Sunday, September 30, 2012


There are some moments that may live in my muscle memory for the rest of my days, should I be so lucky. Sending Royal forward after the steer, and having him surge forward, straight, balanced and with impulsion. Picking up a rein attached to the corner of a green gelding’s mouth, having him soften sweetly to it and back a lovely  half circle, setting the outside front leg in behind, each step carefully timed and executed.  The timing, the horse, the person, all in one place, all at the same magickal wonderful time.  There is nothing on earth like feeling at one with a horse.

Maybe from the moment I unloaded Royal and put him in his stall I had an inkling he would have been better served in the Foundation class. Beautiful head sky-high, big eyed, mind on anything but me. This was the crux of our matter, how to keep him from leaving mentally and perhaps physically when something more exciting than I am shows on the horizon.

Entering the arena, afternoon session, day 1, I use the block to mount. It’s a moving target, pausing briefly to allow my foot to reach the stirrup, and I am gathering rein to bring him to stop as I settle into the saddle. 

Horsemanship is for the better broke horses, or the people who have ridden a few times with Peter and want the next step. I was thinking I had Royal far enough along to be okay there, and  we were but my concerns about how he would hold up when the pressure showed proved to be valid. Riding alone, we get all kinds of things done. Gait transitions, soft, loose rein, follows my seat and leg.  Lope pretty circles, change leads, no problem.

Add 17 other horses and the story changes. My thought is if it works at home and falls apart in the world, we don’t have it. 

We all ride around the arena and I am happy for the company. My horse is excited but not out of control, this is exactly what we need.  He doesn’t like several things. Doesn’t want any part of the fence where the people are, doesn’t want the speakers in the sound system and pushes on my my leg, through my hands every time he thinks we are going to get close.

“Your horse must have the utmost respect for your leg and your reins.” I think I heard that 30.000 times that weekend, not all directed at me personally (I don’t think) but applicable each time.

Peter has me ride a circle around him, soft soft. Easy! I am not entirely sure what we are doing here but I follow directions as best we can and eventually it occurs to me it’s a kind of approach and retreat, allowing Royal to relax, approach the fence, get close and then leave again, without me forcing him to it. My attempt at establishing respect and not allowing him to run through my leg was making an unpleasant situation more unpleasant and it was escalating the tension in my horse, rather than abating.  I have been here before and it did not end well for Royal.

Peter asks me if this, then, is my horse. Yes. This is the one I am committed to, heart and soul. He doesn’t know me, really, Peter Campbell, but one thing he will find out is that while I do not make commitments easily or lightly, once I do, I am in it for the long haul. I am committed to his horsemanship and I am committed to one goofy, lovely spotted Arabian.

We do an exercise, lining up facing the short side of the arena, count off by two’s. Half of us leave, walking as straight as we can to the point directly across from us. We do this at the walk, the trot and then lope it, if we can. Royal gets to experience horses moving beside him, leaving him, and coming up beside him. It’s excellent and eventually he stops quitting six feet before we arrive. He trusts me and I trust him, trotting out on the long rein. It feels an auspicious beginning and I know we are going to get the help we came for.

There are cattle coming Days 3 & 4 for the afternoon group. Peter watches us ride around and allows as how before we work cattle, our horses have to be made ready to work cattle and not a one of ours are.  Days 1 & 2 are all about that getting ready.

The point of working cattle with Peter is not about the cattle, it’s not about chasing it, stopping or turning it, though we might do those things. It’s about becoming aware of where our horse’s feet fall, developing precision, straightness and balance.

“Bring your horse along the rail. Move the hind over an 8th and stop. Bring the front end around 7/8’s.  You can see if you brought them around a whole turn, you would end up crooked to the fence as you have already used an 8th of your circle.”

What!! MATH now?? Are you kidding me? I watch, scowling. I hate math. It makes sense to me though, we are stepping the hind over to make room for the front to come around.

“If you complete the maneuver and the horse’s head and neck are not level, you have succeeded in the operation but the patient is dead!”

Royal’s butt is all over the place. He is indeed a “slippery little bar of soap.” We are anything but straight and precise.  Our work on front and hind control is not for naught, I can feel him under me wanting to come through but that busy Arabian brain is in the way. I get it.

I don’t cry that afternoon, but I kind of want to . . .

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It Begins

“What the horse is offering you is bigger than you are.”

“Keep doing the same old thing you have been doing, you will keep getting the same old thing you have been getting.”

“Make the wrong thing difficult. Not impossible. Then, give it direction, not correction.”

“Mechanics work on 90% of horses.”

“You can’t bend the head if it’s not attached to the feet. If it’s attached to the feet, you don’t need to bend the head.”

“What will you get from this clinic? Discipline. For yourself and for your horse.”

“The horse must have the utmost respect for your rein and your leg”

“You cannot push 1000 pounds of animal.”

“Of course, there is only one right way to work a horse. Work from where he is.”

Colleen says to me “we (The Nebraska Humane Society Horse Rescue Program) still have a horse that could use to be in the clinic if you want to use him in the morning spot.” Peter has donated a free spot again this year and I can use it if I want to.

Another opportunity to ride with Peter? In Foundation? You bet, I am there with bells on. I don’t ask about the horse. It isn’t important. he will tell Peter who he is, what he needs and Peter will tell us.

I peer into the stall at the short stocky bay gelding. Cute. I nod, nice horse to start with, well worth the time and effort we are going to put into him.

We don’t think he’s ever been saddled before so I haul my gear, limping, into the arena and sling it over the fence. My twisted knee is pitching me the blues but I don’t tell Peter as I am worried he will tell me I can’t work the horse if I can’t keep up with it.  Note to self, next time, give the clinician pertinent information and let him make the choices.

I am not a great colt starter. I have got the job done with mixed results my whole life. I mostly began starting them as I felt better about dealing with my mistakes than someone else’s and it seems to me they get a little less screwed up with me than they do with some of the other folks out there doing this.   A whole lot of things have stood in the way of my being successful in that endeavor.  The four days to come shed more light on getting one started right than anything I have previously done, read, watched or tried over the past 35+ years, not to mention casting light on the cobwebs in me.

“Bump him! Get up to him! Get close! Bother him!” I have the heavy wool pad in one hand, the halter rope in the other. We are getting the little horse ready to saddle. I am to get him moving his feet and get control of the hind. Duke who does not have a program card, is all over the place. I keep trying to shift my weight off my knee and hop after him before he gets completely away from me. It’s not going super. The knee is in my way, but I am not real good at this anyway, or I probably could have overcome it with better timing.

I am puffing, panting, thinking damn, I am going to sweat! This is calling for a LOT of effort! First morning, not even my horse, I am out of breath and I am going to sweat! What have I gotten myself into?? Pretty sure the bay horse is thinking the same thing.  I want to quit right there, tell Peter I am not up for this, don’t want to risk blowing out my knee and not being able to ride my own horse (read don’t want to work this hard). I think about what’s available to me in this opportunity. Even though I don’t start colts for a living anymore, here is a chance to start one with arguably the best in the country. I am not passing this by, and little horse deserves better from me.  Sweat equity, here I come.

We get to a spot it’s acceptable to saddle and he moves around but it gets done. I had been told his eyesight may be impaired on his right side. There is a faint cloud in it, not much at all, and I watch to see if he reacts differently to stimulation over there. Spoiled a bit, and pushy on that side, but not different than any other horse. Most of them prefer to look at you on one side or the other. There is brace there but it’s not because of the way he sees.

Peter remembers me from Riata. He has doubts I will  hang on to the horse if things get western. I know I will, but I also know why he thinks he might not. I tie the knot in the end of the rope as he tells me to, and no matter what, Duke does not get away. He doesn’t try all that hard, either, he’s getting ready.

I ask Duke to move around me, all four corners moving equally, both directions.All I can think is that eventually Peter is going to ask me to get on the horse, My palms slick and my heart pounds in my ears. I know he won’t ask til the horse is ready. What I didn’t know is that he would wait til I was ready too.

I am moving the stirrup against the horse’s side, as I was instructed, every ounce of my attention is focused on the horse and what we are doing. "If you won’t listen, Terri, I am not going to waste my time talking to you.”

WHAT?? I look up to see Peter riding away. Damn it!! Where the hell did I just go? He was talking to me? Who knew?  Everyone else around us, that’s who knew. I follow him but there is a point to be make. Listen up, our time is short. If you won’t listen, I will spend time with people who will and when you come with your question, your opportunity has come and went.

I say I am sorry, I was lost in my thing. Peter hears that I was doing my own thing, and that really does not go over well. There is no way I think doing what I know is better than what he is going to teach me but that protective habit of tuning everything out around me, that is deep deep. “Do your own thing, then,” says he “don’t waste my time. Don’t get so close to me”  as I am following him, insisting I am ready to hear. I get a glint from the blue eye under the hat and I know he means it.

I am doing nothing now until I am instructed. No way. I go to the middle, out of the way and wait. Peter has made his point, he helps some folks, comes back around and tells me the next step.  All a piece of getting ready. You don’t do a thing with a horse, you get them ready, and then they take care of the doing. Turns out, works that way with people, too. Even hard headed ones. Halfway thru Day 1 . . .

Friday, September 28, 2012


The big gray mare lopes around the arena, her breath chuffing heavily in time with her footfalls.  She rounds the corner and the request for a lead change is coming up. We all know this because they have been working on it for awhile.  She doesn’t make the change, is late behind.  Awkward and difficult for her, she struggles with the request. They hang in there and they don’t quit. Eventually it comes together, the change takes place, smooth, sweet and easy.

For someone who went to Peter Campbell’s clinic last weekend with the goals of staying out of her own way and staying out of trouble, I failed miserably.

For a person who went to the clinic with the goal of gleaning every possible bit of available knowledge that I can access, for making whatever the next right change in life that’s in front of me, that I would have to call an unqualified success.

“What do I have to do to get you to understand this?” Peter is exasperated. It’s Day Four. I have been lost, wandering around, AGAIN, and the good looking little bay Nebraska Humane Society rescue horse I am on is feeling the pain of my not being able to get the point.  This horse cannot afford the holes I am going to put in him and Peter wants better than that for both of us.

“Did someone tell me that you were even teaching a clinic? YOU??” He shakes his head.  “I have been watching you all weekend and I have been thinking, how can that be?”

There’s more. Tears stream down my face, it hurts, but I take my licking. I have it coming. I don’t know why my brain locks up, checks out, does the things it does.  He tells a story about how Trina (his wife) at one point didn’t think she was qualified to teach a clinic. To him, it’s a funny story. Not so much to me.

I want to speak up, defend myself, say hey if people can get even a glimpse, a taste of what is available to them through this brand of horsemanship, maybe they will get interested enough to seek out the source. They have to start somewhere. I keep my mouth shut. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings and failings but this is not the time.

Later, Peter says do whatever on your own time, it matters not, but at least get it right, yes? Yes.

I have been in my own way all weekend long.  At one point while the heat was on, my mecate comes loose in my belt. I am fixing it and Peter says “Don’t you get off that horse. Don’t you do it.”

No way Peter. I am not going to quit. I am not quitting you, I am not quitting this horse and most of all, I am not quitting myself.  This is not the first time in life that I have run into trouble over not being able to maintain focus or gazing inward so hard I tune out everything around me, making mistakes all along the way. Not the first time things have become more difficult that I wanted to deal with. 

Some people come to Peter’s clinic just to ride their horse. That’s fine, not a thing wrong with it. I come to grow and right now that means getting through the next thing that I desperately want to say “This, I cannot do” over.

When a thing comes right, you can feel it. That is how Peter runs his clinics. He sets things up, over and over again, for you to get the opportunity to feel things come right between you and your horse.  When it’s wrong, you can feel that too, if you are awake enough.

That was my challenge , be awake enough. I had excuses. I always do and they seem pretty good to me at the time.  Day 1, I am tired, woke up too early, knee hurts, is in the brace, snags on the jeans, can’t hop around, can’t keep up with the horse . . . old, fat, tired, out of shape and whiny. I keep my mouth shut and I try but none of it comes easy.

Day 2 I know that excuses do not matter in light of what the moment needs. Do the job. If you can’t do the job, get out of the way and let someone else do the job. I want to do the job. This is me here, not Peter. I didn’t tell him about the knee til Day 4, might have been information that would have made things easier on us both.

Day 3 Things feel better, but that change, that gut wrenching process ending in bright understanding and relief  . . . that has not taken place, there is a bubble of pressure inside me growing and I hang in the balance of really wanting to quit and knowing I absolutely cannot.

Day 4 I get my bell rung. The steel gets heated with a blow torch so the nail can come through. It does, the change is made, things REALLY get good. Both my horses are happy, but not nearly as happy as I am.

You might shudder in horror, reading this. I don’t want THAT!!  Don’t worry, you will get what you come for. Peter will do his best to help you and your horse.  He will push you as far out of your comfort zone as he can to get you where you need to go, but not everybody needs  the clue-by-four that I do.  Don’t think he just rides around looking for places to climb on people.  Mostly, you will hear “yes, do that. Good. Nice. Doesn’t that feel better?”

Maybe you can set your ego, your habits of what you think you know aside more easily than I, can see through your own haze that much quicker, get through whatever the demons are that keep you from performing to your fullest potential.  Just depends on how much you want to take home from your experience and what Peter thinks you are ready to take. Peter will do as little as possible and as much as it takes to get the job done.

Maybe you will just ride around, pick up a few pointers, remain oblivious to what is really out there for you. Could be you will feel some heat, blow up, leave and think bad things about Peter, like it’s his fault you cannot get out of your own way. If you do, I  hope you come back.  It’s worth what you have to go through to get where you don’t even know you need to be until you get there.

As the message sinks through, he guides you. He allows  people and horses work at the wrong thing a little, so they know what that feels like and he stays with them, if they let him, til they get to the right thing so that when they go home, they know the difference and hopefully can continue in a good direction, not going back to the same old that brings them in the first place.

We started a little bay horse for the Nebraska Humane Society this weekend. Six, maybe seven year old stray stallion, they didn’t know much about him. NHS gelded him, fed him, fostered him to a gal that got him a little gentler and brought him to the clinic looking like a million bucks.  Through Peter’s coaching, we got the gelding ready to saddle, saddled, got him ready to ride, got me ready to ride him.  By day four, he blended into the woodwork, riding along with everyone else in the Foundation horsemanship clinic.  “Someone can probably get along with him now.” say Peter.

Once your head and your heart softens up, your ears open, his words are kind.  Good words from Peter, praise even, means a lot. He doesn’t say it if he doesn’t mean it. He told me later he was proud of me. Can you guess how much that meant to me?

I cried a lot. No, I don’t do that often. Yes, I think tears are healing and I will encourage you to cry as much as you need. I know it melts the ice around the soul, just something I am out of the habit of doing.  I cried in embarrassment and pain, I cried over unsaddling Duke for the last time, I cried over the comfort my friends gave me, and later I cried for my slinky black cat that passed over while I was away.

Again, you are saying, if crying is what you do, I am NEVER riding a Peter Campbell clinic!  Put that away, put it away right now. Crying is what I did, and melted off a ton of ice around my soul. I also laughed so hard I  . . . yeah. And hugged people. I used to be a hugger and now I am not. I hugged a lot of people. I hugged Peter twice.  I left that clinic a better person than I came there. Did I go to help my  horse? Ya, you betcha. Did that take place? Immeasurably, and we are just touching the tip of the iceberg of what this weekend might mean for Duke and Royal. More about that to follow . . . stay tuned race fans.

Portrait of Peter Campbell by Karen Johnson

Friday, September 21, 2012

Out of the Way

There is a reason smooth talking smiling, non smiling charlatans have been selling snake oil to a mostly really nice public since the dawn of time and snake oil. They will in some fashion reach into you, tell you what you want to hear. It is your fault, it is not your fault. Take this, buy that, follow me and you will be okay. Everyone wants to hear that they will be okay.  There are not too many that will look you dead in the eye and say, be quiet. Let me teach you or get on home and stop wasting both of our time.

Peter Campbell won’t say that either. Over the years I have watched him be ever patient, trying again and again to make a point that often flies right over the head of the person that is busy explaining to him, whatever it is. They are in the way. They can’t hear.

I woke up this morning at 3:45, these thoughts running through my brain. It is my goal this weekend to not be in the way. To be quiet and let Peter teach me whatever it is he sees that I need to learn.

Awful lot of faith in someone’s opinion, you might ask? You bet. I know because I can see a whole lot of what is going on between a horse and it’s person, seeing how they approach it, catch it, lead it, saddle it, etc. And I do not have the eyes, heart and mind that first Peter was born with and then was educated by Tom Dorrance.  Then, maybe there is the thousands of horses, people and situations that Peter has seen and dealt with over the years.  Yes, I trust his opinion.

You might remember a year ago this time, I didn’t necessarily feel this way. I had hung over the fence and watched, quite a few times. Him and Buck, both. Picked up some good stuff, went home, tried it out, got better results than I was getting before.

The real magic didn’t happen til I climbed in the saddle, in the arena.   Quite a bit of what happened last  September, I didn’t understand til this past May. So . . . what is in store for me and Royal T this weekend? I haven’t a clue, just want to stay out of the way and let it happen.  Stay tuned, there will be more . . .