Healing and the Hope Cycle

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eighth

May 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m learning from their process as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She dipped again. More.

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

She dipped again. MORE.

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

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

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

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

I take up a little more. 

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

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

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

MORE!

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

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

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

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

She was racking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit Becky Pearman

Heart of flesh

sôft

officially… according to Webster:

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

unofficially… the urban dictionary:

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


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

Ezekiel 36:26

Where to begin…

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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

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

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

It didn’t matter anyway. It just was.

Observe and stay soft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What made the horses run so far?

Will I have to go get them?

I suppose I’ll wait and see what happens.

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

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

I greeted her again and took a step toward her.

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

Wait.

Breathe.

Soft.

How soft can I be?

What is it girl?

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

What is it?

I relaxed and didn’t continue toward her.

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

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

She softened.

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

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

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

Soft.

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

I paused.

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

Ok. Go ahead; put on the halter.

I did.

We walked into the barn completely connected.

Soft.


Every day is different.

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

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

Which is exactly what happened.

We walked into the barn together.

Soft.


That is where it all begins.

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

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

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

So what is soft?

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

I want my horse to trust me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what are you going to do with that box?

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

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

What if I need something out of it someday?

You won’t.

Are you sure?

Yes. I’m sure. It’s garbage.

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

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

Are you sure?

Yes. I’m sure. Give me the box.

Ok then.

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah.. that one can go too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What on earth am I talking about?

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

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

Horses are so sensitive to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you really think those were important

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

REGROWTH

Happy New Year!

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

Regrowth

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

One year of regrowth.

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

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

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

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

This year it’s time to begin the physical.

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

Saddle Update Blog

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

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

Actually it shouldn’t surprise me.

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

Everything in its time.

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

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

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

WHAT IS NEUROMUSCULAR HORSE DENTISTRY?

Once again the time is right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a time for all things.

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

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

Time will tell.

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.

Respect or Robot?

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

Learned Helplesness Blog

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

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

Photo credit: Dr Birks at the Fort Valley 50 start

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

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

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

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

No way.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh right sorry. I misunderstood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people were sure that was dangerous.

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

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

What an adventure!

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It varies.

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

Go ahead… explain…

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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

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

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

Silence.

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

Silence.

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

Silence.

Why?

Silence.


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

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

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

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

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

I know it hurts but I need to help you.

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

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

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

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

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

The flag.

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


I want to pause to explain a couple things here:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

We want to explain.

So… suggested Tim…

Go ahead and explain.

😶

😚

Exactly.