I started horse riding when I was about 13, on courses and excursions during summer camps, and I loved it. As a teenager, encouraged by the pleasure I got from horses, I took traditional French riding lessons. As I rose through the grades and started to take part in horse jumping competitions, I began to feel fear and even aversion, which was fueled by falls, the confined space of a manège rather than open spaces, the stress of competitions, and the way the lessons were run. None of it corresponded to the way I wanted to interact with horses. The joy and pleasure slowly disappeared and I stopped riding.
As the years went by, my love of horses remained, but on the few rides that I took, the fear returned and I sometimes lost control of the situation. Yet I continued to dream of making a long trip on horseback one day. To be able to share the horse rides and farm work with the cowboys and girls that I was bound to meet on my travels through the United States, I decided to overcome my fear and take riding lessons again.
When I was looking for horse riding centers close to where I live in France, I came across a brochure by Marie-Pascale, whose way of thinking perfectly matched my needs. And so we started together, with horses and ponies, and slowly I managed to build up my relationship with horses.
Working with horses on foot was a crucial step for me: I had to start out by developing my “panoramic vision”, i.e. work on constantly being aware of the environment – just like the horse, which keenly perceives everything that goes on around it – so that I can act, react and evolve in that environment along the same lines as the horse.
The next step was to integrate self-awareness into my panoramic vision, i.e. to be present here and now, aware of myself and my body, and give off an energy that the horse can feel, which is the best way of communicating with it, much more effective than horse-riding techniques. This self-awareness requires constantly paying attention to the signals the horse’s body gives out. It involved working on my capacity to feel my emotions alongside the horse, which animals pick up even if we are not always aware of them. If I’m afraid but I behave as if I’m in control of the situation, I send out a contradictory message to the horse, who isn’t getting what he is expecting from me, in other words a reliable leader! Progress is slow: each time I name a fear or sense of unease, other experiences slowly take their place, centered on joy and the pleasure of feeling that I am building up a connection with the horse. A relationship of trust thus starts to set in and develop until I can lead the horse without reins.
Once I was more comfortable on foot, I could get into the saddle. The aim was to find my “sweet spot”, which is where I can balance on the horse’s back to be at one with him. I mostly mounted without stirrups onto a saddle without a tree, so that I could feel the horse’s movements and the way my posture affected its speed.
I became more confident and gradually adopted a more relaxed posture connected to the horse. I now no longer feel anguish at getting up on a horse and I have acquired a solid, more confident foundation for setting off on my trip to cowboy land. I understand that you can earn respect through confidence, without using authority or control, how crucial it is to be aware of the environment and myself, and the subtle, rich experiences that come from close contact with a horse. What’s more, I’ve learned to respect and listen to myself more, with increased personal esteem and confidence.
All my thanks go to Marie-Pascale for her precious lessons, which she always taught at my own speed, in tune with the horses, and with a great deal of kindness and patience!