Horsey Therapist

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mark Rashid

These past four days learning from Mark Rashid changed my baseline for what I expect from myself and from any horse I'm around. It changed what I see, what I feel, what I think, what I will offer, what I will accept as "best".

I had read some of his books and I had read some reports and conversations from folks who have studied and ridden with him. I was not surprised to find I liked being influenced by him. I was surprised with the scope and depth of his experience and what he focussed on as he taught a series of individual lessons over these four days.

The whole experience feels very exciting and integrating to me. I started playing with energy and those invisible things four decades ago. And there I was in the presence of a horseman who talks about this, uses it, helps riders to use it, of if they are not ready or their horse is not ready, helps them with the steps of preparation so this essential and most subtle and soft way of being will be all that is needed.

I am full of renewed enthusiasm about my connection with horses and the work/play that is ahead of me. I came away feeling confident I have enough tools and awareness to assess what I can or cannot do today with a horse, and what to do to proceed to refine my presentation and hear if the horse is open to this, and what to do if not.

Mark Rashid was clear about this:

Our consistency builds dependability in the eyes of the horse, which in turn builds trust, which allows the horse to be peaceful.

More later here or in my clinicnotes blog.

Mark's website:

Monday, May 21, 2007


I had thought about riding yesterday however the rain was with us again! I messed with the horses anyway -- putting Sofia out on the hay field/pasture with Rusty, Kacee, and Prince, and after trimming the two, put Bo and Soli together in the larger of the winter paddocks. I checked on them often as this was a first, turning Soli out with someone other than Sofia.

Instead of stepping back and letting the horses gallop through gates and onto the pasture, I took them one by one and released them after they were showing me some signs of attending to what I asked. Prince was the hardest to get some sign of 'settled and attending' with lots of little rears instead of backing up and finally a moment of head 1/2 inch lowered and eye a teensy bit softer.

When I released him in the field he offered the most delightful display of excess energy I've ever seen, including bursting into airs above the ground several times after he'd started munching! Prince would be a good candidate for the sort of training that leaves most of the horse's natural life intact, as he's so light and eager to respond and also so careful around people.

I wish I'd had it on camera. What athleticism combined with pure exuberance!

Bo and friend

What pleasant surprises abound!

I experimented with the herd yesterday, letting Kacee, Rusty, Prince, and Sofia out on pasture, and keeping Bo and Soli in the larger winter paddock. I did this after watching Bo play buddy games with Soli over the gate a couple of times when he went under the fencing that is meant to leave a No Horse Zone between the two paddock areas.

They did fine together, so much so that I put them together in the smaller paddock for the rest of the day and through the night, leaving Sofia with the others when I brought them in from the pasture.

Here is proof of this latest nice surprise:

I wonder if his increased comfort with the other horses has anything to do with his generally more relaxed manner. That I attribute to his increasing clarity about what I expect and what I offer him, and perhaps that is bringing out some new behaviors. What do I expect? At times not much, but I do spend time right away when I have him haltered, helping him let go of his worried thoughts and then engage him in some simple activity, thinking all the time to notice his tries and his successes. So he's feeling good about what he can offer me, good about what he's learning to do to get along. It was very sweet yesterday when I was trimming him, those moments when he felt safe enough to let me put his foot back on the ground, rather than his snatching it away and slamming it on the ground.

These kinds of changes mean a lot to me, and I suspect, to him as well.


My friend wrote about the former reputation of her young horse. She was labeled a brat. And according to former owners, earned that reputation.

But what does that mean, that a horse is a brat?

I used to call Rusty a brat, even made it one of my "affectionate" nicknames for him: Mr. Bratsky.

Poor horse. He is such a tuned in horse with a lot of try and eagerness to get along whenever possible within his limits of ability and understanding, that when things were going well with us, he would try to live up to my image of him as a brat! What a lot of effort he put into that and to what ends? It just confirmed for me what I was projecting onto him in the first place.

Poor horse.

Back to my question: what does that mean, that a horse is a brat? We use the word with people (kids most often) who are being outspoken, playful, going against the grain, doing the unexpected and/or the unwanted... So, a brat is someone who has an independent mind and is acting with integrity? And we use a pejorative to belittle and discourage those wonderful qualities.

With Rusty, I had to discipline myself to get specific in my mind regarding what he was doing that I didn't like. So when I found myself starting to call him a brat (or just having already done so) I asked myself, what is he doing that bothers me? It was often when he was expressing his opinion and I didn't have time for it, or I felt threatened by what he was doing. I didn't like what he was doing, I took it personally (key element as well!), and I wanted him to feel ashamed of himself and have more self control. EEGADS. Sure sounds like poor parenting communications! The old "cut it out" stuff that comes bubbling out in those moments of less self awareness. Attempts to control the other because I feel uncomfortable.

So Rusty has some new nicknames. He has not been Mr. Bratsky for years although I like the sound of that one, I must admit. Lately he is "Roo", or "Roo Boy", some confabulated offshoot from "Rusty", or maybe a mix of "Rusty" and "Doofus", or "Rusty" and "Goofy"? As that is how I see his "bratty" behavior now -- goofy, silly, lively, to be acknowledged, perhaps enjoyed, and forgotten. He is such an expressive horse and I truly do appreciate that about him.

So, as usual, Rusty has facilitated some learning and behavior changes in me. Thank you, Roo Boy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Riding Bo

I've ridden Bo twice this week. I'm trusting him more, he's trusting me more. He is less agitated when he's worried, and it's easier to get his mind back with me.

I've taken him to the arena without the comfort of bringing along another horse. So his mind goes to his gal, Sofia, then comes back. Back and forth. Yesterday I left him in the 20x20 paddock for a few minutes and was curious to see how nervously active he got. Then when I returned he was still active just not as much, and would stop for some grass between walking over to the fence closest to Sofia. So he was taking some comfort in my proximity. This is a change.

Another change is that I am seeing him more for who he is, not just what he looks like. There is quite some complexity and insecurity and determination and willingness beneath that attractive pony appearance. Another change is that he's starting to carry himself differently when he's "relaxed", not upside down like he did when he arrived here. (He easily comes into self carriage aka natural collection when his boy energy surfaces!) So something is changing inside him. It's so nice to see.

Most of our ground work is geared to helping him let go of his thoughts more easily. He will do just about anything I ask of him, but he's a smart one and can do without fully paying attention to me. So I'm asking for more of his insides to be with me, not just his feet and body. I've been experimenting with what I've seen Harry do, asking the horse forward, back, sideways, turning, etc. while holding onto the halter knot under the chin or the noseband. This gives the horse less chance to space out or take over into doing their own thing. I would not do this right away with a horse, but Bo is apparently far enough along in his ablilty to let go and be with me that we were successful. Even worked through some sticky places in his backing up. I don't ask for much, but it can seem like a whole lot to him, then it all gets so simple and clear and easy when he understands what I want. I'm getting better at helping him find that place of understanding sooner.

Riding was fun. He has a great long, thick mane growing in so I have built in handles. I'm riding in the Torsion treeless, about the best fit although I really need to go get a smaller girth -- it's just barely snug enough so I figure I'm riding bareback but in comfort.

His steering is pretty good. I'm keen on keeping all of our rides slow and thoughtful. Slow in terms of how much I ask of him -- not slow in terms of his feet. He kept himself to a walk for the first ride, and yesterday he trotted. I don't ask him to trot -- he offered that. I do ask him to walk, turn, and sometimes ask him to stop. He has a quick walk, definitely going someplace. So different from his girlfriend who would amble casually through life if she could have her way!

In the back of my mind, I'm getting Bo better assessed and ready to sell. However the more he goes well and settles well while away from Sofia, the more I think, hey, this endearing little pony, I should keep him.

Once Sofia is recovered enough so I can turn them out with the rest of the herd, maybe my mind will be swayed by the herd dynamics. Things are pretty pleasantly quiet these days with Bo and Sofia separated from the other four. This separation is only so Sofia will move less while her injured foot is healing. But it is tempting, I must admit, to leave the herd split in two! They are all so much more mellow this way!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cleaning bugaboo

It's funny -- I actually enjoy deep cleaning but I have this HUGE resistance to the IDEA of cleaning. Haven't quite put my finger on the history of that other than a cleaning woman we had when I was a kid wasn't well thought of in my family, nor by me because each week it seemed she broke another of the horse statues I collected and she brought candy for my two younger brothers but not for me (and probably not for my older brother either). Funny how things from childhood make such a lasting impression!

Meanwhile, I have been cleaning today as a gift to RNB. He works hard outside the home this time of the year. I seldom work hard although I think hard if that makes sense or counts for anything! Anyway, today I tried some discipline -- work in the morning and play in the afternoon. Well, I got so into the cleaning (vacuuming window sills) that it is now 2 PM and I'm just switching gears.

I had intended on furthering the cleaning efforts in the barn. RNB has done the remarkable job of removing all sorts of items stored there for eternity. My chosen job is to neatly arrange the stuff we still need there, and sweep (cough, cough). Today I decided I would wait for the dust masks RNB promises to bring home. No matter how slowly and gently I was sweeping yesterday, I still got covered with hay dust inside and out.

Friday, May 11, 2007

From my AZ notes

[This belongs here in this blog, not in my clinic notes blog. But it is from my clinic notes, February 2007 in AZ with Harry Whitney.]

Talk with Harry in evening: I got stuck wanting to finish something I started, doing it my way. Talking about my narrow mindedness that showed up with Cajun in the afternoon and my insistence on him doing what I asked regardless of what he could understand today, and regardless of how he was feeling. I forgot to think creatively about how to help him feel better!

Feeling a bit haunted by what Harry and I talked about and facing my issues. He asked something like would I expect a kid to know it all right away. And my answer was 'yes', because my expectations are way off! Today I forgot how little Cajun knows because it had been going so well. I forgot that just because it was going well in the arena, it didn't mean we had enough time and repetition so he would be able to "listen" under stress.

On the trail at the end Cajun was stressed, feeling too separated from the herd. It never occurred to me to notice that and take that into consideration creatively. It never occurred to me to give up my idea and try something else. Like Harry said, after the fact about the reins: either the horse gives to them or they're not there. I didn't have to try to use what worked with Belle with Cajun, especially when I felt it's not working and I was just "shouting" through the reins and he wasn't with me. I expected too much of Cajun. I failed to think creatively about how to help him feel better. I forgot how little he knows about how to let go of a thought. Argh at me! For applying what worked with Belle on Cajun.

Why couldn't I access some creativity or even some other solutions? Where had my brain gone? Ideas Harry suggested were: take a short cut to catch up; trot up to group; simple stuff. At that point I was focussed on my little plan of how to deal -- STUCK!

And it makes me feel so sad!

How can I dare to be creative? How can I remember that Cajun isn't Belle? How can I hone/fine tune the balance between helping the horse let go of their thought so my thoughts have room, and going along with their thoughts too much and letting them take over? I want to be better at this!!!! More fair and understanding to the horse!!

This amazing gap between what I can mentally grasp about horses and how I perform when with them. OUCH.

Amazing what can be learned when one is willing to face the septic tank of the soul...

Hay dust

In my ears, nose, throat. On my shirt, jeans, boots. Definitely will take a shower at the end of the day.

Barn cleaning. Not only moving stuff out, but dusting and sweeping years' worth of hay dust. Some days I wear a dust mask while I clean, other days I sweep very slowly to minimize the air turbulance that helps distribute the dust.

The barn sure looks good these days. I have been silently vowing to keep our new barn this clean, devising plans to clean once a week. (Dreaming, I am!)

Meanwhile, I need to call and arrange for another 500 bales. Adding hay and dust to the barn. Fresh hay. Fresh hay dust. There must be a difference between old and new dust!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Conversation about pressure

A friend wrote (as I understand it) about discovering some value in starting her rides without pressuring herself or her horse, then she could feel the right time to ask for something that might be perceived as pressure by the horse. She is hoping she can keep this awareness and this practice...

My response to her:

Yes, please keep this, and keep writing about it. I need reminders, too. Just as it is for the horses, it is an effort for us to keep our newer, better habits functioning instead of carelessly letting former habits and reactivity take over...

To quote my friend, Harry Whitney, again, "So they're started, so they go."

My understanding of that is that the foundation put into a horse is what the horse resorts to under stress/pressure. So if a horse has a foundation built on trust and understanding (lucky horse!), under stress that horse will look to be understanding from a fairly calm spot inside himself. If the foundation includes pressure and uncertainty and fear, then when the fan gets hit by you know what, that horse will lose access to what he's learned and react with fear and anxiety, and that too often looks like a wreck!

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talk about times when the chemical get coursing through our bodies, and how adrenaline affects us (I'll generalize to all mammals) and how cortisol affects us. When cortisol gets activated, our old brain kicks in and we are feeling and acting on survival mode regardless of our best ideas. Only when the chemicals change inside us can we again access our front brain where the executive decisions are usually made.

To paraphrase another friend, it's like learning a second language. The foundation is the first language, the later learned is the second language. When stressed out, one can remember and use the primary language, but not the second language. This example was given to me when I was trying to understand why my dear RNB could communicate so well at times and so poorly at times. Communicating consciously is a second language to him. I began to recognize and then acknowledge or question the pressure/stress he was experiencing when communication got rough, instead of reacting with disappointment, loss, and fear -- "hey where did that wonderful man go?" Same deal with the horses. If they are in a reactive mode, they can't speak the new language they've been learning. Nor do they deserve anything more than understanding and patience and guidance to be safe.

It's such an interesting journey to be mindful or watching ourselves as we do things -- what am I feeling, what am I thinking, what is behind that little snippy thing I said (to horse or human)... Allowing the 'no pressure' zone is like settling into a meditative state, and that is where I can find/hear/listen/sense the what and when of action steps to take. True in all areas of my life.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Letting go, going forward

This is about me, but of course will be reflected in my horsemanship.

We have a For Sale sign in the yard in front of our house now.

I cried when I arrived home and saw it. It was not a surprise -- I knew we were putting this house on the market. But it was an emotional shock to move from "going to" to "doing". It's a doing thing now, not a plan.

RNB was here and at first didn't understand my emotions. He has moved a lot and doesn't consciously form attachments as I do. He does in his own way though, and I recall his emotions when we first came to this decision, many months ago. I was able to suggest a scenario that he could relate to and he understood my feelings.

I feel vulnerable. We are saying -- here, someone come take this house from us. But we don't have our next plan in place, ready to receive us.

I was thinking last night about my incredible procrastination with finishing up my mother's probate process. I realized that some tangled thinking in my head, that came to consciousness last night, went something like this: as long as I still have some work to do, some stuff to disburse, then I still feel like I have some remnants of my mother out there ready to take care of me should I need her. If I give everything away that was hers, then there is nothing left in case I need something from her to get me through a rough spot. I shared this with RNB, and he commented, "so you'll be on your own now?"

My mother was always there. Not always ready to offer me what I needed, but always ready to offer what she thought I needed, or what she wanted to offer, or what she could offer. Although I got mad at times that she couldn't give me what I needed (and I'm not certain it was her role to do that all the time), I truly counted on her eagerness to give me something. She was especially radiant in her generosity when someone was ill or injured, needing her nurse persona.

There are some emotional parallels between my feelings about this house and my feelings about my mother. It's about the vulnerability of not having something that I've been relying on to keep me safe and warm.

So it's a time for me to let go. And let go some more. It's funny -- I kinda know when something like this is brewing under the surface. I start wanting to eat some butterscotch/caramel type creamy foods, like ice cream or flan!

We have a dream we are building. And a lovely old house that has served us well, kept us warm and dry and busy, heard our tears and our laughter, housed our cats and our belongings. Thank you, dear house, for being our home. Thank you, fields and barn for supporting our horses, cows, sheep, goats, birds... Thank you, dear gardens, for your beautiful flowers and your edible vegetables and berries. Thank you, surroundings, for your bountiful wildlife underground, above ground, and in the air. This is a special place, and may your next humans appreciate and care for you as well as we have.