Seek… and ye shall find.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

After a really fascinating day at the barn I’m left reflecting over that gut thing, that voice from somewhere else that has led me to the place I’m in right now. Then I feel grateful because that search that started as a gut feeling those years back that sent me off to find a young feral mare to start – when I didn’t know a thing about starting a horse – and to find a different way to approach it, to approach horses in general…. has been an amazing journey and I know it’s still only the beginning. 


Just to clarify: I still don’t know a thing about starting horses and have barely scratched the surface of the secret equine world but I want it. I want to learn. I want to be better. I’m better than I was and I’m getting deeper glimpses of that world all the time!

The latest leg of the journey involved a visit from a really good cranialsacral practitioner yesterday. We arranged her visit because of Wild Heart’s issues that were not connected to an injury that a vet could pinpoint (nothing broken, swollen, pulled, diseased etc) but after serious amount of firm insistence from myself and my friend Susan only resulted in this fine mare digging in her heels (literally) we needed to dig deeper ourselves. 


Dee Janelle from Simple Equine Teaching came to do a private clinic back in April and we started with her. 

Definitely pain. By that time (April) she had developed an obvious stiffness in her stifle and something going on in the poll. The pain she was dealing with had caused louder and louder communication from her and though I was listening I wasn’t completely certain just what the mare was saying. But she had begun to show disrespect towards me likely because if I couldn’t understand her and continued to insist on things she couldn’t do- I was not going to make a good leader for her to trust. 
I did not go down that path very far without getting help. 

Dee helped start some basic healing process that was amazing to watch (as a science minded skeptic… this laying of hands type stuff seemed unlikely to make a difference. But when you see the changes with your own eyes and if you care about results… you’ll believe too).  

After the clinic I went back to groundwork she could do without pain and allowed her some time to continue to repair and reset – because the body will do that, sometimes it needs a little help when it’s stuck. I took Dee’s advice and called in Sandy (cranialsacral practitioner) to give her a deeper look and give us either a prescription to go forward or the green light to get into saddle work again. 


Sandy is highly regarded in her field. This meant a two month wait to see her- even with the connection from Dee- it was worth it. 

In the end I decided to have her look over all my horses and my aging pup Linus who has been getting stiffer and stiffer with age after even a short easy trail ride. 


One thing I’ve learned that has begun to save me time, money and aggravation: if Dee says it is a good idea, jump on it. I have yet to see her be wrong. I can’t explain exactly, but in a couple years time I’ve seen the evidence: she is not guessing. And she is not going to be wrong. 

I’m not a mindless-follower type. I believe in results. The longer I stay connected to her and her methods- the more my horse life blooms and my animals thrive and things come together. 

When I saw her in April she said to me (paraphrased): She’s a great mare- I really like her.  I’m not happy with her [Khaleesi’s] feet. You have a nutrition problem. Get her shoes off, get her nutrition issue fixed, start by getting off the junk food [commercial processed fillers and grains], you’ll need hoof protection that isn’t nailed on constricting the blood flow into her legs. Her legs will look better too when you get the shoes off. Your saddle is ok, she’s happy with it- but there’s minor atrophy starting behind the withers- talk to Carol about a Balance Saddle so her back can grow stronger. You like riding trails in a halter – I see you in a neck string, that will be better. Let’s just get everything off her face entirely – is that legal in your sport?Next year. 2018. That is your year. You are going to have a fantastic 2018. 


I heard her. I still hear her voice in my head. 

2018. That is your year.

Well I wasn’t quite ready to bail out on 2017 in April. So I made mental notes and thought:

There’s no way I can afford another saddle- especially an expensive one. I spent all that time and finally found what ‘works’ for us…. LA LA LA LALA I DON’T WANR TO HEAR SHE MIGHT DO BETTER WITH ANOTHER SADDLE… 

I can’t pull her shoes off today I have a 55 mile race next weekend and I don’t have a good boot program in place. Plus my vet and farrier keep telling me pads and shoes are giving her the protection she needs to reverse some of the impact damage. Pull the shoes- ugh! Just when I’ve found something that seems to be working ok. I know I’d like to see her able to get out of shoes but I’ve tried that before…. how can it work?

I don’t feed a lot of grains anyway- I can pull off my feeds pretty easily. I’ll start there….

And I did start there. I at least took one thing to start with immediately. 

I pulled all the mares off ration balancers and feeds and went to coolstance and grass only. I add a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Then got to the OD 100 in June and lost a shoe in mile 2. 

2018. That is going to be your year. 

I can’t lie. That’s the first voice I heard when I started having shoe issues. She’s always been right before. 

Pull the shoes as soon as you can and get her nutrition fixed. 

I suppose that gut feeling is partly why I didn’t put that shoe back on and try to finish. Something is not right with those feet. Hasn’t been for a long time. She’s always been right before. 

Interestingly, Jeanne Waldron the legendary endurance vet took a look at K as a favor to Lynne two years ago and said a similar thing: her coat and feet and sensitivity in the lower back tell me she has nutrition issues. Probably worms. Give her a power pack.

I did. Not sure if it helped a little. But I’m still here trying to sort out her feet. 

Enter Sandy Siegrist of Perfect Animal Health. I was intensely curious what she would find with Khaleesi. First I’ve been working on my riding and balance a lot and for a couple years now. Sandy can tell a lot from the horse about how the horse is being ridden and about the rider. 


I’m not at all afraid of what Khaleesi would say! The good bad and the ugly I want to know it all! Especially the ugly- that’s where you learn how to improve.

I was beyond glad to hear that she was in great balance and great shape. Her back looks good but her top line could come up to improve it.

I just picked up a balance saddle.

…. this is what I’m learning about following this path. My reaction to finding a balance saddle was: no way. I can’t afford it. 

Seriously I can’t. 

But I started to do some research- to search. To follow that voice- and within two weeks of being open to the possibility the saddle was here. The exact right size and style available used for a price I could sell my other saddle for and a year interest free to find the right buyer. The saddle I could never imagine would be attainable fell into my lap. 

I’m slowly learning to stop putting up roadblocks and start watching the doors open. 

Wonderful- that’s perfect! That will help. 

So the only problem you have with her (and I like this mare very much!) is her guts aren’t working. Like at all. So no matter what you do for her nutritionally it won’t help because her guts aren’t processing it. 

Ok so now what?

Probiotics. 

Her feet should come around in 45-60 days. Keep them trimmed shorter so her angles are better for good growth. Do you have good boots for her? (Yes i do!!) Then she showed me how to tell if the probiotic is working and when to stop feeding it. By feeling a spot on her side with a lump that will eventually go away.

So I embark on a probiotic program to see if it helps and will keep in touch with Sandy as it goes. 

What creates this issue with the gut health? As we all know a lot of things including stress, pain, heavy workload, herd changes, antibiotics, chemical wormers, vaccinations… and more. I am fairly certain this has been an issue since she came to me. Since the first times I ponied her with Faygo (about 6 months after she came to live with me) she was sensitive in rocky ground. 

I wonder about taking her off the land and starting the important modern horsekeeping necessities such as worming and vaccinations and feeding grain added with the stress of leaving her feral style life and herd and having to get to know a human as her new best buddy. 

Often once the balance is upset it needs help to rebalance. 

Luckily Pam has a big tub of a good probiotic she loaned me before the OD ride and Khaleesi loves it- she’ll lick the powder right out of the bowl with no feed. 

Which brings me to the fascinating concept of free choice and how I’m changing even to free choice minerals now because I’ve been told by too many people that they will if allowed to – balance themselves by taking in what they need if they have the access. 

I won’t put the Forco out free choice but I am intrigued that the horse who won’t try new things: it took me a while to get her to try a carrot… she resisted eating grain feeds when I first got her… she licks the Forco out of the bowl as a powder like it’s candy. Does she know she needs it? Does the wisdom of the horse really go there? I don’t know but I’ve stopped assuming it doesn’t. 

As for the others: I’m also glad to say none of them have serious issues and are overall balanced in body, mind and spirit and in good health. 😊

Faygo had a very long ago head trauma that created uneven growth and development in her head and face. Sandy moved things around – this I don’t understand but I watched it happen- in the structure of her head and eye and even in her mouth. She does this with almost no pressure and no force. However when she was finished she asked me to walk her so she could process the changes and readjust. The mare stumbled like she was slightly drunk at first. After a few minutes she came around but the changes for her were significant. 


It is very likely she will breathe more easily now. She may have suffered harder breathing for many years because of the shift in her face and head from an early injury and though her heaves are always worse in humidity so I don’t believe that will cure the condition it will be interesting to see how much it helps her. I talked over her move to live with my mom with Sandy and she agreed a drier climate will be beneficial and she’ll be working with my mom to come up with herbs or remedies that will help with symptoms as she continues to age. 

As for Wild Heart: she had a shoulder way out and bound up. Sandy said it was like she was T-boned at some point not sure how long back… could have been pasture antics here or in captivity or as far back as her wild days. She wasn’t telling. It caused an issue in her psoas (I think it was that, but I could have the body term wrong) which is what works and drives the hind end and allows that back leg to reach underneath her. All this makes a lot of sense from what we watched ponying and riding her in how she moved and how hills were when she’d have the most trouble. 


Her stifle issue and poll were completely fine during this visit and after the shoulder was reset and released she is good to get under saddle again!

Her prescription is go for a pony ride first and get a nice long trot out so she can see that her body is working properly again and she should be pain free. She may struggle at first until she realizes it’s ok- or she may realize it right away – but she is healthy and ready for work.


As for Linus- he had scarring in his shoulder probably from when he was hit by the car as a pup. She spent a lot of time with him and helped release some of the scar tissue. Sandy has worked on wolves and wolf dogs before and said that they are different than domestic dogs. She didn’t say that Linus had wolf in him, but that she sensed a definite wild dog gene in his bloodline. She said it’s a strong presence. I was not at all surprised. He is also healthy aside from the shoulder injury and said raw apple cider vinegar and turmeric will help him as he’s aging. After his session he went from stiff and slightly limpy from Monday’s ride to moving like himself a few years back. It was lovely to see!

I left the barn feeling reflective and grateful that the path I began seeking a handful of years back- to find better answers and a deeper understanding – not just to be successful with my horse but to be a better person is a path that continues to come to me one footstep at a time. I don’t know where it will lead me, but that isn’t my job to know. 


My job is to seek. And to stay open as the steps present themselves – and to have no fear but instead walk in faith that the next step will be clear as it is meant to be. Then take the step. And enjoy!

Heart: Disrespect 

Monday, May 1, 2017

I haven’t updated Heart’s journey in a while. I have been writing more about Khaleesi as she so far is having a good 3rd season as an endurance horse.

The other side is that I haven’t been sure what exactly to write about. I’d been watching her progress nicely then gradually begin to sort of unravel on the trail and first I needed to understand it myself. 

I chose a mustang mare for varied reasons from talking to others I know who own them: good feet, hearty, ability to take care of herself, big heart, and the belief that I would learn a lot from the process. 

Well I was right on with all of it. And I’m getting quite an education. 


(Big yawn as we work though some early groundwork over the winter)

The big picture that I was trying to make sense of included a horse that always chose the humans over the herd in the field – Wild Heart is not hard to catch (in fact she catches us as Buck would put it) and is willing to leave her herdmates to fly solo with either Susan or I in the barn. 


She has become safe to tie, calm to saddle and tack up, good with picking up her feet for you to work with, Susan had gotten her quiet and still at the stool to mount, she was already started under saddle and no trouble to ride in the arena, been ponied along the trails and she had been willing to lead or follow being ridden on the trail. 

Then one ride she laid down while Susan was riding her. This isn’t the end of the world – Khaleesi has done this in a muddy pool because it feels good. I discourage it but it gives my friends a big laugh as it only happens when I’m not ready for it!

Susan would get back on her and we continued to ride just longer enough that she’d soften again and be willing to continue then we’d turn around. She did this in various ways sometimes trying more often than others and sometimes she would lay down when we got back to the barn yard… but we took it in stride and let her sort it out. 

The approach was not to get overly upset with her for it, but to firmly let her know riding was her job and laying down to roll did not get her out of it. 

The saddle fit is good, her back is fine, and we were only walking and the rides were less than 5 miles. She had been ponied on the same trails without rider to build mental and physical fitness first. None of this seemed unreasonable to getting a horse started. 

Then maybe a month ago or so she stopped at the top of a hill and refused to go.  Susan is a good rider and insisted firmly without fear.  I rode on with Khaleesi to encourage her not to be left behind. Nothing worked. She planted her feet and wouldn’t go on and when asked to move forward she would crow hop, kick, back and circle. 

Always on the lookout for when a nice horse might be asking for help- and not interested that anyone get hurt I suggested seeing if Susan could hand walk her down the hill. She has seemed uncomfortable on hills before- but nothing I could put my finger on. Just building the muscle? Was it that she wasn’t comfortable yet and the dogs were too close with her crowding her space? Was something pinching in her tack?

It took some effort even then but Susan was able to walk her ahead of me down the hill. Her hind seemed slightly stiff maybe? Then not... at the bottom susan got back on and the mare again refused to go. We experimented- I took the lead rope and ponied her… this time she went willingly. Eventually Susan took up the reins again and heading back toward home was just fine. 

The next ride she began refusing right in the front yard. I picked up the lead and she came along without fuss. 

Odd. If she’s in pain, why would she be ok with being led?

Susan took back control and was ok for a short time then still less than a mile from home the mare dug her heels. Spun, kicked at her, hopped, mini bucks, backing- anything but forward. 

Does this have to do with susan? I didn’t think so. Susan had been doing great with the mare. Still I felt that it would be a factor to rule out. 

We traded horses and I got on Heart and asked her to move along. 

No

She did the same to me. I had a little more tolerance for pushing her past the behavior and riding out some of her antics without fear. I held on, melted into the saddle and stayed calm willing to unemotionally insist that she do her job. Can I push her through this?


I wasn’t angry, afraid or frustrated. Mostly curious and trying to figure out what she was saying. 

I got nowhere


This is the point I was certain I needed help. Not that I couldn’t continue to work with the mare but I wasn’t sure what she was saying exactly. If I didn’t understand what she needed I risked destroying her connection to us with the wrong human response. 

I needed the right direction not to ruin this horse. Not to mention keep us from getting hurt. 

In my opinion the thing that makes a good horsewoman is taking the actions of the horse which could mean at least 4 different things (likely more) and accurately assessing if the horse is saying. 

  1. I’m hurting and I can’t go on like this.
  2. I don’t understand what you want and  am going to shut down out of confusion. 
  3. I am afraid and am certain I will die if you force me to do this. 
  4. I am not in the mood to haul a human around the trails and if I can find a way to get out of working I’ll do it. I think I can take you. 

We needed to get this right and she was speaking so loudly at this point I knew it was time; to respond wrong would devastate our future success with her. 

I had an idea. 

I hand walked her forward just ahead on the trail to a clearing and gave Susan my phone. I needed somewhere safe to try one more time and if we ended up in rodeo I didn’t want ditches, trees and obstacles on all sides. 

I mounted and asked her to go then insisted firmly. Same crow hopping, mini bucks, spinning in circles and backing. 

Note: I’m a decent rider but if that horse meant me harm she could have tossed me. She was communicating. She didn’t at that point want to hurt me or Susan. I am certain of that. 


We got the rodeo show on video and I sent it to Dee from Simple Equine Teaching for a consult. Thankfully this was a couple weeks before she’d be here in person. We could begin with whatever she suggested and when she came we would see how it was going and what next. 

Video is limited and wasn’t very close up but Dee gave me some feedback and Susan and I went back into the arena with Heart to back up in the process and simplify. We rode her but without any hands/steering and just asked her to be ok with carrying a rider in a walk- any direction for now is ok!

First step to rule out confusion or mixed signals from her rider. 

She started with some argument but got more comfortable with the task and she did improve in there over time. 


We still weren’t certain we’d gotten to the bottom of it….

The week before Dee came I ponied Heart on a very short walk (no saddle) and all went ok until she tossed her head and communicated major discomfort on the last two significant hills descending home to the barn. My mom and I both felt something was physically off with her we took our time (listened to her) as she navigated down the hill. 

I suggested Susan hand walk her across the street the next day to see if she noticed anything off.  Heart picked a major fight with her to even go up the hills where the two used to hand walk with no trouble at all a couple months back.

Bingo. Something was off. 

But what was still unclear. It wasn’t so obvious to see what exactly wasn’t right… no heat or swelling, her canter was choppy in the pasture but she didn’t seem injured exactly. could it be ulcers? Alignment out (chiropractic work?)

When Dee arrived the following day Susan went to get the mare and as we watched through the barn window the mare’s hind was very stiff just walking in. 

It was fascinating watching Susan and Dee work with Heart. She had some pretty serious energy conflicts in her body. Meridians and axis and poll things awry (a whole language I’m not familiar with) She had issues in her stifle and neck- these things she communicated to them as we watched her move her body as Dee and Susan worked with her.

This whole process I can’t explain, but I can say as Dee showed Susan where to touch the horse with very little pressure we all watched the mare change in front of us- relaxing, moving off then inviting her back to ‘do that again‘, sometimes a tiny jerk and the way she would hold her body then shift was mind blowing. 

That very day she already moved better, and after day two I watched her canter through the pasture with fluid motion where in the weeks leading up she was stiffer and choppy. Night and day. 

No vet. No medication. 

Energy work. Then her following up that work by adjusting herself further. 

But that’s only half of the story. Wild Heart had begun gradually to respond disrespectfully to things she was uncomfortable with. 

I want to be clear here. I have heard most horse-people I know talk about respect and disrespect and now in my personal experience I am going on a limb to say disrespect is pretty rare and the term is grossly overused. 

I’ve seen horses worried, unsure, fearful, confused, questioning- all things some people often lump into ‘disrespectful’ but it is not at all the same. 

When you ask something from a horse, and she doesn’t want to do it, then looks at you and decides she is going to fight instead of flee and she will hurt you if she is able… that is disrespect and it looks very different than confusion, fear or worry. 



Also it isn’t generally the case that a horse ‘is’ disrespectful on the whole. You can have a horse go through all kinds of responses to a request and a few moments of disrespect that turn into either respect or curiosity or vice versa doesn’t make a bad horse. 

The mustang mare can flip pretty rapidly between questions, respect and disrespect and I am getting a quick education on how to get my human responses in line fast to act appropriately.


The other part of what the clinic provided was tools to communicate quickly and effectively when Heart chose to be disrespectful- things that would hopefully keep me safe and change the conversation bringing our relationship back where she was willing and saw us as good leaders paired with some physical healing she needed to do in order to feel better, relax and start to work again. 

One of the common mistakes I’ve seen is  (especially women) when needing to respond with big communication from a horse is to get emotional. I don’t mean they cry or become a hormonal mess- mostly they use anger and frustration. Anger seems to help generate big energy, however it is still an emotion and a horse will never accept an emotional leader. 

Horse leaders respond appropriately to the situation and go back to their cool, relaxed selves eating or drinking or whatever it is they were doing just seconds ago before the offense. It’s that quick. And when they get the situation handled (which is with exactly the volume necessary no more no less) it’s over. They don’t continue to punish or chase or ‘impose more control’. They don’t continue to work the disrespectful horse. They get what they asked for (out of my space, don’t touch my food, etc) and then move on. 

It’s in the moment. The past… 2 seconds ago… is over. 


One thing I’ve noticed is that the situation is defused quickly- not amped up into an emotional frenzy which is the usual response that humans have when they are afraid, angry, or frustrated.

My job when Heart decides to take me on and question if I’m leadership material is to not be fearful (control breathing, be aware of heart rate), calmly (like I have no doubt I can successfully take on a 1200 pound wild animal) but firmly stand my ground and use my tools to communicate that I’m smarter and stronger than she is. 

After all if I can’t keep her from eating grass when she suppose to be working for me, how can I be trusted to keep the mountain lions at bay, or to provide the food she needs, or make the right decisions when we’re out in the woods together. 

More domesticated horses just don’t have the high level survival drive a wild one does so she goes from zero to life or death quicker than the other horses I work with. 

Still I have faith in the mare. She is a good horse full of spirit and heart. She is going to make an excellent partner when she realizes she has a cush life now and doesn’t have to fight anymore- she can get along with her new family and be treated very well. 


But she does have a job. 

It’s a slower process but completely worthwhile and both Susan and I are committed to success and giving the process the time it takes. 

After over a week of regular but short sessions I am seeing improvement. At first her language was loud and aggressive at times, now her disrespectful moments are less intense and more half-hearted. She is healing and I am learning and growing. 

One thing is for certain, learning to work with a horse who chooses disrespect at times does make you better if you get through it effectively. It will make me better with all the horses I work with- and it has shown me what disrespect isn’t. Which has been one of the most valuable parts of this experience for me. 

I still believe that slow IS fast and that once we sort some of these things out she will come right along and be a truly fine horse. 

Refined through the fire. 

April 26, 2017

Where to begin?

There’s been a lag in my blogging because I’ve been too busy doing to catch up with writing.
Let me try to sum it up.

Since my last blog post:

  • my mother came to visit.
  • We hosted a two-day private horsemanship type clinic together with friends (horsemanship seems the closest tag… it was about everything from riding to energy work to nutrition to training to equine communication to life lessons… all jam packed into two intense days).
  • My mom spent some time with fabulous Faygo as the plan is to send her to Reno this summer.
  • Then after dropping the clinician and my mom at the airport I came home and packed and left for the No Frills 55 which we rode on Saturday.
  • With a day to unpack and recover I’ve spent two days digging out of that hole from work duties and teaching my violin students.

Now to update my blog as best I can considering how much material I have and how little time and space I have to write this week.

First mom’s visit.


I am so grateful for the time we had together to share horsey-life. We got some beautiful riding in my favorite spots including Hidden Valley and The Big Lonely. 


She and Faygo had fantastic connection right from the start- and there must be horses somewhere in our blood because for starting later in life even than I have- she has great intuition and a great connection to them. I felt they were well matched right away and as the week went on even more strongly so. By the time she left I wished she could put Faygo on the plane with her and take her sooner. When people ask “are you sad for her to go” I can only say:

No! not even a little. Of course I’ll miss her- she’s an amazing horse and my first love… but when you see something so right and the situation so great for her, that is the only thing that really matters. It makes my heart happy to know she’ll be with my mom and Shine.


Second the clinic.

I can’t even begin. Life changing is an understatement so I’ll start by saying that it was a special time with women who are very important in my life and horses that connect us all. 


Dee from Simple Equine Teaching guides the humans to be able to think like a horse does because horses cannot think like a human. Seems easy enough- but my experience is that most people who try to see the world from the horse’s perspective mostly end up thinking “as if the horse thought like a human” and that’s where things go wrong. In order to see from the horse’s perspective first you have to notice how they communicate and enter that space. No matter what it sounds like from the outside- I’ve seen it. I’ve seen things change. Seeing is believing for me.
It’s the kind of clinic that even though looking back the least amount of time was probably spent with me and Khaleesi within the total group, I learned a ton from being part of everyone else’s process.
I don’t just want to know how to connect with my horse- I want to learn how horses think and communicate period- so watching very basic things between my mom and Faygo… and standing at the top of a very large field while Carrington learned to connect to her lead horse in a herd was invaluable for me. I learned much about working with Wild Heart and what that process will continue to look like and how Susan and I compliment each other with her… and had a blast with the time I did spend with Khaleesi.

Spending some time with the girls at the Big Lonely before the clinic.

The funniest must be when I went to collect my horse from the home field on day one- she would be transported to The Big Lonely (site of the clinic) after working with Wild Heart. My fantastic horse that comes to me and puts her head in the rope halter 95% of the time knew Dee was there and put on quite a spectacular show! 

As I stood inside the barn with the thought to collect her while they were wrapping up with Heart I got this welling up in my heart: I’m going to get my horse now… my friend… my sidekick… my second in command…

I kid you not: as I stood up in the barn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation to work with my partner I looked out the barn window and watched as she went from standing in the closest corner watching the barn to a full gallop down the fenceline to the farthest point of the field. Doubt if you want to but it was as obvious to me as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow: she felt my energy and ran with it.

I went out to the field and she came barreling back toward the gate. It had been raining on and off and the field was soggy. She showed off her full acrobatic repertoire. Bucking, rearing, jumping and running with sliding muddy stops. At one point before I stepped inside the field she did just the right amount of twist to send a shower of mud particles cartoon-like in their perfection showering right on top of me.

Brava! Yes… you are fantastic… I’m coming in to get you now…

Yes. She dared me. Come in to get me! WHEEEEEEEEEE!

If she truly wanted to evade she had acres of field to leave me for but instead she played with me and danced showing off her skills and then standing still enough for me to get close, offer a hand then twist and buck and run off again.
K: You need to up your game today! Dee is here… I know it!
Me: Show off. Come in and work with me. I promise it will be fun!
K: I will… but you have to say the secret code first!
Me: Come on… you know I don’t know the secret code.
K: I know… but Dee does! You might figure it out here… I’ll give you clues. 

True enough Dee finally came outside as the game went on and laughed: I love this mare… she is having so much fun with you!

After a couple suggestions revealing her equine code of the day, true to her word K stood still and dipped her head into the halter and we left the field together and into the trailer heading for the Big Lonely as if nothing was different than usual. She wasn’t worked up or hot or distracted- she had her fun and was mine again. 

 As the rain kept coming on and off we rode in the indoor arena there and talked about diagonals and signals of riding that are just a little different than the things I’ve heard around me for years.

I brought up my experimentation with riding in the halter and she thought a moment before suggesting that it’s ok with the right equipment but not ideal… what we need to set our sights on is to ride in a neck rope. After all when doing 50 – 100 miles on the trail, getting everything off her face would be best. 

Not today…. But we’ll get there.

Of course we will. I have no doubt.

The No Frills 55.

Becky Pearman Photography

After dropping my mom and Dee at the airport Friday morning and not being sure my truck was ready at the shop I was completely unsure if I’d be attending my favorite ride this year. I have been learning that all of life is beyond my control and that it is OK. I am learning the strength in flexibility and how to pay more attention to the doors that open around me. If my truck wasn’t running it didn’t matter how ready my horse was- the No Frills wouldn’t happen for us this year.

But my truck did get finished thanks Jay Ford and Casey and team and then I truly did have to make the call: do I go or not go?

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and hadn’t had much time at home. I had plenty to catch up on. This 55 on the other hand was a true test of green to 100’s current conditioning program and her feet. It was my last chance until June to see if we were on the right track. After a brief discussion with Ed (who was working over the weekend anyway) I decided to go.

I packed in an hour, loaded my horse and hit the road. I didn’t put my usual ton of thought or preparation. I threw some things into a cooler, a bag and a few plastic bins. As long as I had horse and saddle I should be fine. The biggest things I forgot were: sleeping bag, GPS and heart rate monitor. I was able to borrow a blanket from great friends Amy and Ricky and Amy even leant me a HRM but I couldn’t make it work. Didn’t matter. This ride there was no data- and that was for the best.

I woke up at 4:30am in my trailer hammock to pouring rain and figured I’d made the wrong call. I should have stayed home. Too late. I’m here, I drove. I paid. I’m riding.
Thankfully the Muddy Creek Rain Coat Ed got me a couple birthdays ago created a climate bubble. I was never cold and never wet. In fact it ended up being quite a pleasant ride despite the high of 48 and cold rain. 

Misty cold rain held all day- yep. Rocks here too

The weather was ever in Khaleesi’s favor. It kept her cool through a very tough ride, and it softened up some of the hard pack easing some of the concussion of 55 miles.

I went out of camp last knowing the only way we would make it through sound was to let her pick her way through the rocky trail at her pace. I had no way of knowing our average speed thank God because it seemed too slow to finish, but I didn’t care. My horse came first and I would not make the same mistake I made at 2016 Iron Mountain. I would listen to her and allow her to navigate as she was able. If we went overtime so be it. This time I would listen. I would make it up to her. I would be better.

We met up with Roger in the first loop and the two of us never left the last positions for the entire 11 hours we were out on trail. Khaleesi crept through the rocks and trotted whenever she could. We didn’t hurry and we didn’t tarry. By the last vet check we were alone after about 10 minutes into our hold while the volunteers began cleaning up- no one was even close to our last places in line. Didn’t matter- my horse looked amazing.

Final vet check before the finish at mile 43

The final 10 miles to camp we rode alone and the footing was normally hard pack but the relentless 10 hours of rain had softened it up just enough and she trotted and cantered that stretch like we’d just left the barn. 

The road follows a stream; she dragged me in a few times to drink her fill and she would pick at the lush early grasses from time to time but overall she ran home with energy to spare.

We all but cantered excitedly down into the final vetting in camp and once I pulled her tack she pulsed at 60 then had a cardiac recovery of 48 bpm. Fantastic! I’ve never seen her look so good after a ride and her feet held without a sign of lameness.


What a good lesson for me. The No Frills is hands down one of the toughest rides for both the 30 and the 55- thankfully in April we never had the heat & humidity the June OD ride does, and the June ride has more elevation gain to worry about, but this ride has the worst rocks of all three and intense relentless trails.

Looking good back at camp

As Roger reminded me: You close your eyes at night and see rocks after this ride. Grass & rocks, mud & rocks, big rocks and small rocks; embedded trail rocks and loose gullies of rocks. Rocks everywhere you turn.

Rock trail

Something else Roger said that gave me a smile. He said Khaleesi moves so beautifully- like she floats down the trail but you can see her put that hind end motor underneath herself with great power. That’s what I want. Power and ease.

I have a long way to go as a rider to help make her job as easy as possible, but I have come such a long way from my first LD on her with my legs flying around and being tossed into the air feeling like I’d gone through a washing machine for 30 miles. 

Overall this past year has been a challenging one on many levels. Often uncomfortable, but it’s the challenges that up your game and make you better if you let them. It’s the fire that refines. 

With many lessons sloshing around the think tank I will enjoy a moment of positive growth. Here after this 55 I think we both looked and felt the best after a big ride yet! I am refreshed from some time with my amazing mom, and my horse and I  are on the right track and have many more years and miles to tweak and improve. 

Becky Pearman Photography

Time. Truth. Heart.

All things old…

Monday, May 23, 2016

As promised, work has been busy after returning from the Buck clinic. Still I’ve carved out a get back on the trail afternoon for a 12 mile ride and snuck in a morning to warm up our arena skills inspired by seeing the work in action in Reno. 

I saw some cool reins at the clinic and after being on a year long casual search with nothing really interesting me more than my current biothhane reins (which I like) I found horse hair mecates. 

I am not quite ready to go whole hog ranch style so the 22 foot mecate set up wasn’t really what I wanted however I did want to find horse hair and as luck would have it, at a last stop to a western tack shop on the way to the airport (because once I got home the Internet was going to be my only option) – they had one non-mecate Mexican made mane hair 9 foot continuous rein with rawhide connectors (maybe my favorite part!). 

SOLD

I had also decided to go back to a snaffle bit at least for some work. A main reason I had transitioned to the Imus comfort bit was at that early time I had considered seeing if Khaleesi would gait (rack most likely) and though I didn’t want to weight her feet and tie down her head, some poll action to encourage her to carry herself in a way that would make a gait easy seemed to make sense. Especially because I like the bit and it doesn’t operate through pain. 

However if I wanted to experiment with a soft feel and eventually ride in a bosal I decided going back to the snaffle would simplify the communication and make her use her mind more than my aids. 

  
I am not sure yet where this path will go- it’s a journey. So I hope no one will hold me to either bit in the future! We will see how the results are and go from there. 

So we have temporarily lost the red head gear (which will continue to hold my comfort bit for now should I need to grab it) and have set up an old pretty leather temporary headstall with a nice sweet iron D ring snaffle and my Mexican horse hair reins with rawhide connectors. 

First ride back in the snaffle was fine. We climbed the mountain over into Bolar property and rode right through downtown (for any of you who haven’t ridden in my area- Bolar was a bustling center of activity 100 years ago or more and now is almost a ghost town- but a pretty place). The climb with some rocks near the ridge is a great workout for the OD and we did a lot of trot and canter back to keep the heart rate up. 

Khaleesi seemed willing to work after her long vacation and since Susan beat me to the barn (I had morning appointments) she brought the girls in alone- 

  
I’ve seen those cartoons of people trying to bring in more than one horse at once like triton wrangling monster sea horses. Not my girls! One little source of pride I have is you can walk both of mine safely together calmly next to you. 

She played around with the snaffle a little and I had to add a hole to bring it high enough that she couldn’t get her tongue over it. She doesn’t seem to mind it and though it was a new feeling to return to (we did early work briefly in a snaffle) it was fine. 

She asked to turn around more than usual and I decided instead of holding fast on her head to go into the turn and do circles whenever she tried it- I am not using a chinstrap at the moment and though the D is likely to stop it- I didn’t want to risk pulling the bit through her mouth as she pulled hard the other way. 

On the way home we picked up the energy and both girls got a little racy. I had less stopping and slowing power physically and knew I wasn’t getting her mind with me so both Susan and I made both horses run forward and slow and be passed etc (a little leap frogging) to bring their minds to us instead of feeding off each other. 

Sunday morning however was less positive. 

  

 We are so exited to have Pam back in the neighborhood and she is going to ‘play’ with us this week to help work on some fundamentals. 

Being a concert day and short on time I went to the barn at 7am to get a couple hours in and decided to go into our little arena to try some leg yields, soft feel and serpentines. Also trot on the rail with control – we always seem to drift in the trot and I’m not sure if it’s her mind that I’m  not in sync with or if it’s my body doing something funky to translate the drift. Also I never trot circles so I can’t ever figure out the correct diagonal. Thought I’d at least give that one more try!

We had a list of things to try which was good considering I didn’t want to burn her out on anything for too long. 

The morning began beautifully. She walked with me like a dream, we did some back up and leading practice. What a team!

  
We went to the arena where the boys could watch – and she could watch them watching her- and she’s in heat. 

So… Though we did some nice work she also wanted to stop at one side to look at handsome Levi the sun King gazing at her from a distance. And when I asked to trot the rail she started ok, then began to fuss-

I don’t like this direction, let’s go back the other way. 

That ground pole makes me have to pay attention, I’m going around it. 

I want to go through the middle.

I hate you! You never let me do what I want.

(Ok that last one could be a tiny bit of anthropomorphic hyperbole)

After the argument began she eventually reverted to crow hopping and shaking her head in frustration and since that is so out of the ordinary with her I decided to get off and work her. I pulled my reins off and sent her around at a trot.

You are going to do this. It’s going to be worse for you if I’m not up there!

We went back to hook on-join up or whatever you want to call it where my goal was to get her to choose me again a her comfort and place she can relax. 

How did that go you ask?

She was stubborn. 

She was trotting, I turned her, kept her feet moving around me and she would she the signs- smaller circle, ear on me… I would relax my energy and allow her to stop, and change my posture, invite her to me.

No.

She would stand perfectly still. Never tried to eat the grass- looking at me but would not soften and would not come with me.

   

I sent her on 4 times with about the same results. 

The last time I knew I was running out of time and also losing the opportunity to make something positive out of this. 

I walked up to her and put my pinkie through the D ring and asked her to walk a few steps with me. She did. I let go and kept walking- she took at least two more steps- I stopped and rubbed her.

Not a glorious partnership but something. 

  
I got back on from the fence and we walked around a few more times and then called it a day. 

After that we were fine again. 

I can disagree with you and still love you I suppose. 

Someone with more experience might have sorted that out more cleanly but this is where we are together. Figuring it out. 

There is always the next time!

Moving right along

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It’s nice to have a run where all falls into place. I will try to remember this the next it all seems to fall apart (realistically you do get both).

Since my last post I’ve been riding, studying, researching, working out and processing. 

 

The processing is what I do here… Putting it all together and thinking in the wee hours of the morning half-asleep, while I’m driving or jogging the 2 miles to pick up my trailer after dropping off and riding home

  

The riding has been great. Good miles and increasing speed overall. I keep seeing increasingly better sweat patterns and little or no flinching or tenderness in Khaleesi’s top line. With more attention to my weaker right side I am feeling more balanced and light in the saddle. 

 

most recent sweat patterns- for the non-horsey readers you want even wet sweat under the saddle pad and no roughed up hairs if possible.
  
 
Her heart rate and recovery is still great although I find the heat starting to slow her down. Last year it sleeted on me during the No Frills and this year the weather is looking nice and warm. I think I’m going to do a trace clip to help her cool as she’s not quite shed out enough fur yet. 

  

As for research… 

I’ve been working on tweaking my nutrition and electolyte plan. I’ve already cut off half their pasture so they don’t end up with too much green (cake!!) grass too soon and I’ll be asking them to eat a little hay with the grass as the ride approaches to encourage drinking (in addition to the loose salt I already add to their feed). 

We have a new electrolyte recipe and Susan and I have been dosing with plain applesauce to make them better at taking a syringe when we need them to. I already mix a complete grain with a balancer pellet (I don’t feed enough grain for the complete grain to truly be complete) and will continue to up the calorie ratio as we work harder toward the race and then rest a few days as well to give them some good grocery loading. 

She is at good weight and muscling for an endurance horse of her breeding

I will be prepared with cut apples and carrots and pick up some alfalfa cubes for quick on the go snack on trail (the alfalfa-hydration balance has been on my mind a lot but I think a few cubes won’t upset that enough to override the need for her to keep snacking on trail). 

Of course we LOVE the soaked beet pulp and will continue to use that as a super forage that also encourages hydration. 

Video of my favorite sound… Lots of slurping up wet beet pulp after a good ride 

  

Working out- the least fun of all the steps to success. 

I go to the gym to get some help and a push from a trainer. I am aware of my weaker right side now all the time and it’s growing stronger. 

[by the way… I think this might have been exacerbated by a minor foot/ankle injury I somehow picked up over the winter. I started really favoring my left to help the right heal, and it has… Now I have to rebuild]

I am still working slowly on dropping a few pounds to ease the weight on my horse and have the fitness and stamina to ride balanced with more core and sustain that posting trot for up to the 12 hours we are allowed to complete our first 50 miler. 

It’s a process but I’m taking steps each day to get there. 

the dogs like when i take the nice weather to run at home instead of the gym

Then there’s the studying

Each new virtual classroom through Simple Equine Teaching has new ‘ah-ha’ moments. My mom recently asked what I attributed our good roll lately to… Was it the power pack de-wormer?

Yes. Actually, I am really glad I followed that advice. I think she looks healthier in her hair and coat, and she’s moving better (of course so am I) but she also used to occasionally have marks on her sides where she’d chew/scratch. I haven’t seen evidence of that since the super-wormer. 

However! I attribute a large part of our good roll to the relationship and training/leadership concepts out of the SET lessons. 

They build in layers and I find myself regularly going back to a previous class and re-connecting a concept in a more complex way to new things I observe. 

  
I am working more connected with my horse by getting better at how SHE perceives me every week.  In many ways it’s a lesson on how to really think like a horse scientifically — not what the horse might be thinking based on our human brains. I am doing so much better because I don’t treat her like a little human- I work with her more naturally like a horse. And a great one who deserves to be understood for who she is – not anthropomorphised. 

It is a small shift actually. But it has moved our universe. 

We were pretty good before. We are better now… And it makes me smile to imagine what we might do together as we grow. 

  

Great!

Monday, February 29, 2016

The weather changed overnight and Sunday was heavenly. The breeze was warm and the sun shone and I even wore my new (bought out of season on clearance months ago) half chaps for the first time (I’ve been in winter boots until yesterday) and that felt amazing!

It was the first true sweat I’ve seen on Khaleesi since fall!

It was a new halfchaps kind of day!

  
Khaleesi and I drove over to ride with a new friend (much more experienced endurance rider) along the Maury River- also new territory for us which is icing on the cake!

As usual they had to hold back a little for us but the footing in some places was still slippery; we also traveled some cliff-edge goat trails and had to take care.  All things considered we had a respectable pace and a truly enjoyable ride. 

Yestersay was the first ride this year I’ve used the heart rate monitor on Khaleesi and I was very pleased with how well she is doing. Her heart rate runs slightly higher than our racing buddy (by about 10bpm sometimes and still well within a good range) but as soon as we’d stop for a drink it dropped like a rock below 60bpm in a minute or so. 

  
Considering she is not an Arab (ok- she’s a little bit Arab by about 25%) heart rate and cooling are our concerns. She put my mind at ease with heart rate. She also has a year under her with LSD (Long Slow Distance) and I haven’t pushed her to overwork her joints/bones/tendons. I think she is looking great coming into a season with the hope of moving eventually to 50s.

I was particularly happy to hear the comment that Khaleesi uses her body well and moves nicely. I feel like our time with Pam over the summer where I learned to ride better combined with the concept of connecting with the mind and balancing the emotions first which enables the horse to work better physically has been huge for us. 

  
We started out that way and had been trying to do this from the start in our own way. I didn’t have terms for it the. It was probably the thing that put me on my own path when I decided to try to start a horse. 

Joining up with SET lessons and having it laid out so simply and clearly has helped us break through what I had thought was a ‘teenager’ phase. I now believe it was the negative effects of us getting to a certain point well- then my efforts to push us into a new place physically without laying the mental road first. We were (in simple equine terms) out of balance. 

The ride yesterday was great because I felt like we were really in balance together. As she walked easily on the trailer by herself our friend said “She is great!”

She is great. 

And I felt great too!
  

Big Ideas

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

This month has continued with less than ideal riding conditions. I am thankful for some of the mild temps earlier on and the mileage we’ve racked up toward our first ride which is coming up fast (Leatherwood, Saturday March 26). We are now less than one month out!

Does it make me a little nervous to take such a conditioning back seat a month before our first ride of the season?

Yep.

Do I have faith that we’ve worked really hard and done our best and stand a good shot at finishing healthy?

Also yep. 

 This winter has been one of a lot of growth for me in my journey to our 100 mile goal which in the larger picture (I hope) means a journey to being a horseman. 

I started with the simple hope of becoming a better rider, and being more reflective this month pulling together the different threads of learning I’ve been working on- I remember going to see Pam over the summer for help in better posting my horse’s big trot. 

She was gracious enough to invite me to come over and see what she could do. Again- I wanted to ride better.

  
What has come back to mind this winter was one of the first questions she asked me. It was in a discussion of what I hoped to accomplish. 

I hope to work up to a 100 mile endurance ride… however I’ve never had a non-gaited horse and I am terrible at trotting and if we start with some introductory limited distance rides this year I’m going to be a mess out there if I can’t learn to ride this horse. Also, she’s young and learning to carry a human- I don’t want to mess her up!

Then Pam asks what my biggest concern is about achieving our goals. Aside from, and even second to, my physical riding inexperience I remember saying:

I want her to enjoy doing endurance with me. It’s a hard sport and takes a lot of physical stamina and I don’t want her to burn out and hate it. I want her to enjoy going to rides with me. 

I want to cheer my last year self just a little because even then- before I really knew what I was getting into- in my heart I was trying to put my horse first. 

When I began my ‘starting’ process I used a lot of Monty Roberts online videos and I feel they helped me get a good foundation with Khaleesi. 

This year I’ve added some more hero mentors to my ‘team’ as I’ve been watching as much Buck Brannaman as possible, reading Sally Swift’s Centered Riding, and recently doing some interactive online work through Simple Equine Teaching with Dee Janelle.

My number one priority is to truly put my horse first and have a solid relationship with her. This has taken a lot of exploration for me because I am not sure I understand how a horse sees the world and thinks.

I’m not always successful, sometimes I fail her, and she always forgives my mistakes. How many times can she forgive me? I’m sure at some point I’m going to screw up again! 

Yesterday with some barn time and a short muddy-wet walk together I thought about our relationship and how connected we are. Even though I don’t always know what I’m doing, even though I sometimes let my goal driven human clock watching mind get us off-kilter, she still comes to wait for me at the gate every time. She walks up behind me and offers her nose into my rope halter and walks next to me with her head at my shoulder, ears up and forward, like we are the kings of the world on our way to the barn. 

What I’m beginning to think is there is a difference between a mistake and betrayal. I’ve made a lot of mistakes on my journey but one thing I hope I have never done- and never will- is betray her. Sometimes I ask her to do things she doesn’t feel like… Sometimes we argue about which direction to go… But we still work together like any solid relationship. 

So what is a betrayal to a horse?

I am not ready to define that. Maybe it’s not so simple to put a definition on what that is. But in my gut I feel like it exists and it has to do with a breaking of their trust in you in a way that is not the same as a mistake along the way. It’s something bigger and deeper. 

Anyway… I’m enjoying the SET lessons lately and I’ll share a few things from there I’m working out in our world right now. 

*Relationship.  

Everything we do will be better if we are in agreement. This is the root. Any question that comes up can be framed into ‘does it improve our relationship or degrade it?’ And then answered accordingly. 

Of course- it gets more complicated at times how to answer that from the perspective of the horse. 

*Time. 

Horses don’t do clocks. It takes the time it takes. Accepting that is always going to make for a stronger relationship and more success (whatever that means to you). Rushing a horse is always ‘force’ and never gets a good result. This is in the short term (loading on the trailer, or training to stand at the mounting block) and the long term (anything that is a longer training goal… For faygo it might be overcoming her fear of the clippers)

*Balance. 

I always strive for balance. Not always successfully. I’ve been working with the (SET) concept of a triangle representing the 3 components of a horse and human: mental (at the top), emotional and physical. All 3 need need to be healthy in both the horse and human. 

It’s always fascinating to me how the horses mirror us. This is especially visible in the emotional side- horses are not naturally emotional beings. It takes a human who is emotional to push that side out of balance and create an emotional horse.  

In fact if you watch horse herds in the wild, the horses are balanced on their own. We humans have a responsibility in bringing them into our worlds to work at achieving and maintaining balance for us and them as much as possible. 

Mental comes first. Horses think and reason much like people. You must be able to communicate to the horse in a way they understand and you want your horse to have a positive opinion of you- Dee Janelle says that a horse who has formed a positive opinion of its owner is easy to train and willing. That makes perfect sense to me- this also means a safe horse which for me is a high priority. It should come first before anything else. 

The emotional is next. Horses who have handlers that tend to get emotional often realize when a potentially emotional situation arises and will look to the handler to see if he/she will get emotional- especially if the handler has a mental connection to the horse. If the human refuses to engage emotionally the horse will relax and calm instead of amping up. 

Humans with a tendency to get emotional will do better if they work on balancing their own triangle and checking in on their emotions while working with the horse. The emotional horse is created by humans and it’s our job as humans to help rebalance them as well as ourselves. 

I find that fear tends to be the biggest trigger in emotional reactions but frustration is probably a close second. High adrenaline is always the enemy… When I start this cycle I turn to singing. It changes my breathing and distracts (and reminds) me bringing me back to calm and fair (which a horse understands better). 

The last part of the triangle is the physical. Many humans gravitate to physical training/conditioning first – but a horse who doesn’t have mental connection and positive emotions towards its handler will not be willing and easy to train which sets you up for a battle instead of working together with common purpose. Humans who start with physical training don’t pay attention to what the horse is thinking and feeling along the way and the horse is more likely to shut down to protect itself. 

For every thought or emotion a horse experiences, there is a physical behavior associated that we can identify. (Dee Janelle) 

Horses developed with emphasis on positive mental and emotional selves first are bright, alert- with good muscling, well conditioned and are easy to train. They use their bodies well and are in balance. 

****Spirit…….

This is my most recent concept. The last part of the horse is their spirit and a recent podcast (SET) made me think about this more specifically. This part we do not have access to- you cannot take or train the spirit- of a horse or anyone. But the idea that horses chose sometimes to willingly give their spirit to their human in a bond like no other is quite something to consider. 

This is the horse that is not just doing her job well, but gives everything to the human they have connected with. 

I don’t think this is all that common- but I believe I’ve seen it. At least one time last summer- and I wrote about it briefly in a blog post. 

In the end isn’t this what we truly want with our horses? Maybe not for some. It takes a lot of dedication to make that connection: a lot of time and trust and positive work, play and love. The kind of love that sacrifices our needs for theirs. 

Maybe I am the only one in the world that is better at the kind of love that is good at giving what I want to give– what I would like to get back that says ‘love’ to me. In human and horse relationships. I am not naturally gifted at seeing the world through others’ eyes… Not my husband, not my horse’s. I suppose realizing this is the first step- trying is the next. 

I have to find out what is important to my horse- what her mental, emotional and physical needs are. In thinking through, this concept is bigger than horses. Maybe I can do this better in all aspects of my life. 

In the end, back to our ride together yesterday, I recalled a blog post recently when I questioned our relationship. It is good to investigate and question. 

Today I believe it is strong and healthy. We may not always agree, but we respect each other and I know she enjoys my company- she shows it. I love that.  

This is how I develop an endurance horse who doesn’t burn out, who gives me her all and enjoys the ride. I put her needs first and keep our relationship strong. 

And maybe… When we are ready… She will chose to trust me with her spirit. Though the idea of that responsibility is a little scary too.