Today with Visions (teen girls in substance abuse recovery), we rode horses for the first time with the current group of girls.

One young woman, working with Rusty, vocalized that she was very nervous about getting on a horse. While she loves Rusty and enjoys spending time with him, she felt daunted by the experience. We talked about how important it is to share our feelings with our horse, and to be honest about our fear, because they can sense it. We don’t want to hide our anxiety from our partner, because then they can’t support us in the ways we need (a good lesson for life). 

Before we got the young woman mounted, she stood next to Rusty in the arena and made a special contract with him: “Rusty, I need you to keep me safe, and I promise to keep you safe. I need you to take good care of me, and I promise to take care of you.” We ask all participants to make this contract with their horses, as it helps build trust, transparency, and consistency in those relationships.

Although still nervous, the teen swung up onto Rusty’s tall, chestnut back and sat softly; she elected to ride bareback, so only had a saddle pad on which to rest. This can be a freeing and exciting way to ride a horse, but requires the rider to stay extra calm & relaxed as the horse’s sensitivity to physical cues is heightened with no saddle in between.

As soon as they began walking forward, Rusty started to buck his back end.

Not enough to dismount his rider, but enough to send her forward. She immediately asked to get off. We encouraged her to walk with Rusty around the arena, and suggested that he might want her to confront something before she rode him. We often witness horses refusing to move forward until their rider has uncovered a truth about themselves, or have admitted something that’s holding them back. Many people come to ANT stuck in some way, and the horses have a beautiful, if sometimes frustrating, way of helping them see a new way forward.

After leading Rusty for a few minutes and talking to him, the young woman wanted to try again. This time, they were able to walk together a few more paces before Rusty again began to buck. I watched the teen quickly dismount, clearly spooked by Rusty’s actions. I turned to Dianna, an instructor, and commented that sometimes in life, we all have to make emergency exits!

I mentioned this to the teen as she led Rusty toward us, and she agreed. We were surprised to see her smiling, but she remained in good spirits after her wild ride. She shared that she still loved Rusty and that he was a good horse, but that “not everything has to be perfect on the first try.”

Later, in our checkout with the girls, the young woman shared that Rusty helped her focus on finding balance. She then told us that her experience today made her realize that she has been “bucking” at the recovery house–acting out, acting a little wild—and that now she understands how her behavior may be affecting others, as well as her own balance in life. She was thankful to Rusty for teaching her this lesson!

We were blown away at this insight, and so touched to see that her experience had been turned into an amazing learning moment. We never know what is going to happen here, but we trust the horses to know what lessons are needed. We just have to embrace their intuition and be willing to walk beside them on that journey.