Lessons: Kindergarten Graduation

July 10, 2019

This blog is part of a series inspired by a private clinic with Emily Kemp. I highly recommend her and you can find more information here: Emily Kemp Website

Some of the most profound lessons for me from the clinic came from working with Wyoming.

Wyoming is a BLM Mustang from Wyoming that I adopted through the TIP training program a couple years back. She came started and just “needing experience” after being injured on the mustang makeover tour.

I loved that she grew up until about a two year old in the wild! However now, between realizing more acutely why people prefer yearling round ups who haven’t as keenly developed their wild animal survival instincts into a way of life… then there is her early experiences with humans being herded onto trailers for the makeover tour and then injured in the process in Indiana likely pushed too fast for her individual ability and personality… consequently sent off to a short training period in Tennessee (rather than giving up on her completely), then handed off to a 12 hour ride to the mountains of Virginia to live with my herd.

She was not the smart choice for a nice easy trail horse- though my heart was to help one of these wild creatures in need, and on that score I’m batting 1000.

After struggling to keep her comfortable with a rider about two years ago, and getting no certain clarity if the issues were truly physical, emotional or mental I made the decision to give her some time to reset in the field with the herd and take some time out.

I have come to enjoy her greatly. She is personable, fun and has begun to ask for more interaction and connection. A little socially awkward when it comes to knowing how big she is and invading your space at times when desperate for a scratch or just a little companionship- she truly doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I see now she was often misunderstood. And being misunderstood often creates frustration in humans and equines.

I know this horse she is no accident and is in my life for a purpose. I’m not sure what quite yet, but the time is coming to begin to find out. I began to saddle her up and checked her out for a ride in the yard to see where things stood. Still not truly comfortable going forward.

The question is: why? How do I move forward?

So I asked Emily to help me get a feel for her.

What Emily saw was that Wyoming really wants to get out of kindergarten and I was concerned of going too fast and pushing her comfort zone which could risk losing her trust, her shutting down or possibly feeling the need to get aggressive to protect herself. This made me super careful in my approach and resulted in keeping her in kindergarten instead of allowing her to grow. I had supremely low expectations of her!

Once Emily started asking more of Wyoming, I watched her come alive. Her ears pricked, her movement got snappy, she did some dragon snorting at first and regardless of if she got the question right our not she was engaged and happy. She loves getting to work!

Of course growing means getting out of her comfort zone.

(Dragon snorting is some evidence of this, but the work I didn’t catch on video from the first session shows Wyoming trying to understand and getting occasionally flustered then so pleased with herself when she solved the puzzle)

Over dinner I’d mentioned that this year it’s felt like God has been submersing my head into a bucket of ice water… then lifting me to face the warm sun for a little breather… then it’s back into the ice water… don’t worry you just keep getting stronger each time!

Uh… right… stronger…

Emily remarked: that’s what Wyoming needs… to be pushed out of her comfort zone just enough and then some rest and encouragement… then back into new territory… then a break. Rinse and repeat!

So I guess I’m coming out of Kindergarten too? 

I suppose it’s about time.

I do want to grow, as uncomfortable as it is, I am engaged and happy, I want to learn and get stronger even though it’s hard. For a long time Wyoming has had the happy surface life of a horse. She has a great big field, lots of grass, friends, clean water and good food. I scratch her from time to time when she’s itchy, and she occasionally comes into the barn to get a pedicure. What’s not to love?

This is the easy life. It’s the thing most people seem to hope for. Protected, simple, surface, HAPPY. But I saw the mare get a taste of being asked for something MORE. To learn new skills, to have a purpose to be useful. She positively glowed.

We all need purpose, and not the kind of purpose that is only looking out for our own comfort. We all need something bigger than ourselves to engage in. As I look around my world I see a vibrant difference in people living for a purpose greater than their own comfort- and those who just want to be happy.

Happy has to do with your circumstances. The root HAP like in Happenstance is about a kind of luck that gives you a positive environment. Some people seem to find more happiness than others, but it’s different when you see real JOY.

Joy, from REJOICE or to make glad… the root of glad depicts something shining, there is also a root of appreciate in the word. People with JOY shine and live in appreciation regardless of their circumstances. In fact they seem to thrive when the storms come.

People who want to just be happy are usually chasing the circumstances that will make them feel good. Unfortunately there’s a whole other side to this when pressed that upon deeper inspection most often means at the expense of others in their life. Somehow the fact that people deserve to be happy appears to satisfy the question of who might get hurt in the process.

I have come over the past few years to almost be sick to my stomach to overhear people saying: well, as long as she’s happy! 

Sadly, this drive to find happiness is usually a pursuit that fails to satisfy long term because circumstances always turn again- for better and for worse – so this happiness will not be sustainable. Many people either resign themselves to this disappointment in a low grade bitterness or becoming shut down; others keep chasing and maiming those in their way their entire lives.

Real joy and a sense of peace beyond circumstances take cultivating, growth and work… it takes being willing to get out of Kindergarten and finding satisfaction in a greater purpose than your own happiness.  And sometimes it means sitting in discomfort long enough to learn something from it- that something will usually come in handy later in helping someone else. The things we go through are often for a greater good than our own.

I have had some hard circumstances this year, but I have already seen the fruit of it begin to put me in situations I’m more able to help others around me. Even while still in the middle of it, I’m more compassionate and can relate to others in their own painful trials.

I will say one of the most grating things for me have been people living in their surface happy lives passing on platitudes about how life always works out somehow in the end as long as everyone follows their heart and happiness while my own (not happy) heart is bleeding out from war zone shrapnel.

How often in my life have I been that very person?

Too many times I’m sure.

I don’t always have good “happenstance” in my world, in fact sometimes my circumstances are downright stormy. However if there is purpose in my life even in rough seas, I can have Joy. This also has brought a phenomenon where I’ve found I can have both Joy and Sorrow at the very same time.

Maybe that’s a little like sun through a storm and how we get a rainbow.

I watched Wyoming struggle occasionally to learn what Emily was asking her, but even through her questions and occasional frustration, she had a joy about her as she finally graduated from Ms. McArdle’s kindergarten class. And we aren’t quite trotting down the trails together yet, but I have hopped back on for some walking in the arena and so far already it’s been a much better experience than before!

Eighth

May 1, 2019

I have struggled to write since my last post; it’s been the longest hiatus since I began the blog.

It’s not due to lack of activity or material as much as there have been many seeds coming up all over the place with no finished concepts maturing into a blog that would share a complete thought.

Once finding a new level of soft in myself and with Khaleesi more connection continued on our relationship. It seems each time I find a new level of connection and communication and wonder if I’ve arrived somewhere I find that no (to my delight!) there are deeper layers to go.

I continue to find more conversation in our interactions and encourage everyone with a horse to earnestly seek to hear what your horse is saying.

I think it speaks to our humanness that we desire to be or meet horse-whisperers not horse-listeners. It’s easy to whisper, it’s very difficult to listen to the whisper. If you wish your horse would respond to your whisper, then go first and listen to what she whispers. You’ll learn so much more that way.

It is slow and takes a lot of practice and you’ll get it wrong at times. It’s much harder than force and tools. But it’s worth everything.

I have dedicated much of this winter to helping my friend with her first as an adult mare. The horse is lovely and perfect for her.

She is committed to the gradual, patient process of unraveling the mare’s layers of physical balance and mental protection; allowing her to bloom in her own physical-mental-emotional systems. The process is going well but is time consuming requring time, consistency and growth in both of them.

I have seen God at work directing things and when you see him involved everything moves faster. Truly HE is able to do things much faster than our human brains and bodies can keep up with. Sometimes I hear Him laughing (uh, with us right) as we race to keep up with all the growth and change.

I have enjoyed helping the pair grow together even more than putting in hours of lonely miles on long trails.

I’m learning from their process as well.

While I have been shown in most cases the necessity of beginning with the mental system of the horse; this mare had physical system issues that blocked her ability to work in a balanced way in the mental and emotional systems.

Not being able to balance her body properly meant that in riding she couldn’t connect with her mental system and her emotional system would take over and she would rush into a haywire state of panic.

That’s a whole other blog I won’t write because she isn’t my horse- however it’s been beautiful positive change in all the systems in a short time and I’ve spent a lot of time riding along with them to help in any way Khlaleesi and I can.

This has meant Khaleesi and I had to slow down and lower my mileage, however, the miles have been focused on form and quality. The lesser mileage and pulling back on speed for the purpose of helping them also worked to force Khaleesi and me to slow down our training and do a lot of rider form and connection.

One of our favorite places to work is the Jackson River Scenic Trail. It is flat with great footing and one can trot endlessly even if there was a week of rain previously. And it rides along the Jackson River with pretty views.

We do trotting intervals and the new mare seems to thrive here on the flat because it’s easier to balance than on the mountain trails with obstacles.

Now that I have my saddle set up working great, and Khaleesi has developed a strong topline she has begun to ask me for connection to ride more balanced in front on the bit. I purposely use the word connection because it’s a conversation we have. I don’t force her into contact. I don’t use the cycle of aids, and I don’t use ANY leg to push her to move onto the bit.

Now that my riding has gotten to a level of helping her more than hindering her she has begun to experiment. When she wants me to shorten the reins she dips her head. When she wants me to release them she shakes (it’s taken some trial and error to sort that out).

So riding along she began to ask me for more support…

She dipped again. More.

I shortened more. This seems like a lot of pressure.

She dipped again. MORE.

I was certain I misunderstood her and released some rein. Too much?

She shook her head. NO, that’s not what I’m asking. We’ve already established how I ask for more.

I don’t believe her. I begin to give up. This is all in my head. I can’t understand.

She dips her head. Take up the reins. More.

I take up a little more. 

She is happy for a few feet. Then dips her head. More. Take up more.

We continue this as I struggle, and my friend watches as I try to understand if I’m missing something. Human is confused.

Khaleesi is getting frustrated- I am not listening. I just can’t believe she wants that short of rein. But she’s very communicative and she’s annoyed. She begins working the bit in her mouth and her ears are flicking. She insists.

MORE!

So I take up more… more… until I am holding a 1200 pound freight train in my hands.

My friend watches and her eyes grow big as SOMETHING happens.

Khaleesi lifts up and begins to float above the ground, I stop moving in the saddle as I rose up 6 inches farther from the ground. She feels like a flying horse- not fast, just floating above the ground effortlessly. Magic.

After a short time of this we relax back down and we walk and then stop for a moment and she spends about 2 minutes yawning, shaking her entire neck and mane and licking and chewing in pleasure.

She was racking.

And she offered it up on her own without expert training and without me trying to get her to do it. It was beautiful. Organic!

She is certainly bred to be able to rack. She is saddlebred, rackinghorse and walking horse with 1/4 Arabian. So this little gift isn’t completely shocking. I’ve had people suggest I should get her in the hands of someone who could bring that gait out of her. While that isn’t bad advice because I have no experience teaching a horse to rack, anyone who knows me knows I am not likely to entrust Khaleesi to anyone to train her. And getting a racking gear though would be absolutely wonderful for us, I wouldn’t entrust her to just about anyone to get it.

Just one betrayal of her trust would ruin the years it’s taken me to earn it. No physical advantage would ever be worth it.

Due to the limited miles I’ve ridden this winter I made the call to enter the 30 instead of the 55 at the No Frills ride in April.

Friday morning of the race came and I strapped on her plain old scoot boots and Balance Saddle (with their pads) to hit the trail.

It was a fantastic day. We cantered many of the rolling grass roads, she climbed the mountains average difficulty recovering well each time, and she took the rocks on better than ever.

No boot issues even through some wet muddy low lands – until after the official finish line walking down into the vet check- a bad downhill mud suck took off two boots that I went back for on foot.

At that point I didn’t care we were already home!

At both the vet check and finish line she pulsed in immediately at 52 and her CRIs were both 44/48 which is fantastic for us. She had great vet scores and was totally sound and not a sensitive spot on her back. Gut sounds even were strong. She was strong.

In fact, we finished for the first time top 10 and placed 8th.

Eight is a number of new beginnings.  The word for this year for me and my mare is REGROWTH and the number 8 symbolizes a new beginning.

She is strong and fit, and I have a good sense for this season.

I am intrigued by the glimpse, the preview that came for the rack and look forward to how she will unveil it in time. Just about everything I do with my horses takes longer than others would expect. In part this is because I am not particularly experienced, but also I have learned to allow the horse to have a say in the process and include them in each step.

I am learning patience each month. Good things to come to those who wait…

Photo credit Becky Pearman

Baby it’s cold outside

Monday, January 18, 2016

15*F. 

I’m not sure if that is the coldest I’ve ridden in or not. It was at least sunny so I thought – why not? So it’s cold. I have layers. 

  
I often say the only ride I regret is the one I didn’t take. 

I think I could have stayed home today and not regretted it. 

In the sun it felt pretty good really. I was dressed for cold. I had two layers of socks with a warming insole and a toasty toe sticky between inside my insulated winter riding boots. I had my warmest tights that have a full fleece inside and thick outside that I can’t wear in the house without burning up. I wore underarmour then a polar layer with hood under my Horsewear winter coat that also has an extra removeable layer (I have not pulled that coat out yet this season- it hasn’t been cold enough!). I have SSG 10 below riding gloves and my pockets were stuffed with hand warmers. 

I even wondered if it was overkill. 

It wasn’t. 
The first 10 minutes I just thought how pretty the sunny day was. 
  
After that I spent 80 minutes thinking “holy crap I am seriously cold”. 

  
I think Khaleesi assumed I was off my rocker but even in her teenage phase she respects me enough not to ask too many questions. The ground was hard and frozen and we only did front boots so she walked along at about 3.5mph the whole 4 miles not seeming to care if we were headed away from home or back to the barn. 

She trudged along with teeny ice balls forming on her whiskers from her moist breath. 

Glad I could regain the feeling in my legs after getting into the warm tack room I thought in the future I might stick to temps above 20 from now on. 

Of course I can’t make any promises……