Every moment new

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is never good.

Hello?

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

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

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

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

It’s Khaleesi.

Oh (drat. Now two fence jumpers.)

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

Thanks I’ll run over and round her up.

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

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

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

Each day new.

What a gift.

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

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

Failure?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look… no hands?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I’m grateful to have been able to find a day or two here and there for some regular riding each week in between freezing rain howling wind and snowstorms.

We ended up with more snow accumulation than anticipated Sunday then beautiful sunny and mild Monday with the bonus of closed schools (no teaching for my afternoon lessons) which is a recipe for a perfect snow riding afternoon for me!

Armed with only one halter and dreams of a carefree snow ride I went into the field. After feeding, Khaleesi moseyed up toward the big round bale. No problem, I walked up to catch her between bites and she was easy to get.

What took me aback was Wild Heart.

She’s almost always near Khaleesi. However this time as Khaleesi headed up the hill to eat Wild Heart headed the opposite direction- straight to the red gate and stood ready to exit the field waiting patiently.

I’ve never exactly seen her do that before.

She was asking SO politely I decided not to refuse her. I hadn’t brought her halter but I knew she would string along so I decided to let her join us.

She came right along perfectly as if on lead.

<Sigh.>

So much for my carefree ride plans. Ponying along Wild Heart would mean staying closer to home, mostly going slower (which is ok in snow anyway) and a lot more work than fun.

But I had a feeling this was what I needed to do today – so I went with it.

I took my herd/pack (me, two horses and two dogs) across the highway and headed up the home trail which (being in a river valley) is a good uphill right from the start.

Wild Heart has walked these trails before with and without rider, but she began pretty quickly to drag anchor. It was like she didn’t feel like having to climb the mountain today.

Too bad. This is what we do. You wanted to come remember?

It was only 10 minutes into the ride when I’d had to stop for the however too many of times as she got behind… she would plant her feet and though I could convince her to keep on moving with some flicking of the lead rope it was NOT the ride I’d been dreaming of all day.

At that moment – before I allowed frustration to creep in, I stopped and took a moment to think.

Q: What do I need to do for this to be an enjoyable ride for me- and the horses?

A: Keep Wild Heart moving. It’s the constant stopping that’s making this not fun.

Q: What can I change to fix it?

[analysis of the ponying experience thus far today]

A: I’m behind the action. I am letting her fall too far behind before I try to keep her moving and I’ve already ‘lost’ her. When she’s that far back I have no tools available to me… I need to get ahead of the problem.

Q: How?

A: I know it would work better if I kept her head right around my knee. I’ve been *thinking* I’d like her there but haven’t been prepared to keep her in place I’ve been allowing her to fall behind to Khaleesi’s hip then have no control at all by the time she’s behind and allow her to control us because if she stops there’s nothing left to do.

So I’m essentially training her to get behind and stop us.

Uh oh. That’s not what I want. šŸ¤­

Q: now what?< em>

A: instead of waiting to react when it’s already too late, I need to correct her immediately when she gets a few inches behind and I still have access to my whole lead rope.< strong>

Q: can you do that with only one hand as you’re holding your reins in the other?< em>

A: šŸ¤” I don’t know.

This is when the magic happened.

I decided that for the solution I worked out I would need both hands to work the pony horse on lead properly… so… it made perfect sense to clip my reins (I was riding in a halter not a bit so that helped) to the carabiner on the front of the saddle and use both my hands to wrangle the pony while I used my body to ride Khaleesi.

And it worked.

The next 70% or so of the ride I rode K without any reins and was able to keep Wild Heart right next to me and in fact she was quite good there and did not stop anymore.

We wound our way through some forested sections where the trail is less defined, and I even took some sections at a trot and that was SO fun!

There were about 3 instances when I had to reach for my reins to back up and clarify my request but I was tickled that the process worked so well.

It wasn’t the ride I expected… but by being open to what was instead of what I had in mind I was rewarded with an experience where all those things I have been working toward came together!

And that felt pretty darn good!

Groundhog Day

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Some local friends have an annual tradition of spending February 2 (regardless of what day of the week it falls or the weather) devoting a night to their favorite French peasant dish: Cassoulet — paired with a screening of the classic allegorical film Groundhog Day.

I love good food and this dish introduced to me years ago by the same good friends have inspired me. Cassoulet takes days of preparation and is rich and decadent and yet simple. It’s everything Ed and I appreciate about fine food and we have even been fortunate enough (with help and guidance from the same friends) to spend a weekend in Toulouse as a part of our wedding trip — eating cassoulet in Southern France.

I tease (well it’s only half teasing) that the Groundhog Day Invite is the toughest invitation to score in our little county. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times over the last 10 years and had seen the movie at least once or twice before that.

The food and company were wonderful last night but the movie- though normally the part I cynically groan through as payment for eating the finest meal of the year- somehow struck me fresh this time.

If you haven’t seen the movie ever or if it’s been a while I will highly recommend taking a cold winter evening and some good food and watching it. I think this one just gets better in time and is worth a revisit.

I am assuming everyone knows the gist of the film: highly self-centered cynical television weatherman has to relive the same day over and over (some estimates taken from what he accomplishes says it could accumulate to up to 30 years!!) going through many new layers of self realization until he finally learns that true fulfillment comes from not seeking your own happiness but from serving and loving others.

The layers he goes through are touching and funny and I could relate to them so well in my own personal journey.

The section of the movie that struck home to me most regarding working with horses was as Phil decided he wanted to try to get to know Rita (earnestly sweet natured producer) he spent many many many of his days trying to find out what makes her tick. Each of these days goes well a little farther on until he gets to a new thing about her that he gets wrong. Because it’s fake manipulation, that new detail whenever he gets to it always shuts down the process. Thus he begins again the next (same!) day.

He really wants to spend an entire day with Rita and be exactly the guy she is looking for… he learns her favorite everything and mimics it each step of the way. His ultimate goal is still self centered… he’s more interested in conquering her than caring for her… possibly to use her to get out of the Groundhog Day cycle, or both… still about him.

One of the scenes shows him – almost crazed – going through the motions; using all the techniques and memorized details he’s acquired to get through the day until he can get to the ‘new material.’ He is doing all the ‘right things’ he’s learned but it’s so insincere it becomes creepy.

It reminded me of working with horses – how many times have I learned something with my horse, then gone back with my idea of what to do that day in mind and I’m going through the motions to get it done but it has little connection or feeling? I’m hardly paying any attention to the horse (Rita in this example) but I’m doing what I know works because it worked before. I’m right aren’t I?

How many times I’ve heard the voice “Come on you already know how to do this!!” In my head. “Why are we wasting time here?!”

It made me laugh to imagine it. Phil in the movie even overdoing his ‘love’ commentary to get what he wants but his heart just wasn’t in it.

Oh… I think I’ve been there before.

The end result of that whole process- trying to learn what he thought the girl wanted him to be and put on a fake exterior of all the right things in order to be successful– finally when he does get all the way through the day and into night with her strung along but blows it in the end… in his desperation to get that final piece in place after working so hard for so long and being SO close, his true self shows through and she feels only manipulated and just that last little thing ruins it all… back to zero.

It makes me think of the last 6 miles out of a 100 mile ride (the OD 100 has a check at mile 94). If we’d come that far and my horse showed me she wasn’t somehow really ready to finish- that she was done… let’s say technically we could pull it off- not something a vet would pull… but I knew she would be compromised…

what would I do? The investment it takes to get that far even before showing up on race day is gigantic. Would I look at my horse and say: ok girl. Not today. I’m with you.

Or would I say: you’re kidding me… it’s 6 more miles you’ll be ok. Whatever it is isn’t that bad… I mean on the scales I’ve invested this thing of yours is small! Do you know what I’ve put into this?? Come on let’s get it done?

That one decision could mean starting over from below zero (lost trust and respect from my partner) or going home to continue building on those 94 miles and all that work that truly creates a long term team capable of almost anything together.

I so hope that thinking about these things in advance will help me make that decision better when it comes. And even to see the decisions for what they truly mean. That can be even more dicey.

In the end Phil comes to the end of himself and his immediate gratification. First he gets more honest with who he is and where he is. I think that is always the hardest hurdle for most humans. He doesn’t have to be something he’s not to make Rita interested in him- being real is the start.

Then getting better. He begins to invest in the people around him, he begins exploring (educating himself) by learning music and French poetry and ice sculpting. He eventually wins the girl and his life when he stops trying to win the girl… he spends the day putting his own wants aside to care about others and finds ultimate success and fulfillment there.

I feel like this winter has been a time where I’ve been asking those same questions- how do I care about how my horse feels and what she needs above the things I want her to do for me?

What does that look like?

It’s not bad to want to ride on the trails with friends, or have high dressage scores, or run a clean course, or ride 100 miles … as much as seeking a relationship with Rita isn’t bad in itself… it works better through honesty, seeking knowledge, letting go of the ego and putting others (your horse) ahead of what you want your horse to do.

But it must come from the heart… horses, just like Rita, know when they are being manipulated or ‘played’.

The changes can only come if they’re real.

Last thing I noted was heartening: all those days Phil spent trying for the wrong things still weren’t wasted. He may have had the wrong motives, but he learned about Rita anyway… and he may have been lost for a while but the patterns emerged through the day in the town that he was able to use later to help people.

Keep seeking… really searching and eventually everyone who wants to can truly change, and use the lessons along the way for our good and those around us.

What I really want.

Monday, January 29, 2018

I’m at an odd sort of place where I could share a million little details of every barn visit… but then at the end I almost have nothing at all specific to say.

While I’m in the moment there are a ton of things going on… little conversations… things I’m learning (like which brush Khaleesi prefers or what happens when I change the angle of my approach to pick up a hoof… why did Khaleesi just send Wild Heart over to check me out instead of approaching first herself like she did yesterday…Ā ) and at the time they are all fascinating and then looking back it becomes one far away landscape of… well that was good.

It’s a nice zone to exist in for the moment. It’s fun and rewarding and a glimpse of what I’ve been searching for since I began to consider getting a young horse back in 2013. A horse that only had what I put into her. For better or worse.

I spent an hour this week riding in the yard. It was a nice warm winter day and I tied Wild Heart safely nearby and let her watch us work. I used what was already there to do some things like weave through landscape posts, move her hind end around a support pipe in the ground, sidepass through the wider space in the posts… we trotted and walked and made a few circles and explored.

It was wildly fun. With each new maneuver I’d ask and let the mare figure it out. I gave her time to think and respond and process. She loved it. I loved it.

When we finished she was soft and connected to me.

Friday I decided to get out of the yard and the property and I took her to a place we can ride home from (we both love one way rides!). It was dry, warmish, and the footing was decent. I wanted to start getting back to some physical fitness.

I trust her solid base of physical conditioning. This mare has been on a break since mid-November for any serious physical rides but I am not worried at all. The physical will be easy for her to regain.

What I’ve done for the past two months is really deepen our mental workĀ learned what I needed to understand to be a better leader so my horse is more focused on me and beginning to understand what I’m asking (and care) and it’s been a million times worth it.

I’ve looked around me a while…. years… and wondered what seems off. Something just didn’t quite add up.

I mean we look at these amazing creatures– Ā see them in a field or in the wild or maybe on a video and they are magic. They draw us (many of us). We want the magic. We dream of being that figure riding bareback holding onto mane and galloping through a field with no groundhog holes. Then it gets more real and some imagine jumping great fences on an athlete, some picture (wait… no one actually dreams about working cattle do they!?)… some imagine the perfect dressage moves with an intimate communication only between you and the magic creature, some dream of exploring lonely new territory on their best buddy or maybe sharing the trails with a herd of human friends and equines 5 days a week, and some dream of 100 mile rides testing all their endurance, spirit and skill: human and equine… but all of us want that magic of befriending a 1000 pound majestic creature who will do anything for us… together… [music crescendos here!!]

Then just go to a show… an organized trail ride camp… even a solitary barn.. anywhere there are horses and you see reality: physical tactics (human will or tools usually both) applied to get it done because the horse along the way said to some degree: no thank-you. I’ll pass. Your idea is stupid… or confusing… or something I’m notĀ capableĀ of today… or maybe I don’t like the way you treat me.

If we can’t have the magic, we begin make due with boring reality. But what’s so amazing is with a horse… even just boring reality is so good we are usually still happy… sometimes we pretend things are all good and that might even work most of the time until things escalate.

Sometimes this comes in the form of a horse that gives up, becomes “respectful” and performs even to the point of long term injury to itself. Sometimes it comes in the form of little annoying things that make it just not fun anymore: hard to catch, paws, doesn’t stand well for tacking up, drags me or drags her on the lead, refuses to load on the trailer or a million other small things we work around… or shows up in refusals that end up dangerous: nipping, biting, bucking, spooking all the time, rearing, running off with us…

Sometimes people get on the horse mill looking for the magic one, sometimes they stick it out with the one that isn’t working and keep trying things to make the horse magical. Many horse people have such an iron will they are pretty good at insisting (hand raised here) and the horse has learned the consequences are usually not worth the trouble. Even more sad some people just give up on horses altogether… let down because the magic ended up so elusive, it was like believing too long in santa claus.

It’s really easy to point my fingers around… but as with every blog I post I know becauseĀ I am guilty.

Yes. I have used physical force and training to fix my horse when I created the problem to begin with. I will probably do it again unfortunately and I am sorry in advance and promise to try to do better.

I have come to believe through my searching that a big part of why this magic is so elusive is because we want something completely magically “two as one” but most of usĀ Ā seem to be so limited to the tools of unmagical physical attempts (at least I was).

Can we imagine for a moment wanting a relationship with someone…. but let’s say we don’t share a language. So instead of slowing down and trying to find common language- which could take years especially since I’m not a language specialist… that’s too long… instead I start to drag the other around by the arm doing all the things I want him or her to do with me with very little understanding.

The point that sticks out to ME the most in this example is what do I really want?

If I really want the other person and the magic with them- it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ll always keep them as the center. I’ll never push them beyond what they understand. But if what I really want is to DO STUFF with someone else (you’ll do, come with me) then I’ll get bored with the process and drag them around to the activities I’d been so looking forward to.

I recently heard a quote:

Do not give up on what you really want ultimately for something you think you want right now.

So after 10 years I want a healthy horse who still wants to work with me because she wants to BE WITH ME. [magic]

If I build it focused on her, I have a better shot at that.

[It definitely helps that I have a horse I adore.. though most do, sometimes theres that horse you ended up with somehow is an animal you don’t really like… well… that’s a little harder to sort out.]

The short term view is pushing her to do my activity and find tools and use my will to get it done so that at some point I risk causing physical damage because she goes along “respectfully” even when she’s not thriving, or I turn her off to the process and she eventually says:Ā I’d rather not.

However the question really becomes one of: does the magic really exist (after all it’s a horse) or do I need to settle for kind of… enslaving an animal to do my activity. (This isn’t the worst thing right? we treat them well, feed them, shelter them, LOVE them… it could be worse.. I mean some of these horses are incredibly spoiled right?)

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel…

I believe in the magic. I’ve seen it. I know it’s real. I will chase it until I die in pursuit.

I do want to complete a 100 mile ride. I don’t have a talented Arab. I have a local grown mixed up bred horse that I happen to adore. So I need more than physical fitness, I’m going to also need brain and heart.

But there also IS a physical component! Without question.

Can’t I do both at the same time?

No. Well not yet.

Some people can!! I know some of them. They inspire me!

But I’m getting closer… I’m definitely beginning to see some magic.

But magic being what it is, one still has to learn it. I have to learn it- she’s a horse for goodness sake, she may carry the magic, but I have to sort out how to access it. And she has to choose to give it to me, I can’t ever take it, just like you can’t make someone choose you no matter how much you want them to- in a relationship it only thrives when all is given freely.

She may never be as intelligent as me, but it’s going to take a lot of effort for me to become even half as sensitive and observant as she is, and no matter how much I LOVE this mare, it won’t matter if I don’t get better and understanding HER world. I’m going to have to somehow begin to train myself to be sensitive and observant on that kind of level.

No wonder Monty Roberts works with deer herds!

That’s what’s been going on in my barn these winter months. Slow, messy, human education.

My Jedi powers are finally getting stronger. I felt more than ever before that I could think it and she did it. Not perfect. She didn’t always stop on a dime without a feel on the reins but sometimes she did… she didn’t always slow back down when she wanted to canter and I was saying trot right away- but sometimes she did!

That ride was mostly trot and canter with some walking mixed in. She was a little out of breath and got a little sweaty but the mare did great and I have no doubt she’ll regain that fitness and strength without any problem.

So in the physical:

I cannot express how blown away I am by the changes that continue to occur with the Balance saddle. More and more often I can feel her lifting her back into the saddle as we go along. Especially on the downhills and also uphills. This made me wonder yesterday –

So many people say if you want to build your horse’s topline go climb hills, or back up hills… but I’ve been riding hills every ride of this mares life with me and though that might make my horses naturally more muscular in the topline than someone in the flatlands… methinks now that you can ride all the hills you want to but if the horse isn’t carrying herself like this you are never going to get the result you really want.

I noticed good changes immediately when I switched – but the effect is compounding over time and 8 months.

In other physical news her feet are getting better all the time. They are not where I envision them yet, but hooves takes years to grown so I’m working on patience and seeing the positive changes as progress.

Not having shoes for going on 8 months now her feet are a better shape (not so narrow and long), growing gradually more underneath her, and ever so slightly LARGER!! This is huge (literally šŸ˜†)

I’ve had to go up a boot size in the rear thank you Scoot boots for the slim sizes- they are still best on her hind feet. The new size 3slim boots with the supracore pads stayed on 100% in varied terrain and every gait including some full throttle canter sprints on Friday.

The front boots are still doing well though I had to reattach the front right pattern strap once toward the end of the ride.

And beside them staying on and allowing me to improve khaleesi’s hoof quality and size, something really stood out to me on this ride:

She cantered through the rock piles.

There are 3 ‘strips’ of the trail home that have about a 4 ft swath of large rocks that are now somewhat embedded into the trail but may have been leftover from years back when the road was used for logging. This horse knows where they are. I know where they are. We ALWAYS slow down and pick through them. I have no problem with that- they are some ugly rocks. It’s reasonable.

She ran. Right. Over. Them.

All 3 sections of them.

 

I hope this could be a sign that the hoof program is going in the right direction. Especially because I am the hoof program!But I’m a little afraid to hope too much too early.

I firmly believe that the time I’ve been spending learning my human part to meet her where she is and seek the magic at the risk of not meeting my physical goals or getting done my plans for the day… just as in how a human will do better physically when their spirit and mind are in order, has compounded what is going on with her physically as well.

Maybe. Though it’s still too soon to tell… I have this little hope…Ā Just maybe.

This really is the year for this mare.

Getting back out

Thursday, January 11, 2017

I’m grateful that the ‘snow day’ closing this week came on a day that turned out beautiful in the afternoon. And finally after weeks of bitter cold I got back out on into the Great Arena of the woods and had a really stunning ride.

I am trying a new pad in my boots from supracore. They are thin but I think will hold up longer and not difficult to cut to size. They are more expensive but if they work and last they will be well worth it.

It was refreshing to see light through the trees in 40 degree temps and little wind, with the happy dogs in tow (they have been cooped up more than usual lately too) and a horse that is following my lead so to speak more each time.

This is a quieter winter and I’m alone more but it’s been good to regroup and focus.

I have a good feeling about 2018.

Windchill

Sunday, January 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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