Lessons I have learned from an old grey thoroughbred in the mountains

During my travels and work, I’ve met, ridden and trained hundreds of horses around the world. In this blog series I will go through some of the most impactful experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned from the horses I’ve had the pleasure of working with. This blog is about Shadow, a beautiful, old, grey gelding that I guided trails on for months through the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. 

  1. Lessons I have learned from horses around the world
  2. Lessons I have learned from a little blue roan horse in South Africa
  3. Lessons I have learned from a Criollo horse for beginners in Mexico

Sometimes you just can’t figure out why you love a particular horse

I am not necessarily fond of grey horses, don’t normally choose an old horse to ride, and most certainly am not a fan of geldings at all. Shadow is everything I would never look for in a horse, but he is very solidly in my top three horses on the entire planet. Sometimes you just don't understand why you have such an overwhelming love for a horse that on paper doesn’t really match. I can’t tell you why I love him so much, I seriously have no idea. He wasn’t particularly well trained when I first rode him either, so that can’t be it. The first time I rode him I actually was a bit nervous as he completely ran through the bit and had almost no brakes at all. I don’t quickly get nervous, but I do when a horse has a hard mouth.

Horse riding in the Drakensberg of South Africa

What I do know about Shadow is that when I see him I immediately tear up out of love for him, and I feel completely at home when I ride him. After that first ride I already fell in love with him, and like I said, that wasn’t because he was so easy to ride. Shadow really taught me that sometimes you just click with a horse on a level that we can’t quite understand, and he really is my soulmate. Shadow also happens to be best friends with one of the other horses in my top three horses around the world, Pigeon.

Horses in the Drakensberg mountains

Freedom for horse and rider 

As I said before, Shadow wasn’t great to ride in the beginning, but we were trail riding in large open spaces so I had the chance to give him a lot of freedom safely. I could let go of the reins and he could run around without encountering any dangerous objects, as it was all grass. Shadow quickly relaxed when he realised he had a lot of freedom, and it made me feel really happy to just let my horse do what he loved to do no matter what. Over the years, Shadow has really calmed down, and is now the excellent trail riding horse and guide horse, and I trust him with my life. He’s dominant and never lets anyone overtake, which is perfect for beginner groups that get a little bit cocky and want to gallop past you. He patiently waits for me as I open and close gates on the trail, and as soon as I get on he blasts off again. Shadow taught me that not every horse needs to be trained traditionally to become a well behaved, happy and safe trail riding companion. I can honestly tell you I haven’t actually trained Shadow at all. We just hang out and do lots of things together, and he picks up on my feel immediately with everything. This freedom in training, or actually our lack of training made me rethink a lot of the ways that I used to work with horses, and I incorporated a lot of this into my new training methods and ways of connecting with horses. I also write about my dear Shadow in my ebook, in which I tell you about how he has helped me through some of the toughest times in my life. He can always read me perfectly, and when we go on solo trail rides I always let him choose the routes. When I am feeling upset, he takes me to beautiful places. When I feel the need for speed, he takes me to long stretches of dirt road for some full speed gallops. He reads me like no other horse can, and a combination of complete freedom and unconditional love makes Shadow a really unique horse and my perfect companion.

Horse riding in the Drakensberg of South Africa
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