Big Ideas

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

This month has continued with less than ideal riding conditions. I am thankful for some of the mild temps earlier on and the mileage we’ve racked up toward our first ride which is coming up fast (Leatherwood, Saturday March 26). We are now less than one month out!

Does it make me a little nervous to take such a conditioning back seat a month before our first ride of the season?

Yep.

Do I have faith that we’ve worked really hard and done our best and stand a good shot at finishing healthy?

Also yep. 

 This winter has been one of a lot of growth for me in my journey to our 100 mile goal which in the larger picture (I hope) means a journey to being a horseman. 

I started with the simple hope of becoming a better rider, and being more reflective this month pulling together the different threads of learning I’ve been working on- I remember going to see Pam over the summer for help in better posting my horse’s big trot. 

She was gracious enough to invite me to come over and see what she could do. Again- I wanted to ride better.

  
What has come back to mind this winter was one of the first questions she asked me. It was in a discussion of what I hoped to accomplish. 

I hope to work up to a 100 mile endurance ride… however I’ve never had a non-gaited horse and I am terrible at trotting and if we start with some introductory limited distance rides this year I’m going to be a mess out there if I can’t learn to ride this horse. Also, she’s young and learning to carry a human- I don’t want to mess her up!

Then Pam asks what my biggest concern is about achieving our goals. Aside from, and even second to, my physical riding inexperience I remember saying:

I want her to enjoy doing endurance with me. It’s a hard sport and takes a lot of physical stamina and I don’t want her to burn out and hate it. I want her to enjoy going to rides with me. 

I want to cheer my last year self just a little because even then- before I really knew what I was getting into- in my heart I was trying to put my horse first. 

When I began my ‘starting’ process I used a lot of Monty Roberts online videos and I feel they helped me get a good foundation with Khaleesi. 

This year I’ve added some more hero mentors to my ‘team’ as I’ve been watching as much Buck Brannaman as possible, reading Sally Swift’s Centered Riding, and recently doing some interactive online work through Simple Equine Teaching with Dee Janelle.

My number one priority is to truly put my horse first and have a solid relationship with her. This has taken a lot of exploration for me because I am not sure I understand how a horse sees the world and thinks.

I’m not always successful, sometimes I fail her, and she always forgives my mistakes. How many times can she forgive me? I’m sure at some point I’m going to screw up again! 

Yesterday with some barn time and a short muddy-wet walk together I thought about our relationship and how connected we are. Even though I don’t always know what I’m doing, even though I sometimes let my goal driven human clock watching mind get us off-kilter, she still comes to wait for me at the gate every time. She walks up behind me and offers her nose into my rope halter and walks next to me with her head at my shoulder, ears up and forward, like we are the kings of the world on our way to the barn. 

What I’m beginning to think is there is a difference between a mistake and betrayal. I’ve made a lot of mistakes on my journey but one thing I hope I have never done- and never will- is betray her. Sometimes I ask her to do things she doesn’t feel like… Sometimes we argue about which direction to go… But we still work together like any solid relationship. 

So what is a betrayal to a horse?

I am not ready to define that. Maybe it’s not so simple to put a definition on what that is. But in my gut I feel like it exists and it has to do with a breaking of their trust in you in a way that is not the same as a mistake along the way. It’s something bigger and deeper. 

Anyway… I’m enjoying the SET lessons lately and I’ll share a few things from there I’m working out in our world right now. 

*Relationship.  

Everything we do will be better if we are in agreement. This is the root. Any question that comes up can be framed into ‘does it improve our relationship or degrade it?’ And then answered accordingly. 

Of course- it gets more complicated at times how to answer that from the perspective of the horse. 

*Time. 

Horses don’t do clocks. It takes the time it takes. Accepting that is always going to make for a stronger relationship and more success (whatever that means to you). Rushing a horse is always ‘force’ and never gets a good result. This is in the short term (loading on the trailer, or training to stand at the mounting block) and the long term (anything that is a longer training goal… For faygo it might be overcoming her fear of the clippers)

*Balance. 

I always strive for balance. Not always successfully. I’ve been working with the (SET) concept of a triangle representing the 3 components of a horse and human: mental (at the top), emotional and physical. All 3 need need to be healthy in both the horse and human. 

It’s always fascinating to me how the horses mirror us. This is especially visible in the emotional side- horses are not naturally emotional beings. It takes a human who is emotional to push that side out of balance and create an emotional horse.  

In fact if you watch horse herds in the wild, the horses are balanced on their own. We humans have a responsibility in bringing them into our worlds to work at achieving and maintaining balance for us and them as much as possible. 

Mental comes first. Horses think and reason much like people. You must be able to communicate to the horse in a way they understand and you want your horse to have a positive opinion of you- Dee Janelle says that a horse who has formed a positive opinion of its owner is easy to train and willing. That makes perfect sense to me- this also means a safe horse which for me is a high priority. It should come first before anything else. 

The emotional is next. Horses who have handlers that tend to get emotional often realize when a potentially emotional situation arises and will look to the handler to see if he/she will get emotional- especially if the handler has a mental connection to the horse. If the human refuses to engage emotionally the horse will relax and calm instead of amping up. 

Humans with a tendency to get emotional will do better if they work on balancing their own triangle and checking in on their emotions while working with the horse. The emotional horse is created by humans and it’s our job as humans to help rebalance them as well as ourselves. 

I find that fear tends to be the biggest trigger in emotional reactions but frustration is probably a close second. High adrenaline is always the enemy… When I start this cycle I turn to singing. It changes my breathing and distracts (and reminds) me bringing me back to calm and fair (which a horse understands better). 

The last part of the triangle is the physical. Many humans gravitate to physical training/conditioning first – but a horse who doesn’t have mental connection and positive emotions towards its handler will not be willing and easy to train which sets you up for a battle instead of working together with common purpose. Humans who start with physical training don’t pay attention to what the horse is thinking and feeling along the way and the horse is more likely to shut down to protect itself. 

For every thought or emotion a horse experiences, there is a physical behavior associated that we can identify. (Dee Janelle) 

Horses developed with emphasis on positive mental and emotional selves first are bright, alert- with good muscling, well conditioned and are easy to train. They use their bodies well and are in balance. 

****Spirit…….

This is my most recent concept. The last part of the horse is their spirit and a recent podcast (SET) made me think about this more specifically. This part we do not have access to- you cannot take or train the spirit- of a horse or anyone. But the idea that horses chose sometimes to willingly give their spirit to their human in a bond like no other is quite something to consider. 

This is the horse that is not just doing her job well, but gives everything to the human they have connected with. 

I don’t think this is all that common- but I believe I’ve seen it. At least one time last summer- and I wrote about it briefly in a blog post. 

In the end isn’t this what we truly want with our horses? Maybe not for some. It takes a lot of dedication to make that connection: a lot of time and trust and positive work, play and love. The kind of love that sacrifices our needs for theirs. 

Maybe I am the only one in the world that is better at the kind of love that is good at giving what I want to give– what I would like to get back that says ‘love’ to me. In human and horse relationships. I am not naturally gifted at seeing the world through others’ eyes… Not my husband, not my horse’s. I suppose realizing this is the first step- trying is the next. 

I have to find out what is important to my horse- what her mental, emotional and physical needs are. In thinking through, this concept is bigger than horses. Maybe I can do this better in all aspects of my life. 

In the end, back to our ride together yesterday, I recalled a blog post recently when I questioned our relationship. It is good to investigate and question. 

Today I believe it is strong and healthy. We may not always agree, but we respect each other and I know she enjoys my company- she shows it. I love that.  

This is how I develop an endurance horse who doesn’t burn out, who gives me her all and enjoys the ride. I put her needs first and keep our relationship strong. 

And maybe… When we are ready… She will chose to trust me with her spirit. Though the idea of that responsibility is a little scary too.