Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recipe For A Better Outlook

Lessee, that would be sunshine, add mud (think of all those burning calories), a wonderful light Spring breeze, oh yeah and HORSES!! After an afternoon of cyber job hunting, (still have mine, just think if I have to do the 40 hour thing, I might as well see if I can find something that pays a little better) I pulled on my jeans and headed out back to see what things look like. I have really been resistant to going out there . . . too many missing faces. It seems a bit much that I keep going on about this . . . was my idea to downsize, was my idea to give the horses away rather than sell them . . . my idea to fold the business I have sweated, sacrificed, poured mine and my family's tears into for the past 16 years. For all that everything has gone according to plan and the horses are placed in homes I would have chosen for them, had I been able to . . . I still haven't really dealt with their absence. Today was the day.

I am riding Hawkeye, my son's Paint gelding at the Expo (that is if I ever get a stall reserved for him in time!) and it occurs to me time is getting shorter and he isn't getting broker! In order not to make an entire fool of both of us, I figure I better get some saddle time in! Needing very much to overcome the depressive fog that weighs down my feet and heart, I know the only real fix is action. Good forward motion is a cure for many, many ills.

Now, back to Hawkeye. This has been a bit of a puzzling horse for me. I bought him based essentially on his flashy looks, seconded by what seemed to be a sweet and compliant manner. Sent him out for some saddle miles, and figured he'd be a quick turnaround. Hawk didn't really come home riding the way I like my sales prospects to ride, and I never took the time to bring him around (see Outside In for details). So, there he sits out back with the rest of the greenies and the might-someday-be's.

Today, I started him like I would any green horse that had come to my barn for training. From the ground up, taking nothing for granted. Some spook therapy to get his mind brought around, using the milk jugs from the ground and then from his saddle. Watching him move, I am reminded of his really nice speed horse breeding, and found myself wondering if I'd like to develop one more speed horse . . . This guy can really move. He wasn't out of control, dashing around like a madman or anything like that. Just very economically tucking that butt and picking up a fast canter, keeping his feet in the muddy slop that is my round pen seemingly with no effort at all. I didn't want to do all my conditioning in one day, so I mostly kept him down to a jog and a trot, very much enjoying when he started looking into the circle to find me and ask questions. I let him volunteer his stop (this a horse that is really learning to move his feet so I want him to know his quiet and security still lay with me), and when he started volunteering coming into me when I pulled my body language back to let him know it would be okay, a grin split my face from ear to ear. That soft trust, and happy ease of movement is worth a fortune to me. The horse became as relaxed under saddle as I have ever seen him.

I introduced some falling leaf, a pretty name for the hip over, shoulder through exercise, and awkward at first. he warmed into it and gave nicely, fore and aft. Time to ride. I had about 20 pounds of sucking mud on my boots, and even though I knocked a bunch of it off, decided to use the mounting block, instead of just climbing aboard. I wanted to try the exercises I have been using to gain Moonshine's cooperation and see how well it translated to Hawkeye. It's simple stuff, ask the horse softly to come into position, one step at a time, rewarding and releasing along the way. If the horse can't stay, no big deal, but you have to work a little, out there, hip over, shoulder through, whatever, and then we try again. Took a couple of tries with Hawkeye, and when he finally came up and settled, it was that same head level, dead solid stance I had with Moonshine when she was completely ready to ride. It was the first time I'd mounted him with his full permission, and maybe the first time anyone had. Did just a little bending, rubbing his forehead on each side, moving his hip over a little, then released him and let him walk off.

This is a really green horse. That is why I haven't sold him yet. I haven't even let anyone come look at him yet from the ads I have occasionally posted for him. I could feel the greenness in the stiffness in his back and the uncertain way he was traveling. Singing offkey to "Whatja gonna do with a drunken sailor" we did some passenger riding in the round pen, and then some point to point but I wanted longer straight lines and to find out if he was truly with me or just confined in 50 feet of pen.

Sash and Jack were in audience mode outside. When I had picked up the milk jugs on the way in, I'd rattled them just for fun, to see if Hawkeye really cared and what would be the reaction from the herd at the hay bale. Sasha picks up her head, flags her tail, snorts, and trots straight to me to see what the heck there is to play with. Much to my surprise. Jack comes with her. . . cautious and wary, but curious. Man, that's so cool.

Anyway, now that I am riding out here, she's a pain in the butt. Jack decides there's less disturbance at the other hay bale and takes his leave. We move Sasha around a little, without a ton of success, as Hawkeye has NO idea where I want to put his body and we are clumsy to say the least. Eventually she gets sick of us and bolts off. UH, not YOU, big boy, I say. I bend him into the fence a couple times, not shutting down his forward motion (it's taken me this long to find it, I am NOT losing it now!) but putting it to work and using the momentum. He never does feel like he's entirely with me, but he's not running though my hands and leaving me either.

The footing out in the pasture looks good, much better than where we are, so we head out to do some exercises. I pretend I am taking a lesson with Missy, and repeat a whole lot of what we did with Ginger, that first time out. Weighting my outside seatbone still feels odd to me, I have pushed from the inside seatbone my entire life, and while I am feeling the difference in the horse's improved ability to use their hindquarters for me, it is far from coming naturally. Hawkeye started out all over the place, but much softer in the bridle than he used to be, so we've made some progress. I rode boxes, stretching out his walk, trotted diagonals, and every so often, he would hit this incredible reachy, floaty trot that makes me wonder if I am developing the right dressage prospect. No trouble getting a working trot out of this horse!

Thinking that not only can I overdo my conditioning in one day, but my training too, I reluctanctly head for the barn. That makes Hawkeye way too happy, sigh . . . so we take the long way around. Coming up around the other side of the barn, I hear the sound of melting water running off down the hillside . . . Wait a minute . . . that's WAY too much rushing water! Darn it, I have overflowed the water tank. AGAIN! Man, you'd think I'd learn to pay attention to that. We ride over, and I crawl through the fence, asking Hawkeye to stay with me from the other side. While taking care of the hose, I decide I want a closer look at the new round bale up on the hill. We are out of the oat hay and into the alfalfa mix, and I am curious if the quality matches the price.

Hawkeye doesn't even seem disappointed as I crawl back up and we head up the hill to the other round bale. This hay is looking NICE! Still green, aromatic . . . I am happy to see it. Now that I am here, I sidle Hawkeye up to different horses, letting him know what all that shoulder and hip control is really for. Sometimes it works super, and he melts towards them, following the pressure in my hands and hips like a dream. Sometimes we both get confused as to what I am asking (old ways conflicting the new that I am learning . . .). I laugh, pet him, rub his neck, tell him what an awesome guy he is to put up with my learning curve while so freshly into his own. Even Moonshine gets her face rubbed, Sasha is a pest, Ginger is unsure, as Hawkeye is the baddest of the bad, out there by himself, and she's thinking close enough for bites is too close for her. I get her to trust me, and pet her too. Class and Donovan are doing standing tied duty, so they miss out. Jack? We get to about five feet from him, and that's enough. I ask him to look full at me, both ears and both eyes, and release pressure. Pretty good for a horse that was sailing fences a year ago at the sight of a mounted rider.

Finally, eventually, I really do let Hawkeye off the hook and head for the barn. I give him a good rubdown and many, many Cheerios. The other two captives get their share as well as the goat. It was an incredibly good time. The other day, when I was really feeling sorry for myself, I was thinking about the clinics I want to attend, the lessons I want to take, and thought man, I can't even say it's for the business. It's just for me, because I want to . . . and then I realized, Terri, that is how it is for most people and horses. Because they want to, and that's enough. Wow. What a concept.


Gretchen said...

As always, a great blog post. I'm glad you had a good day with the horses. You needed it and so did they!

Sheila, manager said...

I enjoyed your blog; agree with whoever said the last sentence is the best. We do it for ourselves, because we want to, and that's enough! Hawkeye sounds like a nice horse, and he IS flashy! (Though he would be icky grey if he was mine, living in the dry lot and probably rolling every day!)

Good Hands said...

Thanks, guys! I forget sometimes how much of my soul is wrapped up around those four legged creatures. I spent a lot of my life rationalizing (in the face of being a single mother and all the criticisms that came with that) why it was okay to have horses. This is a whole brand new world for me.

Hawkeye IS a really neat guy, the better I get to know him, the better I like him.