Heart of flesh

sôft

officially… according to Webster:

  1. easy to mold; not hard or firm to the touch
  2. having a pleasing quality involving a subtlety

unofficially… the urban dictionary:

  1. A person who is loving, kind and pure.
  2. a state of internal sensitivity
  3. example: If someone is soft, they make you safe. You light up when you see them. They are never mean, and you trust them.


And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit. I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Where to begin…

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The horses were far afield when I pulled in to the property, but by the time I got to the fence they had come in close.

I observed as I walked to the field: The girls were more active than usual. On yellow alert.

Could be the cool weather. Could be the light but gusty wind. Could be an animal around the pond they were tuned into (the ducks and geese were squawking more than usual). Could be scent of bear or coyote in the air (although most of our bears are hibernating now). Could be nothing.

It didn’t matter anyway. It just was.

Observe and stay soft.

I waited inside the fence as the three mares sorted out their deal. Wyoming as usual came up first to greet me. Sometimes I interact with her sometimes I don’t. Today I gave her head a rub.

Both mares insist the new mare Molly stay behind and if she begins to approach too soon (she knows my presence is likely to mean food and she IS a food hound) Khaleesi will give her the look. That’s usually enough, but if that doesn’t work Khaleesi will then give Wyoming (her second in command) the signal and Wyoming will pin her ears and chase her back.

One thing I’ve observed since adding a third horse to the herd- the lead mare (Khaleesi) WILL run and chase but she prefers to delegate the work down the chain. Wyoming is more likely to do the running around and Khaleesi is more likely to walk – in no particular hurry. If she has to run after you to discipline it’s likely you’ll be sorry… Don’t MAKE me come over there!

I walked up to Khaleesi who was standing still nearby but not yet settled. I gave her neck a rub then reached over her neck with my arm to put on the rope halter. She backed up slowly. I allowed her to walk out of the halter. I ALWAYS allow her to walk out of the halter once, I USUALLY allow her to walk out of it twice. I NEVER allow her to walk out of it three times.

I can’t remember the last time she tried to walk out of the halter a third time, and it’s rare she does it twice. The occasional times she does it once I’m never sorry I allowed her. She has always had a good reason.

This time I watched her back away from me and turn toward the other two mares- alert. Ears perked. The geese on the pond all fled at once in a huge noise and the quiet was interrupted and the horses startled and began to run. They bolted Khaleesi pushing them from behind making them keep running until they were half way across the big field as I watched. I stood quietly and pondered:

Well I’m glad not to be holding on to the rope attached to her right now.

Geese panic all the time. The horses are used to that. This doesn’t spook them.

What made the horses run so far?

Will I have to go get them?

I suppose I’ll wait and see what happens.

In less than a minute the herd turned and with Khaleesi in the lead they came walking calmly back as I leaned against a fencepost and waited for them.

Khlaeesi came to stand a few feet from me turning occasionally with pinned ears to remind the other two to wait back this time.

I greeted her again and took a step toward her.

She stood her ground as I approached but pulled her head slightly away.

Wait.

Breathe.

Soft.

How soft can I be?

What is it girl?

She was ready to leave again if I came in any closer.

What is it?

I relaxed and didn’t continue toward her.

I waited. I slowed down more. (not my pace, not my body, I slowed down my mind)

I softened every joint, my breathing, and my heart.

She softened.

I took a chance and stepped off toward the gate instead of toward her.

She took a step toward the gate in step with me.

I continued to walk toward the gate with her at my shoulder.

Soft.

All the way to the gate latch at the exit- with her at my shoulder.

I paused.

I can’t let you out. We aren’t ready. You’ll choose the grass or the boys (instincts) instead of me.

Ok. Go ahead; put on the halter.

I did.

We walked into the barn completely connected.

Soft.


Every day is different.

Last week Khaleesi walked the herd in from far afield while my friend and I waited and chatted casually at the gate. She came most of the way and sent in her personal assistant (Wyoming) to let us know she needed another minute but would be with us shortly.

I acknowledged Wyoming but didn’t touch her today. Khaleesi watched the interaction then turned and walked away as I watched and explained to my friend: she needs a drink before she comes in. When she’s done she’ll come over and put her head in the halter.

Which is exactly what happened.

We walked into the barn together.

Soft.


That is where it all begins.

You don’t have to force a soft horse. A soft horse is with you. A soft horse is responsive and sensitive. A soft horse isn’t in fear, isn’t fighting you, isn’t worried, isn’t hurting. A soft horse is a willing horse, at peace, available. A soft horse seems to read your mind.

Many people want a soft horse. Some people even go as far as to seek finding or making one. You can make a horse light to aids. You can make a horse more sensitive to cues. However in my observation and experience, you can’t make a soft horse. The horse must become soft willingly or it isn’t truly soft. And this cannot happen unless you willingly learn to be a soft human.

The thing about soft: if you want it, you have to go first.

So what is soft?

It can be easy to confuse soft with weak. But I consider it more like meek. Though they rhyme they are not the same, meek is having great strength but putting it under submission. I suppose to one who doesn’t understand they might look similar. Meek when it comes to horses says I care about you enough to not force my own way. I will wait for you. I will consider you. I won’t do this without you even though I can. Meek doesn’t say: do whatever you want to. It says: I have a direction we need to go together with me as the leader, but I will do what it takes to bring you with me willingly one step at a time.

I want my horse to trust me.

To earn the trust I have to be trustworthy 100% of the time. I spent a few years back (during my self-house-cleaning days which will make more sense later) being trustworthy most of the time- at least that’s how I saw it. She saw it as not being trustworthy. Funny thing about mares, they don’t see what you want them to see, they see what is. You just can’t get away with much.

I always had a good reason for breaking her trust. In fact that’s not what I would have called it at the time- I would have called it “knowing better what my horse needs than she does”. But it was actually knowing what I needed and how to get it done regardless of if she understood or accepted the process. That was how she saw it, and it was the truth.

Funny how ignorance and self-centered thinking work. Easy to spot in everyone around me, virtually impossible to see in myself… yet only then can the journey can begin.  I wanted to work on my horse. I wanted my horse to be light, responsive, connected, soft. But the whole time the call was to work on me. I had to go first.

Looking back, I think God planted this tiny seed in my heart to give me a yearning for this thing that I didn’t even know what it was. Once in a while I’d see fleeting glimpses of it around me. Teasing me. Reflecting now, I think soft is the beginning of it.

A few years ago I wanted whatever it was bad enough to begin dig into myself and search the dark corners with my little flashlight- the things everyone else can see but I have blinders to. The things I have reasons, perfectly good explanations and excuses for. I thought I wanted to clean those things out years ago but I found myself powerless to do it alone, and that’s what I wanted. Oh the pride.

I can do it myself! (opposite of meek…)

I did my best but it really meant shoving stuff back farther into dark musty corners so maybe less people on the outside could see or smell it. It helped, but it wasn’t enough.  At some point I realized that God was hanging outside the door peeking in- asking if I needed help with any of that?

So (he peeks in the crack in the front door)… hello in there.

I startled- had he been there long? Um… hi…

[I’d better get this place cleaned up before he comes any closer… wait. That’s what I had been trying to do but it really wasn’t working.]

what are you going to do with that box?

I don’t know, stick it back in a basement closet and hope no one finds it…

Well… if you give it to me I’ll take it to the dump.

What if I need something out of it someday?

You won’t.

Are you sure?

Yes. I’m sure. It’s garbage.

You don’t want to see what’s in here… if I give it to you you’ll smell it… it’s gross…

I know what’s in there already. I can get rid of it.

Are you sure?

Yes. I’m sure. Give me the box.

Ok then.

I started with one box at a time. I was worried at first that he would judge and condemn me for all the yucky trash that had accumulated over the years. All of it had looked good at first but eventually it rotted and stank and it was somehow so hard to actually get rid of. Deep down I knew that if I’d have listened to him in the first place I wouldn’t have all this junk…. since it was MY junk I thought I had to get ride of it before HE came around.

It was in part all this junk that kept me from truly being soft. I hadn’t understood that at the time. I was wrong about HIM too, he knew about all the junk and was really patient in helping me sort through it. He is really soft, and never went faster than I could keep up. He has been a fantastic example of how to learn soft.

In fact, I realized that God is invaluable when it comes to showing you where the gross stinky boxes are, but more important He actually carries them off where before I was mostly just papering over them in a nice floral pattern or finding a deeper basement closet for the really obnoxious ones… and NO ONE is allowed in the basement so I thought I was ok with them down there.

When I realized how easy it was once I trusted him and let him take them away, I brought them up and handed them over- the really big obvious ones, eventually I got brave enough to ask him to help me find the more subtle ones… sometimes they look harmless in the dim light of the closet- some even had a pretty shiny paper on the outside-  but when he comes in the lights come on and what looked ok turns out to be complete junk in the light.

Oh yeah.. that one can go too.

In order to make the process go faster He sends people into my life that show me what to look for. Ironically this process works because they bring their own stinky stuff as they spend time- sometimes a short passing visit and sometimes lifelong loved ones who stop by often. When I see something that looks suspect I have learned to immediately forget about them and go find my own box that looks like the one I noticed they had. Sometimes its big, sometimes its teeny and hard to find, but I can almost always find something similar in my own house to take out. I can’t get rid of anyone else’s trash just like they can’t get rid of mine, but I can hand mine over to the one who my soul loves.

He’s never too busy running the universe to help me clean house.

He seems to think this trash removal game is great fun. I’ve come to realize it isn’t that painful, I don’t miss any of the trash. I am even thankful now for the people HE brings by to show me where to dig deeper. The more rooms get really cleaned up the more parts he can move into and he’s great company- and the bigger and more spacious and comfortable the place becomes to live and breathe- and I find others enjoy spending time there more now too.

Even more exciting- my horses notice. They are SO SENSITIVE to the slightest odor no matter what closet it’s buried in.

The more I consider it, it is clear the seed he planted to drive me to want this thing with my horses became the crack in the door that made me desperate enough to allow him in. [Well that and an almost destroyed marriage that really got my attention…] People and horses are not the same, but some truths overlap in both worlds. When I consider the plans to weave together dreams, people, animals, trails, information, books, time, place, etc etc etc makes me in awe and wonder.

How can anyone think it’s a random cosmic force?

That is hard for me to imagine after what I’ve seen. Although I have lovely sweet friends who assure me that I’ve really done SO much work, I should be pleased with how the house is coming along… They have a hard time seeing the difference between the garbage reorganization I did before and the actually cleaned house that came after.

It’s my house though- I know the difference. I am careful to keep the P R I D E closet open to the light and ready for inspection. It is the easiest one for me to start accumulating junk trinkets in. Now though I have help noticing more quickly when I’ve picked up something useless and left it on the counter where it’s likely to rot.

What on earth am I talking about?

What does this process of allowing God to help me clean house have to do with being soft with my horse?

I’ve learned that it’s impossible to be soft and protective of the garbage in our deep lives as we humans try to keep it hidden from everyone else’s sight.

Horses are so sensitive to this.

Humans often lie first to themselves. Humans lie to each other to varying degrees of success, but humans cannot lie to their horse.

Ego. Pride. Vanity. Fear. Performance. Ignorance. Insecurity. Self Righousness. Arrogance. Anger. Approval seeking. Name your favorite…

I think the first step is the lie to ourselves I don’t really have any of those lurking… I’m a good person… besides… I have REASONS for my behaviors… 

Some of us go to the next step of beginning to realize there might just be a few of those yucky boxes in the corner so we start small like putting a pretty lace top and maybe a flower vase… if anyone comes by they’ll just notice the flowers… aren’t they pretty! And if the smell is a little strong we hit the basement and try to get them buried where no one will go… and we don’t let people in those rooms of our life- even loved ones and close friends.

It’s only in recognizing this in myself that I begin to see it around me. Truly the plank in my own eye is really more important than the speck in my neighbors! And I have learned that I’m basically helpless at doing anything about the plank on my own anymore. I need surgery!

You know how I understand vanity so well? selfishness? Pride? Ego? (Just to name a few…): Personal experience.

Harder people have a lot more hiding places they must protect. I have begun to seek out hard places in my heart and now began to notice when I come up against hardness in others too. I only understood it when I began to understand my own heart.

Having begun to find soft I can’t imagine going back to hard. It’s a risk. People will see what is really there… yet… it’s what most humans really want deep down. To be truly known, and truly loved. Many people are loved- but it’s incomplete because they believe they are loved for the facade of the front entryway they’ve constructed that they allow everyone to see, but not for the basement no one is allowed to go.

Not everyone will love me or need to, but I’d rather be known for who I am (a work in progress), able to be honest (and soft) about my shortcomings allowing light into dark places and not loved or even liked by some… then be loved by many and feeling like I have to keep that wall of protection up lest someone get to know the real me including the boxes in the basement.

[ok yes… of course not everyone in my path needs to tour the whole house – of course there are different relationships in life and I assume that is understood by everyone.]

When it comes to God you get to choose. He won’t push the door in and you can keep him at an acquaintance, a stranger, or a best friend- He already knows and already loves and he’s always soft, at the the front door. He brought lattees and is waiting to see if you could use a little help with cleaning up the place so you can have better parties…. Let him in… he has a great sense of humor!

One of the closets in my own identity mudroom had a box labeled: success with horses as seen by others. Inside the box were old papers about how horses should behave, what that looks like to other people and how they will think I am successful or not. There were essays on how fast can I load a horse on a trailer… how to win races and ribbons… how to get more mileage and higher classes… how to make my horse stand still… how to bombproof my horse… faster higher and bigger. But after the light came in making it easier to see into the box, I sifted through it realizing that most of the papers in there were things that made me look good to other people but actually were hard on my horse- who I really cared more about. So I gave that box to God to dispose of appropriately.

I remember he smiled when I gave him the last few papers from that box – including how to bring your horse in from the field faster than anyone else and aren’t you riding that mustang yet… He gave a little laugh and asked:

Did you really think those were important

I put a new box in its place labeled: building a relationship that will last with my horse. And that one has outlines on how to slow down, how to notice the small things that mean a lot to her, how to hear the equine silent language with more clarity, how to find out what my horse thinks about everything (even when I don’t really think I want to know!), how to support her when she needs it, how to be a leader that inspires a horse to come along, how to learn as much as possible from her and the one I try to keep at the top because it gets buried quickly: how to stay humble so I can learn faster.

It’s a large box and is barely starting to accumulate information. But at least it’s useful information now. And no matter what happens, when I go to spend time with my horse I have new articles to add to the box. Sometimes it’s how to improve, sometimes it’s what NOT to do in the future. It is because of the house cleaning process that now I can relax to slow down, to observe and to find soft with my horse. Because I don’t care how long it takes to get something done as long as I get it done in a way she feels comfortable and can stay soft.

SHE knows that God took the boxes labeled ego, impatience, frustration, expectations, performance… and others. Doesn’t mean I’m perfect, but it means those things don’t have a home and if they sneak in they can’t stay long- someone in my world always shows up to be the perfect mirror if they do!

She can tell the difference in me, and now she can be soft because she doesn’t have to protect herself from my… ego, impatience, frustration, expectations etc etc.


One day recently I brought Khaleesi in soft from the field. Tied and groomed her and she stayed soft through every part of tacking her up.

She was soft as I mounted and took the short trail through the woods at a comfortable connected walk and in a rare occasion she didn’t change an eyelash as we turned the corner toward returning to the barn. This ride she was with me every moment never in a hurry, always present and responsive to every thought.

I dismounted in front of the barn and she stood square and began to yawn and drop her head in thought. I didn’t want to disturb her so I untacked her standing ground tied right there. She yawned and thought and processed and stood completely still for a long time. Eventually I sat on the grass and watched her. Then I went into the barn to sweep up. I still didn’t want to disturb her. When I came back out she had finally moved over to eat some grass and I picked up the line and took her back the field- still soft.

Ive had some beautiful soft moments and they’ve grown over time, but this was the first day that everything stayed completely soft start to finish. It was a good day and we will build together on it. As I seek more soft in me and find it reflected in her… and maybe those around me as well.

REGROWTH

Happy New Year!

A friend recently told me her family always has a single word to define the year ahead. As I pondered this concept I was working through the meaning of a recent dream. I journaled through the dream and the word came to me clear as the dawn of a new day of a new year.

Regrowth

In the dream Khaleesi lost her entire right hoof wall. It sloughed clean off in one piece. I’d known it was coming as it had gotten bacteria or an infection and though I might have applied some antibiotic this ended up being better for the long term. Neither of us were particularly concerned in the dream. She laid down in front of me so I could wrap it. The first though I had in the dream was this will equal one year. A hoof takes a year to grow.

One year of regrowth.

There was more to the dream than this, lots of interesting details. Here are a couple of the main ideas:

I was able to see the bone structure with the hoof wall gone. It was in good sound shape and that pleased me to know. The underlying foundation is solid.

It is outer wall: external-physical. I had a different dream a while back where her right leg was being tended to by a man and he was removing large glass shards from her leg: internal-mental/emotional connection. That dream was only a couple months ago. There was a healing or a removal of the internal issues with our relationship.

I have spent a couple years learning about the mental aspects of connecting with horses and though I haven’t learned everything, I have learned a lot about horses in the past couple years. The relationship between K and I has become very strong.

This year it’s time to begin the physical.

If anyone keeps up with the sister blog I wrote about the saddle issues I’ve been working on this winter.

Saddle Update Blog

It boggles my mind to consider that I finished several 50 miles rides and the last one finished in fantastic time for us – with physical issues that had my mare compromised the point my bodyworker told me:

your horse is in pain an you have to do something about it now.

Actually it shouldn’t surprise me.

If a horse is thriving mentally and emotionally she will do everything she can to physically to perform for her rider– even in much compromise. And in fairness — I knew something f wasn’t right I just couldn’t sort it out. It would have been simpler if her ‘back’ was sore. But the issue being in her scapula and shoulders was harder for me to find on my own.

Everything in its time.

Now is the time to address the physical. Now I have more information as to how to solve the physical issues and begin to address her balance and my riding.

Speaking of timing: I’ve been seeking a natural balance dentist for over a year. It’s tough to get people out to our rural zone but after over a year of reaching out and finding dead ends, next week I finally have someone coming from the Spencer Laflure school coming to do teeth. I’d like to see how it goes to have someone really balancing the mouth and teeth with eye to the whole horse balance. It will be almost 2 years since her last dental visit!

[If you’re curious about Natural Balance here is their info]

WHAT IS NEUROMUSCULAR HORSE DENTISTRY?

Once again the time is right!

Another puzzle piece is a book that was recently recommended to me by a friend I just reconnected with. The book considers equine biomechanics in light of their natural physical system, saddle fit and human workload, conformation, hoof trimming and handling. Interestingly… turns out it was edited by one of the founders of Balance Saddle.

There is great down to earth information here about how to see horses in a way that reveals how they are using their bodies. As well she includes some easy ideas to begin allowing the horse to rebalance physically to use their body efficiently. I HIGHLY recommend it.

In a few sessions of beginning to walk and trot in the new saddle set up its been fascinating to feel and see (video) what’s going on with her physically and how I can help or hinder her to move efficiently.

What a process… One day we trot 6 miles on a local trail; I experiment and learn some things.  I look at some images and see how my horse is INDEED unbalanced onto her front end.

Next I visit a friend’s massive arena and do more experimenting especially with stirrup length.

Some things went beautifully- specifically her tempo was graceful where in the past she would often rush at the trot making it hard to work on balance. I found that though shorter stirrups were less comfortable for me that in video it showed that Khaleesi had better soft movement with them. Some really nice work.

Then I go into the smaller arena on property and feel like a complete failure. Hoping to work a short session before the rain I can do a lovely walk but every time I ask for a trot her head would bob down, she’d land heavy on the front and I had zero steering. What was wrong? What a waste of time…

But… when I took home the video footage and watched it on my TV screen, especially in slow motion I saw somethings that gave me hope!

Occasionally there were brief seconds of her carrying herself light and lifted in her back. What I saw in watching from the third perspective was what I’d begun to consider in the saddle that morning- she was asking me for help.

She now is trying to get rebalanced and she is going to need help to lift her front and I can’t give it to her in a halter. I can see her beginning to round in her back and sometimes her hind is coming under, but it’s incomplete.

She needs support from a bit to lift in the front! I feel it and I see it in the video footage!

This is exciting for me because she wasn’t a fan of the bit in the past and I’d given up on using it for a while because we had no purpose behind it. I don’t need the bit for control and I wasn’t doing anything with it for her physical balance. I didn’t want to forcefully create contrived collection through aids.

Not to mention I haven’t had her teeth done in almost two years and I’m not sure what her mouth balance is like- so for the season riding in a halter was what made sense.

There is a time for all things.

I am really excited to learn new things and to have her begin to work efficiently. I believe that this will change the game for she and me.

I’m not sure how the process will go once I begin to work with her but as her movement becomes balanced and efficient the miles will be more quality than quantity and I would expect it will mean less wearing her down over lots of miles but building her up and riding smarter instead of harder… and just maybe heading from the turtle position up to a solid middle of the pack horse!

Time will tell.

Respect or Robot?

I was sent an interesting blog recently regarding learned helplessness in horses. I recommend it as food for thought and if you read it (including the two embedded links) you may find this post easier to track.

Learned Helplesness Blog

I was pondering in recent weeks how occasionally I’ve heard horse people talk about a horse so easy going anyone can ride him in just a halter… anyone can get out on the trail… he doesn’t take a bad step… easy to catch… bombproof… etc. and I thought about my own mare.

Well, I ride her in a halter… at endurance rides where there are lots of distractions and high energy… I can reliably bring her in from the field. I can do anything I need to do with her in confidence that even if it takes a moment to sort out, once she knows what I’m asking, and once she realizes I’m not going to give up, if she can do it– it will get done.

Photo credit: Dr Birks at the Fort Valley 50 start

Yet she’s not that horse mentioned above… the horse that anyone can catch and ride. I rarely allow anyone else to handle her at all and never let anyone else ride her. Actually on a couple occasions someone has tried to approach or catch her in the field… and considering they were horse professionals it was frustrating when they had absolutely no success:

She’s just a one person horse… she has no respect or fear of humans… she’s untrained…. she only likes women….

I’m certain there are people other than me who could approach and bring her in.

Would I put another rider on her in a halter to zip around for a ride?

No way.

I have no idea what would happen. It would completely depend on the rider. There are less than a handful I’d even consider. And I would be even less likely to allow a rider to use a metal bit at all. I am not certain our relationship would recover.

I have had my share of eye rolls… of people who think I’m in left field… and that my horse is badly behaved. Honestly at times she is.

What I have noticed is a pervasive sense of horse-folk seeing success with a horse equating with this thing they call respect. Which appears defined by most of them as a kind of immediate questionless obedience to every command.

More curious to me is that as I observe this in action over time… if I were to suggest that’s what they are aiming toward many of them would say of course it’s not….

I don’t want a robot! I want a free intelligent animal to partner with me… in exactly the way I ask every time without hesitation.

Oh right sorry. I misunderstood.

The other concept I notice is that safety becomes the buzz word.

You can’t let them do that it’s unsafe.

Well yeah. Actually being around horses at all is dangerous. Once you get on one that’s definitely dangerous. Who ever says otherwise has left all logic behind.

Of course we try to mitigate danger in as many ways as possible but being around horse people I’ve noticed that once you suggest something is dangerous it’s like going nuclear. Argument over.

I have often observed that dangerous to one horse person is often a calculated risk to another – and to a third it’s just a daily routine. (Crossing a road, riding bitless, jumping a fence, trail riding alone in the wilderness, not using cross ties… almost anything can fit this).

One of my favorite photos [Hughes Photography] of Tracie Falcone going over Cougar Rock in the Tevis Cup in a Balance Saddle and neck string. I’m sure she hits a few of the dangerous categories here!!

I started my journey into that vague thing I believed was possible with an I started basically feral 4-yr old mare and had never started a horse before. I’m about as unqualified as they come when you’re looking at horse trainer credentials.

Some people were sure that was dangerous.

They may have had a point; but I knew I had to try to find the thing I was seeking. And I had to look for it on my own.

It’s not for everyone but it was the path in front of me and it seemed incredibly obvious. Best of all it’s a very long journey and I will never arrive because there’s always more to learn and room for growth. That’s what a true relationship is- and as you deepen it, both parties also change as they connect. Which gives you more complexity and more to explore together.

What an adventure!

But for all of this connection in 4 years of digging up soil where I see something I like around me- I am far from perfect and we are so far from perfect.


Sometimes she loads immediately onto the trailer. Sometimes she takes 30 seconds to ask a question… sometimes 5 minutes. It varies.


Sometimes she comes to the gate and puts her head in the halter. Sometimes I have to walk over to her a few feet. Sometimes I have to walk out and encourage them to come in and they do without lead ropes. Sometimes I have to all the way to the far corner and bring her in while she pauses every 10 feet. Sometimes she walks away and she and the mustang go running around me in protest. It varies.


Sometimes we ride in complete sync like she reads my mind. Sometimes I have to work a little harder to keep her attention. Sometimes I have to use a tool to remind her I’m still there. Sometimes she insists on turning around or not going my way. It varies.

Ack! The first time K saw a ride photographer… now great friend Becky Pearman. First LD ride: Iron Mountain 2015.

Beginning to ride with neck rope- no halter or bridle.


Since it seems to be a widespread belief that a horse that basically does whatever you ask when you ask it is the measure of success – my slow left field methods are probably suspect.

Yet I still do my best to avoid using brute force to get my way- while still patiently (some days more patiently than others) asking until I do… all the while continuing to ask

…what is force? And does it sometimes have a place in the process? And are there real safety issues that I’m not paying enough attention to? Am I as some have suggested reckless and dangerous? How much of her opinion do I really want? How much of a say can she have in the process without her becoming the leader? How much can I tell her to get over it and just comply before I’m just like those who think they want a partner but really want a robot?

The Learned Helplessness blog tied in with these questions and thoughts I’ve had because I realized my horses are completely awake. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what I was seeking and why I looked for a young horse not yet started, because I’d been seeing various levels of what the writer calls learned helplessness and I didn’t really know what I wanted – but I knew it wasn’t that.

A term many people throw around is respect and conversely disrespect. But to quote the Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya:

I am pretty certain my horse respects me more often than not. She communicates with me and works together with me – she still asks me questions. [In other words respect does not equal immediate robot obedience to me] Though sometimes she actually does whatever I ask basically when I ask to, she may suggest she doesn’t want to comply for various reasons, and she may try to tell my why she cannot fulfill a request (pain, location, confusion, even in rare cases fear).

The better our communication gets, and the more I act like a leader she can trust which is a whole year of blogs… the better this process gets. The sooner she does what I’m asking or can explain to me why I might want to re-think a questionable or dangerous request.

I reflect back and see many cases where a horse trying to communicate confusion or fear has been called disrespectful.

That is likely to follow though: if you misunderstand the horse and/or ignore its attempts to communicate very long you are likely to earn disrespect soon enough. Then the fight that ensues is likely to take you to shut down… robot… or in the case of that problem horse so and so had to get ride of… fight.

Photo of Khaleesi on the first day of muzzleloader season 2018. The neighbors were shooting repeatedly (sighting? Target?) and she was for the most part not with me that day. She had deep concerns for the herds on the property and did not like being ‘tied up’ having to work with me while what she perceived as potential danger was so near. I made the choice to work with what I had that day and stayed flexible with my plans. I have never seen her so anxious. And no: it was not being read from me. I was not worried. But that did little to help her that day. I did some work with her but significantly different from the plan I’d laid out in advance.

There are arguments for the safety of the ‘respectful’ robot horse. The one who will go where you point when you point without question.

I’ve also seen some wrecks come from those horses. I’ve personally watched a rider repeatedly berate a horse and punish it for checking terrain and taking time on a new trail going over natural obstacles – then later on the same ride end up on the ground because the horse finally learned to stop checking in and ended up having to maneuver an obstacle the rider wasn’t ready for an couldn’t stay on through.

Remember the saying about “if your friends all jump off the bridge are you going to follow?” Well yeah. That’s the extreme case of the robot horse. A horse that is going to do whatever the rider asks without question or hesitation. And once in a while… the human might be wrong.

I want my horse to tell me if she knows or senses something I haven’t noticed or sensed. Horses are extremely aware of their environments. Much more than I am still though I constantly work on this actually. She senses the bear cubs, the turkey gang, often knows where the hole is… check the muck puddle… pause before crashing over the downed tree.

I’ve had my mare ‘save’ me from tripping through a rock ditch that was hard to see one day leading her in from a part of the field I didn’t often venture. It had washed out in some hard rain a while back and was overgrown with tall grasses. She kept planting her feet until I adjusted course. It was unusual behavior so instead of forcing her on I tried to slow down and sort out why she might be stalling. As we got closer I saw the ditch and thanked her for letting me know. We walked in with no trouble after that.

SHEEP! Sometimes I have to work her through a concern she has that is not really a danger.

A horse that is awake and communicating might have more to say than most riders want to deal with. They are after all a prey animal and have learned to be better safe than sorry over many genetic generations.

It also takes a long time (for me at least) to get even basically proficient in their subtle language.

I’ve been wrong many times, what I assumed she was saying is not always what she is in fact trying to say. You sort this out by trial and error… which brings me to the the fact that she often doesn’t make me look good to the causal observer- who is often impressed by immediate obedience.

Recently I had a horse-woman friend over and showed her some of the things Khaleesi and I had been working on. Backing into a stall… some groundwork ‘dancing’… and riding her bareback with a neckrope in the yard. It was a good day. She was so with me.

Impressed my friend said: wow!! That is so beautiful!! I bet when you go to your endurance rides everyone is just blown away.

After a good laugh I assured her … first most people are focused on their own horses and what they need to do… second this kind of thing isn’t exactly flashy… and third… she’s not always this focused- ride camp has lots of energy and distraction. So.

It varies.

Then there’s the whole self carriage thing…. but that’s an entirely separate post.

Go ahead… explain…

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I believe there are reasons for the struggles and shaping I go through. They are good for me in the long run, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally throw a tantrum.

Sometimes I have the energy to take the annoyance or difficulty in stride and sometimes I wish God would work on the other people around me instead…

Can’t you work on him/her for a while right now so my life is easier!?

Silence.

I’m tired. Can we do this some other time or never?

Silence.

Ouch that hurts! Why do I have to go through this?!

Silence.

Why?

Silence.


Then I went to the barn to check on Khaleesi’s painful scabby scratches on the right hind. I wasn’t able to do much the previous two days due to cold rain leaving fields completely mud soaked. No chance of drying the infected spots out which is necessary for them to heal.

It’s been a losing battle with this wet 2018. Just when I get a window of headway the mud and rain return creating new hot painful scabs.

First I used the hose to wash the mud off her legs and feet. She tolerated it.

But when I began as carefully as I could to dry and just assess the bad foot with my eyes she avoided, sidestepped and even air kicked at me.

Stop! That hurts! Leave it alone!!! GO AWAY!!

I know it hurts but I need to help you.

In order to truly help her I had to dry the area I’d just cleaned, run the mini clipper over it to remove as much hair as possible, then spray an aloe-antibacterial gel that cleans and cools the area (slightly easing the pain), then add some skin cream to soften the scabs so I might be able to remove some of them to allow them to heal – and a protective zinc oxide to help them feel better and protect them as they heal.

She was highly and visibly against this process and I understood. It hurt. The low level irritating pain is easier to deal with than the excruciating pain involved in true healing.

We know as humans that if we put up with the bad pain in an effort to heal we will then be well and not eventually to lose use of a leg and possibly die if you’re a horse who gets taken down by a predator.

So here I am in the barn knowing I absolutely have to get the scratches treated. With her consent or not in this case.

So I picked up the one thing that gets that mare’s attention beyond any other mental or physical distraction.

The flag.

And the next time I went to spray the cooling gel and she danced away I flapped the flag and she understood I was now not negotiating. And I had her undivided attention.


I want to pause to explain a couple things here:

First– I have worked to build a solid relationship of trust with this mare over years. Most times she will go along with me even if she’s unsure because I’ve built that foundation. I cannot say I would take this same course of action with Wyoming the mustang. She is learning to trust me but the foundation isn’t solid enough yet.

Second– I did wave that flag toward her and I meant business. But I was not emotionally upset with her. I didn’t act out of anger but love. While the flag gets waved either way- the intent behind it was to help her. It does matter. If I’d have been frustrated, angry and out of control this would not have worked out the same way.


She is sensitive already and the flag is BIG language for her.

It brought her back to me and though she still moved it was much less… no air kicking. I didn’t get everything done to the level I wanted but I got done what I needed.

And though she didn’t like it, she was able to relax and process when we finished and we walked to the field connected and the relationship not broken- in fact probably stronger for it.


There was a moment however in the barn while I watched her struggle and stood back a moment to allow her to calm that tears began to puddle in the corner of my eyes.

I was thinking of something I’d heard earlier that morning.

Tim Keller described watching – years ago on a farm in Europe- sheep got dipped for parasite control that saved their lives. The process was terrifying to them. As a soft hearted human, Tim explained, we want to explain to the sheep that it’s for their own good.

We want to explain.

So… suggested Tim…

Go ahead and explain.

😶

😚

Exactly.

Better than I deserve

Monday, October 22, 2018

Home from the last ride of 2018 I’m pleased and a little surprised to say we had a fantastic day. Better than expected and truly better than I deserved.

The abrupt drop in temps made for a great morning for Khaleesi who has a full on winter fuzz coat that I refused to clip this year.

As I wrote in my last entry- and it continued until the morning I was loading up- I flip flopped daily on going to the ride or not.

Arriving at base camp with left hind scratches that were flared up again which meant a horse that was avoiding me and kicking at me as I continued to treat them; also a larger bare patch from the rain rot spot near the wither under the saddle — I wasn’t certain we would even pass the pre-ride vet.

That’s ok I decided mentally because maybe I’m really here to support C…

One of the friends I’d been helping out this season get started in endurance riding had come to do her first 30 mile as well. Maybe in the end this ride was about her and I could crew and cheer her on.

Maybe it’s an opportunity for me to take the back seat and enjoy someone else’s success?

I’m ok with that… I have my completion for this season to stay on track for a decade team… I don’t have to ride this one.

But we passed the vet-in with a flying trot out (she does get excited sometimes) and flying colors on our vet card.

One step at a time I just kept on toward the ride half expecting each one to fail.

As I prepped the night before I still had doubts. I laid in my hammock as the temps dropped into the 30s (thanks Noel T for the heater!!) I was certain I’d go to put the rear boots on and she’d be lame from the painful scabs where the boot sits on the back of the foot.

But in the morning the previously inflamed warm scabs were not warm to the touch and she seemed ok with the boot.

She looked at me obviously annoyed as I went to saddle her:

I don’t think she wants to run today

I told her it’s just her job so let’s give it our best. She knew what was coming- it’s always a long day when we go to a ride and she works hard… but she is a horse and it is her job. We all have to work sometimes. She doesn’t hate it once we get out there.

In the cold morning I hand walked her a good 10 minutes before even getting on… back and forth to check-in, drop some extra supplies at the crew bag and just wander warming up joints. I got on and she was ready but not hyped up as she sometimes gets with the pre ride energy in camp.

Once trail was open we stayed toward the rear as usual but got right to business and began the immediate 2 miles straight up hill that begins both the first and second loop. I allowed her to trot and walk in intervals and we made our way through the group.

A couple times I wondered if she was ‘off’… was it that back foot?

Maybe I should just turn back right now… what was I thinking. This is a bad idea. Is it just for my ego… to do what I planned… me being inflexible and not listening to my horse?

Yet she evened out and seemed ok. So. One more step at a time we just kept moving.

In fact I was pleased to see her maneuvering through the rocks with no trouble and the ScootBoots were fantastic.

I often allow her to move along the first loop because it’s the coolest part of the day and not having an arab it makes a big difference for us. Her trot ranging through the rocky single track trails was way faster than I’d anticipated but she was asking to go and I said absolutely. On the grassy roads we cantered more than usual as well. Riding mostly alone she was really picking up the trail!

First and second loops head the same basic direction and include a steep climb/drop in and out. The way back to camp includes what I call fondly the trail of tears and it’s steep and rocky after 15 or so miles of hard riding. It’s a challenging ride for sure and we do it twice.

Khaleesi led a group up the mountain and just kept going one step at a time without lag and I was very proud of her.

By the time we returned to the 2 mile steep road now returning to camp at the end of the first 17 mile loop and I jumped off (I jog her down on foot as it’s just a brutal steep gravel road and we can move faster safely if I’m on the ground) I was shocked to find riders usually way ahead of me coming up from behind.

Turns out we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

After trotting into the check and pulsing at 52 before I even had the saddle off, I held my breath knowing Khaleesi often gets questioned on her gait but we got through the vet check without a hitch. Even hydration and gut sounds were As though she hadn’t eaten a thing on the first loop. (She drank often)

Turns out we’d arrived in 2 minutes behind my friend A so we decided to hit the second loop together.

The second loop went much like the first. This loop has a long out and back along a gravel road and we cantered most of it in a small group of friends. It ended at a pretty stop along the Shenandoah River with lots of grass for a quick snack.

She began to drag on and off as we turned back to camp but I think it was post snack break coma and eventually she picked back up and began to hit her stride.

By the time we returned from the second loop (also hand jogging in the last 2 miles down the road) the temps had climbed into the 60s and it took K a few extra minutes to pulse but still in the 50s in no time and again a great report to head out onto the last loop.

My goal was to finish before dark and it appeared at this point we just might do that.

The last loop is the shortest and doesn’t include the insane 2 mile climb out and the trail of tears climb back to camp but it’s no joke and includes two good hills and comes at the warmest part of the day and after 35 tough miles before.

That 14 miles always feels longer than the 17+ mile loops before!

In the heat of the later afternoon she began to tire. We stopped trotting or cantering the climbs and began walking them. A’s horse was also beginning to lag.

I know my mare always gives me what she can- and I continued to encourage her. There is something about miles 36-45 that always seem hard for them. And without fail as we get closer to 50 an amazing burst comes and as I would tell her how strong and great she is she took on a small hill at the fastest center of the day passing As horse who’d often gotten just ahead enough of us to be out of sight from time to time.

The burst was contagious and As horse raced to catch up and we were off again with more cantering and faster trot speeds again.

I sometimes wonder why I’m compelled to do this crazy sport and mile 45 feeling my horse come back alive underneath me and begin to reach for a new layer of strength is so inspiring there’s not much like it to remind us the true spirit of endurance!

It reminds me to keep going when I feel tired. When I want to say I’ve given enough. Tried hard enough to love someone who is hard to love… don’t want to give anymore… feel like I can’t. Somehow there is always more.

We haven’t come to the point of sweating blood…

The last few miles thankfully were mostly pasture fields and the mares continued leap frogging for the lead and we all encouraged each other on.

We raced off to the finish line hollering like a pack of coyotes. It was fitting that we came in 12th to As 11th – her horse had truly inspired K to keep up a better pace than we would have alone.

With a ride time of 9 hours and 2 minutes it might be one of the best rides of our career. Technically our first 55 at the Biltmore in 2016 was faster but that terrain was much easier and not nearly the elevation. Same with the Blackwater ride in 2017- that was under 8 hours which is amazing for us but it was in tidewater and not any hills in sight and no rocks.

Certainly as I mentioned last entry I have not put in the distance or speed this season in training as I’ve been sharing trail with friends who aren’t at that point more than I have in the past. I suppose I feel that her coming to life this ride beyond my expectations is a gift for investing in others. It wasn’t really due to my own amazing conditioning program this year.

Either way I will gladly accept the grace that was extended us for the unexpected strength and speed to share trail with a good friend and her amazing horse! And the gift from them to not leave us behind although as I reminded her often they certainly could have! We are ok alone… but we are better together.

I am also very pleased to say my other friend C and her lovely mare also finished 12th in the 30 mile distance. I’m very proud of her accomplishments as it’s a tough first ride!

I look back to the many many many doubts I had about this ride and learn that though it’s important to listen to the voices of reason when things look not so great… still we can take one step at a time to see how far we can go. And in that way sometimes we get much farther than we’d ever hoped.

Ride the trail in front of you…. that’s all you get sometimes!

Fly into the turbulence

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I often wake up in the dark on race day and get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and wonder what I’m doing here. Why do I do this?

Fear.

Yes. I do feel fear.

Thursday morning my biggest fear was that my Scootboots would fail me.

What was I thinking coming to ride a 50 with just my training strap on Boots? It’s against the odds to use strap on boots on a tough 50 mile endurance ride. Most people know better… I’m going to lose them… I’m going to be getting off my horse every 5 miles to fix them, a twist, falling off, lost in mud.

Is my horse really ready for this? I haven’t been able to get more that 15 miles in one day due to many assorted issues in the past 6 weeks. Sure she finished a 50 in June… but that was a lifetime ago… have I really gotten the conditioning in? Do I have what it takes? Is my horse even suited to do this- she’s not like the other horses here. What about my saddle set up- I can’t get anything to be truly consistent. Just when I get a great sweat pattern then next ride the same set up leaves dry spots. She doesn’t have any back soreness but will we run into trouble over 50 miles?

Am I failing my horse?

I’m going to throw up.

Boldness comes not from the absence of fear but from moving forward anyway. Fear will also come along with big adventures and growth potential. The choice is to do your best and walk on– willing to learn what lessons come– or get paralyzed and hide.

We’ll fly into the turbulence… no telling where we’re going to land. Isn’t that part of the adventure?

For the most part I tend not to hide. I pull up my ‘granny panties’ and get on the horse.

What’s the worst that can happen today? I fail to complete. I loose all my boots. I look foolish for trying.

But what if we fly?

So at 0-7-hundred we head out into the mist at a nice trot on the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to throw our number into the AERC National Championship 2018 50 mile ride and see what adventure brings.

It was a beautiful morning and my horse was forward and trotting beautifully passing by some other riders as we settled into a comfortable trot. With 90 riders on trail we fell in with a group that seemed to pace well and made a friend for the day (MaryAnn and her horse Princess Tessa).

The adventures began at mile 5 when Khaleesi began to fuss. Was something on her leg? In her boot? Kicks, a couple small bucks then a big buck I was tossed onto her neck not quite ready for it but still in saddle. At that point I was about to get off when I heard the too familiar

GO GO GO GO GO! BEES!!!

We were under attack and so I took my bucking bronco and said RUN GIRL desperately grateful I hadn’t gotten off but now feeling like a rodeo rider. She ran and bucked on down the trail. I am still shocked that I stayed on through all that. I have never ridden that kind of leaping and bucking in my life and at a full out run too in this little AP jump style Balance International saddle that won’t stay put on its own. It took a minute for her to level out and then we kept cantering along as we still had bees in pursuit.

Talk about flying through the turbulence!

The rest of the first loop went much better. It was cool in the morning and I allowed her to move along down the trail as much as possible knowing the heat was coming and I’d like to buy some time now.

The first loop was 15.6 miles and we came in a little under 2 1/2 hours. Khaleesi immediately pulsed in at 56 with CRI of 52 and ate like a machine the entire hold.

I am so grateful to Brandea for coming to crew for me. It was a great introduction for her to the sport and being a bit of a loaner I tend to assume I’ll be on my own but have been very lucky to have crew company on many rides. The support and company is really helpful and in part makes you feel a little less alone in the crowd.

She learned quickly about what needs to be done with the horse but even more important, she is a mom so she was adept at being sure my human water was refilled for the trail and that I’d eaten something and always knew where whatever I needed was as I’d mindlessly tossed helmet, breast collar, pads etc into piles with laser focus on my horse, cooling, pulse, and getting to vet ASAP.

The second loop was 20 miles and I knew that would be a challenge as we headed into the heat of the day. It was out the black access across the famous bridge over the French Broad River and 12 miles around the wooded trails of orange west before returning to the main estate and doing a 5 mile jag to add enough mileage then returning to camp.

It was in the high 80s and extremely humid. About half way through the loop Khaleesi began panting after climbing hills. The air was still and thick so trotting on at a controlled pace was really all we could do because at least that created some airflow. Slowing to a walk occasionally was ok but she couldn’t ever cool that way and stopping completely to recover would have killed us. We had to get air through the radiator so to speak and a slow trot through the shaded trails was the best bet even though it was insanely hot.

Still she was willing and forward. That told me we were ok- because this mare doesn’t stay willing and forward to please me. She takes excellent care of herself and will tell me when she is not doing well regardless of who leaves her behind. However the other horses we were riding with would grab some grass as we meandered along and Khaleesi was too hot even to eat. That had me concerned.

Finally when MaryAnn stopped to pick up a dropped sponge from the trail and we waited a moment in the shade, Khaleesi grew momentarily bored and began picking at the grass. That was a good sign and from then on she would snack here and there as we went.

The rest of the loop went ok though we walked on and off in the shade to keep from overheating and the riders we’d grouped with decided to stay together even though Khaleesi likely slowed the pace of the thin gray Arabs they were riding a bit.

I anticipated the heat would be a challenge and made sure I had two full bags of ice ready and Brandea had them waiting for us to cool Khaleesi at the second check while she ate like a monster (mile 35). Thankful to my lesson from Kate on my first OD 50 riding in heat- to cool that horse the entire hold with cold water to get back on trail cool to the core. That was my plan.

Unfortunately upon trot out the vet saw a potential left front issue. Not enough to call lame but a question and she held our vet card. Upon closer inspection I’d found a slight boot rub where some recent scar tissue was. [K had come in a couple weeks ago with a cut on her foot looking like a caught in a fence issue. It wasn’t serious but just enough by mile 35 to begin to irritate her.]

I tried some vet wrap but wasn’t convinced it would stay in place. We rechecked with the vet and given the all clear to take on the last 15 miles with this word of warning from Art as we walked away: don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

Brandea had done her best to sponge and scrape K with the cold water but it was miserably humid and even so I didn’t think we’d gotten her cool as I wanted to the core. The whole thing- cooling and boot issue- made for a harried check period and I barely had time to scarf a sandwich and pee myself.

At least we were heading out later in the day (maybe beginning to lessen in heat intensity) and I had moved fast enough early on to leave about 4 hours for the last loop.

Tessa and MaryAnn had waited the extra minute or two we needed to get out of the hold and we began to ride on together. She said she liked riding with us and once she paired up with a buddy didn’t like to leave anyone behind. I thanked her and we walked onto trail together.

This is the first ride that returns to camp each loop that Khaleesi left camp willingly on all loops. Usually I have to encourage her to get back onto trail and then she’s fine. This ride she certainly didn’t take off at a canter like the front runners did as they jetted out onto each loop but I never had to insist she go out.

After around 5 miles I felt any tiny stumble or uneven step and began to worry. The vet wrap had indeed come loose and wasn’t protecting anymore.

I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have gone back out.

The doubts and fears.

I stopped as we began to lag behind the little group and silently hopped off as they went on – I didn’t want to make a big deal- they didn’t need to wait for me.

Don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

I made a decision to pull the front boots. Our only hope was to do the last 10 miles barefoot. We had almost 3 hours. If the rub is truly the issue this might be the only chance. I can’t make it worse.

Sweet MaryAnn noticed I’d fallen out and called to me. I told her go ahead I’m fine and I heard hoofbeats as she cantered back to check.

I told her my plan and said to go ahead. I will be slowing down and I ride alone all the time! Enjoy the last few miles and see you at camp.

She frowned in thought and said she didn’t want to leave us. I assured her that I am really ok and would not accept her walking along with us at a handicap with bare front feet! Go!

She reluctantly cantered back to the other women and I hooked the front boots to the saddle and prayed her feet were continuing to improve to the point we could do 10 miles barefoot in the time allotted and still come in sound!

Ironically my biggest fear to start the day was the boots would not stay on.

Another win for Scoot Boots as not ONCE did I have to fix a boot in 50 miles. Not a twist, not a strap undone, not a mud suck. I was amazed myself!! (hind Boots stayed on all 50 miles with no issue and the pulling of the fronts I believe we’re not a boot issue as much as a scar tissue creating a rub on only the left that is abnormal for my experience.)

The biggest problem I truly faced that day was the heat and humidity. In retrospect going barefoot slowed me down in the final 10 miles and that may have saved us metabolic concerns.

Sometimes speed bumps and unexpected issues are given to help guide us toward the better direction.

More than once I considered giving up… calling someone or bailing with a shortcut back to camp and accepting this wasn’t going to work for her.

We walked anything too hard and gravel and trotting the wooded paths and grass at first she seemed to protest being barefoot but gradually she picked up confidence and was trotting beautifully on soft ground.

A pair of riders caught us on a gravel road and we rode together for some miles giving Khaleesi a mental jolt of having some company. She perked up more and began trotting faster again as we kept watch on the clock but riding as safely as we could.

Still as the evening approached and the worst of the heat gone after longer trot and canter intervals she would pant again, hot and tired yet willing to continue.

Finally we reached the water stop at mile 49. One more mile to go!

We had 22 minutes on the clock. The pair of riders we had hooked up with drank and then began out toward the finish while Khaleesi drank and stood quietly breathing hard watching them walk on and told me she absolutely was not going on yet.

I waited a moment and asked

Can we go? We’re really close girl…

No– she’d drop her head to the water and pretend to drink but she was buying time.

I waited again.

Can we go?

No.

Two more times no. Not yet.

Less than 20 minutes on the clock.

We are so close to stop now.

Finally I insisted- we must at least walk. We are not going to stop and die here. Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other girl. You can do it.

We began to walk the last mile toward home.

Thankfully as she picked up a slow trot we rounded up to the estate view hill that means the last drop down to the lagoon and then the finish one more group of 4 riders came from behind. As they approached Khaleesi began to perk up.

Newly motivated she began to trot faster and the steep hill I would usually walk down she took on a like a mountain goat hind underneath and front end light as I did everything I could to stay out of her way and balance quietly down the hill. Now it was just across the street down the wildflower path and the grass runway to the finish line.

All of us picked up speed and Khaleesi felt like she had this morning fresh and forward – on wings like eagles – as we rounded into the cornfield and cantered the last 1/8 of a mile riding on pure joy together.

We crossed the line with 2 minutes left on the clock and my horse’s spirit completely recovered as she dove into the grass to eat while I waited for my official finish time slip.

The finish is a mile from camp and I slung the rope over my shoulder loosely as we walked side by side together. As far as I could tell she was perfectly sound and though hot she was alert and walking out with good energy and bright eyes.

No matter what my horse had done the miles- now it was up to the vet to see if we’d get them on the human record.

After a 20 minute walk back to camp we took off the saddle and did a little sponging then walked straight to vet. I hadn’t even thought to check her pulse first.

She was right at 64 so we headed to trot. Moment of truth. I ran fast as I could and turned her to the right to keep weight off her left front. And then ran her as fast as I could back. And prayed.

She looks great. Nice job!

Relief flooded through me as he checked hydration, gut sounds, back soreness and muscle tension. She passed it all with As and we had officially completed the ride.

She was healthy, sound and in good spirits and looked fantastic overall.

I felt so proud of her and inspired by the magnificence of horses. I was glad I made the trip, faced the fears, keep trying through some doubts… cantering strong into the finish line high on the joy of making it through a challenging day was exhilarating and triumphant – even if we did come in completely last.

We got to the starting line, we tried our best, and out of 68 to start in our division only 50 finished successfully. That is something!

I still stand by the fact that doing difficult things that take work, dedication, focus and are risky at times can result in learning what you are capable of, seeing what your horse is capable of as you press into the limits of possibility, and grow us together as well.

(Photo Becky Pearman)

I have pondered recently how some people seem to believe that pushing limits and struggling through things means it must not be right, not meant to be, or a sign one should turn back.

The concept of emotional fitness.

Bob Goff tells a story of renting a plane to fly to a work engagement that was farther than he wanted to drive but close enough to fly himself as he had a pilots license. He would cross a few mountain ranges and charted his course to take off, get high enough to fly over the mountains and the drop back down and land safely without drama to his destination.

Upon landing he overheard some Air Force pilots who had just flown the same territory chosen because of the mountain ranges. They instead charted courses that took them lower and flew through the canyons because it challenged them to be better pilots. They didn’t choose the safe route- they chose the challenge. They were deepening skills before the emergency situation called for them.

We work on physical fitness and certainly mental fitness- but what do we do to improve our emotional fitness.

In conversations with friends over this question most of the answers came in the form of what to do when emotional trials come, but no one really seemed to consider how to work a little each day on improving emotional fitness before you are faced with a traumatic event.

If we live as best we can always choosing the higher, smoother route above the difficulties of challenging friendships that are good for us in the long run (a harsh word from a friend is worth more than the kiss of an enemy) or uncomfortable but real conversations, or keeping the peace at the expense of being real with others, choosing forgiveness when it’s undeserved, not always choosing the easy path or the happy one if a more difficult one that will pay off in deeper relationships or more strength are the longer term payout.

If we don’t face our own fears on smaller levels we will have a much harder time facing them when devastating things beyond our control enter our airspace.

It’s a concept I’ve come to think of as trying to live wholehearted. For the joys and for the sorrows- the mountains and the valleys.

A song I love by For King and Country echos often in my heart:

Look how far we’ve come. Look where we started from. Best thing about it is you know we’ve only just begun
They say life’s a dance– 10 percent circumstance but What great adventure ever plays out just the way you’ve planned it
We’ll fly into the turbulence. No telling where we’re gonna land. Isn’t that just part of this romance?
So when I’m stuck out in the cold- Let me be warm-hearted
When it weighs too much to hold- Let me be light-hearted
When all I have is not enough-Won’t be broken hearted
you taught me how to love, to live to learn
To live whole hearted
Should we take the easy life? Should we take the smoother ride? No need to ask, I see the answer written in your eyes
So sail the ship onto the sand. No telling where we’re gonna land. Oh that’s just part of the romance.
On and on and on we’ll go… to our lives through the unknown
On and on and on we’ll fly… Write the legend of our lives
On and on and on we’ll fly… For every day and every night
The greatest stories ever told
Were written with a heart that’s
Whole

Sometimes you’re the windshield

… sometimes you’re the bug….

Friday, September 7, 2018

This song has been wafting through from my teenage years from Mary Chapin Carpenter of late.

I am preparing for the Biltmore 50 on September 20. It’s the AERC national championship ride and I was just informed Khaleesi and I qualify for it!

I’ve been amping up my physical training: more miles, some speed, and some big workout climbs. Also mental and communication and down time together too.

I’ve sat in the field after evening feedings just being around without asking anything except companionship, I’ve brought both horses into the barn more and worked together on everything from trimming feet (especially on Wy), to tacking while getting advice from K on what’s working and what isn’t, and enlisted K’s help on some very relaxed and productive trailer loading with Wyoming.

Done some easy rides to pony Wy along… Family time.

I’ve spent some time in my little arena under video surveillance to see if I can improve my riding and our communication with some 3rd perspective help.

Through all that I’ve had moments of great triumph … and not so great as well.

It has been a reminder that no matter if I’m in the glorious heights of floating along at the perfect trot and feeling completely balanced and in sync with my 4-legs underneath me… to bailing as my trusty steed goes running up the bank in terror of a slow moving tractor…

I can always be truly joyful to realize that I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have horses, to be able to communicate with them and grow with them, to have a horse life with all its ups and downs.

I would trade any of it.

Well… maybe except…


That day last weekend clearing my main trails close to home which with a rainy year are severely overgrown only to stop for the first big briar mass– clipping away while Khaleesi behind me learns she’s standing on a ground bee nest.

🤯

Four stings for me and I’m sure more for her by the time I realized why she was acting like such a lunatic behind me. When I started getting stung the answer maniacally appeared.

Bees!!! Why didn’t you say so? Run!!

Flip side- even on the tight grown-in laurel tunnels both running for our lives she never trampled me, and when it was too hard to navigate at a full run and I let her gallop off ahead of me she waited once cleared of the bees for me to catch up and walk on home together. One more day I want glad to be riding in a halter and not a bit!


Yes, the above mentioned bail out on the embankment did happen while waiting to cross the road and letting a very slow but very large and very noisy front loader tractor pass by.

I thought I could convince her to stand firm. No. It was too much, she had to move her feet. I’m still kicking myself that I reacted so badly in that moment.

She could have run up the embankment to escape and been fine. I could have ridden her up there. But I was determined to hold her- and thus when she went, I was behind her and on that steep incline the only thing I was left with was re-balancing myself on her halter (thank god I didn’t have a bit that day).

The only thing I clearly remember was an instant where I saw her head clearly and realized I was PULLING!!!!!

[NO PULLING EVER!!! I KNOW BETTER]

I immediately let go and bailed seeing her feet cross my eyes as I landed next to her and hoping she had the balance not to fall or slip down onto me but knowing that she would do everything she could not to hurt me.

I rolled down a few feet and stood up to see her standing at the top of the hill now calm and waiting for me to get up and go to her.

The flip side– I had a real reminder of what I need to do in an emergency…. if she has to move her feet and we’re not going over a cliff or into barbed wire (which usually she’s smart enough to avoid anyway) you get ready to ride!

And even better I had only a small scratch on my hand and no injuries – I wasn’t even sore in the following days.


And there’s yesterday…. I had the whole day, alone, and a plan for 20 miles or so on some amazing trails I’d been wanting to connect! I planned to start at the other end and find a new route for a group ride soon.

What could go wrong?

The obvious trail was apparently not obvious and I went wrong right in the first half mile. I ended up doing some steep ups and downs, went through two backyards before realizing I’d circled right back around and my best bet was returning through the town for a whopping 6 miles in almost 2 hours.

The flip side: I think I made some people’s day riding up and down the sidewalks as cars slowed to take pictures out the window- we stopped where I dropped out from someone’s yard at this point obviously lost to chat (and apologize to the neighborhood for trespassing) with some local folks from the holler and they were tickled and took pictures of Khaleesi… a little girl came out to see and pet a ‘real horsey’ back in the neighborhood and in using the town back roads we went both over and under the main freeway with lots of foreign noises, lawn mowers, barking dogs behind fences, car traffic, bikes, tarps … all kinds of things.

(One is the yards we passed through trying to get un-lost… this was better than most of the no trespassing signs we passed!)

This time I was ready to ride at the moments I felt her tense to the unusual obstacles. Funny thing- when I gave her permission to move her feet, and decided to go with her- watching for a safe escape zone should we need it and I could at least help guide the flight…. she never needed to run.

🤔… could it be that slow moving tractor episode was preparing me to cut through town the following week? I’ll let you decided that one.

No matter what it was great training for Biltmore where some trails and roads are shared with bikes, joggers, strollers, seguays and even maintenance vehicles or lawn mowers and tractors.

And now I know where not to go- and upon better map inspection I think I can do it right the next time.

(I did load up and drive to another nearby trailhead for some more miles but still not the day I’d planned)


My saddle fit and shimming seems to be working well. It’s a funny combo but it leaves even sweat patterns and she has been pretty chill about the tacking process.

Her better breakover toe trim has been a winner as the slightly sore spots on her lower back that were coming and going (that the body worker was certain were not saddle related but the breakover inhibiting her free movement) – they seem to be staying gone. And her feet continue to look better each week.

However I’ve been encouraging her heels to grow and basically leaving them alone unless I had to even them a bit. This week I’ve begun to see the first signs of rubbing from the boots in the couple years I’ve used them- which tells me it may be time to pull those heels back a little now that the toes are coming into place.

It’s probably been 2-3 months since I’ve touched her heels so I did that after the ride yesterday. With a couple days rest we’ll try again and see how it helps.

Everything affects something- I love learning how the system functions and how I can help it hum along at its best given circumstances.

And my riding has been part of that too- I saw some things in the video from the arena that helped me adjust myself in a way to really opened up a freer trot and felt great for both of us and finally I could switch diagonals and felt completely the same on either instead of one being stronger or easier. That was a glorious moment.

I wish I could say it’s constant. It still comes and goes but I’m finding it more often each ride.

On and on and on we go through our lives and the unknown…

I wouldn’t have it any other way!