I have never really been into cricket. It looked like a lot of waiting around for not very much exciting to happen. On the other hand, I enjoyed tennis at school, and a few years ago I even took a refresher course for fun.
The effect is, although I can tell the difference between someone getting a run or not, and can even maybe appreciate a bit about whether it was a good or exciting shot, that’s about as far as it goes. But when I watch tennis I can see a bit more how a rally builds, I have a feel in my body for how hard that shot might have been to play, I can see each player trying to read the other and all in all, I can see the skill involved in the playing.
What’s this got to do with horses? Well, in the last few weeks I’ve watched Stina give a number of demonstration classes to students at Richmond Vale Academy. Introductory classes of half an hour or an hour, to people who may not have ever had anything to do with horses before, or only sat on one at a pull-this-kick-here kind of riding school. In each class, she started off standing with the horse in a halter on a loose rope in front of the class, who were arrayed in a wide semi circle on the front lawn of the Academy. As she chatted away to them, asking about their experience with horses, talking about hooves, anatomy, metal bits, how to introduce yourself to a horse – apparently doing nothing much, yet all the time, for eyes that could see, it was already all happening…
Each time each horse was starting from the position of having spent the last half hour munching on the best grass on the property, eating as though their life depended on hoovering up as much of it as they could in whatever time would be available to them.
They were fully and , and not that interested in the class or in Stina. Yet during all the apparent chit chat, Stina was simultaneously quietly tuning in to the horse – a small request with the lead rope here, a scratch there, a click or a look or a body movement. Put together she was gradually inviting her or him to consider that the delectable grass under their feet was actually not as interesting as she was, that being attentive to her could be interesting, rewarding, fun. And I would say that most people in the class saw less than half of it.
And so it went on. The class had a great time, learned loads and enjoyed themselves, but I don’t think they could see much of the extraordinary way that Stina could recognise an offer from the horse, welcome it on its own terms, fold it in to what she was heading towards and congratulate the horse for its skill and contribution.
Gradually the interest in the grass waned and without a single fight and looking all smooth and easy, there was the horse, trotting and cantering at liberty, full of pride in itself and its body and its cleverness, delighting in playing with Stina and being able to show off just how beautiful it was and have that seen and welcomed.
As my time here has progressed and as I’ve tried out more things on my own with Jack, Spirit, Elena and Magic, my appreciation for Stina’s skill with her horses has only grown. As I once again find myself on the wrong foot, or in too close, or missing the moment, when I get locked in to something I am asking for and miss what is being offered, when I find myself in the wrong place or resorting to control and dominance – then, ironically, I am also developing my capacity to recognise her skill and expertise.
There are sequences that I find intensely moving, where Stina seems endlessly fluid, flexible, accommodating – always listening, asking, adjusting, responding, taking what is given and gently bending it towards the better it can be. Yet still clear, insisting at least on politeness, always fair, not over demanding, but enquiring, asking, inspiring – how about this? Or this?? And again and again, coming back down to a pause for things to process, for minds to rest, for licking and chewing – so much happens in the pause.
So, thank you Stina.
Rather humbling, but very inspiring. I look forward very much to our last week of lessons together. I have so much to learn! But at least I can gradually see more and more of what it might be.
Thank you Katannuta, for your patience, understanding, kindness and for taking so good care of the horses. Hope we will see each other again in the future.
Looking forward to our last lessons as well as the hike to the ruins of the old sugar mill the rainforest.
Kind regards Stina