Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Day Of Lessons


Getting ready to head out yesterday, I layered up good. The promised high of 50-something was not looking likely. No matter, it’s unseasonably warm for our part of the world and I have young horses calling my name (even though they are probably quite blissfully unaware of that particular fact . . .)

Climbing into my new to me 97 Grand Prix, I smile wryly to myself. It’s fire engine red, a cop magnet if ever there were one. I quickly scope out the cruise control features.  How I came to own this particular car could be a blog all of itself but that would divert us from the important subject: horses!  Still, it makes for an enjoyable, affordable ride over the 25 miles between here, and there.

Grand Prix

Seeing Royal throw up his head, point his ears at me and amble over to the gate is probably not going to lose it’s thrill for me for the length of our lives together.  Having my dream horse live in my pen, against what were some really crazy odds . . . it’s a bright spot in my life and I savor the feeling of it, against the dark days that will creep in as a necessary part of life as I know it.

Where ya goin, Ter

I catch them all, as is my habit, not-as-wary Riata (good way to start) fat, fat Junebug (holy cow, she needs a diet and a JOB) and even old Jewel, the mostly retired 28 year old boarder horse.  Standing tied is a good job for a horse, and they all get their turn when I am around.

Junebug, otherwise known as Kate Moss 

Grooming is taking on a different aspect for me. My friend, Charlie, who owns Shady Lanes Ranch in Council Bluffs, has the highest grooming standards for getting a horse’s back clean of anyone I have ever known. Saddling for him is an aerobic exercise the equal of any gym master’s routine! Since I have Competitive Trail Riding on my nearer horizon, I am working to implement habits in my daily routine that will serve me well, once I attempt the sport. Grooming is a huge part of that, and I am notorious for knocking the mud off the saddle-y parts and rock and roll. This will not do. With Charlie’s rumbly voice in my head (it was a crowded place yesterday), he was the first of my instructors to show up and start issuing commands only I could hear. “Get ‘em clean! No, not like that, I mean CLEAN!”

Saddling Riata, I am workman about my business but paying close attention to her reactions, how she shifts her weight, rolls her eye, flicks an ear and takes a sudden breath. All these things tell me what she is thinking about what is happening to her. She is one sensitive filly and I have to be careful not to let her train me to be afraid to do anything around her for fear of upsetting her. Turned out, to get where we needed to go, she had to get upset. And learn from it, and move on.

Riata 12-30 soft eyes

Doing my groundwork, I still don’t have that long level topline from Riata. Her head is up, muscles bunched in neck and hip, she looks like a carousel horse. Not as good.  Her eye is not as big but it’s still not soft, not quiet. She has troubles in there.  I work at getting her to stretch and relax, so that all four corners of her reach equally. it’s almost there. Almost, by the way, is NOT there at all.

Later, as Riata is pitching pyrotechniques, rearing up and pitching herself away from me, I am so very much missing Corie and her camera for the action shots . . . the before’s, and we are going to have some after’s, too, doggone it!

Another whole blog might be around what I have discovered (yes, discovered) my habit of quitting. It’s old and it’s deep. If something is very hard, it’s pretty easy for me to walk away and find something more rewarding for my time (in my perception.) Riata was for sale about 50 times yesterday, with all the rationalizations behind it that would make sense to any casual onlooker. (Colleen that is NOT you).

One horse would be so much more affordable . . . I only have a certain amount of time, why not put it into Royal, my dream horse . . . and so on. Not to mention, I am too young to die, just yet!

I put the long line on her halter as Riata would get worried, escalate, blow up and pull away from me on the 12 foot line. This got very routine for her. Uh no. We are not going in this direction either. If I were being paid to ride her, I would work it out so I am going to pretend that’s what is going on here. I am going to work it out.

On the long line, she is surprised to find out she cannot escape and she goes back to work.

We get to a place I think we can quit and I leave her on a post to soak. I have a frown between my eyes, I am not getting through to her and I don’t know why.

It’s the spotted horse’s turn. Ground work for him is a preflight check. Do we have all parts moving equally on both sides? (Buck)Check. Back you in a circle?(Peter) He doesn’t see the point but is starting to understand that sometimes, with me, you have to work. Actually, Royal, in your new life with me, you will always have to work. It’s still just news to you.

I am a little concerned getting on him. The last two rides have not been easy at all, and I want to get this horse in a different direction than what it seems we are heading, also.  Once again, he stands like a rock to be mounted, wow, is this really not a fluke? He gets it? Stands on a loose rein and waits for me. Nice.

We are going to work circles out in the pasture. The importance of a good, soft, fluid circle at all three gaits is another blog, all of it’s own. Suffice to say here, it was a job for us to do, to give us focus and take my mind off my jitters.

I will tell you, when I am nervous, I cannot ride for shit. Pardon the language but it’s the total truth. Jose’s voice “I want to see your neck, please. Put your shoulders down please. Do NOT look down, PLEASE!” Colleen, talking about the importance of rhythm and relaxation to prepare a horse for the more advanced maneuvers. Matt McLaughlin, helping me with poor unfortunate Hawkeye, and the difference some simple exercises made in a horse that had never learned to carry himself properly . .  .

We are at a walk, Gretchen in my head reporting how keeping the frontal plane straight improved so much for her. I do that, and my horse ceases to wander around the field. We have a circle.

‘No pony ‘leeping!” Jose again. I sigh, ask for a better walk. Royal jigs, bounces his rebellious head against the bit (yes, I am back to the snaffle. We may revisit the halter issues but it was not the day for it, for me) I tighten my fingers in response, and he bumps my hands impatiently, asking for release. Nope. You release to me, big boy, I tell him. Find it. You know where the softness is . . . I will help a horse that is just learning to give to the bit, releasing to them at the slightest try to encourage and build confidence in them. This horse, whoever started him so nicely  taught him that. He is ready for bigger boy lessons.

I ask him for some bend, using my inside leg back to encourage the hip to come up under. Missy Fladland taught me to shift my weight to the outside seat bone (rail) to prepare a horse to make a turn by bringing the hip under and pushing from behind.

As my instructors instructed and I focused on riding, my skitzy loopnut young gelding stopped glancing to the mares back at the barn. The jigging disappeared, the neck bowed gracefully and the reins were on a soft light contact of his choosing. Brenda Messick is in my head too, with the Centered Riding techniques she is learning and being really gracious about sharing on her yahoo chat list. As I work on me, my horse improves.

We trotted circles, once that felt good, we went back to the walk and did the figure eight exercise Matt taught me, counterbending through the center and releasing into beautiful, perfect arcs (yeah, well that’s the goal and it DID happen when I set him up right, not so much some others . . . ) to circle back the other way.

I forget who all has been after me to lope every ride. I kinda didn’t want to. What if he bucks? Dang it, Terri, COME ON! Just freaking ride your horse, already! I sigh some more, loosen those shoulders, once again up around my ears, and gather him up. Royal lengthens his trot stride in anticipation. No, buddy, that’s not what I want, we don’t transition (prepare for the transition, oh yeah) from a pounding trot. 

He’s nicely collected, I put my outside leg back and tentatively ask for a canter (Jose in my head NO NO NO! Ask for what you want, and GET it! Your horse must know you mean it!). Deep breath. Okay. I put my leg back, and tell Royal with my weight and hands, canter.

Gorgeous baby doll rocking horse canter. I forget this horse really has had some very decent education somewhere in his life. We lose it, as I fall apart in my happiness (sorry Jose) and pick it back up again. Focus.

Both directions, so dang pretty! I am really missing Corie now! I would love to have some shots of him working like that . . . I will keep them in mind for the days we don’t get it as good as there will probably be some.

All the good stuff with Royal happened under saddle. Here is the new trick I taught him, or maybe just a lucky shot as he was rolling the sweat off SmileRoyal's New Trick

Back to Riata. She looks better, hasn’t been flinching away from me for awhile now. I think I am going to ride her just for a few minutes and then head for home.

Do the preliminary groundwork to loosen her up from standing. I am thinking, again, most people watching would think she was fine. She wasn’t. There was trouble in her eyes, a refusal to see me out of the right one nearly at all, and tension in her body.

I get her to look at me out of both eyes. Get both ears. This is old stuff for me but somehow I tend to forget anything I used to know when I learn a new thing . . . 

Standing in the stirrups, I let my toe touch her side. She is still cinchy, and she grunts and tightens. I am up and down a few times. Move the stirrup on the off side. Again, I think a lot of people would have said, Terri just throw your leg over and get ON!

This time, the voice in my head that said to wait was right. There was no one home at the house and taking a dicey ride when all by yourself is just poor judgment. Stepping down, I held the stirrup in my hand and let it drop against her side. Riata just stood for stirrup slaps and all that not five minutes earlier.

She blows like a steam cannon. Head down, all fours off the ground, hair pin bow in the middle of her back. She bucks so hard she grunts with effort and she really gets after it.  I let go of the mecate line but I keep her moving until she quits bucking and darting around like a damn wild mustang. She faces up, front legs wide spread,nostrils flared red, ready to head for high country. Get on with you then, I said, and she had to move again. We don’t have a round pen, just the paddock at the barn and I keep her away from the tied horses so we don’t have a wreck.

It’s not good until she comes to me. When she starts hunting me, I release and walk away from her. First time, in ages, she comes with me. Now the head is down, in a different way. A change . . .


Halter goes back on, long line attached and we go to work. She tries to pull away and run out, but I don’t let her. I keep her moving until she can. You reach the brain through the feet and by the time we called it quits, she was loping both ways in a decent manner. It seems to me we should be past this, but this is where we are.

On the goosey

Now. Riata is licking and chewing. Her head lowers as I lower mine. I stretch my neck and invite her to follow me into relaxation. It takes some tries but then she does. She backs softly at the lightest ask, comes forward without fear. She walks cooling circles with the topline I have been searching out for weeks.

A change-2

I rub and rub that sweaty head and for the first time since things have soured with her, she twitches her lips with pleasure at my touch.

It was a big day for lessons from my good instructors, even though not a single one was there in their body, they were all there in my mind.  Riata is not for sale, and Royal rides like a horse that might know something. I have deep appreciation for the incredible teachers I have had the honor to ride with.  It was a really good day.

Wet Saddle Blanket day

Wet saddle blanket day for Ri.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On The Way To True Blue

You have to get past the chartreuse green.  That takes savvy (not just miles, but those too), wet saddle blankets, courage and perserverance.  I know these things, have encouraged many others along this path and started at least my fair share of young horses on their journey. Now, it’s my turn.


Over the years, I have always made sure I have at least one broke horse on the grounds. My “go to”, whether it be a for sale horse, or one that I was calling mine for awhile, there was always something to pony from, throw a leg over for a relaxing ride when I didn’t want to have to be on the top of my game every single second I was on board. Yesterday was a day when I could have used one of those good ole True Blues.

Ginger at the NHC Trail Challenge

Instead, I have . . . babies. One is six, but he is still a baby in his brain, and experience level.  Royal and I have had a very strange relationship. As my car parking horse, our priority was to get people parked in a timely manner and on the way to their hayrack rides. It was not the time to work out “issues.” Many a moment passed that I let Royal get away with this shenanigan or that one, refusal to do “whatever” or the occasional fit he would throw just to entertain himself when he was bored. I thought, son, there might come a day when we revisit these attitudes of yours and start filling in the blanks for you.  The horse cannot be blamed for the holes in his foundation and education.

In the lake, yeah!

Now, I own him. He has a new job. It’s called “putting your feet where Terri asked you to, and no other places.” Might be a harder gig for him, at first, than that other. The rules have changed. I understand it’s my responsibility to not be a jerk about that. Still, they have changed.

My other young horse, Riata, the three year old, has her doubts about our situation. She voted with her feet to leave me, twice, yesterday, at a headlong gallop away from me in a bullet straight line.  That is my report card for where we are at, in our relationship.  Again, there is no blaming the horse here. They are honest creatures and they tell you what they are thinking.


We talk an awful lot about horse whispering, but it’s pretty much never the horses’ whispering that we are referring to . . . Yesterday, I was thinking hard about what kinds of tones of voices my horses have to use to get through to me . . . Can I hear them before they have to escalate the message? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Last week, when I started with Riata, I took a lot of time to relax her body.  Her mind is very turned off to me. Hurts, as this was a horse that used to come to my call and follow me around the pen.  Now, she barely wants to look at me. Did I do anything grossly wrong? Not to my way of thinking, but I am not the one that gets to cast the vote for her, as much as I would like to. 

Before I saddled her, I played ground games. I pointed at a join in the fence and asked her to put her nose on it. This is very different than asking a horse to put it’s nose on something it’s afraid of, I don’t like that methodology at all. This particular game is done from the end of the rope and requires the person to fine tune their signals to the horse, and for the horse to engage and really pay attention. Pressure, release. Hot, cold.  Ri would put her nose BY whatever I asked her to, she would not touch a darned thing. Royal, when we played the game, instantly stuck his nose to the object and would look at me brightly “what’s next? This is boring!”  Different horses. One as bright as the other but not wanting much to play with me.

Riata study

By the end of last Saturday, Ri was as warm to me as she had been in a long time. She saddled without bucking or undue tension. Did beautiful “falling leaf” (hip over, shoulder through, as I call it) patterns, and I put her up on what I thought was a very, very good note.

It was the magickal kind of day horse people own horses to have, full of soft eyes, willing feet, and strides gained.

Yesterday, I was not in the same mental condition as I was, last week. Some of the worldly stresses were hanging heavy on my shoulders and I Just. Wanted. To. Ride.

Saddling Royal, I wanted to put the snaffle bit back in his mouth. I know it bugs his wolf teeth, but I also know I have ridden him many hours in it and got along. What I did NOT want to do was deal with the issue of him not wanting to give to the pressure of the halter . . . A very important piece of having a broke horse. He doesn’t want to give to bit pressure either, by the way, so it’s appropriate we roll back and start where it begins . . . Fine.

Royal in Walt's Crates saddle

Buddy sour.  Not really broke enough that when the chips are down and it’s his will versus mine, that I have a lot of confidence he won’t just blow through the roof and demand his way. That challenge hung in the balance for us several times yesterday, just circumventing the 5 acre pasture while the mares cried for  him at the barn.  I could hear Ray Hunt, admonishing a student to stay just this side of trouble and worked hard to not let my fear make me become aggressive to my horse, and dive us headlong over the other side of that fine line. Occasionally, I was stern, I won’t let fear cause me to allow misbehavior either. It’s a tight rope, sometimes and feels about as comfortable.

Thank goodness the nature of the horse is to follow a leader. Royal argues, but when those chips did come down, he accepted my leadership without any real pyrotechniques and it all worked out.

Oh yeah . . . we worked last week on his unwillingness to stand quietly to be mounted. I didn’t think we’d made any real progress there, though he did stand for me, just didn’t feel that “ahhh” that I sometimes get from a horse that receives the lesson. Well, we might have argued about a dozen different things yesterday,but darned if he didn’t stand like a rock and wait to be asked before moving off. . . baby steps, but steps indeed!

Got annoyed with him bracing against the noseband of the halter when I asked for reverse. He backs up with a broken poll and a soft jaw, off the bit, this should be no different. I know better than to engage in a pulling match with 100o lbs of resentful horse. In the barn I go and I return with the dressage whip. We back circles from the ground. A light tap, here and there, when he’d spin out his hip and refuse to take straight steps, or when he’d raise that pretty head and brace those feet . . . and soon it was liquid steps wherever I asked.  Hmm, note to self, that good firm, kind leadership you want to teach people? Still applies.

I had already unsaddled but I wanted this from his back as well. To the mounting block we go and I jump on his bare back. Let’s just say he is no more a snot bareback than he is saddled. And, four fluid steps backwards, and I called it a day.

Looked at Riata. I had worked through her jumping in the air and blowing away from me across the pasture (damn, I am missing having a round pen! Gotta work with what you have though), had ponied her off of Royal, and while he was a butthead, she was steady eddy through that whole thing.  The lot was deeply muddy but it was time to ride. My friend, Colleen, mentioned the other day she’d rode a colt in kind of poor footing, because it was time to ride and that’s what she does. She had a though that it being a little slick might make him be a little more careful about the stunts he pulled. I liked that idea.

Riata has become kind of explosive in her objections and I took some care about getting on. I picked up and dropped the stirrups, slapped them against her sides while asking her to move (they will stand still for it, and then katy bar the door if things change while they are in motion, that’s an important piece, you guys.) Anyway, she passed all my little tests with flying colors. Get on, Terri.

I still don’t like this part, getting up on a horse I am not sure what the ride will be. Guess I probably never will. I got up and down, I think she mostly wanted me to quit screwing around and get settled. So, I did. Sat there quite awhile, and Ri waited patiently for me to ask her to do something.

Riata, Dec 11

We toddled around the lot by the barn. I am riding her in a rope halter as well. It’s not as rough as it is with Royal but she doesn’t come off the pressure perfectly either.  I start all my colts in halters and I don’t put a bit in their mouths until they understand this. How my two got so far down the path without me realizing we had to go back to this, I do not know. It’s another VERY important piece. They either give to pressure or they don’t. There is no such thing as “sometimes.” What “sometimes” means is that they are always doing what they want to do, it just happens to coincide with what you want to do, on occasion and when it does not, you will part ways.

It was not a glowy, feel good kind of day.  It was the kind of day you have to get through when you have young horses that only know what they know. It’s not their job to head for the library and study their lessons. It’s mine.  Whether or not I put the gaps in their education does not matter in the least. What matters is that I fill them, so that they can each rise to the tremendous potential that each of them possess, and maybe, so do I.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Back to Basics

In my search for all good things horse I sometimes find myself wandering a bit far afield. How do I know? Things start to go inexplicably wrong. At first I have no idea why. Then, when I go back to my first teacher, the horse, I get my answers. If I am open and paying attention, they will always tell me what is troubling them.

Subject at hand right now is my lovely grulla filly, Riata. Brief history, I bought her at a sale last March on the rebound from what I thought was losing Royal. I picked up a horse that seemed gentle, good minded and had a striking color. The thought behind the purchase was that this was one I could mess with a little, and if she didn't trip my trigger, her color alone assured that I would not lose my money and she was in the bank in case Royal did somehow manage to come back onto my horizon.

Day one, she was cautious and wary, but allowed me to catch her, do a little groundwork and I called it good. Day two, I could barely so much as put a hand on her before she spun and tore wildly away. Day three, I build a little pen in the arena that was her temporary home, thinking to lure her in with hay and then do the round pen work I do to help horses learn to face up, hook up and allow themselves caught. She follows me in, no luring involved, and in fairly short order, I have hands on, and she is sinking her head into my arms and we are having a moment . . .

Busy with my Spring book, she goes where all my horses go, straight to the back burner. I pull her off to ride a day with Kerry Kuhn when Purina brings him to town. I know the filly rides, walk, trot and canter but I don't see what happens before what I saw happen. She was jumpy and goosey enough, I thought, maybe something . . . We get through the gooseyness at the clinic with a TON of sacking from me in the beginning. She gets gentle, accepting and I ride her all day. End up on cloud nine. We both know what we want from each other and it looks like a wonderful partinership is in the making except . . .

back to back burner she goes. Then, I move my horses this summer and she promptly gouges a hole in her side and is laid up for almost two months. Riata gets handled every day with wound cleaning and again, she is gentle, accepting, friendly and trusting.

So, why the purpose of this blog? Because something happened. I am still not real sure what. I rode her in Peter Campbell's clinic as I blogged before and we ran into trouble there. She had learned really well to not be bothered by things flying around her, and had also got pretty stuck and lazy about her responses. The cowboys want their horses to MOVE when they are told, and I do too, so we really got after it. I want to make clear I am not blaming Peter for our problems. It is solely in me, my timing, my not being in sync with my horse. I was hard on her, at times, looking for that amped up response, and if I had been where she was, I could have cued her in a way that she understood. I don't think that happened. From what she tells me, there is no way. Riata is confused . . . when to stay, when to go, and what happens if she messes up? Now we have sullen and withdrawn or goosey and ready to blow. Great.

Riata came home from the clinic not wanting much to do with any of us. Walt who is my old business partner, made mention of what a changed attitude she had and not in any good way. She was sullen, did not want touched, flinched and ran away when she was reached for. She had started bucking when saddled the week before the clinic. Total mystery to me, who prides myself on being able to read my horses, and proceed at their pace to get where I want to go with them in an efficient, timely manner.

Saddle fit is an issue. I have had to use a much tighter cinch, front and back to keep the saddle from flipping up in back and ending up on her neck. Not just this saddle, but a bunch of them. In this process, Ri has become very girthy, and last night, I notice several things, one of which is a healing cinch area from the ride last week. Reaction to the neoprene? Fungus? Dunno. After me not being there for almost two weeks, she is gentler and friendlier than she was last time I saw her and rode her around the lake. She approaches me but as I step towards her, the head comes up and the eye widens. I slow down. AND THEN THE LIGHTS BELLS AND WHISTLES GO OFF IN MY HEAD. I need to slow the f*ck down. Pardon the language or don't but that's the case. I have been in a hurry with this filly almost every time I have handled her. I have not sought the relaxed attitude, the gentle trust, that is the first thing I do with each and every one of my training horses. That is not established through hugs and pets, but through exercises in which there is release at the right moment and only enough pressure to get the job done. Yes, what Peter said. I didn't learn that there, but I did forget it, some. This does not mean poke around, pussyfooting so as not to upset my horse. This means REALLY reading her and going at her pace. I can ask for more but I have to aware and not blow through thresholds on the way to some place I think we should be. This is kindergarten stuff for me, but sometimes I think I am way smarter than I actually turn out to be.

I do some walking work with her, getting Riata to stretch and reach equally with all quarters. A tense horse really cannot reach under themselves and allow this to happen. There is a cause and effect of relaxing the body, relaxing the mind, relaxing the mind, relaxing the body. As her stride loosened up, her eye remained soft and dark, calm, unconcerned, I knew I was back on the right track with this pretty young horse.

Sometimes, wanting my horse friends and peers to approve of me and what I am doing gets the best of me. I want a spectacular riding horse that shows off the very best of what I can do. Yes, that is ego talking and it is not the best friend of the horse, or me or anyone. I am back to wanting the natural level headset of the horse that is carrying themselves correctly, that is totally at ease and comfortable with what I am asking. For me, it starts slower and builds up. I am no fan of the sour, ears laid back, stoney eyed look I see on horses that are tuned out and turned off, and I was putting that very look on Riata, every time I handled her. Done with that. Sorry, Ri.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sometimes Things Work Out

Many of you are well aware (some TOO aware, LOL) of the saga of myself and a six year old spotted Arabian gelding. No, Arabians do not come with spots, he's got some Paint in there, too, making those striking tobiano markings but he's mostly Arab. That is sometimes far too apparent!

I don't know what it is that happens when a person like me falls this hard for a horse. One. Particular. Horse. I am kind of like that, though. Fell for my husband the same way. Dunno. Anyway, I have been in love with this goofy horse since I laid eyes on him, and even though it sounds odd and maybe even a little sappy, he's got something going for me too.

We have been through hell and high water, but it looks like finally things are working out for a retired horse trainer and a young, high spirited gelding that thinks pretty much all the time and any time is play time.

When I haltered him up today, I breathed deep into his dusty neck, letting all the love and the "you finally belong to me, kid" energy I was feeling flow into him. I can't say he felt and understood all that, but he dropped his head and we had a . . . well, it was a snuggle moment and that's about all you can call it.

My friend, Kara Mehaffy was on her way over, we were riding the trails at the ranch today. I drove the wrong vehicle, leaving the one at home that had my saddle and gear stowed in it, so was borrowing a ranch saddle and hoping she'd have an extra bridle.

Royal and I had the best day. He was mellow and easy going. We rode all over the place and then went down to the indoor arena and played on the jumps and used the ground poles as sidepass obstacles. Another friend of mine had made a comment about him not respecting my leg and I thought, now that you do belong to me, we will be fixing that shortwith. Not by "harpooning" (thanks for that phrase, Peter!) with my spur, but by using the correct aid at the correct time with the correct amount of pressure to get the job done. We worked on sidepassing, and had to break it down, first hip, then shoulder then both. Then, worked on bringing the hip over to make a corner . . . We are going to a HAUNTED Trail Challenge tomorrow (money will exchange hands if I stay on, all day, I have no doubt. They think I am pure crazy, back at the ranch) and we practiced a few things to make as good a showing as we possibly can. We got real decent at communicating with one another. Maybe you can imagine my joy as I ask him for a step, one step, not three or half a dozen, and he takes that step and waits for his next instruction. We are not at all what we are going to be but we have made a heck of a fine start. Our relationship will become ever more subtle and refined, and we will venture into many things, Trail Challenges . . . Dressage . . . Competitive Trail Riding, and you know, even though Riata is the Quarter Horse, we will have to introduce Royal to cattle, as well. We will trail ride and camp with our friends and hit the occasional friendly Cap City horse show. There is so much in store for us!

Kara and I had such great days with our sweet young geldings. Her horse is a little younger than mine, but has also had a couple of years off in the middle. We are having a lot of fun, introducing them to things, polishing and working on what they know. I have discovered Royal loves to jump (and not just when he is spooking sideways!). We loped some decent circles or circle-ish patterns around the jump standards, and when we were out of sync about where we were going, it was surely comical, but when we were together . . . completely magickal.

Royal has an issue about being mounted. I have even had people hold his head as I didn't have time to work through the issue before we had to go do our jobs. I never do that, but it's what we had to do. Today, we went to the mounting block. Five minutes later, he is standing quietly, reins down on his neck while I mount. I won't go into the detail of what I did to help him with that, but there are exercises. It didn't take much'a nuthin' because he trusts me and I hold that trust as a very fragile, perishable precious thing.

We blew through a jump, toward the end, and I got down to straighten and set things right. I left Royal's reins looped around the saddle horn and walked away. Indoor arena, where could he go? His neck relaxed and level, he never took those soft eyes off me as I walked around, putting back to rights the different ground poles and whatnot we had messed with during our playtime. Kara even rode away, taking his buddy to the other side of the arena to see if he would move. He looked at them, a little alarmed, but his feet did not stray. My throat got tight, and I got a little misty as I walked back to him, greeting him with soft touches and thanking him for being my willing partner in this deal.

We aren't looking to win anything tomorrow at the Trail Challenge. Going strictly for fun and an opportunity to get my lovely boy out and about. Traveling with Kara and SenSay, a pair I think we are going to have just a ton of fun with in days ahead.

I am on cloud nine tonight. It's been a long road, and there have been lots of not-easy parts, but as a lot of people have said, this horse and I need each other. We have gifts for one another and I am so darned happy we are going to get to make this work out. Things do not always work out, not for horses or people. But, sometimes, they do.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Riding With Peter Campbell

At some point the journey into real horsemanship becomes very private, very personal and very intense. There are moments leading into it upon which a person is challenged to look at themselves, to observe what is in them that comes out in the presence of the horse. For a long time, people blame the horse. Some people never get past that.

Awhile ago, it was told to me "Terri, it is not the horse. It is NEVER the horse." I choked on that pretty hard, and sometimes I still do. It is in the nature of the horse to do what they think is right for them, at any given moment, whether it's saving their own lives, responding to hard wired instincts, or trying to do whatever it is THEY think we are asking of them. It is up to us to take responsibility for the communication AND the result we get from it.

I have stood with my nose pressed up against the glass at a lot of clinics for a lot of years. Peter Campbell, Buck Brannaman and some others. It's excrutiating to audit when all you want to be is in there, soaking it up. The ass chewing, the very occasional praise, the certain look you get when you get something, and the guy teaching it knows you got it. But more . . . the levels under the levels that you know. The ones you know are there, but have no idea how to access on your own or you already would have got that done.

In light of all this, I rode with Peter this weekend, carving time and money out of a life that has zero excess of either. Eternal thanks to my husband, without his support, it could never have taken place, Colleen Hamer for her undying suppor, thanks to the many friends who loaned me saddles to try in my desperate search to find something to put on that short backed, round bellied little gal of mine, thanks to the Musils who once again loaned me the trusty stock trailer so I could get her towed around. It took a village!

I am not going to do a blow by blow. I don't understand enough of what I have learned to make it make sense to someone else, and it might not matter even if I did. The things I felt, learned, pushed through, am still licking and chewing over, are all part of that journey I am on, to understand the horse and work as a better partner for them. You might have completely different things in store and my details could get in the way of you learning yours.

As far as techniques, Peter is a master at watching a horse, rider combo and seeing where the horse is at and where it needs to come forward from. The trick is getting the rider onboard with the scenario. Riata has not had a lot of riding. Trina Campbell assisted me with saddle fitting and her take was that my own saddle worked the best if I cinched it down, front and back. Lesson One for Terri. Take the advice you ask for, even if it stretches your paradigms of what you normally do . . . If what I normally do was perfect, I sure don't need to be at a clinic . . . Saddle worked great, even sweat patterns, moving along . . .

I had a concern that not being a regular rider at Peter's clinics, and only being able to attend for two of the four days might put me on the back burner. Could hardly blame the guy. We had folks there from several states away . . . surely they deserved more attention than half timer me. Not even so. Saturday morning, we do groundwork, falling leaf some call it, hip over, shoulder through, some else. Smooth is the goal. I was jumpy, nervous and fairly unhandy, but I got the call to put on my bridle and mount up.

Peter starts with us. Filly is stuck, he says, won't move her front end, at all. And she wouldn't either. Next thing we discover is that in my desire to not have her jump out from under me (so much of my horsemanship has been based out of fear.) I have desensitized her to stimulation to the point it doesn't mean anything to her. Could not hardly work her with the flag at all. Peter gets a Gatorade bottle, puts some rocks in it to shake at her to get some life in her feet. I am terrified. I am sure she is going to come out of her coma with wild leaps, bounds and bucking worthy of any PRCA bronc. What I did not know yet was Peter's feel and sense of timing was not going to cause that or allow that to take place.

Up and down the arena we go. Bend her! As the hip comes through, change your hand to bring the shoulder around. Again! Again! Every great once in awhile, I would get my timing in line with his, and Riata would come through. Then, she would get stuck, I would lose my process and we would be in a tangle. We were sweaty, panting messes but I could feel Peter putting on pressure and then backing off at just the right moment. I trusted him. Riata improved but she was sully and confused. His timing is impeccable. Mine, especially under circumstances where I really want to ride well but am scared half to death (old fears, not about what was really happening, that is important to know) is not. We got through, made changes, went to breathe.

We did other things that morning. Of course we did, but that was the pivotal part for me. The trotting along the arena fence in the company of other horses was not the least bit frightening for either of us, we had gone through a storm together and come out the other side. We did bringing the hip a quarter turn over to face the fence, shoulder around 1/4, 3/4 or whatever and it did not always go horrible. Filly was willing and felt good under me. I was glad she was there.

The next day, after a lot of other things, Peter tells a story about a super nice guy. A horse trainer, gives his horses lots of time, is very patient and slow with them. Gets bucked off. A lot. Because when he starts to go and ask his horses to really do something for him, they don't know how to move their feet. They have never had to and they get stuck, and blow up. I heard that story. My horses will move their feet.

No substitute for riding, Peter says. I am the queen of groundwork (more fear) and now I agree with Peter. Not that in any way, shape or form a person should get on a horse they are terrified of or one that they think is going to get them in trouble, but get the groundwork out of the way, learn what to do to make it right to ride, and ride. Yep, I get that.

Don't go through something bad to try to get to something good. Will never happen. That ties right along in here. I got bucked off Pedro last year, climbing up on a tight, resentful colt. I saw what I saw, and got on anyway. Got off again, pretty darned quick and not how I ever mean to. Never too late to stop, get it right and then go forward.

Peter also made mention, late in the day yesterday, after teaching us how to introduce our horses to a reining manuever called a spin, that it never looks good to see someone whirling a horse around, dragging on the reins and spurring to try to get that done. I am nodding away, yeah, no, it never looks good, when suddenly I remember myself the day before, frustrated with Riata, and trying like hell to get the stuck shoulder out of the ground and moving. Oh . . . he never put any of us on the spot saying YOU DID THIS, OR YOU DID THAT but he didn't say much without having a reason to say it, either. That was a good way to learn, and I am going to remember the method, should I find myself teaching again . . .

Trying to find the awareness of the right time to ask a foot to hurry . . . when to put on pressure, when to hang back and let the horse figure something out . . . fix it up and wait . . . truly getting the feet attached to the reins means not cheating with leg pressure. Damn.

Day two had a real hard moment or two, too. We all worked on setting the horse's feet correctly, so it could properly turn itself around in a balanced and proper fashion. I had trouble with this and half the time I found myself unable to even SEE her back feet, much less be aware of which was moving when.

We mounted up and Trina came around to help. I know Riata is spooky about being approached by strangers. As Trina approached, she skittered away. "STOP her, Terri! Now, why would you go and let her do that?" Trina is looking at me, puzzled. I choke up, fear and tears welling up. Oh NO, not the emotional moment! I don't want it! But, the fear had completely overwhelmed me for a moment. I didn't do anything because I was frozen up there and could not think my way through it. When I did come to, and pull her up, Riata was easy to stop and bring around. I was WAY more troubled than she was.

With Trina's support, she's no huggie kissy pet you on the head kind of gal, but a strong and stalwart aide that I would follow just about anywhere . . . we got through that. The HORSE was not nearly as troubled as I was . . . when I calmed, she dropped her head and let down. Trina stayed by us for quite awhile and then went on.

When it was my turn to go up and work individually with Peter, he had little patience with pussy footing around. Ri didn't want his horse to come up beside her, and I was not much good at getting that to happen. Peter takes her snaffle ring and with Tango, his gelding's help, tries to move us back and around. Ri wallers to the side, and locks up. Suddenly I feel her canting over. I gulp, look up at Peter thinking, damn, we are going to flop right over!

"Should I be doing anything right now, to help, Peter?" I asked, I am sure my voice was small and quavering. "No," he says firmly. "Just sit there, I value my life too much for that!" I kind of had to laugh, and then the moment was over, she gave, her hind released and while her shoulder didn't come through with smooth beauty and grace, we got a change.

Name of the game, right? Get the change, the smallest change, the slightest try. Be savvy enough to see it and recognize it when it happens. Another challenge.

Again, more things happen that day, Riata is freeing up, I am freeing up and we are doing not horrible. I am really wishing I could ride another session. I feel us on the verge of something wonderful and I am not at all sure I can get there on my own. Not as well as I can with Peter, that is for damn sure. I make the decision to ride the afternoon session. No way I can take a day off work in light of all else, and this seems to be the compromise.

Trina and Peter gave me their blessing. The afternoon session is for the grown ups and I was not sure either Ri or I could keep up, but I thought maybe. They thought definitely. Day before, they broke out the cattle and the possibility it could happen again was very inviting!

This event was held at 3V Stables, over by Ashland NE, and I have to take a moment to give Greg and Cindy Vosler their propers here. Really incredible hosts, it seemed they did everything in their power to make sure their guests were accomodated and felt welcome. Nice job, guys! Including renting us the roping steers.

We were visited by a photographer who is temporarily in the Omaha area, working on some really neat projects involving equestrian and cowboy photography. I had heard about Steadman Uhlich and he was on my facebook page. Steadman was invited to take some shots of the clinic, and we spent time Sunday afternoon doing a photo shoot, which of course, turned into more things with which to work on with our horses. Steadman's work is art of a high form. If you Facebook, check him out. I have a feeling more than a few of us will be ordering portraits. Not pretty posed, in your Sunday best stuff, but gritty in the heat of it action . . . and then . . . we did some others :-)

We had many laughs as the girls let down their hair for some lovely traveling past shots . . . Had to keep our horses headed straight (many people have no idea how difficult and important that is!) while we looked handsomely into the horizon. Can't wait to see the finished results. I even loped Riata even though Peter was over there, calling 911 into his microphone. He was laughing too, and I think he was proud of me that I had a little more . . . gumption . . . than he might have thought. I knew I could lope her, that's easy with her. We had come through so much in such a short time, her legs were becoming mine, we were becoming partners and neither of us were the least bit afraid.

We worked the cattle too. Peter had us do a cool game that involved forming straight lines, stopping when the steer did and rolling back over our hocks when the steer changed direction. Some of us (me, prolly) got a little rammy and Peter had to say one too many times that it was not a competition and that we needed to be smooth with our horses, not "harpoon them in the sides with our spurs, nor accost them with our reins." We lost the steer. But! Not before Riata had a chance to get up close and personal, follow him around, and even block him a time or two. He did outrun us a couple of times, too, when instead of being the tail of the line as I intended, we changed directions and were in front. Got told to not set my horse up for failure and make a loser out of her. Put her in the middle for support where she belongs. Absolutely right.

Trina became our steer and as we worked on rolling back over the hocks (jeez, I could NOT get my cues together from the left, coming back to the right!!) the stop got really nice, collected stops, rocking back on the hind. When the stop improves, the go improves. Suddenly, I am able to shift laterally into some pretty sidepass . . . Things we didn't work on but didn't need to, as helping all that other get freed up allowed Riata to follow me wherever I asked her to go. And, of course, I did not know when to quit.

"She already did good for you and good is not good enough??!" I hear from across the arena. Oh yes. Good is definitely good enough. I just need to learn to see it when it happens and know when to quit but not to give up.

I am still getting lightbulbs as I think about the weekend and the things that Peter said. Particularly when he said them more than once, like they might be important. Start where the horse is. Don't try to FIX him. Fix up what you want to happen and help him figure it out. If you are constantly telling your horse what to do, you are not getting your point across and he's going to get sick to death of you. Don't get into an argument, have a discussion. Make your point, be clear and leave it alone.

That alone was worth the price of admission and there was so much more. May, Archie MO. Next stop for us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Long time, no blog!

A friend of mine said she just deleted her blog because she won't keep up with it and she hates blogs like that. Ooops, gasp, that's me! Not on purpose though. These past few months I have been without much in the way of computer access. My beloved ancient desktop has bitten the dust for the final time and I have been forcing a cranky reluctant android phone to meet and greet my internet needs. It hates long emails and frequently deletes them midway out of arbitrary pique. Pretty sure blogging is beyond it. Tonight I am at my husband's shop, hijacking his laptop. Happier days await, as at home sits a fabulous brand new Dell pc . . . all came in one box. SOOOO sweet! Now I just have to break down and get a real internet connection at home again . . . so much for my experiment in wireless!

In a nutshell, since Expo, this year started out very much a repeat of last year. I brought in training horses, one at a time, at my friend, Corie's place as they were gracious enough to allow me to do. Frankly, while the weather remained chilly, it wasn't that hard to get my hours in. Then came the rain and more rain after that. Guess we are all pretty aware of the amount of rain this year. Then came the heat.

Seeing the writing on the wall, I got a job. Well, kind of. I went back to work temping which is as close to committed indoor daily slavery as this gypsy tends to want to be . . .

Instead of going through my OMG I am going to quit horse training angst as I have, year after year, I simply quit horse training. I sent a client home, that I will bring back in Fall to finish out when hopefully the heat waves and monsoons have gone their way. I have turned down more business since than I normally solicit for. I am turning away lesson clients, except for a 4-h group down in Lincoln. I have watched a lot of those kids grow up into fine horsepeople and to get an opportunity to participate in their growth and development. . . well it's more a favor and an honor to me than anything I am doing for them.

I am quitting at the top of my game. Spirit, the gray mare, featured in the photos (she was my demo horse at Expo too) has a finer ride than I ever thought possible to put on a 30 day horse. She was broke when we started, yes, but had years of not carrying herself properly that resulted in strung out, spine jarring, disconnected gaits, and while her attitude was always pretty sweet, she was the last to be picked to ride, because, well heck, it was painful! It isn't anymore. Reviewing my photos (again, thanks Corie, you are making memories for me into the days when I forget who I am and just enjoy the pictures of all the pretty horses), I see she is still heavily on the forehand, and I have some hours left to work on that.

Now, I want to put some ride on MY horses. Throwing Ginger into the Extreme Cowboy Race was kinda embarrassing to me and sure was not at all fair to her. My horses are the shoemaker's kids, they get the leftovers from my time, attention, and certainly my attitude is not at it's best, when I saddle one of them at the end of what is usually a long and trying day. I dream of continuing to study horsemanship. I am delighted that the movie "Buck" (go see it. even if you don't like movies, go see this one) is being so widely and well received. Colleen and I can tell you we knew about him before the Horse Whisperer made him so very cool. She's ridden with him while I have hung over the fence, but I have studied his videos, and him, and tried to bring that smooth philosophy of quietly making the horse feel safe and happy about working with you into every ride.

The dressage lessons I took with Missy Fladland in years past, and Jose's mix of dressage and jumping lessons put some pieces together for me as to how to help a horse really carry themselves the way they ought to, with a rider's weight. The AAHS clinic taught me how very important it is how I carry myself in the saddle and that a poor rider can never make a good horse.

Since the 40 hour work week thing and what an adjustment THAT has been (could go into a whole another blog about the changes in corporate America since my last sortie almost 8 years ago, but I'll spare you guys. You probably know, already, anyway), I am grabbing my rides when I can. I have ridden out a few times with the new Platte River Riders Southeast division, getting to make some new friends, and see some new to me trails. Took Ginger and doggie Axel camping at Rock Creek Station a couple of weekends ago. Storms Friday night (have you ever tried to sleep with a tent insisting on lying down flat upon you? not as good! the dog wanted to go home in the worst way!), and an attack of killer ticks on Saturday night ensured just about zero sleep for the entire weekend, but we rode anyway and had a great time!

There are some beautiful trails at Rock Creek. First day we rode out, we didn't find but one of them. We spent the next very intense 3 hours and a whole 7 miles climbing man from snowy river style in and out of ravines, thinking WOW, we have not ever heard of Rock Creek's EXTREME trail series! That's because they don't have one of those. We were lost and following cattle and deer trails . . . hella lot of fun, made some real horses out of some greenies, and some real riders out of folks who weren't sure they could do all that. The next day's ride was very lovely, kinda soothing, except for that whole going down the canyon thing. I highly recommend Rock Creek as a destination camp and ride spot; you won't regret it!

Riata, the grulla filly I picked up kinda on a mad whim (Royal rebound) is turning out to very possibly be the love of my horsey life. Took her to the Kerry Kuhn clinic, as I had mentioned I was going to. He had some very nice colt starting creds and I knew I didn't want to spend a hundred hours dinking around before I got back on her. She's gone from whirling away from me on day two of owning her, to sinking her head in my arms on day three. We went through zero to 60 colt starting prep at the clinic. I'd said I wanted to be on, and he said we'd probably get there. When it looked good and she was ready (with a little encouragement from him "got to get on her some time Terri, no time like the present!") I mounted up. She rode off with aplomb and handled herself all day long like I wouldn't even have dared to dream. She's been that way ever since. Hurt right now, on a damn pesky gate pin, I can't wait for her to heal up so we can get on with our journey together.

And that's pretty much me, in more or less of a nutshell. Continuing to write for Saddle Up NE magazine when I can, and there is a book coming off the back burner now that I have a trustworthy device upon which to get it writ. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Nebraska Horse Expo Experience

With a clap of thunder and the roar of the crowd . . . oh no, wait, it didn't start or end that way, and there never was any thunder unless you count hooves, if you do, there was plenty of that, quite a bit of roaring crowds too. Did start early Thursday morning, heading down to help my friend, Brenda Messick set up her tack booth. Even without enough coffee in me, I think I was more help than harm and I fell totally in love with the two year old granddaughter, Mackenzie. Can't wait for baby Stella to be of an age to talk and run about, like that!

Corie brought the horses and we settled her gray Quarter Horse mare, Spirit that I was using in my demo's, and my Ginger into their stalls. Spirit is a true easy going foundation bred QH bred mare, and took it all in stride without much ado, as she continued to do, the entire weekend.

Ginger came off the trailer, eyes, ears and nostrils became huge and they stayed THAT way most of the weekend too. I have used Ginger for all kinds of jobs but none of them required her to walk into huge metal buildings full of horses and people! Even empty, like it was on Thursday, boggled her mare mind and she could not even guess what would be in store for her.

Last year, I was honored to be asked to come do some demonstrations in the round pen. It was the largest venue I have ever worked in, and I was nervous to the point of tears from anticipation. It all went well enough, I learned from the experience and when I was allowed to come back, again, this year, I accepted with happy joy. I decided to talk about how to soften a horse into the bridle. One of my pet peeves on a horse is to pick up a rein, and have the horse either defensively brace against me or ignore me, altogether.

Another is when I watch people on horses with bits that neither one knows how to operate. As a long time horse seller, tack changes are one of the big things people get into trouble with when they buy a horse. For whatever reason, when things go awry, one of the first things people want to do is run down to the local tack store and buy themselves a new bit that will fix all the trouble. Only problem, is bits don't cause or fix troubles, it's the hands behind them.

Somewhere on my rather lengthy peevey list (geez I am a crabby old broad at this stage of my life!) is watching or riding horses that flop along with their noses stuck out in front of them, their backs hollow and their hindquarters stinging along behind, struggling to keep up. I equally detest seeing the movement of some of today's so called pleasure horses that move in gimpy, head down, weight on the forehand, cobbly floppy rear end fashion.

So, the demo emerges. Part One: Introductory Exercises to Soften Your Horse into the Bridle. I use a snaffle bit bridle, always, for these exercises, employed Spirit to show how ground work sets up the riding part, and explained how a snaffle bit is designed to work laterally, and all that kind of thing.

Part Two: On Saturday, I drug out a bunch of bridles equipped with bits I really like and talked about the different action of curb or leverage bits, as opposed to snaffle bits. I forgot my beloved Myler snaffle that I start colts in and the hated Tom Thumb that I won't even allow in a headstall. Talked about when to transition and how all bits speak a language, and one of you better know what it is, or it will not work out real well. I was going to use Ginger for this, as well as Spirit, as she bridles up pretty nice in a leverage bit. However, Ginger had a bad case of Expo fever and was bug eyed, bellering and excited. I was irritated with her behavior and knew I probably would not be practicing my very best horsemanship with her, so left her stand in the capable hands of my loving husband who took the day off to make the trip and support his wife in her insanity.

What insanity, you might ask? Well, gentle reader, just you hang on. More to come.

Anyway, back to the demo. I look up and the stands are FULL of people. There are people standing around the edges, there are so many people. Gulp! Holy cow! Okay fine. I hit the ground running and talked about bits. People asked questions and it was a fun and interested crowd. Too cool!

Now for the insanity. A few weeks ago, we became aware that this year's headliner, Craig Cameron was going to host his famous Extreme Cowboy Race. I thought that was pretty nifty, not really my kind of event, but fun and a good draw for the Expo. While on the phone with a friend, who said, heck yah, I am riding in that, aren't you? the insanity took seed and grew into a full on nut filled flower.

I called Tammy Vasa, in charge of it all, and before I could change my mind back, paid my fee. Now the sick nervousness of last year came back, full force. I TEACH trail obstacle clinics, yes, I have ridden a few Trail Challenges, some of them even timed. Never have I asked Ginger to do anything that was not slow and deliberate, allowing her time to study, assess and think things through. Once that mare has seen a thing, decided it's okay, she can do it with one hoof tied up behind her back. The first time you ask, answer is almost always, nope, no way, ain't gonna. Does not bode well for a race type situation.

We practiced, a couple times at Chance Ridge (one of my favorite places in life), jumped a few jumps, decided we would not die in the attempt, and I asked her for a flying lead change for the first time ever. She caught it, but I figured, in the race, I would go the safe way, and break down to simples, just to be safe. We have only worked on lead changes about 25 minutes in an arena setting, and that does not really prepare a horse much for any kind of anything.

During our walk through, Mr. Cameron admonishes us sternly that this "ain't no trail class. If I see you lollygagging around, I am going to whistle you out. These folks came here to see some SPEED." Well hell. So much for my game plan of being slow and deliberate at the obstacles, and then trying to pick up a little on the in betweens. We are going to go fast.

Here's a side note: Never EVER change your game plan at the last minute. It will not work out. Never sacrifice your horsemanship principles for an event. The people who placed, except for the guy who won it with a show stopping fabulous ride on an incredible Paint reining horse, were slow and deliberate in the obstacles and picked up their time, between. They rode well and deserved their wins.

I had a great time, and Ginger and I did go faster than we ever have before, and, while I will change some things when we do this again, we went in with what we knew, did the best we could and survived to tell the tale. She refused to go anywhere near a barrel that had rope on it, to drag a log, and afterthought says I could have got off, grabbed the rope and salvaged some points, and she refused the bridge. The bridge. Yep. First time she saw that particular bridge in that particular place. Again, I could have jumped off, led her through, went back and we'd have loped it, again, making up ground. I didn't know you could dismount, but people did. I got pushy with my spurs, and upset her at the bridge, and that's the biggest thing I would change. It's not what I teach, and I am not proud I pushed on her like that.

The scariest thing we did was jump some big ass metal, (yes, freaking metal, for heaven's sake!!) barrels. Ginger said, I don't think plus size girls have to do that kind of thing. It was not the tense worried resistance I felt at the bridge, and I popped her on the butt with my mecate. Oh! She says, you mean it! Well, okay, then, and up and over we went. Not graceful, not pretty, and thank the watching gods I didn't fall off on the other side.

The coolest thing we did was on the second loop of the figure eight, I asked her for a flying lead change and she nailed it cold. Thank you Ginger. I heard the surprise in Cameron's voice "She got that lead change!" and I thought something quick and uncomplimentary. I don't think he liked draft crosses in his race much, and he didn't care for my snaffle bit bridle, but whatever. I was not his largest fan prior to this weekend, and I saw nothing from him, from his clinics to his people skills that improved my opinion at all. I am thoroughly grateful for all of the good teachers I have had and will continue to have that teach me to know that difference between who I want to learn from and who I do not.

We had great competitors in this competition. Vanessa Butterfield, 13 years old, made it into the top ten with her speed horse, holey head Buck, who we all thought might just fly around and trash the whole place. She handled him beautifully, and they were magnificent together.

Dana was there with her mustang, Gypsy Boone. They also rode and did well.

I had friends from my Horsetale group that gave Craig all the speed he could ever want to see and rode to the best of their abilities.

Colleen, we missed you and Smore. You would have been a heck of a threat. As fate would have it, the friend who inspired me to ride scratched her horse due to colic. He's doing okay now, and that's the most important thing, but DARN it!!

It was a super great time, and I absolutely will seek out opportunities to do this again.

Back to the not insane part of of Expo 2011.

Sunday was very very quiet. I think the economy took it's toll on Expo attendance and the people who really wanted to be there but were watching pennies showed up on Saturday. I tacked up for my third demo, Self Carriage vs Forced Headset, and the only person in the stand was the young lady manning the round pen that had to be there. Okay, says me, I'm a'gonna do the whole show, anyway.

I had Ginger. We had repaired our relationship Saturday evening in the warm up pen, prior to the race and I was in love with my husband's mare again. I knew she could demonstrate self carriage nicely, she comes by it mostly naturally anyway. One of the things I touched on Friday was how conformation can help or hurt a horse, but they can all collect, can all learn to drive from behind, round and supple up. Ginger is one of those that does not have to work hard for it, and is a smooth sweet ride from the get go. Normally, she loves to round up, drop her head and jog around. Wull . . . we ran fast the night before. Fast for us, that is, and I think she liked it. I spent most of my demo, talking from the saddle, doing the softening and suppling exercises I showed about on Friday, with a little bit more advanced stuff thrown in as Ginger knows shoulder in, out, haunches in and out, she counter bends nicely, and we got in some pretty nice movement before it was all over.

I looked up from time to time, and people slowly trickled in. Someone, up on top of the stands, even videotaped me. That about made my millenium, that someone I don't even know, thought my information was cool enough to want to take home. Yay.

While I was not super impressed with our headliner, I got to see some people more than worth the time to sit and pay attention to . . . Van Hargis returned, and he's even better than he was two years ago. Super nice guy, too. A fellow named Monte Bruce did some reining horse stuff and since I bought a Quarter Horse (I think, she's grade so who knows) instead of an Arabian, I am intrigued that western way again. I LOVED his demo's. I also loved the credit he gave to his gorgeous bay filly on Saturday. "This is a real talented filly, " he tells us, "and she is going to make me look good." She did, too, finishing up the demo with some flat, fast sweet spins that make me swoon with envy. The next day, he brought out a greener filly (and good for him, that he didn't just ride on around on the finished horse he also brought and show us how cool he way) that was not all that interested in the lead changes he wanted to teach her. We got to see what happens when what you want to happen doesn't happen, and that's what I want to learn, in the first place. Then, he showed us grand tempi's on his finished horse, a knock out roan, and, again, I am swooning.

I got to meet the legendary Jimmie Munroe, a barrel racer who's been world champion a few times over, I believe, and she and her husband started the Cowgirl Hall Of Fame. She's the real deal, and you'd never know it from her sweet friendly way of dealing with people. I wish I'd seen more of her stuff, and I hope she comes back.

Saw so many friends, I can't possibly list them without leaving out someone important, and you guys, your support for my insanity, and my demo's is worth more than you will ever know. Made some new friends, too, and I hope those relationships continue to grow and grow! Talked to a couple of people about possible barn situations, and who knows what direction all that will take. Kind of enjoying the lower pressure of riding one at a time, and I signed up with a temp service to pay the bills.

Walking through the aisles, killing time before my Sunday demo, I stop dead in my tracks. There in a stall before me is the spitting image of the Arabian mare I had on trial that did not work out. She was unbelievably lovely, and here is her twin, only in 15 year old gelding clothes. I talked to his owner, he's bred almost exactly like the mare, so I wonder if there is a connection. Anyway, in the course of conversation, she asks if I would ride him in the arena for her, as they are short a rider. I am sometimes a couple posts short of a full corral, and I say, well, sure (I mean, 15, he's broke, right?) and I didn't stop to wonder WHY we were riding in the arena in the first place.

Turns out, it was for their breed demo, in the big arena. Big guy, probably all of 15.2 or maybe 3, does turn out to be broke, though he is in a leverage bit that he wants to brace on, sigh, and we go do our turn. I felt a huge pang of sadness for the mare I sent back and wished . . . well, it is what it is and there is a new horse in my pen now.

Picked up a coming three year old grulla filly at the sale a few weeks ago. All I know about her is that she rides, as I watched her do that all day long. I will play with her this week and then I signed us up to ride with Kerry Kuhn on Saturday. My days of standing with my nose pressed up against the glass at these clinics are over. I'm going to ride!!

Thanks so much to the Nebraska Horse Expo for putting on an amazing show. There is no way, in the course of this one blog that I can remember to say everything I want in any kind of economical fashion and my husband's delicious dinner is growing cold on the stove.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Keeping the Dream Alive

is the title to my next article for Saddle Up Nebraska. It's going to center on trainers, how to chose from the many available, and that sort of thing. As I started to think about getting that written, I thought about the topic as it has applied to me, this year in particular. Moving back to Omaha has been a good move for us, even though there have been spots that have raised my hair and shed my tears. There has been a lot more turmoil, sacrifice, downsizing and stress than I had anticipated, but much like an onion shedding it's skin (which canNOT be pleasant for the onion!) my husband and I are closer to the meat and heart of who we are and what we truly want out of life.

I have gone from a large herd of personal horses, whose expenses regularly outweighed my income spilling red ink all over the balance sheet of my business. There was not one bit of it, easy, reducing from 12 horses, all of which were selected for a reason and much loved, down to one single, solitary rather snot-filled mare. It wasn't easy, realizing that we had bitten off more than we could chew with the sweet duplex we had moved into, down here in O town. Certainly not easy realizing that finding a rental property that would accept four dogs was going to be next to impossible and we had to find a home for one of our beloved pets.

As a person watches things fall away that they think matters above all else, you must examine what is the core of what makes things work and what makes it worth climbing out of bed, day after day. It comes down to a roof over one's head, even if it's a spare room in the house of friends. Good friends, that never lose faith in your ability to overcome. Family, my son, daughter, new son in law and baby granddaughter, filling a huge void in my heart that's been empty for a long time. A spouse that I have said more than once, I would rather be anywhere with, than anywhere without and am blessed to have on this journey.

And horses. For me, they are as necessary to my soul's well being as breathing. This is essentially a blog on horse training, but the title of it is "horse in the mirror." That springs from a poem about the guy that matters most, when all is said and done, is the one that stares back at you, each morning, and you better be able to meet her eyes after a good night's sleep or something needs adjustment. I have let go of horse after horse, praying and hoping they will do okay in the world and trusting the Powers Greater Than Myself to watch over them, as I have trusted Them to watch over my own life. I have surrendered up the idea of keeping my business alive, brushed up my cobwebbed resume and sent it out, fully willing to do what I need to do to cover my end in our new, much smaller and lovely home.

I moved my horses in yet one more less than peaceful parting of the ways, examining as I have been well educated to do, what my part in the discord has been, what errors I have committed and what I need to do to not repeat past mistakes in the days that come. I am keeping my horses at the home of a friend, and the "do not mix business with pleasure" echoes in my brain. I must do what I must do to not injure this friendship, and guard it well, as life is short, and the good friends that come along must be cherished and not spent cheaply.

There's room for one training horse at a time, and as my destiny unfolds, I see two paths. One has me happily riding my one paying trainee that covers the cost of board, working part time, continuing to write for Saddle Up Nebraska magazine, and maybe even striking further out into the world of being published. That leaves me time to ride my own horses, for once, a luxury I have never had, even though I spend my days filling a saddle of one kind or another. It's not a bad way to go.

The other option is to find another barn, this one with proper facilities and willingness to home a trainer. Indoor arena, private digs for the training horses, proper places to tie and saddle. Those are my requirements, and they are non negotiable. On my part, I will set regular hours and finish my riding tasks in a prompt and timely manner. Pretty much all of my clients will tell you I am very good at what I do, just takes too damn long to get it done!! I have written out the first part of my lesson program, and will take that to the next professional level. This will be a full time endeavor, and I will have to schedule in time for my two horses (yes, I said TWO, even though at this writing, there's only one in the pen . . .) and be as professional about caring for my own needs as I am those of my clients. This is also not a bad way to go.

The last dream on the horizon that is coming to fruition is in my search for a personal horse. The lessons I have taken over the past few years have inspired a deep love for the dressage discipline, and even as I can see it benefits horses of all body types, I want one now with a certain kind of movement, free, loose and swinging, that I can go on with and see where this takes us. Many of my friends are dabbling in Competitive Trail Riding, endurance riding for those of us with a little age and desire to survive the ride, LOL! I still love to chase cows, trail ride, might want to jump something now and again, and whatever else might catch my eye from my view from the saddle. A long time Arabian fan who passed up many a nice Arab as they do not have the marketability here in the midwest as do the western stock types (and from that bottom line, I tried not to stray to0 far afield) I am bringing home my very own Arabian. This breed is highly versatile, they are hard wired to want to get along with people, and I have said many times, on the right side, you have a friend for life, get on the wrong side of an Arabian and you are in trouble! I don't plan to get on the wrong side, LOL!

Keeping the dream alive has required more flexibility out of me than the yoga I have taken up, and that's saying something. Recognizing that family, loved ones, and quality of the journey are key to happiness, those would seem simple lessons but sometimes ones I have to go back and have a redo . . . Being true to myself, above all else, allowing others full freedom to make their own choices for their own lives, and understanding and recognizing those choices may not be right for me, and at the end of the day, I have to look full on at the horse in the mirror and be sure that horse is looking back, both ears, both eyes, that, my friends, is the deal in a nutshell.