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.

I will not say I love you.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I once heard it said that love is heard better as a non-verbal language.

Khaleesi carried me 35 miles over two days of (over) 17-mile training rides literally over the rivers and through the woods. And she did it with a fresh barbed wire cut on her left front.

I bandaged the cut before booting- and as fortune would have it I’d just filed her toes enough that her boots were a little loose so the bandage and vetwrap actually seemed to improve the boot fit.

She trotted and cantered miles on varied terrain in without complaint but I am certain it was at least a little uncomfortable. She had a good attitude the entire 35 miles.

Not only that but most of my closer rider-friends know the queenWILL kick a horse if she feels necessary.

Necessary to her is specifically being ‘boxed in’ she will protect her space if she cannot move forward and a horse comes into her close zone (I’m talking touching distance not a few feet).

This I do not blame her for. She doesn’t do it at random or because she’s mean. She does it not allow a horse to run her over or into another horse or a tree or human etc. Now it’s truly a last resort (it wasn’t always 😝) and it’s been at least a year since she has kicked another horse.

I work actively to protect that space and not allow this situation, but sometimes moving fast on narrow wooded trails with 4 horses things happen.

There were two times this occurred and both times I knew she was about to kick — I was able to avert the crisis by moving us offtrail to give her a way out or by turning her tightly and asking the rider who’d crowded us to remember to leave some space.

Both times no kick.

My horse is connecting with me as a leader more as I continue to become a better one. Riding despite physical discomfort is a sign of willingness and not kicking but allowing me to quickly (instantly) adjust to protect her instead are both positive growth for us.

As I get better… she gets better. 🤔☺️

This has been years of focused effort in my part to be consistent and pay a higher level of attention at ALL times I’m in EYESIGHT of my horse.

I don’t always get it right, and I may have wondered if this level of focus would be worth or.

It is.

A million percent.

This morning I went to the barn feeling much love for my mare. I could tell her I love her till my voice gives out and it will mean very little to her. (I think she’s a little like my husband in this respect!)

With a deep joy in my heart I showed it the best way I knew how instead.


My solid, trusted, strong and bold khaleesi.

I will walk the entire length of the field with my halter and bag of wound care supplies to find you in your favorite morning spot. The only place that is still shaded after the morning sun is high.

I will find you with your strong muscular neck low and your head relaxed and a hind foot cocked, with Wyoming awake and on duty to keep watch while you rest.

Wyoming will step away from you to greet me and ask my business and remind me that the queen has asked not to be disturbed unless it’s important.

I will rub her hello and assure her it’ll only take a minute.

I will greet you gently as you come half out of your nap still breathing so deeply I smell the grass and earth as I approach.

I will ask if you’d like me to check your ears for little scabs from biting midges and you will lower your head toward me to say yes please.

I will rub your neck and withers, along your back and rump and tell you I’m really grateful for your hard work the last two days.

I will notice how strong and fit you look in the height of summer and how your brown coffee coat highlighted with carmel by the sun gleams and shimmers with health.

I will take out my halter and you will drop your nose into it even though you know it could mean a walk to the barn and another 17 miles. If I ask you will go.

I will drape the lead over the fence as I pick up and unbandage your foot and check the cut. I am not ready to leave it open yet to the dirt and flies so decide to rebandage it with a clean dressing and duct tape for one more day and you never move a hoof though Wyoming curiously moves around to watch from different points to get a better view- sometimes her nose on my shoulder, sometimes on the other side from beneath.

When I finish the job and you put your foot down you will lick and chew and yawn in agreement as I remove the halter.

I will allow you to decide if you’d like to come in for breakfast now or rest in the shade a little more and eat when you’re ready.

I will walk away alone and leave you resting in the shade with peace in my heart as Wyoming goes back on watch.

I will leave some food in your bowls for later if you want a snack.

And today…

I will not say I love you,

I will let you be a horse.

The Long Dreams

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tevis season is near… the details that make my heart skip a little as I read about them.

Why?

Why on earth does this equine sport in its extreme forms appeal to some of us. I can’t explain it logically, but we are all created unique from one another, and for some the call to attempt something so challenging… with another living creature with its own personality and opinions- the partnership involved in that and the long hours on the trail- often alone- to get to the starting line…

I’ve had people suggest it’s about a competitive nature- but they misunderstand me and many of the friends I respect in the sport (yes there are unfortunate exceptions) – to us endurance is about me being better than I was yesterday.

We don’t much care about ribbons and trophies** (there aren’t any) or notoriety (this sport doesn’t provide much of an audience) or cash prizes (do some equine sports still do that?!). The motto of the governing organization AERC is “To finish is to win” and in fact sometimes the best prize of the race is the turtle (I’ve collected a few of these) for the rider who completed the ride and came in last.

**nothing against ribbons and trophies or cash prizes! And of course all competitive equine sports require discipline, skill and a relationship especially to get to the highest levels!

I recently went to hear a knowledgeable vet talk to new riders and Lani remarked:

in this sport I can’t remember who came in first last year at the Old Dominion 100, can’t tell you who was top 10 at Tevis… but I can tell you who finished 100 miles healthy and sound on a 21 year old mare, and who has been riding the same horse for 10 years without injury, and who is competing strong with a horse that is not genetically bred to make the sport easy (most non-Arabs), who has faced big challenges and overcome… those are then riders and horses we remember!

It’s captured me. It’s captured my imagination. The journey to get there has made me better.

This sport is not for the faint of heart. It’s called endurance I think now, not because it takes endurance to finish a ride- the longer I compete the more I understand: it takes endurance to get to base camp!

Once you arrive it’s one of the few sports that won’t even let you compete with out a veterinarian’s approval. And you can ride 25, 50, 100 miles in your division, come the the end and have your horse come up slightly lame, have a hind end cramp, not recover to a resting heart rate in time, or be 2 minutes past the allowed time, and not be rewarded your completion of the miles.

You have to be good. You can’t get away with much if you want to succeed over the years.

You don’t have to ride well to start- but you will damage your horse if you continue to ride badly over the thousands of miles training and competing… you have to have a well fitting saddle, a good hoof program, the right nutrition, must understand things like electrolytes and mineral loss in sweat, must be able to mitigate stress in trailering and camping in unfamiliar locations, must be mentally prepared to ride alone or in an unknown group of horses who may be sane and lovely or completely schitzoid and half out of control, must be ready to cross any kind of ditch or bridge or high river, move through any terrain from sucking mud to ridge line rocks (on the same day), meet various animals from wild turkeys to cows… even lamas or sheep and goats from time to time… I’ve encountered joggers, fisherman, hunters, cars, bikes, kayaks and seguays (thank you Biltmore); you will need to ride in the dark either for a few miles at the end of a long 50 or all through the night for a 100, and through it all watch for trail ribbons- stick with the right color for the loop you’re on, and try not to get lost in the great wilderness these rides cover.

You cannot really prepare for everything you’ll encounter. This is one reason your relationship with your horse is possibly even more vital in endurance than other disciplines where you can know more what to expect and find more consistency. I also find some people really like knowing what to expect and planing and preparing! This sport is hard on those people.

Talk about cross training!

It’s drawn my attention to a fundamental difference I’ve begun to notice in people around me. I have a view of things that if it doesn’t cost you something, if you don’t have to work for it it is not as special. (This does not include gifts! I have some very very special gifts in my life that I treasure though they came only from the love and generosity of the giver)

I’ve always wanted to experience the almost impossible. I want to explore the limits of what I’m capable of and see if the limits can go just a little farther. I want to do the things most people are just not willing to put the effort in to experience. I want to solve the puzzle and find a way to make the unlikely happen.

When I did marathon training in Northern California I ran a beautiful trail along a reservoir that had only one entrance that went for miles. On long run days I might run 10 or more miles, and gradually I would leave the families out for a walk and the casual joggers behind and eventually I’d be completely alone on trail fewer and fewer people would see. I remember one day reflecting on the reward for working so much in my running was to get to beautiful parts of the trail into the park that not many see and the gift of being in my own world out there gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Recently I’ve discovered that not everyone looks at life this way. Some people feel that if things don’t come basically easily then maybe you are on the wrong path. That things shouldn’t ‘be so hard’. While at first I thought this seemed like laziness or lack of drive- I came to realize that these other folks see it like trying to force a square peg into a round hole and that is an exercise in stupidity. Truly.

There are merits to both ways of understanding the world and it’s one thing to work hard for something and quite another to force something that shouldn’t be.

This balance is observable in endurance as people try to determine if their horse is truly a terrible fit for the sport and not likely to succeed verses the horse that needs more training and support to do well. Someone like me is more likely to continue longer than useful in coming to the realization that it’s a truly bad fit, yet someone with the opposite view very well could give up too soon on a horse that with the right help could be a successful endurance mount (for example).

No matter what, to do this sport well a solid relationship with your horse is key. And no matter what relationships take work.

Horses don’t lie- this is a lot to ask of them, they are amazingly capable creatures who will stun you to tears with their physical ability when trained well and their massive hearts to do their job for you.

My journey into the rabbit hole of endurance has made me better with my horses, it’s made me better a better writer, it’s made me better with my friends, it’s made me better with my family. Yes, over time, I think it’s even made me a better wife.

I leave you with a blog repost to the inspiration for my entry. It is written by Elizabeth Speth Mostly Beautiful Things- Tevis Volunteer. Here is a quote from the blog that stirred my heart as she shared real experiences she has gone through volunteering for the famous Western States Tevis Cup:

I will be happy to see you at one a.m. in a remote place, with the moon rising over a tree-fringed canyon, as the air is turning cold.  You have been riding nearly twenty hours, give or take.  In temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ve left the light on for you, because you still have a ways to go.
I will stay with you while you throw up, wretchedly, exhaustedly, on the ground in front of your chair under the gas lamp.  Riding in the dark for hours gave you motion sickness, and your dehydration didn’t help.  You are too tired to be embarrassed, and I’m glad, because you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
I will hold your horse and look discreetly the other way while you pee on a bush not a foot away from me.
I will run five miles down a trail in my boots, in deep darkness, because your horse stumbled and you both went over a cliff.  My fellow volunteers and I will be overjoyed to find you alive, clinging to a steep hillside, seriously injured but with humor and graciousness intact.  Your horse will have made his way back to camp by then, in better shape than you.  I will sit with you for a few hours while the moon pries the black sky open, and we wait for rescue folks to arrive.
I will envy you as you pile your tired body in the saddle for the last fourteen miles, so delirious you have to ask me which way the trail lies.  I will watch you until darkness swallows you up.  I will think you are very brave.  I will think your horse is a miraculous thing of beauty.

… and who are you becoming?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

(Part 2)

It’s become curious to me how each post will form as I’m reflecting on a myriad of ideas. It seems to take shape out of one of those geometric images that seems like static at first until you look at it long enough and a clear image begins to rise in 3D out of the noise.

This week it was a Saturday night dream followed by a Sunday morning church service reading that seemed to compliment one another in a way that kept bringing me back to the second part of the question from last week:

And who are you becoming?

The dream

I was in an area where a trail guide was getting ready to take some riders out at dusk. They were experienced riders and experienced guides one apparently I liked (but not a person I recognized from my waking life)

What bothered (but didn’t surprise) me was how the guides and riders were speaking to their horses.

  • Don’t be so stupid
  • Quit acting like an idiot
  • You’re being stubborn
  • Come on you already know how to do this

It bothered me enough to talk to the guide I knew in the dream off to the side.

I asked if she’d ever considered treating the horses with more respect? The horses are not stupid in fact, they are arguably smarter than these riders… why would she allow them to talk to them using these words? Words have power.

We should speak the truths that are positive into our horses as well as each other!

I continued explain that when I talk to Khaleesi I tell her she’s smart… that she’s strong, and good at her job. Also that she’s beautiful and perfectly created for me. We are a great team. I cannot imagine calling her a dumb beast. Nor would I want to have a horse I thought was stupid or obstinate.

It made perfect sense to me: words can bring life – why not speak what we want to see more of into our horses and gracefully offer help with the rest hoping those things will diminish if we don’t feed them.

But she assured me that absolutely, Khaleesi is smart but these are obstinate dumb horses that act stupid.

And the group went on their way.


I haven’t had a waking experience in recent memory to bring this up into my dream world… in fact I go out of my way not to ride with people who yell at, nag, patronize or talk to their horses this way. To take it one step farther I have found people who nag and complain about their horses often do the same about their family and friends too.

The dream seemed to come out of nowhere.

That morning I went to church and the reading was about Peter.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Peter was the ‘rock’ that Jesus said the early church – beginning with that ragtag band of Christ followers and today an entire headquarter city in Rome – would be built on. It’s quite a legacy to have spoken into your life.

But he wasn’t always the rock.

I like Peter. I can relate to him. I’ve heard it said he was the disciple with the foot shaped mouth… or as Bob Goff might describe he was all gas and no brake. He often had to be redirected as his energy went off the rails. He didn’t always get where this crazy Nazarene was headed…

Yet he was the only one who got out of the boat to walk on the water! Yes, I totally get Peter.

This was the passage where he denied knowing Jesus after he was arrested.

Three times.

And once was to a little servant girl who basically had the power in that time of a girl scout today.

Yet… this is the guy that Jesus renamed from Simon to Peter. Peter for Petra or the rock.

God spoke into Peter what was becoming, not who he was at the moment. He wasn’t hard on Peter when he cut off the soldier’s ear (which showed that even after three years of following Jesus around on the inner circle and getting the extra q&a time, Simon-Peter didn’t quite understand what Jesus was all about) he knew Peter who just promised to stand by his man to the grave would run like a coward too…

Still Jesus loved Peter and saw his heart and who he would become with a little encouragement and help. He didn’t chastise him or make him feel stupid… he saw what Peter could be and that was what he spoke to him.

This tied into my dream too well to ignore and I began to ask how I can apply this in my own life.

I find it easy to do this with my horses. It always seemed strange to me to yell at or fight with a horse…. But what about humans? It’s probably both more difficult and more important how this works with them.

How does this show up with my husband, my mother, my friends, what about the people I find hard to love? The ones that I find myself easily annoyed by? The ones who I don’t understand at all? The ones that creep me out? The ones that actively try to make my life more difficult?

  • What an idiot…
  • Stupid…
  • He always does that…
  • What else would you expect from her?
  • There you go again…
  • You don’t care about my feelings…

And what about the turn around to ourselves as well which is even more painful?

When we see our own faults and how we disappoint ourselves. Most often this is what’s going on deep down- but lashing out is what we see but it’s usually a reflection of the silent lashing in.

I look at the times I let myself down. The tendencies I have that I want to grow past. And I think how I’d like to be extended a little extra grace when I fail once again into selfish old thoughts and habits and get up to try again.

I don’t mean positive self talk- that just doesn’t work because it’s crap and we can’t fool ourselves… but to deal with the real question

Who am I? And who am I becoming?

The realization that we are all struggling through life doing the best we can might help me walk in a little more grace and remember to find the positive words to speak into someone else.

We’re on a lifetime journey. None of us arrive in tact. We’re all broken and wounded and trying to sort out how to function.

To allow those around me to fail me, to disappoint me, to be rude… to not consider my feelings, to say things that hurt me, try to manipulate circumstances… say unkind things about me (true or made up…) and then to make my choice to not allow myself to define them by that.

I can find the positive things and encourage them toward those strengths and speak (internally, to them AND to others!) positive things into their lives.

To all of them I want to extend that crazy bold grace that speaks to what they can become. And I’m not Jesus- I don’t know their future. This means I don’t get to decide they’ll ‘never change’.

I want to be the one who refuses to only go ‘up to a certain point’ then write them off for ‘bad behavior’. Not to give them three strikes and they’re out. To be willing to take the radical risk to believe the best and to use the power of my words to encourage the best as well.

This is what love does… with my horse, my husband, my friends and my enemies (or since I choose not to have enemies I’ll use that word for people who don’t like me, or who I don’t understand or agree with). Love is not afraid of looking foolish. Love is not being afraid someone will take advantage of me. Love is not making sure I protect myself from someone who might try to hurt me….

Love is wondering what the other person feels before getting my own hackles up and being offended. And trying to see the world how they see it- even if I don’t quite agree.

Love bears all things. Love hopes all things. Love believes all things. Love endures all things.

All things.

A-L-L

That is a radical way to live.

I’ll go first.

Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap!

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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

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

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In some ways she helped save my life.

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

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

What a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

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

I am hers and she is mine.

Equine Charades

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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

Until yesterday.

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

So I followed.

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

What is she saying today?

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

I always allow her to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what?

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

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

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

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

One time she stomped her opposite back leg.

All of this went on probably 15-20 minutes.

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

Hm. What is it?

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

I investigate more closely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I decided not to ride.

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

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

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

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

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

<sigh>

I suppose time and patience.

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

And thankfully she seems to be patient with me too.


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

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

Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday morning was cold and windy and I had to put a fair amount of effort into keeping Khaleesi’s attention. I was not completely successful even as we walked my speed onto the open for competition trail past the starting line following 10 minutes of asking for a walk and getting a rough trot with some head tossing – she tried to make sure I understood all the action was heading toward the start and it was so wrong for us to be walking around ride camp in the wrong direction.

She kept asking to trot up the first road and for some of it I allowed as long as it was a controlled easy trot.

The first miles of the ride were mostly great footing or dirt roads and she settled into a nice trot and eagerly lead the small group we settled into as much as I’d allow.

April: if you are reading this I so enjoyed a few miles of trail with you and Brave ❤️ Khaleesi sends her greetings and I have some pictures for you. I need an email though…

Once we hit the first climb with embedded rocks she slowed down but at least kept walking and trotted when she was able. We fell back here but that was ok with me. At the top of the ridge is where things began to go wrong.

I couldn’t tell which way to go. I saw the pie plate that said “NO” but the way it was positioned on the tree I wasn’t completely certain which way it was prohibiting. I also saw a sign that was for the 30 mile ride.

I didn’t see any red/white ribbons. Then in looking around I did. And I headed that way. Khaleesi was slower than usual- it was rocky. But after about 10 minutes where I was mostly focused on navigating the footing it bothered me that the ribbons seemed to be on the left. I know the ride meeting said they attempted to keep the ribbons on the right.

😚

I stopped pulled up the map from my phone. Khaleesi was attempting to turn me around and I wasn’t certain if that was good or bad…. once I had a good look at the map I realized indeed I had gone the wrong way on the ridge and was heading on the 30 mile trail back to ride camp. 😬

I allowed Khaleesi to turn around and we immediately picked up some forward motion.

Back at the intersection I looked more closely for the right trail and found it though I can see how I’d missed it the first time and Khaleesi picked up more momentum.

This I write in such detail because later it gave me a clue to a question I wrested with.

Onward we went. I knew I’d lost at least 20 valuable minutes and in these rough terrain rides I also know that was a big price to pay for me and this particular horse.

She seemed to have some good momentum again and the footing was not so bad. I had been watching her boots and was pleased to say they were all working so far.

It wasn’t very long before she started slowing down maneuvering the embedded rocks. And then progress became even slower. She began to eat the grass on the pretty ridge trail and it was hard to keep her moving.

I couldn’t sort out exactly why this was happening. Because I couldn’t see a physical reason for the reluctance I began to question it she was communicating to me as plainly as she could:

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ride all these miles. I’d rather just eat grass. We can stay up here all day as far as I’m concerned.

A question that had crossed my mind but hadn’t surfaced seriously came nagging to mind.

Is this the wrong sport?

I did not ask is the the wrong horse. Of that I have no question. This horse is my partner- the sport or activity may have to change but as much as I like to ride endurance and all the challenges with it- this horse comes first

Does she hate this and I keep pushing it on her? Am I ruining the relationship I’ve built by doing this sport? How much say do I give a horse in choosing what work she does? What if she just wants to eat grass all day (?) that’s not a job.

It seems unlikely with the time lost on the detour combined with this lollygagging on the ridge that I will make the time I need to finish the day. And quite honestly I do not want to ride the grueling middle 25 mile loop at a snail pace wondering if I’d be faster walking it myself and left the horse in camp! No matter what, I believed we were done at the first loop.

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

They were friends of mine (Roberta and Jennifer) and I was grateful for the company. I explained why I was here poking along and we rode a little together.

Jennifer noticed the bottom of my boot seemed wrong though all of us thought the top part looked fine- I got off immediately and checked. The entire front right boot was gone but it was hard to tell because the glue pattern left and the black boot same as black hoof looked like it was still there from a distance.

(You can see it’s a little hard to tell what you’re looking at on trail- especially in motion)

This explained a lot – and I have absolutely no idea how long she’d gone barefoot on that hoof. I had been certain even until she asked that the boot was there.

I strapped on the replacement boot and we were on our way. However this was the worst of the rocky trail and it was still slow going. I wasn’t sure if any damage had been done in the time with no boot so I allowed her to pick her way through. I never pushed her to go a speed beyond what she offered. Which was a moderate walk.

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

She did better but not moving as fast as I’d need in order to continue. As we got onto the gravel road into the vet check she would volunteer to pick up a trot and I’d feel she wasn’t quite even and she’d drop back to walk. Because it was only a mile or less I hopped off and walked in with her.

We had taken over 4 hours to go the 20 miles (detour included) which truly wasn’t devastating but I knew already she was compromised.

The vets checked her over. Heart rate 40 (good), great hydration and good gut sounds. All healthy- except the trot out. I knew it from the first steps – she was off.

Sometimes vets will give you a chance to sort out a problem if it’s minor. She could have been uneven due to different boots on the front feet for instance- but it didn’t matter I wasn’t planning to go on and they knew it so we made it simple and they went ahead and pulled her as lame.

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

All in all the rough 20 miles wasn’t a bad training ride- also the camp excitement was good testing for our continuing connection. It was good to catch up with friends… and I let her know with complete certainty that SHE was a winner! She’d carried me through the loop, done her best, and I was only pleased.

[heading in good spirits to the ambulance trailer: photo credit Becky Pearman]

But deep down the questions still linger: will her feet always be a problem? Is this not working? What else can I do? Does it need a better answer or do I let it go and not push her to do something she’ll never genetically be able to do well?

This is when the detour came back to mind.

I don’t believe anything is wasted in this life if you’re paying attention. I believe things have reasons even if we don’t always understand them at the time. Sometimes we do get answers in the here and now.

It is in part because of the way she chose to move out onto the trail instead of back to ridecamp (she’s ridden the 30 trail twice and would know that trail – plus the general direction – I will give that to her as an intelligent equine. At that spot where the trails join, ride camp would have been significantly closer than vet check) brought me to believe at least for now, she does not hate endurance riding, I do however believe she hates the rough rocky trails that some of the OD rides are famous for.

So why are her feet such a problem?

The X-rays last year didn’t show a thin sole issue. I’ve put a year into rebuilding them without shoes and nails- so better blood flow. She’s doing well nutritionally and looks fantastic otherwise better than before with skin and coat and mane health.

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

As is customary the treatment vet takes a look over all pulled horses – I am grateful to the endurance community for this detail among other strengths endurance has as a sport… and he brought out the hoof testers to see if we could find a sore spot or bruise.

He cranked on the hoof best he could yet no reaction from her. Then he said to me-

your mare has really nice feet. They are hard and look great. The feet seem fine. Let’s try the legs.

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

In palpating the legs he found a slight reaction around a tendon higher up around the middle of the leg. He could feel no heat and no swelling, and a very small reaction but enough to think there was something bothering her.

Likely how she was moving on trail to protect her feet angled her hoof and pulled something just enough to make it uncomfortable.

We put an ice boot on and gave butte for anti inflammatory preventative to keep any swelling at bay and he said he thought she would be just fine in a few days at the most.

One more thing I’m grateful for is this mare is not stoic- she communicates especially if she knows you’re listening. It does make it harder sometimes because you can’t get by with much- but in times like this I’m glad she communicated instead of stoically allowing me to continue and cause worse damage. Some horse do this… they’ll do what you ask of them regardless until they are too hurt to go on and often long term sometimes irreversible damage is done. Not this mare. She will let me know if anything is not at full capacity. Occasionally I think maybe too much communication!

So… I thought some more. Maybe I’m mis-hearing her communication about the rocks.

Maybe it’s not as much hoof sensitivity as I’d assumed. Maybe it’s combined with how much she hates the unbalance and stumbling over those jagged rocks and maybe it’s also her tendons and muscles in her legs.

One of my goals this year has been to walk her barefoot on paved surfaces. I’ve begun to but not done the miles and miles I’d like to work up to. Maybe the hard surface work will continue to harden her tendons and ligaments. Maybe her feet are improving- but not ready for the OD trails… maybe she’ll never want to ride those courses just because … well … for a horse that many miles of brutal rocky trails frankly sucks.

A look at the left boot skin I removed in camp. It was on pretty good and I had to loosen it with a screwdriver. I may try them again. I like the concept and like the closer hoof fit, but I’d considered trying to paint them red so they were more visible and I’d take that more seriously the next time. I had a plan B but hadn’t anticipated seriously that I would know when it was time to put it into effect. 😫

Maybe if I stick with this sport (which at the moment I am inclined to do) I will need to adjust the rides I choose – which is a little sad because I love my OD family – but maybe not best for her. And the horse has to come first. I decided that years ago.

I may try to aim for rides like Biltmore, Big South Fork and Foxcatcher and see how she does on those. They are all farther away from home, but fewer more carefully selected rides at least may help me see if she does better and seems to thrive there or not at all.

Admittedly the ride home and the late night dark voices at least until a desperately needed shower spoke to me of my failings… failing my horse, failing myself, not being good enough- me or my horse… something is wrong with me… look at all the other people who sail through these rides… but at least after the shower I was able to decide that… No. I don’t give up that easily. My journey is unique and it’s my own. If it’s not right for her I am ok with leaving endurance but it’s not time to decide that now. I will remember that I’m a work in progress – so is my horse, and things will look different in the morning.

They do indeed.

Today in reflection I remember the lesson of what success means and it is not a ride completion.

My horse cares not about mileage records or placings. And I remember it’s how my horse sees me that matters more than looking like a failure with a lameness pull to human eyes (myself included).

True Success means:

  • I honored my horse and put her needs first.
  • I saw what good strides we have made in connection – how well she went through vetting in, how she works with me so much better than she ever has before.
  • The rear Scoot Boots (strap on not glued) for through the 20 miles perfectly and no rubbing! The spare I strapped on finished the loop with no issues as well.
  • She got good vet scores and is strong and healthy.
  • I made it through the trip without injury to her or me.
  • I learned things (about glue on boots, about my horse, that I may need to reconsider which rides she’ll enjoy more)
  • I got to work on my personal “Love Is” project: Patience when waiting for a ride back and volunteering to wait longer so another horse/rider could go first… in kindness I spent a few minutes early in the ride helping a stranger on the trail knowing that I don’t have much time to spare. And this week has been love does not envy which I don’t normally struggle so much with. I got to see some of that emerge as honestly I did envy some of the riders and horses who had an easier day.

Coming home with a happy horse and sitting in the grass writing this blog with her munching lazily around me, it’s nice to remember what success really looks like.

Sometimes it looks like coming home with more miles on our record, someday it may even be with a top ten finish, maybe someday it might mean changing our activity to something that suits our team better but building us into a team with a solid relationship that can only be truly tested when things are at stake is what matters most to me and that success I can be proud of no matter what the outcomes look like to humans.