Horsey Therapist

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eyes closed for better feel

Yesterday I experimented with my friend's suggestion (thank you GS!) about closing my eyes to develop the feel for when the horse's thought is coming through in response to my rein.

I did this on Kacee in the midst of that experimenting I described in "Excited". She was taking me down the road at a nice walk and I closed my eyes and rode her. I was quiet inside and could use my other senses for direction and safety. Hearing told me if traffic was coming (and I opened my eyes for those moments) and hearing told me if we were on the pavement or the shoulder. Heat and light sensitivity told me what direction we were going as the sun was in a mid afternoon position at about 10 o'clock looking down from above with 12 being straight ahead of us. Kinesthetic feelings told me when she was 'straight'.

I felt it right away. Should I be embarrassed to report it was so easy, easier to feel with my eyes closed than to see with my eyes? Gulp. Back to Sally Swift's 'soft eyes' concept -- new meaning or new level of meaning for me. What I see with my eyes needs to be way down the list of senses I am attending to. I mean way down.

And asking for a change when Kacee veered -- and yes, her veering feels different from what it had been looking like, or maybe I can feel her veering sooner than I can see her veering? -- brought a soft response from her, and my release was right there with her response, not a second too soon or too late. How do I know? Kacee stayed soft and forward -- clearly my communications with her did not interrupt our flow.

Today is another day. I'm going to play around with this more. [Note: I already did, as reported in "Excited".] Maybe Rusty today. He is different, much more apt to be set in his patterns of thought about what worked before. But he made nice changes last time I rode him. I have to monitor myself more closely with him because I have been able to push him out onto a trail ride, whereas I've not been able to do that with Kacee. Kacee will not be pushed, period, end of story! Sounds like someone I know...


I had the best ride ever yesterday!

I was with Kacee, and started by just asking her to make the choice to keep walking (by letting her stop if she chose, then asking again for a walk) and I let her take me wherever she wanted. It was much sooner than before that she started exploring places to go other than barn, gate, chicken pen, barn, gate, goat pen, gate, barn, peacock pen, gate, peacock pen, barn... and so on.*

My responsibility (I set this up myself, needing clear rules for my experiment's sake) was no push, no pull. Ok, I know it's best to define things in the positive, but I don't have simple words or phrases yet that would describe what I'm talking about. But, don't we all know what it is to use the legs to ask or even demand a horse to go? Don't we all know what it is to use one or two reins to pull a horse into a turn or pull a horse to a stop?

An example of what I'm pursuing is what I'm looking for when I pick up on an otherwise totally slack rein. What I mean by 'pick up' is lifting up and out either right hand/rein or left hand/rein about 2-3" (and eventually it will be much less**). When I pick up, either my horse comes along with the idea of turning without my taking any more slack whatsoever and finds the full release again, or I ask the horse to hurry a little and I wait until somewhere at some time the horse comes off that minute amount of "pressure", which truly is a miniscule asking on my part. The pressure the horse feels is that of the request, not pressure of the aid. This starts to work after spending enough time (whatever that takes for the individual horse and individual rider) of riding with zero pressure -- zero use of seat, leg, or rein aids -- except when asking the horse to 'keep trying', 'look for something else', or 'a little more effort please'.

Am I making any sense? I doubt I could have understood a word I was saying if I hadn't heard it and seen it hundreds of times before, and finally the pieces of the puzzle are sinking in. Libby Lyman, my thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and generous friend/horsemanship colleague/mentor has been a crucial help with putting into words for me things we have both watched done over the years by a few specific horsemen. She has put into language her new experiences, and I have prioritized learning this next piece of my horsemanship puzzle, and here I am today with a big hurray and all this excitement stuff!

Back to yesterday with Kacee. I did carry on at the walk without asking anything of her more than the 'keep trying/look for something else', waiting some time before I even felt she might succeed at coming along with my idea. I wanted us to be successful with this. When I felt her starting to think about heading further up the drive, I asked if she was ready to take me there. Sometimes she wasn't, sometimes she was. I had to do this in slow motion until I could see and feel her at a level I've never before perceived.

Somewhere in all this it felt like we were connected enough and I trusted my consistency with sticking to my rules and she felt trusting that I was sticking to my rules, ie, I was offering her the choice to say yes or no and was not going to suddenly say, ok, enough already, let's just go down the drive (push, push, pressure, pressure, using aids to close doors and limit her choices).

So I felt confident that I was doing something that made sense to her and she was breathing well and feeling confident and walking out freely, not sucked back. I brought this up to the trot. I didn't keep her in the trot, and if she came back to the walk, I just asked for the trot again. I'd ridden up and down the rather steep but short inclines off to the side of the barn enough times to know she knew her footing and to know I knew we were fine trotting or cantering down the slope with her slamming on the brakes at the gate at the bottom of the slope, or doing a quick 180 and heading back up again.

Here and there I asked, 'can we go this way?' and more and more she said 'yes' but maybe only a few steps. When she stopped, I asked for go again but without telling her where. That was her choice as long as she had any drag in the rein at all. I wanted no drag. I wanted forward and eager coming from her, not coming from 'because I have to'.

And then she took me further, at the trot, and back towards the barn at a trot that was no faster than leaving the barn. Then she took me even further, at the trot, and broke into a canter, a nice comfortable 'I'm going someplace' canter down the road. And I went with her. My intention: have it feel really, really wonderful between us, that sweet feeling, when she was taking me someplace with all that forward, willing energy.

Ah, a piece of heaven. And I'm soooo proud of myself for not getting greedy, not asking her for more than she offered. When she wanted to slow, I was with her and we slowed together and stopped at my request, and proceeded at my request. Together. From a release to motion not from a push to go.

This has been an illusive dream for years. Illusive because nobody before had explained it to me such that I could 'get it' and play around with it. Illusive because at least with some horses I have been able to go out and ride without having to figure out what changes I needed to make to have this dream come true. I feel really good about this. Really good.

I'm working toward this with Rusty, too. And will do this with Sofia, Prince, Bo, Soli. Oh, honestly, will I really do this with Soli? He's my point and shoot horse -- I can ride him anywhere with so little effort! But yeah, I'll offer this to him as well as I value his collaboration, too. I owe it to him for all the goodness he offers despite our human deficits!

I don't know yet how this will carry over to a trail ride with another horse and rider for example. I don't know yet how this will carry over to when someone else rides my horse(s). I don't know yet how I will integrate this into my teaching. It is so much a different approach than all the miriad ways to apply pressure. I am so excited about this, deep in my belly.

Update from above after today's ride (I've added astericks in the above text).
* Today's ride on Kacee was 15 minutes and we went further than we did yesterday. She let go of her barn choice much sooner than yesterday.
** Today she was responding to my squeezing the rein with a couple of fingers like she had when I lifted the rein a couple of inches.

I also rode Prince today, and Rusty. Rusty made some changes quickly, and seems to enjoy climbing! We have other steep inclines and he thinks nothing of taking off up or down them. I'm learning something I've wanted to learn -- how to ride with a horse cantering down a steep incline. :-)

Prince was fun and taught me something important. When I get to feeling I need to pull, that is because the horse doesn't really understand left and right. When I think I need to get firm with my legs or such, that means the horse doesn't understand forward. I spent as much time working on left and right and go with Prince as anything. He's more ready to go new places, to leave the barn door, however he told me today how little he knows about turning and moving out in harmony with the rider. I think this was the third time I've ever ridden him. He has so much to offer and I know much of the brace against 'let's go' got cleared up. The left and right needs more time. I did pull on him today contrary to my intention. I should have dealt with left and right in the arena where wandering out into the road or off across the lawn would not be an option. That is when I pulled, when I wanted to prevent some trouble. My bad. Thank heavens I get another try!

Up to the barn from the gate ...

Down to the gate from the drive ...

Up to the peacock pen from the gate ...

The road where Kacee took me at the canter...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Big and Little

I rode Ms. Big and Mr. Little the other evening. RNB came home and I asked him to take some pictures. Here we are. Can you tell which horse is which?

RNB with the camera was like a magnet for the horses. Admittedly most of the pictures captured us in the start of a turn away from where he stood. These came out well though -- and in honor of my blogging friend who purposely displays her mistakes -- I will point out that I've got my eyes turned downward in most of the pictures, including these two. I know I was looking to see when the horse's eye came around the turn I was asking for. Someday I would like to feel that without looking. Feel that and trust what I'm feeling. I wait for the eye to come around the turn so I'm releasing for the mind coming with the turn, not just the feet coming into a turn. I can see on one horse that I've asked for a right turn and the horse has not yet responded by putting slack back into the rein. Which horse is that?

I reviewed some pics from the winter. Boy oh boy -- Mr. Little aka Bo sure does change from season to season regarding the amount of hair he carries!

Bo's weight is good. The supplement I feed (check link to Balanced Equine Nutrition if you like) and maybe his changed mental attitude is helping him keep some meat on his bones. I'd like to find a very handy youngster who want a pony like Bo. Then I would have room here to take in another horse-in-need. Or then I would have time to ride the 'other' horses more!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I loved this house. It held dear memories. When I sold it, I took those memories with me, disengaged them from the actual setting. Slowly as I cleaned it and mowed the lawn and managed some fixing up projects, I said my thank yous and my good byes.

That was last summer. Earlier this spring, there was a fire there, and much was damaged. I went by recently to see the changes. I felt no pangs, thankfully, but curiosity about transformation by fire. It is weird. I love that the blueberry bushes are flourishing!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fun with Fhaltair

I barter. Most frequently I barter hair cuts and horsemanship lessons. I get the hair cuts, she gets the horsemanship. We both like this arrangement.

Today I spent time "training" Fhaltair, her daughter's Hanovarian yearling. He's such a doll. Not really a looker, still got that gangly kid look about him. But a doll in all other aspects. Willing, calm, attentive. Comfortable going with me, comfortable blowing me off now and then. He seems to live in a learning frame of mind, oh, about 94% of the time. Naw, that's an underestimate. I'd say 99.9% of the time. He doesn't get upset about much of anything. He will start thinking about the grass instead of me, but it's not regular and hey, I can handle the fact that the grass is more interesting sometimes than I am!

He's for sale by the way. If you are interested, let me know. I get nothing for mentioning this, other than knowing I'm helping a nice horse find a nice home, and helping some nice people manage their lives with less stress.

Checking out the baggie. I was told he was exposed to the baggie before in an effort to make him move out. He was worried about it at first.

I'm checking out if he can stand still while I pet him and walk around him. He wanted to follow me or walk off at first but quickly understood that it felt good to just stand there.

Ground driving or long lining.

Example of when he was more interested in the grass!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Growing confirmed

I just rode Sofia. One of many vets I now consult with depending on the need, recommended I ride her at the walk now, in case some of her ongoing lameness is due to scar tissue within her foot that needs to break up. So I rode. First time on her for months. Parts of it felt like we are in a better place than before. Parts felt like things were worse. Forward is better. Steering is worse. I took my time so I could monitor what I am doing, thinking about her response coming before I pick up the reins, and if not then, looking for it immediately, and if not then, helping her by my waiting for her to come off the rein by rearranging her body, or sometimes by my sensing her getting ready to rearrange her body. About 20 minutes of a ride and ended on a good note. Torsion treeless saddle, lead rope attached to web halter, carrying bridle and bit without reins. What is the growing confirmed about? Sofia had some very definite ideas about being bridled. Is she telling me she doesn't like it? Maybe so. Will that keep me from being clear, helping her find the soft place between us? No. And that includes finding the soft place while bridling. The vet who is coming the week after next will assess taking Sofia's wolf teeth out. That might be a concern with wearing a bit. Or it might not. I can't tell 100% or not. She's had such intrusions to her mouth lately that I don't know which if any is most disturbing to her. Bleh. Some days I wish there was an easy way to get things done. Maybe I should say I wish I had more skill and confidence in my choices of how to get something done!

In any case, I love that horse and enjoyed this short ride. Now for perhaps a longer ride on someone else. Your guess is as good as mine who it will be!

Reflections from January

I can think on my feet at times. Other times it takes hours, days, weeks, months for some thoughts to come clear.

In January I had an exchange with a friend about my Morgan mare, Kacee.

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

She to me:
This is really interesting. I wonder, too. I think I do this too annnnd I think it ties in with some of my questions about why I ride ...[my horse]... the way I do and why you ride different horses the way you do. Maybe you should describe her and that will give clues.

Me to myself:
How would I describe Kacee? She's attentive, certain, opinionated, herd leader. She's delightfully responsive when in her comfort zone, incredibly strong survival instinct kicks in when she is out of her comfort zone. She sticks around when I fall off. She walks off more often than not when I approach her with halter in hand. She stands still for saddling, bridling, mounting. I can ride her without a bridle or reins and she understands forward, left, right, stop and back from my body, but gets a little too excited to listen when we're trotting or cantering this way. She has tolerated all sorts of "natural horsemanship" approaches that I have studied and applied to her, so she must have a big question mark when I show up -- what is she going to ask of me now and how? She is first to the food, but will wait for me to step aside before she comes in for hay after I've reminded her to wait. She has lovely walk and trot to ride; her canter is fast. Her hind legs are crooked as are her hind feet. She has protected me from Rusty when he was young and rowdy and I was vulnerable and helpless. Like trot right over and bite him on the withers to move him away from me.

Clues to why I don't listen to her well? To why I overexpose her frequently? To why I'm impatient to just get on her and go someplace?

Months later, I find pieces of the answer. As with many things, the actual facts of it are simple. I am thinking and reacting, not being present and responsive in the here and now. Instead of assessing who she is right now and what she needs for support and proceeding from there, I approach her with expectations based on the past (my past with her and my past with all relationships) and lay those expectations like a tinted translucent film over our experience.

When I am without that film, I can see what she is telling me and help her, right now, to feel better about what we're doing, right now, and then carry on to explore other things, right now, together and with some harmony instead of me pushing, she resisting. It has to be feeling good or else I'm forcing my ideas on her. I want to influence what we do together, and that requires me first to influence her mental and emotional state so she is open to do something together with me, and some day (which might be in two minutes or two months) she will want to do something together with me. And I want to be present, right now, whenever this happens. Not bound up mentally thinking about something else, missing another moment with this powerhouse of equine delight.

Here and Now

Some of us value being in the here and now just as it is. Some of us tolerate, even rejoice, in the here and now that we find moment to moment. Some of us want to be in the here and now later, as soon as ... the rain stops, the elbow stops hurting, the new well is paid for...

The here and now is here and now. It is not later. We have the ability to think we are in the here and now however we are only thinking that. Thinking about being is a step separated from being without thinking. How many of us have memory of this state? How many of us are familiar with it? How many of us can recover it at will? How many of us do not really know that this Here and Now thing might have great value?

Our horses live in the here and now. Yes, they have memories of what happened in the past, and if we establish a habit around them, they can anticipate the future. But they are 100% grounded in the here and now, by birth and unalterable by us, even when they have a memory or an anticipation. And in order to connect with them, in order to actually see what is Here and Now with them, we need to be here, now.

An exchange with Mark Rashid got me thinking more about this. He said "truth is negotiable" and asked if I agreed. At first I did not. That led to my seeking a shared understanding of what "truth" means, and also what "negotiable" means. I had an inaccurate interpretation of "negotiable" which included elements of "compromise", so once that cleared up, I was able to agree. Some key part of the exchange referred to when person A is doing X, and person B, not present with A at the moment of A's doing X, believes A is doing Y. So A's perception of the truth (I'm doing X) is different from B's perception of the truth (A is doing Y), but both perceptions are understood subjectively by each as 'the truth'.

After looking at how one truth is actually what is happening and the other is a (mis)interpretation of the actual facts, it became clear that indeed truth is negotiable.

I still have trouble with the word 'negotiable'. It troubles me because I have thought it refers to when two people each have to give up something in order to agree. I prefer the model that two people can each gain something in creating agreement or accord. My friend RW helped me open my thinking as I substitute "compromise" to reflect the meaning I had for "negotiate".

Listening to Mark I caught a picture of not just how it is between two people in general, but how it is between teacher and student of horsemanship, and in line with the concept of parallel process, how it is between human and horse.

The horse would be like person A, and reflecting the actual facts or truth of the situation. The human is B, who has an interperative story about the actual facts, which distorts those facts to some degree and hence distorts the emotional and behavioral response to the actual facts.

It shows up in terms of a horse in pain for example. How many times have you seen a horse who looks off from unsoundness or saddle fit or something else? And the owner/rider has managed to hide those facts from consciousness for whatever important reasons. Meanwhile, the human's perceptions do not reflect the actual facts, or in this case, the horse's truth.

This can apply to emotional issues as well. The actual facts may be that the horse is in pain and cannot give 100%. Horse and person A's perceptions coincide with reality. Person B's perception, based on a misinterpretation of the actual facts -- horse is not giving 100% -- might foster the thought that the horse is lazy, or perhaps the horse is sneaky, trying to get out of work.

With whose truth do you want to be in alignment?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Influenced by Libby Lyman and my horses

I have become increasingly aware of how quickly I get defensive, and when I get defensive I get tense, critical, pushy, distrusting. Or perhaps when I start feeling distrusting, I get defensive, critical, tense... In any case, I am intent on getting below and beyond this reactivity in me. Even to the point of inviting RNB to tell me when he feels I'm being critical. Sometimes I cannot tell because a degree of criticism is sometimes hidden in my 'good intentions' and my 'advice giving'. It is tricky business, the line between 'let's do what I want to do because my idea is better', and 'let's do what I want to do because your idea is worse.' I sure know that someone can say the former and I hear the latter.

I was told years ago that my Rusty horse feels criticized most of the time. I was not gracious hearing that and in fact became defensive and critical of the speaker of that truth. My reaction interrupted a budding friendship. That is sad.

Meanwhile, Rusty has not had the same freedom as that person had -- Rusty cannot walk away. Well, he CAN walk away, but not far because I have fences keeping him here. But there are other ways he could 'walk away' -- mentally and emotionally -- and as time passes and I become more aware, he shows less interest in walking away. For his benefit and for the benefit of my relationship with this amazing horse, I am deeply compelled to unravel this burden I carry and inadvertantly share with all beings in my vicinity.

Yesterday I made huge gains, at least in my assessment. I'd say based on Rusty's changes, in his assessment, too.

What does this have to do with Libby Lyman? She taught a clinic last weekend in Maine at Piper Ridge Farm. I kept hearing about and seeing how to set it up so the horse finds the answer and hence can feel good about -- and OWN -- the lesson learned. This is NOT what happens when I help out. This is NOT what happens when I say a lot of 'yes, good' to the horse. It IS what happens when I breathe and wait and watch and give him time to come to his own conclusions about what works or what doesn't.

Yesterday it was about bridling. Rusty and I have a long history of controversy about bridling and the past few years, it's been relatively easy to bridle him and carry on with my plans to ride him, in the arena or on a trail. But before yesterday, I never stopped long enough to help him find a way to help me with the bridling. I have, in so many relatively clear and gentle ways, been using pressure and release as best I understood it, to show him the answer, ie,. show him where to hold his head so I can bridle him easily.

In the process of doing this exercise in patience and clarity, I learned more -- like the horse, for myself finding the answsers opposed to being told by a teacher -- about the timing of asking for something else and the meaning of feeling good together.

The asking for something else is NOT me telling him what I'm asking for. That is so tricky for me because Rusty is attentive and willing enough at this point to do just about anything I ever ask of him. This might be why I can take this next step. So, he will do anything I ask, and with very light cues on my part, a shift of my weight, a gentle lift or squeeze of a rein, a clear thought about stepping to the left while my body steps to the left and he's there with me. It has become like a very pleasant dance and indeed it has been personal growth for me to become the leader of the dance. After all, I'm a sensitive new age woman, and I know how to follow like a wisp of smoke, no dragging me around the dance floor is needed!

So here I was a few days ago, on one level so pleased that I can ride Rusty out on the trail alone, without the comfort of another horse for him, mostly soft and responsive, and on another level recognizing that we're out there because I want us to be and Rusty is comfortable being submissive to my requests. Indeed this IS progress, but is it really what I want? That lingering feeling that if I stopped this subtle asking over and over again, he'd turn and head back to the barn without a thought.

Then the weekend around Libby and it hits home again and again, all the little ways I'm pushing and pulling on my horse. Yes, sometimes they are big ways but mostly little ways. But it's still pushing and pulling! I am starting to recognize the difference, and I'm certain Rusty has known the difference all along but all the other factors in our relationship have finally added up to a solid 'getting along'.

I want more. I want this horse (and every horse!) to know he has a choice and to believe in his horsey mind that he is choosing on his own, that he is checking this option and that option and finding the most right choice in his mind, which happens to be the one that suits me, too.

There is something very simple behind all this complexity. It's about feeling good. It's about zero pressure for the horse. How many times have I heard that! However the more I recognize the core importance of finding a zero pressure spot for myself, the more I can recognize how important it is for the horses. But so many, many layers of the onion skin have to be peeled away to find this vulnerability, this sensitivity, this place where true responsiveness is felt, allowed, honored. And it's only when I find it in my own experience that I can own it, and offer it to others.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Ok, I am not talking about a type of horse!

I am talking about the partially formed blog entries that I have accumulated. Seven in the past couple of weeks.

I get a compelling idea and start to write, then other priorities take me away. I don't know when I'll get back to these other ideas, but their essences are not eluding me. It's a matter of good timing. I do have time to write this much today!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Portrait of Sofia

Recently I learned from a friend that she had done a portrait of Sofia based on a photo from June 2006 time in TN with Harry Whitney and friends. She has given me permission to put it here on my blog. This is a digital picture of the original drawing.

I am amazed at her talent, and her interest in Sofia as a subject. And pleased! Of course I am partial to this horse, and enjoy being reminded of our time with Harry last year.

She can do consignment work -- contact info:

Kathy D. Baker
Follow Your Bliss Farm
Midway TN