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 . . .