Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

😚

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this the wrong sport?

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

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

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

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

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

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

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

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

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

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

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

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

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

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

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

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

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

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

This is when the detour came back to mind.

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

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

So why are her feet such a problem?

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

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

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

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

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

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They do indeed.

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

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

True Success means:

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

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

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

Love is patient.

Friday, April 5, 2018

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

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

Starting with:

Love is patient.

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

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

Ok. A week. Of focusing on patience.

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

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

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

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

Patience.

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

It works every time. But it takes time.

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

There was a time I could hear myself:

You know how to get on the trailer.

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

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

Stop stalling and let’s get going already!

Impatience.

This would only get her upset.

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

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

Love is patient?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the ride itself…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What would love require?

Monday, January 15, 2018

I heard something recently that made me pause.

wait…

I’ll take a step back and fill on the context surrounding New Years resolutions.

Most often people look for ways to improve themselves in the new year, but this talk I heard asked a different question: what will you do to make the lives around you better this year?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve myself. However especially in the Western World we sometimes get so wrapped up in self-help and self-improvement that we miss the fact that we will never truly be fulfilled seeking self fulfillment. In the words of Andy Stanley:

If you spend your life living for yourself, at the end of your life you will have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.

In the end people don’t impact us because they ate healthy, got to the gym and got out of debt.

There are people who inspire me in my life and it is because they’ve made a difference in a positive way often sacrificing their own time and money and comfort for something they believed in. And the most important facet for me is it came from a broken heart and love- not out of anger, fear or hate.

I am fascinated by the major shifts of finding the thing that breaks your heart and walking away from fun or comfortable choices to make a difference there…

But also on a day-to-day scale as a lifestyle there is something much more basic which is the thought that gave me pause this week.

I generally put my own goals and interests over others. No, I don’t go around intending to get the best of everyone in some malicious way- but my pre-engineered human nature is ‘self-preservation’ and getting what I want. This doesn’t mean I don’t do random nice things (I’m actually pretty good at that…) but my default is doing and getting what I want. A gazillion small decisions go into this machine every hour. There are tons of books written about getting what you want… Not only is this perfectly normal, but I always have perfectly good justification for when it affects someone else:

  • There are endless loopholes: the rule doesn’t exactly cover this situation right?
  • There are the world’s low expectations: well it’s how she treated me when the situation was reversed, no one could blame me…
  • Rationalization: now he’ll know how it feels. He deserves it. What goes around comes around…
  • There are the things you know no one will see or notice…
  • And then what about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? Being seen by other people as the good guy or assuming it will come back around and serve self in some way later on…
  • And of course the tally- I’ve done X amount of good things so I’m entitled to be selfish about this decision here… I’m usually a selfless giving person… most of the time….

But what would it be like to choose the more excellent way and ask not what is fair, required, expected, or seen by others but instead:

What would love require me to do?

This is still a horse centered blog (promise); I am still working one step at a time toward a 100 mile ride on this horse no one else has trained or educated but me.

So how does this look when applied to my horse?

How would this constant worldview shift affect my journey toward the goal?

When it comes to my horses, what does love require of me?

In reflection sometimes I’ve gotten this right: as in pulling out of my first 100 attempt last June because of a pulled shoe. My horse was officially not lame, and I could have had a ride farrier epoxy the nail holes and torn hoof and put on a new pad and shoe. But I knew that it wasn’t about the shoe. I had a big picture issue needing long term resolving and continuing as far as I could get until pulled by a vet would have been selfish of me. Love required stopping while ahead and going back to the drawing board (not for one ride but maybe months or a season!) to regroup on a new hoof plan and better nutrition etc.

And I’ve gotten it wrong … more than once.

Like the time two seasons back while I was still trying to sort out saddle fit and I knew her back was showing signs of soreness but breathed a sigh of relief when the vet cleared her to ride the next day. After all I’m working on it… it’s not that bad. The vets said she was fine. I knew better.

Worse still was the ride I pushed her through hard terrain without enough hoof protection and we finished but I knew I didn’t deserve that completion. My horse was not fit to continue. I got what I wanted at her expense. In that case it was mostly ignorance that hurt her but I had multiple opportunities that day to hear my horse asking for help and choose the more excellent way and I got it wrong over and over. She paid the price. I may still be working my way out of that mentally and physically with her.

Then there’s the ride I got it right by staying in and riding on- it’s not always about pulling out:

I came into the first vet check to have the vet question K’s soundness. I believed that she was fine. I had second opinions, I looked closer myself, I took her back to the vet and she was cleared by committee and we went back out. That was one of my favorite rides and she has never looked so good after a ride with as much energy and spunk as she did that night. She never showed a hint of being off.

But besides these big defining moments, I do believe that the small everyday lifestyle choices are more defining and more valuable.

I will choose to truly see my horse and her needs and remember to ask not what can I get done, force into place, shortcut or get away with… (and this doesn’t mean whatever she wants any more than one would indulge a child’s every wish all the time. It certainly includes continuing my education so that I know what my horse actually does need to be well balanced and healthy)

And in the human world when things aren’t fair, or they are trying my patience, seem unbelievable (I mean who could think that way… or say that thing…) or they don’t make sense… when people let me down… when they say unkind things… when it’s hard….

for 2018 I commit to asking…

What does love require from me?

Windchill

Sunday, January 7, 2017

There isn’t a whole lot happening on the farm at the moment. Thankfully these sub-zero windchill days are dry and we don’t have feet of snow to trudge through on top of the bitter cold and wind.

For the most part my mares seem content if not a little cranky and prone to short bursts of you’re too close to my hay pile antics. If a wind gust breaks a branch in the near woods or the spooky echo creaky sounds that come from the mostly frozen pond sends them cantering and bucking a few yard then walking nonchalantly back to whatever they were doing…

The worst of the bitter sub zero days I did blanket Khaleesi but in general she still prefers her own fur warming system.

I’m trying to remember to take a period to rest myself but I’m not so good at languishing inside by the fire. I’ll always remember my grandmother telling my mom to: sit down a minute once in a while. It seems like I have the genetic keep moving disorder too.

I am still pleased at the long term changes I’m seeing in Khaleesi as she approaches 8 years this March. Her body looks muscular in the right places, her neck is powerful she has a healthier in coat and hair and her feet are going to take some time but they are improving for sure in hoof wall quality with improved nutrition, proper trimming and better blood flow. I thought back about where I am in the changes:

  • Feed/nutrition: April
  • Barefoot & better trimming: June
  • Balance saddle (build topline): July

It seems like forever but I’m not even in a whole year yet with any of them. These are long term adjustments not quick fixes. Regardless I think this is going to be a strong year for her.

I suppose the only real news is the gelding herd (at my request) has been moved over so they cannot connect with my mares over the fenceline. I wasn’t sure this pseudo-herd was really what I wanted for mine but more important was the old fencing was beginning to suffer from the abuse of random mare kicks and too much leaning and pushing on it. The fence is perfectly fine without the interaction and I don’t want to take on mending fences if I don’t need to.

At the risk of stepping over into anthropomorphizing because horses do not really share our same thoughts and feelings …. Khaleesi is in the least looking for her gelding band and stands and the worst of the fencing that seemed to be a meeting place- and watches, waiting for them to return from the distant river pastures.

I feel a little sorry for her. I stood with her there in the freezing wind yesterday and just let her know I understood. Whether it’s the call of her hormones to reproduce, the need for a larger herd to be secure, or boredom in this cold season that I spend less time there- she does know there is something missing she wants back.

I rubbed her, scratched a few of her favorite spots and she breathed deeply and at one point wrapped her neck around me.

When I walk back to leave she will often follow- at least as far as the hay piles… but lately she just stands looking out over the fence into the distant fields.

One thing I have learned from this: I do care what horses adjoin mine. Though they cannot create real herds with a fenceline between they are affected by the social interaction. I will pay closer attention to that in the future as in some neighbors past have been old horses, disinterested… but this herd that came in the late fall she had really connected at least one or two of the top geldings, and this change which I believe is for the best seems hard on her for now and I’d prefer not to do it often.

Experiments in action

Monday, December 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s always humbling every time I do it.

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

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

Here is one of the nice moments in the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙄

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

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

So outside we went with the mounting stool.

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

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

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

I know exactly what we’ll be doing today.

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

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

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

hen return at same speed to mounting stool.

Tighten other side of girth.

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

Relax.

Then….

Has to go back to fields.

Slow canter this time. Return same speed to stool.

Thinking. Waiting. Good.

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

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

Rest. She pauses. Thinks.

Fidgets then heads back toward fields.

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

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

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

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

Ok not done quite yet.

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

Rest. Wait.

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

Good.

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

Now we are done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock & Roll

Friday, December 15, 2017

It’s been about two weeks since I committed to getting into my horse’s world and I’ve spent at least some time with them almost every day.

I felt pretty certain I would not ride again until I noticed a shift– at least some change in how my horse related to me. I feel good about saying that shift has begun and I’ve learned a lot in the process.

Here are some recent things that I feel good about:

Khaleesi began to come to the close corner watching for me when I arrived instead of the far corner of the field with her but toward the barn!

If Khaleesi walked off after eating, she walked slowly, not as far, and stopped after just a few steps to focus on me and invited me to approach her.

Most of the time I interact with her she is calm and quiet (not leaving me or running around connected to the other farm horses). In fact one cold day Wild Heart was super energized and took off at full gallop to the complete other end of the field – then turned around and came straight back for us. Khaleesi stayed with me at my side and watched her instead of running with or after her.

She has done a lot of processing and thinking even when I ask something simple and small- I believe what she’s processing a lot of the time is the change in me to ask her without any possibility of force (not even a halter) and how much more value I’ve put on her willing part of the process.

There have been times after working with her free, I’ve had her walking in step with me back to the gate without lead rope completely voluntarily.

The day it was going to be -6 windchill I took the blanket out to the field and allowed her complete choice over if she took the blanket and how I put it on and fastened it.

The day when I finished some ‘liberty’ ground work with Khaleesi, she followed me all the way in to the gate, then she stood a the gate while I left watching me walk to the barn.

Last, today I took my saddle out and with only a loosely draped lead rope (no halter) I saddled her completely with her cooperation for each step with great success- no fussing whatsoever- then took off the saddle and spend a few more minutes where she stayed with me, did some simple things like crossing her front over before I left with her closeby eating calmly.

So today I plan to be that tuned in to the entire process and include a short ride as a next step.

I got a message this week from a friend I haven’t ridden with in a while. A group conditioning ride for Saturday. I was very much looking forward to that so responded enthusiastically right away.

Then I thought about it.

🤔

The riders are great friends, good horse people, but I knew deep down that ride was not what I needed right now. It would be physically motivated and fit horses who would likely be moving along. I knew in my heart that the ride would mean Khaleesi disconnecting from me, connecting with a herd and just riding along ‘keeping up’ with the group.

Not to mention the time factor: needing to trailer somewhere at a certain time. I’ve been reworking my trailer loading and want to continue not having a time pressure on that for at least a few more days.

Add to that whole list the fact that they are women I enjoy and I would also be distracted by catching up with them – not giving my horse my full attention.

<<
new in my gut it would kill a lot of the good foundation I'd been recreating. That the ride was a selfish decision on my part in the moment and though there will be times that kind of ride will be perfect for us- not this week.

I had a very real sense of being tested that morning as I sent a second note explaining that I miss them and want to be there which prompted my first response but that I'm reworking a mental foundation with my horse and the timing isn't right for me. 😔

Of course they understood and I immediately had a peace about the decision. I think I passed that test and even if my horse doesn't exactly understand that- I chose her needs above my own in that case – not because she couldn't do the ride but because it wasn't the right ride for us – and it felt pretty fantastic!

So today… maybe a solo ride!