Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fun x 4 days

That sums up my time with Mark Rashid, Crissi McDonald, and horsey friends. Yeah, there were a few moments of emotions other than joy and excitement, but very few. A nice change for me!

Rusty is my instant karma horse. He is with me 100% whether I like it or not. So if my mind goes out to something scary, Rusty is instantly scared. If my mind is focused right close when we canter, we barely move. If my mind goes out around the corner of the ring, Rusty carries me smoothly around the corner. If I am tight in my shoulders when I ask for something, Rusty is tight in his shoulders when he responds.

My mind goes to the dogs. Rusty's mind goes to the dogs. Look out, dogs!

So many learning opportunities about my accidental and my purposeful use of mind and intention.

Then there were the lessons in softness. Mark is a master at helping the human feel more softness. And once we feel it, we can recognize it and we can find our way back to it and offer it to our horses.



Imagining what we want -- speed, direction, destination, quality of how we go -- as the first 'cue'. Adding the mechanical cues if the horse needs additional help to come with us.

And much more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Subtle guidance

I took this quote from some notes I took Sunday auditing a day of Mark's clinic time in New Hampshire.

** You have to feel what you want first, offer that, then use the aid if needed. **

Yesterday I played around with this because it really struck me as a missing piece of my how I can help my horses be successful with the things I ask of them.

How I interpreted this: when I'm wanting a transition using the rhythm and counting in my head, I have to first feel and count before I expect the horse to make the transition. I think I'd been a little unfair before.

An example from yesterday... walk trot transitions... I'm walking with a 1234 1234 going on in my head and body, then switch to 12 12 and by the third or fourth 12, I'm adding an aid if I need to. Amazing how well it worked! I managed some halt walk, walk halt, walk trot, trot walk, trot canter, canter trot, and walk canter transitions.

It helped me feel so successful being on my gelding, Rusty, who is super sensitive to me anyway. Then I did some of this (halt walk trot variations) with Sofia who has fewer wet saddle blankets in her history, and 'historically' I might have said her favorite speed is halt. I love it when my horses make me change my mind about who they are!

Great day it was, yesterday auditing and today playing around with some new ideas.

Question about aging and starting a new equine relationship

Recently someone was taking an informal survey, asking about middle aged riders who are "starting again with a new equine partner." I have a few thoughts to share.

There are three aspects of a new horse that come to mind right away. Mind, movement, survival instinct in action.

Until I am mentally and physically comfortable with those three, it worries me a little (or a lot in which case I don't mount) to ride a horse.

This can and does apply to the horses I own as well as horses new to me.

Mentally -- is the horse available mentally? Able to be calm? What does it understand? How does it respond? is the horse comfortable learning new things?

Physically -- can my body move with this horse's body? I have mostly ridden horses with smooth gaits and shorter strides so my body is not used to sitting the trot of a long strided larger horse. I bring that deficit however I'm working to change that, and "even at 61" I am making great progress primarily under the guidance of a physical therapist who is gifted beyond my imagination.

Survival Instinct -- how does this horse react when his/her survival is threatened? I came off my Morgan mare a few times before my body learned how to stay with her when she did her particular and habitual survival moves. It took a while to get familiar with my Morgan gelding's moves, mostly because I wasn't aware at the time of what he was doing because I was 'expecting' unconsciously in my body that he would move like she does. Not. I can ride with him now that I know his biggest, worst moves -- know these moves in my body, on a cellular level about which I need not think.

Of course at this point in my journey, I am seeking that mind-to-mind comfort before I ever mount, so that as long as I am paying attention to our relationship and responding responsibly with guidance in a calm fashion, those bigger moves should never surface. I'm getting better and better at judging what the horse needs from me before I even mount (and what I need from the horse), so that my rides are 'uneventful' compared to what I have expected, allowed, and experienced in the past.

I have 5 horses at home, one has never been ridden. I at times ride any of the 5-7 horses at the therapeutic riding program where I work as an instructor, volunteer trainer, and consultant to the horse herd coordinator. I'm approaching the older end of 'middle age' and am increasingly cautious because I hate hurting and being in any way incapacitated. That caution translates to more time on the ground establishing connection -- especially mentally with the horse, and physically with my own body. I'm pretty dedicated to a life time of getting better at what I love.


**If we leave the horse an opening, he’s going to go through it.**

This is something I got from auditing Mark Rashid yesterday. I find it especially useful for my training efforts with volunteer horse handlers/leaders in a therapeutic riding program. It can take all the emotion/personalization/etc. out of the equation.

The horse is not getting away with things, not taking advantage of us, none of that. The horse sees when we are not alert, attentive, and responsible in our leadership role, and the horse will do what is natural -- start leading by default. Someone in the 'herd' needs to be the leader.

Some of our TR horses have a pause, which is very useful for most lesson situations. Some of our horses have virtually no pause, so any millisecond of straying human attention results in the horse taking initiative. Not so good for a lesson setting!

That statement puts the onus back on us, as we humans are the ones leaving an opening. The horse isn't waiting around looking for one (well, in some cases I imagine a horse would be doing just that!), but a horse surely will go into an opening when we leave an opening.

One comment from a student yesterday was: the horse 'took advantage of me'... I helped her reframe that to: the horse 'took advantage of my inattentive moment.' Yes indeed, that is exactly what any horse will do. What great teachers they are! Today I felt like I was teaching a meditation class, well, co-teaching alongside the horses.

One friend added to my thinking by pointing out how we can consciously create an opening for the horse to move into, guiding by leaving an opening where we want the opening, and allowing the horse on purpose to move (physically or emotionally) into that opening.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mark Rashid's newest book

I don't own it yet, but have already heard wonderful things about it. I will resist the urge to buy a copy next week directly from Mark and Crissi when I see them because it's on my wish list for a late birthday present from one of my brothers.

Meanwhile, a public plug for interested people to buy directly from Mark's website: Whole Heart, Whole Horse

I love Amazon for its easiness to order, its reviews, its preview this book feature. However I have learned that our low prices are partly because the authors do not get much or any remuneration for the sales of their books at Amazon.

I'd rather spent a little extra and support the one who has given and continues to give me so much help with my life's journey with horses.

Similar to my spending a little extra to support local farm stands, community supported agriculture, organic producers, and pasture-raised animal products.

It will be a treat to own another of Mark's books. But probably not as big a treat as riding with him again!

Sunday, May 03, 2009


My hips are moving more, thanks to 18 months of physical therapy exercises (4 visits with PT and lots of homework!) and some recent visualizations from Judy Cross-Stehlke, Level 4 Centered Riding Instructor.

How do I know? Well, the arthritis is painful as the joints gain mobility, and most importantly I can enjoy a canter and stay connected with the motion, in both leads.

I rode Rusty today then Kacee. Kacee will hold her canter despite what my hips are doing, or not doing. Rusty on the other hand will mimic my body and my energy. The good news? I can ask for a left lead then let my hips go to their habitual right lead position and -- tada! -- flying lead change! What an education for me! LOL

So I practice and practice and practice. It does not yet come easy but it is so exciting to me!

I'm also doing transitions over a ground pole -- gives me focus for the 'where we'll do this', and progresses easily to some off-the-ground-poles, also known as little jumps. Playing around with breathing the transition, breathing the steady trot, breathing the steady canter.

Then inside to do more of the PT exercises afterwards, trying to strengthen the muscles needed to move these formerly stiff, stiff, stiff joints in my lower back.

I don't need chocolate ice cream or a winning lottery ticket to get me excited... I need play time on the back of my horses!

Then to top it all off, I was out in the paddock asking Sofia if she would consider opening her mind and her mouth when I presented a bit, when Riza meanders over and starts nibbling on the bit. I think she will be fine when I want to bridle her if I keep building on her curiosity and her desire to be involved when I show up.