Horsey Therapist

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adjusting plans

Today I was finally going to ride to the local farm stand, about three miles down gravelly dirt roads. I rode Kacee yesterday, haven't ridden Rusty much at all, so figured I'd ride Soli, our dear been-there-done-that Haflinger.

But Soli is lame. I'm guessing he had an unplanned slide in the field. Weight bearing but gimpy, I brought him in, checked him over, groomed and trimmed him, and turned him out in the paddock behind the barn.

So now what?

Riza! Saddle!

I saddled her like yesterday, although I added a saddle pad. She was a teensy bit concerned but accepted it quickly. Horses learn by social modeling, by watching what other horses do. I had read this and then experienced it vividly when I taught the horses to stand their front feet on the platform RNB built. It took some time for the first horse to figure out what I wanted, and trust that is what I wanted, then the others who appeared to be grazing nearby, each stepped up on it the first or second try.

So when Riza was cautious about the saddle pad, I rubbed it on nearby Kacee then brought it back to Riza. Once she was fine with it, on her back, off her back, from both sides, I left it there and added the saddle. Another major ho-hum moment.

Time to add to this. I gathered halter and lead, some rhythm bells for the neck and for the ankle, and some reflective ankle cuffs with velcro closure and we headed for the round pen.

Walk and trot both direction with the saddle. Put ankle cuffs on her fronts. Walk and trot both directions. Removed the ankle cuffs and put rhythm bells on front foot. Walk and trot both directions. Moved the bells to a hind foot. Walk and trot both directions. Removed them and put the rhythm bells necklace on. Walk and trot one direction. Removed the bells and hooked her halter (which she hasn't been wearing all this time except for the initial journey to the round pen) to the saddle. Walk and trot both directions. Moved the halter to hang from the other side. Walk and trot both directions.

All this ho-hum stuff. Admittedly this filly has a gentle nature, moderately ready to submit within the herd, and has had little handling and most of that has been simple and understandable -- stand for trimming, stand for grooming, follow whoever carries the lead rope. I am certain that my efforts to add new elements to what I want her to learn in as careful increments as I can figure, is part of why this is all going so well. I thank Mark Rashid's influence for this. He talks about chains of knowledge, and he and his wife Crissi have advised me to work on one thing, then on another day, work on something else.

Overwhelm doesn't just come when a deer comes scooting across the trail. It comes when we ask a horse to learn too much too fast. Because I am in NO hurry these days, it suits me to proceed slowly, slowly through the lessons I want to instill in this little horse.

I suppose it helps that I've been teaching more lately, and especially teaching more therapeutic riding lessons. I am continuously seeking to introduce ideas in ways that the student has the best chance of learning. For some that means I might use 2-3 words and model an action, and wait. For some it means I hold the rider's hands and do the action for them, time after time after time, maybe for a few lessons, maybe for a half a year. And one day it clicks and they can do what I ask when they hear my request.

So I know a little about patience. That frame of mind is not always accessible, but I strive to have it be my way of life. It suits the horses, whom sometimes I describe as 3 or 4 year old children. Would we start yelling and slapping a three year old who didn't understand what we wanted? I sure hope not. (And having worked in child protective services early in my social work career, I know that some children that age do indeed get hurt due to the misunderstandings and frustrations of their caregivers. I am not naive about that.)

So I figure that as long as I bring my best to the barn, am present and focussed on helping Riza with learning what humans might want from her at a pace that makes sense to her, I have a good chance of ending up with a fun horse to ride. Fun to me means I'm on a horse who understands what I want us to do, and feels good about my requests and is somewhere between willing and eager to do things with me.

Another thing I'll attribute to Mark (though I know others of my teachers have offered me similar direction) is that sense of doing things together. Not me learning the nicest way to make my horse do something. Yes, that felt better than using less nice ways to make a horse do things. But actively cultivating that 'together' feeling, that's what I'm talking about. We're doing this together. If you aren't able or willing to do this with me right now, what can I do to help you change your mind, help you feel like connecting with me is a good idea?

I mention all this because when I was with Riza today, and we did all that walk and trot both directions, it wasn't always that simple. She has her mild ways of leaving me mentally, heading to sniff some manure, slowing near where the other horses are hanging out outside the round pen, changing direction when I haven't asked for that. But she is easy. I've kept things as clear and simple as I know how, and when I'm with her, this is reflected. I am thankful for this opportunity to experiment with a young horse drawing on the best of what I've learned.

I get along fabulously with my other horses when I treat them like I'm treating Riza. Each encounter is fresh. For each activity I'm asking, 'How well do you know how to do this that I'm asking? Some confusion? Ok, let's review this before we proceed.'

Now I will use the gas engine vehicle to go buy some fresh vegetables. I'm keen on putting up a variety of vegetables and berries for winter's use. This fall I'll freeze lots of local apples like I did last year. Nothing much more yummy than eating in March some baked apples freshly prepared and frozen in October. I'm hungry!

Here is the round pen with platform in the center.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Riza wears a saddle

A first for today. Riza and a saddle.

Her preparation for this non-event has been lessons in leading, lunging/circling with one long line, ground driving with two lines, wearing a vaulting surcingle at the walk and trot. Not often for any of these. Like, once or twice. Well, the initial leading lessons were time consuming, until she got it.

I have some clear expectations of my space/boundaries when leading a horse. Riza had been led to expect (no pun intended) that people like her to be close, very, very close, and that she can make the decision to come close whenever it suits her.

For my sense of safety I have a different expectation. Horse may come close when I invite or allow. I may come close to horse when I want, and I will wait for permission to approach is given, unless it's an urgent situation then I break rules left and right.

After trimming and riding Kacee (recycling trip to town today), and trimming and grooming Rusty, I turned them out with Riza behind the barn. Hmm, a few extra minutes on my hands -- what can I do with Riza?

Saddle her!

I got out an older and inexpensive (hence I won't be upset if it gets trashed) close contact saddle -- lightweight for my shoulder's sake -- and brought it outside where the three horses were munching hay. I asked if I could approach, permission granted, and she sniffed the saddle. I lifted it over her back and set it there, still holding it. She walked off and I took a few steps with her as I lifted the saddle off her as she left.

She stopped, I approached again, and we did the same, except this time, holding the saddle, I let it slide off her rump as she left.

She stopped, I approached again, and she stood as I placed the saddle on her back briefly, then removed it and I walked off first. To the barn to get a girth.

Have I mentioned lately how accepting and calm this horse is?

Did I mention I intentionally chose to do this without a halter and lead? I wanted her to really know she could leave if she didn't want to do this with me today.

So I put the saddle on her again and she resumes eating hay while I go back and forth from side to side getting the girth set up. For a shorter horse, she has a deep chest and I first miscalculated, putting the girth up too high on the off side. Then I girthed it up, tightened it another hole, and walked off. In fact I came inside for about 10 minutes.

When I returned, with camera in hand, she was just as mellow as before, had moved to another spot for more hay munching, and stood calmly while I removed the saddle after taking pictures.

I usually start out with my western saddle but with my shoulder still hurting (interrupted the healing while stacking hay last week), I decided to build her confidence in the saddling process with a light weight saddle. Eventually she'll carry the weight and bulk and dangling stuff, but not until I am certain she will accept it like she accepted the english saddle today.

Anyway -- ho-hum -- here is Riza wearing a saddle for the first time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I've been "tagged"

Nor'dzin who blogs at has tagged me. I accept the tag (though a good old fashioned game of chase tag would suit me just fine!) and will share six things about myself that you may not know.

1. The first time I tried downhill skiing I sprained my knee and was carried to the first aid shack in the arms of my MD father. I was seven and mad that he didn't wait for the ski patrol to come fetch me with their toboggan. Perhaps I was really mad because my childhood dream of becoming a Radio City Rockette was threatened by this injury. In fact, the real threat had already come when we moved to a small town whose only dance teacher broke both legs in a car accident.

2. I was a devout rebel starting in my early teens. Anything I was told not to do by my parents, I made sure I did. The biggest offenses (aka adventures) were after they said "I forbid you to hitchhike there," and "Motorcycles are dangerous, you can't ride one." My most exciting hitchhiking was a trip from London to Athens. The hitchhiking trip I used to brag most about was from New York to Portland, Oregon -- bragging about starting the trip with $5 in my pocket and arriving in Portland with $20. I learned that every trucker I met was kind, generous, and protective. [Disclaimer: I no longer recommend hitch hiking!]

3. I have sung in public both as back up singer for a singer-songwriter friend, and as one of a six-woman acappella group. I stopped because the performance anxiety was greater than the joy of singing. I am certain that in an alternate life, I was/would be/am a rock and roll star.

4. I had a breast cancer experience twelve years ago. I spent the first five weeks after diagnosis pretty much in bed, reading, writing, drawing, wailing, talking on the phone, dealing with the "C" word. After surgeries were done and chemotherapy commenced, I realized I was going to survive. In an effort to invest in my future, I took scuba diving lessons and went on a scuba diving vacation, for which I had to rearrange my scheduled chemo. My oncologist supported my assertiveness. For radiation, I created my own "johnny" out of flannel covered with images of cats. I later passed this along to another woman in treatment for breast cancer, who later passed it to another woman... Some days I wonder, 'Who has it now?'

5. My favorite stores are hardware stores and stationery stores. I own and operate many power tools, and RNB has introduced me to heavy equipment. Most recently I have learned to operate a crane that suspends a custom cage for holding humans. Why would I do this? So RNB and a couple of helpers can install the ridge vents on a very large building on our new property. We will also use the crane to reconstruct an old post and beam barn that we dismantled and moved last year.

6. My favorite winter activity? Soaking in a hot tub, outdoors, regardless of the weather. Picture a wool cap in a misty cloud, dripping with melting snowflakes.

I will 'tag' some other bloggers, mostly for the purpose of helping new readers browse places I have enjoyed.

Michelle's Musings from the Bottom of Chestnut Hill

Walter's Sugar Mountain Farm

Susanna's The Bloggery

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The ultimate irony of me and milkweed

Guess what?

I must have harvested a winter's worth of vegetables, and tossed them over the fence to rot.

Yup, you guessed it -- milkweed is edible.

What is edible about the common milkweed? Just about everything. The seed heads before they flower. The leaves. The seed pods before they dry up and open their gifts to the wind.

And the silky fibrous seed-bearing pod innards can be used for insulation, reportedly have a higher R-factor than goose down.

The joke is on me. However my many hours uprooting milkweed was well spent, deeply engrossed as I was, in the finer aspects of body awareness.

Thanks to for connecting me with the these amazing details about edible milkweed. Now to peruse those edible weeds websites in search of additional delectable surprises.

Note: Before you go out and indiscriminately harvest the milkweed in your field, check locally to see if it's the edible sort. Not all of the milkweed family are edible.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Soli, by request

"Twinville", a reader who found my blogs via the Teachings of the Horse blog, would like to see more pictures of Soli, whose wide and powerful hindquarters are featured in my entry about being practical, the day I hitched him to pull the chain drag around the arena and groom the ground.

So here are some more pictures of our steady-eddy, been-there-done-that 22 year old Haflinger.

Two (?) summers ago, napping near a run in with four other equines.

Last winter, eating with the geese.

This year, standing quietly (not that he stands any other way!) after dragging the arena.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

James Shaw and Milkweed

I spent the weekend in Massachusetts with my beloved Morgan mare, Fairlane Kacee, at a clinic with James Shaw who teaches Tai Chi for Equestrians. Fabulous. Fantastic. Changes in my body from two days of exercises on the ground and exercises in the saddle. I highly recommend him to everyone as I have yet to meet anyone whose strength and balance cannot be improved.

His website:

I was surprised by some of my imbalances.

I have been in the hay field again, finding new ways to pull milkweed with ever more ease and flow, incorporating ideas and experiences from the clinic with what I have learned from Aikido class and what I learn from living in my body.

Some lessons from this morning:

I found that I tended to grasp a plant, rotate my wrist to twist the plant, then sink back, bracing as I pulled using my weight rocked back.

Two hands cradling the stalk softly takes less effort than grabbing and pulling and is often more successful. New awareness about hands on reins: the different feels of grabbing versus grasping versus cradling.

Rotation during the uprooting adds to ease. Not just rotating my wrist after grasping the plant. Rotating my humorous bones, rotating my femurs, and rotating my lower back as I spiraled out, the plant coming with me.

The displaced bees accepted my suggestion to find nectar elsewhere in the field where I would not disturb them.

Milkweed growing in dry areas is harder to uproot.

My right side learns better biomechanics while working together with my left side.

My right shoulder doesn't hurt when I engage my back muscles for pulling, the muscles that hold the scapula and upper arm back, the ones that rotate the humorous.

If I never stopped to think about what I was doing, I would uproot milkweed with my left hand 90% of the time.

A plant uproots with greater ease when I am positioned so it is close to my center.

Having a learning focus made a rewarding adventure out of an otherwise tedious chore.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lessons from the milkweed

I have been hand picking milkweed plants from the hay field because I don't want them cut and baled in the hay, I have some new awareness thanks to the milkweed.

Milkweed flowers attract bees.

Milkweed flowers produce a sweet alluring fragrance.

Each milkweed plant is unique.

The pulling up of each milkweed plant requires me to adjust the hold and angle, twist and pressure in order to smoothly remove the milkweed rather than break the stem.

Despite my best efforts, careful positioning and use of breath, core energy, and intention, some milkweed plants resist uprooting more than others.

Milk of plants and animals is sticky when drying on my skin.

Milkweed leaves are a courting or mating venue for some small bright, matte-finish red (not shiny red) beetles.

My left hand has a stronger grasp than my right hand.

My right hand is equally effective when grasping and pulling milkweed when I lower my center and move from my center rather than move my hand and arm as I'm uprooting each plant.

Although I first found tremendous ease when creating a triangle of my two feet and grasping hand, I later found it didn't matter which foot was forward.

A very, very few milkweed leaves have been eaten by something in the field.

Milkweed tend to grow in bunches in certain areas of the field, and not at all in other areas.

I am not compulsive about removing every single milkweed from the field.

The guineas are on bug and tick patrol in the field despite the height of the grasses growing there, more easily heard than seen.

I can remove the milkweed plants only one at a time.

There is always another milkweed plant to be pulled up.

Getting quiet internally and feeling gratitude for these plants does not guarantee they will yield to my efforts any more than when I pull unconsciously.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Got lemons? Make lemonade!

Today quickly turned into one of those too hot to do anything days. Bleh. And I'd hoped it would stay cool enough this morning for a ride.

So, after a brief lull in the creative thinking department, I had an idea. Let's see how each of the horses responds to the hose, and hopefully I'll get wet while doing this.

Great fun, and what a way to make these wicked hot, humid days bearable! Rusty was the first to get me wet as he mouthed the end of the hose and sent the spray every which way. Thank you, Snorkle Boy! (He earned that nickname the first time I convinced him walking into a wide, low stream was safe. He spent five minutes with his nose under water, blowing bubbles and seeking nibbles on the green stuff waving in the current.)

The next to get me wet was Soli -- similar antics with the water coming out of the hose. And then Riza, with her first time being hosed, had some similar effect through her curiosity, exploring this strange thing I was holding. Two other horses were not interested in mouthing the hose. The sixth horse was busy munching hay on the far side of the paddocks so never did get a hosing.

I think I'll go do this again. At least for my sake. Very pleasant to get wet then spend a few hours in the cool of the downstairs. I know it's still early summer when the downstairs is still cool.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I fall in with my right shoulder. Kacee falls in with her right shoulder. Which is easier to fix?

After many many rides where I'm focussed on placing her front feet out on the circle when we travel to the left and she's 'falling in', I realized she's just trying her best to go with me.

Today I fixed my shoulders on the circle and guess what happened! She maintained the circle much better.

Now if I could fix my hips going to the left that easily, I'd be a happy camper. I bet I can, I just haven't figured out how yet.

Stinging Nettle

This could be on my farm blog, as I came upon stinging nettle this morning while on a mission to clip back the thistle plants before they go to seed. However, I choose to write about it here, and hope the reason will be obvious.

Despite wearing gloves and using long handled clippers, some stinging nettle brushed my wrist. Oh darn! As I recall, the stinging feeling lasts for a few days followed by a period of numbness, then a return to normal. All for a moment of carelessness.

Then I remembered that where poison ivy grows, also grows the remedy for poison: jewel weed. So perhaps intertwined with the stinging nettle is a remedy? I quickly found a broad leafed plant, picked a few leaves and schmooshed them so their juices were available, and rubbed them on my wrist.

Stinging stopped. Stinging gone. No more stinging. No need to beat myself up as I looked ahead to days of suffering.

Nature is truly amazing.

OK, so why stinging nettle and remedy on this blog? Good question! I was about to write out a slew of ideas in response to this, but instead, I will leave a question for anyone's pondering...

Can you think of places in your life -- aside from the world of vegetation -- where the remedy essentially comes hand in hand with the stinging nettles?