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.

šŸ™„

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.

šŸ¤”

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. šŸ˜”

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!

My herd!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There have been so many cool things going on in my field lately I’m having a hard time keeping up sharing the highlights!

I am so glad I made the decision to purposefully take the time to enter their world as it’s been interesting- and in many ways I’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve ever enjoyed riding!

I’ve dedicated time to groundwork before… and I’ve given my horses time off- but nothing has been quite like going into the field to ‘work’ together, explore our relationship and learn from them in quite this way.

Here is a little story of one of the days last week.


I went in as usual and fed the mares.

For the record I do not keep a feeding schedule. This is on purpose. My horses will never stand at the gate at a predetermined time of day wondering why I haven’t shown up. I also do not feed every day- though I do feed most days. My horses always have grass or hay available.

I also do not use food as a deal maker of any sort: I don’t catch them while they are eating. Sometimes if I’m planning to do barn things (feet trimming, riding etc) I may not bring food to the field and will feed in the barn. It all depends. But I do not use food to catch my horses. After they eat I allow them to walk off which usually entails a trip to the water trough before I go in to halter.

So this day I fed first and was considering what I’d like to do when Khaleesi and Wild Heart walked off and hit the fence line very focused somewhere else. The gelding herd was coming up from the far field. In no time they were now part of my day.

The boys.

I rolled my eyes.

There’s a herd of about 6 horses a local guy keeps on the property that are rarely handled. It’s common for them to spend time hanging out along the fences with my girls.

Crap.

Can’t these dumb horses just go away and leave me and my girls alone!?! This is going to complicate my plans. Khaleesi is in heat and the geldings are excited to take turns visiting with her. There’s no way I’m getting anything of value done here.

I am non existent.

Now what.

Use it as an opportunity. These horses are here to teach me something so let’s go.

This is my herd. Actually that’s where I’ll begin. Taking back my herd so to speak. At least I’ll see how it goes and I’ll learn something.

It ended up being a fascinating day.


True to form the bitch in heat was rowdy and squirting all around whenever she could stand still long enough.

If Wild Heart was getting attention somewhere Khaleesi would run in and push her off and chase her. It was fascinating.

Also- it was all ok. This is what her many generations of instinct insist she do. It’s not even a choice at the moment. I wasn’t annoyed with her. I understood.

I began walking up the the fence and pushing the boys off [get back!!] and each time K wanted to back up to the fence I simply asked her to walk along and move her feet.

My intention was to get her to pay more attention to me then to them.

First the geldings began to stay off the they were not approaching the mares anymore and were watching me. One gelding came in to me and we greeted; I asked him to step back and he did. All the geldings at some point were now focused on me.

Khaleesi started to pay attention to me gradually as well and I’d ask her something simple like back up or turn on her haunches a step.

I had managed to change the scene.

Occasionally a gelding would come up to the fence line and either try to connect with a mare or come closer to me than I wanted and I’d ask them first with my body posture then with my rope to back up.

It worked.

When I was ready to leave I’d had the attention of my mares and asked them to do some things with me in the field successfully, the geldings has stopped approaching the fence but were still close by watching, and then my mares were grazing peacefully without paying much attention to the boys anymore at all. The entire hormone and adrenaline crazed scene was now just horses hanging out in a field.

I left for the gate and looked back to see them still in about the same way I left them. My mares not at all involved with then gelding herd.

It’s been almost a week since that day and I’ve never had to deal with the geldings since on a visit. They’ve been far off and not come up while I’ve been there. I’m not saying it’s because of that interaction or not. I don’t have that kind of certainty of cause-effect. But no matter what it’s been nice not to have to compete with them for the attention of my good mare- and that day seemed to really turn the tide for me getting her more focused attention on my visits.

Things really began to get good after this day.

Discomfort.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friday brought a beautiful mild early Fall day and a long overdue ride with some friends.

Khaleesi seems to be coming back all around so this ‘fast and far’ ride seemed a good testing ground to see where she is.

My friend’s son in from NYC had only one birthday wish this year- to get out with the horses and have fun on the beautiful trails. A natural horse-guy comfortable on a horse, physically fit with no equine inhibition- he created a perfect training opportunity for me in all realms at once!

Somehow the saying:

Ride em like you stole em

Comes to mind. šŸ˜³šŸ˜

There were a few occasions where he let that horse fly and literally ended up completely out of sight for a while!

I enjoyed his carefree abandon from a distance and insisted that Khaleesi take my version of a ‘footing-safe’ speed and not just running with the ‘herd’ (if one horse plus yours constitutes a herd…) and that was great training for us both.

No darlin- I set the speed. Yes. Really. When the footing and circumstances allowed (when she was checking in with me and not assuming take off) I occasionally did encourage her to run – and as fast as she could get her legs to go! Try as she might she is just not as fast as the old gelding but we had fun. It’s good to push the limits once in a while physically.

There was also a section of the ride where the other two cut through the beautiful field. I decided to stay on the path along the edge in part because Khaleesi wanted so badly to go with the others that I decided it was yet another opportunity to train something different from the herd.

I am aware that for the most part we are on the same page on the trails- however that is not the same as leadership. I don’t like to ‘pick a fight’ just for the sake of doing so, but taking an opportunity to do something different can be helpful in establishing that long term goal of us both agreeing that I am the brains of the operation.

It develops patience, character and faith.

There are many things my horse cannot know because I cannot explain them to her. She is a being with thoughts and intellect. I give horses a lot of credit. However I cannot completely explain to her when she steps on that trailer if we are driving 10 minutes for a short ride or 6 hours to the Biltmore for her first 50 miler. I can’t tell her if we’re going to play in the manicured arena or have a rough trail cutting ride through briars and overgrown brush that will make little scratches on her sensitive legs and get caught in her tail. I cannot completely assure her she will EVER return home again. (Honestly we can never promise such things anyway in life).

The horse has to put her faith in me that I will put her well being first. She may ask not to have to go through the discomfort of a long hard ride, but she has a job and I insist she stays fit. In return I’ll do my best to meet her needs and give her the best life I can.

We all build this with our horses one example at a time and with every interaction like it or not – so eventually the relationship gets to a point where the horse says: ok! What do you need me to do today and how can I help? Now zoom out a level.

I also need to have some faith.

The decisions I made in the spring when I had that nagging feeling that things were passable… but that we could do better… went against some expert opinions. There was that voice I’m learning to hear and learning to trust and I was sure by then it was the right thing and at the right time.

Then things got uncomfortable:

  • My horse struggled to stay sound.
  • I had to pay a lot in travel costs early on to get a barefoot trimmer I trusted to come this far.
  • My horse started hanging out at the far end of the field making me go get her instead of running to the gate to greet me.
  • I held off on my summer conditioning rides because she didn’t seem 100%.
  • My riding seemed to be getting worse as I tried to improve.
  • I started to question my own leadership ability.
  • My leadership suffered as I reexamined and overthought trying to sort out what to do and how to do it and if I was doing it right.
  • I made a few interaction mistakes including a trailer loading one that was significant because fixing the mistake I created brought a surface injury when she fought against herself trying to back off during loading. (That issue is now gone- the fix worked- but I’d have never had to fix if I hadn’t made the mistake to begin with).

This week of getting back to riding has given me a glimpse that the vision of what I saw could be possible is coming closer. I still need to get some conditioning miles back on her but the boots are staying on [the scoot narrows have arrived at NY customs and should be at my door within days- but meanwhile the old renegades are doing pretty well- only lost one at a crazy canter last ride- having her feet actually trimmed properly HAS made a difference!] and her feet are getting stronger. I’m learning more about how the feet affect the entire body. I believe she’s coming through that detox period and her guts are starting to wake up getting essential nutrients through her body and hair and feet are benefitting.

I’m feeling her back lift underneath me more often on her own while riding in the new saddle. My riding balance is improving. I’m continuing to build new layers of leadership and trust and my confidence is coming back. My horses are beginning to follow me in the field again from time to time.

It is exciting to see the light. However I don’t want to lose sight of the lesson that it’s during that uncomfortable waiting period where you grow. It’s where you stay the course or bail out.

I’ve pondered recently the classic stories of the greats who waited through the discomfort I think wow:Noah was told to build a boat and wait for rain (which had never happened previously). It was 120 years in between and I’m sure everyone thought he was a looney toon. He didn’t even know what rain was. That would be uncomfortable.

  • Sarah was told her son would be the father of a great nation… only she was barren and waited until she was 90 to have her first child. THAT would be uncomfortable!!
  • David went through many years as a servant for the current king (and passing by a few opportunities to kill him and take over) and then hiding for his life toward the end of the 10+ years after he was ‘anointed’ to be king. That would be uncomfortable.
  • The people of Israel were in slavery 400 years after being promised they’d be delivered. Slavery would be the extreme example of uncomfortable.

It so happens the Bible generally has more stories of faith through discomfort than literature of our more recent history. I think one reason for that that most humans are discomfort-adverse. I certainly am.

At some point I’ve finally grown up enough to realize that discomfort is actually my friend. Sometimes it comes from bad choices and lack of personal boundaries. Then it’s a warning to pay more attention.

Sometimes it’s there to encourage growth.

I have been chewing on the concept a friend recently mentioned to me:

Sometimes God comforts the afflicted… but sometimes He afflicts the comfortable.

Living in America in the present time I found it easy to live day-to-day in the uninvestigated belief that the goal of life is to be comfortable. To make enough money to eventually not have to work (or work so much), to have friends that like me, leisure time and ways to enjoy it and above all have fun and be happy. But there is always something missing.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase: as long as she’s (he’s) happy. It never sat right with me.

Yet that is exactly what I’ve been spending 40 years in pursuit of. Basic comfort and happiness.

Yes- I volunteer in my community, I give to non-profit groups that are doing good work, and I even started a strings program that reaches young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn music. I care about my friends and do my best to help where I can… I do good things- but there is more. A shift in perspective that I sense changes the reason you get out of bed each day.

Challenge me today. Give me something to work out… not only do I accept that I may have a tough problem to solve- but I embrace them! Instead of ‘why me’ maybe ‘why not me?’

Maybe that’s my version of: what are we doing today and how can I help that I want from my horse?

If I hadn’t been born in the US, things might have been different – I might have been in pursuit of clean water. Or shelter from the elements. Or freedom from being trapped in the current human trafficking systems worldwide. Maybe safety in a war ravaged country.

I found it pretty fascinating one day a couple years ago listening it a Freakonomics podcast that suicide rates in America are basically double the homicide rate… and in the Amazon jungle the native cultures don’t even have a word for suicide and when asked about it laughed at the concept that someone would kill themselves.

First world problems? Is comfort literally killing us?

I digress. šŸ˜

It seems there is a law of the universe as real as gravity that one must put in some discomfort in order to grow. Growing appears to be a necessary step in being prepared for a greater purpose… (I can help others better if I’ve gone through enough myself to be of use!) and being part of a deeper purpose seems likely to lead to more depth of satisfaction than the pursuit of comfort and happiness …

Then logically if I were able to live that comfortable life I was aimlessly seeking and never get stretched, I would never have the opportunity to mature, grow personally and have a more positive impact on the world around me.

And developing faith and growing through the discomfort of waiting means that I am able to be ok with circumstances that create difficulty and instead of wishing for the discomfort to disappear I can dig in and allow it to mold me and still have peace about the process.

Byron Katie suggests we make friends with the situations that create discomfort. They are opportunities. In her ‘Work’ after many series of questions she encourages participants to say the “are willing to experience (insert uncomfortable thing here)” and you are really getting it when you can honestly go to the next level of “I look forward to experiencing (insert uncomfortable situation here)!”

I have to admit I’ve spent some time working through some things ‘getting it’ in my head but thinking: I look forward to being ignored by my husband… annoyed by my mother… let down by a friend? Seriously. Who are those people?

Now I see those things show me weaknesses and places I can still grow. Places I can ask: how can I help someone else instead of being bothered about how it made me feel? Maybe my husband is overworked trying to support our family. Maybe my mom could use a little understanding today. Maybe my friend is going through something personally.

To the initial point- my equine example is basically trivial. My horse rebuilding from the inside out and missing some riding days as I worry if it’ll take two years for her feet to grow in right isn’t even close to significant in the world as human trafficking or war refugees. But going through the process has been a reminder.

Maybe I can change my view on life that the things that challenge my comfort could be strengthening my character that will allow me to do more good- and then start looking for the open doors, the way to use those strengths. Not just the things that seem easy but the ones that seem … maybe even impossible.

I’ll admit it- I’ve grown weary of the noise especially on social media of folks complaining about politics and about being offended or protesting or resisting or making loud public statements that lead those who agree with you to applaud and those who don’t to entrench themselves deeper into the belief they are right. Even those who are active politically seem sometimes to miss the point. We cannot legislate love and tolerances can only live it every day. Governments are notoriously bad at helping the world be a better place when compared to motivated people coming together. No current president is stopping me from opening my wallet or donating some time toward disaster relief, persecution or world hunger. And there is one positive side to

America: we are as a whole more generous with our finances than most other countries! ā¤ļø

however still we get more divided each year. I don’t see any slowing down either. We fight hate with hate now completely unveiled. My tolerant friends are completely intolerant of those who disagree.

While we stay distracted by our arguments and being right or being offended, make snide or sometimes truly hateful remarks about those we feel justified (because they behave the same way), the true enemy wins: hunger continues; human trafficking continues; children are turned into soldiers; people are tortured for their faith; women are beaten for various reason in areas of the world they don’t have unequal rights- they truly have NO rights; people die of curable and preventable diseases…

I want to zoom out a level or two – see something bigger than comfort (having a government leader I like… being offended by someone else’s words or behavior that don’t even truly affect my life today) that is part of the comfort.

If nothing else all the fighting has embarrassed me enough to look for ways to take action and realize it could take me out of my American comfort zone.

And that honestly gets me a little excited.

Maybe the hunger for challenge- leaving the comfort zone or attempting the impossible is a little why endurance riding appeals to many of us…

Because don’t get me wrong- it’s all about the horses, but at the end of the day I think we’ll find that it really wasn’t about the horses at all.

Identity Crisis

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three weeks since a blog post!

I’ve been at the barn but not riding so much.

For a few weeks my horse program has felt on the fritz and my real work has been ramping up and needing extra attention. So I gave my mares some time to be horses and the time I had with them was directed toward to finding new ideas to learn together … like backing over pool noodles … mostly to continue communication and do something out of the ordinary.

One day a couple weeks ago I went to bring K in for a quick check and to treat a cut – something was wrong. Just walking was a struggle. I wondered if she’d gotten kicked, slipped and had pulled something in her hind… developed an internal infection…. in sending a quick video text to my vet (what did we do before video texting??) she said her first reaction was early lamanitic pain šŸ˜³šŸ˜¬ and her first suggestion was to get her off the grass then see how she does.

It was right in that cold spell where temps were dipping into the low 40s at night but still warm in the day. When the fall grasses begin to go into desperation mode and increase sugars again.

The electric fence went up immediately and now the mares are super restricted until the first hard frost. They can eat what grass they have access to and I’ve started throwing hay too so they are transitioning.

If they get thin (no evidence this is a concern anytime soon) they’ll get more coolstance which adds fats and protein.

Whatever the issue was it was gone by the next day and she was back to… almost normal.

Still- she hasn’t seemed quite right most of this summer. Occasionally lethargic, less interested in working. Off and on. Not off enough to do anything but pay attention. But off enough that I didn’t push the riding I would normally be doing this time of year.

In the back of my mind I remembered I’d heard the nutrition change can come with a detox period and that it can cycle over time getting better or worse in phases until their system changes over.

So there could be a detox factor potentially at play.

When it comes to her feet I’ve been really happy with the changes but it takes time to come back from being in shoes the majority of the year (for a few years) and not being trimmed to optimally support her movement and structures.

She is growing more (faster) and healthier hoof this year and the soles are really starting to look good! Her hoof tends to grow out instead of underneath her (conical) genetically which (if I over simplify) stretches the sole out instead of holding natural concavity.

The two things I’m working on the most with her front feet are constantly keeping the toe from getting long (every cm creates hundreds of pounds of additional pressure on the leg’s suspensory system) and helping remove any dead sole underneath that may create sole pressure without taking too much that she needs to develop healthy hard sole.

She hasn’t been completely sound if I ride her barefoot (like in the grass in the yard) but she’s also not lame. She’s fine… then she’s not fine… then she’s ok then she’s not quite ok… sometimes I’m certain I’ve turned into a lameness hypochondriac and am creating issues that don’t exist!

Either way she wasn’t doing well in shoes and pads earlier this year so we are still moving forward and at least building better hoof now.

The scoot boots are doing a terrific job and I’ve added easycare pads and modified the back and rear sides per a cool video I saw recently on Facebook.

I didn’t have rubbing issues but this can only help- especially as I begin to take them over longer distances when the rubbing could present even if my shorter rides haven’t created issues.

Anyone using scoots who wants to check out the modified design can see it here: Padded collar mod As time went on I took her out on some less intense rides and she seemed ok… but sometimes she’d be practically falling apart underneath me… then she’s fine.

I’d feel her landing wrong in a trot… taking bad steps and then be fine. I’d ask my friends: does she seem off to you? No… she’s fine now… then off then fine… then off then fine. A couple miles trotting on a dirt road no problem after seeming like she couldn’t get her feet underneath her 10 minutes earlier.

Ay-ya-yay.my mind I’ve reflected on the number of pretty significant changes that have come at that mare this year and try to put it into perspective.

  • Removed shoes and aggressively changed her angles and toe/heel to better support her.
  • Switched from traditional saddle to a constructive saddle with the Balance.
  • Changed her bit (I don’t always use a bit but I picked up a simple D ring French link snaffle for her especially when working on specific training as opposed to long mileage conditioning).
  • Changed her nutrition removing her from all grain based commercial feeds and added a probiotic when I found her hindgut wasn’t digesting nutrients properly.
  • Herd change: Faygo moved to Reno this summer. They’ll be fine, but it’s still a major adjustment.
  • Me. My riding, my balance – using my body more equally in day-to-day life, my internal fitness both in mind and spirit all play a part of my equine-human team. I’m paying attention to all these parts more and more.

Though all for the good, these factor in to the whole chaotic system that is my horse’s universe. I tend to overthink as most of you already know. So I watched, I wondered, I analyzed, I had a CST visit and one more follow up trim with my hoof mentor from WV to be certain all was on track. Hoof testers negative and no current laminitc evidence present it was time to move on.

I decided to get out and ride through whatever it was that seemed to be nagging at me. Stop overthinking. Throw on those boots and pads and get back on the trails.

What I learned.

What was brewing in a little corner of my mind since the clinic last month….

My horse is not lame. She is not falling apart. My Arab-TNWalker-Saddlebred-Rackinghorse is trying to gait. But she’s not sure how exactly.

She’s going through an identity crisis.

She’s half past 7, I’ve now helped sort out the tack and health/feet issues that were functional but not ideal in the past. I increased her fitness and got my riding sorted out.

I’ve opened the door and now all systems are go and she’s got this new gear to try out. And I think she’s starting to have some fun with it!

Today we took a short ride but I trailered her off to some nearby trails that are grassy, easy footing, and far enough away from the new boys that have her attention (yes she’s in heat!) and the mustang who calls for her out of temporary desperation and loneliness… so we could focus.

Right off the trailer she was ready to go- and I let her move on out to warm up. We hit some overgrown connector trails that she was raring to fly through yet I wanted a sensible speed : she fell right into a running walk compromise. I went from an up and down trot to that back and forth you only get when you ride a gaited horse.

In the video it’s hard to see (and hard to help her one-handed) but it’s when her head is more still and then starts going side-to-side.

We spent the next couple hours experimenting and had a lot of fun. She was trying out new gears and I did my best to help her. This was what she’d been doing in rides this past month when she felt a mess underneath me- she was trying to figure out how to move in this new gear.

Yes I’ve ridden gaited horses before. Faygo is a foxtrotter, I’ve ridden TN walkers, Paso finos, Rocky Mountain horses and saddlebreds… I get it. But none of the ones I rode were sorting it out. They already gaited.

This is new territory for me- but was a blast all the same. I’m glad I didn’t push for her to do it before she was physically ready. Who knew that when I left the gaited horse saddle and bit (not that they were bad) and got her toes pulled back underneath her (often the opposite of what you hear gaited horses need) she’d be able to open up that box. The Balance has allowed her back to really come up and she’s in a simple D ring French link snaffle now- no leverage or poll pressure, she’s finding it all on her own! When I help her I only fix my hands on a short rein to my saddle (I don’t purposely collect her per se) and she finds what she needs there.

I’m thrilled for her to have an extra gear to use especially heading toward a 100 mile ride at some point. I’ll take every advantage I can get and having more ways for her to use her body is just that.

For the moment we’ll play around and experiment- but at some point I will be able to decide what gear/gait we use and how to help navigate terrain and trails. I have no intention of giving up her beautiful trot or canter. And we did walk-gait-trot-canter all in the ride today.

It was a nice breakthrough from feeling things were not working right to exploration together. The ride was fun! She was forward the entire time eager to get down the trail.

I hope to start working her more physically to get her in shape for Fort Valley in October. She’s been in great shape not long ago so hopefully a couple weeks will bring her back in the game.

My only worry at the moment is passing her trot out in the vet check! Lately she does strange things trotting on lead so that will be something to work on… keeping her trot out at a TROT!!