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!

Peace

August 13, 2018

Things in the barn have been quiet lately.

No that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped going! Very funny.

After years… at least four or five or even six… of seeking a different way of relating to horses… of struggling to connect and communicate with them more effectively. Something has clicked over.

Friday I brought in both mares. I walk out to greet them even if they are at the farthest point of the field. As I approached they walked a few feet up the fence line and turned their attention to the field past the adjoining driveway. So I did as well. I stood there next to them scanning the tall grass for a moment until I heard them.

The sheep were coming. They hang out at the big oak tree just a few feet over from the mare’s favorite shady spot.

Oh- are they your friends? The sheep? Well hello sheep…. ok, are you ready to go?

Then I rub both horses a greeting and hold up khaleesi’s halter. She drops her head into the noseband letting me know she is indeed ready. (If she’s not ready she will walk out of the halter I am holding- and I allow her to. Sometimes she needs to scratch first, or show me something, or ask if I still care if she’s ready or not….)

I walk with K on lead and Wy follows. I don’t need a halter for her. Khaleesi knows which side she’s supposed to walk on depending on what hand I carry the lead rope. I don’t choose the same side all the time. Yet today she dips behind my back and changes sides then walks ‘too close’ to me with her head right in front of my shoulder.

That’s odd. She doesn’t usually do that. She knows how to walk in with me…. why would she do that?

So I stop and turn to her and find a green headed fly sucking the blood out of her neck right in my eyeline.

Can you please kill that thing!? She asks me so politely.

And I do.

She goes back to the side we agreed upon and we walk on.

I open the gate and both mares come out and we head in to the barn. I loop khaleesi’s line through loosely (she will stay there) and get the green halter for Wy as I will tie her while we’re in the barn.

Wyoming’s feet are long in the toe again. Working on her feet takes a long time commitment for me so I don’t do it as often as I would like to. I work on them every couple weeks- but I only get so far before it’s too much for her so they more need regular attention for now.

Then there is the right hind that she still cannot allow me to work at all. That one is wicked long in the toe and I hope she breaks it off herself soon.

I grab my rasp and gloves and get started. Her front feet used to be difficult but now she lifts them easily and will give me a good amount of time with them before it’s ‘too much’. For the most part I allow her to decide what she can handle. I haven’t always taken this approach- after all it’s for her own good that I get her feet trimmed.

But she is a mustang and if she’s not comfortable nothing goes right. When she first came I tried to push her comfort zone so she would see it’s all going to be fine. And it wasn’t fine for her. Which meant it wasn’t fine for any human who had to work with her.

My farrier at the time suggested she needed more fear of humans. He tried to help that process along. It cost me dearly with her and he (I’m sure to his relief) never worked on her again. This process isn’t his job anyway. It’s mine.

So a year later I am still healing the breech and honoring her spirit above the health of her hooves.

After getting a lot of hoof filed off she asked to pause and I dropped the hoof. She set it down and off she went. Deep into her mind. Vacant. Processing. It must feel so much better to get that hoof in balance.

I stood quietly (this is why it takes so long to work on her feet right now…) I couldn’t pay a trimmer or farrier enough to allow the luxury of this wild mare to process the changes both physically and emotionally. I watch and wait for her to return knowing that every time we do this she takes a big step toward being easy to trim.

This goes on for both front feet and in one of the pauses khaleesi who had been standing quietly and often also processing along with in support of Wy starts to paw her right front hoof in the ground and lift it up.

You want me to check that out for you?

So I let the mustang rest and go to Khaleesi. She holds the foot just off the ground and I see the pillars are growing in thick even though it’s not two weeks since I trimmed them. I shave a little off with my rasp and even up the heels just a touch (the medial grows longer over time). She sets her foot down and shakes her head and licks.

She’s happy with that.

Then she raises the other front hoof and I do about the same.

Moving back the the mustang she now lifts her left hind as I approach her. She is beginning to understand that what I’m doing is helping her. Yet there emotional damage that makes it hard for her to trust and let go.

This horse doesn’t need me to force her through. She needs understanding. Time.

Lifting that hind is huge for her so I pick it up and do my best to work in a way that she’s comfortable. It’s stop and start as I find an angle to work the rasp effectively and when I get it wrong she takes the hoof back uncomfortable.

Yet we sort it out and I get more done on that hind than ever before.

The other hind is a whole other layer of internal struggle for her. She wants to give it to me but but just can’t seem to be ok yet.

In the end I take my lesson of never letting what’s good for her in my mind (not having one long toed hoof left after trimming!!) get to be more important than the whole horse and what she’s capable of… just getting her to lift that hoof a tiny bit and not step over to avoid me is the best I’ll get without losing everything.

(Wyoming relaxed in thought with Khaleesi also in process mode in the background)

So I stop with trimming for the day.

I decide to put the saddle on her and she is a good sport but I sense a very low level concern building. She is ok with the saddle- she is more likely worried about what might come next.

Don’t worry about that today. This is all you need to be ok with.

I walk her in large circles through and around the barn so she can move her feet and not stand tied up and worried about what the saddle means.

Once she’s relaxed again I tie her back up and remove the saddle.

Good girl.

It took a lot of time to get this far today so I have maybe an hour to ride. Perfect to pony Wyoming which I haven’t done in a while.

It will be good for us all…

I’m in the midst of troubleshooting some very ugly rub spots on Khaleesi. Saddle woes have been from time to time part of every horse person’s life I know- at least anyone who is paying attention.

I wrote recently about my own saddle journey in my other blog drawing board. You can find it here: Saddles: constructive, destructive, defensive

https://drawingboardlessons.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/saddles-constructive-destructive-defensive/

My saddle is great. In fact that’s the problem. Her topline is muscling in continuously and I have to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve and I’m not doing a good job of adjusting with the changes. I’m behind.

As she grows in more back muscling I need to adjust how the felt shims work and in this case I believe now that the pads I was using didn’t do what I now need which is different than what I needed a year ago.

Thankfully I have a good friend who is helping me sort it out and is a bit of a pad-hoarder and has loaned me some options to work with.

After trying some set ups that made it worse I had that 4am flash of inspiration and was ready to try that today.

I began to tack up Khaleesi and in tightening the girth she scrunched her face, bared her teeth and as I didn’t really believe her (just give it a try!!) she nipped at me.

Ugh. She says no way. So much for that idea. Now what am I going to do?

As I loosened the girth I felt underneath. The 1/2″ pad was tight under my hand. Maybe the 1/4″ would do?

So I tried the thinner ‘J’ pad and she stood quiet and relaxed as I tightened the girth without even a side glance.

She approves!

It is so much better when she helps me figure out what works for her!

With Khaleesi moving comfortably and happy underneath me the shimming solution seems to be a winner (for now). And with Wyoming healing emotionally over lots of time and patience she walked exactly at my knee like a buddy.

Everything at peace. Even the two mares with each other.

Life is never without challenges so we did have a couple trials: first being two terrible big biting flies that attacked Wyoming on the hind. I couldn’t do anything to help her except stop and give her lots of lead to get them off. She twisted bucked and reared and finally spun so her butt was smashed against my leg.

Later I thought how frightening her antics would have looked to someone with less experience with her. But I knew she wasn’t being ‘bad’ she was begging for help.

It made me wonder how many people appear to be acting badly outwardly but really have a problem they can’t seem to sort out on their own. All of us I recon.

I had to finally let go of her and trust. I couldn’t get those flies and I knew they would stalk her until I did. She bounded a few steps down the trail away from me and khaleesi and I walked the opposite direction. The flies came with us and landed on Khaleesi and I killed them both.

I didn’t know what would happen next. Would Wyoming try to head for home? Would I be able to get her lead rope without having to get off and on wrangling two horses? No matter what I knew I could sort it out.

In the end it wasn’t a big deal. We walked up to her and I was able to reach out and get the lead, turn us around and continue on in peace.

On the way home as we walked along the property fence a down tree was casting strange shadows. Something terrified Wyoming and she hard-stopped then panicked in fear dashing in front of Khaleesi, getting to the end of the lead then spinning around into a tree so their heads were together and Wyoming was facing me and the downed tree. (Again… what may have looked like a ‘bad’ horse was a horse terrified for her life. I don’t think it matters if there is anything to actually fear. It’s what she believes that matters at the moment)

We just stood there a moment and khaleesi and I were calm- after a moment observation I knew there was truly nothing there to fear but the little mustang was visibly shaking.

After a moment she regained her wits and I untangled the lead from the tree, situated us right again, and we walked on relaxed and easy.

There was a time when that mustang would have not stopped to consider if she was ok until she’d put a big distance between her and the fright. I’ve watched her leap a fence from a standstill to evade a spook. That’s wonderful progress!

Last thing I noted about her- she used to struggle going down the steeper hills. This time it was easy going both up and down. No fussing or discomfort.

I maneuvered much of the ride with little aid from my hands and feet as Khaleesi responds pretty well now from my energy.

We returned to the barn with a relaxed Khaleesi and Wyoming still at my knee on a loose lead.

Everything about the day as it had been for the past few weeks. Aligned. Connected. Peaceful. In agreement.

I haven’t arrived. I am not done learning… I still haven’t finished a successful 50 this season.

In fact, this may finally be the beginning.

Whatever it is, I like it.

The time it takes.

June 21, 2018

It takes the time it takes.

The biggest problem I run into when adults come to me to learn the violin is that their brain works faster than their body.

It takes a long time to master the fine skills to play the violin- and when I say fine I mean small. It’s the smallest string instrument and balancing the bow and finding the exact right place for each finger to land within an eyelash to be in our out of tune without a fret or key to help guide but only the connection of ear to brain then to finger is challenging enough then the fact that normal life doesn’t use the exact small muscles needed, it takes a long time to gain “fine” control of them and you use the right and left sides completely differently: left is the bow which creates sound and right is violin which creates pitch.

It’s not difficult in concept, however it takes a long time for the body to catch up no matter how old. A kid doesn’t have much expectation to get in the way of the process. Making a sound on an instrument is fascinating enough- they don’t even need an entire “song” at first. Then their bodies and brains are still forming and the skills needed become part of that development.

I have had very very few adult students over the years overcome this barrier with the violin. They know what they should do, they know what it should sound like, but the instrument cannot be tamed any sooner than its ready. Most cannot wade though the dismal swamp of discouragement long enough to come out the other side. In the end it usually just isn’t worth it. I never blame them, it’s a great learning experience to even try and many get enjoyment out of even learning a few simple tunes, especially if they’ve never played a musical instrument in their lives.

I see this basic process mirrored into my own life-

I want something. It’s often a good something (a scholarship funded community strings program… a horse I started myself even though I had no experience training a horse… better relationships where I learn to give more of myself)… the something is even better if it’s unlikely, hard or even has uncertain success!

Then I figure out what steps will get me there and I’m ready to go! I’m tireless, nothing will stop me. I can be singleminded toward my vision. I’m willing to work hard, learn, practice, and since I’m fully on board I want to see results…. not yesterday… but immediately! Now!

This isn’t a bad thing, and it is part of how I’m hard wired so even if I can tame it in some way to be a little easier on those around me, I need to use it.  It’s a gift I can’t take credit for. It’s part of the “Who Am I?” question I’ve been writing about. In fact I get a lot of really cool things done, and I learn a lot in short amount of time and if I wasn’t motivated I would have a lot less wonderful things to show for my life thus far.

Yet it’s not always that simple!

An example of how this can work against me came to the forefront as I continue trying to improve my riding.

I know that my body imbalances affect my horse. It’s something I think about often. When I began working Khaleesi I vaguely understood this concept but not nearly deeply enough. I created a horse significantly strong sided to match my own body. This shows up most apparently in the fact that there is a trot diagonal that has always felt more comfortable (Right).

Like my adult violin students- I’ve known this but the knowledge is only a small first step. Fixing is tougher. I’ve had a few minor injuries over the past two years to my right leg. The compensation has made my left leg stronger- and being right handed I think there’s already something about the cross-connections in the body where I’m upper body right strong which corresponds to lower body left strong.

That all being said though I have some ideas about it there are a google of variables involved in each of our bodies (mine and my horse’s) – then you combine our two bodies working together and as I descend the layers I get overwhelmed even trying to sort out what is going on!

Over time I’ve worked on my own body balance both in the gym and with body work. I’ve worked on becoming more left-handed. I’ve paid attention to how I do chores and how I walk and sleep and brush my teeth….

I’ve worked on how I ride. Watch more carefully my balance and when riding try to change diagonals more frequently. My horse doesn’t seem to understand the whole process though. When I switch to the weaker diagonal she usually checks in with me as if to say:

why did you do that? that doesn’t feel good- you aren’t good at that side- do the one you are good at!

Sometimes she tries to throw me back on the stronger diagonal.

Sometimes she just stops trotting in an attempt to train me that the bad diagonal equals go back to walk.

Then when we’re out on a really long ride if I use the weaker side too much she gets tired and starts to feel off. (This also makes complete sense why she had minor overuse damage showing in one coffin bone and not the other in her radiographs two years ago).

Thankfully she’s still young and I’m aware and there’s hope.

I can fix this!

Then, working in the arena last week, I realized that no matter which way I’m going, no matter if I’m even circling left, she will always do a right lead canter. Period. I spent at least 20 minutes with a friend watching to help me know if anything I did got a Left lead so I could immediately stop and let her process.

Nope. Nothing.

Finally in the midst of trying a left slow circle trot the pond fountain nearby came squirting on and she did a quick panic dart and ran in random formation around the obstacles that were out for practice in the arena which had me off balance, then the saddle shifted sideways and I hung on then as she slowed, gracefully did an emergency dismount in the soft sand- thankfully she sidestepped me then came to a stop and I decided that was enough of that for the day!

Maybe the fountain was an intervention: this is not going to be a one day fix.

But I understand. I want to restore the thing I broke in ignorance. I’m ready to get it right now. Why wait? Let’s keep working that weak side until it’s the strong side!

(Below shim added to the right side evens out the saddle evenness)

When I got home I checked her back and realized that she had a sensitive spot. It’s not the saddle. It’s me. In fact I had a slightly sore spot in exactly the same place as she does.

Granted this saddle doesn’t allow much forgiveness, and it comes with a pretty strong disclaimer- that it’s a constructive saddle and if the rider is committed to being a BALANCED rider it will be comfortable for the horse and enable the horse to build a strong topline. I’ve seen evidence of this- but my imbalances are only made more of an issue as the saddle doesn’t protect the horse from me so to speak – in the way most othernsaddles do.

This is also a good reminder to me that though I love this saddle and I do believe it is one of the best out there for creating a strong topline and allowing the horse the best movement and comfort- and I’m committed to the saddle and the process of becoming the best rider I can me… it comes with a caveat: the rider MUST always be on guard to stay balanced. Due to injuries, or even for those who don’t have the interest to get so serious about this in everyday life- the very saddle that is an amazing gift for one horse could also be a terrible curse for another. It isn’t for everyone. I’m putting a very concerted effort and am in decent physical shape with good balance overall and I’m still struggling at times!

Ironically the soreness has been developing gradually (and it’s very minor right now) as I’ve been trying to work on the weakness. When I was less aware of the imbalance I had less issues (although over years that would cause a lot of long term issues in her body!)

Growth and building up weakness can be a hard process.

It was past time however to get serious about support- and in this case I needed to add a 1/4″ felt shim to the pad.

I’ve been avoiding doing it because I wasn’t sure WHICH SIDE to put it. It’s not that obvious- and doing it wrong might make things worse which I wasn’t in a hurry to do. But when I took the time to think it through and looked at all the parts- I think I figured it out, and when I saddled her the next time with the shim in the pad she seemed to lick and chew and relax as if to let me know that it was an improvement.

It felt dramatically different to me- but after the long ride I took I noticed some improvement already. I did give her a bute that afternoon in case it would help with inflammation and a couple days later I checked and her sensitivity was even less. [and editing the blog today a few days later, it’s not there at all]

When I went to ride with a friend we talked over the process and in close inspection she saw the right side where I added the shim was even still a slight bit lower than the left. I probably should have slowed down to think this through a month ago.

(Below an imperfect but improved sweat pattern after the 15 mile ride)

It reminded me that everything takes time.

I’m often in a hurry to move forward- for the best reasons. My heart is in the right place, but timing is beyond my control.

I still want to get that left lead canter, but I’ll remember to give it time and work on it more gradually. I realize that going to fast to try to fix this will only cause more damage.

I want to even out our balance (mine and hers) but I’m also reminded of a concept I heard this year that’s intrigued me: Sometimes when you’re out of balance you need to find a way to weaken the strong side, not only to strengthen the weak side.

Without incurring injury, I’m not quite sure how this works- I’ve never tried to intentionally weaken something. Maybe that’s the key here… and maybe it’s a concept I’ve not paid enough attention to.

Doubtless these insights apply to the way I function in the human world too. It always seems to be that way for me- few things I’ve learned that help me with my horse don’t translate at least in some way to ways I could handle the world around me better.

Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I wouldn’t trade her for any other horse in the world.

There’s something incredibly sweet about having that horse you click with- through the good times and the hard times and in the in-between times.

I was recently on a trail ride with some folks visiting for a local competition they did very well in. They had some very nice horses and it was a pleasure to show them around some local trails before they headed home.

My unremarkably bred local farm horse and I (not a horse trainer yet the only trainer this mare has ever known) tour-guided the group along some old Virginia logging roads with a few rocky washes, cows, a stream to cross, and a wide wooden car bridge- all standard things we regularly encounter out riding in this area.

The horses all did fine with expert riders but I found it interesting how new much of this ride was for some of them. Of courseI’ve ridden these exact trails and many like it and Khaleesi and I were able to wait as long as needed for another horse to sort out a rocky wash, or go ahead first through a stream crossing to get a gate.. or be ready to chase off some curious cows if any horses were bothered by them. She moved along when needed, rode in the back when other horses needed to find their own confidence, and waited very patiently when I asked her to.

This ride was particularly chosen as a relaxing and easy ride with nothing I’d consider challenging to a horse whose been on a trail but as I observed the riders with me two things came to mind:

  1. Not everyone and their horse does what we do (we as in the ladies I ride with regularly) Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted that what trail riding means to me is what it means to everyone else.
  2. Khaleesi and I have a pretty darn solid trust relationship that is special. And I shouldn’t take that for granted.

The experience drew me to reflect on how we’ve gotten here.

A few years ago I decided I’m not getting any younger and if I want to have a horse that only has what I’ve put into it- then now is the time to try. I did not know how to start a horse. I had zero experience training a horse.

But I wanted to try. How on earth else can one learn? So I found a young horse (a 4-yr old) that was basically untouched living on a large farm in a herd. I could try her for 6 months and if it was working out then pay for her – if not just bring her back. Plus she wasin the budget.

Cheap!

Perfect.

So I began my search- reading, doing online classes, bought DVDs and books… I was seeking something unique. I knew I wanted something different with this horse.

In the first days I couldn’t even reliably approach her. She was feral. I just sat in her small enclosure, read my book and drank my coffee in the mornings and let her get used to me and her new surroundings.

Eventually I had a big grass fenced in area to work with her on and off lead and I’d pony her from my super solid older mare to get her on the trails.

Looking back it was a messy process but I loved it. I kept going- determined to learn. I dug up any information I could find and sifted it through the filter of what I wanted my horse relationship to look like. I sought out help when I saw others that had what I wanted for my horse and me.

Over time I got on her, rode her in the grass area, then on the trails with a friend riding my older mare… eventually riding alone!

Many people said I was foolish. Didn’t know what I didn’t know. Dangerous even.

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

There was something deep in me that began this process. It wasn’t a whim – similar to the deep drive to work toward a one day 100 mile ride. The way these came up and happened upon reflection were almost not ‘of’ me.

Why on earth I decided to start a horse having no experience… and without understanding anything about endurance and only having heard of the 100 mile ride… I distinctly remember the evening I told people at a dinner party that’s what I’d like to do with this mare. 😳

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

Even as I said it there was a part of me that asked myself: what are you talking about?

Something I’ve come to observe in the past year more directly than ever is there is one who directs the universe.

I hear many people talk about the ‘U’niverse like it’s in charge, providing us humans with something somehow. But my lifetime of observations thus far show me that the universe alone is at best either random (this is how we get probability and statistics… a random universe is foundational to that) or more often a force of decomposition or decay.

We all know this. Everything that lives eventually and -unless interrupted by instant tragedy- gradually dies. Trucks rust away, man made cities become ruins if abandoned, nature left alone often tends toward destruction – just ask the beavers after a flood. It’s not only man that’s destroying the planet- it’s on a ticking clock even without us to eventually decay as well. (We humans often make this process worse but that’s a whole other story)

So when things come together you can assume that in the randomness of the universe you’ve gotten a lucky coincidence (that is of course part of statistics)… but for me– when the stirring in the depths of my soul whisper things to me as if from someone else entirely…. and then begins to orchestrate the universe to open doors and create a path- it’s way more rational to realize there is someone behind it with a larger plan at work.

I have friends that talk about The subconscious and about energy vibrations manifesting things into your life. Without question the one who made the universe also made it work rationally and created the laws that govern it. Personally I would find it a shame to get stuck on that without acknowledging the artist behind the work itself.

Like admiring a wonderful painting as if it came to being without an artists hand.

Especially when you could get to know the painter. And even commission a work for yourself….

This little mare is not perfect. Well she’s close I take responsibility for any gaps because I’m far from perfect myself. She’s not highly trained. But we have done it together.

It has become obvious as I’m not a horse trainer and didn’t even grow up around horses; this came from a small whisper in my soul those years back and developed into something that’s actually working- I’m going to take a moment and say THANK YOU because regardless of the work I have put in- I didn’t orchestrate it alone.

There was a hand guiding this process and bringing the exact right animal, wonderful places to keep her close to home, the information to work with her and the people, the friendships and the help along the way in so many places I couldn’t possible mention all of them here.

And this horse and relationships built because of her provided vital support I needed when going through a very hard time in my life- that was also not random or accidental.

In some ways she helped save my life.

You gave me the stars put them out of my reach… call me to waters a little too deep. I’ve never been so aware of my need when you draw me to see that it’s way beyond me.

How wonderful to take a moment this Sunday morning and reflect that there is one who took the time to create us both uniquely and pair us up- then roll the circumstances into place and help us (especially me) along. Because this whole thing… it’s beyond me.

What a gift.

We’ve been through a lot in these 4 years together.

From the ride early in our solo journey on trail that on a 12 mile loop only 4 miles from home (so was not turning around!) a massive oak had fallen onto the mountain road and each side was quite steep. After some investigating I chose the best possible of the bad options around and we crashed down into the woods with rocks, brush and trees and muddy footing that threatened to slip. The mare expertly and without fear navigated the detour and climbed herself back up with me on board to the trail once we routed the huge oak – it was so steep I felt her stifles push my feet and legs out of the way on the climb out.

I’ll never forget that day. It was our first significant trial and she carried me like a champ. Without question or hesitation once I confidently pointed her nose to the detour.

We’ve gotten caught in wire and grapevines and briars sometimes at the same time – she stands still for me to dismount and help her through one hoof at a time trusting me to tell her when it’s safe to take a step.

We’ve crossed so many rivers many with high waters up to her chest- including Big South Fork in Tennessee.

I’ve cleared seemingly endless trail from her back including dragging logs, cutting branches and clipping briar bushes.

We’ve been attacked by a dog where she stood to fight and kept me in the saddle as long as possible while fighting off a very aggressive attack, and more recently chose to run at full speed where we eventually lost the pursuing mutt. Yet she has no standing fear of dogs.

We’ve passed tents and campsites (she’s not a fan of campfires but we get along ok) ridden along with bikes, seguays, joggers, camping wagons and carts, fisherman (often curious about the equipment!), many friendly dogs, and every animal the VA woods can host (bears, deer, bobcats, turkeys, grouse, various snakes and many a squirrel).

Pouring rain… relentless sun… freezing temps and deep snow. Day rides and night rides under the moon. Not only has she managed all kinds of terrain including rocky ledges, ridges and the valley of the 7th ring of hell (the No Frills 30!), she’s completed a handful of 50 & 55 miles endurance rides with good vet scores in the time allowed.

[my favorite picture credit Becky Pearman at our first 55 completion at the Biltmore]

I am reflecting and remembering these things as I write not to brag- some of the situations I’ve gotten into were not good- however if you want to ride the mountains, often things are out of your control and you and your horse do your best together. And quite honestly it’s nice to know I can always ask for help navigating anything because I’m convinced we have developed our own team of angels at this point. Apparently we require much assistance!

It is striking to me as I contemplate all this maybe for the first time in one sitting… that maybe I have taken for granted what I and friends like me do and have done while riding the mountains that other very highly trained and impressively bred horses would not find so easy to navigate.

Of course….. if they did navigate these situations they would do it on the correct lead!

And that’s a conversation still above my pay grade… for now. We aren’t finished yet- still have a lot of work to do together. A lifetime I suppose.

I plan to take my first practice dressage test this week as a matter of fact!

For today I spent a few moments in appreciation of my wonderful mare, and of the connection I have built with her beginning 4 years ago when I sat with her in an enclosure just getting her to trust me enough to allow me to rub her on the neck.

And the help I’ve gotten in the journey- that is uniquely ours and only just begun.

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

because somewhere along the way…. between the mountain miles and rugged detours… in the rivers and the rocks and even the white fenced arena… it has come to be… just as I believe was planned before time began:

I am hers and she is mine.

Falling apart or into place?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I recently heard a song that suggested though I may feel like my world is falling apart, really it’s falling into place.

I love that thought.

I’ve had some nagging questions that have been beginning to feed doubt into my world.

The main concern in my horse world at least – circle around hooves and soundness. Khaleesi has been barefoot for almost a year now and I see great improvement in her feet.

Since switching to Scoot Boots I finally have a boot that is staying on around 90% and win the award for me as easy to use and durable. ScootBoots also offers fantastic barefoot information online including good Q&A forums that have helped me along the way.

So why does it seem I’m hitting roadblocks?

Subtly I’ve been getting this nagging feeling something isn’t quite right. It’s shown up in the shadows – one ride in late winter around the property where she’d feel a little off but would clear up if I rode her through.

The lameness pull – granted I lost a boot on a seriously bad part of trail… But then why did the treatment vet say her hooves were not only not sensitive- but also looked in great shape and healthy….. at the time I accepted the minor tendon sensitivity… but… something is fishy.

Then there was a recent ride where when I tried to get her trotting the ‘lameness’ feeling would show up and then disappear. Once we hooked up with friends it seemed to go away and she felt sound and even the rest of the day.

What do I do?

It’s the nagging doubt that makes it tricky in deciding which approach to take:

If she has a very minor injury then I need to back off, give her rest and get her to 100% health…

but there’s also the possibility I need to be clear about moving down the trail and my expectation isn’t to relax and bop along at a wandering pace. If this is going on then I need to demand clearly that she get going and move at the pace I set regardless if it’s faster or slower than what she has in mind (without being unsafe).

What if I’ve now trained in this odd broken gait by worrying about it and allowing her to go back to a comfortable walk when I feel it. It’s certainly possible that I can create a cycle where I ask to go… she ‘stumbles’ and pops off in her front… I say ‘never mind it’s ok- you can walk. Maybe she’s learned if she answers my request to move out with a misstep I’ll just stop asking.

Plus I’m more likely to err on the side of caution and not cause long term damage.

The nagging continued to plague me. Finally I had one entire day available with no other commitments. So I graciously bowed out of friends offers to ride and celebrated a day to ride solo. Just me and my favorite mare.

I even told my husband I just didn’t know when I’d be back but assumed it would be by dark.

It was incredibly freeing and I realized how much I needed that time when the burden of a time constraint was absent.

I now had at least 6 hours with my horse and chose a trail with lots of ‘boring’ miles on a dirt road where I was able to focus on she and me more closely – asking her for transitions in and out of gaites, change speeds within the gaites, and to switch sides of the road laterally.

That funny broken up feeling came back from time to time and alone in the woods I continued to chew on it and turn it around for examination.

First- as much as it wasn’t ‘right’ still it didn’t feel like she was lame- that feels like falling down. This feels like popping up higher in the front. It is most often on the left front but she did the same thing on the right as well. It was always going from a walk into a trot.

I could push her through it and eventually she’d trot even. She didn’t appear to hold onto any lameness.

If it isn’t lameness then what?

Was it my riding? Was she telling me I’m falling forward? And I stiff somewhere?

I experimented for a while with my riding and position and then it came to me like a bolt of lightening and I felt like an idiot that it took so long!

She was asking about gaiting again!

Considering she’s 3/4 gaited breeds and 1/4 Arab, she has the genetics in there to smooth gait physically. It’s likely I could focus on getting her to gait and pushed her more in that direction, but I’d decided that her trot was just fine and I wouldn’t do things that would feel like force to her in order to create a smooth gait if she wasn’t naturally offering it.

However if she has that gear I’d love to help her develop it. But at the moment I wait until she brings it up.

Once I figured it out I began to help her when she popped her front up. That was my cue – when she started feeling ‘off’ she was really trying to break out of a hard trot and into something ambling or racking – not exactly sure what it will be.

I would sit slightly back and hold steady with my reins and she’d get a few steps of something smooth and then pop back out and trot.

Eventually she seemed to have her curiosity filled and she stopped bringing it up for the day. We trotted and cantered happily the last few miles back to the trailer.

My understanding is that gaiting (especially without force or unnatural aids) can be tiring as the horse begins to use their muscles differently.

She did bring this conversation up late last summer. There were times when she broke into a lovely ambling gait of some sort and then she just stopped asking through the winter.

Now I think her muscling and topline is stronger that she’s starting to ask about it again and that’s the popping up movement.

She’s not lame.

I’m not completely certain she wasn’t lame at No Frills but I have a suspicion she may not have been. When a horse tries to start learning to gait I’ve heard it feels a lot like the horse is ‘falling apart’ underneath you.

She’s learning a little more about who she is.

I would love it if she decides to continue to develop this new gear.

Maybe this is a good reminder that sometimes when things seem like they are falling apart… they just might be falling into place!

Equine Charades

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Life goes on without much to write about. A great trail ride with girlfriends, days in the field… nothing particularly interesting.

Until yesterday.

I decided to take a short ride in the afternoon and upon arriving at the pasture Khaleesi came over to greet me. I gave her a rub and she walked off across the field.

So I followed.

Sometimes she’s easy to ‘catch’ and wiling to come out and do whatever I have planned. Sometimes she walks off and it takes some time.

What is she saying today?

What I sorted out with some trial and error was she would allow me to approach her and rub her and scratch her but if I went to halter she would leave.

I always allow her to leave.

I want her to come with me willingly so I continue to converse and connect in the field until she puts her head in the halter. Not a trap- her choice. This always happens eventually.

The pattern that developed was interesting to me. She would walk off sometimes toward the electric fence and stand at it gazing intently.

It seemed that she was saying she would like me to open up the fence to allow them to eat the gorgeous grass in the 2/3 of the field I currently have them cut off of (with the electric fence).

It’s too much grass for them. Last year K began to get symptoms of low grade laminitis from too much spring grass. I want to keep her hooves in good shape and her system healthy so she’s on limited grass and I supplant with hay.

She stares out over the electric fence and I say: I know girl, but I won’t do it- it’s not good for you.

I approach her and she takes off. Sometimes at a walk sometimes a little buck and a trot. She circles wide around me then squares up and looks right at me.

She isn’t getting as far away from me as possible. I’ve seen that in times past. She isn’t going far. And she’s engaged with me- focused on me. Squared up with me. Communicating something.

But what?

She isn’t leaving completely but also doesn’t want me to approach and catch her. At one point as she was looking right at me she began to stomp her back leg up and down.

What is it? I know your are trying to tell me something but I’m struggling hearing you.

I approach and she either allows me to rub her or walks off again.

Pattern continues. Sometimes she’d itch her leg or side with her teeth- often even lifting her leg and reaching her head under her flank (she is the most flexible horse I’ve yet met. I’m sure she runs a yoga class on the side sometimes)

One time she stomped her opposite back leg.

All of this went on probably 15-20 minutes.

She walked back to the fence. Stood right there staring. As I approach her I can hear it rhythmically making the zapping electric sound. I think that it is kind of odd… that I can hear the fence. I’m close to it, but it’s not usually that audible.

Hm. What is it?

Khaleesi is again standing at the fence. And near where she’s standing is one of the metal T posts — the sound is louder there.

I investigate more closely.

There is a spot where the electric tape has slipped slightly and is touching the metal post. It is zapping right there and I think the zapping is irritating to her (certainly she has a more sensitive neuro-electrical system), or with the extreme wet weather lately the current is going through the metal post and into the wet ground causing them irritation that way….

Whatever the issue- there was one or maybe multiple ones.

I looked at her and acknowledged that something was wrong and walked over to unhook the fence electrode.

I then adjusted the tape correctly and she never moved. I hooked the electrode back up and she continued to stay exactly in place.

Now the fence wasn’t making any audible zapping sound.

I returned and rubbed her neck; she was now very relaxed. Licking and chewing softly.

I thanked her for showing me and for being patient while I tried to understand. After a few minutes of standing there calmly I put the halter up and she put her nose in and came with me.

I decided not to ride.

I’d spent an extra half hour trying to understand her and then fix the fence and then relax in the field. The connection we made together was more important than a ride.

I cleaned up more of the glue residue from her hooves and then took her to a spot on the grass by the pond where she could graze some tender green stuff and enjoyed a sparkling water. A little time to hang out and relax for a few thinking of my friend Karin who talked often about her favorite times hand grazing her favorite Arabian.

I walked her around the pavement (good for her legs and feet) then returned her to the field with fresh hay.

It was a nice day but often I feel like I’m playing charades with someone who doesn’t speak my language. How on earth am I going to get better at understanding her? It was terribly time consuming for me to figure out something so simple as to fix the fenceline.

When I looked back at the video I took when I was trying to understand and thought I might need to get another set of eyes to help me- the hindsight made it so painfully obvious! She was doing everything except become a Narnia talking horse to show me the fence was not right- you can even hear the clicking in the videos.

<sigh>

I suppose time and patience.

And to keep trying to improve my language skills each time we interact.

And thankfully she seems to be patient with me too.


This follow up video is from the next day- with halter and lead I came in to see how the process to bring her in would go.

She walked across the entire field. Checked her dish (no food) then walked toward me and stopped. I approached the last feet and she put her nose in the halter.

Failure?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I recently had coffee with a friend who also studies the Simple Equine Teaching (SET) method where we commiserated briefly on how we sometimes feel like failures with our horses.

She had a few stories of horses questioning her leadership that sounded to me like she worked through pretty nicely. I think I won the horsemanship fail game with some pretty ugly rope burn blisters still healing on my right hand.

Then there’s the times she won’t stand still while I groom and saddle her… when she walks away from me in the pasture… when she tries to communicate with me so desperately and I have no idea what it is she nips in to the air to see if that makes it more obvious- like someone speaking to you in a foreign language LOUD and S-L-O-W-L-Y in hopes it might help.

I had already gone through some introspection wondering if I would ever get this system really working for me and it’s been a couple of years now.

The rope burns were from an unusual trailer loading where Khaleesi – who generally gets on the trailer without fuss – not only refused to get on for an hour but then loaded and pulled an emergency exit before I could secure her. I grabbed the rope to keep her from fleeing completely (which would have been an entirely new layer of problem to fix). That hurt.

After the rope burn I went for gloves, tying K to the trailer to wait for me. When I returned she walked on like nothing had happened as she often had before and stood calmly while I secured her.

Not enough time to ride I left her resting on the trailer a few minutes while I did a couple barn chores then backed her off calmly returned her to the field.

What happened?

In retrospect there were a handful of things I missed in the moment being in the situation and not removed as I can be looking back. I now see the mistakes I made that made it worse. I also can see the things I did right that meant when I revisited loading two days later the process wasn’t broken after all and in a brand new day she walked on with gentle invitation on a loose rope.

Still, there was a time when I knew so much less and things seemed to be a whole lot easier.

Ignorance can be bliss. However as another friend says: once you see, you cannot unsee.

It may be simple equine teaching but in fairness I was warned it wouldn’t be easy.

Though many methods talk about training humans and helping horses – this system is actually based on that principal than any other I’ve looked into. It’s required of me a higher level of understanding, discipline and control of myself body, heart and mind.

I can understand how many people take a glance, or even try to get started then decide it’s too hard, too invasive, too much to expect and walk away.

On the flip side, submitting myself to this process has also changed other facets in my life from teaching music to relating to my colleagues, family, husband, even strangers.

I’m not sure why the feelings of ineptitude have been stronger lately. I’ve considered it could be a product of having a deeper understanding where now I can see more of what’s really going on, or maybe as I get better my horse demands more of me.

I also think there is something in many women horse owners (myself included) that we want to love and be loved by our horses and then interpret behaviors through that lens. This is a hang up to ever truly understanding them. It’s like hearing what you want to hear instead of what’s being actually said. Love to humans (in my observation) most often means “you make me feel good“.

I’ve been noticing where I find this tendency in myself and I continue to work on the shift to truly loving my horse in the way that means: I am devoted to understanding you and what you need without the lens of what I wish it meant for my own needs.

Hm. Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to love my husband too.

This is a harder path though. To choose to do not what feels good… not to do what’s expected, but what is higher. Not what everyone would agree is justifiable behavior, but what Love requires- even when it isn’t fair to me. Even when it won’t be understood. When it won’t be noticed. When it won’t be appreciated. When it’s painful. When it costs me something and the other nothing. When I’m responsible for only 2% of the problem and I can say: that means I am the problem.

I’m beginning to see that until I realize I am the problem I will always be stuck in the cycle of where I’ve been- and then my past DOES determine my future. The limits I put on how much I’m willing to give, bend or take on directly limits where I get to go from here.

[To be clear. This applies to things I’m committed to or have an obligation to. Things I’ve already involved myself in… this does not mean I never say no, or decide a relationship is one I need to walk away from, or not to rescue or buy a horse… take on expansion in my work etc. Those are also choices I take responsibility for that control my future ability to commit 100% of myself to what I do invest in. In fact it makes me much more aware of what I commit to because I will give everything and need to be quite discerning where I put that force to use.]

Taking responsibility- even when I’m only 1% ‘wrong’ means I now have the power to transform.

Radical. Unbalanced. Wild. Crazy. Yep.

For me, I don’t want to dig around in the sand forever, I plan to walk on water someday. And that means crossing over into a place that is uncomfortable and costs something.In fact I heard last week a saying that you’re not really walking in love unless it costs you something.

About the horses….

I’m trying to learn what they need. Then work on practicing it. I want a best friend, she needs a leader who is a good boss to work for. She is my friend and buddy- but anytime I allow the friendship to grow bigger than our working relationship I confuse things and lose ground on the solid relationship I’m building.

Each horse is an equine with equine language and needs… yet they are all different and need to be related to in their individual way. Their  past influences their reaction in the present yet each moment is new and you can’t allow the past to dictate how you proceed into the future. You cannot pretend with a horse- they know you from underneath your skin yet if you’re not completely confident yet in your knowledge you must fake it till you make it. Always observe and listen to what your horse is telling you- your safety depends on it… but you cannot allow a horse to convince you to change your mind. Stay direct, be as firm as you have to be yet always as light and gentle as possible.

Just like life – until you live this out, until you practice it and fail falling to one side or the other of the razor’s edge you must walk, these things seem like contradictions. They aren’t. They are all true.

Sometimes the closer I think I get to what I really want the more acutely I feel the failures. Failures are also vital in learning how to move forward- it is necessary to learn to feel convicted without feeling condemned. So often we get this wrong. I see people spiral into self-pity quicksand with all the bad choices or wrong paths they’ve taken “I’m just so hard on myself” – it’s a waste of time and energy. However it is important to see where you’ve gone wrong, what the results were and make a real decision to stop that pattern. You may fail again. Then notice, and stop. Conviction lets you realize you made a bad choice, a mistake, a miscalculation… and you failed your horse, your friend, your family… if you slip into condemning yourself you are stuck and worthless. If you look forward and don’t allow it to define you EVERY TIME you begin to move forward and grow and then you become useful. Every moment spent on self-pity for the wrong decisions is wasted and makes the problem worse, not better.

A few days after coffee with my friend I had a real test. I met two friends for a trail ride (for the first time in a while I wasn’t riding solo). One friend was riding a horse she’d never ridden before and that is always an unknown. My expectations were higher than usual for myself and I honestly didn’t believe they would be met that day. I planned to do my best and see what still needs fixing.

I wanted my horse to focus on me completely and not connect to the other horses on the ride.

EVERY THING I DID that day was in mind of connecting with my horse from trailer loading, unloading, groundwork before even walking over where my friends had just gotten on their horses. I continued to expect her to focus on me and not the equines- I kept a good distance from them at all times to not encourage her to to connect with them and not to encourage them getting to know each other.

This is not a social visit for my horse- these other horses are not “her friends”. She had a job.  I rode most of the ride in the back and demanded (from K) at least a horse length between us and the two ahead the entire ride (being in the back gave me more control of my environment).

Once when we took the lead another horse rode too close on K and it was obvious to me her attention was now split between me and the horse that was in her zone- so I politely moved aside and took up my place in the rear again. I was not worried she would kick the horse– I did not allow the situation to continue to that level. I cannot control someone else’s horse, but I can put us in a place where my horse has a better window which puts me in control and being a good boss who protects my horse’s space so she doesn’t have to.

It is not unreasonable that she requires a zone of space around her on the trail, I think it’s ignorant of us (myself being guilty of this for years) to allow them to ride in such close proximity especially tail to nose considering we are also supposed to be in control of them and make decisions for their movement.

When we stopped as a group my horse never took a step without checking in with me and I allowed the other two to get a small lead before moving. That was a great indicator of how much she was connected to me and not the group and I was pleased. Same with a change to trot or canter- she didn’t change until I did. I’ve never had her attention to such a complete degree on a group ride before.

After a challenging week feeling like I wasn’t finding the razor’s edge very well, this was hands down the best ride I’ve had. Three hours with friends on the trail leisurely with my horse completely focused on me was more gratifying than finishing my first 55 at the Biltmore.

The next evening I rode just before dusk and returned home after dark. She was very very good that ride as well and my favorite moment was crossing the lit up bridge over the Jackson River in the dark.

I heard the words of Joyce Meyer in my mind…

Keep doing what is right and eventually you WILL get a right result. There is a lot of sowing seed, pulling weeds, and tending to the soil before the harvest.