Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The “C” Word


Consistency. Almost as bad as the “P” word.

Enjoyed an opportunity at the 2013 Nebraska Horse Expo to speak for a moment with clinician Richard Winters. I met Richard a few years ago when he visited our Expo and very much enjoy his horsemanship and his calm manner.  Richard was gracious enough to hear my tale of woe regarding the series of wrecks Royal and I have engaged in, studied a couple photos of the process and then he said . . .

“Well, let’s start with something basic. How often does this horse get rode?”

Worst question in the world. My mumble of “not enough” was unsatisfactory. We figured out I have been on Royal a bare handful of times between the rains of February which closed out our winter riding and the moment I was standing in, right there and then.

Dang. No wonder I am having issues with my  horse. Pretty simple.

Richard said some gentle words about Consistency and idle hooves being the devil’s workshop. Consistency, like “Potential” have troubled me all of my days.

I have committed to riding my horse two times a week. I am embarrassed to admit out loud that’s all. I can barely manage that.

We have done some arena work, utilizing the good groundwork that Peter Campbell has taught us. I have heard Peter say “this is not to replace what you do but to ADD to what you do.” It’s the how and when, not so much the what that matters. I am a slow learner, but Royal is helping me sink it in.

When I have taken time to get the right answers the right ways we have had a couple pretty lovely rides. When I shortcut, I get what that gives you. Half measures avail us nothing.

My ride this past Saturday was not much to be admired. I got scared, my horse was jumpy. I was spiteful in how I asked for my serpentines and he was sullen in his delivery. We survived our first outing in the woods since my pre Labor Day wreck but it was nothing to write home about except to put down in words I don’t want to do it like that again.

Then, on Sunday . . .

MUCH better!! Took some time to really help Royal settle. The ranch stacks the picnic tables in a big pile for the winter (kind of Jenga with iron tables . . .). He thought they were pretty scary and really didn't like the squeeze (15 feet prolly) between them and the trash barrels all lined up.

On Peter’s facebook group, a gentleman had reminded me that when things are going south, neutral becomes a really good place to be. I was rolling that over in my head . . . We don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how many times I have heard Peter say not to try to get to something good by going through something bad and I surely do not know why I can’t remember that when in the middle of things going bad!

We worked around there what seemed like a very long time. Small circles, starting out at a trot, moving the circle around letting him get a good look at things from all sides and angles.

Slowing to a walk, asking for straightness in the arc. Asking each foot to reach with equal distance and relaxation =  all four parts moving equal. A tight horse can't do it and won't. Took a lot but we got there. Too much bend in the neck  . . . nope that's not it. Inside hind tracking to inside fore, nope that's not it   . . .

Finally the gentle C shape, from nose, poll, neck, ribs, spine and inside hind tracking to outside fore. Can't ask 'em to hold that long when they are not used to doing it. Big stretches. Then drifting the hind out a few steps without losing forward momentum. Good stuff.

Rode him in the big open area they build bonfires in during hayrack season. Daytime is turn out for the hunters in the big barn and the racehorses, so there will never be arenas for us during the day.

I knew I did not want to repeat the errors of the day before so we did things different.

I read on Facebook the other day about "reprises." A dressage term for repeating a movement three times. Things will either improve or degenerate.

If they improve, do it the other direction or "on the other rein." If it gets worse, adjust the aids, or figure out what you are doing wrong to get that response from your horse. I discover I am very bad at staying with things long enough for them to have an effect. Consistency again . . .

Trotted three circles to the right. My form was horrible and my horse could hardly stay straight. I was afraid he would jump out from under me and I was tight and forward in my position. I had to get right or this was never going to work.

Second circle. I am sitting back, breathing. Match my hip and shoulder angle to that I wished my horse to assume. He softens, reaches.

Third circle. We trot a decent working trot (Your horse is moving like pony!! I know, Jose . . .) I am urging him in my posting to lengthen his stride without quickening.

We change reins, I sit for more than a beat but not a thousand and pick up the proper diagonal. (I am in a western saddle but it matters not.

We do more things but what matters is we grow our trust in one another. I am not banging him in the spine, mouth or ribs. My spurs say gently “stay here.” My hands support, my body encourages.  His ear flickers once in awhile outside of our work area but it takes little or nothing to bring him back and no more of him leaves at all.

I sit back, take a breath, expect and ask for the canter. It’s rough but we make the transition. Wrong lead. Okay. I bend him slightly to the outside and ask him to counter canter. That’s hard work.

Ask again for the transition. Again out of balance. Again the wrong lead. Again the counter canter.

Next time, I take more time to figure out my ask, get better balanced. Correct lead and keep him in it . . . once, twice, three times around. Nice lope.

Sit up, whoa . . . not the best stop, a little forward but not running through or refusing either.

Change direction, correct lead first ask. Circles. Hmm . . . I wonder if we can . . .

Crossing the center of our work area we break to a trot, I am sitting on what will be our outside rail and  . . . ask for the lope. Lead change!  Awesome!

We do that several times. He is loping like a broke horse. Head and neck level, I am relaxed sitting back, reins long but not foolish.

I realize whatever I would ask him to do next, we are not going to top this. We are done.

My halter and lead are in a coil on the picnic pick up stix pile. Can I pick it up off my horse? Would not have been remotely possible at the beginning of the day. Took just a little asking and settling, letting Royal work out the scary mess, even with the dog moving around under, was not going to munch him down. When I cautiously reached for the rope, I moved it a little to see what reaction I would get before trying to haul it to me. A glance “are you sure” and then he  . . . well he settled his feet. You would know it if you felt it. I picked up the coil like we do it every day, which we should. Non event for the horse that can move sideways faster than a striking cobra and with about as much deadly result.

Cool out, stretch down and a much happier Royal and Terri call it a day.

We just might make it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Some Days Are Better . . .

Today was a Zen day. It didn’t start out to be, and I would have given you long odds that things were going to go at all well. I had lost faith in the process. Well, more in my ability to perform the process. The weight of past failures have been hanging heavy on my shoulders as they tend to do, this daylight shortening dreary inducing time of year.

So. It had the potential to be a rough day. One of the prettiest November days I ever recollect, sky a color blue can only happen around now, pulling out the golds, oranges, purples and striking reds in the remaining leaves. Warm enough I barely need a heavy pullover, and I want to be depressed.  I don’t want to be, but I am.


I want to go the the ranch, throw my horse in a trailer, haul to some place I have not seen much of and chase horizons.

Junie - The Trestle

I want to laugh with friends, chatter girl talk and maybe kick up a horse race along the way.

Corie, Christine and I

I DON’T want to wrestle with demons. Not mine, not his. But that is what is on the calendar if I am ever going to get through to the other side, and have those above sort of days where we go out and both of us have fun and enjoy what we are doing.

Bridge, trail challenge

Arriving at the ranch, there are Thoroughbreds turned out in every conceivable space and arena. They like the sunshine too and my boss makes sure they don’t spend their off season trapped in a dreary dark stall. All very well, but where shall I work my horse?

The other night we just stayed in the yard and worked by the yard light. Too busy a spot during the day, plus the exercises I had in mind for us demanded Royal have space to move, to get away, so he could learn to come back . . .

We decide his pen is a fine place for what I want to do as I outline my plan for my boss. He has mares in foal not far from where I will be working and the last thing I would want to do would be too upset one of those ladies into losing a baby . . .

I halter up my boy, he is mildly okay with seeing me. Doesn’t come to meet me at the gate, but doesn’t sullenly ears folded back slink off into a corner either. I eye him . . . thinking. I want to build his confidence, make him feel safe  . . . I want him conscious and focused. 

Back in Sioux City, I used to take my horses in training out for walks under saddle. Send them up and down banks, let them get the feeling of going where they are pointed, following a feel on the line and getting used to the idea of being partners.

Out we go, north of his pen is a steep rise, a road and a sharp bank into a small pond. Royal used to hate that pond, the frogs jumping sent him leaping as well more than twice. We will start there.

We work circles on the road, me standing where a sudden motion of his won’t mow me over and send me either tumbling or soaking. He makes no sudden motion. In fact, what is sudden is his head dropping to the short green grass under his feet and  . . . he’s eating. I stare in disbelief. You did not . . . yeah, you did. A sharp thwack of the end of the lead on his rump tells him he needs to be in forward motion. NOBODY rang the lunch bell, dude.

That gets pretty good and we move to the pond. He’s been in water tons, doesn’t mean he is excited to get in this. He shrinks toward me, cutting the circle. Another sharp thwack on his shoulder says that’s a bad idea, kid. You better stay out there where you belong and not be running over the peoples. It only takes that once and he stays where he belongs. I need to remember my horse likes knowing his boundaries. Maybe they all do, part of that feeling safe thing is knowing what to expect.

He is hesitant about the water, but a few steps, he s in and it’s play time. He sinks his muzzle over the nostrils, blows and tosses the water about. I let him. I want him to enjoy this too. 

There are tarps folded in the barn alley, and the wind rustles one as I am knocking the mud off my pony getting ready to saddle. He skitters, almost bumping carelessly into me, far more concerned about the tapping corner of the tarp. I thump him with the curry. “Get the heck off me, you idiot!” I say sharply, unhappy that I am that invisible to him at this late date. Stay in your box, Royal. Stay where you belong and all is well.

I like the idea of a tarp and borrow one of the offenders. Off we go to Royal’s pen and we spend the afternoon there. It has nothing to do with him crossing a tarp, wearing, dragging or playing tug of war with his buddy, Petri with one. It has everything in the world with gaining his respect, his trust, getting his mind settled and quiet.

At first they both hide in the furthest corner. Fine I think, we’ll just move around a little and see what happens.


I rapidly discover Royal does not believe I can control his direction or his speed as he tears off, spinning back and forth along the fence to avoid the area where the nasty thing lay.

Cool, that’s a great place to start. I have to hustle a little myself now to keep up with my athlete. Off comes the pullover and I am ready for business. He blows by me a couple of times, receiving a spank on the ass as he flies by. Then, he attempts to out dodge me, weaving back and forth like a cutter but not turning his butt. His ploys avail him nothing.

I am not malicious about it (a Brannaman word). I calmly stay engaged, insist he go the direction I point, that he stay on a circle and not hide in corners. As he grows increasingly easy and compliant, neither one of us have to work as hard.

We get some good forward and all of a sudden I am aware his ear is on me.  He tilts his face inquiringly my way, just for a split instance and he is gone again. I will catch that next time, sorry Royal.

I do, and I step back and to the side, inviting him to step his hip over, bring his front around and face me. He does.  Ears and eyes brightly upon me. Well. Now this is something we have needed for awhile and here we are.

Facing up

Nobody cares about the tarp right now. We are working circles at liberty, he asks occasionally to come in to me, sometimes I say yes, he faces up, but won’t step over, off you go then. Sometimes I say no, and indicate he should continue with his forward.

Then, he is stepping over prettily behind, both ways. I send him off, asking him to stay in a smallish circle around me, he tracks exactly as I think he should. Royal knows where the tarp is but his form does not change as he goes by. I ask for him to disengage, face up, he does readily. I step back, and he walks to me straight as string. We are done with this.

We play with the tarp now, take our time, and I allow my horse to get right with the decisions he makes to approach the enemy.  I will tell you it didn’t go quite like the photos may indicate. There were times he was plenty worried and those times, I was keeping my body where I needed to be to support my horse and not worried about the photo op. (I did try once, and there is empty ground in the photo where the horse used to be . . . gave it up)



Growing brave

Petri, who has wanted none of much of any of this, and ran until his fat little body sweated and heaved, joins in.  My horse has finally, bravely, taken willing steps onto the windblown heap of tarp and here is Petri, pawing at it, reaching down grabbing a chunk in his mouth and shaking it like a dog. I expected Royal to be in the next county.

Petri says maybe me too

petri is a mess

Didn’t happen. My horse looks at his friend like “really? You have to just noodle with everything, don’t you!” and they play on the tarp together. It’s good stuff.

Royal, who wasn’t happy dragging a mostly empty hay net the other night, drags the tarp. I tuck it up under the breast collar where it can easily come loose if things get too wild. They don’t, he wears it a  million different ways. His mind is good, he is ready and he could care less.

petri is tarp trained too now


getting a look



Time to carry me. I do it with the halter and single line. A colt ride. Step him over behind before we toddle off around the pen. One rein stop, relax into it, get good with it.

All the while, all the day, I have been asking for deep soft reaches from that inside hind leg. Not making a big deal of it, ever, but it is the deal. It’s the point of the entire day.

It feels good. He backs up from that single line, nose tucked, straight back.

I flip it over his head (we practiced that on the ground too) and go the other way. It feels damn good to be on my horse in this right way. We both of us had to get ready. A person might think it odd I do a first ride on a horse that has hundreds of saddle miles, but it is where we are at and it worked out nice. We finished a little fancy, sidepassing off that single rein, turns on the forehand and such. I am grinning.

As we go to get put up, I notice a big puddle beside our hitching rail. Hmm, a tarp, a puddle and a SQUEEZE. We’d found a little claustrophobia coming out of the little gate with Royal wearing his tarp, had worked back and forth til coming and going out were a non issue. How would this be?


Another non issue.

Royal waits, tied in the alley while I talk to my boss a little in the sweet afternoon sun. We chat about this, that, the phone rings a couple of times and suddenly I am aware of something we don’t hear. There is no pawing on the concrete floor, no restless head tossing, no crazy 8’s. Charlie smiles “your horse is pretty content today.” Yep, he sure is. And that is just the way I want to keep him.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Building . . .


The other day I had an employee review with my boss at my day job. First thing he inquired was how my horse was doing. (yes, he is a great boss to even care about such things). He is not a horse guy in any way but we have discussed in detail how the best way to reach a horse is through the mind, framing the communication in such a way that the animal understands and desires to respond. That you can force and manipulate a horse to do just about anything you want but how the quality suffers under duress and fear of reprisal . . . how it improves through willing partnership. He gets all that, for sure.

We talk about how Peter Campbell admonishes not to knock the curiosity out of the horse but to encourage and develop it’s natural instinct to be aware and engaged in it’s surroundings and how to put that to work for you instead of against you.

I told him how I used to be known for painstakingly taking the steps to help a horse work out it’s troubles . . . building so carefully a foundation from the ground up that work from the saddle became a non-issue. All but for my own. I was known for skipping those.

How this year has been choked from the dust of the collapsing foundation I did not build with Royal. How the pressure of the skipped steps has come back to haunt us in injuries for both of us, mental and physical trauma.  We discuss how you can’t get caught in guilt and remorse when you discover an error, how you have to move in whatever positive forward motion you are able . . . do what you have to do to make good the remedy.

Royals' stitched up hock.Arm

And then we talked about work.

This past couple of weeks, Royal is back outside in his pen with his pony. We are all happier.

Royal and Petri 2

I have gone out, checked his owie which finally looks like it is going to heal nicely. The huge thick scab over his Achilles tendon that had worried me is gone (thank you Granulex), he moves a little stiffly still and that long awaited chiro visit is surely in order now.


I left my tools in the car. No halter, no stick, no anything. Just me and a horse that really didn’t want to look at me anymore.

When he did look at me, I approached, took him under the jaw, asked him to come around in front and step over behind. It was appallingly difficult.

He didn’t want to. Bracey, politely resistant.

All I would have to would be go to the car, get the halter and he would do these things as he always has. Because he has to. I am in search of something different.

I stayed in it, waited. Didn’t allow him to raise his head up and away from me. He allowed me to not let him. We hung in the balance. Eventually, stiffly, the hip stuttered over behind and front came a little loose. I released to that try, walked away. He watches me, puzzled.

Eventually, his head lowers, eye soft. He licks and chews, thinking (I suppose.)

The next time I ask, it’s still hard but not as.

That’s where we have been, building step upon step until he walked with me willingly, a hand under his jaw. I still don’t have him engaging without my touch but I will get it.

Got far enough to use the halter the other night and practiced lateral, soft as possible.

Hadn’t planned to ride him again until I had all those things in place. For both of us.

The other night, I arrive at the ranch after work to park cars for the hayrack rides. My scheduled mount has been ill with a respiratory infection most of the season. He was standing in the alley but five minutes of listening to him gurgle through his breath, my boss and I agree, Paint is not ready.

Bring up another, he’s sore. The third choice, a little black horse I have been using is sore too. Doubt he’s worked as hard in his life as the trail rides and car parking and it’s telling on his fat ornery self.

So . . . who? It’s a light night, and we decide my horse is the next best option. I don’t know how it will go and neither does my boss. We agree that if it doesn’t look good for any reason we will put him up and figure out some other thing.

It was amazing. He saddles quiet, I take him out into the busy yard, do some work to see if the four quarters will reach anything like equal on all sides. It’s not perfect, but we get moments. He’s distracted but  I can keep him with me.


When I mount, my heart pounds. I have not been on Royal since that wreck due to our lay ups. He sets his feet, stands like a rock amidst the commotion. Tractors are firing up, the early crowds are running to make their rides. He is not bothered. Curious but not afraid.

back at it

Three quarters of the night, he rides like a saddle horse. Neck level, ears cheerfully forward. A couple of times, things booger him a little but it’s the Royal I know and there is no deadly panic behind it.

Later on, the stress gets to him and he starts to lose it. The reactions are bigger over smaller things. I trade places with one of my crew to give him an easier job. Enough is enough. 

I have to set my rein on my thigh a couple of times and let him find a place to relax and set his hip over, instead of leaving the country. It works out. He’s high when we head back for the barn, but controllable.

How happy was I to discover when I pull the saddle that regardless of the antics and the seeming upset, he hadn’t a wet hair on him. Neither did I Smile. We did okay and we are back in business.

Last night, much busier, I use a different horse. Royal and I will continue to build.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What I Used To Do . . .


is figure things out. I remember thinking about a particular horse all evening, going out the next morning, spending maybe 15 minutes getting the horse to look at me and walking away. The next time I would ask for a step. A single step in the right direction.

That particular horse had taken the 100 yard trip from driveway to barn on his hind legs at the end of a 22 foot rope. He left 90 days later being ridden bareback by a 14 year old boy.

There was a mare who came, bosal scars three inches up both sides of her jaw. At one point in her training with me, she flipped over backwards and caught the saddle under a panel. She left, on her way to a show career, walk, trot, canter under saddle, bold, brave, gentle and unafraid.

There are more on this list. They balance on the scales against the ones I walked away from. Somehow seems the day a horse became my own, I lost the ability or the desire to figure things out. To do what it took to reach the horse, help them be happy in understanding their job. To reach the body through the mind, the mind through the body.

Now I have Royal. I have journaled our ups and downs in fairly thorough detail on this blog and I need to go back and read it and find out what I did that worked. What I am doing this summer is not working, it has resulted in multiple injuries for my horse and a few for myself. Not the way this story is going to end well.

Our latest fiasco is again around his panic attacks in a two horse trailer. A certain amount of you are going to shake your heads and say, well hell, a LOT of horses don’t like a two horse trailer!

I am going to tell you I have taught trailer loading for years, and successfully loaded EVERY SINGLE horse I have ever worked with in the manner I know now. I had one, years ago, have a wreck but we didn’t see it coming, she’d loaded and rode for awhile before deciding she’d had enough and kicked out the back of the trailer.

I truly believe it is not the trailer, it’s in the mind. If I had the mind, he would not care what trailer I asked him to ride in. Peter Campbell told me last year my challenge was going to be how to keep him from leaving me mentally, which he did and does constantly. He told me he hoped I realized I had “bitten off quite a little bit here.” I acknowledged indeed I had, but the horse was worth whatever I had to go through to learn what I need to know to be who he requires me to be.

And he is.

I was taught a very long time ago that the Universe is generous and patient. When you have a lesson to learn, it will return to you until the point is made. The stakes, however, tend to go up as time goes by. I have ducked this challenge and now the stakes are too  high. I am not giving up. 

Royal is stitched and stapled wearing a compression wrap on his right hock. My absolute terror is that he will succeed in doing himself in before I do get it figured out. Nope, there are no more double trailers in our future, but as I said, that is not the problem. I don’t know where the panic will show up again next but I guarantee it will. It’s in him and will travel where he goes.

We have a winter ahead of us to figure this out, actually a lifetime. I will find a different horse on which to park cars while he heals physically, and then I will set myself to helping him (and me) heal mentally and emotionally. Damned inconvenient this wreck happens the week before Peter comes to town. Several wonderful friends volunteered to put horses under me, but there’s a good vet who showed up fast on a Friday night and did a wonderful job taking care of my horse. He’s getting paid first and on my budget, that leaves me a day to go down,  hang on the rail once again, soak up what I can and maybe go to dinner with my good friends.

I don’t know exactly what the answers are, but I understand exactly where I am at. The place to figure things out. Maybe 15 minutes and one step at a time.  Love ya, Royal. We are going to make it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

View From My Saddle


Ears and trees. As a rule. To some it’s only just that. For me, it’s coming around a corner, seeing a breathtaking panorama of greens, shot with stark gray, white, black. Bay curly black tipped ears, sorrel, palomino and black, my constructs are living breathing frames of reference. I breathe deep, settle in my saddle, pull out my phone and try to capture some of that magick in a snapshot of time and place.

Royal on the trail

It’s offering softness to hack horses, tripping down yet another hour long trail ride in a day full of them.  Going deeper in what “not give them opportunities to pull on me” means. Learning again that a soft feel is not collection, though it certainly is a precursor. Layers and levels. Shaking my head at how much I didn’t know when I thought I knew so very much and how much there is to learn from here that I have no way of knowing . . . yet.


People come to our ranch who have never actually even touched a real horse before, have no idea of the manner of beast they are stepping astride. It is my gift to try to help them realize, my burden to try to keep them alive for their hour of discovery, and hope they come back and try it again.

Trail ride

There is a solid reverence to be found appreciating the grace and beauty of the natural world, gifts that are still unspoiled in places and within reach. I have not lost my wonder that a horse will consent to not only carry a person about but even partner up and maybe have some fun doing it.

Back 80

I confront fears, chase demons, find joy. Make mistakes, nearly tragic, and burst lightbulbs of discovery. I grin at trees because I am growing too. I get it. Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related and I am blessed when I can remember that.

All this stuff is horsemanship, and it’s life. I search for softness, effectiveness, in my marriage, my job, family and friendships. I seek to behave with integrity, can’t be one person at the barn and someone else, elsewhere.

When the rocks rattle pretty loud between my ears, and I am thinking there will be always times that happens, there are ways to find solace.  I am not alone on this journey and that might be the very best part of it all. Being one among my fellows allows me to be helpful when able and ask for help when needed. There’s a journey there, folks.





My buddy, Royal, is on his way back to his peace of mind as well. Thanks to my friend, Colleen Parmenter Hamer, who has made it her life’s work to get good with these things, he steps into a trailer with the same drama and verve that he does everything else in life, then  . . . stands calmly and waits.  The changes made during that process though were not about getting him in a trailer.

Colleen & Royal

They were about getting him ready . . . to get in a trailer, yah sure, but to be good about his life again. His panic had come with him, from that wreck. That stuff shakes a horse up pretty bad and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. Takes some good therapy to help them recover, call it what you want, that’s what I saw . . . transition from fear, worry and doubt to trust, belief and willingness.

Royal happy in the trailer

Looking forward to riding with Peter again in September. Smiling at Kristine’s “Woohooo BIG CHANGES!” We have not met face to face but I know what she’s talking about and am ready for the next wave . . .


Crossing the bridge


Some photos taken by me, you can guess which ones! Others are credited to Christine Shenefield, Troy Shenefield and Karen Johnson.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It Matters Not


“How’s your steak” is what you may get in return if you start explaining your horse troubles and woes (or lack therein) to Peter Campbell at dinner. “It matters not” is likely what you will when, astride the beast, you start explaining the history behind why said pony does or does not do the thing you do, do not, wish him to.


photo by Karen Johnson

I struggled with both of these concepts for a long time. The not discussing the horse at dinner I thought went back to a man who lives other people’s horse problems day in, hour out and wants to have a simple meal in peace. Turns out, more than that, as in Peter’s horsemanship, things often are.

“The horse is not even here. How can we talk about him?” I didn’t know what that meant either, until I started to get an understanding that the horse reacts in the moment to what is occurring to and around him. Yes, he has history. Yes, he has training, good or poor. Those things influence his behavior and reactions. The details? It matters not.

I have to be horseman enough to read what is happening with my horse, be able to communicate back to him that I see and understand while letting him know in a clear and consistent way what my expectations are and what we are going to do.  When my mind is cluttered thinking about what has gone on before, might happen here in a few minutes, my ability to stay in the moment, which is where my horse is, will be completely lost.

I ride horses every weekend that are slated for a unique and unusual job. They will carry guest riders around our ranch should the horse prove quiet and tolerant enough to make the cut. This provides a little challenge in what I teach the horse. We are not big on installing a reverse gear and I argued this for a long time until I led enough guests on enough rides that they nearly sent their horses backwards down a ravine as the guests do not know enough to quit pulling once the horse has stopped.  I still put in enough for me, I don’t use the reins much for that anyway, and the horse is safer from the guest than he would be with a fine tuned mouth.

That said, I ask for soft feels, every ride, several times a ride, regardless of which horse I am on. Once upon a time, I thought this meant nose down, chin tucked. That can be a result for sure, but what I think now (remembering Peter watching Royal, behind the bridle, “you put the horse before the cart on this one” and having NO idea what he was talking about) is it’s about the communication that comes when I reach for my horse through the reins and he responds back with softness.

The hack horses will all give me a soft feel. Sometimes they say a different thing to me on the way there, but I ask subtly, politely, I don’t get pully or rammy with them, and they all say oh, okay Terri, you are there and I am here and we are together.  Every time I reach for one of them and they answer back, we are in the moment together.

I practice getting the hind with them, hind over, front end coming across. You would be surprised (some of you) at much nicer their attitudes become when their feet are freed up.

So. I am a believer in eating my steak at dinner and riding my horse in the moment. When I can.

I have a trailer loading issue with Royal. Read that sentence carefully. It’s ME who has the trailer loading issue. He may or may not, dunno, he’s not here to ask.

Having refined, practiced, trained and taught trailer loading techniques for a certain number of years, there’s a little irony here but not so much really. Putting my ego out of the way, why not me? I have run into some sticky things with my horse. I don’t know anyone who is really involved with their horsemanship that doesn’t. I have some self doubts, some worries and concerns.

Royal? My guess is right now he has his head stuck in his spiffy new feeder, contentedly in the company of a pony I am pretty sure he thinks of as his. He is NOT thinking about trailers, his goofy owner or the plans she has in store.

When I hook up next, I need to borrow more of his thought process than my own. Stay in the moment with him. Ask him for focus. Read his reactions, respond as appropriately as I can.

As for what has taken place before, it matters not Smile

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Only Constant


in life is change. Someone told me a long time ago that love it or hate it, the time I was living in would change and I might as well just start getting comfortable with the idea. I will tell you that I get that . . . in theory.

I am turning, right before my own very eyes, into one of those gnarly old guys I used to hang out with that kicked back their chairs, sipped inky black coffee out of unimaginably stained cups and shook their heads ruefully at the state of the world in which we live.  Well, I  have to go a long ways to fill those old timer’s shoes but my attitude is developing nicely.

It’s the way of things. 

Umm, horses? Yes, gentle reader, there will eventually be horses in this blog, always are. I am getting there. (see? old! cranky!)

I work part time at a place called Shady Lanes Ranch. Just shy of 400 acres a couple miles north of Council Bluffs, IA. There’s a lot going on there, primarily they offer guided trail and hayrack rides to the public. They keep their hack horses year around, and it takes quite a horse to make the string.

As the world continues to evolve (de, some might say) from our rural and agricultural roots, interest and knowledge of those areas is waning quickly.  I could go on an entire soapbox about how these lack of awareness's are effecting our lives, politically, socially and yes, spiritually . .  . but I will stop there.

Talk is the guided trail rides will cease in about a month. I am needing to find time in my schedule to set the hack horses up for portraits and get them listed for sale.

I have tears gathering in my eyes as I write this. While I understand change is inevitable, it’s going to come as a shock to BlackJack, Scout, good Snuggles, lovely Bravo, ever reliable Peacock . . . and the rest. They know their lives and they are good ones. I wish I could ensure that each of those good boys, proven, steady and tried beyond measure were going to end up in homes that are aware and deserving of the treasures they have found.

Hack Horses

I have worked hard with a couple of the younger ones, Big Ben, who was an uncertain four year old three years ago, will now pretty much land well wherever he goes. Little Miguel, spicy little cow horse type who would NEVER have made the general string has come so far, I can only hope Epona, horse goddess, looks after her smart, sensitive child after I no longer can.

Big BenLittle Miguel

I asked my boss a question yesterday, who I have known many a year and who actually gave me the name for my business once upon a time ago. (“It takes damn good hands to ride those colts” a man gruffly refuses my request to take on some training work .  . . and I thought, well heck! I  HAVE good hands . . . and such it was born.) 

Hindsight says those hands not as good as I thought they were then, but it made for a good name! Yeah, he lets me ride the colts now . . .

So back to the question; when is a person justified to have more than one horse?

Anyone who knows me at all just had eyebrows hit hairline. I am not known for asking advice and about my personal life with horses, not much at all. Charlie is one smart son of a gun and he has given me very good advice for a very many years, most of which I have chosen to not follow and only seen the value of, some time past the point.

“Stupid.” He looks at me over his coffee. He is not calling me stupid but he knows where I am going with this. “Find one good horse and keep it” he said after years of insisting I didn’t need a horse at all when others paid me good money to sit on the backs of theirs. That’s done and he and I both agree Royal is the keeping horse.

Royal in the specialized

“You don’t have time for the one you own.” This is said with some care. He knows the investment I have put in Ben and Little Miguel, how damn hard it’s going to be to walk away and let them go. Ben is a big boy . . . my husband and family could ride him. Gentler than Royal ever will be, he’d make a knock out grandbaby 4-h horse . . . in time. Fiery Little Miguel . . . only I can ride . . . but I am the one that does ride, really, except in my dreams.

I spent most of the day on Miguel yesterday. When he’d had enough, and we are careful about that, we put him up. Little sorrel gelding, not eye catching at first maybe to the average person (a horse person sees him immediately) he was stand offish, next to impossible to catch and hard eyed a year ago. Now he looks up at my approach, and while he is not yet a pocket pony, I haven’t had to pen him to get a hand on him in awhile . . .  He puts his ears up, looks at me, shows appreciation for my touch and acknowledges me as part of his world.

That is a huge gift from any horse and from a skeptic like him . . . I am honored.

For many years I have understood my role in most horses’ lives that I come across to be temporary. When it was the trainers, that was obvious. The saddle horses I rehabbed and sold, again, pretty clear. It has been a sacred duty to give every horse I touch a better deal than they had before. If my time with them is days, weeks, months, whatever, I want them to have a chance for a better life than what they had, coming in.

The thoroughbred babies I halter break, I take care to introduce them to the idea that humans are essentially good (even though I don’t always believe that, myself). I teach them to release from pressure from the first gentle touch, set them up in tiny baby size jams so they start learning to use their brains when they are in a wreck. I figure most of them will survive though not succeed their race horse years and they need skills for that, and a future beyond as well.

Ben nickers to me when I walk past him. He is in the line up these days, has graduated from wrangler only and can carry the experienced guest, should that mythical creature ever arrive (most people mark their experience level “good” or fair.” How many times have you been on one, I have learned to ask. Oh a couple! Or, I rode out here last month) Ok. Grab Scout, will ya  . . .

I know I have discharged my duties for these wonderful horses. I have helped each feel safe putting their heads down to be bridled.  A couple other younger horses are easier to catch, easier to handle from the ground. I handle them all with care and I let them know I see who they are and that they matter to me. You may be surprised how much their outlooks change when handled with a little respect.

Royal? He’s okay. We are both dealing with the trailer trauma. I have not asked him to get in one yet since the wreck. He barely tolerates standing by it, still won’t eat off the fender comfortably. I know it’s a hurdle we both have to get over, and we will. It’s just another step in the journey.

In the meantime . . . if you know of someone looking for a great horse, I know of about 15 of them . . .

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lifestyle Changes

A group of friends of mine formed a weight loss consortium a few years back. If you have been with my blog any length of time, you know that is an ongoing concern of mine . . . that middle aged spread that is relentless in it’s desire for Manifest Destiny. . .

We talk about how weight loss must be a result of lifestyle changes, not a goal of dieting. There are many good things said and done in that group and several are showing up with much less of themselves than before.

How then does this subject fit with the horse training theme of this blog, you might ask? It’s the lifestyle change piece for today’s intent and purpose. Could go on about how healthier, fitter people are better suited for riding but that would only depress me as my “lifestyle change” has taken place in a somewhat different arena. There, a horse related word for you impatient types.

A couple of years ago, I quietly put away my shingle, didn’t book any more training horses, nor accepted any others to broker for sale. I painfully trimmed my personal herd, now down to one semi and hopefully temporarily lame spotted Arabian. I got an office job.

Fast forward to 2013, the novelty and delight of the regular paycheck that shows up on time, when it says it will and never cancels for personal reasons of it’s own has not entirely lost it’s charm. Nor has the ability to show up at my Dr’s office and know she is actually going to get paid for her labor rather than the essentially pro bono work she has done for me, the past couple of years previous.

It finally sinks in, viewing my vastly shrunken mileage, comparing this year to last’s Distance Derby, gasping in horror at a scale that mercilessly tells off on the latest session with Edy’s, even the low fat kind, that a lifestyle change has taken place. It’s not the “hit the gym, exchange bad food for good, go get ‘em Tiger” that I have been looking to cultivate. Nope, a much more sedentary thing involving desks, chairs, overtime and . . . large recliners at the end of the day rather than saddles, halters, and miles slipping away into the rearview mirror.

I have ridden the least this year than maybe any since getting back into horses in the early 90’s after a nine year lay off.  There are a lot of pro’s and con’s to my lifestyle change, but that might be the worst.

Along with this, I am hearing Peter (Campbell) talk about how you have to have feel in everything you do. It doesn’t just suddenly spring into life when you cross the threshold at the corral. That some things matter, no matter what, and some matter not. A peaceful soul can reach a horse, one in tumult can kill. My  horse, beloved Royal, is sore, swollen and lame due to a trailer loading accident that is directly attributed to my unpeaceful, impatient approach on what turns out to be a very important day in our lives.

So, no matter if I am at the barn every day, I am a horseman, every day, every waking moment of my life and possibly sleeping as well. To be soft in all that I do, to reward the slightest try, the smallest change in myself and those around me . . . to be aware. Even if I am riding a chair instead of a pony, I am still who I am. Whew. Good to know.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

. . . And Back Again

Student, teacher, and back again, but really . . . always student. Last weekend I had the pleasure of flying down to Georgia to visit my friend, Gretchen Ahrens Equestrian Director at the Calvin Center, my second home away from home.

Taught a couple clinics down there, put my first ACTHA ride under my belt. Met an 11 year old natural born horsewoman, watched people get in and out of the way of their learning as I am finding out it is our nature to do. Notes to self to work harder to stay out of my own way in like circumstances.

As I do in front of an exciting experience, I woke at 3 a.m. the morning before I traveled. Along with “remember your toothbrush and the brown boots that will look better with the brown breeches” and other such helpful middle of the night hints, an exercise came to me. I wanted people to understand why it matters to get to the feet.

During our morning talky-d00, I asked them to help me with something. “Place all your weight on your left foot,” I requested. “Hold your right foot up. If you have to balance the toe on the ground that’s okay, get it as weightless as you can.” I let them figure that out for a moment and then “Now. Please take your LEFT foot and stick it out in front of you as far as you can.”

Go ahead and try that, you at home, if you will. Let me know how it works out for you. Me and my students, we stood there, foot heavily weighted and unable to leave the ground. No one even tried to hop through it. (possible light bulb moment for you, here)

“Now, stand with both feet equally balanced, shift most of your weight to your right foot. Please now, place the left one out in front of you.” Easily managed, right? Was for us, too.

Then I related that task to riding my horse down the way, wanting a simple left turn. If I ask while the weight is coming down on the left front, going to be difficult for my horse to make that very basic maneuver. Horse gets off balance, they don’t like that. Resistance comes, brace happens, and next thing you know, my horse in my mind is a stubborn unathletic son of a gun who can’t get out of his own way, let alone mine. Fast forward to the flying lead changes everyone wants to work on . . . maybe later, huh?

Ask while the weight BEGINS to come off that foot, yes, you have to be aware of the footfalls and there is timing involved. Position for the transition. We’ve heard that before, right?

Yesterday I am attending Kip Fladland’s last clinic in the series of three one day events he did for us this winter. Kip rode for several years with Buck and is a very sweet hand with a horse. Kip and Peter both know exactly how to pick their battles. Kip would make a point, as I have seen Peter do, wait to see if the rider was going to pick up on it, move on to something else. Sometimes the student did, sometimes they did not. Things worked out both ways, some a little smoother than others.

I am sitting on Champ, 12 year old Appaloosa gelding, another rescue horse in the Nebraska Humane Society program. He’s had a handful of rides and I’ve been on him a couple times. When it didn’t look like there would be transportation for Royal, he seemed a good choice as replacement.

Funny how we think our horses are herd bound and barn sour, and rarely take into account those aspects of our own nature. We hang tight with the familiar.

Working with different horses will improve my horsemanship and was once  just a part of my life. Now, I have a comfort zone, odd one that it may be. I know my skitzy loopnut spotted Arabian. I know when the heart attack spooks take place, he is likely to be over and done with it before I even have time to react and when he leaves, somehow he always manages to take me with him. I was not sure Champ would be so generous.

I also know when upset, running through the outside shoulder was a high possibility. . . 

The groundwork went well, I saw that shoulder bleeding out, and what happens on the ground happens in the saddle, as a rule. Finding the right mix of bump on the halter (just enough to bring that outside front foot back on the circle, not so much to throw his hip away and end up, him looking me head on) and drive to keep the forward going, that got better.

Something else improved, too. Watching Kip and his mare, it came home to me how he, Peter, Buck, they never hurry unless they HAVE to and only as LONG as they have to. Once I start to hurry I tend to stay in hurry. My horse responds with more energy, which turns into rush, and it all gets pretty messy.  I can’t keep up with the transitions, my timing evaporates and feet. . .  they are lost and everywhere.

You might have figured this out, first time you watched those guys on You Tube. It happens to be my particular spot in the journey, this particular moment. I got particular. Precise. Asked Champ to come around in front of me. Changed hands at his ribcage. As he passed by, leading hand asks the hind to move over, brought my supporting hand up to encourage the outside eye to come across, bringing the shoulder through while I continue to walk forward in a straight line. As he comes around in front of me, I change hands at the rib cage.

Yes, there is a lot to it. Doing it that way, was plenty of time. It was exactly the same way I did this before. What changed was the timing, then the breathing. Everybody stayed calm.

Stepping into the saddle, my happiness went poof in a farty wind. I suddenly remember I have a VERY green horse that has never been in this kind of company before. We had 21 other horses in the arena with us (it’s huge, plenty of room). I was none too sure that a solid half of them might not come undone at any moment, and I became certain I was going to die.

I was stiff, tense in the saddle, that nasty familiar bitter taste of metal in my mouth. Trust me, I get as tired of experiencing this as you probably do, reading it.

I don’t have Colleen in the stands to hiss “Relax, Terri” but I do have her in my head. “When they get tight, you gotta turn loose of the head.” I know she’s right. I breathe deep, rolling my shoulders, and start feeding my horse some slack. I have no idea if he bolts and I try to bend his head to get to the hip that will happen or we will crash through the shoulder willy nilly into some unsuspecting rider.

Someone trots by me and Champ tucks his tail. That’s it, no mad dash not even a real grab. My stomach lurches anyway. Other people are trotting by me and I am scowling,  sending out  mental “stay the hell away from me” force fields backed up by a decimator ray.

During Kip’s talky-doo, in the question part, I make mention my horse has only had a few rides and PLEASE while I don’t expect people to ride my ride (and I don’t) try not to get me killed.

No one would mean to . . .

The riding went SUPER. There is no other word for it. As always, when I feel myself reaching for a foot and getting it, I relax. It took awhile for us to trust each other and come together but when we did, it was a thing of beauty inside my soul.

During the groundwork, Champ got a good hard look at the bucking chutes, the doorways that open into the pens and alley behind the arena. He saw the horses, the cattle and understood there were things back there that might move and make a sudden sound.

He did not spook even once at any of those things. We got a mini stutter spook when someone else’s horse on our outside did and jumped towards us. A half turn, my hand on the rein, on the way to a one rein stop, his hip came under him, he slowed, relaxed and we went on without having to stop our feet at all. How freaking sweet is that?

Quarter turn of the hip, end up facing the rail. Backing a quarter turn, set to go the other way. Sometimes we brought the shoulder through after rocking the weight off the front end. Peter would say “how the heck are you going to get forward if you don’t rock them back? How are you going to get backwards if you don’t rock them forward?”

Feet attached to the reins. So many more layers to riding than sitting up there, dragging them around by their mouths, thumping with a booted heel or spur for emphasis. Can be so quiet, so smooth, so subtle. Might have to firm up with a cue but so many places to go, first if you can only be aware.

A horse on his 16th ride, and another, earlier on his third, can float around so sweet you can’t pick him out of the horses with a hundred normal people hours on them. Rider has to get out of the way. First the mind, the ego and then the body. Probably cannot happen overnight unless you are an 11 year old wunderkind with an unbroke pony that you don’t know should not work out.

Got the 360. Take hindquarter full half turn to the right, lead shoulder full half turn to the left, face same direction you started. Walk on.

None of this is about me. That is such an important note for me to make here. What I have done is improve as a student and I have Peter Campbell to thank and none other. After that, and maybe before, Colleen.

Without those two, the pretty things that happen for me in my clinics and other people’s that I might ride?  They would not be taking place because the chatter of what I think I know was so very loud I could rarely hear above the din. Thanks guys.

Photos coming later, I hope!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sharpening, Softening

Juggling turns out to be a very important skill in horsemanship. Might be time, priorities of family, work, other interests for those who have other interests. Might be not dropping gear into eight inches of mud and water.

A light rain mists around us as I bring Royal up to my new to me Ford truck (oh yeah!). The four foot drift of snow and detritus melted away from the front of the hitching rail nearby now replaced by a vat of noxious looking water and ice.

I open both doors on the passenger side (picture my wide grin of delight at a truck with that many doors) and determine that saddling is going to have to take place right here. I drape the halter rope over my arm, asking Royal to shift his hip and make room for where I want to be. He complies nicely.  Stands square. Waits.

Good thing there was no one nearby for photo opping. I said juggling is a useful skill. I did not say I have mastered it, in any of the above ways though I am better than I used to be at all of them.

Job is done, mud in places I would rather there not be, but it is what it is.

Minimal prep and Royal stands to be mounted. I once would have thought our issue was over. I understand now that while my horse is learning to wait, which is improving EVERYTHING for us, the trick is in the getting ready and the not taking for granted. That is a big sentence right there. Might want to read it again.

I survey the yard. Giant towering ruts etch it from the tractors, moving hay, spreading manure,  doing the farm jobs. Does not bode well for footing up top. Ever hopeful, we steer through the muck up the road past the big shed. Royal spooks there regularly. I am not completely sure what demon abides here but it happens. One of these days I will be ready and help him not do that.

He doesn’t fall down and I think maybe we can ride the trails after all. 20 feet later of deep mud that both sucks and slides out from under us, this is a no go. We turn and head for the outdoor arena.

I have indoor arena privileges but it’s been a wearing week at work and I am done with walls.  There are also two brand new baby racehorses in the barn part and it would be the worst if the moms got excited at the sound and smell of a different horse and hurt a baby in the process. Happened to us last year, someone spooked one of the dams, she stepped on her sleeping foal.  It lived but it was all bad from there.  Not happening on my watch.

GPS only works outside and if I am riding in the rain, I damn sure want my miles for it. Distance Derby, ya know. Not on the top of the list I am juggling but it’s in there.

First challenge, Royal grabs his butt as we pass the big caterpillar, tarped down and chattering in the breeze. Fear factor on the right, Royal tucks his nose to the left, not wanting to have to view the awful thing.

Last September Peter was readying the group for working cattle. He positioned himself off the rail about 15 feet, flag in hand. We were to ride into the gap, stop, have our horse look at the flag, steady and ride on. Royal couldn’t stand it at first and Peter noted how fear could be turned into respect if handled properly. We got it done then, not perfect but acceptable in the small change, the slight try which was actually enormous on my horse’s part, and went on.

I do that now when we are confronted with terrifying objects. I have long thought it ridiculous that people make their horse put their nose on the scary thing. Such a waste of time when there might be a job to be done and what I really want is for my horse to be calm and keep it’s focus on me. There is a place in training to send a horse to an object, and put it’s nose there but it is about forward, direction and communication.

Royal gives the big Cat both ears and both eyes. He studies it a bit. The wind obliging picks up and the tarp flaps harder, daring my horse to stand his ground. He is brave now and says, bring it you big sucker. I am over you. That’s my boy. We ride on.

Past the stack of round bales (could be absolutely ANYTHING in there. I look them over warily, Royal doesn’t care.) Past the sheds waiting to find a home somewhere, and to the heavy steel gate.

Here is a challenge all of it’s own. I am NOT getting off my horse again. Opening gates requires patience, finesse and the ability to wait. None of the above have been our strong suits.

Oh yes, and moving hips, quarters, sidepassing to the proper spot, all that we can do with our hooves tied behind our backs. It’s the waiting that gets us every time.

And the rattles of the noisy things.

We position and I smile again at how easily I can think my thoughts down my reins to Royal’s feet and we get where we need to be. It’s isn’t always, this,  but it’s in here. I rattle the gate and he doesn’t want to look at it. So, we know what to do first. Just a tip of the nose, I can see his right eye, he sees the gate. I feel him settle. He is ready for the next step.

This is the first ten minutes of our ride.

I want to tell you about the passenger riding, the trust it required for me to throw deep slack into my reins and ask my horse to become emotionally responsible for himself.  I want to write about picking up a rein, figuring out what angle helped Royal best understand what foot needed to move where, feeling brace melt into form.

We rode circles, not allowing a barn sour drift and then asking for an entirely different one, speeding up the hind while slowing down the front.

Circles where I eye the pattern on the ground and insist we stay on it. No bulging ribs, no pushy dropping shoulder, no flailing hip. Stay on my outside rein, Royal. Encouraging that with inside leg.

There were transitions. Sloooow walk. Reverse. Walk. Softness. Trot-stop from my seat so I am not ambushing your face-reverse. Snappiness. Even got a little slide going on as Royal tucked his butt sweetly under us.

Always asking for the softness. It’s not what you do, it’s how and when and when you stop doing it. Pick up a rein, where is that soft give? Bouncy nose, inside out neck, saw all that. Held my ground and waited. Set it up and let it work.

Back in the days when I sold horses for a living, I thoroughly assessed every single one of them. In that, I looked for a certain solid feeling under me. A broke horse is one that will reliably, consistently respond  to a properly given cue. There are not as many out there as you might think. Royal is not there yet, but I felt that feeling last night and I know we are on our way.

It was heaven on horseback. Rain and all.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Attitude is Everything.


The horse sees me before I know he does. Quietly he slinks into a corner, maybe she won’t see me, here in this lot with nothing to hide behind  . . . if I am just vewwy quiet and get behind that other Paint horse that kinda looks like me . . .

I smile. I don’t blame him. We didn’t part on the very best of terms last time out.  Today, I have peace in my mind, joy in my heart. The shadow demons that are ever ready to whisper ugly things to my susceptible brain are put to bed. I have spent a lovely morning drinking coffee with my husband, hanging out with cuddly dogs.  Helped out at the ranch and introduced the new Thoroughbred baby, only a week old, to the wonder of the indoor arena and being able to stretch her long legs and really RUN.  Hard to start a day better than this.

Royal has been watching me out the corner of his rolled back  eye, head in the corner. Now that head swings around and I get both eyes. He sighs as I approach. Licks, chews. Drops his nose sweetly into the halter.

That’s what it took for us to have a good day. I had to be right in my mind and in my soul.


I want this look always

There was no cursing on this day except at the kelpies who thought it funny to drop snow suddenly just behind us or possibly bean me in the side of the head as we passed by. Where DID that come from, anyway? Royal startled a couple of times, that electric voltage passing through the body kind of thing that could give a person a heart attack if you had time for one. Then, he got over it, gave the kelpies his middle hoof and we went on.

Snow Kelpie

Snow Kelpie Smile

We were pleased to find the footing fairly reliable under it’s 6 to 9 inches of snow. We are both learning how to handle the occasional swoosh of hoof finding ice and neither of us panicked when it happened.  Royal got a snootful of snow when he insisted on picking his path instead of listening to my idea on the subject. A rut runs up the middle of one of the hacker trails and was completely drifted over. I THOUGHT it was still there, couldn’t tell. Yep, he is floundering and then face first in the snow on his knees.

My reactive Arabian gives another sigh, gathers himself and calmly rises. Next time I suggested we move to the right, he complied. Takes what it takes, I guess.

The sun shone brightly back reflected off that white blanket. Up on top, my legs and arms drank in the welcome warmth. Our shadow stands out in sharp relief. I am delighted at what I see, happy little head bob, ears up but not sharply pointed, neck gracefully curved and I rarely had to pick up the slack in the rein. I got an idea that I would write this blog off the shadow pictures and started snapping away.


Great day!

I brought Axel out with us today, he’s getting as fat and out of shape as I am! The three of us did our thing and we must have radiated a bubble of joy.

Today's Us

My Besties

We do some short serpentines, I am keeping my hold and releasing into the soft feel. He gets the idea and lightens in my hands.

At Kip’s last clinic we had a lot of fun doing long serpentines, using our bodies instead of our hands. I was really surprised and happy at how when I would turn my center, Royal would follow suit, weaving through the other horses with me barely touching a rein.  That game aided us here, too.

Found a spot and did a “set.” That’s the 1o steps forward, 9 steps back game until you are rocking in your tracks. We were not perfect but the try was absolutely immaculate.

We shaped going into our turns, I am trying to set things up and let the action be my horse’s idea. As my timing improves, so does he. There is a magic here to be found, and even a taste is intoxicating to us both. I laugh out loud. The dog grins up at me, he doesn’t know what’s funny, or maybe he knows better than I do.

And then . . . BOOM, the woods explode in motion! White flashes of alarm tails, bounding gray bodies, this side, that side, BOTH sides! The woods are alive with startled deer and flying snow as they bound madly to the left and to the right!

Okay, nah, it wasn’t all that at all. We flushed some sleeping deer, and they took off. The horse is “wow, look at that.” The dog says “can I go chase? No? Okay.” And we rode on. The entire ride, my horse felt quietly solid, completely willing and happy to be out there with me. There was one place that left us for a little but that doesn’t come til later.

Going down the long hill into the back 80, the one coming up which had dumped the dog on his side on a ride not so long ago and gave us our bushwhacking opportunity, we are all a little cautious.

We hit some breath grabbing slidey spots, and I decide we are not coming down this way again today. Survive this, Royal, and we will find another place to play.

It was slipping on the flat ground at the bottom that really made me decide next round to just stay up on top on the hacker trails. Had hoped to pick up a lope on the long flat stretch to the next gate, but the drifts and treacherous footing under put paid to that idea, and we trekked along, staying upright the major goal, both of us continuing to easy breath and mosey.

Through deep drifts, past the next gate, we enter Turkey Woods. Twisted Tim Burtonesque trees stand starkly against the bright sky. Snow accents their turns and twirls. I would like to frame a shot, but doubt I can catch the whimsy. Plus, it’s still slippery going up. Royal puts on his four hoof drive and we make it without undue issue or angst. No turkeys. I think they may have decided to find quieter digs . . .

Weather like this makes even slight ups and downs something to consider. The ranch is built on the tail end of the Loess Hills, and slight ups and downs are what we call level. I eye the next down with a cynical eye. Sun is shining on it nicely, but how long has that been? Ice here would be ugly as it drops steeply into a bowl, the likelihood of good ground there pretty slim. We skirt the edges, which drop off rather shortly, and make it to the graded road.

This ride, only a little over an hour, we trot out everywhere we can. I am inspired by some posts my friend, Colleen Parmenter Hamer, has written about her work with the Nebraska Humane Society rescue horses and a special horse of her own. I fix it up and wait for that soft feel. I spread my hands, get my seat and balance right, oil up the joints in my hips, knees and ankles, so I am not a stiff offending board up there, and ride.

Royal will fuss when I take hold of his mouth. It’s possible he was tightly bitted in his original training. The why doesn’t really matter. I finally understand he is reacting to the way he feels about what is happening to him right this minute. Horses are true to their moment. He may just not care for the sensation of pressure in his mouth, and you know, he really should NOT care for that, not be dulled and stony to it. He should want to soften and get rid of that pressure.

By keeping my hands steady, when he softens even the slightest, accidental bit, he gets rewarded. I don’t bounce on the end of my reins, I loosen my shoulders and my back, breathe into my center and we feel wonderful together. The soft feel comes and goes, the joy does not waiver.

We run into trouble on the single track trail that heads back to the barn, Paint buddy and hay bale. His footsteps quicken, head rises sharply. I want to get a little mad that he is going to blow it here.

Then, I think about how being smarter than your horse is harder than it sounds like it might be. Most people I know that think horses are stupid get outsmarted by them quite regularly.

Royal does not want a fight. He wants to get home. Left to his own devices, this would be a mad dash across the trail and down the long snowy stretch back to the ranch yard. I am not down for this, brother. I want the long flat walk. Taking hold of his mouth here really upsets him and he throws empty handed unwanted slack into the reins as his feet increase their anxious pattering.

I start doing the “you get jiggy, we go back the other way” game but it only gets him more excited when we turn back around for home. I am frustrated and I totally get that he felt this before I did. As he gets bouncy, I rather spitefully get out of sync, let my hands bump his mouth, my butt his back. Coming down off the jig, though, I soften completely. He is not trying to get soft there, but it happens as a result of his movement.

It doesn’t take very long at all, we do not have to escalate either of our unhappiness and he says, damn! If walking is what I have to do to get you to ride, FINE! (his only cuss word of the day. Not bad for us. I think I might have said something in there, too.) It’s not a perfect walk but it’s flat footed and I will take what he is offering.

Back home, we play some games. I don’t make a big deal of it, in the course of unsaddling at my car, I ask him to set his feet just so to pull the saddle. Move him just so to change sides. Just so to groom. It’s pretty sweet. From a horse that curled his neck like a snail to resist an ask, he shifts, is here, there, wherever. Stands like a rock, even when the bobcat moving snow behind us threatens our personal bubble. It was a very good day.  Attitude IS everything. Smile

Beautiful Shadow

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not All . . .


“Get that thing off me.” My horse shakes his head rebelliously, sulky eye cast anywhere but at me. He’s ready to be done with his bridle, done with me and I don’t care a whole lot for him either, just right this second.

It was a very different parting than the pride filled pat I gave him last Saturday returning triumphantly home from a wonderful day at Kip Fladland’s second clinic. After a little much needed soul searching, I know exactly why.

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday morning. In all honesty, it’s the same side I have been waking up on for awhile now. Why? Who knows. There’s a lot of things I want to hook my out of sorts-ness on but what really matters is that it was not my horse. Wasn’t my young coworker, not my friends, my son, my husband, my job, etc.  I set a goal yesterday to take nothing personally and it kept me and those around me quite a bit further out of harm’s way than what might have taken place otherwise as everything felt personal and not much of it in any good way.

And then I get to the barn. I have a game plan to go to the indoor arena, practice some of the things I got further inspiration on while riding with Kip. The mud in the yard stood in deep ruts, testimony to what I would find up on top, I was sure. Still, when I was told it would probably be okay, just be careful, I took off in search of Derby miles and one more push out of my comfort zone. What I know now is that one really needs to be IN a comfort zone to get comfortably pushed out of one.

Royal was a little high from the get go. I am going to tell you he read the unstable energy bubbling just beneath my thin layer of calm surface. You can hide out from yourself but you cannot hide from your horse.

We slipped and slid a little going up and I thought it would be dryer on top and kept going. Royal snorted at the burn pile, and I cursed under my breath.  “Jump around now, you idiot, and we are going to end up on the ground in a pile.”

He didn’t, but he also didn’t gain confidence as he normally does. We can start out a little funky, have many times, but usually by the time we hit the top of the ridge we are both settled into a happy stride. Not this time.

The way we usually head to the back 80, a north facing slide, glittered dully with dirty snow. We opted to go to the left instead up the hacker trail rather than attempt what looked to be and later proved itself to be a very treacherous stretch of ground.

Going up, Royal’s feet slipped and slid, one way then another. I sat in the middle thinking only to get to the top in one piece. What goes up must come down but I was not thinking about that, just yet.

As we came out of the narrow draw onto the broad straw strewn hayrack road, my stomach was a leaden ball, my mouth filled with a metallic taste of fear.  That has not happened to me in a long time. A couple bad wrecks put it in me several years ago, resulting in a year’s off from training and almost from riding entirely, while I hung around on fence tops wanting desperately to be back on a horse and happy.

Don’t try to get to something good by going through something bad. I have heard Peter say that a hundred times. Sometimes, I don’t know any other way. I was thinking we would ride through this, I would breathe, Royal would settle and we would get to other side in better shape than what we showed up in.

I wish I could tell you that is what happened, but it really is not. He got higher and more unsettled. Looking at it from his point of view, it makes complete sense. His partner, holding most of the shares, was lost in memories of thudding to the ground, the soft crack of breaking bones that don’t quite hurt yet, doesn’t turn into real pain til just a little later . . .

Believe me, I did everything I know to turn this around.  I did breathing exercises, I told myself sternly to ride the horse that was showing up, the one that was really just trying to get down the road, was moving out in a way that on normal rides would have delighted me. Ride the ride that showed up. We weren’t falling, hadn’t come close. Yes, a little slick, but we were handling it and that was what I went up there to do. If we are going to do Competitive Trail Riding we have to be prepared to ride in all kinds of terrains and all kinds of weather. I know from watching my friends, they don’t cancel for a little mud.

I got triggered is what happened and it got away from me. We ended up in a war on the way home on a narrow single track trail. He was completely focused on where the barn was and his footsteps were rushed and careless. Being afraid brings my mad up and I got mad. 10 steps forward and 9 steps back you sonova . . .  We stayed at that for awhile, it was not pretty and I am glad there are no photos except the ones he took and to those I will have some explaining to do.

Now we are facing the hill I had chose not to come down. About 40 feet is all but a drop on one side and a high bank on the other. It’s very dark now, and I can’t see if there are thawed places so we head out as best we can. Sure enough, solid ice. More clacking of hooves as Royal scrambles madly to stay upright. I am not angry at him now, boy howdy, I am with him every step, speaking soothing and encouraging words and praying we make it to the top.

We do. It’s not wonderful getting down the long hill to the barn, he’s completely ready to be done with this ride and you know, so am I. We don’t quit at the bottom. I know it cannot end like this for either one of us.  We found decent footing in the barnyard, did a few things, ending up with some softness on both sides and I called it quit there.

I write this because I believe in keeping it real. I’d have rather told you about the amazing day we had with Kip and that group and I probably will, another day. We made some important breakthrough’s and had a lot of fun. Both me and my horse left Chance Ridge with a happy glow in our eyes. But, my journey is not all Zen and butterflies as much as I would like it to be and this is as much a part as any other.

My hope and saving grace is that I know it was all me. My horse was not a “bonehead”, a nutball, a sonovabitch or any of the other things we tend to label our horses when things don’t go well. I am not a crappy partner, though I certainly had some crappy moments. We will go back in, and he may or may not show me some Arabian skepticism, but I will start with the groundwork I have been taught and I will put as much try into it as I ask of my horse. That, right there, will make a heck of a difference, just like it did last Saturday and will in the days filled with promise ahead of us.