Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I think that is what Rusty and I were watching in the woods this afternoon. Well, I was trying to see what he was seeing, because it really got his attention! I've seldom seen him so wound up -- he was high-tailing it and standing frozen sounding the honk-snort that horses do. A herd alarm system??

That put an end to my thoughts of riding him for a third time today.

Why would I ride him three times?

First time was normal feel him out and warm him up, thinking if all went well in the western saddle, I'd try the Bates Isabell on him. He had some vertical life but not a lot and afer 15-20 minutes of walk and trot with some canter, we headed back to the barn to change saddles. His walk, by the way, was really lively and felt wonderful! His trot was a little bunched up but he stretched out some (I was using inside rein to invite a bend as he trotted and predictably, that brings his head down and forward) and I was eager to see how it would go in this other saddle so that was enough.

The footing was weird -- broken up shallow crusty icey snow stuff over uneven frozen sand. I think he was uncomfortable with that today.

So, dressage saddle. With grab strap, thank you very much. Walking was fine. Trotting was extremely bunched up and short strided and man oh man did he move into some major bucks today. Time and time again. Eegads. It took me a few times to find my bucking balance in that saddle and a couple of times I wondered if I was going flying beyond my ability to come back to the saddle. Yuck. More than I care for frankly.

I kept wondering why all the bucking today?! This was not just his usual bounding and bouncing, this was bucking and kicking out with effort. My conclusions are limited. I had hoped to ride him again in the western saddle to confirm or rule out the Bates saddle as the culprit. But remember the bear? Yeah, that energized Rusty well into my self-serving Stay-On-The-Ground survival mode.

Possible causes for the bucking:
- saddle interferes with his shoulders (and I think it does but darn! I love how the saddle feels to ME);
- footing unbalances and/or hurts him;
- the bear was lurking in the woods all afternoon unnerving Rusty;
- separating from Kacee who is in heat unnerved Rusty;
- the moon is practically full.
Any other educated suggestions or wild guesses?? Sigh.

As much as I criticize those who oooh and aaaah and promote the appearance of very frightened horses, I admit I enjoyed the visuals of Rusty in his fear. I was very glad he had no rider while this was going on. It was interesting to see his athletic maneuvers in action, instead of just feeling them while riding. Ya know, he might excel as a cutting horse. He clearly has more energy than he's using on a regular basis.

It's due to snow tonight. Maybe that will soften and even out the footing in the arena. I can hope?

I did get to watch him bucking and kicking out during his bear fear moments. It left me thinking it's not all about the saddle -- it's a lot about the crusty stuff he's moving through. He's been called a Prima Donna and in my less accepting moments I would call him fussy! In any case, it looked like, as he was upset and bounding around, he was also kicking out like something felt wrong about his back feet. Nice if it were simply the saddle fit!

After the bear left the area and Rusty settled, I brought Bo up to the arena. That gave me a chance to work with both briefly, then with Bo alone. Rusty was curious and approached me while I was focussing on Bo. Interesting as I was setting it up so Bo could approach me rather than stay stuck in his pacing mode. Bo made some changes, then I took Rusty back to the barn and returned to spend more time with Bo.

It turned out nicely, with clear evidence that he's calmer and listening more. I introduced backing one step at a time with head low. He is a great learner! I am looking for ground work ways to help him carry himself more efficiently. Left to his own, he travels upside down. No, not literally, but with ewe neck and tight back. This is something I could address from the saddle, but I don't plan to ride him much due to our size differences. Well, he's about the same size as some Icelandic Horses I've seen ridden by moderately sized adults. But I think ground driving would help him, too. Yes, I'll start doing that with him.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kid update

The little buckling is doing well, living in a stall with his Nigerian Dwarf doe momma, and as soon as he grows some and the weather lets up temperature wise (another -20° morning today), we'll put the two of them back out with the other goats. He's wicked cute!

Finding balance

Ok, balance has a few meanings.

Yesterday I played around briefly bareback with my 'new' vaulting surcingle -- an eBay find that I hope will help me enjoy bareback riding more.

First I rode Sofia then on Rusty, in the round pen. What fun on Sofia! She responded well and has such a smooth trot for a big girl. Rusty was comfortable physically but mentally not quite with me, so I know I didn't really relax, and I pulled on him a couple of times. Haven't done that in a while. That's part of what fear does to me, makes me want to control others. Rusty's mind was on Bo who was outside the round pen worried about Sofia who was inside the round pen with Rusty and I... anyway, a couple of times Rusty headed toward Bo with energy and intention and I fantasized trouble with legs and the pen panels and started pulling almost immediately after asking and getting no "yes" from Rusty. Apparently I had no tolerance for his saying "no" to me then.

Finding balance today was with Rusty, saddled and in web sidepull, on some mental and emotional planes. I feel good about my requests, what they were and how I made them, and we had a different ride. My plan for the ride was to experiment with steering him more, but not so much as to lose the forward life that has shown up these past rides. But maybe enough directing him so that he would feel with me.

It has been fine line with us between encouraging doing things together and squashing his try.

I set up the barrels in the arena, one at each corner about 4-5 yards in from the fence. And played with directing him across the diagonal and around a barrel, directing him across the diagonal and around the end of the arena. Some repetition but not always the same pattern. The footing wasn't the best but we did well. Lots of trotting and cantering, some bouncing around. When the steering got so he would shift direction with just the slightest request from me, and that was tied with him trotting with a relaxed frame, I rode him to the gate, opened it, and played around with the same minimal steering, outside the arena.

Ok, I will confess I had the idea to head out on a trail ride. Because I stayed in touch with the horse I was riding, I felt when it was becoming too much for him and turned him back -- a millisecond too late. His energy was up and drawn back to the herd, and we went a bit faster than I liked due to the footing, but not a slip on his part and we started over. Eventually found that his comfort zone had expanded, and that was enough for today.

I know one day I will ride him out on the trail, just the two of us, without my having to get really close, shorten the reins, hold him out there with me. I know this! I am starting to prove to myself that I can ask for more without asking for too much. And keep riding without pushing or pulling, having a feel for 'let him think it's his idea'.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


What a trooper, this little fellow. I was drawn to go visit the goats yesterday afternoon, an unusual event as RNB does most of their care this time of year, and after hanging out scratching the friendly goats as the thermometer was heading back down below zero degrees, I looked around and noticed the two year old doe sniffing at something... Yikes! A new baby goat lay motionless on the ground!

I ran over and saw it had some breath, picked up it's mostly rigid little body and hurried inside the house to warm it up. Which I did, and he's alive and well. No apparent frost bite even though 80% of each ear was frozen stiff when I found him. Plus his hind legs were frozen stiff, too. Yikes.

Our challenge now is for his momma doe to accept him as her kid, as he doesn't smell like when she last sniffed him. Last night we held her while he nursed, then watched her sniff and butt him away a couple of times before we brought him inside for the night. He took some formula from a bottle, then we took him out again this morning to momma. Again held her while he nursed, then stood and watched what to see she would do. She sniffed but didn't butt him away this time. We are hopeful she will take him back as hers and raise him up. So much easier for her than for us!

Latest update: they are curled up next to each other on a pile of hay in the stall. Looks promising!

"Let him think it's his idea."

I quote a woman at last night's square dance. She was talking softly to her daughter who spent most of the evening attending to our little surprise buckling. He was so new and so weak we took him with us, wrapped in towels in a basket, when we went dancing. A great hit with most everyone there, and this young gal really connected in a quiet, intense way.

"Let him think it's his idea."

Words of wisdom!

The application last night was about the buckling finding the bottle nipple and latching on to suck. The phrase stuck with me as it seems to fit the core of my intent for how I am around animals. Especially what I'm focussed on developing with my riding time these days.

"Let him think it's his idea."

"Let her think it's her idea."

Today I played in the round pen briefly with Kacee then rode her. I kept in mind my recent admissions of expecting more of her than is reasonable and my tendency to push her outside her comfort zone instead of finding ways to stretch her comfort within the limits of her comfort zone. I was good today. She was good today. I tried out my new used saddle on her and I sure like it but I'm not convinced it's the best fit for her shoulders. I can play around with pads to see if I can improve things. Meanwhile, she was with me for lots of trotting so I got to feel how lovely is the balance of that saddle!

I did some steering at the walk and trot, keeping in mind, "Let her think it's her idea." Ears forward. Lovely. Head a bit high when we trotted but that started changing when I would ask for a slight curve. I opened the far arena gate and she took me at a nice walk back to the barn, then back to the arena, and eventually back to the barn again out the far gate.

She hung out after I released her into the herd. That spoke loudly to me.

RNB and I went out for a cart ride with Soli pulling us. It got chilly -- not much phyical work sitting in a cart! But it was our first time out together, and my first time driving Soli. I drew on what I've learned about him from riding him these past few weeks, and it was smooth. He's such a steady, confident horse -- a treat! I understand why folks like to drive horses. The feel of their power is evident even without the contact that comes with riding.

Then I rode Sofia, in the treeless today to compare to recent rides in treed saddles. It could be coincidence, but she sure moved out easily, and she was pretty much on the edge of trotting, really ready to liven up, the whole time. I sat her trot, I posted her trot, very little difference in her forward stride. Sweet, sweet, sweet!

When I released Sofia, it was totally new that Bo was so preoccupied with connecting with Soli that he didn't come nickering and running up to reclaim Sofia! I wonder if he was watching Soli takes RNB and I for a ride and was having a chat with him abou that. There was some rumor via an animal communicator that Bo used to drive. That would be a treat!

What a day.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Too cold for much of anything outside, when it's -21°! Thank heavens the wind did not start blowing like originally predicted.

Feed and hurry back inside. Even inside it's been hard to keep this old house warm. I might be wearing gloves as I type later on. That will be interesting!

Horses look all decked out in this colder weather. Horripilation** adds a few pounds to their image, and I now understand where the term "frosted" comes from -- all those make-up and hair colorings called "frosted" were inspired by Mother Nature herself!

Why does Bo have more body hair frosted than the other horses?

How do you suppose they build up frost on the tail head, eh?

Pictures taken around 9 am, temps had risen to -10°. By noon, temps reached 0°!

**From about horripilation: "Some biologists believe that goose bumps evolved as part of the fight-or-flight reaction along with heart rate increases that send the heart racing while blood rushes to the muscles to give them additional oxygen. A similar phenomenon, bristling, in fur-covered animals may have made them look larger and more frightening and kept them warmer by increasing the amount of air between hairs which traps body heat. But in people there seems to be no practical purpose for goose bumps except, of course, to make our skin crawl."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Uncertainty, roles, submission

Thinking, thinking...

I started wondering if my purposefully leaving so much to Rusty regarding decisions of where to go and how much life to use to take us there, is worrying him. Is this extra life I'm getting from him due to his uncertainty rather than his opening up from a shut down state?

Or is he displaying some of that worry that has been inside anyway, during this transition while he develops some confidence, which is happening partly due to my having confidence in him and letting him have more say in things?

Or something else entirely or additionally?

Look what happens when the temps get so cold I'm not out there riding!

I also started wondering about a horse's naturally submissive role within a herd, and are these different for mares than for geldings. Of course, there are seldom (never?) geldings in the wild, but even with mares and stallions -- are the different genders genetically designed to submit more or less to other horses?

I understand and see signs of a hierarchy, fluid at times but always present, but is that the same thing as one horse submitting to another? Does "submission" between a horse and human become a problem because most of us humans are inept at defining our roles, hence it's not simple and clear like it is within a herd of horses?

I watch my little herd and see the mares running the show, submitting to no gelding/stallion unless they choose to for breeding purposes. And the geldings/stallions? It seems they are constantly submitting to the mares or if not them, to another gelding/stallion, unless they are fighting for breeding opportunities. But wait a moment, that description fits Kacee, but most of the time not Sofia. Sofia appears to submit to Bo most of the time, even though she is cranky about it.

Why does crankiness accompany submission? Because of how the submissiveness is created? Because of whether or not the one agrees with the enforced submissive role?

I was recalling Harry Whitney saying something about how it suits a horse to know where, when, and how to be, and indicating that uncertainty creates distress. Remembering that is what brought on this round of wonderings today. Plus a recent comment by a friend about the word "submission". I have preferred to use the word "yielding", but then questioned whether submission is a normal and functional part of nature. I have a hunch it is and that I better get over my personal degree of cringing when the word "submission" is used. Just because I have psychological and spiritual baggage associated with that word doesn't mean it is not the most appropriate word and concept to describe something valuable.

More cold weather is forecast, so I guess I'll have lots of time to think this over.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bronc ride breakthrough

I started with Sofia today. I am pleased I really am following through with my commitment to ride her at least once a week!

I rode her in my new used dressage saddle. Comparing how she went today to how she went yesterday in my Torsion treeless, I know I will be riding in the Torsion again to see if it was coincidence or causal. The ride today was good, but not as smooth and forward feeling as yesterday's.

I added more steering today, and asking her to resume a trot sooner, and ignored her crabby ears. I'm still experimenting with what little I need to do to encourage her life to come up. Today I also asked her to maintain some trotting while I posted, and she seemed to start to get the feel for that. That will be handy, having this lovely big horse comfortable carrying a trot while her rider posts!

Time with Sofia was not the bronc riding I have in my subject line. Can you guess to whom that refers?!!

Rusty was anxious from the start. I'm not sure what was going on other than separation from Kacee. He has a full time job now, in his mind, keeping Kacee away from Bo.

I wanted to do some ground work with him before I rode but that became a mess quickly. He grabbed at the lead rope after I'd turned him loose in the arena (hoping he'd run around and blow off some steam) and started flinging it around. I let go before he took the slack out between us, then he frightened himself with this rope flying around his head over and over again as he flung his head with rope in his teeth. He reared and struck out a few times at the rope. Me? I just wanted to get away, scared and wanting not to do my old habit of getting mad at him for scaring me.

I didn't get mad, but I did remain somewhat scared until I got the halter on him which allowed me to be more effective in communicating about my personal space. This has happened before, that 'at liberty' I cannot effectively communicate with him when he's wound up like today. We have confronted each other in the past, and I would have said this feeling between us was resolved, dissolved, gone, but the accidental episode with the lead rope seemed to have triggered his notion that I'm confronting him, which I wasn't but the darn lead rope was!

Anyway, he clearly wanted to be doing other things than what I asked of him, so I remembered Harry Whitney talking about frequent transitions to get a horse's mind with you, so I asked him to move off with me in a fast walk, then a trot, then change directions, and off again with me at trot, or canter, etc. He did a couple of mini bolts, one that took the lead from me, another I was able to stay with him, stumbling, running, trying not to let him get slammed in the face by the halter when all the slack came out of the lead rope...

Anyway, his mood changed enough for me to feel OK to mount. Hmmm, he was reluctant to come to the mounting block. I sort of registered that, but did feel safe getting on.

OK, breakthrough #1 for me: I really know I can ride all the various tricks he has to offer. Sure, I had one hand on the horn and one hand on the cantle, but at one point considered riding him out without the two-handed-grasp approach to riding. And yes, I do question this commitment I made to encouraging him to express himself in my quest to help him feel good about offering me his life energy.

So bouncing, bounding, bucking ... and what I did differently today was ask him to move out more. Ok, Rusty! You got some extra energy? Let's go then, let's go! And we did.

Breakthrough #2 for me: I really know I can ride those tight corners, those sudden brakes, those bursts of forward energy. Why do I do this? So I can at least have confidence that my fears will not get in the way of this big hearted, athletic doll of a horse. As a horseperson that is one of the smaller things I can do to earn my next ride. And my, oh my, the heavens are generous giving us some horses who are content if not fully satisfied offering a lazy ole time of it around and around and around. Rusty is not one of those gems.

Well, we got through these outbursts and I thought about calling it a day, and then thought, hey, why stop here? Maybe if I ride him more now, we'll find something else. Plus I wanted to see about helping him stretch his short stridedness, see if all that galloping and gallavanting around helped free him up physically as well as mentally.

So I asked for trotting when I was doing my discourage-him-here game. And when his trot was short strided and choppy and half hearted (ehem -- most of the time!) I asked for more from him. We ended up cantering around and around, sometimes in quite small circles as he wanted to be there near the gate and near where Sofia was turned out and I was not steering our "where", just influencing our "how much life".

Breakthrough #3 for me: At some point with all this cantering, something shifted. What I actually felt was his canter become smoother, easier to sit. At first I thought hey, I'm getting the hang of letting my hips and legs go with his canter motion. Which might also be true. But when it happened again, that feeling of smooth movement under me, I realized it was a change in how he was moving. Why "my" breakthrough? Well, truly it's his as well, but mine for recognizing that he was giving me something different! I was so pleased with this change, with his part of the breakthrough, his letting go somehow in his body, that when he slowed down I hopped off, and that was it for our ride.

Breakthrough #4 for me: When I dismounted and loosened his girth, I noticed how heavy he was breathing. Wow! (I would like to have noticed while riding but that's another project for another ride!) Rusty had really had a workout! How novel -- to ride him hard enough to stress his breathing like that. He wasn't gasping for air or anything, just breathing hard. Breathing hard like is necessary to get more fit cardio-vascularly. Hmm, this is a good thing! This is what needs to happen to get him more physically fit, which would be a nice complement to his athleticism!

I'm pretty excited about all these good things. Sure, I still want to just be able to mount up and go for a trail ride, like I can on Soli, and one day I'm confident that will be within our comfort zone. It would help if my riding "trail" wasn't a well traveled dirt road. I could imagine experimenting on the trail with what I've been doing in the arena if I had no worries about traffic!

Staying connected, and saddles

I paid very close attention to myself yesterday during some pre-ride groundwork, to make sure that I stayed mentally attuned to Sofia regardless of what she did. What a great practice, and not unlike what I would like to be doing more and more with my human relationships, staying available even when something upsets the other person sufficiently to trigger a disconnect.

Sofia and I made progress with bringing our energies up together and without so much bother. It does bother her! But she was less bothered after some time doing this together than at the start. I took care not to ask too much all at once, and took special care to stay focussed mentally on being there with her even when she got bothered, shaking her head and neck and bouncing around.

It sure reminds me of how she looks when Herr Meister Bo the Pony Bossman drives her around. And I'm making my best effort to invite her to join me with more energy, NOT drive her! I hope she figures out the difference. I hope I figure out how to clearly offer her a different feel. I figure I must be doing it right some of the time because indeed she's showing me we can trot off together with some life and some relaxation.

Our riding is getting much better, too. I will be experimenting with saddles because yesterday I rode her in my Torsion treeless ( and was it the saddle? I don't know, but I do know that she moved out really smoothly and with life and without bother while I was riding her. Another difference yesterday besides the saddle change was the good connection made and maintained during groundwork.

I played with Bo yesterday, too. And rode him, also in the Torsion treeless. I'm starting from the beginning with him: leading up freely in groundwork; matching my tempo with his, looking for him to match my energy level with his; reviewing standing still for mounting, responding to my life coming up, turning from a suggestion, stopping when I set his feet if he doesn't stop from my seat; going with him for awhile then adding in some direction requests. I rode longer than I have before, about a 15 minute ride including four or five dismounts and remounting.

Bo is becoming less agitated when separated from Sofia, like when I bring her into the barn and leave him out with the herd, or when I bring her to the arena and leave him in the paddock. It is nice to witness. I still think Sofia volunteers to come with me so quickly because she wants some time away from him. He is relentless with his directing her actions and keeping her away from the other horses! Phew! I know I'd want a break from that!

A three horse day

I started this a few days ago, but never did finish it. So much keeps happening in my riding time that I'd have to do some serious memory retrieval to write more about my time with Kacee.

Today I rode three of our horses. For a short while I got into expecting and comparing, not only one horse to another, but today's ride to yesterday's. Then I remembered how different we all are day after day, and refocussed on the present moment to get a better feel of who I was riding right then.

Soli took me 98% of the way on a nice loop trail ride. 2% involved some coaxing away from freeze dried pasture under the snow in the field we crossed.

Rusty continued to offer a great amount of life! Phew.
(I'll write about today's ride soon -- we had a couple of breakthroughs after a couple of close-to-breakdowns.) Ok, I am commited to supporting this, really I am. I prepared for a possible trail ride on him because, after all, I had such a nice trail ride on Soli, maybe just maybe Rusty would be ready to carry me out there, too, today.


But we did add some directing that felt fine to both of us, and I did continue my risk taking which left me a little breathless but indeed safe. That's my bottom line, being safe and acting like I feel safe even if I don't feel safe.

I rode Rusty with the web sidepull. He seemed a little reluctant to enter the arena. I thought he might be getting bored with any degree of predictability so I rode him outside the arena seeing where he wanted to be (near barn, near paddock where other horses were, investigating the chicken pens). That changed his mood and he started heading up to the porch on the house and around the bird feeders and generally wanting to go places we usually never go because in most seasons, it's the lawn and garden area! So I had chances to use the reins as minimally as possible to steer us clear of low hanging branches for example. I got tired of that, dismounted, and led him to the arena. He came more willingly this time.

I decided I really wanted to keep offering him my trust so although I left the sidepull on, I removed the reins. We rode around a little like that. He was moderately forward, not as fully commited as yesterday and nowhere near as stuck as before. I got wondering about some subtle ambivalence he might be picking up on from me.

I played around with livening up when he got close to where he wanted to be (gate) and riding quietly with him when he was adventuring out from there. He seemed to be showing me what Kacee later showed me, that any pressure meant 'do something different'. I got thinking later how I really need to be clear about the difference between livening up as 'find something else, keep searching' and livening up as 'more energy in motion'. I think it's whether my energy is understood as pressure or release, interruption or permission/invitation. I have to think about this more.

Wanting to try out giving him some learning breaks between 'lesson' time, I dismounted and headed out on foot at the walk then sped up. Rusty was right with me, raising my little fear meter a bit, he was that close and I'm never certain what he understands about my vulnerability as a human compared to his as a horse. In any case, I urged him to go play elsewhere which didn't interest him, but he did stop and stand there, so I walked off.

This time toward the back gate. He stood and watched me, and after I opened the gate and mentally invited him to come check this out, he did a gorgeous gallop depart and hurried on over, hesitating briefly when I stood in his way, and headed right out when I made room for him. I was unsure where he would go but expected/hoped he'd head over to where some tall grass stuck out from the snow. These horses are so predictable about 'fresh' grass!

He ate as I approached him and picked up the lead, then followed me with some reluctance back into the arena. I left the door open thinking he could carry me out there once I mounted him. I put the reins on the sidepull rings just in case I had the urge to steer, mounted, and he was ready to go. But surprised the heck out of me by galloping/leaping/bucking off toward the other end of the arena. He proceeded to get a little stuck there, giving me time to grasp a bit better how his brain works. He was excited about going out the gate, but apparently failed to remember the gate that was still wide open at the other end of the arena, right next to where I mounted him.

So I did some of the discourage him from stopping stuff and it wasn't long before he had a good look down the arena and registered the open gate there. I admit to holding on to horn and cantle all the while, partly expecting him to bolt down there and out the gate. But he walked...

When we were out, he went up a small hillside where he'd never been before. Hmm, several events like this today -- the lawn and garden areas, and now this hillside. We got close to some wire I wanted us to avoid so I used a rein to invite a change of direction, and with that change he picked up speed, fast! Again I was grateful for my holding on preparation and my prior commitment to going with the energy he offers. We cantered and bounded around the outside of the arena, through a sharp left turn toward the barn, down a slope and to a stop. I'm thinking yikes, so many places we could have slipped but we didn't.

I dismounted. I mounted again and asked him to take me someplace. This was a short session as he took me through the garden and across the lawn again, I steered him off in another direction around the bench and out to the road via the mailbox, and he headed back to the lawn. I dismounted again and figured that was better than my starting to steer him away from where he wanted to be. I can follow up on this another day, when I feel ready to re-introduce more steering.

Kacee was next. I had wanted to ride Sofia but she has two obvious bumps on her belly. Warm to touch. I suspect she was kicked by someone shorter than her. (Guess who!) I'll keep an eye on those; hopefully they will go away. The back girth of the western saddle would sit on them. Not something I want to do to her.

Kacee took a few minutes to say 'yes' to my putting a rope around her neck and leading her into the barn. She was good about grooming and saddling. Because I had high falootin' ideas about riding her on the trail, I bridled her up.

I can see my commitment with her is different than my commitment with Rusty. I'll have to get right with her sometime. I have periods of time when I treat her fairly, not overexposing her, not expecting her to take me places when she's not mentally with me, stuff like that. But today was not one of those, again. I could be ashamed but instead I consider it good practice being a fallible human being. Plus I didn't feel ashamed and guilty and all bound up with those emotions, so this is progress.

I decided with her, I would expand the territory in which I played around with leading her away from where she wanted to be, and letting her carry me to where she wanted to be. I led her quite a distance from the barn, paying attention to where her mind was, once in a while stopping to gaze with her back toward her herd, once in awhile seeing what it took to direct her mind elsewhere, and most of the time just going for walk with her at the end of the lead.

When she started to get a little antsy -- well, shortly after she started to get a little antsy, I got her mind with me, turned her to face the direction we came from, mounted and released her to walk off toward home. We had a couple of minor discussions about speed, and she accepted my walk limit and carried me with life and purpose. It does feel good! How I wish I would maintain the patience and commitment and sensitivity with her to go through the baby steps to build to the time when she will carry me away from home with the same amount of eagerness!

Perhaps a tall order for both of us. Then again, like with Rusty, perhaps I will be mighty surprised by how quickly things can change for the good.

We did this a second time, and because I had asked her to go even further beyond her antsy spot, she wanted to carry me home as fast as she could, which I discouraged as gracefully as I could. Then we spent time going past the driveway, turning, going past the driveway again, turning, etc. etc. etc. Unfortunately across the road is some barbed wire fence in disrepair around a vacant overgrown field. I say "unforunately" because she became interested in carrying me into that field area and I had to prevent that. But she did make a change in her readiness to be with me, letting go of her strong magnet to the barn, and at that point I asked her to take me around the arena and in the back gate. What life!!! Some worry with it but willingness. I consider this progress with Kacee.

I wonder why I am so likely to disregard her feelings and ask her to go places she'd rather not.

Hmmm, I learned something with Sofia yesterday. Maybe that's the key. It was about staying mentally available and connected even when the horse is mentally gone.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More thoughts Fight or Flight

My friend commented on a previous entry: "Fear creates aggression and anger in humans. (Because we are not programmed to run first?)"

My perspective includes human development issues, and knowing what I do about some deficits in (just about?) every human's early childhood relationships, I suggest we are simply not able to "run first" when the early psychic injuries occur. (Picture a three month old who might have to wait longer than she wants to get picked up, fed, or offered some friendly and interesting human interaction.) Nor have many of us, at any stage of life, had an abundance of good role models for how to set up and protect personal boundaries without moving into defensive emotions, like anger and aggression.

So when something else happens later, whammo! Those emotions get activated (thanks to adrenalin and cortisol connected in our old brain with certain external triggers -- think: survival instinct) whether we want them to or not. Again thinking about those 'later' moments when the chemicals have stopped rushing through the bloodstream when we wonder 'why did I do THAT?!

We who do stop and think about things later, searching for different ways to behave, end up drawing those "teachers" to us who will point to something new. The saying comes to mind: "When you are ready, the teacher will be there."

Interesting stuff to think about. It may lead me to read up more and integrate more of the stuff I have heard about the brain and hormones and actions, etc. -- now that I'm looking to tie that information to our horse/human relationships.

I'm certainly growing some curiosity for a better understanding of the range of defenses a horse will use!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What makes us tick?

I am tempted right now to talk emotionally about other people and ask, what makes people tick? I'm upset. I'm angry. I'm feeling helpless. I want to blame someone. I want to save someone else.

The someone I want to save is a horse I know. The ones I want to blame are those who were reportedly handling him out of anger using extreme force in their attempts to make him do something that scares him.

These folks don't fully understand what fear does to a horse. I'd venture that they don't fullly understand what fear does to themselves. So it goes and we humans act out and pass along our unconsciousness. It's been happening for generations. I heard it was happening today with a horse I know and love -- a sweet horse, an attentive horse, a misunderstood horse.

Who may now be labelled a problem horse and a dangerous horse, because he reared and struck out in self defense. Sometimes we fail to see that what someone else does is merely in response to something we did.

In my own way, I've been there, done that. And I have cried in shame and regret for things I've done to others. I cry now as my heart aches for this horse who was frightened and confused by his handling.

My feelings of helplessness are compounded by the reality that I cannot save all horses from the roughness people can offer. In fact, there is little I can do beyond taking care of my expressions in order to send a positive or at worst, a neutral rippling effect out to other beings I encounter.

It is not possible for me to send the ripplings I want to send when I'm thinking about blaming someone. I must find a way to make sense of what happened, even if really truly, behaviors like that don't make sense. But to step back and deduce a sensible story about the perpetrating people does bring some compassion back to the forefront of my heart and mind.

It taps the energy of personal resources to tune in with empathy to people who are hurting others. Those people who hurt others, are hurting inside themselves. Of this I am certain. But offering them anything other than understanding will only make their defenses stronger. Nobody wants to hurt others, not in their deepest core places. I firmly believe this. But I also firmly believe that we are all, to some degree or other, operating externally to our core selves, and operating in ways that we believe -- often unconsciously -- will ensure our survival.

We have defenses for a reason. They were developed for self preservation. Unfortunately, they don't come with an expiration date. How handy if they simply ceased to guard our inner selves once we reached adulthood! Although that would presume that with chronological aging come maturation of being. Another questionable assumption.

Instead of guaranteed maturity, what I have seen is that a person comes to a point of distress which becomes a catalyst propelling that person into a period of unplanned openness, during which some new and better influences are allowed to alter the flow of that person's choices and life expressions. I have a hunch that some people change and grow without pain as a motivator, but suspect that those people were nurtured in ways that allowed their core being to flourish instead of cringe and hide.

Thank goodness change is possible.

Feeling safe is very important. Safe on many levels. Yesterday evening I found myself worrying about my safety while RNB was driving us to a dance. I conjured up good reasons to distrust his driving judgment, and then I wondered why I was thinking that way. I suddenly recalled my time with Sofia in the afternoon, particularly how some of my actions had worried her. I wondered if I had come away from our time together feeling what she had been feeling: uncertain and mistrusting of what I was doing. And then had carried that with me unknowingly into the evening.

It made a huge difference to how I was feeling about RNB as I realized the connection, and I let go of my worries and instead thought more about how Sofia might have been feeling. And of course, wondered what was going on inside me that permitted me to act in a way that worried her to the extent it did. It's like a place inside of me disappears -- the place where I'm connected 100% empathically with Sofia. And when that connection is hidden, unrecognized, unfelt, essentially missing in action, a person can do things that contradict one's best intentions.

Mind you, I didn't do anything horrid to her on the scale of things. What I did was dance around and jump up and down and throw my arms around, while she was loose in the arena. We were about fifty feet apart from each other, and my exaggerated dancing disturbed her and sent her kicking out and running around, head up, eyes bugged, nostrils flared! I hadn't wanted it to worry her like that! I had been wondering how could I desensitize her a little so should I ever trip and stumble, she wouldn't leave the county.

Could I have done it in smaller increments getting larger with my arms and movement? Sure. But it didn't occur to me in the moment. How much did this affect her? I guess I'll find out next time I take her to the arena and experiment with dancing around. I do know she is quicker to bring her life up with me -- she showed me that before I started my frightful dancing -- but I do believe I overdid it.

But why? Why?!

I keep finding out things about myself, so I suspect I'll be finding an answer soon enough.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Word play, some foolishness

I love words. These amused me -- the offerings from SpellCheck from my prior entry. I will use bold face when I really enjoy one of the replacement suggestions.

Rusty's - rustic, rusts, russets, restock, rosettes, rests, resides.

Bo - boa, boy, bow, boo, be, by, bi, bowie, bah.

Kacee - kazoo, kicks, cacao, sacks, jacks, cache, kick.

Horsey - horse, Horace, heresy, Hershey, hoorays, worse, hare's.

RNB - ramp, rump, romp.

Biggy - baggy, buggy, boggy, big, piggy, bogey.

Bitless - pitiless, beetle's, bootlegs, faithless (huh??), pathless, battles, bottles, beetles, vitals.

Rusty, Rusty, Rusty

Tuesday notes:

It was Rusty's turn today. He is more interested in doing stuff with me because Little Bo Man aka Mr. Pony Stud Muffin has taken Kacee into his horsey harem and Rusty is just one of the gelding group now. Except at feeding time. Very different vibe among the horses right now but I trust it will change again.

Quiet time being groomed and saddled. Some days like today I don't halter or tie him. He knows the routine and if he's mentally with me, he needs nothing to keep him where I want him. Well, the hay bag helps I'm sure.

Our ride was different. I'm still figuring out what I can do to support his more open, forward movement. If I ask (and sometimes ask and ask and ask), he'll give me anything. But that's not what I want right now. I want his enthusiasm to resurface. I know it's there inside him. I have some guesses about what I did inadvertently to squash it. I have some ideas how to invite it back out.

I know it's not going to be a one-time life changing event with him. But today was good. And I'm glad I was riding in my secure feeling western saddle.

Glad about that because I experimented today like I have been with Sofia. They are in different places with their education and exposure to things, but in some ways, are exactly alike. I suggest 'let's go' and they have reservations.

First I mounted Rusty and livened up and went with him wherever he went. Most of his interest was at the gate. Remembering LL's suggestion to lead a horse away from where they want to be and mount and let them carry you to where they want to be, I dismounted and led Rusty to the other end of the arena. He's a treat to mount from the fence -- as I'm climbing up, he walks into position and stops. Once mounted, I livened up a little and he headed toward the gate at the other end.

I livened up some more and he trotted half heartedly the rest of the way. I dismounted and led him to the other end again. Mounted and off we went, this time with a little more life in his trot and a few canter steps, but still I had the sense he was holding back.

Next time I offered more life as we headed off, and he took a stride or two then let go into his own life, no holding back. This felt like a leap, a buck, a bigger leap followed by a bigger buck, and a couple of canter strides followed by some large loose trotting before he slowed down.

Wow. I was glad I was holding on to the horn and cantle for that ride. I was even more glad that I did nothing mentally or physically to interfere with his offering of life. That is progress with me managing my fear reactions. Very exciting!

Again dismounted, led him to the other end, mounted, and livened up. This time I got more of that bigger loose trot that I feel from him so rarely. That confirms that he can do it, and that I can get out of his way.

After this I played around with offering a little life to discourage him from stopping at the gate, and observing where he took me. We did quite a few small circles right near the gate and finally he switched his pattern and headed off toward the middle of the arena. He is very keen on listening to me and getting it right. Sometimes to our detriment because nowadays I want him to try things without fear of my criticizing him. I do not simply want an obedient horse. I like that he can be obedient, but I don't want it to stop there.

After the ride, I decided to see if he would go to the barn without my handling his halter and lead rope. I went to the gate and he followed me. I opened the gate and let him through then turned to close the gate, unsure what he would do. He kept walking until he got to the bare ground where RNB's truck had been during the snowfall yesterday. He sniffed around while I approached him, passed him, and headed to the barn. Admittedly I didn't give him much time to see if he would have come or would have stayed sniffing around, as I took a few steps back to him and lightly touched his lead rope then turned for the barn again, and he followed. It all felt good. I'm getting better at feeling our connection and trusting that staying connected is important to him not just to me. It is something we share.

It requires me to be in the present moment with him. Me wandering around in some mental fantasies of some other time and place -- yesterday or tomorrow -- cuts our connection. This is my meditation practice right now, being present with others.

Later I was thinking more about Rusty and his confusion, which happens to be very like much of my confusion. And one day I may find I'm simply projecting this stuff on him, but till then I'll continue to enjoy my own musings and revelations about parallels and similarities.

I think Rusty confuses 'direction' with 'criticism'. I take all blame. How many times have I said to him, "No, not that"? How many "no"s does it take to discourage a horse? So when I go to direct him, he's getting ready to be criticized. That does not feel good! That brings a mental brace, an emotional cringing, a physical reluctance. I consider it my responsibility to monitor me in order to let him have many new experiences of moving and being around me and carrying me places, and build a new more pleasant memory bank of time with me.

I have faith we can both make some changes. I suspect it will be easier for him to let go of expecting criticism from me than it has been for me to let go of expecting criticism from people in my life. This is a biggy.

Thursday notes:

Another ride on Rusty today. I procrastinated long enough through the day so that it was getting dark by the time I saddled up and led him to the arena. More intentional risk taking on my part. More opportunities for me to feel trusting with Rusty. Normally I would not have saddled him up because it's cold and dark out, not a good time to ride.

I had a conversation yesterday with horsemanship compadre, RW, who told me a bit about a Russian horseman who trains and rides without tack. It struck a chord, more than in the past when I've thought about going bitless for example, more out of guilt for possibly hurting the horse than from a place of understanding the value of being connected mentally with a horse sufficiently to be communicating without the normal 'aids' we are exposed to and expected to use. I have mentioned before about riding Rusty with nothing on his head. I did that a few days ago. Tuesday's ride was with halter but without my handling the lead rope to influence him during our ride. Today, Thursday, it was again with nothing on his head. I'm not a good enough rider to do this successfully without a saddle.

Rusty offered me more energy and willingness to tool around today than I could imagine! What a treat! What a good feeling! This is what it feels like to have a horse carry you someplace. The reluctance was gone. The cranky ears were gone. The choppy trot was gone. The 'make me' feeling was gone. I am amazed how quickly things can change! He trotted out at length. He cantered around easily, making the transition in response to a light release from me. He took me places at the walk, at the trot, at the canter. He asked about slowing and stopping and some times I said yes and sometimes I said let's go someplace else.

My heart is overflowing with appreciation for these riding moments with Rusty. I am grateful for all the guidance and support from friends. I am speechless with thanks when it comes to my life with RNB that allows me the time to spend with our animals.

I don't know how this will translate into our trail riding adventures. I have a fair abundance of tolerance for Rusty's lively expressions. I am unsure about riding buddies and their horses; I am unsure how well we will integrate this 'your life is most welcome' play in the arena, with 'your life is mostly welcome' on trail rides, taking into consideration the safety and comfort zones of riding buddies. I'm in no hurry to test that out.

I do wonder what conditions I want for testing out a trail ride alone on Rusty. Will I do what I've been doing in the arena, lead him away from where he wants to be, mount, liven up a little, hold onto horn and cantle, and see where he wants to take me, and how fast? I suspect I will deal with that after a few more 'your life is most welcome' rides in the confinement of the arena. There I can start experimenting with nurturing his enthusiasm as I direct him. Actually I did a little today when I felt our togetherness and opened my left leg to invite him to head to the left, which he did.

My mind is busy with possibilities. I'm having fun!

Salute to the Sun

Rusty does horse yoga, pauses to pose for camera shot. -12° morning air. (Do you know you can click on any photo to see a larger view?)

More of the herd lounges nearby. Lazy horses. Maybe Prince is thinking about trying this yoga stuff.

Soli knows what he wants. Morning means likelihood of more food appearing from the barn!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Riding in the snow

It was warm despite the snow falling. Quiet really, a Sunday afternoon with little traffic passing by. I rode Sofia again. Thanks, Sweetheart, for volunteering to join me again today! Although I wonder if she volunteers because she knows it means time away from little Bo who is relentless about keeping her away from the other horses, except those few times when Kacee joins them. Picture Kacee in heat and Rusty inattentive or in some unusual condition such that he lets her wander off.

Our ride was a delightful continuation of yesterday's ride. Her walk was freer, her transitions into trotting were easier, her time spent trotting was longer, and most importantly, she was emotional comfortable with most of my requests. I am starting to imagine what she'll feel like when I ride her on a flat, even surface. I suspect the rutty, frozen sandy footing is not the most pleasant thing she's travelled over! I added some posting trot today, which bothered her a little. She is extremely sensitive to my body position -- will stop on a dime if I shift forward or to the side.

I'm still riding her in halter and lead rope, and today did some steering, experimenting with 'educating her neck', a phrase I think I picked up from Leslie Desmond. The information from the 'reins' on the horse's neck can tell them direction of head and neck, and lift of withers/elevation. I'm sure there is more to this and will share when I learn about it. Meanwhile, if I energize the outside rein a little, that is enough to initiate a turn to the inside. Likewise, if I pick up on the reins, Sofia is getting ready, lifting her withers, engaging her mind, and most of the time waiting for directions from me -- forward, backward, left or right.

I look forward to when she is steady with a posting trot as she's a big horse with big strides and I'm eager to learn to ride that well, in addition to riding the shorter strides of the short-backed Morgan trot offered by another of my favorite horses.

The "S" horses

"S" means Slow.

"S" means Sofia

"S" means Soli

Someday "S" with Sofia will also stand for Steady which fits Soli already.

I'm figuring out how to set it up so Sofia takes me places. Her prior preferred speed according to my observations is "S" for Slow and sometimes "S" for Stuck-in-concrete-not-going-anyplace.

I've had some exchanges with Libby Lyman about this after she read my blog entry "Horse Time" from 1/10/2007.

Libby: Question for you. If you get on her and ask her to go, where does she take you? (noplace) What if you lead her away from the barn, buddies etc., get on and ask her to go, where does she take you? (someplace?)

Build from there -- let that 'go' feel really good to her. Then put a little heat on her when she's reaching her destination. When she starts to think somewhere else -- anywhere else let her go COMPLETELY. If it doesn't last, start again. If you can set it up so she feels like she has a choice that "whaaaaaaa???????" really goes away. The more I work with Joe [Wolter], the more I realize that some amount of whaaaaaaa???? is normal in my old vocabulary. What I'm learning is, that comfort of ours with a little whaaaa is how we get and leave our horses in trouble so much.

So, having read and re-read this a few times, I went out yesterday to see about discovering something new. Sofia volunteered to be caught (I say this when I go out with halter in hand and a horse comes to me) and I brought her in, groomed and tacked her. In the past I have brought another horse along for support. This time I figured I would deal with what came up without her having that nearby horse support. She's been in the barn and arena quite a few times, always with support, and often ridden by me. In general I'm working at weaning myself from expecting that my horses need support from other horses well past when they actually still need the support. Like my bad habit of riding a more finished horse as if it is the 3rd or 4th ride.

I did some ground work with Sofia before I mounted. I found her responsive and livelier than sometimes, which may be due to colder air or clearer intent or some build up from the last time we were in the arena together or being there without another horse, or some other reason unknown and perhaps even unknowable to me.

I mounted her easily and she was walking off with nothing more than me settling in the saddle. With another horse I might have been more clear about a 'wait for me' attitude at the mounting block but this gal Sofia -- well, I don't want to do anything to discourage her thoughts to carry me places, not at this point for sure. Maybe in a few decades.

So my plan was to see where she would take me. The mounting block was about midway down the arena, far enough from the gate we primarily use that she could come into a nice walk to return there. Which she did and as we got close, I livened up my legs just a little with the intent of having her think maybe there was something else to do other than stop here. As Libby suggested: "put a little heat on her when she's reaching her destination."

She understood and went walking off. She headed for the plastic barrel, one of four, that was lying on its side. I'm thinking 'should I let her stop here and check it out?' which I did, and during those interminable milliseconds of decision making before I made a decision in response to my wondering 'what now?', she started playing with the barrel, touching it with her nose then pushing it. I did not want to discourage her creative playfulness! But after a few longer moments of this, I livened up again asking her to find something else to do with her energy.

Which she did and off we went.

I was, by the way, riding in my secure feeling Genadek western saddle (, with halter on her head and lead rope looped loosely over the horn. My hands stayed close to the horn and cantle to keep me prepared instead of worrying in case she might do something big. I know I don't want to risk getting tight in my body because that would discourage her!

She carried me around a lot, showing interest in stopping at some taller dried weeds, some poop spots, the barrel, both gates. She carried me (her choice) over the cavalettis, around some standing barrels, here and there. A few times she slowed to turn, almost getting "S" stuck and "S" stopped, but with a little livening of my legs, she made those turns quite handily and without worry.

After awhile -- maybe a half hour? -- I started thinking again: 'This has been successful. Sofia is carrying me places. I'm using minimal effort to get her going when she slows or stops. She's going at a medium slow walk, better than a fully slow walk, way better than a fully stopped stop, so ending our ride now would be OK, however I might come back tomorrow and repeat this process and in six months, still be working on her carrying me around at a walk having developed a clear understanding between us that when I mount, this is what I want...'

The debate in my mind: Am I greedy to want to try for more? More carrying me at more speed? Am I settling for too little if I stop after this much success? I know I can patiently (cautiously?) take years to make progress because many days I'm fine after 15 minutes of something good and be done with that ride. I know I can get pushy when I decide I want something more and then proceed to want it now. What to do? What to do? Darn, I should have asked Libby how long to work on something like this!

Well, as part of my general weaning process -- weaning from thinking I have to get answers from friends and teachers who I trust know more than I do -- I decided I would risk experimenting with finding the answers to my questions based on what I'd been offered already from Libby, what I have been offered over the years from numerous other excellent horsepersons, and staying present with what Sofia had to say.

I made a mistake but then righted myself.

The mistake was starting ask her to put more effort into taking me places, and specifically starting to ask her to trot. I 'settled' for the little changes, then wanted more changes. For example, I livened up while we were walking and relaxed/released when she put more effort into the walking. That went fine, but then I started asking for a trot in response to my livening up. Her response: swing head, toss head, slow down, stiffen body, speed up. Not all at once, but there I was, wondering whether the presentation of my 'ask' warranted this response, or whether she was going to object to any request for more effort because of her attachment to "S" for Slow.

I knew after a couple of livening up events what the problem was. I was giving her the answer not just giving her the question! I will rephrase and repeat this for emphasis: I created a problem with Sofia by giving her the answer not just asking her the question and letting her come up with the answer.

What does that mean? That means I was 'asking' her to trot. What's wrong with that?

I've been building a different way of thinking in myself, which especially seems appropriate with Sofia, which is to:

ask -- ask her to find something different, ask her to search for what feels right between us, ask her to try, and:

respond -- give her feedback that her tries are welcome, give feel-good feedback to encourage her to continue to try, give her variations in feedback to establish communication that in human words might be like the warmer/cooler game: warmer, warmer, cooler, warmer, warmer, hot, with every one of those messages having clear intent of 'yes' so there is going to be no chance of me criticizing her efforts.

PHEW! I think it's because of the recent input from folks, and because Sofia and I were alone in the arena, and because I was ready to stick to my commitment to learn something new right there in my relationship with this horse, and because I had the calm presence required for these pieces to come together, that it did all come together. For me, which let it come together for Sofia in her own time frame and learning curve.

All I did differently was liven up with the ask -- asking her to try something else -- and observe what she responded with, and remembering not to worry about her getting it all at once, or whether it felt right through and through the first time or two, or any of that stuff. Letting her find it. That phrase has a new meaning to me now.

So what did I do? I changed my thinking, and I had faith that she would find an answer, her answer to my question, sooner or later, and that we would both recognize that moment.

There was ongoing evidence of her learning but the most obvious I noticed (and acknowledged by dismounting and hanging out on the ground with her for a few moments) was one time after I asked her to try something new, she trotted a few steps, started to slow down then put more effort into her trot again without my asking. That told me that she had thought about what we were doing and she made a decision herself to offer more trotting. I can't tell you how wonderful that felt. Not only that she did it, but heck, it felt wonderful that I noticed!

I mounted her again, livened up again, felt her move out with calmness and effort. We did this for awhile more, me asking, her offering, her slowing, me asking, her offering, her slowing... A time or two I asked her to slow and stop mostly to break things up for us as well as to see if we still had some understanding about stopping! She still had a stop but clearly it had changed -- from falling into a stop to rolling down to a stop.

Later on I rode the other "S" horse, Soli. Like on other days, I thought I was going to ride Rusty but Soli volunteered, and he has such a strong presence when he comes up to me, it was easy to change my plans. I saddled him up and went off for the easiest trail ride I've been on in ages. What a gift from this horse!

He is not 100% point and go, but about 97.8%, which gave me a few opportunities to ask politely for him to try something different and for me to notice when he let go of his thought and tried something different. Yesterday's trail ride on Soli also gave me a clear reminder of how it can feel riding a horse who will carry you someplace. I consider it my new baseline of a good trail ride experience. And a feeling that will guide what I expect from our other horses.

Now, despite the snow, I'm heading out to see who volunteers for some time with me. I want to keep the momentum going with Sofia especially, but recognize that it is already such a huge improvement for me to ride her maybe once a week compared to once every couple of months as has been the case this past year.

"S" now has more meanings:





Saturday, January 13, 2007

Update re LL on Joe Wolter

I am so fortunate to have Libby as a friend, especially a friend who reads and writes emails and does a great job putting into words some of the details of her horsemanship journey.

She gave me permission to quote her and I will share a recent email when she commented on my blog entry (1/1/2007 Musings...) about things I heard and mulled over from the last time I saw her in person.

Libby: I am quite impressed with all you took away from our little fireside chat at Frannie's [Piper Ridge Farm, Limerick, Maine]. What a fun time it was. I only wish we could have visited a little more too. The only little variation on the theme was:

[From my blog:] "What she [Libby] learned from talking this over with Joe, was that the horse was going along feeling great and eager and taking her someplace, and then the horse was stopped from that. So the horse is thinking, I'm not going to go to that place where she stopped all this good feeling, I'll turn away before we get to that place."

Libby's comment: What I got from Joe on this wasn't so much that they were disappointed but more that they knew the answer down that trail was to come back, so why go down? Let's just save ourselves some footsteps and turn around now. I'm not sure this is any better an explanation than yours, but it's a little different interpretation of how the horse might be feeling.

Thank you, Libby, for giving me something else to think about. It certainly makes sense from what I know of 'the horse's point of view'.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


... too cold today to think seriously about riding!

It was 2° at 7:30 this morning. Brrrrr!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Horse time

I have the time. I claim to have the inclination. My current goal? To live my dream. Instead of feeling envious of a friend who rides 10 horses a day, I can start right here at home and ride up to six a day! Clever of me, eh?

Last Tuesday, Soli -- the been-there-done-that Haflinger rock, errr, I mean, tank, errr, I mean pony -- volunteered when I went looking for a horse to ride. I had thought I'd ride Rusty again and see if I can make progress on the move-with-life aspect of our rides. But there was Soli and heck, I haven't ridden him in ages, and he might be just the one for a simple equitation focus. Which he was! More light and responsive than I was expecting, and I only had a short time for riding so I didn't push him to carry me on and on and on. I stretched my hips at the walk and practiced a large, controlled posting motion, and that was about it.

Wednesday it was Bo and Sofia who got my attention. First I groomed them, then I trimmed their feet. Then I saddled them, each in one of our western saddles, and took them out to the arena. Sun! Warm air! Delightful winter day.

The biggest horse here paired up with the smallest horse here. What a pair. Actually, if it were up to her, she'd hang out with some of the other horses as she gets along with them all. But dear little Napoleanic insecure Bo drives her away from anyone she approaches, myself excluded. I think he thought about that once...

I left with more questions than answers after time with Sofia. She has so much draft in her, if the world went her way, there would never be a reason to hurry anywhere. So what does she think of me when I ask her to liven up and heck, go someplace?!

I remembered part way through my ride with her to have a purpose. First we checked the metal caps on some fence posts around the arena. Then we 'hurried' from one gate to the other, where we rested, then I had to 'hurry' to the other gate again. We ended with some medium trot strides -- hmmm, maybe 6 or 7? A big progress as she trotted off relatively easily and her ears went from listening to forward for most of those strides.

One question I sit with (and sometimes I'm actually sitting, going nowhere) is how to get some changes without offending the horse. Groundwork or riding, with Sofia it's la la la la (laid back) then whaaaaaaa??????? (worried but moving). I've seen her act differently, really I have, but I feel so uncreative at times, unable to motivate her to take me places.

But that doesn't stop me from trying!

Nine to five

What a long day! I don't usually spend all day with the horses, but Tuesday I did. Well, slight exaggeration. I took a break for -- of course -- breakfast around 2 pm. Then back out. I stayed focused and intent on completing what I started, and now I really understand when clinicians joke about packing a lunch before they get started with some horses. Doing it on 'horse time'... no human clock to determine 'time's up' but the horse's time frame and when the horse makes some changes.

I tested my limits. I feel ok about what transpired. Although not happy about the bruise on my knee -- a wee ouchy -- and I am uncertain how it happened, which also makes me unhappy!

For the most past I remained emotionally neutral throughout a few trials and tribulations. They were trials and tribulations of the horse. For me they were learning opportunities. Ok, learning except for the two times I was seriously scared. And I watched when I was scared what I did -- tighten up, hold my breath briefly then exhale loudly with some vocalizations. Someone listening might call it shouting. But the balance of things yesterday was better than in the past, with more awareness of fear-provoking moments, and less reactivity.

Hence I got some changes in the horses that otherwise I would not have even looked for.

Too many details for me to get into right now, other than to say I learned how extreme were (no longer "are") the feelings of one horse about being paste wormed, and how long it can take for me to wait for a horse to change versus me pushing the issue and forcing a behavioral change without the attitude change coming first from the horse. I call this progress.

Oh, I do want to comment on some specific progress with Rusty. I've been noticing how dull he has been under saddle lately, and questioning the effects of my fear/caution energy around the horses. Well yesterday with Rusty and Bo in the arena, with the two mares then later without the mares, there was a lot of liveliness from the geldings. A lot!

When it came time to take Rusty back to the barn and release him in the paddock, I found my initial thought was to do something at liberty to help bring Rusty's energy to a calmer state, then think about haltering him up. But Rusty was so wanting to be with me, be close, do whatever I did, attentive and his life was really up, I changed my mind and decided I'd see how much he wanted to be with me and see how much I could trust him to be close but not bugging me.

I walked off down the arena and he walked with me. Fully energized and ready for anything... I took a breath and started jogging off toward and over the cavalettis and he came right along with me nice as can be. I slowed and stopped. He slowed and stopped. I turned and he swung around. We headed off again over the cavalettis. Back down over them again and returned again. I realized that even with his energy as up as it was, he was mentally with me. I held out the halter to him and he put his nose into the noseband, stood still even though he was revved up, and we walked off together to the gate, out the gate, and down to the barn. Fully mannered and self-contained he was, and so was I. I did not unnecessarily ask him to slow or back off or anything. I allowed him to be lively and trusted him to be listening and respectful.

Now I feel more ready (not fully ready yet but closer) to ride him when his energy is like that. All this time I've been employing all the nifty things I've learned how to calm a horse, and now I get to explore how to direct this life. Success yesterday on the ground. Next step, help him believe all that life of his is welcome under saddle, and help me have faith I can direct it so we both can enjoy it!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Riding Rusty

I decided to ride Rusty today, and see what I could figure out about his seeming lack of enthusiasm about being ridden. He was easy to catch and halter and enjoyed being groomed while eating some hay in the barn. He stood for being saddled and came with me up to the riding ring.

I unhaltered him and left him in the ring while I went for my riding boots. It has been sooo wet and muddy I wear the muck boots most of the time, but not riding unless I'm in a saddle with safety stirrups.

He was standing where I left him. I thought about yesterday's ride on Sofia with halter and lead instead of bit and bridle, thought about how Rusty accepts the bit but not without first some expression of "no", and decided I'd ride him in the halter. I am working on trusting what he'll offer me, and trusting I can stay on him if he gets big, and trusting that he won't feel the need to get big anyway. I approached him with the halter in hand and he turned to walk off. Hmmm... Does he think I have the bridle in hand? Do I need to even halter him for this ride in the ring today?

I decided to ride him with nothing on his head. I put the halter over the fence and invited him with my hand under his chin to come with me to the mounting block which he did, and stood while I mounted. Then he/we walked off toward the far gate and stood there. I had already decided this was his ride, as much as I could manage. I was wondering if he's lack of enthusiasm was in response to how easy it is to direct him and hence my having gotten into over-directing him which to him ends up feeling like he doesn't have much of a say in matters and we all know that it gets old pretty quick when we spend time with someone who's running the show all the time.

Rusty stood with his head over the gate for about 5 minutes. I felt him breathing, I watched where he was looking, and breathed and waited. I livened up one leg to see what would happen and he shifted around then replaced his head over the gate. Very nice expression from him. Then I livened up one leg again and he walked off from the gate and stopped after about 10 steps.

We were there for about 15 minutes. Again I was feeling his breathing. Watching what I could of his expression when his face was tilted a bit. Feeling him when he took some bigger breaths and sighed and chewed a little. I was wondering if he was waiting for me to tell him to do something, go someplace, move... I didn't and he relaxed.

He cocked his right hind leg which put me off balance a little so I played around with letting my body lean out the way I was off balance from his stance. All in very slow motion. Holding on the the saddle, leaning, leaning, until I felt him start to adjust under me; then with him, I came balanced and upright as he did. More licking and chewing. Then in a few moments he cocked that foot again. Again I leaned in the direction his stance was putting me off balance and waited until he shifted and returned me to upright and balanced. He did this a few more times then cocked his left hind foot. Same response from me, then right hind, twice, and a step forward and all four feet under him, head relaxed, breathing regular, but somehow feeling a little different. Maybe feeling like he was allowing his awareness to include my presence in a different way. Less blocking or tension or something. I don't really know what words to describe it but it felt better.

As I knew I was due to switch gears and get ready to go dancing, I hopped off and thanked Rusty, and stood watching his breathing and his facial expressions for a few minutes before I walked off toward the gate closest to the barn. He followed and I haltered him and led him back to the barn where I untacked him and released him out the barn door to the paddock.

I look forward to having more confidence in reading the facial expressions. The nostrils, the mouth, the chin, the multitude of wrinkles and movement around the eyes. It is probably enough to know that either he's feeling OK inside himself, or he's not. What I might better attend to is what I can do to help him feel better, now. I hope today I added a little to his feeling better in my presence.

I have some wonderings about how his extra weight and possible metabolic issues might be involved with his lower energy. Dear, dear Rusty -- always gets me to thinking!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Someone asked for advice...

On a yahoo list I'm on, someone asked for advice about getting a colt used to a lead rope. Two people responded with thoughts about getting colt used to wearing a lead rope on his halter. I thought the question was asking for help getting him used to being led and otherwise handled with a lead rope. This is what I wrote:

I'd think about having him in an area a bit smaller than the length of your lead rope, so this might mean a large stall or a small paddock with a longggggg lead rope, but be careful you never get fingers and legs tangled in it.

My reasoning for this is so that your colt can learn to come off pressure without you being in a situation where you might feel it necessary to put pressure on him. Imagine you're introducing being led, which requires an understanding how to come off pressure, in a large area and he gets moving faster than you can for any sort of reason, and you end up either dropping the lead and worrying like heck about the outcome, or you end up pulling on his head at a time when he is already worried and moving and doesn't yet understand what that confinement and pressure mean.

Now, forget that image because it's best to have images of success when you're training a horse! In any case, he will learn about coming off pressure very quickly IF he's not frightened in the process.

And start with asking him to move off to one side or the other, not straight ahead. So, let's say you are standing off from his left shoulder or hip and asking him to bring his head and body around to the left. Start taking up some slack in the lead rope and when he shows you the earliest sign that he's thinking, wondering about what is wanted, take a little break. A second or two. Then ask again. He will experiment to see what it is you want of him, to see what is the meaning of the activity in the lead rope and the changes in your body.

Give him credit for experimenting even if his 'answer' isn't right yet. So he puts his head down or to the right -- allow that at first. At some point he'll bring his head to the left and then you take a bigger break from the lesson. Within an amazingly short time, he will know what to do when you start taking the slack out of the lead rope. Soon enough he will rearrange his body by moving his feet so he's stepping toward the left like you originally wanted, for example. It's all a lesson in how to release himself from pressure, and the pressure does not have to be obvious, direct pressure to be effective in communicating with him.

Then do the same process on the right.

I like to keep these sessions very short but repeat them frequently and then build on that. It will be different if the wind is blowing or a stranger is watching or you name it. Once he's really certain about what you are asking, then see about going to a less contained situation but be prepared that the changes may unsettle him. Just so you don't frighten him and undermine his confidence in you that you've been building. At some point scary things will be part of what he understands but I wouldn't start there.

Sounds like a lot of fun -- do enjoy the process. There is so much to learn with a young animal.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Where has the time gone?

It's a little disconcerting to read '2007' on the calendar. It was surprising to realize I'd not posted anything here in my blog since early December! I relunctantly acknowledge a simple truth -- there is only so much a person can do in any one day.

What have I been doing that keeps me from this joy of writing? Designing and building a new home -- house, barn, and riding facilities. Frankly, it is very difficult for me to maintain some grace during this process when I wait too long between times spent riding and exploring communication with my horses. I was more or less accused of prefering to spend time with the horses more than anything else. That may well be true! Now if only I could release myself from feeling guilty about this!

So, in honor of what keeps me from the here and now with the horses, I will share a few photos of the Home Dream Coming True project. RNB thrives on building the dreams. I thrive on living the dream. We are learning from each other as we intend, and share our different perspectives and priorities, with understanding as the core to building intimacy and allowing individuality.

Most days we keep the vision alive. Some days we suffer in separation and self-protectedness. How I am in relationship with RNB is how I am in relationship with the horses. I develop gratitude for how quickly my defensiveness comes to the surface with RNB. It lurks there anyway inside me, and is more subtle and elusive for the most part when I'm with the horses.

Okay, here are some pictures of the dream coming true. I will go today and take more pictures. I think I miss spending time there like I miss spending time with the horses. It is so peaceful!

Fabric windows and light panels on long side of arena.

View of house through west door of arena.

Snow on rafters of house yet to be enclosed.

Hammerbeam construction.

View from the driveway before garage frame was added.

Sunset view from the future breakfast nook.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Musing after a visit with LL

I talk with her every month or so, but it was extra nice to be there in a room full of compatico horsey folks, hearing her tell stories about her time working for Joe Wolter. Each person will draw out something unique in the course of some conversation, so I get to learn more than I would from our discussions.

I came home a bit sorry that I can't be two places at once, because I am envious of her learning opportunity through this work with Joe! But I wouldn't give up the learning opportunities I have right here at home -- between relationship with RNB and relationships with the six horses we have here, I'm kept rolling along on the learning curve. But oh, doesn't it sound wonderful to dream of riding all day six days a week and having a superb mentor there watching and contributing to your horsemanship refinement!

So, what did I bring home from that visit? A few things, but after an afternoon with three of our horses, I come away with more questions than answers!

One thing that sunk in, was after asking the horse to let go of some strong thoughts, to let the horse travel along on their own steam longer than I had been, so the horse gets the sense that all is OK with the choice they just made. Instead of asking again too soon even though the horse is veering off the line again perhaps in the other direction. Picture me riding down the road and Kacee wants to go back to the barn. She is shaping up for a turn to the right and I pick up the left rein. Sooner or later she reshapes her body and releases the rein pressure (and this could all happen on a slack rein, but there is still pressure there, with meaning to a horse who understands that softer feeling). Then instead of proceeding down the trail -- the line I'm intending us to ride -- she tips to the left and gets ready to follow her thoughts back toward the barn.

In the past, I've then picked up the right rein and repeated what I'd done before. But after listening to LL, I let her go for awhile before asking something else of her. What is "awhile"? Good question, and I can't quantify it, but there is a quality of OKness I started to feel in Kacee after we did this a few times. Actually I should have said 'picture us in the ring' because that is where I was riding yesterday. But same principle -- I asked for her mind to take her body and mine to the fourth post on the far side (for example) and her mind was more interested in taking us over to the section of fencing closest to where her horse buddies were.

The exciting thing is that she started feeling of me, responding to my smaller requests to go here or go there, shorter moments of bracing against my idea, increasing number of times her ears popped forward wondering where I was asking her to go. It was sweet. I have yet to build this outside of the arena but if I continue to pay attention and not get ahead of myself with grandiose plans to go for a trail ride now and just ride her where she is in the moment, we will go for that trail ride. I'm confident about that.

Something else LL talked about that stuck with me was how to stop pulling on the horse. What I heard her say was pick up a rein and if the horse is not responding, come in with the legs to say get yourself rearranged, don't stand there getting ready to pull. I needed to hear this because there are frequent times when I ask something, like a left turn, and not getting a soft response, I will pull the head to the left, wait for the horse to come off the pressure, and release. Yuck. Pulling as a habit for both of us. Yucky feeling in me, yucky feeling in horse. And two yucks do not something nice make!

Anyway... I played around with this on Kacee yesterday because she can lean on the reins. So when I got a delay after asking for a change of mind/direction, I asked her to put some effort into what we were doing, in the prerequisite kind way in order not to fully offend this dear but very opinionated sensitive mare, and it worked! She didn't hang out getting ready to be pulled on, she moved. And in moving, easily shaped her body to keep the slack in the rein. What a nice feeling for both of us.

She also did well yesterday with my asking her for more trotting in the ring than we usually do. I am intent on experimenting with how to have a more disciplined useful horse while keeping the emotions calm and the mind open and eager. So far I've opted for the emotions calm and mind eager even if it meant I never did catch or tack up this mare!

Rusty presented some different things yesterday, and along with Sofia, raised more questions than solutions. He is such a character -- I do enjoy him! But now that I have these lofty ideas that my horses can do more than I've previously tended to ask of them, well, I started to ask more of him. He did not respond with as much energy as I was asking. It was in the ring so I could pretty easily eliminate any big fear issue regarding the rocks along side of the road or the leaves falling from the trees, etc. So I thought about some conversations from the past with LL when she talked about dealing with a lazy horse, a stuck horse differently from dealing with a scared horse. I also thought about how Rusty felt to ride after Joe Wolter rode him for a half hour a few years back. I want that feeling again. Think optimally functioning ball bearings, gliding with gusto here, there, anywhere.

And now I think about Harry Whitney talking time and time again about how bad a horse feels when they hold back, when they don't give their all. (True for people, too, eh?) I can hear Harry say that he doesn't like to leave a horse feeling bad, so he does something about it right away. Well, his awareness and skill level are something I might someday walk in the shadow of (forgive the grammar!), but meanwhile, it ties with what I'm feeling from Rusty. Rusty doesn't feel good hanging back with his energy. However, I know he hasn't felt good after he is 100% expressing his energy because there I am, on his back freaking out! (Oh, why didn't I have a grab strap last time I rode a bouncing, bucking, expressive Rusty???)

Deep sigh from me. These pieces are coming together. Rusty is big and expressive at times, and yes if I direct this energy proactively, we do do better than when I let him direct this energy. But meanwhile, when I get scared of what he offers, he gets hesitant to offer it, remembering that not-so-great-feeling coming from me when he did X, Y, or Z. So he will try to avoid doing X, Y, or Z again. Now I'm seeing (I hope!) that this is my job -- to help him feel good about all that energy he has to offer, so he'll offer it and we can do things with pizazz instead of concrete in the feet.

LL talked about this in a different context -- telling about getting the feeling of the horse taking you someplace, compared to the horse going because you are pushing even if it's just a little itsy bitsy gentle barely discernible pushing. Related to what I was just describing, she told of riding a horse out and experimenting with what Joe had told her which was to turn the horse back before the horse felt the need to turn back. But what happened is that the horse started looking to turn back where she had earlier turned the horse back, instead of what she expected which was the horse would want to go further down that road each time.

What she learned from talking this over with Joe, was that the horse was going along feeling great and eager and taking her someplace, and then the horse was stopped from that. So the horse is thinking, I'm not going to go to that place where she stopped all this good feeling, I'll turn away before we get to that place. What LL learned is to do what she did, but then set it up so the horse can take her someplace else, not to ask the horse to take her down a road where she'd ended the lovely adventure.

[Forgive me for any and all misunderstandings and misrepresentations of what LL said and what LL said JW said!]

I realized listening to LL, that I have innumerable times discouraged my horses. Like riding Kacee last week, heading out for a trail ride and she really, really wanted to head up the road toward town. Well, it's a busy paved road with hills and blind corners and little space on the side of the road and I've never ridden there for many reasons and I was thinking NO we aren't going that way, we're going this way as I pulled on a rein to turn her in the direction I wanted to go. Meanwhile I missed feeling that lovely feeling of riding a horse who is eagerly taking me someplace! How much of my decision was due to my fear (fast cars, narrow roadway, etc.) versus simply being stuck on my idea of where to ride?

LL also talked about when a horse is scared, how to help is not to take it physically away from the scary whatever, but take the mind away which can happen as easily as tipping the nose away from the scary thing. If the horse's mind gets away from the scary thing, it is a relief. Indeed, sometimes the feet may have to get away as well, but we don't need to expect that. We can feel when the horse takes a sigh or otherwise shows that it's relaxing. And it builds the horse's confidence in us when we can help it get away from the scary thing.

LL also emphasized (and I may have to get this clear with her again because I'm not fully confident I got this right) that it doesn't matter what is going on outside that appears to scare the horse, what is really going on that is so important for us to recognize is that the horse isn't feeling ok, safe, relaxed, and that worried, scared, anxious feeling condition is the problem, not any particular thing in the environment.

I would benefit from a mind meld with LL right now. Heck, how about a mind meld with Joe Wolter or Harry Whitney? Oh double heck, why would I even want to mind meld with another human to get a clearer understanding of a horse? Silly me! I want a mind meld with each of my horses!

Pictures from my lesson

Thanks to GS, here are some more pictures from my lesson.

RC was very engaging and talkative and right there involved with every moment of the lesson. Willoughby on the other hand, was silent, appeared to be sleeping on the job, but truly was very involved with every moment of the lesson.

I know I wasn't talking about diving but it sure looks like it! I think I was describing the feeling of having to reach forward and use my upper body in order to stand up in the stirrups.

Looking better balanced at posting trot or standing trot than when I was struggling to get my legs back underneath me.

Looking balanced and relaxed with a sitting trot.

Great expression on Willoughby despite what the rider is doing!

Struggling with balance at canter -- note daylight between seat and saddle!

Woohoo! Balancing at canter -- look ma, no hands!