Saturday, November 6, 2010

Working WITH the Horse

Dusk was falling as Royal, the young tobiano Pinto/Arabian I have been riding, nervously bobbled his head against the reins, much like a big fish tests the bait right before he strikes. Sure enough, that Arab head starts flying around in what I call the "crazy 8's", I keep my fingers loose and sensitive (thanks, Jose) tightening as he goes away, responding and releasing when he comes back into view. Power gathers in the hindquarters and Royal prepares to leave. He pushes off into a sideways jump, again I remember to breathe, stay loose and go with him, rather than fighting him to a standstill. I don't just let him carry me off, no way, but I have learned that even 1000 lbs (as opposed to a bigger horse) of frustrated energy can turn into a real problem if my answer is SHUT IT DOWN and do it NOW.

We sail past some unwary guests at the ranch. "Look out, folks," I grunt, as I attempt to control the leaps to not carry us into their midst. He's losing steam now, not as committed to leaving as I am to staying.

I thank my teachers this summer, Brenda M, Brenda H, and Jose, all who have given me invaluable tips and training to get me the closest to a velcro seat that I have had, yet. I thank all the horses I have ridden that have helped me practice. With a little finesse, I bring my horse back under control and go back to doing my job, parking cars for the hayrack rides at Shady Lanes.

Yesterday, teaching a clinic, I watch the big dark bay Thoroughbred mare nervously circle around me. The last two passes as she's come by, that big shoulder of hers said in no uncertain terms I should get the heck out of her way, and maybe even be done with this foolishness of trying to tell her what she should be doing, where and at what speed. Silly human! A snap of the lead rope, reprimanding her rudeness, sends her screaming back out, you hit me! I will amp up! How about THAT for a response??!!

Well, it's not the one I was looking for, so I kept trying. Took half the day, and another venue to find the quiet mind I knew could be in there, 'cause there's one in every horse I have ever seen, even the ones that couldn't hang on to it long enough. This horse can. I had to find a different way to let her figure out things and try the answers she wanted to present until she could listen to me and try some of mine.

A guy named Dennis Reis who is a hand I admire did a tour a couple of years ago called the "No Dust" tour. I really like that concept. Good horse training looks kind of like paint drying to those that don't care much about this kind of thing, and while it might raise some dust, it's as little as possible for as short a time as possible. At least, that's the way I choose to interpret that.

Another guy who I haven't had the opportunity to meet or observe yet, Mark Rashid, has written a series a books that are very high on my recommended reading list. The last one of his I have read "Horsemanship Through Life" discusses, among a LOT of other worthwhile topics, three principles he learned from his childhood mentor.

Work WITH the horse, not against him.

Listen to what the horse is trying to say to you.

Use your own mind.

Those principles have struck deep chords within me. None of them are strange ideas to me, it's just apparently time for me to examine them once again, peel off the layers of what I think I know, and discover what's next in this journey with horses, and life, and loved ones.

Good horsemanship (again, from Mark's book) doesn't start at the barn. It's the mental attitude I carry with me, my ability to clarify and focus thought, prioritize where my attention is going to be given. It's my commitment to give 100% to whatever I am doing, while I am doing it, rather than woolgather, and think of a half a dozen other things, instead of paying full attention right where my hands happen to be, right this very minute. I used to call that multi-tasking, now I am not so sure, as I don't seem to get too many multi a task accomplished while I am doing it!

How can I ride the horse that shows up if I can't pay attention enough to see who it is, don't have the awareness or perhaps even the ability to read what the horse is telling me? How do I stay on if my will to ride fails in the middle? Both of the times I came off my colt this summer, that is exactly what happened. My will to ride failed in the middle.

I have heard from more than one good teacher, do what you need to do to get things right before you get on, once you are there, be committed to staying there. I have to use my own mind to figure out what works for me, where my timing needs to be, when it's safe for me to ride and when it is not. I can teach my ideas and techniques to others, but it is absolutely up to them (you) to take it home, work with it and make it yours. I can't give you 35 years experience in day, a week, or any amount of time. I can't get someone else's experience, either. no matter how hard I study or want to be like them. Better served, maybe, me and my horses, when I take what I can, apply as best I can, observe the results and go forward from there.

So, working WITH the horse, rather than against him. I am finding some new ideas about what that means to me and some refinements of the old ones that still work. Curious to know, what does it mean to you?

Hope you guys had a great riding season, and that winter treats us well and sees a LOT more hours in the saddle than the last one did!!

I am offering some different ride/lesson packages at Shady Lanes Ranch, just north of Council Bluffs. We offer indoor and outdoor riding facilities, and I'll be out on the trails til I can't find them anymore. Working on a couple of group lesson times, one Tuesday evening, one maybe Saturday morning. Let me know if you have a horse you'd like kept ridden this winter, some interest in lessons, or maybe a "Beat The Winter Blues" clinc that I am cooking up in my little beany brain box.

See you soon! (no new photos, posting from the Calvin Center in Hampton, Georgia, my second favorite home away from home! :-)))

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Good Hands is making a move!

After an incredibly long, hot, sweaty, rainy summer I am wrapping up the full time training season and in the process, moving the larger body of my business to our new home at Shady Lanes Ranch, Inc, north of Council Bluffs, IA. Happily I will continue to give lessons at Log Barn Stables, a beautiful facility south of Plattsmouth, NE until weather and lack of daylight draws that to a close. Come Spring, we'll pick right back up again.

I can't believe it's been so long since I last blogged, the summer has been a blur of riding the training horses, teaching horsemanship to young and older :-), and it's been really enlightening for me to figure out better and better ways to break down the methods that I use so that people can not only see the results in the horse, but begin to learn how to take those things home and keep the journey moving, once they are on their own.

The absolute hands down most exciting thing to happen this summer is the birth of Estelle Lucinda!! I was graced with being allowed to attend my daughter at the birth, and got to see Stella, shortly after she entered the world! August 26, 2010 will mark one of the happiest days of our lives! Sarah and Justin are making amazing first time parents and I think Stella is one fortunate young lady, to be born into such a loving family!!

A Competitive Trail Riding Group came for a clinic this summer, was a ton of fun working with those guys. I used Log Barn's Scooby, a 7 year old Quarter Horse gelding I have been riding, once known as "Scooby Doesn't", who now has his proper name of "Scooby Does"! He demo'ed the obstacles in kind and sensible manner, learned how to pony, and ride double in the process. It was such a blast to work a group of seasoned horsepeople! Thanks so much, Robin, for getting this set up, and I wish you'd felt well enough to attend!

Maybe the largest lesson, coming out of the season, for me this year, was that if I am going to have a business, I have to treat it like a business. Record keeping is not my strong suit and it is not that I don't know how, I can design a spreadsheet with the best of them (well, the medium of them, anyway!). Forcing myself to use my tools, no matter how exhausted I am when I get home, is darned near impossible for me and then things get awry. "Fail to prepare, and you prepare to fail," says someone wiser than I (forget who, too much hurry to google!). Goal for the rest of this year and ongoing, get those numbered ducks in a row if I am ever going to come out on the right colored ink side of the page!

The other lesson, and this one you'd think I'd have learned a very long time ago, to train horses, do a proper and timely job, in the midwest, you have got to have access to an indoor arena. My clients this summer paid WAY too much to have their horses ridden, not in dollars to me, by any means, but in the board required to get the riding accomplished. One day, I'd have to cancel for rain, the next for blistering heat! Tuesdays and Thursdays were booked with riding lessons as well, and every time I had to cancel those, bang, a horrible ding in the budget. So, lucky to still have a roof over my head and something to drive, Good Hands is making a move.

I have know the folks at Shady Lanes for a long time. Many of the good horses I have put under a bunch of you, out there, came through Charlie's hands before they reached mine. We have had our ups and downs, over the years, and I feel we all know each other well. We've built a friendship that has stood the test of time, and we can trust one another to take care of business and be honest and forthright, as well.

Shady Lanes Ranch has been in existence for over 45 years. They rent horses by the hour for guided trail rides through gorgeous, scenic trails through the Loess Hills of Council Bluffs. A certified Wrangler (thanks AAHS!), I started leading the trail rides a couple of months ago on the weekends. I love the work, it turns out! I give mini riding lessons along the way, get the people laughing when I can see they are scared, and we tend to have a heck of a good time. You know, when the relatives come in from out of town and want to go horse back riding, you all should come on over! Yes, it will cost you a little money to ride one of ours, as for insurance reasons, we can't allow outside horses, but what a neat and safer way to take a group of folks on a bona fide trail ride!

This time of year, the tractors fire up and it's hayrack rides! I get to work these, too, parking the zillion and two cars that carry in our happy party goers! Last Saturday, Miss Jesse James, Corie Nelson and I parked cars for THIRTY SIX racks!! I am told that's the lightest weekend we will have til we wrap it up, beginning of November! Woohoo, Colleen, put your spurs on honey, it's going to be some wild nights! I'll tell you guys more about the horse I am riding for that, a lovely Pinto Arabian, bay tobiano that I christened "Royal". Arron said, upon watching us come in Saturday night, Royal still breathing fire after four hours of perpetual motion "Damn, that is the most beautiful horse I have EVER seen . . . and CRAP! I bet we end up owning that one!" We will, if I have anything to say about it!

My training season will continue through November, and then weather permitting, throughout the winter, too. I am off to Georgia first weekend in November to visit my favorite church camp and home away from home, the Calvin Center. Gretchen is graciously hosting me again this year to teach AnyWhere From Here Foundation Horsemanship clinics, and I already have a repeat rider from last year! Yay! When I get back, it will be time to assess, depth of snow . . . inches of ice . . . to continue or wait til Spring, that is the question!

For now, I'll be offering riding lessons at Shady Lanes Ranch and Log Barn Stables, have one training spot available, and then we'll see, come November, I might have one more. Let me know if you want a spot, for now, or reserve your place for 2011. It will be here before you know it!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hot Times, Summer in the . . .

Well, not the city, but hot times, for sure! As the season develops, I find myself spreading my time more or less equally between the Log Barn Stables in Plattsmouth and the Shady Lanes Ranch in Crescent, IA. Would be hard pressed to find gigs further apart, really! Both are satisfying, both allow me to do what I do best, work with horses, people and do a little growing of my own along the way.

Of the many cool things that have taken place, I turned 50 this year!! Some of my best friends in life came to celebrate with me (there were some missing faces, but they are far away and I understand). We rode Cunningham Lake, Colleen and I both on our graduating 60 day horses, and we had the best of times! Hoping it's not the last time I get to ride with Annette, who is abandoning us for her homeland, Texas. We'll miss you, hon.

Probably the very coolest thing of all, is that we are expecting our first grandbaby. My daughter, Sarah, is due to deliver here in the next couple of weeks. She and her guy (we love you, Justin) are having a bouncy, healthy little girl, and we cannot wait to meet her, blessings to you both, darling!

Like just about everyone else I know, I have succumbed and built a Facebook page. Due to that, I am in touch with several old childhood friends, and my best old riding buddy from that era came out and spent a week with us, early this summer. Lisa and I had great plans to camp with Corie Nelson and our other friends from Horsetales, but weather and more complicated logistics that we could overcome ix-nayed that plan. We still got in some riding and had a great visit. Pretty cool to pick up pieces some 30 years down the line and find we still have much in common.

My lesson program has swiftly filled, which is extremely gratifying. I have long loved the "ah ha's" and "light bulb moments" of helping horses figure out people. Now, I am getting a lot of joy out of helping people do the reverse. There are mostly children in my program and where once I would have told you I wouldn't have the patience for kids, having barely survived the raising of my own, I have found working with the young ones to be rewarding and just a whole lot of fun. I have some adults as well, and people who really want to develop that special relationship that is possible with the horse, well, let's just say it's hard to charge them for it, but somehow I manage :-)

I am still riding the bay horses I started with late in Spring! Between heat and rain, and figuring out improving time management, I might be setting a record on how long it takes to put a ride on a horse! I don't say this because I am at all happy about it, I am dedicated to turning out a proper product, my clients have paid for horses that ride and ride well, and that is what they will get when the colt and filly return home. We are making progress, riding outside of the arena as much as in, but still not where I want them to be for responsive handling and they need to see a little more of the world before they head back north.

My latest set of trainers is a 6 six year old Percheron/Paint cross mare and a 15 year old Thoroughbred/Trakehner cross. I will be starting the mare under saddle, and doing a refresher course on the gelding. Saddled the mare yesterday. She was halterbroke as a two year old and has had little handling since. I have found this mare to be incredibly sane and decent. She is one who is really helping me develop my feel and timing. If I ask her, show her how, and give her some time to process, this horse has done anything I want. If I rush, or get impatient, she shows that she could bow up pretty easy, but it's not what she wants. We have got along famously so far, and yesterday was no exception. I asked Derek to come up with his camera, as I thought we might get some exciting shots when she found out that saddle was coming with, no matter what. I have been preparing her to saddle since I started working with her, and yesterday was just a smooth evolution into the next step. Pricked her ears curiously at the flappy navajo, didn't mind it on her body anywhere. Has had a rope around her belly and been led with that, so the girth was no big deal.

We got pictures of a pretty gray mare moving around with a saddle on. I was very tempted to just climb on, she gave me absolutely no sign that would not be okay. I will build a little foundation, first, make sure she respects the halter rope and that I can turn and stop her. I think this mare is going to be delightful. She'll be for sale, when the riding is over, as my client is thinning her herd and going to reduce down the Paints she loves to breed and wants to show.

The gelding is a nice horse too. I saddled him Western even though he has hunter/jumper training, I am still more comfortable in those than I am my dressage saddle. Did all the groundwork, but I am not sure how long it's been since anyone was on this horse. My husband and I have an agreement, first time on, someone else is present. I don't want to be one of those trainers found in a round pen or an arena because I took a chance when no one else was there to dial 911. I take a lot of precautions to not GET in that condition, but horses are horses, and the green ones, well, why would they not be even more so. This afternoon, if I am not stormed out up there, I'll get someone to come down while I ride him. I think it will be just fine.

Derek, at Log Barn, built a water crossing for us to train on! I am so excited about that! Log Barn has so much to offer for a training facility, in many ways. The trails are perfect for a young horse learning the ropes and will be good for my clients, when they are accomplished enough to venture out. I need someone to come with me on a good steady eddie and accompany me and those good bay horses on the trails. My husband may get pressed into service for this one, or even my accomplished but contrary and horse reluctant son! Arron was actually on Ginger the other day, trying out a new saddle. He has a cheaper made one, and is finding out, the better your equipment, and having it fit you and your horse, the more comfortable the ride! We had a great time, tooling around the trails. Ginger has developed into a true died in the wool go to girl, and gives lessons and carries husbands with equal aplomb. She even deals well when I climb in the saddle and decide to work on some of the fancy stuff I am learning up north.

Speaking of that, I am riding with a fantastic instructor in Crescent. Jose Lopez is new in town. He's Argentine, and has lived and ridden in Europe as well as some big barns on the East Coast. Jose is riding out of Karen Nielsen's Sunset Ridge Stables which is adjacent to Shady Lanes. Jose is an extremely accomplished horseman, specializing in jumping and dressage. I am finding him to be that next good teacher to assist me in my never ending quest to be the finest horseperson, at the end of the day, that I possibly can. We are putting together an introductory clinic for Jose, August 14, at Sunlight Ridge. $60 to ride a two hour session, of which there will be three or four. The fee pays for the ride and all day attendance. Jose can solve just about any horse problem you might have and is fun and adept to work with. I can't encourage my friends more bring their horses, or at least come audit, which is free. Let me know if you want a spot, they are filling up fast!

I am having the best of times this summer, crazy busy, long hours, but it's what I live to do. I have a trailer for sale, extra tall two horse, some saddles and a really super nice Palomino gelding, trail horse deluxe. Somehow I managed to acquire another horse, along the way, too! Bashful Flower, I kid you not, is a three year old retired race horse, LOL! Retired not due to any injury, he's completely sound but as the fellow I bought him from said "go ahead and ride him, Terri (much disgust in his tone), he can't run fast enough to hurt you!" After a very undistinguished career of five races, Bashful is going to develop into a super nice, quiet minded saddle horse. Rode him the other day, he was a lamb. Plan so far, bring him along, find him a home. Might make a fantastic Pony Clubber, we'll see.

I am booking for September training, can offer spots either north or south, for your convenience. Log Barn offers a large, open lot and round bales for board facility, up north, I have stalls and an indoor arena, as well as trails. Let me know if you would like to book a space for your horse. My lesson program is currently full, but I am taking names for my waiting list.

Hope you all are having as much fun this summer as I am, heat and rain, be darned!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Helmets, Horsemanship & Other Developments

Before you think, oh please not another lecture on why I should wear a helmet, know that is not one. I am going to talk about some personal revelations and personal choices. This past week I have been at the Calvin Center, somewhere in Georgia, earning certification in the American Association For Horsemanship Safety. . This program is written by a pair of attorneys who specialize in Equine Law and it was an eye opener on many levels, from beginner to . . . well, I don't know where the end is, yet, but I am not there!

I have long espoused the view that horsemanship will save your life, long before a helmet does, and have given examples from my 35+ years of riding and training experiences of some of the rather spectacular near misses and hits that I have taken that a helmet not only would not have aided me but might even have hindered my instinctual ability to tuck, roll and protect my body. The helmets I have tried on and worn, over the years have felt obstructive, bulky and extremely uncomfortable. As a professional colt starter, I cannot afford equipment that compromises my ability to safely do my job.

Last week, I watched a video (Every Time, Every Ride, available thru AAHS) with a segment featuring a once-professional horse trainer, also who had ridden and trained from a very early age, struggle with rehab from the irreversible brain damage he had sustained in a fall. The man, still young had plenty of awareness of who he is, who he was, and what has happened to his life. There were tears in his eyes at the end of his statement as he wished he'd have strapped on a helmet the day that changed his life forever. There were tears in mine, as well. I am quite certain, the morning before his accident, his stories and statements about why he did not choose to wear a helmet would have been much like my own.

The other segments made me cry as well. Mothers talking about daughters no longer with them. Not one of those daughters were mounted on a risky horse, there were varying degrees of ability but none were beginners. One horse stumbled on a trail ride. That was it. There were some other stories of the near miss. I was happy to see them, but they did not stop my tears for the ones who have no second chance. All I could think was, not on my watch. Not if I can help it, will I have to be part of one of those stories. I can't even imagine the horror of knowing someone in my care is gone because we missed a piece of the prevention. I have difficulty even imaging waking up in a half life, not being able to do what I love, or even speak clearly, walk or move my body because of that one single, reasonably foreseeable, avoidable choice.

It is still a piece and only a piece. I still emphasize horsemanship education and practice. There was a young girl on the video who said she felt very safe when she wore her helmet. She and I would have to talk. I think of many riders I have known that chose helmets as an everyday part of riding apparel but were lackadaisacal about seeking education in their horsemanship. That, for me, is akin to having entry level driving skills, strapping on a seat belt and expecting the seat belt to save me from having a wreck. It will protect me in many cases but why not learn to drive, while I am at it?

So, okay, this is what I have to say on this subject. I wore a helmet all week. I have tried on many brands and types and hated them all until now. I have heard of the Tipperary helmet, it's constructed slightly differently than the others I have tried, and when I set one on my head, I said, "hmm, I might not hate this." And I don't. There was another, made ironically by a company called "Helmets R Us" that I also did not hate and it is a less expensive option. I will be purchasing a helmet for myself, and will have three sizes available for my lesson students. My son and husband are about to become helmet wearers, though they are unaware of this development at the time of this writing :-)

The clinic I rode in, which was seeking accreditation through the AAHS program, written and developed by a pair of attornies who specialize in Equine Law, was one of the most grueling, intensive experiences since my college days, and I am talking about the accelerated summer sessions, as opposed to regular semester studies! I went, wondering what five mere days could add to the value of so many years of education and experience. How much value could this accreditation, this set of initials really hold? I quickly gained respect, as I glanced through the daunting syllabus of reading and study assignments. I had no idea the real challenge would lie elsewhere, a place I am the most comfortable of anywhere in the world. The saddle.

Hosted by the Calvin Center, a truly class accommodation, we had motel style rooms and I was presented with a room mate. As you know, if you know me, I am a very private person and was not sure what I would think of the arrangement. Turns out, it was a blessing getting to know Karen, as well as the rest of this group of highly talented, driven, wonderful women I had the privilege of sharing the clinic with. I was determined to do well, and their equal dedication lent strength to my own.

We rose early, for last minute study, before breakfast was served promptly at 8 a.m. Brian, the new chef, was worth the price of admission, all by himself. He greeted us every morning with a cheery grin and I swear, overcast or not, Brian brought out the sun. "Be sure and try the oatmeal," says he, "it tastes like Christmas!" And so it did. Brian does not fry, everything was seasoned, but healthy. I ate cookies for dessert at lunch, and some kind of miraculous culinary concoction at dinner and still managed to come home a pound lighter than when I arrived.

We had quizzes every day, and trust me, if you didn't know your stuff, the quiz knocked you for a loop. Many of us were like cocky young horses, certain we knew the lay of the land, and it was not long at all before our able Instructor, Brenda Hendrix, had our both ears, both eyes and complete attention!

After a wonderful lunch, again served promptly, at noon, we met at the barn at 1, would saddle our prospective mounts (I could write an entire blog on the wonderful Calvin Center horses, and may yet. I only wish I had taken my camera to the barn) and ride til dinner, at five. Once in awhile we would not make dinner and our gratitude that they held food for us was enormous. Some nights we returned back to the barn after dinner to work on riding exercises, and whether we did that or not, EVERY night saw us hitting the books, and studying til the wee hours.

Back to the afore-mentioned challenge . . . the saddle. First, I had decided to ride the clinic English, as I felt I would gain the most knowledge. I have ridden Western all my life, and have dabbled in English riding, with a few dressage lessons thrown into the mix, as I have dabbled in so many things. I even rode the riding test English, later wondering had I lost my entire mind, but that worked out. The rest of it, not as well.

We have discussed, on our chat list, an exercise known as 7-7-7. I am here to say, if you have not ridden the clinic, you don't know what it is. We thought we did, at least I sure thought I did. Seven strides at the trot, posting, sitting and standing each. How tough is that? Not so very . . . can do it with my eyes closed, and have. Then you add a piece called . . . alignment. Ohhh . . . I have long known I ride with a bracey, forward pointing leg. Years of riding colts and adding layer after layer of fear and defense has created a posture reinforced by muscle memory and tendon length.

Many of us know that to be properly aligned in the saddle, one draws a line through ear, shoulder point of hip and heel. Few of us, or so I believe, realize how important that line is for function, not merely form, at which I have always scoffed. Working to move my lower leg into a stable position, with heel landing naturally in plumb line caused me tears of frustration, pain in places I didn't know I had, and caused me to seriously doubt my ability to master those same simple skills that I thought I had, hands down, locked in, forever and unshakably.

Of the levels in which one can reach certification, I paid attention to only two. Top, which is Full, and the next one, Basic (which I thought would be a come down, and an expression of failure on my part, hah, little did I know!). What I know now, is that while I aced the study portion of the course, the years of riding in solitude and developing poor habits is not going to be overcome in a week. I recognized the problem, awhile back when I started taking dressage lessons with Missy Fladland. Those lessons and the Centered Riding group lesson I took with Brenda Messick, a few weeks ago are the only reasons I was even able to qualify as Basic. It's humbling, but not shattering. I know the further I get, in the horsemanship journey, the more doors open if I am willing to accept and undertake the challenge. To achieve Full certification, one must meet certain criteria for teaching, understanding the books and Secure Seat method, and then be able to perform the 7-7-7 indefinitely. This is impossible without mastering the first step, alignment.

My largest consolation is that I am among a group of women whose horsemanship I admire, as a body. We had Karen who teaches dressage and rides with beautiful form, Mona Lisa who had ridden one trotting horse a week previous in the past six years (she raises and shows gorgeous Tennessee Walkers, shows them barefoot and WINS, as a side note), Sonya who had taken over the family Trail Ride operation ( Check this out!) at the tender age of 14 (she's my age now) and is has a natural form and ability you would not believe for someone who has never taken a formal lesson. There was Jo and her daughter, Candace, who are at the beginning of their horsemanship education journey, and dug in and did just as well as the rest of us, for where they started. We had Marywill, a camp volunteer, whose abilities are far beyond her modest assessments of herself, and Alicia, a young camp volunteer who has the opportunity, with the education she is getting to come as far as she would like.

And of course, our own Brenda Messick. There were days, without her quiet encouragement, I might have hung up my stirrups and said, give me a Western saddle, I cannot do this and I cannot afford to fail. Brenda, though she says she had her struggles, never lost her cool, and always looked like she was mastering the task at hand. I really look forward to riding with you again, Brenda, and we will help keep each other on track! Full certification, here we come!!

There were so many unexpected gifts!! Seeing Gretchen ride her OTT, retired broodmare-now-turned-dressage horse, Rainbow again, brought tears to my eyes and a proud smile. Here is a student which is outgrowing my instruction, and it's beautiful to see. Getting to meet and ride with her dressage instructor, Susan Griesel (sp), was an honor, and added a few more tools to my bag of tricks. The women I rode with began some relationships I hope to hold on to, and getting to meet and begin a friendship with Brenda Hendrix, none of these things did I go looking for when I decided to add some marketable credentials to my resume.

Any of you who have taken my clinics will recognize these strengths and weaknesses. You saw me make changes in your horse that were undeniably visible and effecting, but then struggled to learn the methods that will allow you to make those changes yourself, at home, alone. I have learned to break things down into a step by step procedure, have learned to plan lessons through an established format that is centered upon student learning. As with everything else I have stumbled upon, I can't imagine why I could not figure out these things for myself, but these so very critical pieces of the puzzle, the human side, are here now, and I have a large project in front of me. I will be writing out my program, developing lesson series and curriculum's, that can then be broken down and individualized. This will revolutionize my teaching style, and hopefully, revolutionize the learning curve for those of you who ride with me, along the way.

I cannot say thank you enough to Gretchen, who encourage and then insisted I take this course. Without you, it could not and would not have taken place. I could not see that the means justified the end, and I was so wrong. I can't thank the Calvin Center volunteers enough. When I was there in October, the horses said many things were awry, and their futures as lesson and camp horses were in doubt. This year, the way the horses reacted to the simplest things, from catching, to tacking up, told me many good changes have been put in place. It was a joy working with them again, and the honor to be even a very small part of that wonderful program is huge. I know I have once again, produced a novel when maybe a short story would have been more in order. It was an incredible nine days, and there are more stories, yet to tell!

Contact me for info on lesson series, clinics and horse training. Thanks!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mocha Goes Home Today

and I am really going to miss her. Mocha is a four year old AQHA filly raised by Eric and Doats Norby at Broken Wheel Ranch, in Sioux City, IA. If you follow my blog, they raised my beloved Slippin and Knosie, a pair of fillies I put time on as two and three year olds. Mocha is by the Two Eyed Red Buck stud that they have and I think that stud must put an incredible mind on every baby he throws, if these three are any indication. Mocha started out with an issue or two, but what horse that comes to training doesn't?

Mocha had an injury when she was two that resulted in surgery on an infected tendon and quite a bit of time spent in a cast. Norby's brought her to my place to start, last Fall, just shortly before I fell victim to the plague and had to send all my training horses, jiggedy jig back home again. Throughout my barn misadventures when we moved to Omaha this winter, they have patiently waited for me to get myself settled, then they and a friend of theirs hauled all the way down to Plattsmouth so I could finish the job I had promised.

Mocha had been handled plenty, of course, during her rehabilitation, but there was no way she could be asked to move her feet, much and she really liked that status. When she did move them, she thought nothing at all of putting them wherever she wanted them to go, and if that was on top of you, well then, it made perfect sense to her that you should just get the heck out of the way.

Not having had to do much she didn't want to, as was necessary to not upset her during that delicate healing time, it came as quite a shock to Mocha when so many things changed, and quickly at that. When I walked away and took the slack out of the lead, I expected her to step right up and follow, not pull the slack out and tow along behind like a barge stuck on sandbar. Being tied up didn't bother her one bit, but having to wear a saddle? THAT was seriously out of the question.

I did most of the warm up I normally do when I saddle for the first time. I make sure the young horse is as relaxed in their body as they can possibly be, teach them to disengage their hips over, bring their shoulders back through so I know I have at least a little control over them when I go to saddle. I desensitize around the girth and back cinch areas, hold the end of the lead around them. I release and present pressure with feel and timing to help the young horse not get troubled. I throw the rop over their backs, let them feel the saddle pad all over and see it on both sides. Mocha handled all of this okay, and setting the saddle up was not a big deal. It was not until she left and the pesky thing insisted on going with her that things got dusty.

She really didn't buck much, and not that hard either. I probably would have even stood a decent chance of riding it out, had it happened when I was on board though I am awfully glad I wasn't. Derek, who owns Log Barn Stable, and his hired hand, Jim, were watching, and their eyes were even bigger than the filly's. They thought she might present quite a handful. I laughed, and said, nope, she'll be fine. Seen a LOT worse than this!!

That idea of theirs was compounded a few days later when Mocha and I had a showdown about where the feet go. When I said, don't run into pressure, she said, okay, how about I run THROUGH it instead? I said, what a bad idea that is. She said, get out of my way, you silly insignificant human, I want to be somewhere else right now!

We went round and round. She'd run through her halter pressure, over and over again. I escalated to meet her resistance, and she escalated to meet mine. I turned her into the round pen panels and asked her to yield back a step or two. When she couldn't blow past me, she reared up, trying to swing her body over the top of me. That ran her into my stick pretty sharp, as my arm wasn't tall enough to reach that high but no way was she going to succeed in that manuever!

The hired guy had brought in some round bales and was watching this altercation with considerable interest. I am thinking to myself, holy cow, he is going to be thinking I am the meanest most abusive horse trainer ever (whack, do NOT try to run over me, WHACK do NOT rear up over the top of me, BACK UP!!). We were at this for awhile, and I am seriously questioning what I can do to help this filly figure things out. We are in the thick of it, and no way can I release pressure here, as where the release comes, so does the teaching and if you release in the middle of something that isn't going well, you'll teach that just as effectively as when you release at that perfect and proper moment.

Which . . . finally came. Almost by accident, Mocha suddenly threw her head down after running into my stick several times, and backed herself up. She is breathing heavily, eyes big and on me, ears straight forward. I throw down the rope (reminiscent of when I was working Jessica's Wildfire filly), spin around and walk away, releasing pressure in as large a picture as I possibly can. YES! THIS is the RIGHT answer!!

Mocha watches me intently to see what I will do next. As she relaxes and straightens her body position, I slowly approach. I make myself as friendly and non threatening in every aspect of my body language that I p0ssibly can. When I reach her, I hold out my hand, palm down in a cup shape I have heard called the "horseman's handshake." I let her reach out and touch me first, then I rub and rub her. She's sweaty and enjoys the contact and the reassurance.

We turned a corner that day. Still had things to work out, but she no longer dragged her feet on the halter rope, was no longer pushy and disregarding of my space. Jim said he was watching not to see if I was going to hurt the filly but if he needed to call 911 for me!! Aw heck, Jim, it wasn't all THAT bad, LOL! It's been fun, having those guys watch this filly progress into the nice horse I was very sure she would be, from the start, knowing her breeding and all.

The first time I got on her, she was very unsure and tense. I let her move around until she relaxed, didn't ask much of her and got down. I fixed some more things from the ground. Another colt starter might have just ridden her through and been fine. I do what I do, and it seems to turn out okay. Rode her again, a few days later with MUCH better result. In the meantime, I have been working on keeping her balanced in her movement, watching for all four corners to be reaching equally, walk, trot and canter on the 12 foot line. We work circles (I never lunge, hate seeing horses run around in mindless circles that are not teaching them anything), and I bump her if she pulls on me, continuing to reinforce the idea of being light and responsive on the line, just like I am soon going to want her to be light and responsive on the rein. I send her over the bridge, help her gain confidence by using my plastic sacks on the end of a stick. I bring them from the ground, straight up the shoulder, a tip I got from my good friend, Colleen Hamer. I run it over the side of the saddle so she can see it from the eye on the side I am not on. I run it over her rump, down her legs, as if something is falling off the saddle. She gets calm and good with all of this. Time to ride.

A young gal is also training out at Log Barn, Miss Jesse James, from out the wild west, Broken Bow, NE way. I enlist her aid, and ask her if she wouldn't mind being a passenger for me while I send the filly around and get all three gaits. She says sure (oh for the courage of youth!!), I get on Mocha first (oh wait, maybe I don't that night, but had been on her before, and was very sure we'd not run into problems.) I give Jesse a line from the halter, we make a game plan in case things don't go well, and I send them off at a walk. We pick up the trot, and eventually get the canter, going that way. I think we got Mocha tired, in the deep sand, as we got the trot the other way, but she was straining pretty hard when I asked for the lope and I didn't push it. I really like having someone to passenger while I am the gas pedal. It makes things easier all the way around.

After that, it's just been a matter of getting the rides on and the teaching commenced. We've ridden in the arena, rode over the bridge, which of course she had no problem with, been down the road a little and she got hauled over to Chance Ridge Event Center when I rode a group lesson with Brenda Messick who is introducing some really cool concepts with Centered Riding.

The Event Center is a wonderful place to ride. The arena is huge, nicely footed, there are roping boxes, bucking chutes and always something going on in the back alley where the livestock lives, oh yeah, and a tarp covered mechanical bull in another corner! My broke mare, Ginger, looked askance at a couple of things. Not Mocha. First, I ponied her around to give her a good look at her surroundings, and when I got on, I dropped the reins and let her go see whatever she needed a second take on. She makes a beeline for the alley that goes in back to the cattle pens. Not one bit afraid, Mocha drinks in the sights and sounds of cattle. Wow, she's neat!

Riding there went well, and I love how solid and confident this horse feels under me. She's not a spook, has her brain firmly between her ears at all times, and just does not seem to get rattled by much of anything. The other night, Jesse rode Mocha and I rode Two Sox, a gelding I have in training, and we just played around in my big dry lot. It was about riding up and down steep little hills, stopping, turning, backing, going where WE wanted to go, even though it was their home and the other horses were happily munching at the round bale while they had to work. Neither colt got at all worried or troubled, which was nice to see.

Yesterday, Derek took some moments from his busy day and shot a few photos for me. I have a few from the very early days when Corie came over to watch Soxie, and now these. The filly has come a long way, which of course, is always the goal. I think she can go home and do a good job for my friends, whether it's trail riding, gathering cattle or maybe finding a new home in the world to please the next set of owners. She needs her continuing education, but I couldn't be happier with the start. Only 30 days, and that, a broke horse does not make, but she handles nicely, gives to her bit, and when you ask something with a rein, she understands it means for a foot to move, whether it's forward, backward or laterally.

Now for the commercial. I am accepting limited bookings for June, July and August. I am only taking on three outside horses, as I am going to concentrate on lessons and clinics. This week, I'll be traveling to Georgia and riding in a five day clinic to get an accreditation as Riding Instructor with the American Association of Horsemanship Safety. I am very excited about this new direction in my life. My first love will always be helping horses, but unless I can help the people, it truly is not as good.

Contact me for more info on this stuff if you are interested. I need five paid in advance riders to host a clinic and we can do it at Log Barn Stables or your facility if you choose!

Thanks and happy trails!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

CCHPC Clinic Recap

I have decided blog updates are what you do when your allergies are just totally kicking your butt and you are waiting for your meds to kick in, so you can head out to the barn and do your job. In the meantime, here we go. (just read an article about how pollen counts are off the charts. man, that explains a LOT!) I've been happily reflecting on the latest Anywhere From Here foundation horsemanship clinic, and here's a recap of what went on . . .

The clinic in Lincoln was just the best time. I sent out the photo link to all those hundreds of photos and figure, since that might be daunting to wade through, plus it's hard to know exactly what you are looking at, if you have not attended a clinic of mine, what you think you see may not be what's actually occurring :-)) All things are taught with a process and an end goal of softness and fluidity under the saddle, and there are steps to take along the way or you may end up somewhere, totally else!

We had seven riders, the youngest being a 13 year old girl, the oldest, well I am not saying, LOL! The 13 year old has more miles under her belt than many adults and several of the adults were either brand new to horses or just returning to their childhood roots. The seven horses ranged from chartreuse green to the bluest of true blue, a really nice bunch of horseflesh.

I teach essentially the same things in all of my clinics and lessons. The paths we take may vary, techniques might change from horse to horse but the principles of gaining the horse's respect, the promise of instant release from pressure as the horse seeks the right answer . . . those things do not change. Gaining these skills in a friendly, controlled environment can mean all the difference to whether or not your trail rides go as planned or have mishaps, disappointments and scary events added instead. (see the May issue of Saddle Up magazine for my article on Trail Safety)

We had issues of horses who didn't really want to or understand how to freely move their feet, and ones who seemed to want to move them too much. I taught the riders how to send their horse from the ground, doing exercises that might look like lunging but are very far from mindless circles, round and round. We watched for all four corners to be reaching equally. A horse with brace in his body will travel crooked and getting the brace out of the body relaxes the mind as well. Fixing that can be a major solution to many problems a rider might think totally unrelated. Getting the horses to respond lightly on the halter was another task that involved teaching the handlers how to start soft and firm up as necessary. The release needs to come as the horse STARTS to make the change, if you wait til the change is done, it's too late. That kind of timing can only come with practice and observation. I think my students picked up very quickly on what they needed to do, and the generally easy looks on the faces of the horses tell you we were on the right track.

When we did run into some stickiness, here and there, I was able to step in and show what works for me. I do not claim my timing and feel are perfect, far from it, but I was able to get the horses past their hard places and could show one horse it was okay to give and work away from his buddies, another horse carries a lot of tightness in his body which results in chronic bucking behavior, another tends to want to sleep through her days, plopping her feet roughly into the ground, and when we were able to bring the life in the body to the feet and into the mind, we created a much prettier picture than we started with!

It was really fun working with some folks who have been to a couple of my clinics and are very dedicated to taking this stuff home. For those guys, it was mostly a matter of fine tuning, and introducing a few ideas I have just learned, myself, and they were off and running. It was equally a joy introducing these concepts as brand new ideas to some of the other folks who got to find out their horses really do appreciate it when the rider is the leader and the horse doesn't have to worry about being in charge. It's a big responsibility, you know! It's not about the struggle of "showin' 'em who's boss" but rather letting the horse be assured that when you say something, you mean it and have the ability to follow through. A boss mare who pins her ears but then does nothing to rebut a challenge will quickly lose her spot. The one that has the ability to firm up will rarely ever need to use it.

We played with obstacles, not because we think we will find mattresses on the trail and need to be able to cross them but because that particular object provided an excellent venue to erase doubt's in our horse's minds about our ability to send and ride them over things they may not think, on their own, is the absolute best idea. Every success built confidence, horse in rider, rider in horse, and prepares the way for more success, out in the world, using these same principles, pressure, release, good sends, rewarding the try, knowing when to firm up and knowing when to sit and wait. Again, the details will change and there is no way to simulate every single type of situation a person will run into on the trail, but when you have the principles in place, you and your horse will be able to smoothly handle whatever comes your way, no leaping, balking, sticking or whirling required!

Thinking about the late Tom Dorrance's poem "To Slicker Break A Bronc" we did slicker training, and all our "broncs" came around to thinking nothing of the flapping yellow thing. Might have been a different story, had we been caught in the rain, five miles from the trailer and just tried to unfold and wear one. . . .might have been a long walk home for some of us!

I taught the class the hip over, shoulder through exercise, of which there are many variations. I like it best when I don't take the arc out of the body of the horse and I ask them to rock back on their hindquarters, lifting the front and bringing the shoulder through while yielding away from me. This has really helped my horses not be heavy in front, as they all used to be, once upon a time. We did that manuever from the ground and worked on it from the saddle. We used one of my favorite exercises, the barrel game, to see how well we had those pieces. That game also provides excellent spook therapy when you use your line or the horse's stirrup to knock one down while the horse comes around it. They get pretty used to the idea that sudden, unexpected events can take place without having to have any kind of catastrophic reaction! The tight horse learned to bend and I don't think he bucked, even once, the second day all day long. Lots of good uses for these games and exercises!

The next piece after that is lateral flexion in motion. We learned the basics for that, from the ground, looking for that straightness in the arc that shows the nose tipped in, inside hind reaching into the track of outside fore. I no longer teach just bending a horse's head and neck, back and forth. I have learned, if I want the feet to be aware of signals from the reins, it doesn't make sense to detach them by doing rein exercises that do not and are not supposed to, move the feet! I have seen many a horse run through it's outside shoulder, and most of those have been bent and bent and bent, so that when you pick up the rein, sure the head and neck come around, whilst that body, detached, continues on in the direction it was going, only now without it's head! I look for lateral flexion to take place while the inside hind is reaching up under, at first, it is at that one stride that I release, and later, I can ask the horse to hold that frame, bending, and then straight down the rail for a truly lovely picture of collection and self carriage. It's one of the neatest exercises I know, and I learned it from Missy Fladland who I cannot wait to ride with again, once her show schedule slows down.

At the end of the last afternoon, we played arena games, to help build, once again rider confidence in their ability to steer their horse not only from point to point, which encourages straightness and the very desirable goal of being able get point A to B with a minimum of direction and fuss, to group games. The group games addressed defensive trail horse issues, jiggy, speedy horse issues, pokey slowly never gonna get there issues, and gave the riders yet another set of tools to take home and build into their repetoire. Not I nor any good clinician I have seen says we can fix you or your horse in a matter of days or hours. The best we can do is show you some things that work for us, give you the pieces, the confidence and the ability to pick them up and use them. Then, it's up to you, the rider, to take it home, and THAT, my friend, is where the learning truly begins.

So, from the basics of having a horse learn to lead respectfully, taking responsibility for it's place by your side, it's willingness to stop when you stop, back up when you do, spook therapy, confidence building, obstacle training, trail safety and etiquette to some of the more advanced pieces of learning control, self carriage and collection, we covered a lot of ground over the course of a weekend! My next clinic is scheduled May 15, in Sioux City. We'll cover, in a nutshell, the basics of what we did over the weekend. I work to each rider's ability to try to give the best picture and possibilities of success for whichever piece of the puzzle is the one that fills the whole for you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

All In A Day's Work

Spring horses are here and yesterday was the day to begin the beginnings. Derek has thoughtfully set up that round pen in the dry lot to make the preliminaries as easy as possible. The horses are comfortable in their surroundings, and ready to go to work. I caught each colt, one at a time, brushed and groomed, going over their bodies with a fine tooth comb to check condition, old scars, see if there was anything I need to take note of, for the day's work. It's also a good idea to make sure a horse can handle being touched, all over. My goal (which could have been amended if need be) was to get through any trouble spots and end with the colts moving freely off their halter ropes, walked, trotted and loped with saddles on, and then have them stand tied while the others have their turn.

Pedro was last on my list, as he will be, and he ended up just wandering around the lot, saddled, and getting to eat. Saddling him is a non issue, he thinks that thing is a part of his daily deal, now, which is exactly the way I want it. I did want to get another ride on him, but ran out of gas before it was his turn, so another day for that.

The first set of the season is always that way for me. I start out fat and out of shape.At least this year, I've been somewhat active so it's not quite as bad as coming off a full winter's rest, but hefting three or four heavy saddles gets wearing, and when it's time for that fifth one, doesn't matter what it weighs, it's a job! Pretty much anybody in the world can get a saddle on a horse in about 15 minutes or so. I can't guarantee they'll do it right, as I see it, or that the horse will be okay with that process. I took each horse, evaluated different things about the horse, and spent time setting us up for success for the rest of the journey.

Two Socks was my first victim to saddle, after Pedro. I knew what I wanted to see, in Soxie, and he came through with aces. We have already worked hard on getting him lightly coming forward off of halter pressure, lightly moving his feet, over, backwards and sideways. Soxie tended to want to lean on me and then Ginger, when I was working him off of her, and I hoped to see that tendency evaporated. I was not disappointed. What I really loved was when I disengage his hip and asked him to rock back so as to be able to lead out the shoulder through with the outside front foot, he floated back and stepped out so athletically and prettily I wished I had a video of it. It was text book, what that manuever should look like. Soxie carried this happy, cheerful look on his pretty face, like "see, I remember! I know how to do this stuff!" And then, he got to stand tied. Gone, too, was the restlessness of the other day, but on the other hand, he was tied 20 feet from all his buddies. Today, he'll be up top again, so we'll see how that goes. I don't mind at all, when a colt finds out there are powers greater than he, and it doesn't involve tugging and pulling on me to get the idea across! Soxie handled the stirrup slap, me jumping around like a loon, all about him, and next time we work, we'll see about stepping up. It's time.

Next up was Mocha. This is a good looking coming four year old that is the half sister to my beloved Slippin and Knosie. She is also the half sister to the bay bookends that are spending 60 days with me, as well. Because of an injury, she didn't get started when Slips and Knos did, but she's fully healed and ready to work now. In leading her around, I have noticed she tends to get sticky footed and dull when she doesn't really want to get along. I wanted to wake her up a little, get some respect and response, so I don't spend the next 30 days having to wear out my arms and heels, tugging and kicking her along.

Mocha is tall and wants to put that head of hers WAY in the air when she'd prefer to be left alone, too. In haltering her, she was blowing off my requests to bring that giraffe neck down to the level I wanted. Okay fine, let's work on that now, so it's not a problem later. One hand on her neck, another on the bridge of her nose, I work her neck back and forth, asking her to relax and come down. If she'd not been able to come through, or even took her nose away and left, I'd say, okay, go get her and start over. She didn't leave, and eventually the head came down. Very uninterested in acknowledging that halter, but compliant enough about having it slipped over her nose. Spang! Back up in the air goes the haltered head.

Okay, says me, let's work on that . . . I slip the rope behind her left front leg, and apply some gentle pressure. What ensues next is Mocha, trying to figure out what she needs to do to get rid of that pressure, and she tries a lot of things before giving me the answer I am looking for, which is lowering her head. Her favorite response is to turn her head to the left, run through the pressure and wind herself up in the rope until I am forced to let go. I pick up my stick and block that with a tap on the cheekbone until she holds it straight. Then, it's coming forward, running over the top of me. Nope, a tap stops that, toot sweet, as well. Is she being naughty? Heck no. She just does not understand what I want, and is trying to figure things out. It's my job to help with that. We hear "make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy." Too many people just hear that first part, including me, sometimes. I really watched for the slightest give, the hesitation that she was even thinking about lowering her head, and it really wasn't long before she had her head down to her fetlocks, slack in the lead, and her eyes soft. THAT'S the goal.

I flipped the stick and string over her back, letting her know things might fly around up there. She wasn't too sure that was a good idea, but she had already trusted me about something hard for her, and the first bricks of a foundation are being laid . . . Mocha moved her feet uneasily, wondering if she were, perhaps, supposed to go somewhere and might get in trouble if she didn't. We'd just been working on getting her feet lightened up, remember, so she was not out of line to ask that question, not at all. It's my job to make my body language and energy clear when they are to move their feet and when they are to be still and handle commotion. If I am not clear in my signals, how can they be expected to be clear in their responses? Once she can handle that, I take the lead around her middle and let her know there can be pressure there, too. I make sure she's good with that, front and where the back cinch will go. I always saddle with a full rig. You might not want a back cinch, but if you do, you surely hope whoever started your horse used one, or you might find an unexpected rodeo when you go to saddle up . . .

During this time, the saddle is setting in the middle of the round pen, and when she finally does express curiousity about the "dead cow" (Richard Winters, I like that guy), I let her and encourage her to check things out. The saddle pad is hanging over the rail, and I've let her look at that, too. I want my horses curious and interested in what's going on around them, not tuned out and then, therefore, shocked as hell when something DOES penetrate and get through . . . I rub her with the saddle pad. This might feel like grooming to her, I don't know, but she likes it. She's a little sweaty by now and would like to rub me back. Nope, that does not work out. I can come into your bubble but you surely are not welcome in mine. She gets educated about where her space ends and mine begins, not because I slug her in the nose, yell, kick my feet, stomp or anything like that, but there's a sharp, inconvenient elbow, a bump here, a knock there, while I go about my business. I am not making a big deal of anything, but she learns that it's better for her to wait for me to do the petting. Saddle pad is in place and there's all kinds of lessons learned for ms. Mocha, in the process. I like getting a bunch of things accomplished, when I can, there's only so many hours in a day, might as well make use of them.

Mocha is tall, the Billy Cook roper I think will fit her best is not light. I take it on the left hand side, under the pommel with my left hand, grasping the first skirt on the right with my right. I bring it back behind me, letting the filly check the saddle out, now that's it's in a different place, which she does, and I begin the swing, which ends with the saddle more or less gracefully settling into place on her somewhat surprised back. One step forward, she finds the end of the halter rope, and having learned a little respect for that, stops and waits. I go around to let down my cinches (I know, if I saddled from the right, I'd already be there, but I don't mind and my colts need to stand quiet for that, anyway). I tighten the cinch, I have learned it has to be pretty snug this first time, to avoid that saddle ending up around the belly which is NOT where it was ever intended to be! I snug, and loosen, snug and loosen, her ears flickering in concern, head raising. I lower it when it gets high. Heads in the air are not relaxed horses, and I want her feeling good about this entire process, so I fix the problems as I find them. She's quiet, I snug up the cinch (Ray Hunt said to go three times around, I usually do two, but if three, and there's a problem, cinch won't come undone, leaving your saddle in a possible broken heap on the ground, and your horse with a black marble in it's experience jar) and fasten up the back. I also have learned to not use a breast collar on this first saddle. If they do jump around a little, I don't want the saddle pulling forward, either, so I left the breast collar over the saddle where it lives when I am not using it.

Mocha sent off like I asked, walking calmly, then picked up a little trot. Much to her surprise, the thing on her back came right with her and it felt FUNNY! She humped up three or four times, nothing to write home about, no bronc score for anyone and this untalented bucking horse rider prolly could'a stayed on, just fine. Not my way though :-) After that, non issue, walks, trots, lopes both direction, and now it's her turn to hang on a tie post and watch the rest.

I detailed out this first saddle for this filly because I wanted to illustrate how you can get a lot more done than just setting a saddle on a horse, cinching them up and away you go. I wanted to make sure she could come forward off of pressure, move back off of pressure, have some respect for my space and get the beginnings of an understanding of when to move her feet and when she needs to be still and wait for direction. This sets up the rest of our training in a tone I hope to continue, smooth, uneventful and undusty!

The other colts, three year olds, both of them, were with me last Fall. They have each been saddled several times and were ready to ride when I got the plague and had to send them home whilst I either passed on or recovered and could bring them back. Fortunately for me, they are back!

The filly, who I call Foxy, is quite a bit more skeptical than her brother. We spent far more time, working on hook up and getting her to even be willing to turn toward me when I changed direction in the round pen, rather than spinning her butt (middle hoof) and taking herself off, as she chose. Her attitude changed, from hanging her nose over the round pen, looking longingly into the distance, as she discovered that being with me is quiet and restful, taking off means moving your feet and working hard! She's got a lot of heart, and working hard didn't bother her all that much, which will be excellent for us, a bit further down the road. Once I got her coming to me, the rest was a piece of cake. If I had not solved that particular piece, it might still have gone well, I don't know, but resistance always shows up, and when it's later rather than sooner, it is NOT as good!

I did the same string over the back, around the legs, that I did with Mocha. I'd not take for granted just because she ended up saddling quietly last Fall, that we could merely pick up where we left off. Heck, I can't remember stuff I learned last Fall, pretty unfair of me to expect her to! With just a little preparation, she's wearing her saddle and it's again, uneventful and the dust has settled from our earlier go-round. I find a spot for her, and filly stands tied. (I am untalented at embedding images, they come in on top of the blog and I have to drag them down. It's too far for me to go, now, so you'll see the rest of them on the sidebar!)

HopScotch, the bay brother, is a born rockstar. He wants to get along, and with him, getting along is just taking a little time to let you know what you want. He joined up immediately, stayed soft and soft eyed through the entire process. Saddling him probably took less than 15 minutes, though you know, had he need more, I'd cheerfully have given him whatever time he required.

I played with the owner's three year old pony gelding,while everyone stood tied and thought about their day, or their hay, or whatever it is horse's dream of, while standing tied to a post. Probably being free and grazing on the nice grass springing up all around . . . anyhoo.

This is one of those cute, cute ponies, and he's a sweetie. Doesn't know a whole lot, which is fine, and that is what I am there for. Spent some time getting him to come forward off pressure, and back away from it. Trouble I see with most ponies, is people just expect them to get along with kids because everyone is small and why not? I really commend these folks for going to the extra mile for their pony and getting him the education that is going to set him to be a wonderful partner for a darling little girl. I am honored to be a part of that. My own Ringo . . . well, you guys have read about him, and some of our adventures together. I'd not be who and what I am today, without him, for better or worse! Ringo, after having to move his adorable little feet around, pretty willingly, really, also got to meet a power greater than himself, in the form of the tie post. There were a few temper tantrums, but he quickly learned that pulling on a rope halter is not nearly as comfortable as those wide nylon ones that give him plenty of base to work from. Tiny pyrotechnics turned into a pony standing, hip cocked, tail swishing gently, just like the big kids.

Great day at the barn, and if it doesn't rain me out, will be another one today. We'll work on all four quarters reaching equally, forwards and back. Getting that arc in the body with all things working as they are supposed to, leaves no room for brace. No brace, no buck. That's a good thing. And now, the sun is shining, the clouds have passed, hopefully in Plattsmouth as well as Omaha, and it's time to head for work!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tales of a gypsy horse trainer

No, not a trainer of the Gypsy Horse, though I'd not mind (Gretchen?) but a trainer who is essentially a mobile limited operation, living out of her vehicle, dog, and horses in tow . . . a gypsy who is a trainer of horses . . . At least that's what I got to be this past week, and man, did we have a good time!

A lot of you have followed our adventures prior to and post the move to Omaha. We've been in three barns, with potential for others, have had praise, love, shame and doubt heaped upon our heads in relatively equal measure. It's been a exercise in maintaining equilibrium, that's for sure. The ones that matter to me, continue to believe in me, and that's what keeps me moving forward.

Back to the "we" pronoun. We taught a clinic in February . . . and took away a very valuable learning tool. It's too damned cold to teach OR learn a darned thing in February in Nebraska. Probably won't do that again!

Got invited to demonstrate Anywhere From Here Foundation Horsemanship at the Nebraska Horse Expo. All three days in the round pen, demo'ing attaching the feet to the reins. I don't think it was fascinating . . . A friend once said horse training done right is like watching paint dry, and I'd have to agree, the best of it is no dust, muss or fuss. It's done in small, subtle, simple pieces and the casual eye will miss it, even an experienced one like mine, unless the changes are pointed out, as they occur and the brain just cannot get to the mouth fast enough to get that done. I did the best I could, and the horse was in a better frame of mind on Sunday than he began on Friday, which, as much as wowing the crowd would have been nice, being right for the horse is always the goal. I met and spent quite a bit of time talking with Richard Winters, who is a really fine horseman and I'll be adding him to that list of names I study. Watched his excellent colt starting techniques and his demo on Four Part Harmony . . . it's entirely worth checking out.

I got to take a private lesson with ranking dressage rider Matt McLaughlin while he was staying at Chance Ridge in Elkhorn. That was incredible. I was very pleased I could keep up with his instructions, to some extent anyway. I'd get so focused on him (you think horses are herd sour, try people, HAH!) that I would miss my mark, or he'd give me praise when I got something done, and I'd beam, it would all fall apart and "Terri, that looks AWFUL, go back, do it again and don't let it fall apart this time!" I was using Hawkeye, my Paint gelding who tends to turn into spaghetti under pressure and I was really impressed with his try and willingness. "You'd have a better balanced horse if you were a better balanced rider!" Says Matt. Sigh. Hand me a tissue, I'm okay . . . But really, as another friend reassured, is that not true of all of us? When I am better, my horse follows suit. Yep. I can live with that. Nothing for it, but to continue to improve!

We (I am going to skip around like that, English majors, deal with it!) came to Omaha, six horses in our herd. I am now down to two, and only one of those came down from Sioux City. Ginger has earned her spot, even though Spring fresh Ginger would make a really nice roast, the one I have the rest of the year is priceless. She is rising to her job of clinic demo horse, lesson horse for beginning AND intermediate riders, and colt pony girl with calm and aplomb. Plus, she's not hard on the eyes and smooth as silk to ride . . . and she'll pack my husband (to whom she actually belongs) on those occasions he should desire to ride. (I have promised to give advice to him only when asked, unless I see his near and impending death . . . we'll see how that goes )

The other horse . . . a three year old AQHA gelding I picked up at the Woodbine Saddle Club sale in Avoca a couple of weeks ago. Halter broke two days before the sale, this young fellow has worn a saddle pretty much every day since, traveled the gypsy caravan and even had his first ride, a day or so back. This is my "no excuses" horse. He will have no baggage, save what I give him. He will be everything I can help him to be, and I hope we make the team I have been looking for, my entire life. I said so long to Hawkeye and Chica at that sale. I still have a hitch in my stomach, thinking about Chic. She landed well, I liked the guy who rode her off bareback, grinning at me while he rolled her back off the fence, getting along just fine. She's been my girl a long time though, and at least I gave her enough start to get through the rest of her life with success. Dunno about Hawkeye. I had him pretty jacked up, and he did not show well. Wishing you the best, Hawk, you're a good boy, underneath it all, wish I could have done a little better for you, but it is what is, and it was time to move on.

In my travels, the horses hung out at Chance Ridge (thank you Cindy and Burton) and I got to spend some time up in Blair at one of my best friend's in life's place. Colleen and I go back aways . . . late 80''s even. We have had our share of good times and bad and plan to have plenty more. We survive the wrecks and support the triumphs. She is truly what good friendships are all about, warts and all. We rode some, played with the colt and brought him further along, culminating in Colleen putting a very successful first ride on him before I made my next migration to our latest new home, the Log Barn Stable, down by Plattsmouth. Great place, check it out. .

About the dog . . . We also brought dogs along, from our acreage in Sioux City. Dogs that had a perfectly fine life, running the large mostly fenced yard (Zan) and now have to adjust to city living . . . They are doing pretty good, but the one who struggles the most is unsurprisingly, the Border Collie/Aussie cross, Axel. Young dog, lots of energy, he sees the four foot chainlink fences around our yard and that of our neighbor's as excellent agility obstacles and loves to go visit. This is not going to work out. Fast cars and city people make bad combinations for even a friendly dog. I have to be able to take him with me, or he's going to have a tough time here, completely not of his making and not remotely fair. We had a week of bonding (my heart closes quickly and opens slowly, it seems and Zan left large pawprints to fill) and we are the best we have been yet. There is nothing much better than the love of a good dog, and cuddling with him on the couch in Colleen's guest room was a highlight of my week, funny as that may seem . . .

Taught a clinic last weekend in Elkhorn at Chance Ridge. Polar opposite from the one in February and not just the weather. I went back to my commitment to make the change in the horse, show the owner the change and what it means and then introduce them to the concepts that made the change. There is no way, in the course of one day or even two that I am going to be able to give someone the pieces to a puzzle I have been putting together for over 35 years. What I hope to do is show some differences and light the fire of desire for a better deal for the horse than the one he showed up with. I saw the changes in the horses, and the owners did, too. I know they all would have liked to have gone home, able to do it all, but that is not the way it works. I have caused myself and others a certain amount of frustration, trying to short cut the learning process and now I smile and say, if you got a piece, you have more than you came with . . . come back for more. That's what I did and what I continue to do.

Gypsy is home now, at least for awhile. We are well set up at the Log Barn, April's training horses arrive this week. I'll begin teaching lessons next week, my horse or yours. Can't wait to get back to the business of doing business, as I know and understand it best. Me and that horse, putting those pieces together until it makes sense for both of us. There is another clinic in Lincoln, a two day affair, which is a really good deal. Takes the pressure off all of us to get the message in a matter of hours. This let's you see the change, go home, soak about it, come back and work on it again. If you are interested in a spot, lessons, or training for your horse, please let me know. Love to have you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Timing, Feel & Balance - Clinic Report

Last Saturday we held the event I had euphemistically titled "Winter Warm Up." At least we had double digits, and once I figured out to close all the doors, it was almost tolerable inside the arena. I'd had this idea that once the sun came up, it would flood us with warmth, love and illumination. Like a few other preconceived notions I brought with me that day, I was wrong.

I had five brave participants, weather be damned they were willing to work with their horses, open their minds and see if I had anything to offer as far as how to get things done. I set up obstacles in the arena, each with an array of advancement possibilities as after having some rather advanced riders show up at my clinics, here and there, I want to be able to teach each to their level of ability, not overwhelming anyone but not letting anyone stand idle and bored, either.

All of the material I present is about learning how to communicate with a horse in such a way that it make sense to the horse. That communication is effected with timing, feel and balance. I talk about bringing up the life in the body to get to the feet which then reaches the mind. I learned that from the late great Mr. Ray Hunt, and it's as useful a tool as I know. I teach my clients to learn how to bring their OWN life energy up and down as the situation requires, and sometimes you have to be emotional agile as any Cirque De Soleil acrobat in order to create the response you desire rather than reacting to the one you are getting.

My goal is to make a soft change in the horse, and then teach the student how to make those changes. I got to see people learn the joy of trusting their horse, and see the gratitude of the horse on the end of the rein. I got to see good relationships get better, and happy lightbulbs went on, most of the day, for many, including myself. I use a variety of techniques, methodology and games to help the students realize what the horses already know, how to move into and away from pressure, applied by the horse or the person in charge. I teach that the release is where the horse learns if they are even in the right ball park or not. No release, no lesson.

All of my clinics also have lessons in them for me, and they are sometimes not the ones I have gone looking for. I know my style of horsemanship and training methods work. I develop the highest caliber of horses that I have, ever in my 30 years of working with horses. They generally go about their business in a calm, businesslike manner and are a pleasure to be around and to handle. I have learned to look for the soft eyes, the relaxed neck, the pretty free way of moving that comes from a horse who enjoys his job. Everything I do builds to that end. I see it every day that I work with a horse.

Becoming adept in communicating these methods to my fellow human beings has deeply challenged my feel, timing and ability to balance my emotional energy. I let my horses learn through running into their own resistance, finding reward through release and I teach that. However I also teach if you apply too pressure and the horse is overwhelmed, they will not learn. They will attempt to fight, or flee, and they will be upset. I find it is very much the same with human beings. Once the horse seeks release from pressure, I teach to respond with lightening quickness, rewarding the horse for the slightest try, affirming that they are on the right path, and doing the right thing. Horses want to feel safe, secure and confident in the leadership that is managing. We aren't so very different, are we? A hand heavy on the line creates the brace we seek to avoid, ill timed release confuses the horse, and we don't get the lightness and response we are looking for, the anxiety builds on both sides and the fight is on.

Through teaching, I have discovered the heavy hand, the ill timed release, and the misjudging of where to stand emotionally is once again, a large challenge for me as an instructor. Knowing when my students are reaching a threshold I would never ask a horse to blow through, taking the time it takes to help my students break down the techniques into small, manageable portions that make sense not only theoretically, but in practical application, this is taking me back to school, once again, myself.

I didn't wake up one day and think hey, this is how you do things, in the area of horse training. I have spent years testing the information I have seen from other clinicians, experimenting myself on different methodologies, even to the point of stopping my horse mid-step because my brain was whirling and unable to get my thoughts through to my hands and definitely not to the horse! Teaching clinics is every bit as challenging and maybe more so, than training horses. For one thing, I would never in my life even conceive of the notion that I could train a horse in a day. Never. Yet, this one day format has become very accepted and popular as a vehicle for transferring information.

In the course of a day, I attempt to teach philosophy, and psychology as it pertains to the nature of horse and human relationships. I teach how to handle a horse from the ground, establishing a "bubble" of personal space. I teach people to be aware of where their bodies are, in relationship to the horse and to be aware of who moves who's feet . . . and what means. That's in about the first 15 minutes.

From there, it is a whirlwind of how to control the parts of the horse, using as little pressure as possible but being willing to build to as much as necessary. How to lift a rein and move a foot. I introduce the idea that we exaggerate our motions to teach and that the goal is soft, invisible refinement, a flowing partnership that delights both horse and human. I teach how to settle the upset horse, not to ask them to blow through a task but to access the thinking side of the equine brain, acknowledge and accept the job that's being handed to them.

It's a lot.

In the afternoon, we saddle, and ride through the exercises that were taught in the morning . . . if it works out that way. I don't have anyone ride on a horse I view as unsafe and I had one of those on Saturday and that participant didn't get to ride, but got to practice bringing her horse down off a high by calmly moving it's feet, establishing leadership, trust and respect.

The hardest lesson of this particular day, for me, was that I let a different participant struggle far harder than I would have let any horse. I blew her through thresholds of comfort that I would never have pushed a horse through. My feel, timing and balance completely stunk for this client. I did not release to the slightest try on the part of my client, did not back up to the step where things worked, as I would have advised, had it been an equine student. The result? Built tension until things broke apart. Fortunately, for me, it wasn't a horse I was relentlessly pressuring who would not be able to object with anything but a physical explosion. Been there, done that, suffered the broken bones and physical wounds as a consequence. The human being is able to make choices and when that person had enough, it was enough. She voted with her feet and left the event.

I have never had anyone walk out on a clinic before. I have never allowed anyone to become that upset, lost and miserable before. I had to really process, just as I have had to review ugly days in horse training to see what the heck went wrong with the picture. My first reaction? Blame the client, of course, same as once upon a time, I blamed the horse. Well, that does not work out. It doesn't teach me anything, nor does it give me tools with which to avoid future similar situations. As I firmly hold the belief that I am responsible for my side of the communication, be it horse or human, and that the only side of the street that is my business is the one I am standing on, I took a good hard look at how I would have felt, had the shoes been on the other foot.

The horse the client was using belongs to me. Our beloved Ginger had a bad day. She was herd sour, antsy and disrespectful from the word go. I know this is a powerful, dominant mare, and my thought had been she would challenge my client, who I felt had the skills necessary to bring Ginger to a place of quiet respect. The horse wasn't having any of it, and rather than detaching from my agenda, being quick on my feet and emotionally agile to the situation, I clung doggedly to my course. Had it been myself, in a situation where I was using someone else's horse, I would not have cared how good they said the horse was, "usually." I would have let my own eyes, my own sense of what was going on tell me if the horse was good for me to use or not. Had the person in charge not respected my opinion, my own faith and trust in that person would have been very damaged.

Life is too short to put yourself in danger and I am the person who is the best judge of what I am capable of, and while I am willing to let someone I respect push me beyond my comfort zone, there are limits and places I will not go until I know I am absolutely ready. It does not matter that someone else might feel I am completely safe. If I don't have that belief, I am not, until something is done to reassure me and show me I am okay. I teach that if the horse says things are not good for him, then they are not, and it is my job to turn things around until the horse agrees we are in good space. I did not get this accomplished for my client and it does not matter whether I think I tried or not. The job not done is the job not done. I also did not respect that very basic instinctive value on the part of the client and the damage is done.

We do not have physical wounds to heal, but there are emotional ones, and they are painful as well, and take a very long time from which to recover. I am taught, once again, to keep my words soft, as I may have to swallow them, and some thoughtless remarks on my part are coming back to haunt more than one of us.

I have broken down the confidence of a horse through my errors along the learning curve, and it's a lot harder to put it all back together, once it's broken. Most of the time, through effort, willingness and hard work, it's possible. Human beings are tougher. You can't put one in the round pen and say, okay we are going to be here until things are good for us again. You can only try to be for that person what you would want them to be for you, hope for best, study your lessons, go on and try not to repeat the same mistakes, too many times, too many places. It takes feel, timing, and balance. The only way you get there, is practice.

Is this a good commercial for riding an Anywhere From Here foundation horsemanship clinic? Perhaps not, but it's right, it's real and it's what is happening. Over the course of time, trial and error, I have learned how to make things very good for my horses. Slowly but surely, it is also becoming good for my students but not without some bumps on the learning curve along the way. I am grateful to my friends who support me, help me be able to give "both eyes and both ears" to a situation. I am not in charge of the lesson learned, I am not in charge of the journey chosen for anyone else but myself. I am continually reminded that while I might have ideas about what the day holds for you, and how best things might go for you, should I be in charge, it is very good that I am NOT, and that what you have to learn is really not my business, after all. We each do our homework, and what's learned, end of day, can only benefit the one doing the learning. In my shoes, that's me.