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!
I recently hosted a 4-day private clinic with wonderful horsewoman Emily Kemp [Emily Kemp Horsemanship] for a handful of my riding friends. I can’t adequately describe in words the elegance and joy in Emily’s riding (and her genuine humility that accompanies it) but what I love even more is that we share many of the same philosophies about horses and life.
[Emily and Honey at a working equitation show May 2018]
I was fortunate to work both of my horses in this clinic. As I reflect on the weekend there were too many things to stuff into one blog- even for me! So I’m going to write them as they ‘download’ and hopefully that will also make them shorter.
The one that looms largest in my life today is the lesson of Check In!
The title comes from a recent dream where I went to my favorite B&B (The Inn at Tabbs Creek in Coastal VA) with a girlfriend for a couple days. The best part about this place is the river channels that the property sits on is perfectly situated for kayaking or a standing paddle board which I got to try for the first time last year on a visit there.
In my dream I was so excited about hitting the water that when my friend and I arrived, I took her right to the dock and began to show her the paddle boards. As dreams go we began to climb into the air on currents. I wasn’t even completely sure how. Thankfully the paddle board seemed to turn into more of a little boat with actual sides as we went high up toward the sky. I hadn’t really been expecting to fly-boat but I took it in stride. I wasn’t sure how I got us up that high I was also not sure how to bring us down.
I found a way to get us down onto the water safely. After we finished we went to the little water sport shack and found one of the owners there. She was glad we were enjoying our time and clarified with me that I had indeed filled out all the necessary paperwork and checked in at the main office.
Actually I had not done any of those important things…
I mumbled something about sure meaning more that sure I would be doing that right away… And toward the main office I headed.
As I considered my dream and wondered what there might be to learn I reflected- I need to be sure I slow down and put first things first and CHECK IN before I run forward headlong into even good activities.
This year my life has gotten a bit… complicated… in ways outside of my control. I have begun to see that if I pay attention to where He’s leading I have much better navigation than me guessing my way through on my own. It’s become pretty amazing just how much God will direct my path, but He asks me to check in before running forward.
What I loved about this dream was that I sensed God reminding me that He loves me and He knows my heart and even though I got excited, messed up the order of things and I didn’t check in before showing my friend to sky sail, he still gave me a cool experience of floating above the earth- and even gave me a safe landing when I didn’t know how to fly the thing.
But I still heard the warning: Don’t forget to Check In.
It’s the same thing I ask of my horses.
I’ve been starting to work with Wyoming again and though I’ve gotten back in the saddle with her recently she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable.
Emily worked with us and found she has some cracks in her training and her feet get “sticky” so we started some ground work to make sure her forward is working when I ask for it. She really took to the work and we began to click together and it was fun. She is super sensitive and smart, and willing to work.
She’s so enthusiastic that sometimes she would take off in the opposite direction I had asked her to go. It was as if she had made up her mind before I gave the signal!
At first it took a lot of communication to get her turned back around. I had to exaggerate with the flag and get her attention. Eventually she began to make the change back into “my will” with just an extra lift of the lead rope. What I want to see is that over time she won’t take off in her own direction before she waits to see what direction I am asking her for.
Especially when I’m in the saddle!!!
Thankfully God has patience with me but He will get loud if I begin to take off too fast in the wrong way. Ideally I want to remember to check in on my own so I don’t have to go through the correction.
It so happens I had a couple things I needed to re-evaluate and do a check in this week and in some of them I needed to change tracks.
I’m pleased to report that Wyoming is having a blast trotting around and now rarely misses my direction! She’s beginning to get a laser-like focus on what may hands are doing and wait until she sees the request before she blasts off.
I love her enthusiasm and don’t want to squelch it. I want that drive to be working for me as much as possible, so I have to be watchful as I correct her not to be harsh and quiet her zeal to work, yet make sure she is putting that zeal to work for me not against my purpose.
I hope I as a human can continue to remember to be checking in with my life too.
I recently heard Holly Furtick talk about the Hope Cycle. She was inspired by an ancient letter written to people in Rome by a guy named Paul who suggested that we should be glad when we get to suffer… because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope… and hope does not disappoint us.
Holly saw this as a circle beginning with suffering. Not only can we assume that life will bring these complications, but we are supposed to happy about them – he suggests we should BE GLAD in the onset of a struggle.
I also recently heard a Ted Talk about resilience especially in young adults today. Opposite of expecting and appreciating the role of struggle- many young adults today are the product of the concept that struggle, pain and discomfort is best avoided at all cost; a generation of parents that had the ability to do that for their children motivated by a great love for them… yet the unintended consequence has been a generation of young people who have not built resilience through having to overcome difficulty and are now facing the very serious problem of learned helplessness.
People who have been given as problem-free life as possible it turns out are not better off. In fact they struggle to cope with any small problem that arises.
As a third point to triangulate this topic- on a recent flight across the country I was reminded how important expectations play into all of this.
I don’t love flying and I really don’t love turbulence, but while still on the ground, the pilot informed everyone in advance that there is weather through the middle of the country and we will have a bumpy flight.
He was right: at one point my half empty (or half full) coffee sloshed all over my tray table as we bounced up and down in midair. Because the pilot told me to expect turbulence, it now felt expected and normal instead of frightening and precarious. If I expect a pain free life, or even if I think that is the goal, then the suffering is much worse than if I have been assured that I should expect the life turbulence but more importantly even to appreciate it because it will create a life of endurance, strength and HOPE.
The Hope Cycle is constantly playing out in multiple layers in our lives. We know when our worlds are rocked by a big cycle… these feel like a cyclone. The health diagnosis. The death. The job loss. The accident. The divorce. The loved one “lost” into drugs or other destructive life choices. Insert your worst nightmare here. These cycles put us into years of pain, turmoil and suffering.
Meanwhile we have all manner of other Hope Cycles going on simultaneously. Medium sized ones like passing a hard class; a difficult job assignment; a friendship drama; the terrible twos; setbacks that are tough but more temporary. Then there are the small but mighty ones: running my knee into the coffee table, stepping in cat puke on my way to get coffee first thing in the morning, the email you sent to the wrong person with the same first name (hopefully that doesn’t lead to the cyclone level of job loss!!), the particularly long day when nothing seems to go right, the burned Thanksgiving Turkey….
We get something out of all of these cycles, and the small ones build resilience and strength into the larger ones. In each, something valuable is produced into the character phase of the cycle. The value of a heartfelt apology in a relationship drama… learning to slow down moving through the house to not run into things… or though the pain smarts for a few minutes it will pass… humility and compassion when others make mistakes like sending an email to the wrong address and other mistakes… stepping in cat puke does not HAVE to ruin my day (Icanovercome!) and each of these cycles prove we CAN continue to put one foot in front of the other even through challenges and when we face the cyclone level issue those smaller challenges feed into our strength facing whatever comes at us.
Those are the concepts that I was pondering while riding with my friend and her “new” horse that I mentioned in my last blog.
I made the somewhat irrational decision 5 years ago to take a half feral unstarted young mare who was barely handled and see if I could turn her into my endurance partner. As I look back I’ve been through countless “Hope Cycles” in the process.
When I first brought her home I couldn’t even touch her. Then the day where I could actually put a saddle on her… sit on her?! For a while I couldn’t imagine riding her outside of a safe fenced in zone… Then wondering how she would do out in the big wide world of the trail… and of course the phase when she kept trying to turn around on the trail… each of those challenges took patience and problem solving to overcome. Each week, each month something improved and I learned about her, about horses, and gained character and strength as a horse leader.
I learned that if you stick with it week to week and put in the time and the problem solving power (and that includes being open minded enough to learn what really works vs. what you’ve always done before or been told your whole life….) you can move forward and each phase will pass away into a new one.
There have been times in the past 6 months that my friend has felt discouraged. Each time a situation has been difficult or has felt like failure, I’ve reassured her that this is normal. The process takes the time it takes and you’re doing great! It will get better.
I have hope… I have gone through the Hope Cycle enough with my horse and watched a few cycles with her and her horse to know that it will improve. Also, she is doing all the right things to continue through and not get stuck!
As an endurance rider the applications of this are obvious to most of us. We often joke (not really joking) about how the biggest challenge is to get to the start of a ride. We are dealing with animals who have varying gifts of injuring themselves in mysterious ways when we aren’t present on top of the fact that we push their physical limits to a level that they can be more likely to cross a line into injury even when we try our best to take care of them.
Our experience and knowledge base as we go through these “Hope Cycles” grow and help us to do less harm to our honored partners in time. There is room for common sense and asking more experienced riders in order to avoid major pitfulls, but for most of things, the way to learn how to manage an individual horse’s preparation for an endurance ride is to do it and see how it goes. Learn from what doesn’t work as well as what does.
The only way to become a good rider is to spend some time in the saddle being a bad one.
[one of my favorite pictures to see how far I’ve come… Khaleesi’s first official ride and first time spotting Becky Pearman with her camera in mid canter heading up the grassy hill. You could use this photo to show just about every what not to do as a rider!!]
Anyone in the endurance sport for more than 5 minutes has dealt with at least one and often all questions of lameness, ulcers, saddle fit, tight muscles, joint and tendon issues, dehydration, weight management & nutrition, barefoot vs. metal shoes, what kind of bit or no bit at all, overheating, and there are the behavior training issues of speed control, form, kicking, bucking, buddy sour, barn sour… and many more.
On the other hand anyone in the sport long enough has gone through various levels of the cycle to know that most things can be overcome with education, the right help, patience, and time. We won’t even get into the human and equipment elements like the flu on race day or flat tires half way to ride camp!
All of those cycles play into the miles you and your horse are riding alone because your pace doesn’t match anyone around you or your buddy got pulled at the last vet check. Maybe you’re walking one hoof at a time in the dark on a slow 100 knowing that in the past you’ve overcome saddle fit, hoof management, race brain, and a pulled (your own) leg muscle… so just keep going one step at a time and you HOPE this too will come out the to another cycle of Hope.
This kind of hope isn’t like: I hope it doesn’t rain on my wedding day next year… it’s a living breathing hope that is growing inside you each time you go through another Hope Cycle.
Because even if the night is dark, you know it won’t last forever. There is a finish line or another vet check where you’ll get something to eat and a little rest or a buckle!
Holly also discussed how not to stay longer in the struggle and suffering than necessary. While many things are out of our control, and take the time they take, we can make it harder on ourselves and get stuck in the struggle with some key factors:
Complaining. While it’s important to talk and share with the right people, complaining and focusing too much and too long on the problem will drag us down and make it hard to keep moving toward hope each day. Fix your eyes on where you’re headed, not where you are!
Blame. It helps sometimes – if possible- to figure out why something is happening if it will help not to repeat the same cycle going forward. However, obsessing about blame either of yourself or others (victim mentality) will keep you stuck longer than necessary. Learn quickly what can be controlled and changed and begin to make the changes where applicable!
The wrong voices. Be intentional what input you seek going through your struggle. Spending time with people who aren’t constructive, supportive and honest with you or who have no experience in going through their own hope cycles well are not be the best companions. Find people who are compassionate about suffering yet don’t encourage you to wallow in complaining and blaming, get high on drama, or encourage too much mindless distraction.
Horses can be excellent companions to include in the process of the Hope Cycle but be careful about turning your horse into your therapist which isn’t helpful for either horse or human and can damage the relationship.
Horses are incredibly sensitive beings and each unique. Some horses are more inclined toward being involved in pain and suffering than others. While it is true that focusing more on the present and on your horse is a good rule of thumb, it’s important to be honest and not try to lie to your horse that you are more “together” than you are either. They sense lies a mile away. I’ve cried tears over my horse’s neck and she’s stood quietly and patiently while I’ve sorted out something hard in my life, but there seems to come a time when she demands we begin to “move our feet” so to speak and not get stuck wallowing.
One of my favorite verses when Jesus knows he is about to move into his trial, crucifixion and death is: Arise, let us go from here. Sometimes I think my horse helps me to realize it’s time to arise and get busy. Stay present and unless you are truly too broken to function that day (if that happens it is likely not a good riding day!), put one foot in front of the other and get to work at something you love with your best equine buddy.
Be aware if going through a big (or shorter but intense) trial for some red flags: has your horse become harder to catch when you go to the barn? Has your horse begun to develop behavioral quirks, especially in grooming or tacking up (more fidgety, tail swishing, nipping). Notice behaviors out of ordinary- Horses can take a lot of real emotion and even help release it, but they can become overwhelmed when the human refuses to move through the process. Notice if your horse seems to engage in your struggle or try to move away from you.
Sometimes an emotional struggle is so big it helps to call in a friend in the healing process. To end I’ll share a remarkable story.
I was struggling through some intense personal emotional questions and needed to process some thoughts with my girl friend at the barn. I arrived as she was doing some basic ground work with her horse and we began to talk.
We stood right in the barn aisle and her horse stood quietly next to her facing me as I began to share what I had gone through and in so doing releasing the power some of the wounds had on my spirit.
Her horse did not move away, fidget or rest with a foot cocked. She stood quietly but engaged in the process. At one point she began to move and we paused to watch as she stiffened every muscle in her body and her head gradually went high into the air. Her poll arched over like a beautiful statue — ears forward and alert and she began to shake her entire body starting at the head and neck and all the way through to her hind end as her muscles tightened and released in a wave from head to tail ending with her left hind leg pointing out toward the back wall as if to release every last emotional weight into the atmosphere.
This was the closest example I could find to how she raised her neck and bent at the poll but her mouth was closed. It was stunning.
… then she licked and chewed and yawned and took up her listening position again for us to continue. There was more, so I did continue. Releasing and sharing more of my story and the deep things I had been sorting through that week. After a while the mare did the exact same thing. It felt to both of us like she had taken the painful things I’d been processing and releasing from me and then distributing them out into the air as harmless energy….
I felt lighter from being able to talk to a friend and her horse! And all of us felt a special warmth and healing in the space.
I could not have set that up and had it be effective. It was planned by someone greater than myself that day and put into place for us to participate in. For those details beyond me I am always grateful.
I believe it was a good thing that my friend’s mare was there that day- and that my mare was not. Not every relationship is meant for every burden. As much as I love them… there are things I may choose not to talk about with my mother, or my husband, or my sister because they are not a burden that relationship should carry.
In this case my friend’s mare was able to help me in a way that I’m glad not to have put on my equine partner. And there may come times when my mare may help others in a way their own horse may not be the best choice for.
Horses do have a special place in healing- but not every horse is interested or gifted in the process, and not every relationship is the right one to carry the burden. This may help you to be sensitive in how horses are used to help us through our Hope Cycles- and how we may also help them!
And each time I do begin to see the promise of a struggle and almost begin to rejoice … though I’m not quite there yet.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
Last winter I spent a lot of time riding Faygo and ponying Khaleesi along to help build her fitness. I used to nickname her ‘the anchor’ (not a great nickname for an endurance horse in training I suppose).
Pictures from last year ponying Khaleesi: Today was the first time I rode Khaleesi and ponyied Faygo.
We just finished with a 2-day snow storm that hit the entire north and central mid-east with a beautiful layer of snow. We ended up with barely over a foot which is perfect for a good snow ride- and when the sun came out on day 3 with temps around 30 I gladly got out of the house and headed to the barn.
I decided to bring in both horses for a mash (beet pulp and grain) and some attention. I let Faygo relax with some hay and worked on new ideas I’d picked up while re-watching another of Buck’s videos during the snow-in.
It seemed ridiculously simple. Ask for a back up of a few steps- then change to a move over by pushing at the air by her head-neck. I know we can back up, and if I walk into her head space while leading she moves away and makes room for me to circle while she pivots around. This seemed *almost* the same. Might as well try it.
We had the back up just fine- but she just stood there as I pushed my palms into her head “airspace” as if I was an alien she did not understand.
I am always amazed at how something so similar to a thing we DO know can be completely foreign.
So I did the next suggested step and pushed gently into her by her jaw. She actually moved toward me- barely- not aggressively but either slightly frustrated or confused.
Eventually as I persisted she got it and stepped over. Then we relaxed and tried again. She picked it up pretty quickly after that but it was interesting how she had to learn that separately from move out of my space when leading.
We then worked with clicking to move toward me. We ONLY click (or cluck or kiss) to ask her to move toward me.
Again- she knows this when I stand away from her and click to her to walk forward toward me. I click to her when I ask her to come stand at the stool for me. She does that pretty well. I’ve also started tapping her shoulder to move it toward me with clicking sounds. She does ok- we get at least one step toward me right now and then move on to something else.
Today (feeling ambitious) I thought I’d try the hind. So I would tap her hip gently with two finger and click. She tried everything except move toward me. When she at least was moving her hind I released and thought it over….
How can I help… Give her a clue…
The next time I moved the lead rope under her neck to her far side and loosely left it around her hind with no pressure.
Started tapping and clicking again. She wasn’t sure what to do and when she started to move her front I gently put pressure on the rope which had the effect of asking her head to move away and led her to step her back foot just an inch toward me- I let go of the rope and rubbed her neck.
Great job- you are so smart!
I let her think a few minutes (she was in think mode) and when she was done we did some review of easy things for a couple minutes.
Then I tried another angle. I had her near the barn wall- so moving away from me was a hard choice- and asked her to shift her weight on the rear leg to the foot away from me. Then I clicked and tapped at her hip and she shifted and stepped an inch toward me again- knowing her weight was on the foot away from me made the shift toward me more likely.
We stopped there for the time and did a few simple review things again; then I put her in place for tacking up- loose lead.
Did we do better today? Let’s see:
2:03pm: Standing in place with the pad (that took 0 minutes)
2:09pm: saddle set in place. I had to play around with the pad as I wasn’t happy with the placement and that did not help. She fidgeted a decent amount but we got through it.
2:13pm: girth at first hole on each side. She was much improved here.
2:16pm: breast collar is on and more holes tightened. She was visibly relaxed as we went through this.
2:18pm: up to 3rd hole on each side. Ready to give her a break while I grab her head stall and get ready to roll.
2:38pm: we are mounted and ready. bit still poses no issue. Stood more quickly at the stool and still for mounting. I can’t say if I took the same amount of time in the break. That is when I make sure I have water, set my GPS, last bathroom break, grab my riding gloves and other last misc. things.
Last try (Thursday) we were at just under 60 minutes. Today was 35 minutes. And the process was noticibly easier.
This is worth keeping up with!
Because I couldn’t bear to leave Faygo behind we decided to take her along. It was a nice 5 miles walking in the snow. Faygo is easier to pony than Khaleesi was a year ago.
It was everything I love about a good winter ride: beautiful, quiet, peaceful and still. The dogs hopped along happily through the snow as well.
As for my saddle- I haven’t said much as the riding hasn’t been perfect for getting comfortable in a new seat. We can’t move out much in the ice and frozen ground- so I’m doing a lot more walking. Everything new takes some getting used to and though I always liked it I needed a little time to settle in- and I’m not quite sure yet what length my stirrups will work best at…
I think it fits her great. And today I really started to feel settled into the seat. It’s comfortable, secure and I do love it! I am sure we will find our sweet spot as we get more time in it together.
It was fun to remember a year ago when our roles were reversed. Khaleesi did really well today as the lead horse and though she can still throw a tantrum and threaten to kick horses that invade her space (though I never allow it I know it’s still possible from time to time) she was tolerant of Faygo and they were fun to have out together.
Faygo’s only issue was in thinking she should be able to take the lead heading home. I suppose she wanted to pony me. Not how it works dear.
Overall a great experience and always feel blessed to have such a great pair of horses.