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.

Love is patient.

Friday, April 5, 2018

I have been very interested in love for at least a year… what does love require… what does walking in love cost (it always costs something)… how do we take and give love to others and how do we love like the other (horse, human, dog etc) needs and not just how we want to love.

So I decided personally to spend some time on each of the famous facets of love. You know- the ones read at every wedding ceremony. I thought a week seemed like a good idea.

Starting with:

Love is patient.

I am not the picture of patience. I like to get things done and move on! I’m a mover. So much so that on the first day of love is patient I wondered if it really had to be an entire week on each one! This one is not that interesting to me… what’s the next one?

To which the small quiet voice reminded me this is exactly why you need a week on it.

Ok. A week. Of focusing on patience.

Actually relaxing into the concept of patience in my world, at home, at work, with students and family began to seem good although I had no intention of writing about it. Then around midweek it showed up at the barn.

Working and riding with Khaleesi has been more connected than ever. She is standing so quietly to be saddled and so light and responsive on the trail- I love just thinking about going into a trot and feeling her hind end engage like a little turbo drive before even considering adding any physical push!

Yet occasionally she is not ready to come in from the field. And though once in a while she comes right to me, just as often she walks away and even sends the mustang to block me from bringing her in.

What I have learned is just to be patient and pursue her gently until a connection is made. I don’t insist, I don’t make her run the field until she chooses to be with me and let her rest, and I don’t get upset about it. I know she will come with me. I am the leader- it’s a question of when. Time.

Patience.

I love her and am willing to be patient with whatever keeps her in that field until she is ready to chose me first. I do whatever makes sense at the time to start a conversation- not tell her what to do- converse. I step in and ask and when she gives me attention I even step back and allow her to respond.

It works every time. But it takes time.

Then yesterday as I walked her toward the trailer she stopped somewhat far off.

There was a time I could hear myself:

You know how to get on the trailer.

I am a sensitive trailer driver… and it’s never even a a far ride lately.

You always come home too so you have no reason to worry about this!

Stop stalling and let’s get going already!

Impatience.

This would only get her upset.

But I watched her- she was lined up with and focused on the trailer. She was with me. Just not ready to be rushed.

the very boring video shows what I mean- she isn’t asleep, she isn’t stalling. You can see by how she’s standing that she is processing the process.

Love is patient?

So I stood with her. I asked her for just a step or two and waited and watched her. She was with me the entire way, thinking about the process, heading straight for the trailer. She wasn’t trying to get to the grass and she wasn’t distracted.

She seemed to be asking if I’d be patient with her.

It took 8 minutes. Which is kind of an eternity if you’re used a 15 second loading process (which she is capable of) but it was an act of love for her to stay with her in her process. It really wasn’t about the trailer.

It was like being patient meant it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing – what matters is we’re doing it together.

I also noticed that part of me felt like a failure if my horse takes 8 minutes to load on the trailer. I mean- if this were a trailer loading contest I lost big time. Not only have I gone back to walking on instead of sending her (which I used to do successfully) but it takes way too long.

But somehow I felt deep down that maybe it’s not the way the world sees, but how my horse sees me that makes me a winner. How much I love instead of how fast I can load my horse?

In fact the only way you can really follow this simple equine teaching method I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the past couple of years is if you’re willing to look foolish to the rest of the equine community in order to maybe gain the trust and connection of your horse.

She stayed straight in line with loading the entire 8 minutes and in the end walked so calmly and gracefully into the trailer stall it felt good and not at all stressful.

Just maybe… a week of looking for opportunities to be patient will help me in more ways than I’d imagined. ❤️

Now for the ride itself…

In front of the hidden valley bed and breakfast also known as the mansion from the movie Somersby (which was filmed here years before I came)

Finally some half decent miles- about 16 and much of it walking because….. we did the forested half barefoot!!!

That may not sound like much to most horse owners with even half decent hooves but even the forested part here has embedded rocks in much of the trail so I allowed her to walk lest we slam down on a protruding rock and cause a stone bruise and abscess a couple weeks before the first 55.

Also she wasn’t thrilled about picking her way across the river 3 times which is all rocks.

When we got to the half way point I put her boots on for the hard packed dirt road back and she trotted and cantered easily with no sign of lameness so I think her feet continue improving.

I have decided to try the Scoot skins for the 55 glue on the fronts. It’ll be the first glue ons for us but it seems a good option for where we are. The back boots are almost no-fail and the fronts are really good but depending on some other factors sometimes have a minor rub particularly on the right front. (This doesn’t say as much about the boot in my case as it does about the rider imbalance and what it’s done to her developing new hoof. I am improving but new hoof growth and patterns take time … and patience)

It’s not enough to worry about for even 20 miles but 55 has has me questioning. The glue ons will take that out of the equation if they work.

If they work for even half the ride and I switch to my strap on boots I’ll be thrilled. And who knows. Maybe they’ll really work and stay on the whole ride.

That will depend on the weather (it’s a wet season which is tough on glue) and the gluer which will most likely be inexperienced me.

Also yeah us! Her topline muscles have developed further and I’m removing a shim from the mattes pad- you can see the saddle is a little high in front now! This is great news regarding how she’s moving and how I’m riding.

So great ride on a cool breezy spring day. And she was trotting and cantering without tire up till the last feet I asked her to walk in. Not excessively sweaty and she still has plenty of energy. So far so good for trusting in her base and pulling back some fitness from a place of rest.

Failure?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical. Unbalanced. Wild. Crazy. Yep.

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

About the horses….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard the words of Joyce Meyer in my mind…

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

Florida

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I’ve been on a tour de FLA this week and horses have been the thread linking the 3 legs of the trip.

It began on the East coast catching up with dear friends Laurie, Sarah and Madison.

Laurie owns the property in VA my horses currently live on and through her I came to know and love Sarah and her bright sunshine of a daughter Madison.

Sarah and Madison were introduced to endurance when they volunteered a 24 hour shift with me at an OD100 a few years back. Madison rode a 25 mile ride with me on Faygo as I was bringing Khaleesi into endurance and her mom was a fantastic crew mom.

Then I headed back across the state to a rural town outside of Ocala for 3 1/2 days of lessons with my Simple Equine Teaching mentor.

I got to observe how she runs her barn and property. Nothing is random and everything functions for prime efficiency.

I met two ‘superstars’ that appear in many teaching stories in her virtual classrooms. The old mare is 29 but not as old as the 41-year old blind gelding who is still in light riding work. He looks great – I know young horses who are not as healthy as he is. This is not a surprise – though she does things occasionally opposite of the common knowledge and sometimes what the vet might say, she has many years of experience and observation behind her, research, and personal success — failures.

She doesn’t recommend anything to a student that is not tested enough to stand behind the consistent results. She also takes the entire horse into consideration all the time- she is not bound by only looking at the feet or only looking at a mineral balance or only looking at a behavior issue. She sees the context in the unique picture and I have yet to see her get it wrong.

So it would make perfect sense horses she works with can live 30 and 40 year productive lives.

Her younger PRE gelding is stunning as a 17 hand Spanish heritage war horse. I had to be reminded to stand my ground when he bounded in boldly (but not at all aggressive) to say hello- jolly as a gelding can be but intimidating in size and stature.

It was like standing next to a grand statue; he was so fit, full and beautifully muscled. I found myself looking directly into his neck or ribcage depending on where I was standing as he’d smell me and check me out to get to know me.

Then there was the young gypsy stallion colt being boarded and trained for a local breeder. He was a dwarf compared to Lion the PRE and also had the cutest impish personality to go along. Carefree and fun with sparkling eyes underneath a crazy mane of hair.

As usual most of my time was spent learning; whether it was questions from my notebook over coffee on the porch, asking to explain things as I observed, or while working with a horse hands on or riding.

Because she was training the stallion for the public (not her own personal horse) the timing was right for me to be the first besides her to ride him. I did not anticipate getting to ride for her this trip but was grateful for the opportunity.

He is a nice horse and though still green and a stallion I felt comfortable working with him. I also know my mentor well enough to be certain she would not put me in an unsafe position.

I learned more about my own riding and balance and gained experience on how to work with a colt who is still green as well as how to handle a stallion properly. She was able to see how he would react to a different human who wasn’t as smooth and clear in communication as she is and learn if he had gaps in his education she would need to fill for him to be safe for an average rider.

I also enjoyed getting to know them better and we enjoyed some quiet evenings around the fire.

When my brain filled to the top it was time to head to the third leg of the trip to see my good friend Pam to the south in Naples.

Pam is the friend who I first went to for help learning to ride better. I knew that my horse was not going to succeed in long distances the way I was bopping all around in the trot. Pam introduced me to Simple Equine Teaching and that was the key to understanding horses I had been seeking.

The drive down gave me time to sift through the rough notes and organize the information over the days- some concepts came back often in repetition and some barely touched on. I transfer them into a leather journal for long term reference.

It’s nice to see Pam and to have time to chat and catch up and rest. We enjoyed coffee on the outdoor porch overlooking the lake and then walked a couple hours on the beach followed by a light lunch.

The weather has been fine and it’s felt good to be warm and get some sunshine on my skin.

I look forward as always to home and my family: human and animal. I also look forward to improved communication and connection with my horses and some new layers in their health, nutrition and conditioning program.

Groundhog Day

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Some local friends have an annual tradition of spending February 2 (regardless of what day of the week it falls or the weather) devoting a night to their favorite French peasant dish: Cassoulet — paired with a screening of the classic allegorical film Groundhog Day.

I love good food and this dish introduced to me years ago by the same good friends have inspired me. Cassoulet takes days of preparation and is rich and decadent and yet simple. It’s everything Ed and I appreciate about fine food and we have even been fortunate enough (with help and guidance from the same friends) to spend a weekend in Toulouse as a part of our wedding trip — eating cassoulet in Southern France.

I tease (well it’s only half teasing) that the Groundhog Day Invite is the toughest invitation to score in our little county. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times over the last 10 years and had seen the movie at least once or twice before that.

The food and company were wonderful last night but the movie- though normally the part I cynically groan through as payment for eating the finest meal of the year- somehow struck me fresh this time.

If you haven’t seen the movie ever or if it’s been a while I will highly recommend taking a cold winter evening and some good food and watching it. I think this one just gets better in time and is worth a revisit.

I am assuming everyone knows the gist of the film: highly self-centered cynical television weatherman has to relive the same day over and over (some estimates taken from what he accomplishes says it could accumulate to up to 30 years!!) going through many new layers of self realization until he finally learns that true fulfillment comes from not seeking your own happiness but from serving and loving others.

The layers he goes through are touching and funny and I could relate to them so well in my own personal journey.

The section of the movie that struck home to me most regarding working with horses was as Phil decided he wanted to try to get to know Rita (earnestly sweet natured producer) he spent many many many of his days trying to find out what makes her tick. Each of these days goes well a little farther on until he gets to a new thing about her that he gets wrong. Because it’s fake manipulation, that new detail whenever he gets to it always shuts down the process. Thus he begins again the next (same!) day.

He really wants to spend an entire day with Rita and be exactly the guy she is looking for… he learns her favorite everything and mimics it each step of the way. His ultimate goal is still self centered… he’s more interested in conquering her than caring for her… possibly to use her to get out of the Groundhog Day cycle, or both… still about him.

One of the scenes shows him – almost crazed – going through the motions; using all the techniques and memorized details he’s acquired to get through the day until he can get to the ‘new material.’ He is doing all the ‘right things’ he’s learned but it’s so insincere it becomes creepy.

It reminded me of working with horses – how many times have I learned something with my horse, then gone back with my idea of what to do that day in mind and I’m going through the motions to get it done but it has little connection or feeling? I’m hardly paying any attention to the horse (Rita in this example) but I’m doing what I know works because it worked before. I’m right aren’t I?

How many times I’ve heard the voice “Come on you already know how to do this!!” In my head. “Why are we wasting time here?!”

It made me laugh to imagine it. Phil in the movie even overdoing his ‘love’ commentary to get what he wants but his heart just wasn’t in it.

Oh… I think I’ve been there before.

The end result of that whole process- trying to learn what he thought the girl wanted him to be and put on a fake exterior of all the right things in order to be successful– finally when he does get all the way through the day and into night with her strung along but blows it in the end… in his desperation to get that final piece in place after working so hard for so long and being SO close, his true self shows through and she feels only manipulated and just that last little thing ruins it all… back to zero.

It makes me think of the last 6 miles out of a 100 mile ride (the OD 100 has a check at mile 94). If we’d come that far and my horse showed me she wasn’t somehow really ready to finish- that she was done… let’s say technically we could pull it off- not something a vet would pull… but I knew she would be compromised…

what would I do? The investment it takes to get that far even before showing up on race day is gigantic. Would I look at my horse and say: ok girl. Not today. I’m with you.

Or would I say: you’re kidding me… it’s 6 more miles you’ll be ok. Whatever it is isn’t that bad… I mean on the scales I’ve invested this thing of yours is small! Do you know what I’ve put into this?? Come on let’s get it done?

That one decision could mean starting over from below zero (lost trust and respect from my partner) or going home to continue building on those 94 miles and all that work that truly creates a long term team capable of almost anything together.

I so hope that thinking about these things in advance will help me make that decision better when it comes. And even to see the decisions for what they truly mean. That can be even more dicey.

In the end Phil comes to the end of himself and his immediate gratification. First he gets more honest with who he is and where he is. I think that is always the hardest hurdle for most humans. He doesn’t have to be something he’s not to make Rita interested in him- being real is the start.

Then getting better. He begins to invest in the people around him, he begins exploring (educating himself) by learning music and French poetry and ice sculpting. He eventually wins the girl and his life when he stops trying to win the girl… he spends the day putting his own wants aside to care about others and finds ultimate success and fulfillment there.

I feel like this winter has been a time where I’ve been asking those same questions- how do I care about how my horse feels and what she needs above the things I want her to do for me?

What does that look like?

It’s not bad to want to ride on the trails with friends, or have high dressage scores, or run a clean course, or ride 100 miles … as much as seeking a relationship with Rita isn’t bad in itself… it works better through honesty, seeking knowledge, letting go of the ego and putting others (your horse) ahead of what you want your horse to do.

But it must come from the heart… horses, just like Rita, know when they are being manipulated or ‘played’.

The changes can only come if they’re real.

Last thing I noted was heartening: all those days Phil spent trying for the wrong things still weren’t wasted. He may have had the wrong motives, but he learned about Rita anyway… and he may have been lost for a while but the patterns emerged through the day in the town that he was able to use later to help people.

Keep seeking… really searching and eventually everyone who wants to can truly change, and use the lessons along the way for our good and those around us.

Experiments in action

Monday, December 18, 2017

For those of you who have questioned my sanity lately you’re not alone. There have been times I’ve wondered if I’m on the right track myself.

I did not end up on a solo ride Friday. I found two mares a little stir crazy with the cold wind and spent more time in the field than I’d anticipated (based on recent days’ events.) Of course every day is different and I try to work with what I have each time.

I decided to use the bailing twine to bridge the gap between field and barn with Khaleesi and in a moment where she wanted to eat and I wanted to move forward I pushed just enough too hard that she responded in a way that meant leaving me… completely.

So she was loose in the yard yet again and that took a little more time than I’d anticipated retrieving her.

I did get the mare back and we made it into the barn where I turned her loose in the barn aisle and proceeded to take video of grooming and tacking up without a halter or lead.

This is where I feel like I should add do not attempt this at home disclaimer.

Not because it’s particularly dangerous but I can’t say if it’s actually helpful, could be frustrating if you don’t have the right mindset (frustration is never good with your horse), and could possibly end up being counterproductive in the end.

That all being said; as a process I am glad I did it- and the video was amazingly helpful: this I will recommend to ANYONE who would like to improve interacting with a horse. Just set up a tripod to video anything you are doing and you will learn more than you could probably ever pay anyone to teach you.

Watch what you do, how your horse responds to you and you will learn what is effective, what is completely ineffective (and worse) what instigates an unintended negative cycle.

It’s always humbling every time I do it.

Long story condensed, I eventually got my horse tacked up completely loose in the barn aisle (which meant getting better at asking her to come back to where we were working. Without a lead rope. I had to do it a lot because no, she did not stand still as if tied while not tied to anything.)

I decided after the almost 3 hours invested in catching, getting into the barn and then getting a saddle on without a halter or lead- and the frigid wind gusting outside being a very big factor- I took the saddle back off and walked very relaxed together (yes with the bailing twine) triumphantly in some ways… back to the field and released.

Here is one of the nice moments in the process.

Later I reflected if this is a total waste of time and if my alpha-mare is possibly looking at me wondering when I’ll get my act together and take her in, get it done and ride her for heaven’s sake.

Honestly I’m not sure if that’s too human a thought process or not in this case. This is why I’m doing these half crazy things. The only way I’m going to have a better understanding is if I take what I DO know… and see what happens when I work with it.

Saturday I had some errands out of town. I didn’t spend much time at the barn. I fed then haltered Khaleesi – did a little bit of leading in the field, released her and walked away. She followed me to the gate and along the fence with me as I left so I felt that was positive.

Sunday I went with the thought that MAYBE today could be the day I get back in the saddle. But I’ve learned not to get too set in any plan until I show up and see what is going on.

I haltered K after feeding and using the halter as I WOULD USE THE BAILING TWINE I brought her to the barn. Today I untied the halter from the lead leaving the halter in place in case I decided to use it.

I wanted to tack up again without tying but I saw some things from Friday’s video I wanted to improve and just having a halter on could help.

Specifically I wanted to be able to effectively return her to the area I was working in and discourage so much of her roaming the entire barn aisle. I also wanted to get more efficient without time pressure- just not waste so much time.

I rarely touched the halter, but the entire process improved from my perspective. The challenge was increased slightly as Wild Heart was calling like a banshee- she didn’t get Khaleesi back but did get the gelding herd to return and then was making tons of noise as she interacted with them.

🙄

For anyone joining recently, Khaleesi is a pretty high level (in the herd) mare. She is in charge out there and who can say what those ridiculous stupid horses are up to without her to keep them straight. That made keeping her attention harder than otherwise.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
unday went better in some ways, struggle for me in others. Sanity again questioned. Some great moments, sometimes I was at a loss. Some hail-wintry mix sounding on the barn roof. And in the end the saddle went on and I decided this was a good day to get back up there.

So outside we went with the mounting stool.

Lots of activity in the field. Wild Heart has all kinds of action going on with the gelding herd.

My first attempt to get in the saddle she begins to walk off. I hop off and return to try again.

Second time she stands still until I get situated then she begins walking immediately without my direction toward the fields.

I know exactly what we’ll be doing today.

She walks fast to the field and I let her. When arrived at the fence line I turn her immediately around and return to the stool (where I had mounted and not asked her to leave yet.)

Check and tighten girth<
he heads back to the fields trotting this time.

It feels kinda good to trot again. I love riding my horse.<

hen return at same speed to mounting stool.

Tighten other side of girth.

…she doesn’t want to stand still- trot to the fields. I encourage her to move out. return at same speed to stool.

Relax.

Then….

Has to go back to fields.

Slow canter this time. Return same speed to stool.

Thinking. Waiting. Good.

I then ask an easy walk toward the gate (to exit property). I get most of the way there and she veers off at a quick trot to the fields again.

No prob. I understand. You think you HAVE to. I immediately turn us around again and we trot same speed back toward gate.

Rest. She pauses. Thinks.

Fidgets then heads back toward fields.

Quick trot there and immediate turn around we go back toward gate. Rest.

More relaxed. A little bit of thinking. Connection with me not the herd. Good.

I begin to walk easy back toward barn (we can end this now- good work).

En route to barn she picks up fast trot and veers back to fields. Again.

Ok not done quite yet.

Again not at all concerned (I can do this all day) I turn around and go back to exit gate.

Rest. Wait.

She relaxes. Just waits. Seems to ask what next?

Good.

After a few moments resting there i turn her back to barn and she goes quiet, willing and does not try to return to the herds.

Now we are done.

I stop in front of barn. Get off and immediately drop tack right there.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
> khaleesi doesn't move a hoof though completely untied in the yard while I remove all equipment and boots. She then does a big course of yawning and chewing.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
.. then I give her time to process what just happened.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
en I then walk her quiet at calm back to the same fields she's been trying to get to all afternoon and release her back into the herd. She walks into the field completely calm as I walk away.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
s I'm waiting near the fields watching alone, I notice something a little fascinating. The gelding herd has left my mares and made its way over to where I was standing. The last interaction I'd had with them was described roughly in my herd where I asked them to get off the fence line and give me space to work with my mares.

It seems they are at the least curious about me. You can see my mares watching in the background.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
verall it is a good day. I felt confident that today my saddle time was equally as effective at building our relationship as the ground time. And I plan to continue riding and working on trailer loading though I hope I can take the things I've seen in video and learned from the last couple weeks and improve my interactions as we get back to riding more consistently.

Layers

Monday, November 27, 2017

Though my recent travels were productive and heart warming filled with both learning and family time- I am always grateful to return home!

The time spent with my Simple Equine Teaching family is always special and I never leave without learning new layers – most of the time about myself.

If I could explain what this method of understanding horses has done for me in a nutshell I might say that it has taught me that in order to be successful with horses one must be willing to dig in… in ourselves first.

Horses seem to be a unique creature on the planet that can show us ourselves – if we are willing to see– yet have a depth of kindness and grace that continue to give us humans opportunities to grow.

Friends who ask what I was doing at the seminar without my horse are surprised to hear I could spend two long (working through lunch) days classroom style – going over information I’ve already gone through on virtual classrooms- and yet say it was well worth the 12 hour drive and time spent away.

I’m still amazed to find new pockets and layers of things I know but come to realize I’m still not really DOING 100% of the time. Something I’ve come to understand is that you either do this or you don’t. Most of us want to pick and choose. I’m finding that the things that we don’t really want to deal with in ourselves becomes a sticking point. It’s the things we don’t want to change that will determine if we are truly successful or stay in the outer perimeter of ‘this is better than it was and good enough.’

I suppose this is true with everything we do. There are things in my life I’m not willing to invest 100% into because it’s not so important to me.

I have seen though what it can look like to make changes from the inside out. It has been transformational for me in much larger ways than with my horses. It’s changed the way I view the entire world around me and I hope for the better.

And I am only scratching the surface still!

As thanksgiving has just come around again and I spent some time right after the seminar with people I love – I am reminded how deeply grateful I am for…. love. The love that transforms us. The power of healing. The grace that gives second… and third and more chances to get it right. The unique role horses were given to help humans in so many ways I’m just learning about.

I realize I’m only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is possible. This is exciting. The layers I’m going through today are still close to the surface.

That used to bother me- I’d try to rush through because I know I have far to go. Then I would see how that (for me) was exactly the point. Now I am content with where I am knowing I will continue the journey with open eyes and will learn all I can with each layer I travel through.

When I returned to my herd yesterday I enjoyed seeing the mares and the conversations with each one were better because I didn’t care if we ever got into the barn.

With Khaleesi- I waited and watched. She knew I came for her. At one point she began to walk off and I experimented with a very soft click. She stopped dead in her tracks and flicked an ear to me. I waited. I experimented with my energy. She asked if she could get a drink first and I said of course. Then she showed me something half way across the field with the electric fence I had already planned to pick up. After that put her head in the halter and came with me.

Wild Heart wanted to come in but didn’t want to be haltered. She struggled with this. I gave her time to think about it. I let her go and return to me. I followed and also gave her space- she showed me an old shoe and pad of Khaleesi’s I hadn’t been able to find from almost a year ago!

At one point I invited her in and she followed me around the pasture and to the gate as if on lead exactly with me. I want to go with you but I am struggling with the halter today. There I let her know to leave the field I still needed the halter for now. She lowered her head into her new green rope halter and came into the barn.

Winter is a nice season for me to be more quiet and to learn to let go of the things I think I need to be doing- the things I’ve learned everywhere else are what I should be doing, and start paying more attention to what my horse are saying.

When I am able to do that- it’s crazy fun to be with them! I adore them and they are funny and beautiful and I learn a lot from them.

So maybe what I’m getting from all this- in the layer I’m currently sitting through…. learning to listen. And learning to understand- not what I think it should mean from my perspective but what it really means from theirs.

It is a way of looking at everything as significant, not to assume anything is random or accidental. In a world we learn to tune out so much around us this has been hard for me to do, but the more I change this thinking in me the more fun even the day to day world is.

Seeing the purpose all around me.

Not a bad thing at all.