One day a friend of mine encouraged me to read a book called the ‘Riding Between the Worlds’ by Linda Kohanov. Linda created Eponaquest, a center for equine assisted learning. I looked up her website and reviewed some of the work that is done at the center and thought, Leaves and Lizards would be an excellent location to combine horse trekking with an equine therapy workshop. I contacted the center and was put in touch with Shelley Rosenberg. Shelley is one of the founding members and master Eponaquest instructor and offers Equine Experiential Learning sessions. These sessions use both the human and equine instructor’s expertise in developing open communication that facilitates healing and self discovery.
Shelley is a United States Dressage Federation (USDF) “L” judge, certified USDF instructor, provides lessons and training for riders from beginners up to the level of Grand Prix dressage. She has over 30 years of experience training horses, teaching riders and professionally competing in the art of dressage riding. I contacted Shelley to see if she would be interested in hosting an Eponaquest workshop in Costa Rica. She was excited about the prospect and we quickly formulated a plan to combine the Eponaquest principles with a 7 day horse trek in the mountains and rainforest in Costa Rica. At that time we were using bits on all of our horses, Shelley is a huge proponent of natural horsemanship and Dr. Cook’s Bitless bridle. She has been exposed to and has experienced horse training methods from the most brutal to the most simple and natural. She saw a photo of one of our guys riding Juano, our stallion, with a bit. She told me in 3 days she would be riding him bitless and bridleless, as a matter of fact she said she could get all of our horse out of bits. We all gaffed at what we considered to be an arrogant boost from an over confident woman that had no idea what she would be dealing with when it came to working with high spirited Costarricense de Paso (Costa Rican) horses let alone ride Juano bitless! Shelley arrived by helicopter to our local landing strip, she had just spent a few days working with a woman’s horses in San Jose and she flew her over the mountains to our side of Costa Rica. Our horsemen and guides were waiting for her when she arrived. I drove right up to the corral, no time for coffee, it was all business.
Juano was saddled up and they were anxious to see Shelley in action. After meeting everyone, she greeted Juano, sized him up. She pulled a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle out of her bag, put it over the top of the bit and bridle. Hopped on his back, rode him around a minute or two then after few minutes, ceremoniously removed the bit and handed it to me. She rode him smoothly and easily around the corral as if they were floating on air. Right, left, backwards, walk, trot, canter and the most important thing, she brought him to a stop. No fighting, no stress, it was like they were dancing. Then she pulled out a stiff rope ring, places it around his neck, rode around, walk, trot, canter, side to side, back and forth with just the ring. She removed the bitless bridle, only leaving the ring, she stopped Junao in front of us, looked at Enrique and said, “Less is more. Here, you try.” She dismounted and Enrique eagerly leaped up on Juano and maneuvered the stallion effortlessly. His smile, connection with Juano at that moment remains one of the most precious memories of my life. We each took a turn. To ride a horse for the first time, knowing pain is no consequence, is an overwhelming, liberating experience. It allows authentic connection, all boundaries are removed. That morning, with Juano, was the benchmark example for all of us, it created a real relationship between horse and human.
There are traditional methods for horse training, then there is natural horsemanship that leads us to relationship based horsemanship and there lies the limitless potential between horse and human.
More horse stories to come!