Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap!

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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

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

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In some ways she helped save my life.

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

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

What a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

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

I am hers and she is mine.

A million times.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sunday evening I went to feed hay. My girls are on restricted pasture now so there is grass but it’s limited so I throw a few flakes of hay a couple times a day.

Normal behavior when I toss the hay is for the mares to wait until I get a flake tossed and then dive in and eat. They aren’t starving and often they don’t finish it all but there’s something about the fresh flake they seem to like.

Last evening was abnormal behavior: I share this not because it’s unusual for a horse- you may read and say this is a regular occurrence for your horse… But it’s unusual for THIS horse.

I tossed the flakes of hay up on the hill and turned to walk to the gate giving each horse a rub on the wither as I left. They were eating as expected.

Then as I was almost to the gate I turned to see Khaleesi (Wyoming trailing behind as usual) jogging toward me at a pretty fast trot.

I opened the gate and went out as she caught up and she put her head over the gate.

What is it girl?

She stood there while I rubbed her neck a bit.

Saying goodbye? (She’ll go back and eat in a sec)

She stood there. Quietly.

After a few minutes I went back inside the fence and rubbed her more. She stood quietly.

I rubbed her legs and they felt fine and sensed nothing sensitive or warm. I gave her a scratch where she likes on her hind.

Then I walked out the gate again. She put her head over. I stayed longer.

I have to go home – I fed you guys but I also have a human at home who needs dinner.

So I walked and she followed inside the fenceline to the corner and put her head over the fence.

I couldn’t help it. I lingered more there and just stood quietly. Sometimes giving her a gentle rub.

Finally I did have to go. She stood in the corner as I left. Not moving from that place even as I drove away.

That was magic.

She chose me and for a long time (almost 30 minutes). It was a special gift. It wasn’t random.

I had honored her and listened to her and also had begun to make changes to my plans to help her succeed.

I don’t know exactly what they understand- but I do know they understand more than many give them credit for.

As I told someone recently- and this I believe with my whole heart: I’ve never met a stupid horse. I have met plenty of… maybe not stupid people but often ones acting out of ignorance and lack of understanding who create issues they then blame the horse for.

I can only say that because I’ve been there.

And I’m only in the journey and there’s always more to learn and understand.

I know she knows something. She knows I’m getting better, someone she’s more able to communicate with- and she knows I want to hear too.

And she also knows I will make decisions that are less human oriented and more horse minded. And though for a while it may mean giving up on human success…. I believe with certainty that it will mean more success (horse and human) over time with a strong and balanced horse who trusts me to lead her more each time.

And knows I’m listening.

For real. Even when it costs me.

This magic- a new level in our relationship- was worth all the trouble of the weekend… the packing, the cost, the driving, the cold toes and wind, the detour onto the wrong trail, the long walk into the vet check, the questions I wrestled with, the feelings of failure, the exhaustion…… I never go back and look at my ride mileage record, but I won’t forget this for a long long time.

I would do it a million times again for this moment.

First make a winner out of your horse……

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.

Odds are

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Well today is load up to my favorite ride of the season and anniversary of sorts as it was my endurance event as well.

The Old Dominion No Frills 55.

Last weekend I spent two hot days (high of 80 on Friday) riding with my endurance friend Sally and a friend of hers. With the exception of losing a boot strap in some branches K and I bulldozed through – everything was great.

The boot- at a walk- stayed on with no strap and that’s how I navigated the worst of the rocky terrain we had to manage. When the footing got better and we moved into a trot it finally came off so I pulled a hind onto the front and left one back hoof bare for the last couple miles of wooded footing.

Scoot Boots are still in the success category.

And for boot advance to level 2 so to speak I’ve gone ahead and tried the Scoot Skins on the front with equilox glue. I did the glue yesterday prepared with a million how-to videos and some personal coaching from Karen N whose been doing a fair amount of boot gluing and had lots of good advice.

In the end due to my inexperience and the damp humid weather I give the boots about a 40% chance of making it through one loop tomorrow. In fact I half expect to find at least one missing when I go to load her up this morning!

Things I’m suspect of after giving it a go:

  • Not sure I used enough glue. But was trying to be careful no glue would get underneath the hoof which could be devastating over 55 Miles (imagine a hard pebble in your shoe for an entire marathon)
  • Not sure I really kept the hoof still enough for long enough to fully cure (this is 6-8 minutes and I wanted her to be weight bearing on the boot so she was standing still however even slight shifts in weight I cringed).
  • Not sure our humid warm temps allowed the glue to dry properly. Two hours after gluing I’d kept her up around the barn in the sun eating grass – the exposed glue still felt a bit tacky to the touch.
  • Not happy about the wet low places in the field and not being able to keep her feet as dry as possible- she doesn’t take well to being stalled and I refuse to restrict her movement and grazing the night before we leave for a big ride. Her overall needs outweigh boot security here.

All that being said it’s not something I can get regular practice on because I don’t want to have glue on her hooves more often than setting a boot for rides. The glue is probably better than nail holes and I prefer a boot to a metal shoe for many reasons, but it would be like having fake nails on constantly. The glue chemicals will eventually deteriorate the quality of the hoof wall which also needs to breathe.

Thus I decided to give it a try and my plan B is pretty good. I will improve over time- or I may decide the strap on Boots are really the best option and work well.


09:00 at the barn.

I arrived to collect K and load the truck though I’d stalled at home longer than planned due to sleet and snow flurries that had me uninspired to hurry off.

The boots were magically both still on even in the spongy wet mud field I found her in.

She came to the fence and I rubbed her and she relaxed but when I went to halter she stepped backward then away from me. She proceeded to gallop laps around the field bucking at the mustang and zinging past me (not close enough for me to be concerned). She would stop and square up with me, pause and then spin, buck and take off again.

This lasted about 10 minutes as I admired her athleticism and tried not to be horrified at the image of her Boots flying into the air or a pulled tendon in the mud. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop it except stand quietly and watch her go.

Often she’d run toward and stop right at the electric fence and stare intently over to the 2/3 of ‘her field’ with more lush grass now unavailable to her. I knew what she was asking.

I can’t. It’s not good for you. It’s not like anyone can see your ribs… you can’t eat cake all day. It’s spring. You’ll get sick.

Take down the fence.

We are going on a ride this weekend. Come in with me.

Cantering, trotting, spinning and some haul ass full out head down running commence.

She looks good at least. I can see she’s not lame. The boots seem to be good…

Finally she squared up again and took a couple steps in. And waited. And I walked up to her without her running off and leaving me again. Calm. She was ready.

Sheesh. So much for a calm morning. Or being careful about the hoof boots. However… they made it through that whole show and that says something.

I wondered what she was communicating to me besides take the fence down. (Not happening) does she not want to go. She’s not stupid- I think they know more than we give credit for.

Was it a sort of test: how will you react if I run the field around you like a whirling dervish? Will you get mad or frustrated? (I did not. I just waited).

When she did come with me it was as my partner. Right at my shoulder.

And it surprised me how easily and quickly she got on the trailer after all that.

Well who knows.


15:00 in Base camp (Star Tannery VA)

Camp set up easy, trailer converted to my apartment with hammock hung. Khaleesi cleaned her area of all grass quickly 😁

It’s windy and cold.

Boots are still hanging in there and we went through vet in with all A’s. Body condition of 5 (we often get a 6 as she’s not a skinny Arab) and her heart rate was 40 which is good.

It’s windy and cold.


21:50 hunkered down in hammock

It’s windy and cold out there.

Start time tomorrow is 7am and should be about 30 degrees. And windy.

But.

No sleet or rain forecasted so that is the silver lining (it always sleet or freezing rains on this ride).

So tomorrow we ride!

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.

Every moment new

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is never good.

Hello?

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

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

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

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

It’s Khaleesi.

Oh (drat. Now two fence jumpers.)

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

Thanks I’ll run over and round her up.

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

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

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

Each day new.

What a gift.

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

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

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.