Horsey Therapist

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Autumn trail ride

Rusty and I went for a long trail ride today in the largest group ever. Eight of us for almost four hours. Up and down, across and around. Most of it quite lively. All of it totally lovely. The trees are changing color, the clear sky allowing for distant views of mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire. This is a big part of why I have horses.

The draw of a group of horses in motion was very helpful although it created its own problems, too. At times it was hard to bring Rusty's mind back to me, like when other horses were trotting ahead of us, or passing us at a faster gait. Every rider was considerate, asking if it's ok to pass. I really appreciated this. I could tell from Rusty's energy level when another horse had livened up, but with the verbal communication from the rider, it gave me clear knowledge of whether they were approaching, or approaching and passing.

We had some lively gallops, some calm trots, some brisk walks, and a lot more. Rusty started out wanting to keep up with the first horse, but by the end, was accepting being in front or behind. I'm not sure he was ever totally comfortable except when doing canter departs and catching up with some horses ahead of us.

I became more aware of how easily he is worried, how easily he follows other horses, how much he tries to please me. I felt I did a decent job with my responsibilities today -- allowing his liveliness but being clear about not crowding the other horses; directing his life when it came up; and really enjoying who he is.

I still hope that one day he'll be more relaxed more often out on the trail. But for our first ride with such a large group, he was awesome.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To Push or Not To Push, that is the question

It is very easy for me to push. One might say I'm a natural at pushing. In fact, I am professionally trained to push in politically correct ways. Mindfully using words with my intention to direct the conversation, the introspection, the activity.

Works well for the most part, and people are grateful for the encouragement to explore, open up, risk, revel, reveal...

With horses, it's a different matter all together. I might say it's quite black and white -- either I'm pushing them to do something that is my idea, or I'm letting do something that (they think) is their idea.

So EASY to verbalize! So HARD to integrate into my life!

Two trail rides, two days in a row, two outcomes. I wish I could say I 'did better' on the second trail ride. But I didn't. Although I learned in a bigger way, so that I will count toward 'did better'.

Two days ago I invited RNB for a trail ride after he got home. What a nice surprise that he said 'yes'! We have both been busy, and it's been months since we rode out together.

I've been practicing patience with a few students that come ride with me lately. So I offered RNB that same patience while he caught and groomed and tacked up his horse. It is not something he does often and he benefits from reminders. But I let him do what he could on his own and he asked for help when he needed it. This all felt really good. It was especially pleasant to hear him say how much he likes his new saddle, which arrived sometime last spring, and he's finally had a ride to enjoy it.

Anyway, there we were on two horses who could use a little more confidence. I've been experimenting a lot lately with how to help my Rusty horse have the confidence to take me out alone on the trail. What has worked is a lot of patience -- being persistent with my intention but without any insistence. That 'insistence' is the pushiness that comes so easily to me. Argh.

I may get into describing in more detail some of my experiments but often they involved riding out until I feel Rusty hesitating. Inviting him to stop and check things out. Waiting and feeling for when he has a moment of letting down (different and bigger breath, head lowered, feeling more relaxed) then asking him forward.

We had many moments like this on our trail ride! Both Rusty and RNB's horse, Prince, were hesitant and checking things out. Often lately when I go out, I have ridden Rusty, and been accompanied by one or two young riders on Prince and on RNB's Haflinger, Soli. Soli is a delight to have along because he has tremendous confidence! (Admittedly that confidence when handling him on the ground is a bit annoying because he assumes he can go anywhere he likes, including right up snug close to a person!)

So with Soli on a trail ride, should another horse falter and worry, Soli will step right up and lead the way. He's happy to be in front, happy to be behind. Happy to be side by side. Very happy to grab mouthfuls of grass along the way!

So, Rusty and Prince on the trail without Soli to draw them past some worrisome places... that's where we were. We did well, both RNB and me offering patience to these horses, and we made our way along, found some areas where we all were ambitious and eager and forward.

For some reason, unknown to simple minded humans, our horses were just as worried along the road on the way home as they were heading out. I managed a few moments of impatience and incredulity, and resumed the wait until you're ready approach. RNB had some good learning moments with Prince which sweetened the ride for me. Then I tried something new, sort of piecing together some things my friend LL had talked about and some things I'd seen and/or tried in the past at clinics.

When Rusty stopped, instead of leaving him stopped, I asked him to move but let him move in any direction. 9 times out of 10 he turned and headed away from the direction I thought we should be going (and which I also thought he should think was a good way to go because after all, it was the way home -- but alas, horses don't think logically, or at least according to human logic). He walked some steps in his chosen direction then I picked up a rein and asked for a change in direction, releasing when he was into the turn heading us back in the direction I was thinking about.

It really was about 9 times we did this. Then on the 10th time, when I asked for movement, he moved forward. Woo-hoo! This felt much better than sitting and waiting for him to change his mind.

I think part of this working out was that Rusty was in that middle level of worry. He COULD stand still, but still was worried. He let go of his worry a little smoother when I invited him to move and let him take us in the direction that felt right to him. I didn't apply pressure or make him work when he made a choice. I just went along for a short while then asked if he would come back the other way. IF he'd been more worried and I'd asked him to stand still, it would have been one of those standing stock still with full body rigidity and if I'd asked him to move from that type of stand still, he would likely have gone from rigid to bolting.

So he was at a level of listening but not comfortable going with my idea. So we went with his idea then I asked again. At some point obviously, he was able to go with my idea. It was sweet.

So, the next day I'm heading out for a trail ride on Rusty and young rider friend on Soli. Should be a recipe for success I was thinking. But no, Rusty is hesitant and Soli was hesitant, and even when Soli went forward it did not draw Rusty.

I got off and led Rusty after I found myself getting a little frustrated. He came as usual although I could feel (and see) his heightened state of alert. 'Code Yellow' shall I call it? But even in Code Yellow, Rusty will follow me anywhere when my feet are on the ground.

At some point I felt ready to mount up again, and decided I would push him, from the saddle, in an experiment to see what happens if I push without emotion, just intention. I paid close attention to when I released my push (squeezing legs) and sometimes accepted any forward movement, and sometimes accepted some forward with effort.

What I really learned was that pushing doesn't lead to not pushing. Honestly, I tried this a few more times under a few slight variations of trail ride conditions (different trail buddies, different trails, different saddles, different weather), and the results were the same. Pushing does not lead to not pushing. Despite my hope that conscious pushing would work!

I also learned that pushing without emotion allows me to feel when Rusty might be close to surpassing Code Yellow and manifesting Code Red. This was a good learning for me as well. Pushing in the past has left me feeling that out of the blue (ha ha) Rusty was in Code Red and running for his life.

So, this all happened a few weeks ago by the time I write. I've been experimenting more with what I described at the beginning of this entry. And all goes well. The point of this all? I need to be the one to change. Yup, that's the recurring message.

[Rusty in Code Yellow]

More scenes... cellar coming along

I should take my camera out during a trail ride. I've been enjoying some lovely fall rides on my horses! But I keep the camera busy during the building projects, and last Thursday was Pour Concrete Day.

This is some of the view we will enjoy from our finished home.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Scenes from our next home

Measuring for cellar hole:

Ready to dig:

Cellar hole prepared:

Foundation set for ICF walls:

Imagine me having tea in the breakfast nook:

View of housesite from drive:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Where has she gone?

My dear friend and horsemanship colleague has left New England! Can you guess where she's gone?

[These photos all taken during clinics at Piper Ridge Farm, Limerick, Maine.]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sofia's First Trail Ride

Thank you to my friends who supported us! I wanted Sofia's first trail ride to go well. That meant having trustworthy riders and horses along so that we could all focus on Sofia having a good experience.

It worked.

I so thoroughly enjoyed riding this gal! Her long stride and forward energy (SOOOOOO different from arena work!!!) were a joy to ride, and she was responsive to directions and eager to lead the other two horses much of the time. We walked, we trotted, we had a step or two of canter. One spook but compared to what I've experienced with my beloved Morgans, it was nothing!

I don't have any photos of today, but my mind can feel her body moving, her calm core with some serious interest in checking out that big world. Bridge, puddle, trees, cars, fields, woods, deep weeds, uphill, downhill, rocks, fences. She took it all in stride like we'd been doing this for years. Woo-eee!

This is the young PMU horse that I bought based on intuition and a photo online.

Here we are two years ago at a colt starting clinic with Joe Wolter at Piper Ridge Farm in Maine. Sofia was three. She has grown since then!

Saturday, September 09, 2006


A friend was writing about her experience with an instructor who had an excellent reputation, but I gather not quite an excellent presentation as a teacher for my friend.

She appreciated that she learned something about feeling what a horse might feel when the lesson is unclear.

Indeed, we can gain empathy for what our horses are experiencing when we slow down and feel and acknowledge what we are experiencing.

Maybe it's an age thing, but at this point, if I don't feel good with someone, it doesn't matter what they have to offer, it's not worth it to me to spend time and money learning from that person. I cannot separate what I'm learning from how I'm learning. Maybe more accurately: I will not pretend to separate ... I will not suffer while I'm learning, and feeling intimidated, put down, belittled, talked down to all provide a situation where one is suffering the condescension of the other. For sure I think the person with the Better Than Thou attitude is also suffering.

Not to confuse this issue with the feeling bad that accompanies any struggling to understand something. This type of feeling bad is part of my learning experience. I'm grateful that more and more I am with teachers who use a generous dose of humor as they present new ideas or give me feedback that leads to my awareness that I've been doing something limiting and/or hurtful and/or confusing to my horses. I am talking about the feeling bad that comes from a dominant/submissive duality, when one person is arrogant about their level of knowledge. The feeling bad that comes with criticism and sending messages of wrongness and inadequacy.

May the energies of the universe keep me humble as I spend time with people. I may know something about horses that they don't, but all persons I meet know a whole lot more about themselves and many aspects of life than I ever will. I want to adjust to suit their wants and needs, not have them adjust to suit my wants and needs. I like the image of instructor as servant.

Vibes speak louder than words. This IS how our horses live. They read our vibes, respond to our vibes, try desperately to get along with us despite our vibes. Like my friend, my intention is to treat my horses with honor regarding this aspect of their being. I also intend to learn to treat myself with the same honor. I am learning lots about integrity from being around horses.

Full Moon

I'm getting keen on spending time at our new place. It still in a very rough draft condition. The super insulated cellar (insulated concrete forms) is in process of going up. Many decisions are being made about the details of our off the grid systems. Yikes. A major learning curve for me.

I like knowing how things work and knowing I can problem solve, at least partially at this point, when there is a question or glitch or whatever. I do like knowing enough so I can question our decisions. So far, RNB and I have complemented each other well in terms of constructive questioning to clarify intention and likely outcome, especially with projects, but thankfully, also with emotional intention and action.

The other evening I suggested we take a drive over to the land as the full moon was rising. I was curious whether it would have risen there, although it had risen at our current home. The new land is on the west side of a mountain. Indeed, we could see the moon from a few spots along the driveway, but not all. When we stopped near the house site, turned off the engine, and got out, the moon had risen from the viewpoint of the front door and master bedroom suite, but not from the kitchen.

Needless to say, it was lovely. The quiet reaches out and embraced us. Even RNB with his difficulty hearing the little details of nature like peepers, could hear them there. What a joy. Our first evening time there, drawn by the moon over the mountain.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Respect - quotes from Gail Ivey

The quotes below are from Gail Ivey's website ( with permission. I really like what she offers as a horsemanship teacher. She came to New England a few times, but the cooler weather didn't suit her and all my promises of hot tubs and sweaters haven't convinced her to come back again!

Stop trying to get your horse to respect you. He already does, as much as he knows how.

If he's running over you, knocking you down, biting you, kicking you, bucking you off or refusing to go, it's not respect he lacks, it's understanding and clarity from you.

It isn't about what you need him to do, it's about what he needs you to do to help him understand.

I don't want you to have any contempt for your horse based on a false perception of his lack of respect. I want you to have compassion and clarity. He doesn't need your punishment, he needs your help. If you're stuck on the idea of reinforcing respect, you're going to miss it when he asks you to help him understand.

The greatest show of respect comes from removing your agenda from the picture and listening to what your horse needs instead. He will do anything you ask him to do, as long as you show him that his comfort and self-preservation are your top priority.