By Alessandra Deerinck http://www.HHSensing.com
My mare, Aria de Los Cielos (Aria) is a Mangalarga Marchador, a breed native to Brazil. She was born at Rancho de Los Cielos, in Riverside, CA, on May 1, 2012. Aria and I have been together through every aspect of her upbringing, training, and competition. Aria has helped me live my dream of working and communicating with horses.
My riding experience spans across different disciplines, and my focus has always been on horsemanship, as the performance tool, because the communication supports the performance. I look at horsemanship as an always dynamically changing state, and think that it can be instantly managed through an ongoing code of communication with the horse.
Riding Aria in her first dressage schooling show, in June 2016, was a very important milestone. She had been under saddle for only a short time, but her personality and breed made it very easy to feel like we could do anything together.
On the first loop around the arena, while waiting for our time in the ring, Aria and I rode by a brightly colored banner that vibrated because of the wind. While bunnies, squirrels, and coyotes on a trail are not a concern for Aria, the banner was something she had never seen. She was distracted and listening for my lead. At first, I allowed Aria to slow down, and even stop to assess the banner because no leader would force an individual that is hesitant, or they would lose their leading position. The next time we were near the banner, I asked her to go by it and let her deviate slightly away. This allowed her to see it from a different angle, apparently convincing her that the banner was not a scary object, and in our next passage she had no problem. She earned a score of 63%.
I’ve spent many years observing and teaching about animal behavior. In general, when we set the goal to establish this kind of dynamic relationship with the horse, we need to give our actions a meaning that horses can understand, so they will want to participate instead of being forced to do so. When horses experience a pleasant interaction, they always end up looking at horsemanship as a desired time, even when it involves the practice of an equestrian discipline. This kind of attitude for horsemanship will always result in a better training. I believe that horsemanship plays a determinant role in any moment between human and horse. Being able to understand in depth, and to manage in detail the human to horse relationship, can make it go from a fearful experience to one that we would always want to have. What Aria and I did in that dressage ring was a step in that direction.
That year, we continued to diversify our training by participating in American Endurance Ride Conference, placing fifth in Aria’s first 35 mile ride in October. We then went on to win in the 2016 Death Valley Encounter 30 mile ride in December, and placed third in the Eastern Mojave Desert 25 mile the following February. Aria was the first of her breed to win an endurance competition in the United States, and in May of 2017, she completed a 50 mile ride in Descanso, CA.
During the Death Valley Encounter, the trail went through many different kinds of terrain, from a flat easy trail in the desert sand, to a foot wide trace across a very rocky slope, with a shear drop on one side. What I chose to manage in my horsemanship was just taking care of staying on the marked path, and letting Aria have the control of the speed. The place we were going through really felt like the moon, and the view was breathtaking. Aria and I were alone most of the time, and the Slate Range Trail did not point to base camp, so she had no motivation to speed up or slow down to join another horse, or to go back to camp, which are some of the things that often happen in endurance. The rocky terrain was making her walk slowly and very carefully. Watching from the saddle how Aria negotiated the terrain, barefooted and following my lead, was heartwarming, given that it was the most challenging trail we had been on.
The horses I train currently all compete in dressage and endurance. These two disciplines both require a true partnership with horse and human. It’s not always an easy goal to achieve, but is definitely worth trying for, in order to experience what I have with Aria.