Horsey Therapist

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A two horse day, and manure

After spending a few hours in the tractor loading winter paddock manure onto a flatbed trailer, I had a late lunch, short nap, then rode.

First I rode Kacee, in the ring, walk, trot, canter. I worked on a grid pattern at the walk. It seems to help us get together -- I have a plan that changes quite frequently, and wanting to get with my plan, she listens better and better. It gives us a focus.

Trotting I focussed on her bending with the arc, whatever direction I was going, and how I could influence that most subtly. And my breathing, slow in and out as I posted. Next ride I will count how many beats to the inhale, how many to the exhale. Canter was in large circles and I focussed on steering her on the circle. We haven't done much of this in the ring, more likely to have cantered on the dirt road or on a trail. So I'm being patience while I guide her, letting her find how to carry us in a circle. Oh yeah, trotting over cavallettis again. I'm hoping to keep her back in good form and influence her to use her abdominal muscles with the cavalletti work.

Have I said out loud today how much I love that mare? I do.

Here she is, a few years back.

Then I rode Soli, our older steady-eddy Haflinger. Briefly in the ring then out for a trail ride. No fuss horse I trust to take me where I ask with relatively few questions along the way.

Gosh is he out of condition!! Huffing and puffing after each trot.

It was good fun though and we explored a No Entry dirt drive I've been eyeing for years. I met the land owners last month and they had a quick 'yes' to my asking permission to ride on their property. Access to some other trails beyond their cabin I was told. And today Soli and I explored one of those trails.

Soli, also a picture from a few years back.

More thoughts on defenses

I've been thinking about defenses. I sure wish I understood horse's defenses as well as I understand human defenses!

A gal I know is defended. That might be the most simple way to explain her words. Her defenses are speaking. Her defenses (just like mine or yours would) take over when things get feeling out of control.

Everyone's defenses look a little different from other peoples but there are patterns and the folks who study psyches and such are good at recognizing this pattern of defense or that one.

Defenses protect oneself from feeling too much fear, from feeling like we're going to die. I might like calling them an important part of our survival instinct. Just like with horses. We have survival instincts, too.

We tell the horses, silly horse, nothing to be afraid of, even while we admit we don't really understand what scares the horse about the stick on the side of the road, or was it the leaf or the pebble?

Same with people, we say silly person for acting that way, but really we don't understand what made them feel afraid for their life. But they do. We do. I do.

We're more sophisticated than horses are and make up elaborate and "reasonable" stories about what motivates us. But essentially, it's the same deal for us as for horses. We're scared. And if we can't run away or because we couldn't run away when we were really young and vulnerable, we run to our imaginations and make up stories to make light of the terror we're feeling.

Then we start believing those stories. And forget the terror.

And if someone reminds us that hey, the terror is real, the stories are made up, we can't tolerate the possible disintegration of everything we've believed in and so we distance ourselves from those people. We have to keep the house of cards standing! Not really really do we have to keep the house of cards standing, but we do really feel threatened by anyone who threatens to send it crashing to the ground. And what do we do when we feel threatened?

We make up a story, most likely a story that belittles the person who threatens us with some reality we are not ready for.


It is paradoxical that I have such a clear preference for what rope I use for lead ropes and reins when I spend so much time promoting engaging a horse's mind and essentially finding tack choice irrelevant.

That said, I do prefer treeline rope which I get in White River Junction, VT at the same shop where we buy kevlar chaps, chainsaw sharpening tools, and brightly colored hard hats to protect the noggens when felling trees.

Why I like it is the important thing because I think each person will have his or her own preference. In fact my preference has evolved over the years.

I like this rope because it communicates what I do and pretty much nothing more. It is stiff compared to most lead lines. One can almost push it!

A fun and educational experiment: hold one end of 2-3 different leadlines and have 2-3 people hold the other ends, adjust so there is the same amount of loop in each rope, then move your wrist back and forth once, and WATCH... which lead rope stops moving first? Which lead rope keeps moving the longest?

What this tells me is that some ropes keep 'talking' to the horse after my body has stopped saying something. I want clarity, not confusion. If I move my hand to the right, I want my horse to feel that. With a softer rope, I move my hand to the right and initiate a swing, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. What does that feel like to the horse? Instead of a message indicating 'right', he gets a message of right, left, right, left, right, left...

I do not rely solely on the feel of a lead rope but at times it is important and part of how I communicate with a horse.

I've been teaching more

I like teaching.

Last weekend I was challenged by teaching a larger group than I'm used to. One on one has been ideal for me. Well, with horses, it's a threesome: me, owner/handler/rider, and horse.

This was a teaching presentation that involved three women and their horses, and an audience of about -- sixty? I prepared well, slept well the night before, had good support there at hand with me, and from feedback, people welcomed what I had to say.

The title of my presentation was Preventing Equine Burnout through Groundwork, and the context was the annual NARHA Region 1 Conference. I teach therapeutic riding, I teach volunteers who lead horses, and I teach volunteers to handle and ride horses such that the horses' physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are enhanced.

I like influencing people in ways that help the horses. I am grateful for opportunities like this. I had fun even though I certainly had moments of anxiety ahead of time -- the sort of anxiety that is inherently close to the excited feelings I also had.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A four horse day

It helps when I make a plan with a friend. I'm working on discipline, focus, developing the habits I would like such as getting out to the barn and handling or riding my horses. I have valid reasons at times that keep me from that, and other times it is homeostasis at work, keeping me engrossed in how I've been rather than stepping into how I want to be.

It helps that my shoulder, though not 100%, is good enough to risk riding and in fact I trimmed 2 1/2 horses today. Yeah, some achey feelings surfacing now. I guess tomorrow will be when I find that I did way too much today, or just enough too much.

Groundwork with four, and rode two, twice.

I involved my friend today so I could be videotaped. I am feeling ready mentally and emotionally to deal with what I see. From inside my body I can sense changes, openings, more strength, more flexibility and movement.

But my horses have been telling me that something isn't quite right. That is one benefit from watching myself on tape. I can see what I'm doing to unintentionally make things hard for them. And lest I forget to mention, see how responsive they are, calm, and learning, and tuned in to me. Thanks to my friend for the positive feedback.

The positive feedback I had for myself was more along the lines of feeling proud that I had set this up, willing to be taped and scrutinized. Proud that I am doing groundwork, enjoying groundwork, seeing progress in my horses because of groundwork.

I avoided groundwork for years because I felt so inept! If I ain't good at it, I ain't gonna do it. That was my approach. It sure limited my learning new things! I attribute my change in willingness to two things: last year I committed to figuring some things out on the ground before I would ride Rusty again after a very painful fall. And my experiences learning Aikido and how my determination and commitment brought me through some classes where I was ready to quit because I was so darn far from where I wanted to be in my skill level!

Riza is my young horse, just learning to circle or lunge, or I might call some of it ground driving with one line. I reminded myself today that this was our third time out in the ring doing this together. And she was better than the last time we did it.

When I'm slow and attentive, I notice the changes. And I also notice where my horses need some extra support to figure things out. I am glad I've become a person who wants to help them out when they are confused. I probably always would have wanted to, but I sure didn't always know they needed it, nor how wonderful are the consequences of spending the extra time helping them figure something out. Now, I'm not telling them what the answer is, no. But I am supporting them to search, and sometimes pointing a direction where they might find the answer. I firmly believe when the horses find the answers themselves, they feel really good about how clever they are. I want my horses to feel good about learning.

So ground work with Riza today -- we reviewed what we had done and when I saw she didn't really understand how to rearrange her body when she felt the slack leave the long line along her side, we worked on just that for a bit until she started to 'get it'.

Time with Rusty was also about groundwork. He is such a teacher for me! And I'm so glad we got some wild and disconnected moments on tape because I could look at them a few times until I really saw what I had done to make that happen. That horse gives me many opportunities to wake up to my unconscious movements -- he lets me know right away and in gross obviousness that I've done something unsuitable for our time together.

I have tended to bring one of my hands up in a way that blocks the forward movement when I'm leading and changing directions. Sofia stops dead in her tracks when I do that (captured in my memory without knowing what created that response, and now captured on video showing clearly what created that response) and Rusty jumps up into the air and bolts -- fortunately not right smack over my head which is pretty much what I've accidentally asked him to do. He knows he is not welcome in my space and he shows me how confused and upset he is!

Aside from my bumbling, all went well with Rusty, walk and trot, leading him from ahead of him, from his hip, from behind him, both sides and even over the cavalletti.

Groundwork and riding with Kacee. She was a little dopey, dull until I asked for a canter to the left. Woo-eee! A little wild ride then settled nicely.

Groundwork and riding with Sofia. She is still not 100% sound after a puncture wound last year however after x-rays, the vet said ride her -- it's scar tissue that needs to break up. Sofia does continue to move better and better with probably 90% of our ride no signs of favoring that foot.

I rode Kacee and Sofia a second time each after the break when we watched the video. I remembered another friend writing me about riding a grid pattern so I played around with that on Kacee, first in the ring, then just outside the ring, then out on the dirt road nearby. It was great to focus us.

I will remember this day and use it to motivate me to do more with more horses more often. Horsey "smores"!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Shoulds and shoulders

It struck me -- there is a 'should' in 'shoulder'. I wonder if that is coincidence or perhaps the creators of our language had a sense of humor?

My shoulders are where I carry my 'shoulds'. The expectations I have internalized from others. The ideas that at times go against my inner nature. I should this, I should that. Years of 'shoulds' have left my shoulders bunched up around my ears. OK, I exaggerate, but I do carry my shoulders up and forward in a defensive posture just about all the time unless I am paying attention, 100% here and now.

About a year ago some changes in my relationship with RNB accompanied some great letting go of some major 'shoulds'. This was good, except that my left shoulder starting hurting. Why did it hurt? Because suddenly I had no need to hold it up, yet despite the new level of openness of my mind and heart, the body's fascia was still holding on! So gravity was free to help my shoulder drop into its natural resting place, and my fascia complained. That conflict between fascia and gravity meant pain, which dissipated within a few months as my body adjusted to the change in my internal spaces.

Some humungous 'shoulds' were holding my shoulder up. Those are gone and my shoulder rests in more balance than before. But some smaller, more subtle 'shoulds' still run my life, and those manifest in this smaller up and forward stance of both shoulders. I would hardly notice except this affects the rest of my body, especially the biomechanics of my arms.

In Aikido class a few weeks ago the teacher was helping me understand the fundamental purpose of a particular exercise which, of course, was: self defense. Self defense against someone attacking me. I got it, and I allowed the strength of self protective intention to fuel my moves, and clearly recall his stopping, putting his hands on my shoulders, and admonishing me to "Relax your shoulders!"

As I defended myself against his attack, I brought my shoulders up as I brought my arms up, about as high as they can get even as I proceeded to execute the defensive move. Raising my shoulders does not protect me. Raising my shoulders in fact undermines the natural movement of my upper body's bones and soft tissue. Raising my shoulders interferes with centered softness in motion.

So, just what are these hidden 'shoulds' I live with? I wish I knew.

Although I do not know today, I fully have faith in a future where these smidgeons of realization will surface at the time I am ready to face another level of exposure, and adjust with as much grace as I can muster as I integrate the unknown with the known.

Meanwhile, I make it a meditation to attend to my shoulders and keep them in place, noticing what are the circumstances -- external events and internal reactions -- when I find my shoulders floating upwards again. And remind myself to keep breathing...