Sunday, March 12, 2016
This post is a reflection of my brain at the moment – which seems to have a lot going on. Probably too much. So apologies in advance for the spider web of information I am about to present.
Let’s begin with Friday.
Friday brought both the farrier and the vet visit for spring.
New shoes for the girls. Khaleesi did really well with her second ever hot shoeing and though she was a little concerned she didn’t fidget or jump too much and my farrier said that I’d done really good work with her and should be pleased with how well she is doing for his visits.
Over the year I notice more instances where Khaleesi seems to have more confidence than Faygo in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. One example was a snake-like blue cord my farrier used. He tossed it out while it was Faygo’s turn and she snorted and acted concerned by it. She didn’t spook or panic, but she was not calm and confident. She knew how she was supposed to behave (stand still) but internally was disturbed. When it was time to pull the same cord up past Khaleesi a friend at the barn warned me to pay attention – it could spook her as it snaked close by. She looked down and noticed it with little concern as it whipped by her feet. I find this to be more and more common between the two mares- my young horse seems more at ease in her environment and more confident in her surroundings than her older experienced friend. I don’t believe Faygo is changing, and as horses go she is still a solid dependable safe horse- but there is something about Khaleesi – a level headedness… Confidence… Curiosity over fear… Something that I sense about her that comes from somewhere inside rather than from external training.
Toward the end he talks about softness vs. lightness. Lightness (I just loaned the book out so forgive me if I get the words reversed) is something you train- but softness can never come from training alone. Lightness is external- correct response to what you ask- while softness is when the horse opens up her inside… Mental and emotional… And participates fully inside and out. I hope that is what I’m able to taste once in a while in my work with Khaleesi.
The difference I feel with Faygo is good training but without having gotten to her softness. The things I didn’t understand.
My farrier, who has known the horse a few years, in random conversation made a comment about Faygo having been ‘through the ringer‘ which made me think. His comment was meant to be positive, but as I reflected on what he said- It made her a dependable and safe horse, but did it cost something bigger? I’m not sure I know the answer but I am truly grateful that Susan had come into our lives to start fresh with her and hopefully give her a new chance to trust someone with her softness who truly is deserving of that trust.
I think that softness comes though the relationship which is a whole other knot to untie and I’m still constantly working on what it means… The dance. The mental, emotional and physical balance. Finding a way to make what you want what your horse wants too so you don’t become at odds or adversarial- but always seeking agreement. Alignment is the word a friend uses often. This can’t happen if you aren’t seeing from the horse’s perspective. Not so simple to do.
Today we took on a challenging ride. The trail itself we’ve ridden and isn’t particularly tough- it was only challenging because of the multi-faceted layers in play.
#2- loop. I’ve been able to motivate Khaleesi to move better when I drive her off and ride her home, today we took on a loop where we’d end up back at the trailer. We struggle to keep impusion with this type of ride.
#3- conditioning. We are out of winter danger footing issues and 3 weeks away from our first ride. The horses have had relaxed riding because conditions haven’t allowed to push- now we need to see some speed work, some elevated heart rates to add fitness and they are just not used to being asked to work harder yet.
#4 technical & occasionally steep. The ride has a few very steep sections (once we got off to hand walk just to give them a break and it was a hard climb for us humans!) there were also many sections where the rocks embedded in the trail made it hard to scramble along wihout slowing down and muddy-creek bed sections where they weren’t sure enough to push through quickly. This made for ‘go-slow-go again’ riding which can be an energy drain.
The ride was more exhausting for me than other recent rides and not a joyful celebration of spring, but it was still a good ride and a valuable one!
There were moments where Khaleesi really wanted to drag- slow down and laze along ‘what is the rush?’ She often seems to ask. This winter, I’ve worked on finding motivation to pick up her speed (riding home, or faster horses to keep up with) but today I decided she is capable and ready mentally and physically for me to ask more. I made a conscious decision to begin with energy, then leg, and if those didn’t pick her up I drove with my leathers on my reins. At first I had to drive with my strings a decent amount- and considering I often ended up hitting my own leg- I can assure you it wasn’t hard or painful- just a push to say “let’s go”. I used the mantra as little as you need but as much as it takes and I never pushed her so hard that she was exhausted. I know what this little horse is capable of and today I needed to work on her giving it even if the spirit didn’t move her. As the ride went on I found her giving more from energy and leg and rarely having to drive her with my leathers.
Observe. That is one more word of the month. How to see from the horse’s perspective. Before I ask or assume- try to observe what is actually going on. Everything a horse does gives us information.
At one part of the ride I could get Khaleesi moving then she would pull back. It was a bit frustrating and I was forced to ask
Why is this section so difficult to keep pace? The ground looks fine, it’s not up or downhill… Why does she keep slowing?
We had hit a long section of trail that had embedded rocks that made it hard for her to move quickly. She would land right on one or next to one throwing her off and she was asking to take a safer pace. They were not to easy to see unless you were looking close and there were stretches of nice trail in between. Once I understood I thanked her for taking care of us and we worked on transitions. I could see a good section and I’d push my energy up and ask her to go- she would. When I saw the rock sections I’d pull my energy back and ask her to walk. I struggle with transitions anyway so this was great practice for me. Energy up-energy down (and stay balanced!)
Unfortunately we did have 6 (yes I counted) turn around conversations. However I used them as opportunities to try another concept I read in Mark Rashid’s book. This concept was really new to me regarding energy balance.
Let’s say you want energy 100% to be in proper balance. Ideally you’d like to have 50% your energy and 50% from your horse. It doesn’t always work this way- if your horse is only giving 25%, you may need to give 75% to get what you need done. Hopefully after you amp up the energy you can get more in balance as your horse meets you. It might take some work.
But what about the moments when your horse spooks, or fights you- ramping their energy up to 90%? The trouble is that most people get caught up and also bring their energy up. Now you are well over 100% and way out of balance. This makes trouble. Instead- having emotional control dictates that when the horse amps up the volume then we must as the human dial back and meet their 90% with only 10%. Now we can stay in balance together and come out alright.
I immediately grabbed this concept in my ‘turn around’ arguments.
When she tries to turn me she pushes up her energy to fight with me to at least 75% or more. It’s not out of control but it’s higher energy. I notice that I engage in the argument – pulling at her head, kicking at her hindquarters – refusing to let her ‘win’. (Adversarial) My energy also goes up- at least to match hers. We feel out of balance.
This time I tried something new again. I dialed DOWN the energy instead. I can’t do that and fight her; so instead I went with her into the circle- and continued it for a 360 to put us back on the path and even one step further: when we were pointed back the way we were supposed to go- her energy dialed back down and I picked mine up then “forward!!!! Let’s go!!!” To keep in balance there too.
This seemed to work pretty well.
Although we still have the turn around conversations. The are not ‘solved’ yet. But I’m using them to learn until they are. I’ve heard in life you keep facing the same struggles until you learn what you need to from them.
One last important learning moment from the ride that wasn’t exactly fun came in crossing a barbed wire fence at the last field. I knew the fence was there but it was cut back and down in one section. One strand left in the spot we intended to cross lay on the ground and a log lay over enough to aim for clearance over. As I look back now, I believe she did not understand why I would choose the harder crossing (over a log) when a path straight through to the field was so obvious.
She didn’t obey my request where I was asking her feet to go- and we got a bit sideways in the conversation. This resulted in her getting a hoof just barely tripped on the wire- stepping clumsily over sideways then a back foot truly hung in the strand. Momentary panic (hers not mine thankfully- I’ve been in enough barbed wire to know if we stay calm we can get out unharmed). She struggled at first and I had brief visions of this going really really bad (this was her first time hung up in wire) but just asked her to whoa-girl until she stood still enough for me to safely dismount. She’d cut her back foot but it was only a surface scratch and I picked it up and put it down safely on the other side. She was a bit slow to believe she was untangled but I walked her off and rubbed her and told her what a good job she did there.
We made it through her first barbed wire encounter safely. Living in the mountains and riding the old land we do- it won’t be our last- it’s important to know she can be still and allow me to help her out safely. She also had a few spooks on the trail as we’d come trotting up to grouse who make a ridiculous amount of noise when they flush. Each time she jumped mid-trot and kept me right in the sweet spot. I always remember Pam saying a horse can spook, whirl and spin and still protect you or the smallest thing can toss you depending on if they want you off. One more reason for the relationship to come first- sometimes I can’t believe the quick moves she’s done at a fast pace before I have a second to realize what’s happened and she’s kept me right where I need to be. Another product of riding remote trails!
We met a new vet and I really like her. We talked worming, diet (selenium intake, omega supplements, pasture restriction- for new spring grasses), electrolytes, body condition (both girls are in great shape), vaccinations, heaves, wound care and back soreness/saddle fit (and that doesn’t include the topics with my friend’s horses she also saw at the barn).
As for backs & saddles both horses are doing well. Khaleesi has been exhibiting some dry spots and it’s been hard to get a good sense considering I haven’t been able to get much sweat at all out of her until very recently! I sent some photos to Jamie Evan of Phoneix Rising (who made my saddle) for input and shared the emails with Kathryn (the vet) for insight and advice.
Jamie thought I actually had some bridging going on- though I’ve always heard dry spots were from pressure. We put the saddle on without pad and did some feeling around. Sure enough- the spots that were inclined to be dry actually seemed to be where the saddle had the least contact. It was not the same on both sides.
So still without the pad I added girth and got in the saddle. Without even moving it became very obvious her shoulders are not even. The right (where I get the dry spots under my seat) is higher around the shoulder/whithers than the left. This seems to be causing more uneven pressure on the right side in front (whithers) as the saddle doesn’t make good contact under my seat. She had slight sensitivity there in a test as well though it was very minor.
In endurance riding however- there is little room for error because small things compound over many miles.
Jamie has a solution pad if this is the case and I can’t say I’m completely sure how the pad works yet- but in the meanwhile until this week when she gets my follow up- I went ahead and put a little shim of my own in that right side where the contact was not even and I think it made a difference. Usually one diagonal doesn’t feel quite comfortable, and today I did not find that to be the case. I also just felt more naturally balanced in the saddle overall.
Last random thought- in trying to work with the clippers- which Faygo is kind of doing better with, I gave a neck clipping to Khaleesi who as usual seemed not too concerned by the process. There were a few moments she didn’t quite hold still and I’m very inexperienced so it looks a little like a Frankenstein trim, but as spring warms up it won’t hurt her to have a little extra cool-down air. And it’s not nearly as ugly as the cut on her face she managed last week that’s incited the return of her nickname ‘scarface’ (she seems slightly accident prone especially on her head!) The vet said it would heal ok but always have a bump there- thankfully she’s headed to an endurance and not a show career!
To end: I’m still working on the balance of being firm and clear with what I want (leader) with observing and caring what my horse’s thoughts and feeling are. Relationship must come first…. Yet I can’t have a horse that only gets her own way either.
Until next time!