One of our frequent visitors invited Dr. Yang and 6 students to travel to the Chico area for horsemanship lessons. One may think that the only perceived connection to our training was the original plan to include horseback riding with archery in the curriculum. The lessons opened our minds and hearts to so much more.
For Michael, horsemanship crossed over with his Taiji practice. He was eager to not only introduce us to the world of horsemanship, but also to see how horses would receive us. Michael was convinced that with our Taijiquan and Qigong practice, our sense of centeredness and energy flow gave us a solid foundation to work with horses.
Our lessons began when we watched “Buck,” a documentary on the real-life “horse whisperer.” Rather than “breaking” horses, his unorthodox methods teach handlers how to lead with sensitivity and respect. This introduction to horsemanship gave us a glimpse of how having a “soft feel” and Listening Jing would be a natural and compassionate way to work with horses.
A week prior to the trip, Michael visited the Center and gave us a 12 hour crash course. We read handouts, watched videos, and practiced getting onto a saddle. The door to horsemanship opened a bit wider, but it still could not prepare us for the real life encounters with the magnificent creatures.
We visited four locations and had different experiences at each. At Home At Last Sanctuary in Oroville, the kind hearted owners gave hundreds of tortured animals the chance to live their lives out in peace. Although the mood was somber at times, the animals slowly approached us and we found ourselves silently forming bonds with them.
We met one of Michael’s friends at Spring Valley Ranch in Butte Valley. Dee graciously allowed us to meet and ride her dear equine friend, Guapo. The love between the two was palpable. For some of us, it was the first time we had ever ridden a horse. We also watched a gifted 21 year-old trainer work with several horses.
The following day began with equestrian vaulting lessons at Wood Ranch in Orland. None of us was familiar with the sport, which is gymnastics on a horse while it moves in a circle. The pros perform while the horses canter. We practiced on a barrel before trying basic movements on a horse. Michael conveniently left out the details of this portion of our lessons. We surprised ourselves when we were able to kneel and even stand up while the horse was walking.
In the afternoon, we watched a cowboy work with an un-started filly. He also demonstrated cattle roping on calves. We then took turns riding Possum and practicing “posting” while he trotted. “Posting” is when the rider moves up and down in the saddle to make the ride more comfortable for both horse and rider. The jovial cowboy welcomed us with open arms and invited us back for more training and a BBQ the next day.
On the last day, we visited The Pine Creek Ranch in Chico, owned by a couple who specializes in colt starting, troubled horses, and show jumping. In addition to rescuing horses, they also have a full house of dogs and cats.
Tina had us practice “sending off” a horse, which trained us how to lead a horse in a circle and change directions. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks as we had to be aware of our position and body mechanics as well as the horse’s position and body mechanics. Calzone was owned by a 14 year old girl then demonstrated show jumping for us. We completed the visit by performing a short demo.
We returned to Wood Ranch where the cowboy let us train a filly named Jenny while he went to town. Even Michael didn’t know anything about her, so we slowly got to know her through groundwork training and eventually rode her bareback. As the hours went by, we all felt our bond with her grow deeper.
We performed a short demo (in the sand!) before we rode Jenny at a trot and/or canter. The cowboy was ever so patient with us as his tri-tips and peach cobbler were teetering on over-cooked. We capped off the night with good food, drinks, and laughs. Despite the weather being cold, windy, and rainy and despite us being exhausted from 3 whirlwind days of horsemanship, none of us wanted to be anywhere else in that moment.
Michael said it would be an experience of a lifetime. He was right.
Special Thanks To: