Dave Seay Progressive Horsemanship
Moonlight Ride

Letting Go

I have recently had the privilege of watching Dave Seay work with one of my friends to put the first ride on her mare. An amazing process to witness as I got to see my friend and her horse mounted and walking calmly throughout the round pen after a relatively short period of time. No drama, no bucking, no running to the point of exhaustion, just a nice calm first ride with pleasant looks (and one huge smile) on both their faces.


From the very beginning stages of their session Dave's emphasis was on helping the horse to not feel trapped, or rather, teaching the human not to hold the horse hostage. It’s hard for us humans not to want to grab onto something when we think we’re about to loose control, but that is about the worst thing that you could do to a horse, especially at such a critical time. Watching Dave coach through this first ride, and seeing the instant change come across the horse when her rider relaxed and recycled any hints of worry into confidence was yet another incredible experience that the average person just doesn’t get to see. And being able to take part in these beginning stages and foundation building reminds me more and more of their importance and the connection within all areas of horsemanship later on in life, especially when it comes to mutual trust and allowing for freedom of movement.


My personal experience in ‘what not to do’ regarding this topic came while crossing a small creek one day. I had spent the first year with my horse since being started as a 3-year old out on the trail, and he had repeatedly proven himself to be full of natural confidence and curiosity. He would step on or crossover just about anything when given the opportunity to inspect it. So instant regret washed over me for my actions after we started to slip upon entering the creek. My horse instinctively put his head down to investigate, cool as a cucumber, but the odd off-skew balance we were in made me panic and I pulled-up his head. This threw him off balance even more and caused him to pop back out from where we entered. He was very unsure when we made our next attempts, trying other areas of the creek and even trying to ground drive over, we went from bad to worse.


I didn’t think of the incident at all the next time we rode, but my sure-footed horse became very hesitant when it came to crossing our next obstacle, and after that it seemed that anything we tried to cross with naturally soft or unsure footing became a challenge. I had ruined the trust he had in me to allow him to do what he needed to get us across the creek. You see, there’s a mutual “agreement” we have when it comes to crossing stuff…he goes where I want, when I want, but there’s a very special give and take that also happens, where he may know better than I, exactly how his feet should be placed to safely get us across. I took that away from him and put us both in danger.


Over the next few months I tried a number of different techniques to try and remedy the situation, but this only added to the mistrust and tension that was building between us. He even got to the point where he’d rear then jump over whatever we needed to cross. Riding started to become stressful and I began to wonder if maybe I just wasn’t cutout for it. Then the lovely news came that Dave was moving to my town. Woo hoo!


I expressed to Dave what had been going on and we set out for our ride. A few minutes in we came to a small dry creek bed. It was not very wide but enough to be able to ask our horses to step each foot in and walk out. There were some trees and stumps along the sides that we'd have to navigate through to protect our knees, but it seemed an easy enough practice spot and I was pretty convinced that with Dave there my horse would just walk right through like it was nothing. Dave walked his horse through, putting one foot at a time into the ditch then stepping one foot at a time out. I followed. Or at least I tried to follow, but we got to the ditch and stopped. We spent quite a bit of time here as we uncovered that my horse wasn’t actually afraid of crossing things, he was just no longer comfortable with the idea of a person asking him to do it. We needed to prove to him that we could be a good leader, which meant letting go at just the right time so he could do what he needed to feel better about the situation. And only after we had that trust back could we then start asking for a little more.


Whoever would imagine that such a seemingly small mistake on my part could turn into such an issue, but again it goes to show the importance of putting your horses needs first and loosening our grip to diffuse panic.


© Dave Seay Progressive Horsemanship.