The Emotional System

I have been considering the systems of horses and humans for a few years now and how they work when healthy and what happens when they malfunction. I worked with a mentor a couple of years back who helped me see that humans and horses do function on systems and this can be observed and understood.

The physical system is the one we have the easiest access to and seems pretty straightforward. Too often we start and stay here with horses and sometimes we get lucky and things basically work. Sometimes our incomplete emphasis on the physical causes train wrecks.

The mental system is incredibly important and often overlooked. People sometimes move into this place when they realize the need to find root causes and it is often consider training. Good training, what I’ve heard called education of the horse, will go to the mental system- poor training only considers the physical system which generally results in force.

The emotional system I find the most elusive and also the one the human might can cause the most trouble without awareness. In my search to better understand how this system works I’ve delved into how it relates to the human world. Humans have a more complex emotional system and being a human I have some experience sorting through emotional health as well as imbalance and trauma of my own.

Animals tend to have a more simple emotional world. If left alone they are usually emotionally balanced. In a healthy horse herd there is a leader (generally a smart mare) that takes care of logistics like where the best grazing and water is, when the safest time to drink, sleep and eat, there are follower herdmates knowing and sometimes testing their hierarchy order, and a stallion that protects the herd from predators or other roving stallions. Pretty simple life and everyone knows where they fit and what is expected.

When humans get involved we do things that create confusion to the simply ordered life horses are born into. Our horsecare can be confusing and stressful to a horse- being confined in stalls, separated from the social structure of a herd, inadequate or absent leadership (horse and human) ends up leaving the middle of the pack personality horses feeling insecure, and the dominant ones like they must take over at all costs to save everyone… and then there is the human training process and the human emotional systems themselves that create problems for the otherwise balanced creatures.

Finding the most natural way to keep horses as possible in our domesticated lives is key to starting with an emotionally balanced creature. Herdmates, access time grazing and fresh water, the ability to move about freely in the open air all are a good place to start. If a horse is kept in solitary confinement, has to go long hours without forage or doesn’t have a good herd leadership hierarchy you will be starting from imbalance before you add your own emotional system questions into the mix.

Most horse people accept now that the physical system of the human affects the horse. If we ride them out of balance we create that imbalance in their body. If we have a stiff side or injury or bad habit we will create blocks of movement and trouble and often over time if unaddressed leading to injury for them as well.

In the mental system if we do not stay on our mental toes 100% of the time – depending on the horses level of intelligence and leadership nature- they will take over the mental system and they certainly can begin to train YOU instead of the other way around. They can be so subtle and sophisticated about it so the human doesn’t even realize this is going on.

I believe the problems that leak into the emotional system however can be the most difficult to recognize and reverse and can put humans in the most danger as well.

When healthy and balanced in all three systems, a horse-human team enjoys working together, trusts the other to give their best and stays connected and thoughtful. They communicate clearly and honestly. Mistakes are quickly forgiven and forgotten; stability and connection is apparent. The emotions are things like joy, happy, confident, excited, peace, satisfaction, amusement… and even sadness, frustration, nervous, confused can be balanced emotions when based on reality. We should be sad at the loss of an old beloved herdmate, it’s ok to feel disappointment when we miss the mark or a fun adventure is canceled, a big event will bring some nervous energy, frustration is real at times (though must be handled properly) and I’ve been confused more than once by what my horse is trying to communicate to me.

Honesty within the emotional system is vital

First with ourselves and then with those around us including our equine partners. It is unhelpful to pretend one is not afraid, nervous or frustrated. The horses are a million times more sensitive to us and don’t understand the concept of dishonesty so they sense a disconnect that makes them uncomfortable and distrusting. Unfortunately this is the case even when the human doesn’t understand their emotional system and doesn’t realize they are being dishonest. Being out of touch with your emotions can be deeply problematic to your horse as well as your friends and family.

The malfunctioning of the emotional system creates bigger problems. This is when our feelings of fear, anger, mad, annoyed, anxious, vengeful, offended, hatred, jealous and the like take over our actions. We are headed to dangerous territory.

Disclaimer: There are real honest moments for fear (coming upon a grizzly bear or mountain lion on a trail ride) and things (like injustice and suffering of innocents) that we should be angry about, however even in these cases we still must use our heads- the mental system– to safely navigate through the danger or anger.

When we move to acting out of fear, anger, vengeance etc we lose our ability to function in a healthy thoughtful way. We damage the relationships around us. We lose trust and connection.

Most horse people know that fear is one of our worst enemies with horses. If we operate out of fear horses sense it and they either join and begin acting out of fear themselves or they deem us untrustworthy because we are afraid when nothing is truly dangerous.

When we work with a horse in anger we cannot connect and communicate openly, we blame and fight instead of work together. We assume their responses aren’t giving their best and we punish them. (This is true for human relationships too; the horse-human relationship is simpler to examine because horses have more honest responses than other humans with their own emotional system imbalances). When trust is broken the protective layers must be built in, horses (and humans) will avoid, shut down, or sometimes fight back to protect themselves.

When horses fight back humans are in the most danger. Sometimes this is obvious as in biting or striking but often it’s more subtle in bucking, rearing, or throwing the rider from the saddle at an ‘opportune’ moment. Horses have the ability to spook and keep their rider in the sweet spot- balanced safely through the evasive protective maneuver, or they can twist just a few inches and toss a human into a tree, jump or rail. That doesn’t mean a human is always well enough balanced and athletic to stay on or a loose girth/cinch can’t mean a fall. But I’ve ridden a fair amount of honest spooks and I’ve certainly been intentionally dumped (deservedly). There’s a difference.

Dishonesty will get us no where. When your spouse asks what’s wrong and you say “NOTHING!!” You aren’t fooling anyone. Pretending you don’t have fear also doesn’t fool your horse. This builds layers of distrust. Don’t lie. Not to yourself. Not to your horse. Not to your husband. And not to God. He knows.

Unfortunately people (myself included) have learned in the short term we can get away with avoiding the malfunction. Shutting it down, pretending it’s not there, ‘don’t go there’, run away, distract… or get a tool of force (bully) that hides the root issue… It seems harmless at first- but you become a prisoner to the thing you try to hide. And gradually that little corner you try to keep in a box and avoid grows and spreads until you have few places you can exist honestly anymore.

Facing the malfunction is step one. And you may need time to work through the process. It IS acceptable to tell your husband: I’m not sure why I’m so angry right now can I get back to you when I have had some time to think it over? And if you have too little emotional reserves and find yourself angry with your horse- it is wise to quit for the day and regroup before you cause lasting relationship damage with a critical frustrated session.

Fear is probably the number one killer of healthy relationships. Fear of injury, fear of loss, fear of not having what it takes, all of these are self defeating and bring about the very thing they try to ward off. Facing fear (and other malfunctioning emotions) honestly is vital in the healing and rebalancing of the system.

The only antidote to malfunction in the emotional system i have found is TRUTH. When we apply TRUTH the system begins to reboot. Sometimes it takes many applications and time – this is a good reason to do this quickly and often before wrong feelings can take deep root. The farther off course the emotional system gets the longer the road back to balance and health.

The biggest hinderance and a subject too big to cover here is that many people today have lost hold of TRUTH. It’s become relative in our culture. We all get to pick what’s true for us. Our feelings rule and become truth which is completely backwards/upside down and will build a life on a foundation of shifting sand. TRUTH hasn’t actually become relative any more than not believing in gravity makes us able to not be subject to it. But it’s left our culture at a loss for facing emotional system malfunction which has created deep problems in relationships and brokenness all around us.

Instead of TRUTH being applied many have inserted ‘self-talk’ … you remember: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me!

If that’s true then you’re good to go. But you may not be good enough (yet), you may not be very smart, and if you’ve been behaving like an angry arrogant jerk then probably people and your horse don’t like you. No self talk – based on what you hope to be true but isn’t -will ever heal your broken emotional system.

Maybe you don’t know all you need today- maybe the truth is that you are learning and improving and trying your best. Maybe you have have hurt relationships from being critical, nagging, responding in fear and insecurity- the truth is you can begin new patterns and honestly make the effort to emotional health and balance. Give those around you (your horse) time to trust the new direction.

Staying present can help with fear: am I OK RIGHT NOW? This is also TRUTH. Stay tuned to what IS not what you think could be in your nightmares. Very often our fears are based on a past experience or a future imagination. Do not allow a past experience to claim your present. Do not allow an imagined future to destroy your success working with a horse or human that hasn’t actually harmed you. Work with what IS happening and talk about the situation at hand- with the horse or person you are working with. It is unfair to punish someone for your imagined potential injury. It is ok to be aware of past patterns but deal with them honestly and allow the space for the present reality.

Anger and frustration usually come from putting goals ahead of relationship. Feeling like there isn’t enough time to do things slowly, step by step and allowing for the process. Humans are usually the slave of Chronos the god of never enough time, running out of time, and time is money.

Being clear and demanding of our horses and those we work with is a good thing, we should have high expectations of performance! That is an honor- we love working for someone who believes in us. However being critical and nitpicky is counterproductive and makes humans and horses feel like they can never please and why bother trying.

TRUTH has helped heal a lot of brokenness in my emotional system and I still continually work on it when a malfunction occurs. I have the good fortune of learning that I’ve been created on purpose for a purpose. That God loves me, has a plan for my life and even when I face obstacles and setbacks they will be used for my own good. He has set a time for these things and no matter how I fight I won’t get there before it’s time, and I can’t screw up so badly that I miss the time either as long as I stay sensitive best I’m able to how he leads me.

For me this is where the composite horseshoe meets the road. Do I believe it or not? Is it just a nice story that makes me feel better or is it the TRUTH of the universe. I don’t have a faith based on fairy tales and nice ideas. Actually it’s been built on blood, sweat and many tears — taking small steps and seeing real transformation and applying concepts and watching what happens. My brain is way too scientific and logical to buy into fairy tales. I need results. And each step gives me the confidence to take another one. That is what faith is- a building of a life one tested step at a time gives way to more confidence as the stones stack up into a firm foundation. A life built on a rock that is solid, balanced and healthy over time.

This enables me to walk in freedom and it allows those around me (equine and human) to be free from my fears and imbalances. I want my horse to choose to partner with me in freedom. I want the people around me to be able to be honest with me and want to work with me as well. I want freedom, stability, peace and joy. It enables me to (on a good day) give up trying to manipulate and control everything and everyone — playing God.

It is counterproductive to assume everyone else around me must create an environment where I’m never challenged and am always comfortable with. If I want an environment of freedom around me then I must go first!

Below I’ll share some of my favorite truths that have helped to bring my malfunctioning emotional system back into alignment with what I know.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28‬

“For we are his workmanship, creates for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭1:7‬

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:13‬

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭19:11‬

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans of good things and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:11‬

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:11‬

Kairos

I like to imagine a horse knows her name and will tell you if you ask. Khaleesi was born on March 17 and named Shamrock temporarily until she was renamed Ireland. I knew when she came to live with me however, that she had a real name and would reveal it when she was ready and trusted me. As a nod to her breeding family I run her through AERC records (the only place besides my vet bills she is official) as Ireland’s Khaleesi.

So it was an odd thought recently when I said offhand to Brandea: I think the name of my next horse will be Kairos.

Kairos is timeliness, appropriateness, decorum, symmetry, balance—awareness of the circumstances that open moments of opportunity. Kairos is finding serendipity.

In Greek, both kairos and chronos literally mean “time,” but not in the same sense. In Greek, kairos represents a kind of “qualitative” time, as in “the right time”; chronos represents a different kind of “quantitative” time, as in, “How much time will it take” and “Will we have enough time?”

Kairos means inhabiting the perfect moment.

All horses in their normal and most healthy state live in Kairos. There are few animals that come as naturally adept at symmetry, balance, awareness, decorum, and especially timelessness as a horse. Things take the time they take for a horse, and the phrase “slow is fast” is a deep truth with them.

Humans (look around) almost all live under Chronos. Humans constantly feel like they are losing time or running out of time, have to make the most of their time, are afraid of wasting their time, and even coined the phrase time is money. I imagine horses find we are strange creatures as we try to drag them from the spacious world of kairos they could share with us toward the slave master of Chronos.

Jesus talks about kairos as an appointed time. Being the creator and sustainer of the universe he has a lot of spinning balls to keep up with and not one is ever out of place. Every second he has the constantly moving puzzle of all things weaving perfectly together.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3

Every time I struggle against the appointed time I exhaust myself. Everything is beautiful in its own time: when I slow down and believe this, then all things become a dance: elegance, balance, awareness, decorum…

Horses try to teach us this dance and most often we shut them down to say: ain’t nobody got time for that.

I want to dance. I found this post from five years ago; that fire in my heart not to have a well trained horse but one who wanted to dance with me. I have come so far and yet am still clumsy and slow. I suppose having eternity in my heart is the only way not to be discouraged at the time it takes to learn to exist in kairos. And to dance.

I don’t want to ride anymore post: December 13, 2015

Faith is the assurance of things unseen

As in anything that requires faith sometimes I doubt. Just look around at the Chronos people. They seem to have so much more success on the surface. I was pondering this on a recent ride. And considering my friend Brandea helped me sort out my mini-faith crisis.

I’ve written about Brandea’s mare Molly. Among the plethora of issues in every system (mental, emotional and physical) were a roadrunner neck (creating an inverted topline, over developed shoulders and no sense of a hind end) and the potential to run away through the bit. The flip side: she’s fast. She’s been run through some endurance rides and one of her previous owners remarked how much fun it is to ride a horse with so much go!

Molly bracing and showing the roadrunner neck

Most people grab a bigger bit and a tie down and win some races. It would take way too much TIME to fix those things and why when you can find a tool that will force it into place for you? Chronos says life is short, this horse will probably finish top 10 at least for a season or two. (… before her body breaks down)

Brandea is the only person I’ve been close enough to watch with these issues that has committed to the Kairos way. She has been willing to live the process, find the real issues and spend each day in the dance. It has taken 18 months to finally get to the bottoms of these issues (building one layer of healing and connection upon another) and I marveled at the patience and setting aside her own hopes and dreams and goals to dance with this horse. She told me she has been tempted to get a bigger bit- especially when early on she felt she could be run away with at any moment. Most riders won’t dance through that. They feel unsafe, and with some reason. Yet when we enter into the horse’s world and put them at that level of importance something magic happens- we become important to them. This becomes the most safe place to be, but it does take some faith over fear to get there.

Molly softening and trying a lower neck position

I watched in the past week from our clinic and Brandea’s follow up work as she learned what she needed to do to effectively shut the front door to the imaginary rectangle we have learned to ride in. The mare’s energy had been a mile away and she followed it full speed ahead.
First the mare had to build body balance and strength because she was so out of balance. If she slowed down she might feel unstable like a bike going too slow. Brandea has to learn better riding skills (even though she had a pretty solid taught foundation) and Molly had to build muscle, she had to learn to trust a human would ask her to dance… without these things and more in place this energy conversation was pointless.

In the beautiful Kairos I watched Brandea learn how to lead the dance and have the conversation to shut that front door. Molly began to stay with Brandea at various speeds. They began to have moments of lightness in the dance. A lovely way of moving and the beginning of self carriage her head and neck experimenting the feel of a lower way of going that allowed those top line muscles that were so hard gained to do their work. This is all new to the little Cinderella horse. She didn’t even realize she could dance anymore.

Speaking of the beauty of Kairos, Brandea spent one of her 60 minute clinic lessons holding the bit in front of Molly’s lips for 35 minutes as we all watched the ‘paint dry’ and more than one person (including me) had to wonder is this a waste of time?

She was paying good money to learn from Emily and standing around waiting to see if Molly would voluntarily pick up the bit when she would accept it normally with a finger in the cheek like most people do and get on with the important riding techniques.

Could Brandea have done this on her own some other time? Yes. However having the support of us and Emily to assure her: you are on track, we are with you and want to see what happens really did help Brandea make the commitment when she may have doubted after 10 minutes… after 20 minutes… 30?? how long have you held a bit for a horse to decide if she wants to pick it up? 35 minutes is past the point most of us (me included) would assume this is not working.

What is wrong with offering the bit and using a finger to encourage the horse to open and accept it especially if it isn’t a fight? Nothing is wrong with that. This is a more advanced conversation. It is asking the horse for more self carriage in a mental and possibly emotional way – she was being given the honor of a choice, and the Kairos gift from her human of time- very valuable time.

We all gasped with astonishment when after 35 minutes of standing still with her eyes vacant and brain ‘gone’ processing… she opened her teeth and took the bit on her own.

The connection between them Brandea assures me shifted that day to a deeper place that made all the riding and work on the front door problems the rest of the week entirely more effective. The investment in that time paid off in ways she will reap for years. (And Molly sometimes picks up the bit before Brandea is even situated with the headstall and reins if she’s not careful now!)

No wonder so few people stick around this small group. Why bother? Why spend so much time and effort when a finger in the cheek, a tie down and bigger bit probably to most would seem to be the more expedient answer? Do we just enjoy wasting time?

Brace. Everything we do under Chronos (which uses some kind of imposed force or pushes into a realm the horse isn’t adequately prepared for) not slowing down to do things the right way in the appointed process and time – creates a brace in horses. Mentally, emotionally and physically. Brace and tension take years off the healthy working lifetime of a horse physically or makes them seem dangerous mentally or emotionally.

As I was considering all this, often frustrated at the tension between the Kairos I want to commit to and my own timeline as a goal-oriented driven-to-succeed Chronos human. I was on a new trail I’d heard was beautiful if not somewhat “wilderness” like. I desperately wanted to add some mileage and increase the fitness of my mare that has been in so much patient rebuilding. So much dancing and groundwork and walking straight to build self carriage and the right muscles to work in strength… what is the point of it all if I never get to use it! Will we ever get back to a ride? Not if I can’t get some miles in.

I do want the dance of Kairos however I have no idea what possessed me on this day, but before loading up for the trail I took the time to enjoy Khaleesi and groom her more than usual even braiding her mane and tail until I felt she was fit for the warrior princess title she claims.

I have time for YOU. You matter to me. You are mine and I treasure you.

I knew the ride could potentially be about 20 miles which should be around 5 hours even at a fairly slow pace and I had the entire afternoon. But if things were slower than anticipated there is an exit half way through to cut back on the dirt road so I had options. I wanted to see this trail and was told first do it alone to see if it was appropriate for anyone else on horseback. Wilderness-like…..

How bad could it be?

It turned out to be the most challenging day I’ve had in a long time. The initial climb was about 2500 feet in just a couple miles on a very hot day. Then some lovely grassy roads I enjoyed but not for long as it descended into the valley below the single track trail cut through a low forest that gave no option for getting around the downed trees between rocks, grapevines and other downed trees which meant sawing us out about 4 times with other detours that I could manage.

I put over an hour in – on foot – clearing trail. It seemed like every time I thought it was safe to get back on the horse I was hopping down to find a way through another obstacle. Then we hit the bottom as I’d been told: the trail follows a wash or creek bed. Here it’s a technical couple of miles that included many chances to slip on large mossy rocks sitting at angles or a washed out deep spot, ravines to navigate both to cross and to ride alongside, narrow trail with steep drop offs and rocks to maneuver while not falling to injury or death- and a few bonus trees here to find a way around or through.

I was tired of fighting the trail. I saw the potential for my 20 mile ride ebbing away with each new obstacle.

Face it: you are never riding 100 miles.

Why cant you just do things the way everyone around you does? You aren’t going to ever make it to this goal this way. You’ll be lucky to get through 50. This path isn’t worth it. What’s the point if you never succeed anyway?

Then the other voice that interrupted.

Not so for you.

That phrase I begin to hear whispered more often. I know who is reminding me that I am not called to follow the crowd no matter how tempting.

Something in me wanted to prove that this dance is worth it, that there is great value in working with a horse that truly puts the horse first. That it brings something greater and does actually work!

So much work on the dance over the years…

Prove to who?

After taking a wrong turn that landed me in an Alice in wonderland of rabbit trails- when I found my way again I finally gave up and accepted that today Kairos says you will average 2mph if you survive at all. I began to simply enjoy the ride with my dance partner and hope to make it home by sunrise. And just then Khaleesi refused to go under a high downed tree I thought I could probably duck under. I paused and assessed the situation noting that she was indeed correct – and I got off the horse once more watching my saddle barely clear the tree.

Thank you. I am truly grateful for such a mare.

As we finally came to the dirt road that had the 4 mile shortcut back to the trailer it was around 7:30pm and the light was changing. But not just dusk. Storm colored. And rumblings had begun.

The lightning storm we rode through full canter at this point was just a bonus test. Now Kairos be damned I am dodging lightning and soaking wet in a pelting downpour and I don’t even care anymore if my horse has the soundness or energy – run or die was all I gave her as the dance choices.

Was this punishment or a test?

I drove the hour back to the barn in silence. I’d like to say reflection or processing but it was more like shellshocked. It seemed to me everything went badly.

If it was a test I failed my own standards. I yelled at my horse in impatience while sawing logs as she got restless, I cursed and almost cried at the biggest log that only fell part way until I made a second cut, I ran her past good sense in the lightning (Lord she’ll probably be lame the whole summer now was my life actually in danger. Probably not) and when she asked a simple question about loading up instead of answering calmly like a good dance leader: did you notice I asked you to load up now? I went immediately to: get on now or die.

Fail. And 16 miles isn’t bad. But over 6 hours it felt like it got me nowhere toward some better fitness. We will never cross a finish line again.

Later that night I recounted the story to a good friend who has ridden the trail on a mountain bike- ironically in a lightning storm too. He asked about some specific difficult to navigate places. Places a misplaced step on narrow trail could mean falling a ways to the beautiful waterfalls below… He listened as I explained that thankfully my horse is connected into me so precisely that I was able to place her feet exactly where I asked so she bend around that rock safely…

We DANCED

And as I thought through what I saw as epic failure he said to me: well I’m proud of you. That was a tough day and you faced a lot of hard things but you finished the ride. That is how you grow. When things are easy you don’t really grow.

Deep in my heart I knew he spoke truth. The next morning I realized that I didn’t cross a finish line but what I wanted was to see that all these things aren’t a waste of time but they do matter. And in Gods wisdom and in the beauty of Kairos, when I looked back I realized that not many people I know would have navigated the difficulties with such precision as we were able to.

One view of the beautiful stream below. The trail was often narrow and steep through here.

How many times it was vital to not falling down a ravine or hanging up in a grapevine around an obstacle I had to ask for her feet to go exactly one at a time where they needed to be. That I was able to stop her on a dime when I came up to a washed out drop-off and reroute around it before falling headlong into it. She bent around that rock on the narrow trail like a ballerina and saved me from being crushed under the too low tree when my brain was too tired to catch it. She stood mostly quiet without being tied for an hour accumulated of sawing work.

We did it together and it was a dance. Even the crazy canter to the trailer where she gave me all she had and more.

Prove to who? To myself.

Maybe we will finish a 100 someday and maybe we won’t. Maybe for the first time what I see as the greatest value in my heart is truly shifting to what I saw in my mind those years ago and I won’t put the finish line ahead of the dance- or get as frustrated living in the Kairos in the meanwhile. I certainly don’t want to do it before our appointed time because even if we are able to- it won’t be beautiful.

And the most telling moment came the next day when I walked the field: she came to me. She nickered and lowered her head into the halter. She still chose me even after all that struggle.

We warrior princesses must stick together.

And continue the dance.

Adventure in the depths

With the world of Covid my circles have become smaller, yet I’ve found instead of feeling grounded or isolated I’ve been finding my ‘GO’ in depth instead of width. I am grateful to live in a place with around 75% National Forest and low population density, so it’s normal for me to spend a day on the trail and not see another human.

On the day ‘the music died’ (being a violinist that’s how it felt when the governor began to shut down all gatherings and we couldn’t get together to rehearse or perform) I had some extra time because my student concert was cancelled for that weekend and decided to take Khaleesi farther to explore some nice trails I’d begun to stumble upon.

There I ran onto (well he almost ran into us!) a local mountain bike enthusiast who also runs a trail club and maintains trails. We found an easy friendship quickly and he began to show me the miles and miles of maintained trails available accessible from my barn within about an hour trailer ride and I’ve been riding more miles close to home exploring deeper into the territory I didn’t know existed.

Over Memorial Day weekend, an opportunity for another kind of adventure into deeper layers came with our spring Emily Kemp clinic.

The clinic crew observing at Fox Trot Farm

As much as I love working with Khaleesi- besides one hour the first day where we adjusted my saddle pad system and rode in the rain for a short while, the entire week of my time was spent with Wyoming. I think she’s a great horse but I get so far and then hit resistance that I don’t have the experience to more through successfully. I need more knowledge and expert help to grow.

I have ridden her this year and she did her best but I could tell she was not comfortable and happy. I knew one problem was likely my balance saddle didn’t give her enough confidence.

  • First as wide as it is- it’s not probably truly wide enough for her.
  • Second it isn’t as stable as a traditional saddle and not even close to as stable as a western saddle. I know a green horse likes stability and I knew I needed to try to find a way to give it to her if I wanted this to work out for her.

Thankfully my mom was needing to sell an extra super wide custom western saddle that was made for her filly who is built along the top like Wyoming. The timing was perfect and it came the day before the clinic started.

Wyoming trying out the new western saddle

Could I successfully ride this horse in the 5 days? I hoped so.

As Emily helped Wyoming and me find the holes in her early education, we prodded deeper and found situations the mare felt claustrophobic — that is my homework for the next couple months. Pressure and feel are still worrisome for her and the signal based system I had been working with is not bad, but for her left a hole of learning to move on a feel. Learning to give to pressure. This isn’t a new concept to me and I can clearly see where the gaps are now that we’ve pushed into some of them.

Wyoming evades the pressure on her halter by escaping away from the pressure straight up. Eventually she learned to give to the pressure and drop her head calmly. Her intent wasn’t to hurt me and she didn’t, only to escape the discomfort. A great example of something I want to find while still on the ground.

I hadn’t thought when I got into horses I would begin a journey into colt starting- and I’m not adept or have the experience it takes to call myself one… but I did end up with two horses that required the skills and so I am picking them up the best I can.

Checking the foundations
Changing eye pattern

Wyoming has her own personality and I learned more this week that when she is pushed into discomfort she will first express it in small ways, then withdraw into herself with non-response (stuff it down until it builds up like a spring) then explode when the pressure is too great. I think of it almost like a wave coming in, then going out and returning with greater force. The dry ground can be misleading if you don’t realize the wave is only building and about to come crashing in.

I didn’t get to work with Khaleesi on advanced skills in my riding, but every session with Wyoming makes me a better horse person and that translates to Khaleesi. And as Wyoming and I explored the depths of things under the surface I learned some concepts that might just make me better. Bite sized lessons this time instead of one big message.

How I interact with my horse (and others)

  • Pay attention to what’s going on below the surface.
  • Continue to look for ways I am critical or nag (and stop doing it).
  • Read more quickly and accurately what the reaction is: fear must be handled differently than disrespect.
  • It is important to press through discomfort to build a happy and confident horse.
  • When things break down find the sticky point and work there with gentle support.
  • Be creative and flexible ready to throw out the plan or pattern to work on the dance.

As I worked and observed others I also considered that sometimes I’m a lot like the horses and the very creator of the universe is my owner and trainer. He has tons of experience and never makes mistakes. I considered some things I learned about myself as I sometimes fight on the line in his soft hands.

What about in me?

  • God is pleased when I’m searching and trying even if it takes me some time to get the answer.
  • He will stick with me through the struggle and discomfort with soft hands and grace until I come out the other side.
  • He wants me to find help, comfort and confidence in him (not looking to the herd, the distance, or eating grass)
  • He is not critical of me. He wants me to succeed. All his training sessions are set up for me to grow and be set free from fear.

I had beautiful soft moments with Wyoming who wants to work and succeed and connect with me. I also had some moments where she felt worried and had to attempt a flee maneuver where I tried to soften and move with her allowing her the distance she needed to come back to thinking and start again. And there were a very few moments where I missed the wave going out and the tidal wave came up in force and she felt the need to fight.

All of these worked together to teach me better responses and to expose the gaps in her training so that when she does become a horse truly educated to carry a rider she will he happy and confident in her job and the rider will be more safe and comfortable in the saddle. We are closer than ever to that. I did not ride her yet and with my colt starting skills being still so minimal it’s taking me a while to get there, but the gift of time is our greatest gift to give. Our most valuable thing. And I’ll commit to giving this process and this horse the time necessary to do it right without pressure of what it should look like or how long it should take from the world around me.

Considering the ride calendar is always in flux this year with Covid concerns ebbing and flowing, it’s a good year to continue to build strength in Khaleesi and get some extra time in moving Wyoming forward in our education together.

I really enjoy the process and seeing the growth in both of us.

It seems this green to 100 blog is spending way more time in the green than I had ever thought!

Where are you going?

My word for 2020 is GO.

After a year of RE-GROWTH it is a welcome change. I began January with a trip to the Yucatán to work with children and hand out food and help to local families

and I’ve done some fun music events that seem to have sprung up out of the ground… but I believe the GO is also in my barn life too. In fact I’ve begun helping a young woman with some ways to connect with her horse a couple weeks ago and there are few things I enjoy more than seeing people connect with their horses!

Last year I only got through one successful ride and it was a 30 mile LD in April. After that roadblock after roadblock kept me at home working quietly toward foundational strength. Things I was forced to do and took immense patience but that I know will pay off moving forward

I gave up writing about it. It was both hard to explain and every time I tried in my mind I sounded a little crazy.

Yes my horse isn’t sound an no one can quite figure out why. But it’s ok… you see I had this dream…….. 😙

What did I do? Well, we walked a lot because she was sound for that. And I focused on what I could at a walk: balance and straightness. Self carriage and strength. I went for excellence and focus no matter what we did. I worked on a more dialed in nutrition plan, and I tried composite shoes which seem to be making a big difference.

I also did more groundwork and liberty style exercises that solidified our relationship even more than before.

And I gave up being concerned about any riding goals I thought I had.

She became truly my friend and partner; no matter what we could do together I was thankful that we were together and that she was my horse regardless of what we could accomplish. I appreciated her just because she was Khaleesi. And that was all that really mattered anymore.

And somehow… because I had these dreams… I believed that things would change.

I hope that time has come.

With a horse that feels as strong as a mountain when I ride her and has balance, more self-carriage and a deeper than ever connection to me; at the end of December she convinced me to keep riding one day until we had done 14 miles and for us that was the longest ride in about half a year. She only picked up strength as we rode that day and showed off the most floating flying trot I’d ever ridden with her. She was begging me to go.

I still have winter to contend with and work to do so I can’t ride as much as I’d like; most likely that is for our own good because no matter how well she is doing she will need to come to fitness gradually. I tend to be all in until something like an injury gets my attention. I’m working on that. It can be a great strength but it’s also my greatest weakness.

Yesterday we enjoyed a short ride with lots of transitions for trot intervals, cantering, and mountain climbing. But a lesson emerged in my mind as we rode.

Where are you going?

I would like my horse to be so connected to me that I think it and she knows… and then does it! Sometimes I am aware that I think it and she knows and she does not want to do that. I can tell the difference.

Yesterday there were plenty of moments to communicate and connect. There were times when the trail split and I had to choose which direction we would take and there were times that more than one route would take us where I intended to go.

In the case a directional choice is ahead I always begin with mental intent. I decide firmly in my mind where I am headed before we arrive at the intersection. I also know which way my horse prefers and if it’s the way she likes to go it’s always easier. If it’s the longer route that includes a big hill that she knows will mean more work I stay firm in my mental intent. Then I look where I intend us to go. I use my eyes first and if it’s a turn I turn my head and sometimes my shoulders.

Often she will comply but occasionally she will try to go the way she prefers. I then have to pick up the reins (just slightly) and add a layer of communication that is louder than just my mental intent and my physical orientation. At that point it’s what I would consider level 3: an aid.

Because of the relationship I have with Khaleesi it’s rare we would go beyond level 3 anymore. And often she will even pick up my mental intent at level 1 and that is so much fun.

When you think it and the horse does it. That is what I want as much as possible. That is us functioning as one! But it takes time and especially it takes me being better at it all the time.

Watch yourself to see how you use your mental intent while riding. We give so many mixed signals because we don’t practice controlling our minds and energy intentionally it’s no wonder horses learn quickly to tune us out unless we shout level 3 and above!

In extreme cases for me now though it used to be more common, I’d have to go up to higher levels including force like using a leg, higher rein pressure or even having to pull to steer, there was a time we would end up going in circles a few times as the discussion for which way was really loud.

In the other case I noticed yesterday sometimes there is more than one path toward my desired direction. And in some of those cases I will not send a strong signal but one of a more general long range one and allow her to choose which path she is inclined toward. I am still setting the direction. The bottom of the hollow… but it winds through open woods and the trails separate and converge in a few places. As long as we are heading down the hollow those ways are all really fine.

It occurred to me that God can direct us in these same ways. He would most prefer we have a connection and relationship that he thinks it and we hear in our hear and we go… even if we know it means a longer route and a mountain climb.

Yet I often try to pull toward what I think of as the better route… usually shorter or easier at least in my own mind.

Thankfully He will get louder and bigger and even force me into circles until I comply (it’s when He gives us up to wandering our own way and figures when we get stuck in the mud pit that we’ll finally call for his direction that we should really worry!).

Yet there are times when I think he doesn’t give as precise and intense directives. Times when he says take what you understand… we are going this general direction, and go ahead and go right or left around that tree. Both are ok.

One thing for certain. I want to be sensitive enough that I am looking for direction. Because I’m tired of the mud pits and the grapevines my legs get all tangled up in because I didn’t realize what was up ahead when the short term seemed fine to my short sight.

With my horse I need to be the brains and she is the feet. It works best when she goes where I direct. It’s the same with God. He needs to be the brains and it works better when my feet are heading where HE directs.

That process in both cases takes time and trust.

But it’s so worth it.

A new decade

January 1, 2020

I am glad to wish you all a Happy New Year and even more glad to share that after months of no words, I am back.

This year has brought a tough process, yet I have reason to hope that the death of 2019 and the emerging of a new decade bring also a new chapter in the story of green to 100.

Two small but significant landmarks came just in time for Christmas this year:

1- first truly successful ride on Wyoming

2- a new soundness and strength in Khaleesi

Even more exciting: a new word for the year; ushering out the year of ‘regrowth’ and in a year of new adventures.

Stay tuned!

Break through

This year I had a word given to me through a dream: regrowth. While all growth comes with its challenges it seems regrowth comes with extra: a removing of the old compromised layers and the process of growing in new layers with the the cushion needed to protect the structure in between.

True to the word it’s been a year of struggle with Khaleesi. Some things are going well- finally her feet seem to be on a good healthy track but lately something else is off. It’s definitely in her hind end.

I am going to put her on an ulcer treatment that specifically address the PH of her entire gut system that I’ve heard great first hand testimonials. I’ve always known she struggles to digest well though I haven’t had her diagnosed with ulcers this treatment is worth the try to be safe and should help with making the PH levels right if they aren’t.

I also have had some body work done to see if that might help her as well. I don’t have a significant enough issue to call in a vet. It comes and goes and is definitely not quite right but I don’t know what exactly I would tel a vet. So I’m starting with the resources I have close at hand.

The first session after she began to seem not right was interesting. It was the first time K seemed to resist some of the work.

It was deep work and she did everything she could to distract from staying in it. My body worker does a combination of myofascial release, cranial sacral therapy and massage depending on the need. The horse participates in the process and you can watch them engage mentally and then release with anything from licking their lips, stretching their tongue, yawning, shaking head and neck etc.

This time as the work moved deeper into her hind end she would jack up her neck to full attention at any little sound, try to see what the other horses were doing and step around to avoid staying in the moment.

In order to get the release and healing she was going to have to go through. You can’t go around or avoid. You have to stay in the hard place and let the healing into it.

Stay with me girl

I’d hear my body worker say gently…

You can do this. You are very brave and it’s ok to let us help you. We will stay with you all the way through.

How fitting I thought. In any difficult situation of true healing and growth you have the choice to really go straight through and address the pain and healing, but often we choose to get out whatever way we can from feeling the discomfort.

We tend to look for fun and distraction. Some use substances, some eat or don’t eat, some go shopping, new exciting relationships, running away takes many forms but it’s still avoidance. And when you run away from the challenge for relief you don’t address the root and you don’t get the true healing release.

And it’s so vital to have people who love you remind you: stick with the pain until you break through to the healing. We’ll be here all the way through with you!

Eventually Khaleesi did join the process; she trusted and some major things that I can’t explain did happen. Deep things in her physically that I felt emotionally as they shifted. There was a change in the entire atmosphere of the barn by the time the session ended. There was a peace that descended I cannot explain when the session was done.

She got worse for a day (which makes sense it’s intensive body work) then better for a few days and then not so great.

I asked for another session as it is likely to take a few to work it all out.

This one she was more willing to work together from the start but this day was a particularly tough one for me.

I had gone through something that left me reeling for truth and a sense of who I was. I knew I would come through but it is still difficult to be in it.

As my friend worked she mentioned something to me:

I’m getting a strong visual picture. It is you and Khaleesi going through some dense terrain. You were leaning to one side at a point. It was hard on her.

Hm. That didn’t surprise me. In our 5 years together we have done some pretty rough back woods exploring and some of it has been pretty treacherous.

We haven’t done much of that in the past year. I tried to recall any back woods off trail times that were particularly stressful and told her softly that I was sorry if there was some residual problems from one of those rides.

The work was productive and things seemed to move and click as they should. More deep work.

After returning Khaleesi to the field my friend showed me what she had done on her notes. I asked her to explain more about the image she saw so strongly.

She told me she doesn’t get these often but today it was strong and that as she wondered if it was just her imagination the push to tell me grew stronger and stronger. She finally mentally agreed to share it in a few moments and the pressure released.

She tried to bend over to show how she saw me on the horse and in doing that I knew exactly and it poured over me.

Did you get a sense she was upset about it? That she had gotten hurt or wanted me to explain… or apologize or??

No… oddly enough there wasn’t a sense of being upset or angry or bothered it was just very insistent:

YOU HAVE TO TELL HER.

I simply don’t understand why. I don’t even know if it was traumatic. At one point you were leaning over on her- maybe she wanted to go one way and you the other? I’m not sure.

I was sure.

And I began to cry.

The only time I had leaned over the way she tried to show me I had to lay down on her neck to get through some of the worst overgrown terrain I’d even gone through.

The trail was there but so overgrown over years that the pines and brush were almost impassable. But at that moment, that trail was the only hope.

We had to go through.

I laid my body on her neck to be able to duck as low as possible, arms around her, helmet protecting my head looking down at the ground eyes half closed and just trusted her to pick her way through the mess.

At one point she got stuck and I saw that her leg had gotten tangled in a vine. I had to reach down leaning over to cut back the vine from the saddle because I had no way of getting down in the thick of it. She is an amazing horse and stood perfectly still as I sliced the vines off her leg leaning over.

But after that horrible stretch that was only in actuality a couple minutes, we popped out onto a real trail clear enough for a 4-wheeler and victory.

We did it together. And it had such an impact on me I wrote about it the next day.

The blog was about who are you?

(Who are you blog June 2018): Who are you?

And it was a reminder to me and now to all of you to remember who you are!

That strong visual is what my friend saw as she worked on my horse. And the pressure to tell me about it I realized wasn’t because it was particularly traumatizing or hurt… I was certain she had to tell me because I needed a reminder just then of who I am.

And as I write I realize the other layer of that experience is that sometimes the worst of the terrain is standing in front of you between you and where you must go. And the only way is through.

There are few more loyal companions to take on the unknown with than a good mare. And with this one I’m confident we can make it through almost anything together.

Lessons: Kindergarten Graduation

July 10, 2019

This blog is part of a series inspired by a private clinic with Emily Kemp. I highly recommend her and you can find more information here: Emily Kemp Website

Some of the most profound lessons for me from the clinic came from working with Wyoming.

Wyoming is a BLM Mustang from Wyoming that I adopted through the TIP training program a couple years back. She came started and just “needing experience” after being injured on the mustang makeover tour.

I loved that she grew up until about a two year old in the wild! However now, between realizing more acutely why people prefer yearling round ups who haven’t as keenly developed their wild animal survival instincts into a way of life… then there is her early experiences with humans being herded onto trailers for the makeover tour and then injured in the process in Indiana likely pushed too fast for her individual ability and personality… consequently sent off to a short training period in Tennessee (rather than giving up on her completely), then handed off to a 12 hour ride to the mountains of Virginia to live with my herd.

She was not the smart choice for a nice easy trail horse- though my heart was to help one of these wild creatures in need, and on that score I’m batting 1000.

After struggling to keep her comfortable with a rider about two years ago, and getting no certain clarity if the issues were truly physical, emotional or mental I made the decision to give her some time to reset in the field with the herd and take some time out.

I have come to enjoy her greatly. She is personable, fun and has begun to ask for more interaction and connection. A little socially awkward when it comes to knowing how big she is and invading your space at times when desperate for a scratch or just a little companionship- she truly doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I see now she was often misunderstood. And being misunderstood often creates frustration in humans and equines.

I know this horse she is no accident and is in my life for a purpose. I’m not sure what quite yet, but the time is coming to begin to find out. I began to saddle her up and checked her out for a ride in the yard to see where things stood. Still not truly comfortable going forward.

The question is: why? How do I move forward?

So I asked Emily to help me get a feel for her.

What Emily saw was that Wyoming really wants to get out of kindergarten and I was concerned of going too fast and pushing her comfort zone which could risk losing her trust, her shutting down or possibly feeling the need to get aggressive to protect herself. This made me super careful in my approach and resulted in keeping her in kindergarten instead of allowing her to grow. I had supremely low expectations of her!

Once Emily started asking more of Wyoming, I watched her come alive. Her ears pricked, her movement got snappy, she did some dragon snorting at first and regardless of if she got the question right our not she was engaged and happy. She loves getting to work!

Of course growing means getting out of her comfort zone.

(Dragon snorting is some evidence of this, but the work I didn’t catch on video from the first session shows Wyoming trying to understand and getting occasionally flustered then so pleased with herself when she solved the puzzle)

Over dinner I’d mentioned that this year it’s felt like God has been submersing my head into a bucket of ice water… then lifting me to face the warm sun for a little breather… then it’s back into the ice water… don’t worry you just keep getting stronger each time!

Uh… right… stronger…

Emily remarked: that’s what Wyoming needs… to be pushed out of her comfort zone just enough and then some rest and encouragement… then back into new territory… then a break. Rinse and repeat!

So I guess I’m coming out of Kindergarten too? 

I suppose it’s about time.

I do want to grow, as uncomfortable as it is, I am engaged and happy, I want to learn and get stronger even though it’s hard. For a long time Wyoming has had the happy surface life of a horse. She has a great big field, lots of grass, friends, clean water and good food. I scratch her from time to time when she’s itchy, and she occasionally comes into the barn to get a pedicure. What’s not to love?

This is the easy life. It’s the thing most people seem to hope for. Protected, simple, surface, HAPPY. But I saw the mare get a taste of being asked for something MORE. To learn new skills, to have a purpose to be useful. She positively glowed.

We all need purpose, and not the kind of purpose that is only looking out for our own comfort. We all need something bigger than ourselves to engage in. As I look around my world I see a vibrant difference in people living for a purpose greater than their own comfort- and those who just want to be happy.

Happy has to do with your circumstances. The root HAP like in Happenstance is about a kind of luck that gives you a positive environment. Some people seem to find more happiness than others, but it’s different when you see real JOY.

Joy, from REJOICE or to make glad… the root of glad depicts something shining, there is also a root of appreciate in the word. People with JOY shine and live in appreciation regardless of their circumstances. In fact they seem to thrive when the storms come.

People who want to just be happy are usually chasing the circumstances that will make them feel good. Unfortunately there’s a whole other side to this when pressed that upon deeper inspection most often means at the expense of others in their life. Somehow the fact that people deserve to be happy appears to satisfy the question of who might get hurt in the process.

I have come over the past few years to almost be sick to my stomach to overhear people saying: well, as long as she’s happy! 

Sadly, this drive to find happiness is usually a pursuit that fails to satisfy long term because circumstances always turn again- for better and for worse – so this happiness will not be sustainable. Many people either resign themselves to this disappointment in a low grade bitterness or becoming shut down; others keep chasing and maiming those in their way their entire lives.

Real joy and a sense of peace beyond circumstances take cultivating, growth and work… it takes being willing to get out of Kindergarten and finding satisfaction in a greater purpose than your own happiness.  And sometimes it means sitting in discomfort long enough to learn something from it- that something will usually come in handy later in helping someone else. The things we go through are often for a greater good than our own.

I have had some hard circumstances this year, but I have already seen the fruit of it begin to put me in situations I’m more able to help others around me. Even while still in the middle of it, I’m more compassionate and can relate to others in their own painful trials.

I will say one of the most grating things for me have been people living in their surface happy lives passing on platitudes about how life always works out somehow in the end as long as everyone follows their heart and happiness while my own (not happy) heart is bleeding out from war zone shrapnel.

How often in my life have I been that very person?

Too many times I’m sure.

I don’t always have good “happenstance” in my world, in fact sometimes my circumstances are downright stormy. However if there is purpose in my life even in rough seas, I can have Joy. This also has brought a phenomenon where I’ve found I can have both Joy and Sorrow at the very same time.

Maybe that’s a little like sun through a storm and how we get a rainbow.

I watched Wyoming struggle occasionally to learn what Emily was asking her, but even through her questions and occasional frustration, she had a joy about her as she finally graduated from Ms. McArdle’s kindergarten class. And we aren’t quite trotting down the trails together yet, but I have hopped back on for some walking in the arena and so far already it’s been a much better experience than before!

Lessons: check in!

July 5, 2019

I recently hosted a 4-day private clinic with wonderful horsewoman Emily Kemp [Emily Kemp Horsemanship] for a handful of my riding friends. I can’t adequately describe in words the elegance and joy in Emily’s riding (and her genuine humility that accompanies it) but what I love even more is that we share many of the same philosophies about horses and life.

[Emily and Honey at a working equitation show May 2018]

I was fortunate to work both of my horses in this clinic. As I reflect on the weekend there were too many things to stuff into one blog- even for me! So I’m going to write them as they ‘download’ and hopefully that will also make them shorter.

The one that looms largest in my life today is the lesson of Check In!

The title comes from a recent dream where I went to my favorite B&B (The Inn at Tabbs Creek in Coastal VA) with a girlfriend for a couple days. The best part about this place is the river channels that the property sits on is perfectly situated for kayaking or a standing paddle board which I got to try for the first time last year on a visit there.

In my dream I was so excited about hitting the water that when my friend and I arrived, I took her right to the dock and began to show her the paddle boards. As dreams go we began to climb into the air on currents. I wasn’t even completely sure how. Thankfully the paddle board seemed to turn into more of a little boat with actual sides as we went high up toward the sky. I hadn’t really been expecting to fly-boat but I took it in stride. I wasn’t sure how I got us up that high I was also not sure how to bring us down.

I found a way to get us down onto the water safely. After we finished we went to the little water sport shack and found one of the owners there. She was glad we were enjoying our time and clarified with me that I had indeed filled out all the necessary paperwork and checked in at the main office.

Actually I had not done any of those important things…

I mumbled something about sure meaning more that sure I would be doing that right away… And toward the main office I headed.

As I considered my dream and wondered what there might be to learn I reflected- I need to be sure I slow down and put first things first and CHECK IN before I run forward headlong into even good activities.

This year my life has gotten a bit… complicated… in ways outside of my control. I have begun to see that if I pay attention to where He’s leading I have much better navigation than me guessing my way through on my own. It’s become pretty amazing just how much God will direct my path, but He asks me to check in before running forward.

What I loved about this dream was that I sensed God reminding me that He loves me and He knows my heart and even though I got excited, messed up the order of things and I didn’t check in before showing my friend to sky sail, he still gave me a cool experience of floating above the earth- and even gave me a safe landing when I didn’t know how to fly the thing.

But I still heard the warning: Don’t forget to Check In.

It’s the same thing I ask of my horses.

I’ve been starting to work with Wyoming again and though I’ve gotten back in the saddle with her recently she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable.

Emily worked with us and found she has some cracks in her training and her feet get “sticky” so we started some ground work to make sure her forward is working when I ask for it. She really took to the work and we began to click together and it was fun. She is super sensitive and smart, and willing to work.

She’s so enthusiastic that sometimes she would take off in the opposite direction I had asked her to go. It was as if she had made up her mind before I gave the signal!

At first it took a lot of communication to get her turned back around. I had to exaggerate with the flag and get her attention. Eventually she began to make the change back into “my will” with just an extra lift of the lead rope. What I want to see is that over time she won’t take off in her own direction before she waits to see what direction I am asking her for.

Especially when I’m in the saddle!!!

Thankfully God has patience with me but He will get loud if I begin to take off too fast in the wrong way. Ideally I want to remember to check in on my own so I don’t have to go through the correction.

It so happens I had a couple things I needed to re-evaluate and do a check in this week and in some of them I needed to change tracks.

I’m pleased to report that Wyoming is having a blast trotting around and now rarely misses my direction! She’s beginning to get a laser-like focus on what may hands are doing and wait until she sees the request before she blasts off.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/gMeKLGA7VVY

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I love her enthusiasm and don’t want to squelch it. I want that drive to be working for me as much as possible, so I have to be watchful as I correct her not to be harsh and quiet her zeal to work, yet make sure she is putting that zeal to work for me not against my purpose.

I hope I as a human can continue to remember to be checking in with my life too.

Healing and the Hope Cycle

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I recently heard Holly Furtick talk about the Hope Cycle. She was inspired by an ancient letter written to people in Rome by a guy named Paul who suggested that we should be glad when we get to suffer… because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope… and hope does not disappoint us.

Holly saw this as a circle beginning with suffering. Not only can we assume that life will bring these complications, but we are supposed to happy about them – he suggests we should BE GLAD in the onset of a struggle.

I also recently heard a Ted Talk about resilience especially in young adults today. Opposite of expecting and appreciating the role of struggle- many young adults today are the product of the concept that struggle, pain and discomfort is best avoided at all cost; a generation of parents that had the ability to do that for their children motivated by a great love for them… yet the unintended consequence has been a generation of young people who have not built resilience through having to overcome difficulty and are now facing the very serious problem of learned helplessness.

People who have been given as problem-free life as possible it turns out are not better off. In fact they struggle to cope with any small problem that arises.

As a third point to triangulate this topic- on a recent flight across the country I was reminded how important expectations play into all of this. 

I don’t love flying and I really don’t love turbulence, but while still on the ground, the pilot informed everyone in advance that there is weather through the middle of the country and we will have a bumpy flight.

He was right: at one point my half empty (or half full) coffee sloshed all over my tray table as we bounced up and down in midair. Because the pilot told me to expect turbulence, it now felt expected and normal instead of frightening and precarious. If I expect a pain free life, or even if I think that is the goal, then the suffering is much worse than if I have been assured that I should expect the life turbulence but more importantly even to appreciate it because it will create a life of endurance, strength and HOPE.

The Hope Cycle is constantly playing out in multiple layers in our lives. We know when our worlds are rocked by a big cycle… these feel like a cyclone.  The health diagnosis. The death. The job loss. The accident. The divorce. The loved one “lost” into drugs or other destructive life choices. Insert your worst nightmare here. These cycles put us into years of pain, turmoil and suffering.

Meanwhile we have all manner of other Hope Cycles going on simultaneously. Medium sized ones like passing a hard class; a difficult job assignment; a friendship drama; the terrible twos; setbacks that are tough but more temporary. Then there are the small but mighty ones: running my knee into the coffee table, stepping in cat puke on my way to get coffee first thing in the morning, the email you sent to the wrong person with the same first name (hopefully that doesn’t lead to the cyclone level of job loss!!), the particularly long day when nothing seems to go right, the burned Thanksgiving Turkey….

We get something out of all of these cycles, and the small ones build resilience and strength into the larger ones. In each, something valuable is produced into the character phase of the cycle. The value of a heartfelt apology in a relationship drama… learning to slow down moving through the house to not run into things… or though the pain smarts for a few minutes it will pass… humility and compassion when others make mistakes like sending an email to the wrong address and other mistakes…  stepping in cat puke does not HAVE to ruin my day (I can overcome!) and each of these cycles prove we CAN continue to put one foot in front of the other even through challenges and when we face the cyclone level issue those smaller challenges feed into our strength facing whatever comes at us.

Those are the concepts that I was pondering while riding with my friend and her “new” horse that I mentioned in my last blog.

I made the somewhat irrational decision 5 years ago to take a half feral unstarted young mare who was barely handled and see if I could turn her into my endurance partner. As I look back I’ve been through countless “Hope Cycles” in the process.

When I first brought her home I couldn’t even touch her. Then the day where I could actually put a saddle on her… sit on her?! For a while I couldn’t imagine riding her outside of a safe fenced in zone… Then wondering how she would do out in the big wide world of the trail… and of course the phase when she kept trying to turn around on the trail… each of those challenges took patience and problem solving to overcome.  Each week, each month something improved and I learned about her, about horses, and gained character and strength as a horse leader.

I learned that if you stick with it week to week and put in the time and the problem solving power (and that includes being open minded enough to learn what really works vs. what you’ve always done before or been told your whole life….) you can move forward and each phase will pass away into a new one.

There have been times in the past 6 months that my friend has felt discouraged. Each time a situation has been difficult or has felt like failure, I’ve reassured her that this is normal. The process takes the time it takes and you’re doing great! It will get better.

I have hope… I have gone through the Hope Cycle enough with my horse and watched a few cycles with her and her horse to know that it will improve. Also, she is doing all the right things to continue through and not get stuck!

As an endurance rider the applications of this are obvious to most of us. We often joke (not really joking) about how the biggest challenge is to get to the start of a ride. We are dealing with animals who have varying gifts of injuring themselves in mysterious ways when we aren’t present on top of the fact that we push their physical limits to a level that they can be more likely to cross a line into injury even when we try our best to take care of them.

Our experience and knowledge base as we go through these “Hope Cycles” grow and help us to do less harm to our honored partners in time.  There is room for common sense and asking more experienced riders in order to avoid major pitfulls, but for most of things, the way to learn how to manage an individual horse’s preparation for an endurance ride is to do it and see how it goes. Learn from what doesn’t work as well as what does.

The only way to become a good rider is to spend some time in the saddle being a bad one.

[one of my favorite pictures to see how far I’ve come… Khaleesi’s first official ride and first time spotting Becky Pearman with her camera in mid canter heading up the grassy hill. You could use this photo to show just about every what not to do as a rider!!]

Anyone in the endurance sport for more than 5 minutes has dealt with at least one and often all questions of lameness, ulcers, saddle fit, tight muscles, joint and tendon issues, dehydration, weight management & nutrition, barefoot vs. metal shoes, what kind of bit or no bit at all, overheating, and there are the behavior training issues of speed control, form, kicking, bucking, buddy sour, barn sour… and many more.

On the other hand anyone in the sport long enough has gone through various levels of the cycle to know that most things can be overcome with education, the right help, patience, and time. We won’t even get into the human and equipment elements like the flu on race day or flat tires half way to ride camp!

All of those cycles play into the miles you and your horse are riding alone because your pace doesn’t match anyone around you or your buddy got pulled at the last vet check. Maybe you’re walking one hoof at a time in the dark on a slow 100 knowing that in the past you’ve overcome saddle fit, hoof management, race brain, and a pulled (your own) leg muscle… so just keep going one step at a time and you HOPE this too will come out the to another cycle of Hope.

This kind of hope isn’t like: I hope it doesn’t rain on my wedding day next year… it’s a living breathing hope that is growing inside you each time you go through another Hope Cycle.

Because even if the night is dark, you know it won’t last forever. There is a finish line or another vet check where you’ll get something to eat and a little rest or a buckle!

Holly also discussed how not to stay longer in the struggle and suffering than necessary. While many things are out of our control, and take the time they take, we can make it harder on ourselves and get stuck in the struggle with some key factors:

Complaining. While it’s important to talk and share with the right people, complaining and focusing too much and too long on the problem will drag us down and make it hard to keep moving toward hope each day. Fix your eyes on where you’re headed, not where you are!

Blame. It helps sometimes – if possible- to figure out why something is happening if it will help not to repeat the same cycle going forward.  However, obsessing about blame either of yourself or others (victim mentality) will keep you stuck longer than necessary. Learn quickly what can be controlled and changed and begin to make the changes where applicable!

The wrong voices. Be intentional what input you seek going through your struggle. Spending time with people who aren’t constructive, supportive and honest with you or who have no experience in going through their own hope cycles well are not be the best companions. Find people who are compassionate about suffering yet don’t encourage you to wallow in complaining and blaming, get high on drama, or encourage too much mindless distraction.

Horses can be excellent companions to include in the process of the Hope Cycle but be careful about turning your horse into your therapist which isn’t helpful for either horse or human and can damage the relationship.

Horses are incredibly sensitive beings and each unique. Some horses are more inclined toward being involved in pain and suffering than others. While it is true that focusing more on the present and on your horse is a good rule of thumb, it’s important to be honest and not try to lie to your horse that you are more “together” than you are either. They sense lies a mile away. I’ve cried tears over my horse’s neck and she’s stood quietly and patiently while I’ve sorted out something hard in my life, but there seems to come a time when she demands we begin to “move our feet” so to speak and not get stuck wallowing.

One of my favorite verses when Jesus knows he is about to move into his trial, crucifixion and death is: Arise, let us go from here. Sometimes I think my horse helps me to realize it’s time to arise and get busy. Stay present and unless you are truly too broken to function that day (if that happens it is likely not a good riding day!), put one foot in front of the other and get to work at something you love with your best equine buddy.

Be aware if going through a big (or shorter but intense) trial for some red flags: has your horse become harder to catch when you go to the barn? Has your horse begun to develop behavioral quirks, especially in grooming or tacking up (more fidgety, tail swishing, nipping). Notice behaviors out of ordinary- Horses can take a lot of real emotion and even help release it, but they can become overwhelmed when the human refuses to move through the process. Notice if your horse seems to engage in your struggle or try to move away from you.

Sometimes an emotional struggle is so big it helps to call in a friend in the healing process. To end I’ll share a remarkable story.

I was struggling through some intense personal emotional questions and needed to process some thoughts with my girl friend at the barn. I arrived as she was doing some basic ground work with her horse and we began to talk.

We stood right in the barn aisle and her horse stood quietly next to her facing me as I began to share what I had gone through and in so doing releasing the power some of the wounds had on my spirit.

Her horse did not move away, fidget or rest with a foot cocked. She stood quietly but engaged in the process. At one point she began to move and we paused to watch as she stiffened every muscle in her body and her head gradually went high into the air. Her poll arched over like a beautiful statue — ears forward and alert and she began to shake her entire body starting at the head and neck and all the way through to her hind end as her muscles tightened and released in a wave from head to tail ending with her left hind leg pointing out toward the back wall as if to release every last emotional weight into the atmosphere.

This was the closest example I could find to how she raised her neck and bent at the poll but her mouth was closed. It was stunning.

… then she licked and chewed and yawned and took up her listening position again for us to continue. There was more, so I did continue. Releasing and sharing more of my story and the deep things I had been sorting through that week. After a while the mare did the exact same thing. It felt to both of us like she had taken the painful things I’d been processing and releasing from me and then distributing them out into the air as harmless energy….

I felt lighter from being able to talk to a friend and her horse! And all of us felt a special warmth and healing in the space.

I could not have set that up and had it be effective. It was planned by someone greater than myself that day and put into place for us to participate in. For those details beyond me I am always grateful.

I believe it was a good thing that my friend’s mare was there that day- and that my mare was not. Not every relationship is meant for every burden. As much as I love them… there are things I may choose not to talk about with my mother, or my husband, or my sister because they are not a burden that relationship should carry.

In this case my friend’s mare was able to help me in a way that I’m glad not to have put on my equine partner. And there may come times when my mare may help others in a way their own horse may not be the best choice for.

Horses do have a special place in healing- but not every horse is interested or gifted in the process, and not every relationship is the right one to carry the burden. This may help you to be sensitive in how horses are used to help us through our Hope Cycles- and how we may also help them!

And each time I do begin to see the promise of a struggle and almost begin to rejoice … though I’m not quite there yet.

Eighth

May 1, 2019

I have struggled to write since my last post; it’s been the longest hiatus since I began the blog.

It’s not due to lack of activity or material as much as there have been many seeds coming up all over the place with no finished concepts maturing into a blog that would share a complete thought.

Once finding a new level of soft in myself and with Khaleesi more connection continued on our relationship. It seems each time I find a new level of connection and communication and wonder if I’ve arrived somewhere I find that no (to my delight!) there are deeper layers to go.

I continue to find more conversation in our interactions and encourage everyone with a horse to earnestly seek to hear what your horse is saying.

I think it speaks to our humanness that we desire to be or meet horse-whisperers not horse-listeners. It’s easy to whisper, it’s very difficult to listen to the whisper. If you wish your horse would respond to your whisper, then go first and listen to what she whispers. You’ll learn so much more that way.

It is slow and takes a lot of practice and you’ll get it wrong at times. It’s much harder than force and tools. But it’s worth everything.

I have dedicated much of this winter to helping my friend with her first as an adult mare. The horse is lovely and perfect for her.

She is committed to the gradual, patient process of unraveling the mare’s layers of physical balance and mental protection; allowing her to bloom in her own physical-mental-emotional systems. The process is going well but is time consuming requring time, consistency and growth in both of them.

I have seen God at work directing things and when you see him involved everything moves faster. Truly HE is able to do things much faster than our human brains and bodies can keep up with. Sometimes I hear Him laughing (uh, with us right) as we race to keep up with all the growth and change.

I have enjoyed helping the pair grow together even more than putting in hours of lonely miles on long trails.

I’m learning from their process as well.

While I have been shown in most cases the necessity of beginning with the mental system of the horse; this mare had physical system issues that blocked her ability to work in a balanced way in the mental and emotional systems.

Not being able to balance her body properly meant that in riding she couldn’t connect with her mental system and her emotional system would take over and she would rush into a haywire state of panic.

That’s a whole other blog I won’t write because she isn’t my horse- however it’s been beautiful positive change in all the systems in a short time and I’ve spent a lot of time riding along with them to help in any way Khlaleesi and I can.

This has meant Khaleesi and I had to slow down and lower my mileage, however, the miles have been focused on form and quality. The lesser mileage and pulling back on speed for the purpose of helping them also worked to force Khaleesi and me to slow down our training and do a lot of rider form and connection.

One of our favorite places to work is the Jackson River Scenic Trail. It is flat with great footing and one can trot endlessly even if there was a week of rain previously. And it rides along the Jackson River with pretty views.

We do trotting intervals and the new mare seems to thrive here on the flat because it’s easier to balance than on the mountain trails with obstacles.

Now that I have my saddle set up working great, and Khaleesi has developed a strong topline she has begun to ask me for connection to ride more balanced in front on the bit. I purposely use the word connection because it’s a conversation we have. I don’t force her into contact. I don’t use the cycle of aids, and I don’t use ANY leg to push her to move onto the bit.

Now that my riding has gotten to a level of helping her more than hindering her she has begun to experiment. When she wants me to shorten the reins she dips her head. When she wants me to release them she shakes (it’s taken some trial and error to sort that out).

So riding along she began to ask me for more support…

She dipped again. More.

I shortened more. This seems like a lot of pressure.

She dipped again. MORE.

I was certain I misunderstood her and released some rein. Too much?

She shook her head. NO, that’s not what I’m asking. We’ve already established how I ask for more.

I don’t believe her. I begin to give up. This is all in my head. I can’t understand.

She dips her head. Take up the reins. More.

I take up a little more. 

She is happy for a few feet. Then dips her head. More. Take up more.

We continue this as I struggle, and my friend watches as I try to understand if I’m missing something. Human is confused.

Khaleesi is getting frustrated- I am not listening. I just can’t believe she wants that short of rein. But she’s very communicative and she’s annoyed. She begins working the bit in her mouth and her ears are flicking. She insists.

MORE!

So I take up more… more… until I am holding a 1200 pound freight train in my hands.

My friend watches and her eyes grow big as SOMETHING happens.

Khaleesi lifts up and begins to float above the ground, I stop moving in the saddle as I rose up 6 inches farther from the ground. She feels like a flying horse- not fast, just floating above the ground effortlessly. Magic.

After a short time of this we relax back down and we walk and then stop for a moment and she spends about 2 minutes yawning, shaking her entire neck and mane and licking and chewing in pleasure.

She was racking.

And she offered it up on her own without expert training and without me trying to get her to do it. It was beautiful. Organic!

She is certainly bred to be able to rack. She is saddlebred, rackinghorse and walking horse with 1/4 Arabian. So this little gift isn’t completely shocking. I’ve had people suggest I should get her in the hands of someone who could bring that gait out of her. While that isn’t bad advice because I have no experience teaching a horse to rack, anyone who knows me knows I am not likely to entrust Khaleesi to anyone to train her. And getting a racking gear though would be absolutely wonderful for us, I wouldn’t entrust her to just about anyone to get it.

Just one betrayal of her trust would ruin the years it’s taken me to earn it. No physical advantage would ever be worth it.

Due to the limited miles I’ve ridden this winter I made the call to enter the 30 instead of the 55 at the No Frills ride in April.

Friday morning of the race came and I strapped on her plain old scoot boots and Balance Saddle (with their pads) to hit the trail.

It was a fantastic day. We cantered many of the rolling grass roads, she climbed the mountains average difficulty recovering well each time, and she took the rocks on better than ever.

No boot issues even through some wet muddy low lands – until after the official finish line walking down into the vet check- a bad downhill mud suck took off two boots that I went back for on foot.

At that point I didn’t care we were already home!

At both the vet check and finish line she pulsed in immediately at 52 and her CRIs were both 44/48 which is fantastic for us. She had great vet scores and was totally sound and not a sensitive spot on her back. Gut sounds even were strong. She was strong.

In fact, we finished for the first time top 10 and placed 8th.

Eight is a number of new beginnings.  The word for this year for me and my mare is REGROWTH and the number 8 symbolizes a new beginning.

She is strong and fit, and I have a good sense for this season.

I am intrigued by the glimpse, the preview that came for the rack and look forward to how she will unveil it in time. Just about everything I do with my horses takes longer than others would expect. In part this is because I am not particularly experienced, but also I have learned to allow the horse to have a say in the process and include them in each step.

I am learning patience each month. Good things to come to those who wait…

Photo credit Becky Pearman