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

I’d like to get to know you

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I have been thinking about the human-horse relationship more and more lately. I used to think training was about getting the horse to do what you want/need, hopefully in a gentle way but the point was… Well… Obedience. It would be a bonus if that would also equal willingness. 

Kind of like a big dog. 

Obedience training.

 

tacked up ready to go- i removed the flaps from the saddle and love it even more now!
 
Stand still to mount… Side pass… Move out of my space… Stand still for the farrier… Walk when I say walk and trot when I ask for trot… Always stop when I ask (on a dime would be best)… Oh- and load on the trailer upon command too if you don’t mind. 

Everything there is important. Also there are safety issues if you don’t have ‘control’. But…

Control of what?

I think…

this could change… I’m still sorting it out

…I used to think ‘control’ of your horse obviously

But now I am starting to thinkthat it is more ‘control’ of your relationship. Lead partner in the dance. 

I hear people talk about the partnership all the time- but I don’t think I really understood (understand?) what that means.

The more you know… The more you see you don’t know.  

  
So I’ll say first that riding lately has been wonderful in the snowy mountains and the horses are both doing well with more mindful time with them. 

Susan and I had a brilliant 15 mile ride over the weekend where we tacked up loose lead and really made an effort to be present in the horses’ world. We tossed out the watch and did everything with as much time as it took to not rush the process. 

The ride Saturday was a big climb and since we still had enough snow to be a factor slowing us down  I thought it would be a great ride to condition slow hills, muscles etc. 

Early in the ride both horses stopped at a water crossing and didn’t drink. Just stood there.

Susan is even more goal oriented than I am- she asked if we should ‘move along?’ I said hold on- it was interesting to me that both horses were not moving or drinking on their own. 

Khaleesi was yawning and licking and chewing (a lot) and Faygo looked like she was in a trance- breathing a little hard but not bad- we had started to climb a little. 

I was looking for the change. 

Khaleesi did it first. She went from standing and yawning to nosing around for dry leaves in the low water. Susan asked ‘go now?’

No… Hold on… See Faygo is still in that trance. Let’s wait for a change in her…

Thank god the friends riding with me have patience. 

Then it happened- Faygo ‘woke up’ and on her own started to move forward. 

So we went along. 

  
I don’t know what that was about, but we had all the time in the world and it was interesting to me to see that play out. We passed other water crossings and they didn’t stop at one of them in that way the rest of the ride. 

After about 10 miles Susan and I talked about what an amazing ride it had been. Both horses were willing and forward and neither of us had arguments. It was the best ride yet since we started riding together (and none of them had been bad). 

  
The next day I’d had plans to meet a local endurance rider who I knew would challenge khaleesi to move out. She had a lot of experience and a racing ‘pony’ but I’d heard she would also be happy to have someone to ride with and not ‘leave us in the dust’. I wasn’t sure how it would go but I was looking forward to meeting her. 

The snow cancelled our plan (for her) and though I was disappointed- I know you always get the ride you need – that was not our ride today for a reason- and I decided to trailer Khaleesi to hidden valley for a lovely fun fast ride together. Just the two of us. 

  
I feel like I’m struggling to pick up her speed. I read about all these other riders and their horses who ‘eat up the trail’ and that 5mph average speed is what they consider LSD (long slow distance). If I push Khaleesi we can average 5mph but what I love about her is that she’s solid, not spooky or fearful, and not really ‘hot’… However this also shows up in her laid back work ethic (or so I’ve thought). 

I know she’s young so I try to keep my doubts to myself but wonder sometimes: is she cut out for this? Or would she rather live a dressage horse’s life? She always seemed to love our time at pam’s in the arena learning things together.  

So Sunday I intended to make it a shorter ride and see if we could pick up some speed. More trotting than walking. Get her cardio up- maybe even build a sweat. She hasn’t been challenged much in our rides these recent months. Faygo is a great training partner but her physical limitations make the rides a work out for her and yet Khaleesi doesn’t breathe hard or break a sweat. 

It started really well and she seemed to happily trot out the trail from the parking lot that borders the river and a snow covered field. This is exactly what I’d hoped for. And she was moving well without me having to ask. 

Joy.

And we kept on this way walking and trotting until a section of trail about 3 miles in when she kept looking up to the left.  

“What is it? Deer? Yes I saw some deer… A smell? A sound?”

Then she got more serious and tried to turn me around (here we go again…)

I assume that her turning around is because she is lazy and doesn’t want to go for a ride. She wants to go back to the barn or trailer. 

How can a lazy horse do endurance?!

So back to training & obedience right?

No- we aren’t turning around. This is our ride today. We’ve been here before (but not very often). 

But this time I was more curious. That relationship thing … Horse time… The view from their eyes…

So I decided to wait

  
I let her stop on the trail but I did not let her turn around.

She would yawn…lick and chew… Stand still… Sometimes try to turn around (I would ask her not to turn facing the other way though we spent most of that time crosswise on the trail).   

I waited more

The dogs got confused- came back and sat down next to us inquisitively. 

Sometimes she would put her head around and rub my shoe with her nose.  

How long can she wait here?

I slowed myself down and looked at the sun coming through the trees and I listened to the stillness of winter. 

I reflected a moment on how I’m always on the move and don’t take time to be still enough. 

  
I heard her breathing the deep breaths when she’s laying down in the sun I’ve heard before. Slow and deep. 

And after 10 minutes she did not move from that spot and I thought it would be fascinating to see if we would stay here for hours or all night but I just can’t go that far. I wanted to wait her out but my watch won this time and in part against my better judgement I asked her to please keep moving. 

She did- we were so low energy by now it was just a relaxed walk, and she asked to turn around 3 more times and I said no. 

Eventually we regained energy and trotted off and kept a nice pace again. She did not seem agitated or unhappy. 

On our way back to the trailer lot there are beautiful fields and she picked up this wonderful trot that was about 9mph (I looked because it’s unusual for her to trot that fast yet) and it seemed effortless. These are the moments I think she can really do this

Then she broke into a little controlled canter and as we approached the gate to the road (then just a short distance to the trailer) she slammed on the brakes (sooner than she needed!)

She seemed to want to avoid the gate. (We’ve been through plenty of times) and as I asked her to go ahead (and she did without fuss after that)- we headed back to the trailer. 

Good right? My horses always love to get back to the trailer and eat some hay and go home. 

She stopped – seemed to almost shy and slowed her pace as we approached (ok- good to walk in…) and as I let the reins go to grab my GPS I realized she took a wide berth around the trailer in a huge circle. 

I didn’t ‘correct her’ and move her to the trailer (I’m sure I would have before) but she was walking nicely so I just let the reins lay and wondered what she would do. 

She walked right past and toward the trailhead- but turned instead toward the B&B. She walked right across a low cement bridge that she will cross but doesn’t usually like to because of the rushing water sound. 

Then she walked off the path and over to the fence and started eating some grass. 

So we hung out there a while and ate grass (I ate my granola bar). Eventually I asked her if we could go back to the trailer now?

She seemed to say ok- and we headed back across the bridge (funny how she was more ‘spooky’ about it when it was my idea.)

But again I let the reins down and she turned instead back to the trailhead NOT the trailer. 

Ok? Now what? I’m game- what do you want to do now? What are you trying to tell me?

So she cut through the snow field and completely on her own picked up a lovely slow trot.   

Ok girl. I’m listening. 

We trotted without stopping over a mile back where over we had gone first that day. She stopped to walk at one point looking for the dogs (we’d left the behind but not terribly) after they had caught up she picked up again and kept trotting only she chose a different route (we did not get to the spot she stopped on the trail earlier) and headed on the direction that could (on a long ride day) take us all the way home. 

The river crossing for that was high with ice on the edges. 

We’re not doing this today. She did stop on her own and seemed unsure about the icy edges. 

At that point I said to her (yes, I spoke out loud to my horse not sure at all if she understands human English but it’s all I had at the moment.)

I’m not truly sure I understand you- but I appreciate you giving me a chance. We can’t go that way today- and we do have to get home before dark so we need to go back to the trailer. Can you work with me on this?

We turned around and every little path that went down toward the river she would try to take- we took one and she seemed satisfied that this was not the best way (dead end). 

I did get her back to the trailer but she was not as forward.  She wanted to turn around a couple times but I told her no. We can’t. 

When we got back to the trailhead she had added 4 miles to the 6 we’d done the first loop. Our average speed was 4.8 mph including the slow walking we’d done after her 10 minute stop. I got off and walked with her the last yards and rubbed her and told her how great a ride that was and what a fantastic horse she is.

She ate hay and did not seem stressed at the trailer as we untacked. She sidestepped the trailer the first try and then walked on pretty nicely the second.

On the drive home I felt different. I felt as if we’d communicated something between us for the first time ever. I was part of a moment when she trusted me enough and I trusted her enough to be honest and I said “ok, I’m listening”. 

It was like being invited into a secret world for a brief visit and we were different for that time. I loved when she was forward and trotting out and seemed to know just what she was doing but not ‘out of control’ either. I felt like she was talking to me for the first time (though I know they communicate all the time- this was different somehow). 

What I am reflecting on after this ride are a few loose questions. In no particular order:

Have I underestimated the complexity of thought, personality and preferences my horse has going on? Do I assume too much that I understand her? She wants food… She is lazy and doesn’t want to work… She wants to go back to the trailer… Today one thing I found was that she is not slow or lazy. She moved beautifully and when we got to the trailer – even if she wanted to go home she seemed ready to trot another 10 miles on top of the 10 we’d just done to get there on her own 4 feet. That isn’t lazy. 

What was she saying? Was it a concise message I didn’t get or was it just fun to be able to make her own choices for a brief time and a fun random jaunt?

Is there something about the trailer? She’s not particularly afraid of loading, but is there something annoyong? more noise lately? Maybe I should have the tire pressure checked… Did we hit some curves too fast or bad bumps from the winter weather that makes her not like it?

How do I listen to her and get to know her and still stay the leader in the dance? She may have wanted to jog home on her own 4 feet but that wasn’t possible that day. Sometimes she may not want to go out in trail- but we all have to do some things we don’t want and obviously turning us around on trail is not a discussion I want to have every ride. When are we having an appropriate conversation and when is she now in control? I don’t want (nor is it safe) to have a horse who doesn’t pay attention to me or respect me. At the same time I don’t want an obedient robot. 

This reminds me of a fellow blogger who posted about a rescue dog that came to them with perfect command obedience. She said it was uncomfortable (robotic?) and thankfully in life with them the dog relaxed a bit and was well mannered but seemed to be able to express himself and have a personality as well. I ride a horse and not a dirt bike because I want the personality and relationship.

I don’t want to ride a robot horse but I need to lead the dance.

Now what?