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.

Every moment new

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March has been schedule intensive- in addition to my regular schedule, I played a chamber music concert and bluegrass performances, an orchestra concert (plus extra rehearsals for that) worked alongside students and our local maple festival serving pancakes, hosted a student recital, and flew to Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding.

Not a lot of barn time, but to everything there is a season. I’d considered trying to get to the Foxcatcher ride this weekend but I haven’t put on the miles to ensure her fitness is ready and it’s too far away to haul for a maybe…. It appears they’ve just had a snowstorm and are expecting more so in the end that’s ok.

For now I’m setting my sights toward No Frills (my favorite ride) at the end of the month.

This year has been quality over quantity in my riding. Our connection is better than ever, her feet are still improving, her body is in great balance… there’s a good base in there.

My intention is to get some more serious mileage on her legs in the next two weeks and see how she takes to it. It’s new territory for me so I’ll stay flexible and roll with it learning along the way.

Saturday was the first day I’d had the time and weather to get some decent miles in. I hit the barn in the early afternoon with a plan A (a 15 mile one-way ride toward home) and ended up in plan B (about half the distance).

When I approached Khaleesi to halter her she walked off, then bucked and trotted out into the field. Even stronger message was sending the mustang to run interference (I watched her do this more than once). For the first time in a long time the mustang didn’t back off when I asked her for space. In fact she pinned her ears and squared up with me.

This week I’ll section off the field- it’s huge. Too much too rich grass for two horses is why I section it off however she might as well be loose in Montana when it comes to catching her if she would rather gorge on the grass– when I section the field off she becomes immediately more interested in working with me. I don’t mind working through the challenges of hormones (boys) and survival (eating), but the grass here is dangerously rich so they’ll be more confined in the next few days now that spring weather has flipped. (Below: the upper field with the run in shed is theirs… you can see the two dots along the fence- the field goes all the way back to the tree line.)

Here was are. She’s not coming. The mustang is blocking me as well. That’s interesting. I don’t have the proper tools for this situation.

So I insisted on one good step back from the mustang and when she complied I turned to hike back to the barn and grab my flag.

I knew better than to be frustrated or annoyed. This was just my job today- each day it’s different. I know horse language enough to understand my mare was telling me: I don’t want to go with you today. But today I don’t know for certain why. There are a handful of possible reasons:

  • She’s in heat and not in the mood
  • The massive field of grass is too enticing
  • She doesn’t want to leave the mustang today
  • She doesn’t want to connect with me

No matter the reason in her horse brain I won’t take it personally. Just get the proper tools and come back and do what it takes to reconnect.

Once I retrieved the flag and began heading back to the field I realized I was mentally preparing for something- I wasn’t sure what would happen next but I had assumed it would be a challenge. How would I succeed?

Wait. Am I getting into win-lose mode? Too goal oriented? Don’t I know better by now?

It occurred to me that there was also a possibility I was not currently considering: that I could walk into the field and she would come right with me. 🤔

I realized how important it was that I walk back into the field freshly curious to what was there in that moment and not imposing what I thought I would find. Even though there was some evidence from the very recent past that she may not.

If I’m not careful- I return to the field with a mindset that I’m walking into a conflict. That is never a good way to approach any human or animal for success in connection.

So I decided to stay present and observe what was happening now without judgement from what happened 5 minutes ago.

I’m glad I did.

With the flag in hand it was very easy to ask the mustang to stay out of my space bubble. Which she did. This gave me the space I needed to ask for Khaleesi’s attention which in not too long a time she indeed gave me. It was a short time then for her to connect and come with me willingly to the barn.

Still, the extra time screwed up my drop off plan so I went ahead to the shorter ride and took the pressure off myself to rush. Maybe that was the ride she needed anyway.

The entire process from field to trail was easy and the ride was lovely. Everything about the afternoon was smooth and enjoyable. We were a team!

And finally the sun was shining and it was almost warm as well.

I reflected on how important it is to let go of the past and stay present. If I would have approached the mares expecting a fight I would have likely gotten one.

How often do I not realize this happens in life? at home? at work? How often do I take past (even recent past) experiences with another person and carry it to the present situation? How often do I have my defenses ready due to past experiences before assessing the present conditions?

Isn’t that what many of us are celebrating this season? If you consider the Passover- be ready… after hundreds of years in slavery eat with your shoes on your feet because any moment could be the time you’re delivered.

Or the resurrection of Jesus- in most people’s experience dead people stay dead… but when the people who loved him saw him die a horrible death including his side being pierced to be certain before sealing him in a tomb with Roman guards whose lives depended (and ended) upon keeping a dead body from moving anywhere…. then he showed up… alive and ate with them… everything changed going forward. What a reminder that we also can begin new – and allow those around us that same gift.

If you prefer to stick with only the things you can see and touch (how boring a life would that be?) then at least consider spring – each year we have the death of winter and yet there is always the hope that one day that crocus WILL bloom… the daffodil will follow and eventually the sun warms the earth and though every winter I begin to believe I will never be naturally warm again……

Still how do you balance knowing how to read patterns against allowing for a change in each interaction?

If someone in my life has a consistent record of being difficult to work with or treating my unkindly- does it cost me anything to approach each new interaction as potentially being positive or at least not bracing for the struggle before it even happens? Does it hurt me to always believe this time could be different, positive, and stay in the present observing what is there without dragging the negative history along?

I think it’s often so under the surface that can be hard to recognize we do it. Cycles and patterns. As humans I think we put layers of protection in place so we’ll never be taken advantage of… never be caught with our guard down… fooled me once shame on me?

There is a place for caution and protection certainly. But maybe in normal everyday life – when we aren’t truly in danger of emotional or physical damage– in fact those layers of protection eventually cause worse damage to ourselves . Maybe sometimes allowing for the change is an important step in seeing a change.

Monday morning I got a call from the manager of the property my horses live.

That is never good.

Hello?

Good morning… I’ve got some bad news for you.

I figured- go ahead… what is it? (Why don’t I just get nice geldings like sane horse owners?)

Your horse is in heat… she jumped the fence this morning to get closer to the geldings. She doesn’t seem hurt but when I went to catch her myself or put her back over into your field she wouldn’t come near me and now she seems to be pretty happy eating the better grass in the middle field.

Oh. Which horse? (please let it be the mustang)

It’s Khaleesi.

Oh (drat. Now two fence jumpers.)

There was a bad spot in the fence that had come down where she likely went over. I’ll head over to fix it in a few. Thought you’d want to know. She’s fine for the time being.

Thanks I’ll run over and round her up.

I figured I had my work cut out for me. But remembered what I’d been pondering. it’s ok. I’ll just take it as it comes when I get there.

Who knows what I’ll actually find. Maybe the process will be fun- maybe I’ll learn something. Stay open to anything.

And to my surprise, I found both mares in their own field where they belong and looking forward to seeing me. Khaleesi must have decided to come back through the gate when D was fixing the fence. AND… she came from the far end of the field straight to me when she saw me drive onto the property- not to the food either (which I’d set down to the left) but to me. Two days ago bucking off in protest, today right to me in friendly greeting.

Each day new.

What a gift.

In this case I ended up with time to take a ride since she was so easy to catch and once again connected from field to saddle and trail and home again until I took off her halter and she hung out near me and I rubbed on her a little while more before I headed home.

I wonder how this concept might help shape my week… month… season going forward. I’m not sure but I’ll be paying more attention each day.