Monday, July 20, 2015
Today it has been one year since Khaleesi came home to live at Mill Run Farm. It’s been a great year together and I think we’ve both learned a ton.
I’ve ridden both girls a bit in the past week- nothing particularly new or exciting to report so we waited to enter a blog post.
As for Faygo, she is doing great.
The farrier visited and he’s starting to trim her more like a endurance horse- she has her racing feet on now (because she wasn’t forward moving enough before??) Basically there is more break over on her front toes to help her move more quickly, more smoothly with more ease. It’s a small thing, but I think I can feel a slight difference in her stride.
I specifically enjoyed my birthday ride last week- when I chose to ride Faygo because she is just a pleasure- and I had been up too late the night before and didn’t have the energy to do a training Khaleesi ride…
Saturday morning however, we got up crack of dawn early and went to visit Pam again. I rode Khaleesi at a walk around her arena trying to communicate and coordinate together enough to walk in a circle or step over as we walked a straight line. I am hugely grateful to Pam for spending time with us because though it sounds boring- even to me- to describe what we spent almost an hour doing, it has been one of the coolest learning experiences I’ve ever had.
I am starting to get better at feeling the beats of my horse’s gaits (1, 2, 3, 4) and as a a musician I love the way it fits into a “4-beat” time signature where the 1st and 3rd beat are the “strong” beats, or front legs, which also are so much easier to feel instinctively- just like a conductor’s beat; and the 2nd and 4th beat are the “weak” beats, the back legs.
I feel that horse walk patterns are instinctively more like folk music however because though the 2 and 4 are “weaker”, those “up” or “off” beats have a lift to them and they give a strong “groove” that folk music exhibits. The front feet step out like a “down” beat, but in the pattern it’s when the back feet lift UP is how you feel the rhythm.
The previous time I went to visit Pam I got the hang of the stronger, front foot rhythm, but this visit she asked me to feel (and tell her) when the back feet (of whichever side we were working on) came up. At first I had to count, but after a while I started to feel it as well. Now when we ride I have a much stronger connection to the rhythm of her feet as we move. It’s not quite as natural as breathing, but it’s getting more that way than I’d ever imagined.
I have always been able to move a horse over – for Faygo with ease and surgical precision… Khaleesi… well, she can do it, but it’s a little hit or miss, and also depends on if she WANTS to move over or if we have an argument over it… (NO! If I move over that over horse could pass us… I am the queen of the trail!).
But on Saturday Pam suggested I try to time my request (my foot to her side) to match up with the best opportunity for her to respond. Touch her WHEN that back foot comes up and could then actually move- in the air- to step over.
WHOH… let me think that one over… Ok…
I absolutely “got it”, but we just barely “got it” together.
Pam is patient and I can’t count the number of times she’s said “It’s ok, she’s just not sure what you’re doing up there- she’s trying to take care of you.”
Today on our anniversary trail ride (I didn’t realize it was our anniversary until after I got home) I tried out my timing by asking her to walk on two separate tracks on the road. We started to the left, then I’d count in my head (1, 2, 3, 4…)
… get ready… aim for the ‘4’… NOW… and NOW… and YES… she moved over.
Here are the play by play pics of us changing lanes:
Of course she could have moved over if I’d have just stuck my leg there and ‘pushed’ her, but the difference in this was that I was making the effort to do it at the appropriate time. I hope that I will get better at communicating purposefully.
There it is. That is the effort. That is the life lesson: Purposeful communication.
I am realizing more and more that I make a lot of “noise” when I ride my horse. My body is constantly doing things to create static. My horses are incredible beings because they sort through the noise and get what I’m asking for really well.
But what if I could get better? What if I could make a cleaner request? Could they have a better response?
I think yes.
What about in life? Can I work on making less ‘noise’ in my important communications, and be more clear? Can I have better timing with my requests?
I hope yes.
On the other hand- it’s nice to be able to ride without so much mental energy. It’s nice to relax into a trail ride and ‘just have fun.’ Some (me at some point previously) would suggest that trail horses do not expect the kind of communication an ‘arena’ horse expects. Trail horses think on their own and need to take care of their footing etc… I sometimes want to look around and not worry my horse might think I’m changing directions when I see a bald eagle to my right… This is all true.
I hope though, that becoming a better, more clear rider can become more of a way of life that doesn’t have to take as much mental energy. I hope that eventually I can feel those back feet when they come up and not have to count “1, 2, 3, 4” to know. I hope when I ask her to move over on the trail to let a horse pass I can instinctively time it to when her back foot steps up and we can become more like one being. A true team. Wouldn’t that be MORE effortless?
And in every day reality, I hope she and I can have a relationship where she knows when I’m looking at a bald eagle vs. when I need her to take a turn! I’m not trying to micromanage her feet, I’m trying to understand how she’s using them so when I ask her something I know the best way.
Today my biggest accomplishment was that we opened AND closed the hardest gate on the farm without getting off. The gate is difficult because it isn’t hung properly and swings heavily open then digs into the ground as it stops, and the latch is one chain with a cheap fastener that is tight to clip back onto the chain once it’s wrapped around the gate itself (that you are holding closed from on your horse) and it absolutely takes two hands. Faygo and I can get this gate together (but we’ve also failed in the past depending on how much patience she has)- and we can’t do it without getting off if we have to let any other horses through.
Recently I’d been opening the gate on Khaleesi (the easy part), then getting off to close it from the ground. I decided this day to at least try to stay on. If it fell and I had to get off then so be it. But we did it! Of course there was no one there to see us- or take video of this feat, but we still celebrated together some pretty amazing teamwork!!
She has to stand next to the closed gate in just the right place for me to reach down and (two handed) get the latch pulled off. Then we have to hold the gate while stepping backward enough for her to get her head through the opening and step through the gate (while I keep holding it), then after we walk through (still holding the heavy gate which is not hung properly and wants to fall open and slam into the ground) and have to step over while holding and pushing the gate closed sideways- then usually at this point step backward so I’m aligned with the chain again, and have to (two handed) reach down (still holding the gate) and wrap the chain around the gate and try to push the latch back through the chain so it will stay in place.
If that sounds like a lot- it is. We have many easier gates that follow a similar process- but they are hung properly and don’t want to fly open and slam into the ground. This makes a huge difference because if you let go of the gate all is not lost in less than 1 second. Laurie got video today of us doing the “red gate” (where we often meet to ride) to show the idea. Again- this one is much easier:
This was a great one-year celebration. It takes trust and communication to open gates of all kinds together and it’s a nice way to work on how well you are communicating. Many small steps go into being able to do it and for me it’s a fun thing to practice together.
We worked on riding side-by-side with Laurie’s horse Banks. It’s helpful that Khaleesi seems to like Banks. He is only about a year older than she, and a gelding, and they’ve lived near each other through the winter at Laurie’s farm. Both horses do not naturally want to walk side-by-side, but neither fussed too much either.
Also we’ve made some progress with both the hose (she used to dance around the water like a lunatic) and the fly spray- she rears up and even tries to bite the bottle sometimes. She had a calm happy shower this afternoon, and after working a bit with the fly spray she even calmed down for that. Progress!
Here’s our little shower video:
Khaleesi’s new smaller back boots came in and I loved the way they fit. I had great expectations- however- within 15 minutes of riding one had come off and was hanging around her leg. Apparently the cable came out of the roller buckle. The company says that seems more likely a malfunction than a long term boot issue. Still- we are not yet carefree boot believers. Renegade is sending me (priority) a new cable to replace the one that malfunctioned- and I hope the new back ones will be as good as the fronts moving forward. I haven’t had a front boot come off since the Douthat camp out over a month ago. The front boots have been ACES, I love everything about them. I hope we can get the back boots to sort out as well soon.
In all, today Laurie and I had a lovely ride. We took the road less traveled and both horses were wonderful at taking us through some open woods that were steep and had enough downs and vines and deep leaves to make it tricky. We ended up on an old road that was overgrown with ferns and grasses and lush from the wet summer we’ve had. No one had been this way in a while, and it felt like a secret passage that only we knew. We are so lucky to have trails close to home that can still feel new when we take a path we haven’t tried before.
When I took her back to the pasture where Faygo was eagerly awaiting I released her and walked over to check on the water. I love it when she would rather follow me than go eat, roll, or catch up with Faygo. She was my shadow today until I left and she stood watching at the gate as I drove away.
After one year of working together, July 20 of 2014 I could only sit in her area with a book and my coffee and hope she would ignore me enough to come close. Now she often follow me around until I leave- then watches me go at the gate. I am very pleased with how well she’s come along, and yes, I’m proud of myself too that I took on something so new that I wasn’t sure if I could do and have been successful- at least as successful for what we are doing.
Hopefully we’ll be an AERC decade team… so… onward together!