Changing my agenda: Lessons from Reno and Silk
by Jeanne Rewa
The year before I went off to college, my off the track Thoroughbred Reno was turned out into a field with other horses some of the time, and came inside for bad weather, or during the day to keep his nearly black coat from fading. Reno’s stall shared a wall with the bedroom of the owners of the boarding facility, whose home was attached to the barn. In conversation one day, the farm owners told me that Reno threw a fit in his stall whenever he was kept inside during a storm. His screams kept them awake until one of them would go out in the pouring rain and take him out to be with his friends. I told them if he was happier outside with friends we should save everyone some anxiety and just leave him out in storms. They were quite relieved!
Eventually I gave up entirely on keeping Reno in a stall. During the day when he was kept in, he paced in his stall until he was let outside with his pasturemates. I decided his happiness was more important than keeping his coat show-perfect and shiny.
Once Reno was living outside all the time, he was much happier, but also became harder and harder to catch. The turning point was when I came to terms with the fact that my idea of a good time – riding round and round in a small ring perfecting my riding position so I could win a scholarship to an equestrian college – was probably not Reno’s idea of a good time. When I started visiting Reno in his pasture, sometimes not taking him to ride at all, or grooming and riding in the field instead, he started to approach when he saw me, instead of high-tailing it in the opposite direction. We became friends again.
After college and after Reno’s passing, I began regularly working with an Anglo-Arabian gelding named Silk, whose “problem” was that he immediately tried to buck off anyone who got on him. We tried everything to uncover the reason and fix the problem. Nothing we tried could “fix” this “problem” until I accepted that Silk was communicating – loud and clear – his preference for not being ridden.
I started asking myself what Silk would want to do. I was totally in love with this horse, with his intelligence, curiosity, and boldness. The last thing I wanted to do was to force him to be ridden and risk destroying exactly what drew me to him.
Silk and I began to take walks together. We went out into the woods and hills around the farm. Because it was unfenced I had to keep him on a halter and lead, but I let Silk choose the pace and the direction and what we were doing – whether it was grazing or wandering, looking around, or charging up a hill side by side.
Eight years later, when I look back at my time with Silk, it’s not the rides I remember, it’s the exploring we did together, and what he taught me about letting go of my personal agenda.
If your horse could choose how you spent your time together, what would (s)he choose? How does your horse communicate to you about what (s)he does or doesn’t want to do? I’d love to hear your stories!
Jeanne Rewa is an OurHorses community member
who lives in Washington D.C.
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