*Hand-walking as an Art Form*

It’s been a rough February so far. I always think that February is the most challenging month for those of us that don’t fly away down to Florida to escape the cold. February brings a sense of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for both horse and rider and both, i think, tend to get a little frustrated when it doesn’t just give it up and get warmer already. Which is why I think February is the worst month. Winter’s not over. Spring isn’t here. But we are all sick to death of it and the layers are getting annoying. . .

As a result, I think the horses tend to be more annoyed even than we are. Which, perhaps is the biggest reason why it’s been a tough month. The cold caught up to me and I’m sick and I had a few “interesting” rides that left me wrenched here and twisted there and I will admit, I’m a little sore. One of my own horses seems to have decided that she would prefer a few weeks of hand-walking to commencing test practice, and a frustrating series of little niggling things have left us whining at each other as we go around, and around, and around the ring. On foot. No wings. No happy clink clink of metal, just 1-2-3-4 and 1-2-1-2 walking. Yet, the prize lists are coming in, sales on quic braid and white breeches are cropping up, and there are even a few schooling shows to get horses out to. I have other horses to prepare, but the one I’m walking I wanted to be riding.

Yesterday I decided, while having the chance to log a few miles on my fitbit early in the nicely thawed and freshly dragged outdoor arena, that hand-walking can be an art form. I drew beautifully straight short diagonals. My 10m circles were exquisite, and the centerline I walked was, I hope a great guide for the riders that came after. I realized what a different perspective it is from the ground than high atop my largest horse, who was plodding next to me. As I made pass after pass, I realized that the path of horse hoof-prints were crooked in exactly the same place as the human ones. Her overtrack was bigger when I was looking ahead at something. Our movements mirrored each other, even on the ground, as they did together under saddle. My mistakes were her mistakes, but on foot I had both of our footprints as proof. I saw how we both didn’t walk exactly straight next to the judge’s booth, and how two thirds of the way down the long diagonal i lost focus and we drifted a little into the inside. Nothing that doesn’t also happen when we are riding together, with one set of prints.

When I finished our scheduled art class in the sand, and I turned back to see our finished product, it was beautiful. Her prints, next to mine, each errant footstep recorded.

I know that I would’ve rather been riding and making one set of hoof-prints, but it felt good to walk next to one of my best friends, to think about how she might see the ring as we rode our tests. I’ll be adding a little of what I’ve learned these days spent hand-walking into our next rides.

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