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!


Sunday, January 29, 2017

I was recently asked regarding something we are working with Wild Heart on: Is she just being stubborn?

I stopped and turned to my friend and answered: I never assume that. Sure- sometimes horses might have an opinion of I don’t want to do that– but I try never to start with the idea they are just being stubborn, or disrespectful or any other negative attitude. I assume they are giving me their best at the moment, and we just move forward and try to improve on it. 

It got me thinking- especially in today’s social climate, but it’s something I’ve been working through in my own world. 


Real compassion, not just when it’s easy because you already have sympathetic feelings for someone easy to love. Or the kind that says “you are stupid and/or evil but I’ll still try to be nice toward you because I’m better and right”

I want to find the kindness in me where I can authentically care for the feelings of people who are just being stubborn, or have completely opposite viewpoints from mine, or who I’ve perceived to have hurt me in some way… or how about the ones engaged in behavior I find abhorrent? 

How? And how is that different from condoning it?

Note: this is not for ‘their’ sake… doing someone else a favor by being kinder- but for my own sake. It expends a lot more energy working from adversity than from love in myself. Negativity is exhausting and draining. Compassion and real love are energizing and endless. It’s for ME that I want to find more compassion and connection- so I can have peace and energy to be more effective. 

I think the key for me to work on has been the concept of Best

Let’s take my horse as an easy example. 
I learned yesterday that the amazing Khaleesi won’t load in the other (left) slot of my two horse trailer. 

I always load her in the right. She is a perfect loader – I swing the lead rope over her neck and click to her and she walks on. 

We are working on getting Wild Heart to load in the small slot with the divider in and she is worried about the confinement. 

Because I began working on her on the right side- I wanted to allow her to continue there until she was ok before making a change. So I decided to load Khaleesi on the left side so Heart might be more comfortable knowing another horse is also confined comfortably and relaxed there.

Khaleesi refused to get on the left side. Then I insisted- I walked her on- she was terrified momentarily and shot out backwards in fear. 

I scratched my head. Good to know!

My first belief is always that she is giving me her best. Apparently she is worried about being in that other side – for whatever reason I don’t really care– but if I assume she’s being stubborn or difficult on purpose I now color our interactions with negative connotations and have lost any compassion, empathy and connection to her. She is now a bad horse or a disrespectful horse. This changes my tone to either impatient, angry, resentful or even defensive. 

In reality she’s a horse who doesn’t feel comfortable in the other trailer slot. If I assume she is doing her best I can now help her (that is my job) to get comfortable on that side and I will be more effective if I am connected to her and my relationship will not be destroyed in the process. 

I love my horse and this is an easy example. 

Let’s take the co-worker that doesn’t get me important information I needed and causes me stress in my work. (Substitute any work related issue here)

I can get annoyed that he isn’t doing his job properly, that he is making my job harder and is incompetent. I can lose connection with him and be at odds. 
Probably won’t help a whole lot and cause stress. Ineffective. 

Or I can decide that he is doing his best. And I can decide how to work within the situation to be most effective. I can’t fire him (not that I would or wouldn’t – but that not my job) but I can realize I may need to be more proactive in requesting information more often so what I need doesn’t slip through the cracks. I can help him do his job and make life better for both of us. 

In reality he IS doing his best. That’s all we get at the moment. There’s no other option. ‘He should do his job better’ is just going to set me up for failure. 

Does that mean accepting underperformance? 

No- if I were the boss I may talk to the employee and ask for improvement in certain areas. If the person can grow- great- if there are things bad enough that the job isn’t being done then firing someone is always an option. It may be the most compassionate thing to do as the person may not be suited for the job- but it doesn’t need to be done with hostility or disconnection.

Let’s move to a whole new layer- where the rubber meets the road. Someone harder to care about – an abusive husband, a criminal, a politician you completely disagree with… a dangerous world leader … substitute the one who gives you the most stress here.

Can one look at a husband who abuses his family and say he is doing his best? 

Personally I believe yes. 

That person is very likely living in pain and fear and cycles from generations past. It is sad an unfortunate. This is not an easy process- but believing the abuser IS doing his best changes the dynamic in connection but doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be removed from those he’s abusing. 

But is that human less deserving of true compassion and love?

That doesn’t mean staying in a bad situation, or taking away consequences or legal punishment for those who do wrong. But it does allow me to not hold hate, anger and resentment disconnecting me from the world and making me less effective in handling the situation. 

All the stressful thoughts and feelings make it harder to make clear choices and act. It is me that I hurt when I hold onto hate- or righteousness – of being better or different. Separated. 

I can’t just be more compassionate automatically, but when I take a step back in every disappointment and assume the others involved are also doing their best at the moment it makes me better at moving forward clearly. 

I cannot change one person around me, but I can work on me. One day and one stressful thought or situation at a time. And as I get better and more connected I see everything around me get better. 

For me, in practice, it starts at the barn. With my horses who I desperately want connection with above all else. Every time I assume a horse is acting badly on purpose I have lost connection and effectiveness to work on improvement. 

When I assume she is giving me her best I find her best gets better all the time. 

Heart: on the road part deux

Sunday, January 15, 2017

This was too good of an update not to post so here’s a brief follow up to the Heart progress blog even though it’s the same day!

Sunday was not as wet and cold as I’d expected so after some house chores (woke up and realized my barn was probably cleaner than my house...) I had some free time so decided to hook up the trailer and make it the day for the trailer. 

That meant it wasn’t: we’ll check it out and see how she reacts.

It was: she’s getting on if I stay here all day and night

I thought about the horse greats… Dorrance… Brannaman… Hunt… I can’t remember who it was that first said it:

To be a good horseman you don’t force horse to do something. No. You make it [whatever you want to get done] the horse’s idea. 

Well I’m not a real horseman. At least not yet… maybe someday. I wasn’t sure I could pull off making it Heart’s idea to get into that little aluminum box on wheels- but if I couldn’t do that my hope at least was to make it happen without force. Without frustration. Without stress. (For either of us).  

To be successful I needed to have no time line, and no expectations about how long she would need to sort the puzzle out.

Checklist to prepare for success:

  1. Be able to lead her well on the ground. Not just so she doesn’t run me over- she knows the dance and performs it well. Her leading skills are excellent. 
  2. Understand when I ask her to move forward either toward me or past me depending on my needs. This is solid but not perfect.
  3. Understand how to back. Yeah. We got that!
  4. Be confident walking on and stepping up and backing off uneven surface. We use the plywood platform in the arena and she easily steps up and backs off without hesitation. Excellent. 
  5. Be ok with confined spaces. She used to be stalled in TN and spent some time in a confined area here at the farm when she first arrived. Check. 
  6. Work on leading through narrow spaces. We didn’t spend much time on this. I’ve heard it’s great prep for trailer loading. 

All in all I believed she had the trust in me and the building block to do this. 

I called Nette and she met me at the barn for moral support (it’s always nice to have a friend), some fresh air, and to work the video!

Before even moving toward the trailer I got us connected and communicating with some groundwork. I led, backed, and asked to move the hind around the fore until I knew I had her attention and we were on the same page. 

I think some who have horses not great at loading might solve their problems with that simple step

Then we headed to the trailer and there was 45 minutes that looked a lot like this:

Basically I wanted to ask her as gently and softly as possible yet in the end it had to ‘get done’. In Brannaman speak: offer the good deal then increase the pressure until I could see the try. 

This is tricky. I think I spent more time than I needed not asking clearly but hanging out with her feet on the ramp making sure she was comfortable and not worried. 

I knew when I added too much pressure because it sent her backward down the ramp. 

I also have been working on waiting on the horse. I believe it’s important you let your horse know she has time to think. I don’t want a reactive horse. I want one who knows I will encourage her to think a problem through if possible. It helps build trust. And the horse knows when you care enough to wait on them. 

I was determined to out-patient my usual self and take as much time as she needed to do it on her timeline. Her comfort zone. It’s a common mistake ask a horse for something – wait a few human moments then decide “ok that’s enough… we don’t have time for this“. 

So I was prepared: When my brain kicked in with ok, this is ridiculous… get on the trailer already!! I was ready to retort no goal oriented impatient self- we can wait longer!

After about half an hour I made the decision to ensure my request was crystal clear – I began to use my lead rope to drive (not to whip her- just a twirl or swing to communicate what I wanted) and added a forward invitation with my body to create almost a rhythmic rocking back and forth next to her. This seemed to break something loose and she began to shift more weight forward. She put on two feet then followed with the rear just behind. 

I’m pleased with the work and after asking her to back off nicely (the second half of the process!) I loaded her 2 more times easy on, easy off. 

Once she’d made it on the next couple times were quick and easy. My guess is she will now load fine. So far once she learns something it seems to stick. 

So she’s really on the road now!