I’m with you.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I spent a couple days riding and camping with a close friend in West Virginia this week. The riding was stunning and the friendships rich.

One of my favorite things about the trip was meeting new friends. An endurance friend connected me with a guide to help us through a new and potentially dangerous territory. Some of the wilderness can be treacherous for a horse if you take a wrong turn – you can end up in some deep swamps, there are sink holes, tricky rock formations and boulders that can be leg breaking and of course some areas are more fun with more stunning views to ride through than others.

Dan was not only a great guide but a very interesting person with an eye always out to learn something from others. Humble, gracious and easy going. We took along a friend of his who had been an endurance rider in Brazil who rode a great little mustang mare, and a woman new to town who works with horses and people to help them improve their tools to connecting.

We were delighted to watch her with a green Arab that she was being asked to take on for some fundamental training. It was clear she was someone we could relate to who was working without force, from energy, and looking to create relationships and when she said you’ve lost everything the minute you get frustrated or mad at a horse we knew we’d found a kindred spirit.

In the 5 hours together (about 20 miles) we talked easily and enjoyed getting to know each other.

It was also a great training ride for Biltmore if I decide to go.

Dan set us up to camp at a barn where there was a huge field for the horses and a pretty spot for the humans overlooking the Cannan Valley floor.

The second day we rode unguided in the ‘safer’ terrain of Cannan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Blackwater State Park. We missed a turn and ended up farther than we intended for a short ride and called Dan to see if he had any advice on the easiest way back to the trailer.

He happened to have a little time right then and we’d dropped into a place accessible by vehicle so he offered to meet us and take one of us to bring back the trailer. It would save time. That was fine for us and would mean getting on the road earlier.

It may have been the 20 minutes I relaxed with the horses that turned out to be my favorite moments of the trip.

After I pulled tack on both horses I sat on the grass and to let the horses graze and walk around dragging their leads. There were no people, no traffic, and plenty of grass. If either started to leave I would redirect them back, worse case one of them would step on a lead and get themselves stopped long enough for me to catch up.

They each took a couple meandering steps and a few bites and within a minute I found myself looking up into two horse muzzles comfortably resting above me.

They weren’t doing anything… just looking down on me as I rested sitting on the ground.

I leaned back, looked up and wondered.

What is this?

I’ve spent lots of time around my horses loose. They usually graze, or walk around, or sniff me, ask for a scratch, I’ve never had them just stand looking down at me… for 20 minutes.

They shifted weight, cocked and uncocked hind feet, sometimes looked a different direction for a moment, but until the trailer rolled up they didn’t move.

As I looked up at them in peaceful contentment, and I reflected over some of the trip’s highlights, a thought resonated with me that reminded me of something Bob Goff says:

I’m with you.

Bob says that real love, it isn’t about doing things so that you can get something in return. Or in his words collect tickets like at an arcade and turn them in for a cheap trinket… or to add up your own good deeds to tip the scales somehow.

The change has to be from within the heart; the thing that creates connection and lasts is the heart that says: I’m with you.

That’s all we three were doing at that moment. Being together.

My mind floated back to earlier that morning as this idea played out in beautiful layers like gossamer threads in the fabric of life.

My friend used to have trailer loading issues with her main horse. Then she got some better tools, did a lot of personal work, more work with her horse, and found she had a reliable loading horse and built a better relationship.

Yet recently she began to see some very small signs that things weren’t quite right. He still would load but not as easily and with some of his old habits returning (like rearing up and avoiding before stepping on). She felt like she’d somehow ‘lost ground’.

That morning he did not willingly immediately load on the trailer and it created worry, fears, pressure and frustration in her and then there’s that nagging voice we all hear that tells us everyone else has it so much more together than I do.

She didn’t want to mess up my day or be the reason we were held up. She didn’t want to imagine that she’s going back to the times she didn’t know if he would load or not. None of us want to feel like a failure and most of all not in front of anyone else to watch.

Her horse is not afraid of the trailer. He wasn’t being disrespectful. He didn’t want to fight her.

He had some concerns. One of which was Khaleesi.

Is she coming?

We both knew we could load him in 30 seconds by answering that question: load the mare first.

He would have walked right on (I’m 100% certain he would have walked right on because he didn’t load right away the afternoon before after the 20 mile ride. Not wanting to take everyone else’s time at the trailhead we loaded Khaleesi first and he practically ran me over eager to get on behind her.)

However getting him to load on the trailer was NOT the thing she wanted to solve. We could trick or manipulate him into doing it but that isn’t a lasting solution.

She was working toward a relationship with him that he could trust in her to the extent that if she asked him to load up he would be confident in her. She would be capable to trust with the details.

Considering what a powerful, sensitive and highly ranked horse he is, this is not an easy job and it takes her constantly being aware of everything – because he is constantly aware of everything. You don’t earn that trust and then float on with it. You re-earn it every interaction. It has to change who you are when you have a horse like that. She has to be that good. 100% of the time.

I think she’d say he’s worth it. ❤️

And from what I know of her- she can be that person, in fact I watch her turn into that person a little more every time I ride with them.

Thankfully there are few of these kind of horses in the world. Most people have a more middle of the pack animal that isn’t quite as demanding.

What I love most is that we all get the horse we need to teach us to grow.

There are the really bad fits that need to be sold or given to a better situation of course, but for most of us, the horses we struggle with are growth opportunities if we start by looking not to the horse to change first, but look in the mirror. Then seek out and get the right tools and education to work on ourselves first.

She knows all this and I encouraged her to spend whatever time she needed that morning to tell her horse not: we’ll be ok if you just get on the damn trailer already…

but simply: I’m paying attention, I see you’re struggling here, and as you sort it out… I’m with you.

That was the other layer. She is a close friend and I cared much more about her opportunity to connect with her horse than anything else that morning.

Love doesn’t demand its own way.

I’d gladly give up doing any ride at all if that’s what was needed. For her to connect with her horse I would trailer 2 hours then spend the day trailer load and go home if that would help her. And I’d love every minute of the process doing life with her because she’s my friend.

She didn’t need to worry about loading her horse AND me getting impatient or frustrated. She didn’t need to wonder what I’d want back from her in trade for my patience. She also knew I’d never judge her journey with this horse- that I knew it was unique to the two of them and not comparable to my own or any other friend’s situation.

No matter what we were doing that day she needed to know: I’m with you.

This is not a trailer loading post. What she did is not the answer to everyones horse that doesn’t want to load. But we learned some interesting things together because I was able to be a different, outside pair of eyes as she worked with him from her limited first person perspective.

It seemed clear he knew what she wanted- and she didn’t need to continue to ask him again. He just wasn’t ready to do it. He would get comfortable part way onto the trailer and most people would ask him to continue on and load up- finish the job- but we observed that even just pointing the direction she wanted (asking again) without any pressure from the rope would send him flying back off completely to restart the process.

She’d lose everything just as he seemed ready to load that last few feet. This happened a couple times and my outside 3rd person perspective was able to see it play out and help her with the information.

I’m no smarter than her, I just had the right viewpoint.

What she was doing wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t what he needed that morning.

He’s a really cool horse- extremely sensitive. This can work for you and against you depending.

I suggested she try something different. Just keep him focused on her inside the trailer- and she could do it with only a click of her tongue (he’s that sensitive). Don’t add any more pressure or ask him again to get on. I was certain he was under no doubt that she wanted him to load. He wasn’t confused. He just wasn’t ready to do it.

She expertly timed relaxing vs. a tongue click the moment he’d look away and get distracted. Very soft, very relaxed he would inch forward closer to her, paw the ground, sniff inside… one level at a time he continued onto the trailer.

I know it was hard sometimes as he was almost there not to ask him to take that last 6 inches and let’s get going. In human terms we’d waited long enough for a horse that is 20 years old and been riding in horse trailers almost all of his life.

Even I had a hard time not wanting to push that back foot the last two inches and close the ramp so he was trapped on.


That would have destroyed all trust immediately!

But she worked out her patience with sweat and blood – it was killing her to be so close but not force or pressure him, get excited that after 30 minutes he was almost there or even think about how close he was until he was ready to close that last gap of his own free will.

Its easy to see with horses. We humans are often making the choices for our horses. We don’t even give them the chance. We don’t let them make a mistake. It takes so much time at first to consult them for every little thing we do with them. It seems easier and faster to just push and pull them around.

What could have been done in 2 minutes with a shortcut (load the mare first) took her 45. (I was prepared to spend hours or all day!) But the end result was beautiful.

He loaded himself onto the trailer for her.

Anyone watching would wondered what was wrong. Most people would have offered help. But watching them was a gift for me of exactly what was right.

Her message to him during that time was not conditional: if you do what I want then I’ll be with you...

That’s manipulation. We humans are so good at it. We manipulate each other, we manipulate animals, we manipulate ourselves and try to manipulate God.

Her message was simply: it’s time to get on the trailer, however you need to do it today… I’m with you.

And Khaleesi and I stood quietly nearby saying: and we’re with you both too.

I look around… and in the mirror and see so much manipulation hidden deceptively in the clothing of generosity and kindness.

I’m a nice/giving/tolerant person… up to a point. But take advantage of me … or disagree with me and watch out.

My friend had a limit in her mind of what was ‘enough’ time for him to sort out getting on. At that point she would ask again [he knows how to do this!!!], add pressure. But her limit was like 35 minutes before he was ready. He needed that time that day and she got a win for their connection by giving it to him instead of demanding that after 10 minutes he was just taking advantage of her and she’d now show him!

It also looks like ticket counting when we want to trade our kindness or being with someone for something for ourselves:

If I spend today working around the house with my husband then I have saved up enough tickets to go riding all day tomorrow with my girlfriends!


I’ve saved enough ‘tickets’ that you should be more thoughtful of my needs…

There’s also the scoreboard we all seem to keep running track of:

I have gone out of my way to help you X times… the least you could do is do Y for me…

The change of heart to simply if I can I will, and because I want to be with you is enough, opens a transformation so much bigger than any act itself. And there is never anything on the other side of the equal sign. I don’t count tickets anymore. Mine or yours.

I think this is how hoses live. They do life being with each other.

I’ve had friendships along the way where if we happened to be going the same direction then it worked, but both of us were really just doing what we each wanted and basically lined up doing the same things. Sometimes it’s a surprise when you thought you had a deep friendship to find that once you did need someone to be with you… they weren’t with you… they were doing what worked for them still. Or the other way around. It happens both directions.

This isn’t necessarily bad. And we can’t do life with too many people this way. I love how Bob Goff suggests you should figure out how many people will fit around your bed so that as you’re dying you have just the right amount of deep relationships that no one is squeezed out and you don’t have too much empty space either. I think he decided its like 10 or 12 people!

But this can work with everyone you interact with in allowing yourself to be with the people you are with through your day.

Can I set myself aside whenever I’m in someones presence to be with them at that moment and really see them not just what I need from them?

There is a magic that happens when you can’t be taken advantage of because you’re actually just giving.

Maybe the most ironic part is realizing that you can’t have this heart change if it’s because you want a horse that will load on the trailer, or your spouse to be kinder to you, or because you want anything.

Because that is the heart of manipulation again.

if you can find this change in your heart then for it to be real, and to matter, it must become a way of being over your lifetime. The deep changes around you come in increments over time as you change and those who you love begin to be loved as you say…

I’m with you.

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.


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!


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.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical. Unbalanced. Wild. Crazy. Yep.

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

About the horses….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard the words of Joyce Meyer in my mind…

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

Lesson of the bailing twine

Sunday, December 10, 2017

This post is a bit of a combination of a couple experiences I’ve had this week.

One of the days I went to work with the mares I had connected nicely with Wild Heart and she was coming with me at my shoulder. I had decided to take her into the barn to further the work on what eventually will be sending her onto the trailer.

When we stood together at the gate I offered her the halter and instead of putting her head into the nose and she stepped away.


I waited then asked her again.

Again she stepped away this time walking farther toward the other side of the fence.


I waited and watched. She yawned and chewed over there.

I walked in and reconnected with her and she again followed me back to the gate. I sensed she was interested in leaving with me.

But she moved away from the halter.

I waited again. I watched.

She walked away but not so far. She took a couple steps along the fence and began pulling up a piece of bailing twine I’d hung on the fence with her teeth.


Was she communicating with me? I’m pretty sure she was. Bailing twine. That could work.

So I walked over and pulled the twine off the fence. She followed me back to the gate. I loosely put the twine over her neck with no trouble and she walked right out toward the barn with me. Right on my shoulder.


I am pretty sure I am pretty sure it’s unlikely I would have success loading her on the trailer with the twine so instead of putting us in a position that seemed beyond our current ability I started with something I was fairly certain we would succeed at.

I sent her into and then out of a stall.

How much fun we had sorting that language out. It was easy. Then we walked back to the field with the loose twine and released her.


At some point the halter will come back. Through the week I’ve watched her play with it- putting parts of it in her mouth, pulling it off the fence, sniffing it on the ground and jumping back at first when she moves it with her teeth and then going back in to further investigate.

Wild Heart is<<<
d Heart is certainly not afraid of the halter. It was I who needed a lesson that day… the take away I have from the experience with the bailing twine is that I want a horse that I could load on the trailer with bailing twine and that the halter is never used in a way that jerks my horse around or treats her without respect.

I already basically knew that. I’ve stopped pulling on my horse to the best of my awareness a while ago. (Not soon enough but I only was working with what I knew… don’t get me started on what I’ll eventually know and look back on today me and wonder why I didn’t get it better!) even so I’ve never purposely used a lead rope in an abusive way. However I’m coming to see how light I could be with these horses if I were truly aware of them.

With the bailing twine I couldn’t just keep walking if she slowed down. I had to at least notice (be aware) she’d slowed and then find out why and then ask her to continue on. Key here being a conversation instead of a one-way insistence “I’m the leader come with me now!”

I am too good at one-way conversations in many aspects of my life. Thankfully I continue to become more aware.

I may not always want to stop or slow if she asks- but when I’m in relationship building mode it is probably a good idea to take the time to let her know I care and will at least listen.

This particular time she slowed as we were passing a massive dig area by the pond. The holes are substantial and something or a town of something’s live there. I’m not sure if she wanted to show it to me or if she’d noticed the animal activity from the field and wanted a closer investigation herself.

Regardless I paused there as she motioned with her head and I acknowledged the otter compound (or whatever it is) and then she gladly moved right back along with me.

As I close I reflect myself on the idea of completely expecting to have horses I can load on my trailer with very loose bailing twineor less. It’s not really that far off but let’s just substitute something you might consider almostridiculous because it assumes a very high level of intelligence, understanding, cooperation and trust.

How about riding Tevis in a neck string?

<<this is what inspires me. So what inspires you? I think so often the adult human race really just lacks imagination.

I recently heard a story from a barn who often has horses completely halter-lead free moving about in the barn because they just don’t need it anymore. The horses cooperate with their humans completely. A visitor witnessed this and instead of noticing just how lovely the connection of horses and humans was she immediately began a tirade insisting she would never come back to a facility as dangerous as this one that disregarded basic safety protocols and had loose horses running about. (I’m pretty sure the runaway horse was just standing being groomed or saddled calm and cooperative. Really someone get that thing in some cross ties!!🤯)

I’m also quite sure the barn owners were ok with never seeing this woman again.

So where are you? Fill your crazy inspiration vision in the blank…………now if you aren’t working little by little toward that? The magic… Why not?

Is it that you don’t believe it’s even possible, you used to believe your horse could actually communicate with you and gave up on it as the gap was just too much to bridge in reality? or that life is too busy now to allow for silly unrealistic dreams like that?

Possibly you really don’t want to know what your horse would say to you… I’ve been there more times than I’d like to discuss. 😔

maybe it’s just that it’s easier to just put the horse in the cross ties, get the saddle on (have someone hold it still while you get on) and hit the road.

I mean everyone else does it that way. I have. Except I don’t have cross ties… but the concept… I’ve ridden more days basically that way than I can count.

Who has time for trying to have a conversation with a horse? For asking what they think? For taking the time to convince them we are worthy of their effort… that we are paying attention.

Maybe the other people watching the process would question your sanity…

Yeah. I get all that.

Still.can’t only be me who dreamed that dream? Walking through a field with this wild amazing creature at our side….

Are we just too old to dream?

Not me.

Part of your world

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Friend via email: Can you ride Friday?

Actual reply: No, sorry… I have some meetings and rehearsals and can’t get away- you guys have a great time and thanks for thinking of me!

Inside voice:if I were free I’d have had to say the slightly crazy other half of the reply ‘well I’m not exactly riding right now; I have some work to do in the field… um yeah… no…. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to come’

I’ve been wondering for a while now what is going on between me and Khaleesi. Sometimes pretty good and sometimes just passable- I just have a nagging sense our relationship could be better.

I can always catch her in the field, I can get her on the trailer reliably, I enjoy our rides (we’re not in arguments), she is sensitive to my energy so I’m not having to pull or push on her- she’s a pretty light horse overall, and it’s been a fairly long time (over a year plus) since she’s kicked a horse while I’ve been on her (yes, for a super opinionated and bossy mare this has been something I’ve had to put effort into!)

Yet…. there’s room for improvement.

She doesn’t come running to put her head in the halter when I come to get her.

She isn’t calm and relaxed when I groom her despite the things I’ve tried to pay attention to: like which hand I use or how I’m approaching her or if the softer or harder brush is preferred.

She still occasionally has ‘ugly ears’ to the perfectly nice horses we ride along with. Sure- she isn’t kicking them and I don’t allow her to cut them off, but if she were more tuned in to me would she be more willing to go where I ask at the speed I ask and sometimes to share the trail… without feeling the need to be sure the other horses know how she feels about them?

She will load reliably on the trailer, but she doesn’t do it because she wants to and makes that clear. She does it because she knows in the end I will insist so might as well get on. (And no. Every time I load her does not mean hard work. Sometimes I load her and don’t go anywhere. And there’s a ride very close to home that is pretty easy where we drive a mile and ride home she seems to like that we sometimes do.).

See it’s not about the trailer. It’s not about learning how to approach better in the field. Its not the other horses. It’s not the brush.

It’s me.

As much as that may sound terrible to some- to me it’s a good thing. Because that’s all I can really work on anyway. So this means the issue (if one can call it that since we probably look pretty successful on a surface level) is one I can do something about.

It was actually trailer loading recently (with nowhere to go that day so I had plenty of time) that gave me some insight.

I’ve been working on my mental fitness with my horses and overall in my life for well over a year now. Many things are improving. I now have a whole lot more control over how I feel about working with my horses and do not allow anger or fear to destroy what I’m working toward.

However, as I asked her to load on the trailer… and considering I’ve loaded her before I had a pretty good idea that this was not a question of her not understanding what I wanted…. she wasn’t giving.

She avoided, she sidestepped, she tried just about everything to not get on the trailer. I had no plans of driving away to meet anyone for a ride and had plenty of time. I was not angry with her and really thought about what could be going on.

Was I blocking her somehow– asking her to load but positioning my body language to tell her not to load?

Was she concerned about Wild Heart in the barn? As the herd leader not wanting us to drive away leaving her tied in the aisle?

Was she ‘testing’ me somehow- to see if my reaction would hold up? If I would stay calm even if she didn’t give me what I asked for?

Then I noticed it.

I wasn’t angry or mad at her. But there was this little hint of an underlying feeling…..



I was definitely annoyed.

You know… you’re not yelling at the child to get in the car NOW or I’ll beat your bottom (that might be angry)… more like when you’re trying to be patient when they ask if they can go back inside for one more time to check on if that stuffed animal is safely tucked into bed you’re like ‘ok‘ said with a sigh, internal eye roll and a wish the kid would just realize stuffed animals do not actually have feelings already! 😑

As the layers get peeled back and the easy obvious issues get worked on then there are the smaller ones. I didn’t yell at her or jerk her around by the head or hit her with a stick but being honest with myself I was definitely annoyed.

And horses are a million times more sensitive than a human so she knew it too.

Equine leaders do not get annoyed.


There I was again. Acting like a human.

The horse cannot figure out how to be more human-like. We can anthropomorphise all we want. They are horses and they do not think and reason like humans do.

Yes. I followed through, got it done, and Khaleesi got on the trailer and calmly ate some hay while I worked with Wild Heart around the trailer for a few.

Then after some reflection on the afternoon I decided to get serious going forward about carving out more of the human attributes that convince my horses I cannot be completely trusted.

One thing I can see for sure is that it has got to be a real shift. You cannot lie to a horse. You cannot fool a horse (the way you can fool humans) about if the inside matches the outside. And you don’t get to play around with being that leader sometimes or if I’m having a good day or if I’m not under stress in my life or whatever. It has to be reliable and consistent because the one time I do something un-leader-like I have proven again I cannot be completely trusted.

One thing I’m not sure of because I don’t have the experience – is if my process to be a true leader to Khaleesi is more extreme (or not) that it would be with a more mid-pack or lower level horse. I have only seen Khaleesi take charge or at least make the effort to take charge of any group she has gotten to mix with. She does not lack confidence. I have never seen her (as I’ve seen Wild Heart and other geldings at the farm) look to anyone else for direction. So if my own experiences seem unusual or extreme in finding the leadership position I should mention that I’m fairly certain I have a top of herd mare who might need more proof of my worthiness than Wild Heart for example who is a mid-level mare naturally.

But in the end. This is why I have horses. To learn how to be that person. To grow and to get better. And then to have success in whatever I do with my horse because we’ve become a team and I am the brains and she is (as Buck puts it) a willing extension of my own legs. Or maybe if you prefer Tom Dorrance- I’m looking for the True Unity.

My plan is to figure out how to look more like the equine leader my mare is looking for. One she can trust to take over so she can relax and go along with me- because she has NO DOUBT: I’ve got this.

So I have made a commitment to become part of their world, learn and prove it. And I’m planning not to ride again until I make at least some noticeable headway.

I know. Many of you are certain I’ve lost my mind.

And the rest of you are not sure but wonder.


I have no idea how long this might take.

But I’m going to try.


Monday, August 14, 2017

I've been asked a few times lately if I'm getting ready for another endurance event.

The answer has been the same since mid-June: Yes! Hopefully in September!

It's a long in-season hiatus especially since I didn't complete the OD so my last 50 was in April.

I don't usually ride in July and then had the trip to settle in Faygo making Ride Between the Rivers impossible. Then the clinic with Dee had to be the same weekend as the Iron Mountain ride… but doesn't everything happen as it should?


Meanwhile what is going on? Am I riding a lot?

What exactly does one mean by a lot…..

I am at the barn a lot…

I'm building.

Building myself. Building K. Building relationships along with the physical structures. And Wild Heart the mustang mare seems to be at the center of all of it lately.

She has been teaching me how to build.

You know that saying:

We don't always get the horse we want… but we always get the horse we need.

Well I have to believe it with this one.

The horse I wanted and thought I was getting was a mustang mare who would have fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles. Just needing some more experience and confidence. Ready to hit the trails!

What I ended up with was a mustang mare with fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles that had a lot of questions and some residual physical issues from past injuries (likely in the wild or in captivity) and wasn't ready to carry any one of us around on her back until she got some answers!

Maybe I could have cowboy'd (is that a word? No offense to the great cowboy horsemen who didn't use violence and force) her into submission. But in my opinion that is how people get hurt.

I am well aware that anyone working with horses will get hurt at some point… I'd like to at least cut back on the likelihood of it being on purpose because my horse is sick of not being understood and decides I'm of no use to her anymore and she'd rather pick a fight than cooperate. Especially at the point when she realizes she's bigger and stronger (and probably in that instance smarter) than me.

I'd prefer to work together so we agree life is better when my brain is the one making decisions when we are together.

So I'm listening. And finally I've begun to actually hear (my equine translations beginning to improve) and they know it now.

And the horses have a lot to say.

It's like being immersed in another language knowing only a handful of words and someone you really need to work with is talking to you in that strange language and your brain hurts trying to figure it out without a translator.

At least that's how my barn time feels sometimes.

Yes. I'm the crazy horse lady now who thinks my horses talk to me.

How do I know it's not my imagination?

Because sometimes I get it right. And it's so obvious then.

Let's talk pee.

Wild Heart is basically good to be tied in the barn. For long periods of time too. For the most part she'll stand quietly and relax. Until she doesn't.

What I've often heard in training advice is basically ignore her – if she paws, gets antsy, impatient. Horses need to learn to stand tied!

She'll learn to stand there all day if I need her to. That's her job. Stand tied quietly as long as I ask.

Then one day my friend Pam is here and she sees the horse go from calm to antsy and asks: do you think she needs to pee?

Are you kidding me? No. I've never considered that. If she has to pee… she'll pee. She's peed in the barn before. We just rinse it away.

While we are talking about it she pees.
I rinse it away and think…. hm.

She is still a little antsy. Seems like maybe that wasn't it?

She pees again. (Within a minute).

Rinse it away…. boy am I feeling like an idiot. She peed a little to try to help me understand and I assumed that was it.


Ok. I heard you.

Now I have a horse who asks to go out and will poop and pee outside the barn and will ask to go. Not every single time we work inside- but more often than not.

She has not pooped or peed in the barn since that day. And she stands quietly tied for hours if I ask her to.

It's much easier to work on her feet when she's calm and not begging me to go out and pee.

In the past if she was antsy while I was trying to work on her feet I'd have assumed I have a training issue and need to train her to stand quietly.

Go figure. Come to find out I had a language issue and the horse was simply asking if she could go to the bathroom before working on her feet.

This is bigger than urination- because the problem that seems like that problem isn't always actually the problem!

I am not at all saying if your horse doesn't stand quietly when tied it has to pee. I'm actually saying the opposite…. that it could be a million things and the only answer to every training issue with horses is: it depends.

There is no answer or method that will work except understanding of their equine world and their communication. If you get the answer wrong because you didn't understand the question it ends up lose-lose.

So maybe your answer IS the horse needs to learn some patience and to stand quietly tied. Or maybe it's something entirely different. But it's the tiny things we get right or not that will determine the success with that horse.

In Heart's case I know she was saying she needed to pee because that answer worked.

I think back to how nicely this mustang had her feet trimmed by my farrier in months past- he'd worked with her twice.
Then the last time a blow up.


First answer is always the same: because I failed her. I put her in a situation she should never had been in.

That doesn't mean beat myself up and live there in failure but I need to sort it out because failure is only useful if it's about learning.

It also means I have to now dig myself out of her being resistant in her right front and leaning to care for her feet myself for the time being because I can't allow anyone to work with her who might jeopardize the relationship I've worked so hard to build.

Yes. It's that important.

And my farrier is good. I like him, I appreciate and respect him. I don't blame him. I blame myself for not following my gut that day in better controlling the environment – and very likely for not understanding she may have had to pee and just began with a question that could have been answered with respect to her…

The two things that ruin horses the fastest are ignorance and ego. That day both of those things came into play. It can happen in an instant.

One thing I've learned about having a mustang: there is little room for error. They are sensitive to everything and a change can happen very fast.

Hopefully I can use all that to my advantage. First in learning how to be better myself, and because she can have fast positive change as well… if I get it right.

It's Wild Heart that has insisted I get better. Fast. She has a lot to say and is much less patient.

Khaleesi talks to me and I understand like 10% and she seems to say: for a dumb human you're not so bad and I'll take the 10% and the fact that you're trying and I like you.

Heart talks to me and I understand like 10% and she says: DO YOU NEED ME TO S-P-E-A-K S-L-O-W-E-R? HOW ABOUT LOUDER? HELLLLOOOOO HUMAN…. ARE YOU RETARDED? Maybe if I nip or kick at her she'll wake up?

When you don't have a choice you learn or get hurt. Don't misunderstand me: she is an excellent horse!! This is not bad behavior! And also by listening to her communication and trying to help her I am not putting her in charge or abdicating my leadership role.

My job is to understand as much as I can and then use the information. And they know so much we are wise to ask for their report. I can say 'no' or 'not right now' or 'thank you but I have a better idea'.

Being a good leader does not mean saying: shut up I don't care what you have to say if you don't get in line I'll have to force you to and get frustrated or angry in the process. Then when I have an emotional melt down (anger, frustration, fear…) and yell at you-you'll know to just shut down and obey!!

How is this getting me to 100?

First I am riding my horse. Just not as often.

But second, I have this gut feeling that understanding my horse and leaning her language could be a vital component of a long successful career. If I work together with her and she's willing to carry me that far because we are a true team I will be more successful for longer.

If I learn her language enough for her to tell me when something isn't right early enough for me to adjust and fix it we will be more successful.

You know how so many people say….

If only they could just tell us…..

Imagine they are. Then it becomes…

If only we could understand.

The only way to understand I've found so far is through regular conversations practicing the language and listening and hearing. Assume EVERYTHING horses do is communication. NOTHING IS RANDOM.

But once the box is open. You can't put it back in. You can't unhear what you've heard. You can't unknow what you've learned.

Sometimes I think about how much easier life was when I just went out put on a saddle and rode my horse. I had a nice one. She knew I meant well, loved and cared for her and she put up with me.
She was well trained.

Hopefully now I'm better trained. The horses are my teachers. I have many years to go before I'm fluent. But I have a few words here and there and at least am trying!

Heart: the puzzle

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It’s February. 

So far Khaleesi is on track for 50 miles at the Blackwater ride on March 5. We’re picking up miles with at least one 10-15 mile ride per week and she’s stayed sound. Saddle fit is doing great with my old pad and we even have boots that seem to be staying on (knock on something!)

Though we have a tentative goal to get Heart to the Blackwater ride as well Susan and I are just not certain if she will get there or not. 

She is coming along amazingly well however there are a few things we’d like to feel confident about before we load her up:

  1. She’ll ride on the trailer. Yes- I can get her on, but she doesn’t like the confinement of having the divider in and I have not yet closed the door on her in there. 
  2. Susan feels comfortable riding her solo. Susan rides alone in the arena, and hand walks her on the trails solo but the solo ride is still in the works. 
  3. She understands and accepts electric fence confinement.

It’s not impossible these requirements will be met, but it’s not a given- especially the trailer.  

Being a wild mare has advantages- she is amazing in the woods like she’s lived there all her life (she was wild on the range for her first 2 years which is a major plus).

  • Cross the river (check) 
  • drink from a puddle or creek (check) 
  • navigate tricky footing and downed trees (check check) 
  • realize other animals live out here too and you don’t need to worry (check). 

I am amused reading back to an earlier post where I mentioned there were some basics that are good to have in place before trailer loading. Which one had I neglected?

The confined spaces one. 


So here we are. I love to look at these steps like a creative puzzle to solve- how can I get her working toward what I want in a way that doesn’t force or cause her stress: we always keep the relationship as the center. 

It’s a puzzle for me to create a puzzle for her. As Buck would say- you sort of set it up for them and let them do it. 

2-part plan for getting her comfortable on the trailer:

#1 the hay hallway

We created a hay hallway to walk her through in the barn so she can begin to feel closed in but still have an escape route. She’s ok with that so far and we also back out of it without (too much) trouble. Eventually the hay hallway will be taller and closer in and then we will not walk all the way through but close the door and have her be ‘ok’ in the small space. 

#2 Feeding on the trailer 

I’m not into horses working for their food or using treats to train. Doesn’t mean I think no one should but it isn’t generally in line with what I am trying to do. 

That being said I starting looking creatively at how to get her comfortable on the trailer and decided in her case feeding her there might be a multi-prong solution. 

Most importantly food on the trailer has made getting on the trailer ‘her idea’. I will always believe this is best practice if you can find a way. 

Today I didn’t ask her to load at all. I put her food right inside the ‘box’ and she walked up and took a few bites. Then I asked her to back off the ramp and moved the food in a few inches. She was dying to get back up there. 

It was her idea. 

I let her come up and take a few more bites then backed her again. 

Moved the dish a few more inches. 

She came right up but now had to stretch a little more. She still was willing but it wasn’t as easy. 

Back up – once more. 

I put the bowl in the center. This means she really can’t reach it without two feet inside the box. 

I believed this was harder for her to accept but not too much pressure for her to work out. 

Then I got in the trailer and watched. 

It was fascinating to see her WANT to get on the trailer but feel like she wasn’t sure she could handle it. It put me in a different role- one that helped her instead of forcing. 

Now it was a puzzle that she could solve and I watched her work it out. 

Sometimes she came up and ate for about a minute or two. Then she’d back off – I always allowed her to back off but she would step right back to the edge. Her mind was in the trailer. 

At one point she started looking to the outside sides of the trailer – instead of not allowing it I watched her. She was right that the food was ‘right there’ but inside the box. She was sorting out the puzzle. 

No – there wasn’t a way to get the food from either side. 

After some exploration there I helped her out by showing her once again where the food was and she did come back up. 

Heart through the trailer window.

We were done when she finished the bowl.

Half way in was all she really could stand so I’ll take it today. 

She worked out the puzzle and faced her fears which became less important than breakfast each time. And she couldn’t be too stressed out while she was eating which leads to the other positives to this method in her case. 

Eating keeps her head lower while focused on the food bowl- lower head usually means lower adrenaline.  Also if she can eat while on it she can begin to relax and stay longer without realizing  she should panic. 

If I had to load her and force her on to save her life I could do it, but I don’t chose that as the way to get her willingly loading and working together with us. 

It’s amazing to me how quickly force can destroy a human-equine relationship with a lot of damage to repair over a long time. And by force- it depends on the horse to define it… each horse has a different threshold and it doesn’t take what humans consider abuse to be equine force. This is why learning to really read each horse is so important to me. 

I still miss a lot but it’s what makes the difference between success and struggle.

By the way Khaleesi is also being fed on the trailers ‘off’ side right now to make her able to load as easily on the left as the right. 

As for Susan’s solo ride, I am pretty confident that will be soon. Heart is frequently separated from the herd and is basically ok with Susan as her leader. One of these hand walks Susan will just hop on and feel right about it. 

As for the electric pen, there is a small strand in the field right now blocking their favorite corner. Mid month I plan to cross section the field in prep for spring grass and these should at least give her the chance to understand the e-fence. Next will be to set it up in the farm (safe zone) and introduce her as an enclosure and see how she does. Other mustang owners say this wasn’t an issue for them. The horses are so smart they tend to get it quickly and as long as they have food to munch are pretty content to be still and relax. I think we’ll be ok here too. 

On the trail she’s doing great. She’s willing and calm, relaxed and forward. We extend her ride each week and did about 6 miles Wednesday. We’ve been adding some trot intervals so by next month she should have no trouble doing a pretty flat 13 miles at walk-trot with a group of intro riders. 

So really it comes down to the trailer. I can’t know yet how she’ll progress. She tends to be willing and smart and learn quickly but this confinement is worrisome for her which isn’t as simple as being a quick learner.  

We will have to see. It will happen in its time- by the end of the month or not I can’t say!