Hi, I’m MaryKay (not associated with MaryKay makeup!). I’ve been a professional dressage instructor, competitor, and trainer for over 30 years and a horse lover from birth. I personally know what it’s like to cry after a lesson, to have instructors yell at me to do something I didn’t understand, to be chafed in unmentionable places and still trot down centerline, to try and try and try as hard as I can and not “get it.” I know the embarrassment of a clinician telling me on the loudspeaker, “you have no feel.” I know the letdown and heartbreak that you can feel after allowing a trainer to force your horse to do something he’s not ready for or doesn’t understand. I know the excitement of winning a championship and the sinking feeling afterwards that it really wasn’t good enough. I kept thinking “if only” I could do one thing or another, everything would be wonderful with my horse. I know mistakes.
I thought my answers lay with Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique lessons, but they weren’t enough. I tried Tai Chi, exercise programs designed for riders, international level clinicians, meditation and mindfulness, clicker training, a tad of natural horsemanship, TagTeach, animal communication, a little Pilates, mind body work. I worked so hard that I graduated with distinction from Karen Pryor Academy and became a Certified Training Partner, a specialist in clicker training, animal behavior, and learning theory. None of these were enough even if I put them all together.
Somewhere along the line, I found my salvation. I discovered a unique way to live and work with my horses that I had never imagined. It is called Loving Presence. I learned about Loving Presence by studying and practicing a unique form of mindfulness with a very special Zen Priest for more than 10 years. I continue to do so. Once I found Loving Presence, things started to change. The endless struggle to achieve shifted more and more to profound joys in each present moment.
My horses changed, too. Nokken, my Prix St. George horse offered – I mean, truly offered, because I had no idea he could do this – an exquisite collected canter down the long side of my dressage arena. It was a little scary at first because I had never experienced this degree of energy and happiness all together. I think in some way he knew this because he sat me down in a perfect place in the saddle. He transformed from a horse who I was told needed spurs and whip into a horse who volunteered to move effortlessly on a cloud. I wore no spurs and carried no whip that day. I will remember it forever.
I rejoice when I can guide students to a small part of that awe and wonder, whether simply walking or cantering in collection. The connection and relationship is worthy of huge celebration and sometimes I’m so excited that I can’t help but clap my hands and jump up and down during a lesson.