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.