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Take That, Wikipedia!
You are not the boss of me
Trudy is a Tennessee Walking Horse. That means she (according to Wikipedia) “is a breed of gaited horse known for its unique four-beat running-walk and flashy movement. It is a popular riding horse due to its calm disposition, smooth gaits and sure-footedness.”
Clearly Wikipedia has never met Trudy.
I didn’t know a lot about gaited horses before I bought one, but I had attended a Saddle Seat show. In case you can’t find this in Wikipedia, Saddle Seat is a type of riding featuring gaited horses. I’d been to many horse shows before, but this was a whole new experience. For a start, the riders were dressed in competition attire modeled after 1800s menswear: waistcoats, ties, long jackets, jodhpur pants and derby hats. And I am all about the fashion. They looked as if they were just setting off to survey their vast estates on horses whose feet moved so quickly and yet seemed to glide on air. It was truly impressive. When I got Trudy, I had visions of the two of us in all our finery, her gliding on air, me in my jaunty hat, gaiting off into the sunset.
But visions and facts are different.
Being new to gaited horses I bought a book about them with the word “easy” in the title. However, when there are pages of grids with multiple gait definitions and even more pages of diagrams trying to illustrate all the movements, frankly the word “easy” is a bit of a stretch.
Then I committed hours to YouTube, squinting at videos trying to figure out which foot fell first and what gait I was watching.
I decided to break it down to something simple that wouldn’t hurt my brain and opted for bicycle speeds. When you’re a toddler, your tricycle has no gears. You peddle, you go. Then as you get a little older you can get bikes that have from three speeds to dozens of speeds. It just depends on the gear configuration, what the bike is built for, and what you want to do with it.
Classic English riding horses have three basic speeds: walk, trot, canter. There are of course a few variations on speeds and at advanced dressage levels all kinds of spiffy moves but those are the basics.
But gaited horses have a myriad of gears and speeds depending on the breed. Flat walk, fast walk, running walk, pace, amble, saddle rack, trot, fox trot, paso, and on it goes. I literally needed a playbill just to try to keep up.
And I wasn’t the only one struggling.
Early on in her training, it was clear that Trudy was a little greener than first thought. She was unfamiliar with several basic riding cues and overall needed some conditioning from a fitness perspective. And while she knew how to gait, she didn’t really understand how to change speeds.
Think of that tricycle. You peddle, she goes. And goes. Even when you stop pedaling, she still goes. You’d want her to stop. And she would. Eventually.
When she was moving, she would randomly switch between gaits, shifting mid-stride and stumbling as her feet got all jumbled up underneath her. This led to concerns about lameness or possible underlying injury. In my gut, I felt like she was sound, but I knew that I was inexperienced, so I made sure that she was checked out, imaged, adjusted and anything else that was recommended to me. Turns out my gut was right. However, she still stumbled and I knew I needed an expert.
There aren’t a lot of trainers in my part of the country who work exclusively with gaited horses. Luckily, I found an experienced trainer who let me know that she’d be assessing my horse and doing what was best for Trudy above all else and then she’d decide about a training approach. That sounded perfect.
She worked with Trudy for weeks, spending hours a day evaluating her. I watched as she drove and pushed Trudy to see how she moved most comfortably and what she liked to do. And newsflash, Wikipedia, it wasn’t gaiting.
Trudy can gait, but when given a choice, she trots. And not only does she trot and canter she does both beautifully. There was no injury or lameness at all. The confusion in her stride was trying to gait when she knew all the time she wanted to trot.
And with that discovery, I understood Trudy perfectly. How often have I ignored my own instincts while trying to please others even when I knew it wasn’t right for me? I am sure I seemed broken too.
From the time we are born we are bombarded by messages about who we should be, where we should live, how much money we should make, what we should wear, what size we should be, how much we should weigh, how we should look. And on the flipside, we’re also told what we can’t do, how we’re not good enough, and how we are destined to fail.
The last couple of years has found most of us stumbling. The pandemic has been difficult and tragic. Our global confinement has been challenging. But it’s been heartening to see so many people taking the opportunity to really consider their priorities and make changes in their lives. I have more than one friend who has changed jobs or quit working altogether in order to be more present for their families or to follow a dream they’d previously set aside. And so many of us have taken the time to examine deep wounds that have held us back and focus on healing those wounds.
And me, I’ve finally listened to my dearest friend’s urgings and taken up the pen, so to speak, to write.
As the new year approaches, we are supposed to make a list of resolutions. We must do better, be better, accomplish something, satisfy some expectation. But what if we could let that go? What if we could realize that we are enough as we are?
What if we decided to trot?
Dear Wikipedia, Trudy is a Tennessee Walking Horse who was expected to and knows how to gait, but she prefers not to. Once we accepted that, she began to thrive.
The day after Christmas, I took Trudy out for a walk and told her how proud I am of her and how sorry I am that it took me so long to figure out what she needed. Searching her eyes for a response, I get nothing. I pull a carrot out of my pocket and with that, all is right in her world.
I know Trudy loves carrots. She also loves cookies, finding fresh green grass to munch, rolling in the dirt, trotting over gaiting, having her butt scratched, and maybe somewhere lower on the list, me.
As we enter this new year, I wish you to know that you are enough, even when you’re stumbling.
May life bring you carrots.
And maybe a nice butt scratch. Just sayin’.
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