to nicker while slowly walking towards me. The women were still chatting then became silent as Rusty approached the fence; I bent down to meet her nose to nose as we exchanged breath in a herd greeting. Time stopped as the silence of deep abiding closeness fell between us. She softly nickered then turned and walked back to her tree as if to say “I’m doing well, I love you, thanks for stopping by”. Tears were flowing from all three of us as my heart swelled with thankfulness knowing she was happy. That moment will forever live in my heart knowing Rusty was the horse that changed my life completely from horse knowledge to horse wisdom.