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.