Sunday, March 11, 2018

I recently had coffee with a friend who also studies the Simple Equine Teaching (SET) method where we commiserated briefly on how we sometimes feel like failures with our horses.

She had a few stories of horses questioning her leadership that sounded to me like she worked through pretty nicely. I think I won the horsemanship fail game with some pretty ugly rope burn blisters still healing on my right hand.

Then there’s the times she won’t stand still while I groom and saddle her… when she walks away from me in the pasture… when she tries to communicate with me so desperately and I have no idea what it is she nips in to the air to see if that makes it more obvious- like someone speaking to you in a foreign language LOUD and S-L-O-W-L-Y in hopes it might help.

I had already gone through some introspection wondering if I would ever get this system really working for me and it’s been a couple of years now.

The rope burns were from an unusual trailer loading where Khaleesi – who generally gets on the trailer without fuss – not only refused to get on for an hour but then loaded and pulled an emergency exit before I could secure her. I grabbed the rope to keep her from fleeing completely (which would have been an entirely new layer of problem to fix). That hurt.

After the rope burn I went for gloves, tying K to the trailer to wait for me. When I returned she walked on like nothing had happened as she often had before and stood calmly while I secured her.

Not enough time to ride I left her resting on the trailer a few minutes while I did a couple barn chores then backed her off calmly returned her to the field.

What happened?

In retrospect there were a handful of things I missed in the moment being in the situation and not removed as I can be looking back. I now see the mistakes I made that made it worse. I also can see the things I did right that meant when I revisited loading two days later the process wasn’t broken after all and in a brand new day she walked on with gentle invitation on a loose rope.

Still, there was a time when I knew so much less and things seemed to be a whole lot easier.

Ignorance can be bliss. However as another friend says: once you see, you cannot unsee.

It may be simple equine teaching but in fairness I was warned it wouldn’t be easy.

Though many methods talk about training humans and helping horses – this system is actually based on that principal than any other I’ve looked into. It’s required of me a higher level of understanding, discipline and control of myself body, heart and mind.

I can understand how many people take a glance, or even try to get started then decide it’s too hard, too invasive, too much to expect and walk away.

On the flip side, submitting myself to this process has also changed other facets in my life from teaching music to relating to my colleagues, family, husband, even strangers.

I’m not sure why the feelings of ineptitude have been stronger lately. I’ve considered it could be a product of having a deeper understanding where now I can see more of what’s really going on, or maybe as I get better my horse demands more of me.

I also think there is something in many women horse owners (myself included) that we want to love and be loved by our horses and then interpret behaviors through that lens. This is a hang up to ever truly understanding them. It’s like hearing what you want to hear instead of what’s being actually said. Love to humans (in my observation) most often means “you make me feel good“.

I’ve been noticing where I find this tendency in myself and I continue to work on the shift to truly loving my horse in the way that means: I am devoted to understanding you and what you need without the lens of what I wish it meant for my own needs.

Hm. Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to love my husband too.

This is a harder path though. To choose to do not what feels good… not to do what’s expected, but what is higher. Not what everyone would agree is justifiable behavior, but what Love requires- even when it isn’t fair to me. Even when it won’t be understood. When it won’t be noticed. When it won’t be appreciated. When it’s painful. When it costs me something and the other nothing. When I’m responsible for only 2% of the problem and I can say: that means I am the problem.

I’m beginning to see that until I realize I am the problem I will always be stuck in the cycle of where I’ve been- and then my past DOES determine my future. The limits I put on how much I’m willing to give, bend or take on directly limits where I get to go from here.

[To be clear. This applies to things I’m committed to or have an obligation to. Things I’ve already involved myself in… this does not mean I never say no, or decide a relationship is one I need to walk away from, or not to rescue or buy a horse… take on expansion in my work etc. Those are also choices I take responsibility for that control my future ability to commit 100% of myself to what I do invest in. In fact it makes me much more aware of what I commit to because I will give everything and need to be quite discerning where I put that force to use.]

Taking responsibility- even when I’m only 1% ‘wrong’ means I now have the power to transform.

Radical. Unbalanced. Wild. Crazy. Yep.

For me, I don’t want to dig around in the sand forever, I plan to walk on water someday. And that means crossing over into a place that is uncomfortable and costs something.In fact I heard last week a saying that you’re not really walking in love unless it costs you something.

About the horses….

I’m trying to learn what they need. Then work on practicing it. I want a best friend, she needs a leader who is a good boss to work for. She is my friend and buddy- but anytime I allow the friendship to grow bigger than our working relationship I confuse things and lose ground on the solid relationship I’m building.

Each horse is an equine with equine language and needs… yet they are all different and need to be related to in their individual way. Their  past influences their reaction in the present yet each moment is new and you can’t allow the past to dictate how you proceed into the future. You cannot pretend with a horse- they know you from underneath your skin yet if you’re not completely confident yet in your knowledge you must fake it till you make it. Always observe and listen to what your horse is telling you- your safety depends on it… but you cannot allow a horse to convince you to change your mind. Stay direct, be as firm as you have to be yet always as light and gentle as possible.

Just like life – until you live this out, until you practice it and fail falling to one side or the other of the razor’s edge you must walk, these things seem like contradictions. They aren’t. They are all true.

Sometimes the closer I think I get to what I really want the more acutely I feel the failures. Failures are also vital in learning how to move forward- it is necessary to learn to feel convicted without feeling condemned. So often we get this wrong. I see people spiral into self-pity quicksand with all the bad choices or wrong paths they’ve taken “I’m just so hard on myself” – it’s a waste of time and energy. However it is important to see where you’ve gone wrong, what the results were and make a real decision to stop that pattern. You may fail again. Then notice, and stop. Conviction lets you realize you made a bad choice, a mistake, a miscalculation… and you failed your horse, your friend, your family… if you slip into condemning yourself you are stuck and worthless. If you look forward and don’t allow it to define you EVERY TIME you begin to move forward and grow and then you become useful. Every moment spent on self-pity for the wrong decisions is wasted and makes the problem worse, not better.

A few days after coffee with my friend I had a real test. I met two friends for a trail ride (for the first time in a while I wasn’t riding solo). One friend was riding a horse she’d never ridden before and that is always an unknown. My expectations were higher than usual for myself and I honestly didn’t believe they would be met that day. I planned to do my best and see what still needs fixing.

I wanted my horse to focus on me completely and not connect to the other horses on the ride.

EVERY THING I DID that day was in mind of connecting with my horse from trailer loading, unloading, groundwork before even walking over where my friends had just gotten on their horses. I continued to expect her to focus on me and not the equines- I kept a good distance from them at all times to not encourage her to to connect with them and not to encourage them getting to know each other.

This is not a social visit for my horse- these other horses are not “her friends”. She had a job.  I rode most of the ride in the back and demanded (from K) at least a horse length between us and the two ahead the entire ride (being in the back gave me more control of my environment).

Once when we took the lead another horse rode too close on K and it was obvious to me her attention was now split between me and the horse that was in her zone- so I politely moved aside and took up my place in the rear again. I was not worried she would kick the horse– I did not allow the situation to continue to that level. I cannot control someone else’s horse, but I can put us in a place where my horse has a better window which puts me in control and being a good boss who protects my horse’s space so she doesn’t have to.

It is not unreasonable that she requires a zone of space around her on the trail, I think it’s ignorant of us (myself being guilty of this for years) to allow them to ride in such close proximity especially tail to nose considering we are also supposed to be in control of them and make decisions for their movement.

When we stopped as a group my horse never took a step without checking in with me and I allowed the other two to get a small lead before moving. That was a great indicator of how much she was connected to me and not the group and I was pleased. Same with a change to trot or canter- she didn’t change until I did. I’ve never had her attention to such a complete degree on a group ride before.

After a challenging week feeling like I wasn’t finding the razor’s edge very well, this was hands down the best ride I’ve had. Three hours with friends on the trail leisurely with my horse completely focused on me was more gratifying than finishing my first 55 at the Biltmore.

The next evening I rode just before dusk and returned home after dark. She was very very good that ride as well and my favorite moment was crossing the lit up bridge over the Jackson River in the dark.

I heard the words of Joyce Meyer in my mind…

Keep doing what is right and eventually you WILL get a right result. There is a lot of sowing seed, pulling weeds, and tending to the soil before the harvest.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

I’ve been on a tour de FLA this week and horses have been the thread linking the 3 legs of the trip.

It began on the East coast catching up with dear friends Laurie, Sarah and Madison.

Laurie owns the property in VA my horses currently live on and through her I came to know and love Sarah and her bright sunshine of a daughter Madison.

Sarah and Madison were introduced to endurance when they volunteered a 24 hour shift with me at an OD100 a few years back. Madison rode a 25 mile ride with me on Faygo as I was bringing Khaleesi into endurance and her mom was a fantastic crew mom.

Then I headed back across the state to a rural town outside of Ocala for 3 1/2 days of lessons with my Simple Equine Teaching mentor.

I got to observe how she runs her barn and property. Nothing is random and everything functions for prime efficiency.

I met two ‘superstars’ that appear in many teaching stories in her virtual classrooms. The old mare is 29 but not as old as the 41-year old blind gelding who is still in light riding work. He looks great – I know young horses who are not as healthy as he is. This is not a surprise – though she does things occasionally opposite of the common knowledge and sometimes what the vet might say, she has many years of experience and observation behind her, research, and personal success — failures.

She doesn’t recommend anything to a student that is not tested enough to stand behind the consistent results. She also takes the entire horse into consideration all the time- she is not bound by only looking at the feet or only looking at a mineral balance or only looking at a behavior issue. She sees the context in the unique picture and I have yet to see her get it wrong.

So it would make perfect sense horses she works with can live 30 and 40 year productive lives.

Her younger PRE gelding is stunning as a 17 hand Spanish heritage war horse. I had to be reminded to stand my ground when he bounded in boldly (but not at all aggressive) to say hello- jolly as a gelding can be but intimidating in size and stature.

It was like standing next to a grand statue; he was so fit, full and beautifully muscled. I found myself looking directly into his neck or ribcage depending on where I was standing as he’d smell me and check me out to get to know me.

Then there was the young gypsy stallion colt being boarded and trained for a local breeder. He was a dwarf compared to Lion the PRE and also had the cutest impish personality to go along. Carefree and fun with sparkling eyes underneath a crazy mane of hair.

As usual most of my time was spent learning; whether it was questions from my notebook over coffee on the porch, asking to explain things as I observed, or while working with a horse hands on or riding.

Because she was training the stallion for the public (not her own personal horse) the timing was right for me to be the first besides her to ride him. I did not anticipate getting to ride for her this trip but was grateful for the opportunity.

He is a nice horse and though still green and a stallion I felt comfortable working with him. I also know my mentor well enough to be certain she would not put me in an unsafe position.

I learned more about my own riding and balance and gained experience on how to work with a colt who is still green as well as how to handle a stallion properly. She was able to see how he would react to a different human who wasn’t as smooth and clear in communication as she is and learn if he had gaps in his education she would need to fill for him to be safe for an average rider.

I also enjoyed getting to know them better and we enjoyed some quiet evenings around the fire.

When my brain filled to the top it was time to head to the third leg of the trip to see my good friend Pam to the south in Naples.

Pam is the friend who I first went to for help learning to ride better. I knew that my horse was not going to succeed in long distances the way I was bopping all around in the trot. Pam introduced me to Simple Equine Teaching and that was the key to understanding horses I had been seeking.

The drive down gave me time to sift through the rough notes and organize the information over the days- some concepts came back often in repetition and some barely touched on. I transfer them into a leather journal for long term reference.

It’s nice to see Pam and to have time to chat and catch up and rest. We enjoyed coffee on the outdoor porch overlooking the lake and then walked a couple hours on the beach followed by a light lunch.

The weather has been fine and it’s felt good to be warm and get some sunshine on my skin.

I look forward as always to home and my family: human and animal. I also look forward to improved communication and connection with my horses and some new layers in their health, nutrition and conditioning program.

What’s in a name?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Meet Wyoming.

She came in late October 2016 with lots of human hopes and dreams she knew nothing about. Her name was Wild Heart.

She was rounded up around Sweet Water Wyoming as a 2-year old wild mustang and lived on a reservation for a couple years. She was picked in a group for the mustang makeover tour but failed out of that process with an injury and went to Tennessee to be gentled and get a base of training.

I found her online – green broke and ready to pick up trail experience. My friend Susan and I went to get her and see how she’d fit for a horse for Susan to ride and me to help along.

Actually most of you know the story.

Due to some physical and other issues likely brought on through inexperience, the riding hopes and dreams have been set aside to sort out the horse’s needs. (Susan will find a horse that better fits her needs) Meanwhile I have an amazing teacher on the farm and am gaining some experience along the way.

Though it’s not the journey I first expected, it’s the one I’m on with her and I’m enjoying each step.

Yesterday I went to feed and check on the mares in the rain and as the mustang was politely following me to her feed dish I heard myself say to her:

Hey there mustang girl- you came here as Wild Heart and you come from the wild, but you are home now. You belong. You aren’t wild anymore. You need a new name.


I just knew it as clearly as I knew Khaleesi’s name the day that happened too.

I hadn’t gone to the barn with any idea that it would be a ‘name day’ but as I stood there with her and reflected on it- it seemed right.

It was well time for the girl to have a new name. And words and names are powerful.

Being a music teacher I talk to my students about the power the human voice carries. Not just in song- but in what we speak. Our words can build up and create good things and our words can tear down and do great damage.

Choose wisely each day. With our horses, the people entrusted to our influence and care, our circumstances and ourselves. And always in truth- never without love.

Look… no hands?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I’m grateful to have been able to find a day or two here and there for some regular riding each week in between freezing rain howling wind and snowstorms.

We ended up with more snow accumulation than anticipated Sunday then beautiful sunny and mild Monday with the bonus of closed schools (no teaching for my afternoon lessons) which is a recipe for a perfect snow riding afternoon for me!

Armed with only one halter and dreams of a carefree snow ride I went into the field. After feeding, Khaleesi moseyed up toward the big round bale. No problem, I walked up to catch her between bites and she was easy to get.

What took me aback was Wild Heart.

She’s almost always near Khaleesi. However this time as Khaleesi headed up the hill to eat Wild Heart headed the opposite direction- straight to the red gate and stood ready to exit the field waiting patiently.

I’ve never exactly seen her do that before.

She was asking SO politely I decided not to refuse her. I hadn’t brought her halter but I knew she would string along so I decided to let her join us.

She came right along perfectly as if on lead.


So much for my carefree ride plans. Ponying along Wild Heart would mean staying closer to home, mostly going slower (which is ok in snow anyway) and a lot more work than fun.

But I had a feeling this was what I needed to do today – so I went with it.

I took my herd/pack (me, two horses and two dogs) across the highway and headed up the home trail which (being in a river valley) is a good uphill right from the start.

Wild Heart has walked these trails before with and without rider, but she began pretty quickly to drag anchor. It was like she didn’t feel like having to climb the mountain today.

Too bad. This is what we do. You wanted to come remember?

It was only 10 minutes into the ride when I’d had to stop for the however too many of times as she got behind… she would plant her feet and though I could convince her to keep on moving with some flicking of the lead rope it was NOT the ride I’d been dreaming of all day.

At that moment – before I allowed frustration to creep in, I stopped and took a moment to think.

Q: What do I need to do for this to be an enjoyable ride for me- and the horses?

A: Keep Wild Heart moving. It’s the constant stopping that’s making this not fun.

Q: What can I change to fix it?

[analysis of the ponying experience thus far today]

A: I’m behind the action. I am letting her fall too far behind before I try to keep her moving and I’ve already ‘lost’ her. When she’s that far back I have no tools available to me… I need to get ahead of the problem.

Q: How?

A: I know it would work better if I kept her head right around my knee. I’ve been *thinking* I’d like her there but haven’t been prepared to keep her in place I’ve been allowing her to fall behind to Khaleesi’s hip then have no control at all by the time she’s behind and allow her to control us because if she stops there’s nothing left to do.

So I’m essentially training her to get behind and stop us.

Uh oh. That’s not what I want. 🤭

Q: now what?< em>

A: instead of waiting to react when it’s already too late, I need to correct her immediately when she gets a few inches behind and I still have access to my whole lead rope.< strong>

Q: can you do that with only one hand as you’re holding your reins in the other?< em>

A: 🤔 I don’t know.

This is when the magic happened.

I decided that for the solution I worked out I would need both hands to work the pony horse on lead properly… so… it made perfect sense to clip my reins (I was riding in a halter not a bit so that helped) to the carabiner on the front of the saddle and use both my hands to wrangle the pony while I used my body to ride Khaleesi.

And it worked.

The next 70% or so of the ride I rode K without any reins and was able to keep Wild Heart right next to me and in fact she was quite good there and did not stop anymore.

We wound our way through some forested sections where the trail is less defined, and I even took some sections at a trot and that was SO fun!

There were about 3 instances when I had to reach for my reins to back up and clarify my request but I was tickled that the process worked so well.

It wasn’t the ride I expected… but by being open to what was instead of what I had in mind I was rewarded with an experience where all those things I have been working toward came together!

And that felt pretty darn good!

Groundhog Day

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Some local friends have an annual tradition of spending February 2 (regardless of what day of the week it falls or the weather) devoting a night to their favorite French peasant dish: Cassoulet — paired with a screening of the classic allegorical film Groundhog Day.

I love good food and this dish introduced to me years ago by the same good friends have inspired me. Cassoulet takes days of preparation and is rich and decadent and yet simple. It’s everything Ed and I appreciate about fine food and we have even been fortunate enough (with help and guidance from the same friends) to spend a weekend in Toulouse as a part of our wedding trip — eating cassoulet in Southern France.

I tease (well it’s only half teasing) that the Groundhog Day Invite is the toughest invitation to score in our little county. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times over the last 10 years and had seen the movie at least once or twice before that.

The food and company were wonderful last night but the movie- though normally the part I cynically groan through as payment for eating the finest meal of the year- somehow struck me fresh this time.

If you haven’t seen the movie ever or if it’s been a while I will highly recommend taking a cold winter evening and some good food and watching it. I think this one just gets better in time and is worth a revisit.

I am assuming everyone knows the gist of the film: highly self-centered cynical television weatherman has to relive the same day over and over (some estimates taken from what he accomplishes says it could accumulate to up to 30 years!!) going through many new layers of self realization until he finally learns that true fulfillment comes from not seeking your own happiness but from serving and loving others.

The layers he goes through are touching and funny and I could relate to them so well in my own personal journey.

The section of the movie that struck home to me most regarding working with horses was as Phil decided he wanted to try to get to know Rita (earnestly sweet natured producer) he spent many many many of his days trying to find out what makes her tick. Each of these days goes well a little farther on until he gets to a new thing about her that he gets wrong. Because it’s fake manipulation, that new detail whenever he gets to it always shuts down the process. Thus he begins again the next (same!) day.

He really wants to spend an entire day with Rita and be exactly the guy she is looking for… he learns her favorite everything and mimics it each step of the way. His ultimate goal is still self centered… he’s more interested in conquering her than caring for her… possibly to use her to get out of the Groundhog Day cycle, or both… still about him.

One of the scenes shows him – almost crazed – going through the motions; using all the techniques and memorized details he’s acquired to get through the day until he can get to the ‘new material.’ He is doing all the ‘right things’ he’s learned but it’s so insincere it becomes creepy.

It reminded me of working with horses – how many times have I learned something with my horse, then gone back with my idea of what to do that day in mind and I’m going through the motions to get it done but it has little connection or feeling? I’m hardly paying any attention to the horse (Rita in this example) but I’m doing what I know works because it worked before. I’m right aren’t I?

How many times I’ve heard the voice “Come on you already know how to do this!!” In my head. “Why are we wasting time here?!”

It made me laugh to imagine it. Phil in the movie even overdoing his ‘love’ commentary to get what he wants but his heart just wasn’t in it.

Oh… I think I’ve been there before.

The end result of that whole process- trying to learn what he thought the girl wanted him to be and put on a fake exterior of all the right things in order to be successful– finally when he does get all the way through the day and into night with her strung along but blows it in the end… in his desperation to get that final piece in place after working so hard for so long and being SO close, his true self shows through and she feels only manipulated and just that last little thing ruins it all… back to zero.

It makes me think of the last 6 miles out of a 100 mile ride (the OD 100 has a check at mile 94). If we’d come that far and my horse showed me she wasn’t somehow really ready to finish- that she was done… let’s say technically we could pull it off- not something a vet would pull… but I knew she would be compromised…

what would I do? The investment it takes to get that far even before showing up on race day is gigantic. Would I look at my horse and say: ok girl. Not today. I’m with you.

Or would I say: you’re kidding me… it’s 6 more miles you’ll be ok. Whatever it is isn’t that bad… I mean on the scales I’ve invested this thing of yours is small! Do you know what I’ve put into this?? Come on let’s get it done?

That one decision could mean starting over from below zero (lost trust and respect from my partner) or going home to continue building on those 94 miles and all that work that truly creates a long term team capable of almost anything together.

I so hope that thinking about these things in advance will help me make that decision better when it comes. And even to see the decisions for what they truly mean. That can be even more dicey.

In the end Phil comes to the end of himself and his immediate gratification. First he gets more honest with who he is and where he is. I think that is always the hardest hurdle for most humans. He doesn’t have to be something he’s not to make Rita interested in him- being real is the start.

Then getting better. He begins to invest in the people around him, he begins exploring (educating himself) by learning music and French poetry and ice sculpting. He eventually wins the girl and his life when he stops trying to win the girl… he spends the day putting his own wants aside to care about others and finds ultimate success and fulfillment there.

I feel like this winter has been a time where I’ve been asking those same questions- how do I care about how my horse feels and what she needs above the things I want her to do for me?

What does that look like?

It’s not bad to want to ride on the trails with friends, or have high dressage scores, or run a clean course, or ride 100 miles … as much as seeking a relationship with Rita isn’t bad in itself… it works better through honesty, seeking knowledge, letting go of the ego and putting others (your horse) ahead of what you want your horse to do.

But it must come from the heart… horses, just like Rita, know when they are being manipulated or ‘played’.

The changes can only come if they’re real.

Last thing I noted was heartening: all those days Phil spent trying for the wrong things still weren’t wasted. He may have had the wrong motives, but he learned about Rita anyway… and he may have been lost for a while but the patterns emerged through the day in the town that he was able to use later to help people.

Keep seeking… really searching and eventually everyone who wants to can truly change, and use the lessons along the way for our good and those around us.

What I really want.

Monday, January 29, 2018

I’m at an odd sort of place where I could share a million little details of every barn visit… but then at the end I almost have nothing at all specific to say.

While I’m in the moment there are a ton of things going on… little conversations… things I’m learning (like which brush Khaleesi prefers or what happens when I change the angle of my approach to pick up a hoof… why did Khaleesi just send Wild Heart over to check me out instead of approaching first herself like she did yesterday… ) and at the time they are all fascinating and then looking back it becomes one far away landscape of… well that was good.

It’s a nice zone to exist in for the moment. It’s fun and rewarding and a glimpse of what I’ve been searching for since I began to consider getting a young horse back in 2013. A horse that only had what I put into her. For better or worse.

I spent an hour this week riding in the yard. It was a nice warm winter day and I tied Wild Heart safely nearby and let her watch us work. I used what was already there to do some things like weave through landscape posts, move her hind end around a support pipe in the ground, sidepass through the wider space in the posts… we trotted and walked and made a few circles and explored.

It was wildly fun. With each new maneuver I’d ask and let the mare figure it out. I gave her time to think and respond and process. She loved it. I loved it.

When we finished she was soft and connected to me.

Friday I decided to get out of the yard and the property and I took her to a place we can ride home from (we both love one way rides!). It was dry, warmish, and the footing was decent. I wanted to start getting back to some physical fitness.

I trust her solid base of physical conditioning. This mare has been on a break since mid-November for any serious physical rides but I am not worried at all. The physical will be easy for her to regain.

What I’ve done for the past two months is really deepen our mental work learned what I needed to understand to be a better leader so my horse is more focused on me and beginning to understand what I’m asking (and care) and it’s been a million times worth it.

I’ve looked around me a while…. years… and wondered what seems off. Something just didn’t quite add up.

I mean we look at these amazing creatures–  see them in a field or in the wild or maybe on a video and they are magic. They draw us (many of us). We want the magic. We dream of being that figure riding bareback holding onto mane and galloping through a field with no groundhog holes. Then it gets more real and some imagine jumping great fences on an athlete, some picture (wait… no one actually dreams about working cattle do they!?)… some imagine the perfect dressage moves with an intimate communication only between you and the magic creature, some dream of exploring lonely new territory on their best buddy or maybe sharing the trails with a herd of human friends and equines 5 days a week, and some dream of 100 mile rides testing all their endurance, spirit and skill: human and equine… but all of us want that magic of befriending a 1000 pound majestic creature who will do anything for us… together… [music crescendos here!!]

Then just go to a show… an organized trail ride camp… even a solitary barn.. anywhere there are horses and you see reality: physical tactics (human will or tools usually both) applied to get it done because the horse along the way said to some degree: no thank-you. I’ll pass. Your idea is stupid… or confusing… or something I’m not capable of today… or maybe I don’t like the way you treat me.

If we can’t have the magic, we begin make due with boring reality. But what’s so amazing is with a horse… even just boring reality is so good we are usually still happy… sometimes we pretend things are all good and that might even work most of the time until things escalate.

Sometimes this comes in the form of a horse that gives up, becomes “respectful” and performs even to the point of long term injury to itself. Sometimes it comes in the form of little annoying things that make it just not fun anymore: hard to catch, paws, doesn’t stand well for tacking up, drags me or drags her on the lead, refuses to load on the trailer or a million other small things we work around… or shows up in refusals that end up dangerous: nipping, biting, bucking, spooking all the time, rearing, running off with us…

Sometimes people get on the horse mill looking for the magic one, sometimes they stick it out with the one that isn’t working and keep trying things to make the horse magical. Many horse people have such an iron will they are pretty good at insisting (hand raised here) and the horse has learned the consequences are usually not worth the trouble. Even more sad some people just give up on horses altogether… let down because the magic ended up so elusive, it was like believing too long in santa claus.

It’s really easy to point my fingers around… but as with every blog I post I know because I am guilty.

Yes. I have used physical force and training to fix my horse when I created the problem to begin with. I will probably do it again unfortunately and I am sorry in advance and promise to try to do better.

I have come to believe through my searching that a big part of why this magic is so elusive is because we want something completely magically “two as one” but most of us  seem to be so limited to the tools of unmagical physical attempts (at least I was).

Can we imagine for a moment wanting a relationship with someone…. but let’s say we don’t share a language. So instead of slowing down and trying to find common language- which could take years especially since I’m not a language specialist… that’s too long… instead I start to drag the other around by the arm doing all the things I want him or her to do with me with very little understanding.

The point that sticks out to ME the most in this example is what do I really want?

If I really want the other person and the magic with them- it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ll always keep them as the center. I’ll never push them beyond what they understand. But if what I really want is to DO STUFF with someone else (you’ll do, come with me) then I’ll get bored with the process and drag them around to the activities I’d been so looking forward to.

I recently heard a quote:

Do not give up on what you really want ultimately for something you think you want right now.

So after 10 years I want a healthy horse who still wants to work with me because she wants to BE WITH ME. [magic]

If I build it focused on her, I have a better shot at that.

[It definitely helps that I have a horse I adore.. though most do, sometimes theres that horse you ended up with somehow is an animal you don’t really like… well… that’s a little harder to sort out.]

The short term view is pushing her to do my activity and find tools and use my will to get it done so that at some point I risk causing physical damage because she goes along “respectfully” even when she’s not thriving, or I turn her off to the process and she eventually says: I’d rather not.

However the question really becomes one of: does the magic really exist (after all it’s a horse) or do I need to settle for kind of… enslaving an animal to do my activity. (This isn’t the worst thing right? we treat them well, feed them, shelter them, LOVE them… it could be worse.. I mean some of these horses are incredibly spoiled right?)

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel…

I believe in the magic. I’ve seen it. I know it’s real. I will chase it until I die in pursuit.

I do want to complete a 100 mile ride. I don’t have a talented Arab. I have a local grown mixed up bred horse that I happen to adore. So I need more than physical fitness, I’m going to also need brain and heart.

But there also IS a physical component! Without question.

Can’t I do both at the same time?

No. Well not yet.

Some people can!! I know some of them. They inspire me!

But I’m getting closer… I’m definitely beginning to see some magic.

But magic being what it is, one still has to learn it. I have to learn it- she’s a horse for goodness sake, she may carry the magic, but I have to sort out how to access it. And she has to choose to give it to me, I can’t ever take it, just like you can’t make someone choose you no matter how much you want them to- in a relationship it only thrives when all is given freely.

She may never be as intelligent as me, but it’s going to take a lot of effort for me to become even half as sensitive and observant as she is, and no matter how much I LOVE this mare, it won’t matter if I don’t get better and understanding HER world. I’m going to have to somehow begin to train myself to be sensitive and observant on that kind of level.

No wonder Monty Roberts works with deer herds!

That’s what’s been going on in my barn these winter months. Slow, messy, human education.

My Jedi powers are finally getting stronger. I felt more than ever before that I could think it and she did it. Not perfect. She didn’t always stop on a dime without a feel on the reins but sometimes she did… she didn’t always slow back down when she wanted to canter and I was saying trot right away- but sometimes she did!

That ride was mostly trot and canter with some walking mixed in. She was a little out of breath and got a little sweaty but the mare did great and I have no doubt she’ll regain that fitness and strength without any problem.

So in the physical:

I cannot express how blown away I am by the changes that continue to occur with the Balance saddle. More and more often I can feel her lifting her back into the saddle as we go along. Especially on the downhills and also uphills. This made me wonder yesterday –

So many people say if you want to build your horse’s topline go climb hills, or back up hills… but I’ve been riding hills every ride of this mares life with me and though that might make my horses naturally more muscular in the topline than someone in the flatlands… methinks now that you can ride all the hills you want to but if the horse isn’t carrying herself like this you are never going to get the result you really want.

I noticed good changes immediately when I switched – but the effect is compounding over time and 8 months.

In other physical news her feet are getting better all the time. They are not where I envision them yet, but hooves takes years to grown so I’m working on patience and seeing the positive changes as progress.

Not having shoes for going on 8 months now her feet are a better shape (not so narrow and long), growing gradually more underneath her, and ever so slightly LARGER!! This is huge (literally 😆)

I’ve had to go up a boot size in the rear thank you Scoot boots for the slim sizes- they are still best on her hind feet. The new size 3slim boots with the supracore pads stayed on 100% in varied terrain and every gait including some full throttle canter sprints on Friday.

The front boots are still doing well though I had to reattach the front right pattern strap once toward the end of the ride.

And beside them staying on and allowing me to improve khaleesi’s hoof quality and size, something really stood out to me on this ride:

She cantered through the rock piles.

There are 3 ‘strips’ of the trail home that have about a 4 ft swath of large rocks that are now somewhat embedded into the trail but may have been leftover from years back when the road was used for logging. This horse knows where they are. I know where they are. We ALWAYS slow down and pick through them. I have no problem with that- they are some ugly rocks. It’s reasonable.

She ran. Right. Over. Them.

All 3 sections of them.


I hope this could be a sign that the hoof program is going in the right direction. Especially because I am the hoof program!But I’m a little afraid to hope too much too early.

I firmly believe that the time I’ve been spending learning my human part to meet her where she is and seek the magic at the risk of not meeting my physical goals or getting done my plans for the day… just as in how a human will do better physically when their spirit and mind are in order, has compounded what is going on with her physically as well.

Maybe. Though it’s still too soon to tell… I have this little hope… Just maybe.

This really is the year for this mare.

What would love require?

Monday, January 15, 2018

I heard something recently that made me pause.


I’ll take a step back and fill on the context surrounding New Years resolutions.

Most often people look for ways to improve themselves in the new year, but this talk I heard asked a different question: what will you do to make the lives around you better this year?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve myself. However especially in the Western World we sometimes get so wrapped up in self-help and self-improvement that we miss the fact that we will never truly be fulfilled seeking self fulfillment. In the words of Andy Stanley:

If you spend your life living for yourself, at the end of your life you will have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.

In the end people don’t impact us because they ate healthy, got to the gym and got out of debt.

There are people who inspire me in my life and it is because they’ve made a difference in a positive way often sacrificing their own time and money and comfort for something they believed in. And the most important facet for me is it came from a broken heart and love- not out of anger, fear or hate.

I am fascinated by the major shifts of finding the thing that breaks your heart and walking away from fun or comfortable choices to make a difference there…

But also on a day-to-day scale as a lifestyle there is something much more basic which is the thought that gave me pause this week.

I generally put my own goals and interests over others. No, I don’t go around intending to get the best of everyone in some malicious way- but my pre-engineered human nature is ‘self-preservation’ and getting what I want. This doesn’t mean I don’t do random nice things (I’m actually pretty good at that…) but my default is doing and getting what I want. A gazillion small decisions go into this machine every hour. There are tons of books written about getting what you want… Not only is this perfectly normal, but I always have perfectly good justification for when it affects someone else:

  • There are endless loopholes: the rule doesn’t exactly cover this situation right?
  • There are the world’s low expectations: well it’s how she treated me when the situation was reversed, no one could blame me…
  • Rationalization: now he’ll know how it feels. He deserves it. What goes around comes around…
  • There are the things you know no one will see or notice…
  • And then what about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? Being seen by other people as the good guy or assuming it will come back around and serve self in some way later on…
  • And of course the tally- I’ve done X amount of good things so I’m entitled to be selfish about this decision here… I’m usually a selfless giving person… most of the time….

But what would it be like to choose the more excellent way and ask not what is fair, required, expected, or seen by others but instead:

What would love require me to do?

This is still a horse centered blog (promise); I am still working one step at a time toward a 100 mile ride on this horse no one else has trained or educated but me.

So how does this look when applied to my horse?

How would this constant worldview shift affect my journey toward the goal?

When it comes to my horses, what does love require of me?

In reflection sometimes I’ve gotten this right: as in pulling out of my first 100 attempt last June because of a pulled shoe. My horse was officially not lame, and I could have had a ride farrier epoxy the nail holes and torn hoof and put on a new pad and shoe. But I knew that it wasn’t about the shoe. I had a big picture issue needing long term resolving and continuing as far as I could get until pulled by a vet would have been selfish of me. Love required stopping while ahead and going back to the drawing board (not for one ride but maybe months or a season!) to regroup on a new hoof plan and better nutrition etc.

And I’ve gotten it wrong … more than once.

Like the time two seasons back while I was still trying to sort out saddle fit and I knew her back was showing signs of soreness but breathed a sigh of relief when the vet cleared her to ride the next day. After all I’m working on it… it’s not that bad. The vets said she was fine. I knew better.

Worse still was the ride I pushed her through hard terrain without enough hoof protection and we finished but I knew I didn’t deserve that completion. My horse was not fit to continue. I got what I wanted at her expense. In that case it was mostly ignorance that hurt her but I had multiple opportunities that day to hear my horse asking for help and choose the more excellent way and I got it wrong over and over. She paid the price. I may still be working my way out of that mentally and physically with her.

Then there’s the ride I got it right by staying in and riding on- it’s not always about pulling out:

I came into the first vet check to have the vet question K’s soundness. I believed that she was fine. I had second opinions, I looked closer myself, I took her back to the vet and she was cleared by committee and we went back out. That was one of my favorite rides and she has never looked so good after a ride with as much energy and spunk as she did that night. She never showed a hint of being off.

But besides these big defining moments, I do believe that the small everyday lifestyle choices are more defining and more valuable.

I will choose to truly see my horse and her needs and remember to ask not what can I get done, force into place, shortcut or get away with… (and this doesn’t mean whatever she wants any more than one would indulge a child’s every wish all the time. It certainly includes continuing my education so that I know what my horse actually does need to be well balanced and healthy)

And in the human world when things aren’t fair, or they are trying my patience, seem unbelievable (I mean who could think that way… or say that thing…) or they don’t make sense… when people let me down… when they say unkind things… when it’s hard….

for 2018 I commit to asking…

What does love require from me?