Horsemanship: put on your don’t mess with me face

Horsemanship: put on your don’t mess with me face

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is the life.” To my left was the gentle flow of Lower McDonald Creek, with its water sparkling in the sun. To my right were the deep greens of a lush forest, with the ferns, trees, and many other plants like a living mosaic. In front of me was a line of people on horseback. Each horse had a unique gait, their hips and hooves moving organically through the trail, stepping over rocks and roots with ease. The mules, who carried over a hundred pounds of supplies each, also moved naturally along the path as they walked behind the horses.

In preparation for the field work of my soundscape project I had the opportunity to take a horsemanship course in West Glacier. While the sound monitoring equipment had not yet arrived, it could be too heavy to carry in addition to standard backpacking supplies to some of the sites. Since the sites are in remote areas, there may be times where it would be more efficient to use a horse to bring the equipment rather than for me to carry it using a backpack and stay overnight in order to hike back the next day.

The training was not only a beautiful ride on the trail. We started from the ground up from learning how to catch and halter a horse that is loose in the corral. Horses, unlike most other domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, or chickens, are much bigger than people. They can seriously injure or kill a person just by kicking their leg at your head. Horses are also very intelligent, they know if you feel hesitant or unprepared, and they will take advantage of that by giving you a hard time. We learned to approach a horse with confidence, but also to give them enough space with the push and pull of approaching and backing up where they eventually allow us to halter them without hassle. 

We continued on to brushing and basic grooming of the horses we caught, saddling, bridling, and lastly, mounting the horse to practice riding around the corral and the emergency one rein stop, which is as Dave called it, the emergency break for horses in dangerous situations. I learned about how riding horses is more like working with a companion, where I need to make sure I have the right attitude, and less like driving a car, where even if I’m having a bad day, the car won’t decide it doesn’t need to listen to me.

When I went through the course in the corral for the first time, I was unsure if my horse would listen to me. Subsequently, my horse pushed back when I tried to turn left because it wanted to go right, making it difficult to maneuver through the course. I wanted to go through the course again with myself in charge. “You have to mean it” said Alaina, “put on your don’t mess with me face.” My second time going through the course I was focused. When we were about to turn left, my horse hesitated. In my mind, it was clear we were turning and my horse listened.

Proud of my accomplishment, I know the lesson of “put on your don’t mess with me face” extends beyond horses to setting boundaries, asking for what I need, and more in my personal and professional life. I loved riding along the creek through the forest on my horse, but I was only able to ride well once I set the right attitude.

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