A lot of what I heard and saw in that documentary resonated with me since I'm always looking for the least amount of force or coercion, as we all are, and as the filmmaker, Stormy May, was. I wrote her for an interview, so I could learn more.
As we talked during the interview, she said something I didn't expect--that she had given up riding altogether.
That was a new and shocking idea to me. I have eight horses and enjoy relationships from the ground with all of them, but five of them entirely. I wasn't surprised that someone could find a non-riding relationship as good, valuable and worthy as a riding one. The time I spend feeding and grooming Old Red, my 34-year-old horse, every day is one of the joys of my life. It has proven to me that horses have value far beyond their riding days. And people who say, "That horse isn't useful anymore, time to put him down," are cheating themselves out of the most beautiful parts of a life with horses.
But to give up riding altogether? I had to think about that.
Since our conversation I've had several trail rides during which I mulled over the concept and questions:
Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me?
How much coercion was I using during the rides?
Could I be convinced to give up riding altogether?
Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me? Most every day I go out to see my horse and spend time with him, and he knows he can see me that way or during a ride. Each day I was going to ride I hooked up the trailer and pulled it around so that he could see clearly that I was coming to get him for a ride.
My answer: Each time I went out to halter him for a ride he came to me and was happy to go and seemed to have a wonderful time. (By the way, during long trail rides we do stop and give our horses a little break--eat lunch and relax--and at the end of every ride we spend a fair amount of time at the trail heads grooming and letting the horses relax. Cowboy always stands ground tied and falls asleep.)
That said, he doesn't particularly seem thrilled to be saddled or bridled, but he tolerates it well. At that point in the whole routine he does tend to give me a hard eye.
The full answer: Cowboy likes adventure and he likes me, thus, he likes the trails. However, Cowboy would prefer I ditch the saddle and the bridle.
How much coercion did I use on the ride? Pretty much none. I ride on a loose rein and he moves out eagerly on the trails.
So, what does this mean for me and riding? I don't know. I love for my ideas to be challenged and to look at things in a different way--especially when it comes to horses. I'm going to continue to think about it.
One thing it has definitely done is to solidify by belief that for horses out on pasture with a herd, a relationship on the ground is a perfectly legitimate choice and your horse won't feel robbed one little bit that he gets to spend time with you in a non-riding situation. In fact, as in the case of Old Red, he may show you something about the horse/human relationship you've never seen before, but are so very thankful you were entrusted with.
I want to thank Stormy May for accepting my invitation to converse on this topic and not to judge me for being a rider, but to so graciously understand that we're all on a journey with our horses.