Healing and the Hope Cycle

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever After…

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Somewhere deep inside us, we humans have basic ideals that can’t be explained by genetics or evolution or experience of the world around us. Yet somehow we share the understanding though what we do with the ideas is varied.

Perfect.

We all inherently know that we aren’t perfect and it’s something unattainable on this imperfect earth. We sense there is a standard to strive for yet will never achieve this side of eternity. Somehow we know this without being taught.

Related to this, is the ideal of Happily Ever After. Though we know it’s unrealistic, we still have this deep yearning for the time when all things are right and we don’t have to struggle anymore but to only enjoy the arrival.

Consider the great love stories: two people perfectly suited for each other meet, “fall” in love, then have to overcome obstacles to be together. Finally ‘love wins’ and prince charming and lovely maiden have a wedding. End of story. Drop curtains… roll credits…

Happily Ever After.

Person finds perfect horse, horse understands human perfectly and the two run their event as one connected being winning best of whatever the thing is; then ride bareback with no bridle into the sunset mane and tail flying in the gentle breeze together in perfect harmony…

Happily Ever After.

Most don’t openly admit to this fairy tale thinking yet if you talk to anyone long enough and listen carefully, we all hold this ideal to some degree at some subterranean level.

There are two branches to this happily ever after concept but they come from the same root:

  1. if you find the right fit everything will work out with minimal struggle.
  1. true love conquers all.

With every good fundamentally misleading ideal- there is partial truth yet the honest truth is not in either.

Certainly one will have more success in any relationship if the partner is chosen wisely (horse or human) yet we often do not see clearly until it is too late what attributes we should have been considering.

Also, true love does conquer all however true love has little to do with the fond feelings and chemistry – the thing one falls into — at all. Far fewer of us get excited about living the choices true sacrificial love calls. The stuff you’ll need when the going gets tough.

To quote a marriage therapist who heard a very difficult story full of hurt and betrayal. As he sought a way to begin helping the couple — the only question he could think of at the moment was: Well what did you think “for worse” was going to look like?

After the credits roll and the curtain falls is where the work begins. This can be happily ever after but only if you come to understand that the joy is in the building and the growth that comes in the unexpected and uncomfortable along the way.

That whole thing about the journey vs the destination. Not only in learning from the journey, or realizing the journey is the point… but finding your joy in it.

Many of us find it difficult to actually make the switch to a relationship or other becoming more important than the individual. Looking at statistics and the world around me it seems obvious that a great many people (and growing with our cultural trends) are willing to put the relationship or the other first so long as that mostly serves their needs… (ponder that a moment if it doesn’t strike you as ironic).

There are various often compounding reasons things take a wrong turn and a failing cycle sets in. Language barriers (we can both speak English yet not really communicate!), misunderstandings, baggage that makes us fearful or overly sensitive, unshared expectations, and usually any or all of these pair with a deep self centeredness that’s almost impossible to shake without serious painful dedication.

I speak from personal experience. But regardless of the people who’ve contended they are truly selfless and these people often say this is their biggest downfall…. I’ve yet to find anyone immune to this.

Often the people who seem to always be off doing good deeds or are ‘always giving selflessly’ have a buried selfish need they are either fulfilling to feel good about themselves, to earn ‘credit’ with god or humans, to manipulate people in subtle ways … I wonder if they are even aware of completely…

I remember once hearing someone frustrated that their selflessness had gone too long unnoticed proclaim: you should know by now I’m always thinking of everyone else first!!!

It seems realizing that self centeredness is likely the biggest demon we face and recognizing that it’s almost impossible to iradicate is a big step toward real heart change. Even mother Teresa was quoted as saying she herself was selfish and greedy…

Byron Katie challenges us to consider starting with a selfless cup of coffee… when she noticed even bringing her husband a cup of coffee meant she had hoped he would thank her and appreciate her.

Tim Keller calls it being mercenary in our friendships. (I love this)

With horses it shows up when the horse begins to refuse or is unable to continue moving (or moving fast enough) toward our human goals. This can come from the horse not being able to understand what we are asking, gets tired of being forced, or is physically limited or in pain.

Relationship failure then comes from giving up and has two ways it presents:

  1. Give up and find a better partner who will fulfill your needs.
  2. Stay and be resigned to the disappointment that you’ll never have happily ever after.

It is easier to resign oneself to a disappointment (sell the horse and quit altogether, or have the horse that “just does that” like… “he’s great in the saddle but watch out on the ground” or “when you get on be ready- he’ll take off right away” or “she’s great in the ring but so spooky out on the trail- we never hack out anymore”) and in marriages we’ve all seen the “unhappy couple” who has given up stays together but lives separate lives, they make deals a lot (you can do that if I can do this) or complain and nag at each other or maybe worse don’t talk at all… Giving up means not having to try, grow, hope and be vulnerable to failure.

The other option is trade out. Many people have the horse merry-go-round farm where they buy a horse, find after the excitement of choosing the perfect horse dies down and the day to day grind comes it doesn’t do what they want or how they want; they figure it was a bad choice and look for a better one. There’s always something wrong with the horse (or the girl/boy friend or husband-wife… affairs, separations, divorces) These people rarely seem to imagine something could be lacking in themselves. It is much easier to give up and keep looking for perfect in the other.

Disclaimer: I do think there are a few examples where a fit is just so easy it doesn’t take much effort and everyone is happy. Not only is this uncommon, I don’t believe it’s ideal. A real bond is tested in difficulty- if you never have to set your own goal or desire aside for another… is that really a strong relationship or simply a convenient one? Similarly, a true horseman is never made with an easy horse. Not everyone agrees with me.

The answer that truly does lead to happily ever after is the narrow road in between.

This is the great unknown- love is a long and narrow road… (Matt Maher)

The great horse-rider connection that seems magical… the couple that still laughs, cries and grows together into old age… they didn’t just fall into that. There is a way that challenges me to put my partner’s needs ahead of my own.

Hold on though. There is a glitch here that many get hung up on.

The inability to see what the partner needs, or to see that as valuable. Most of us are interested in personal growth- but the kind that makes us more into the person we would want (The challenge is to do the work it takes to figure out what your HORSE needs — or your spouse needs.) For many horse people we already know what we know and don’t seem to connect that it hasn’t actually served us optimally in the past- then we can’t learn.

If it were easy to become the person our horse or partner needs it wouldn’t require this kind of growth and sacrifice. In human relationships we find a lot of reasons why they aren’t deserving of the kind of grace, patience, forgiveness, humility, or whatever they need and it seems unfair to give when you’re not “getting what you need”. It is hard to keep working toward being that person to someone completely underserving because they haven’t done the same for you and may never.

There are also difficult situations where a human is engaged in destructive behavior and putting them first means making hard choices- but the difference is in the heart. True love makes the hard decision not just to “protect yourself”- but in understanding that allowing them to abuse me actually is allowing them to continue to damage themselves. The difficult decisions on how to handle destructive situations may have a different edge when viewed this way.

I’ve seen the magic when someone truly commits to this kind of true love beyond what is reasonable. And over time finds their heart is changed by grace, and eventually stops living in the “when will I get my due” and begins to enjoy the process of the change in them. The difficult moments become opportunities for more love and growth and learning.

It seems to me that only when the process has changed a person so much that they come to this…. That something begins to change in the other as well.

Most people give up before that. Because even in their kind deeds they are still in manipulating the other to be what they want or get what they want mode. The heart has not changed. And this is something we can sense in those around us and they can sense in us.

Especially with horses.

Humans have goals- whether to ride 100 miles, earn a ribbon in the next class, or to trail ride safely with your friends. Horses sense when you are only interested in training them to meet your goal. Most humans don’t give horses enough credit to even try to hide this.

I’ve found (maybe it’s because I work mostly with mares) that if you begin to have a heart change where the horse herself truly becomes what is valued and you begin to become what the horse needs consistently over time – they begin to trust and work with you and respond.

Horses need leadership, direction and clarity, so putting the horse first doesn’t mean doing everything the horse wants and how she wants to do it. It’s a journey of learning the tension between good leadership and learning what your horse needs to be successful and then adjusting yourself (growth) to becoming that leader.

Successful relationships and lives consist of observing what works and doesn’t, taking responsibility for adjusting yourself in solving the problems, and lots of patience in the process. It’s messy, risky, dangerous and fulfilling when done with a true heart.

Happily ever after comes when you begin enjoying where you are right now– not waiting to until perfection or success is achieved- in yourself or others.

Life always shows us that once you sort out the current challenge another will pop up like the whack-a-mole game.

Happily Ever After comes from learning to love the skies you’re under in the words of Mumford & Sons. To realize that the process through grace of the change in yourself can be beautiful and drawing you closer to the perfect person you can’t quite attain but still makes you more like real love than you were the day before.

May you find happily ever after today and this upcoming year as we ponder the gift of love that Christmas brought 2000 years ago… in a small town barn … where a donkey carried a young pregnant mother…

… bringing mankind’s hope of perfect love, an example of how we might love each other and someday the final happily ever after we crave.

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!