Thursday, December 18, 2014

There Will Always Be Bad Guys

Here recently I am reminded me that though the milk of human kindness continues to freely flow in many places, not everyone out there is a milkman.

Whether it’s through a series of choices that taint the soul with lies, greed, dishonesty and fear, whether it’s a certain natural bend to the meaner sorrier side of life, there are some people out there that are just up to no good.

Around them are usually some who are in the process of making their choices of who and what they intend to be, at the end of a day they don’t know is soon upon arriving. Everyone always thinks they have time and just about no one bargains for the correct set of consequences.

That’s been me, more than a time or two. I was never the baddest of the bad, though through some form of mistaken bravado I’d often take the dare no one else would, ride the horse they said I shouldn’t, push the envelope just a little farther.

Even at my worst I had some margins and some scruples. As the years went by, the margins got a lot narrower, a shape of things to come and echoes of a future I did not want.

As I believe we all do, somewhere along the line in the midnight hour, I looked up and didn’t care for what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t like saddling a horse a couple hours before the prospective client arrived to take a look. “Working the fresh off” is what we told ourselves, so that the horse looked his best. Of course, we didn’t mention that to the client. We’d say, you might want to give this one a job or some nicety to that effect.

I got tired of buying horses “for my kids” to get the better deal. I know most if not all the tricks to cheat a horse through a sale barn. How to bounce them off a wall, picking up my reins at the last minute, making it appear as if the horse is turning snappily to my request, rather than me just staying alive to survive the ride and get the bid. I know how to bute a horse for five days in a row before the sale so the chances are, he looks pretty sound when the buyer glimpses him in the pen or the ring. I know how to make them look quiet as a lamb . . .

Anyone with an eye for real horsemanship can spot that phony bull in a hot New York second but unfortunately most of the people going to horse sales lack the ability to discern the difference.  The allure of that mythical “best $300 I ever spent” horse brings ‘em back time after time.

Try to tell somebody to spend a little real money for one that will ride and vet even a week after you buy him and they look at you like you’re trying to steal something.

“Is he sound”

“This horse is so broke your Grandma can ride him!”

“Is he sound””

“This horse is so broke, if you can ride a stick horse, you can ride this one!”

But is he Sound??


“Does she buck  . . . like ever just buck for fun?”

Nope. Not ever.

She’s deadly serious, every time.

Later than it might have should, my lifelong goal to be a “right kind of human being” came smooth up against “standard operating procedure” with a resounding thud.  “Everybody does it” just wasn’t good enough, anymore.

Every trader I have ever known, from Vegas to Louisiana, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri had a drawer full of registration papers. Have a customer that insists their Bucephalus comes with papers? No problem.

Need a buckskin with a couple of socks and a star? Lemme look. How’s this? Socks on the wrong legs, oh hell, they’ll never notice.

This of course is back in the day before DNA tests. I am firmly of the opinion the horses now tested might likely not be exactly who their lineage says due to this extremely widespread practice but whatever.

I share this because the other day I saw a bad guy for the first time in awhile. I know the type. They are clever in their way, and dangerous to underestimate. They are also unbelievably stupid in many others, at the least the ones at this guy’s level. The smart ones? Well, I’m pretty sure they’re in government or trying to be. . .

It’s been quite awhile since I decided that twisty road was not my path. I grew to not care if I missed a sale because the horse was green and the prospective customer greener yet. I made it my business to thoroughly check out my horses and pay close attention to my customers.

“Ride all your life, you say? Well that’s great, glad to hear it. You won’t mind starting in the round pen, right?”  The ones that really could ride never minded. The ones that pitched a fit and tried to tell me what they knew, they weren’t going to find their horse at my place.

I pulled the shoes to see if they were sound that way. I rode them everywhere I could think of and if they were to be kid safe, I put my kids on them before I’d put yours.

The really rank bad ones that once in a while I found myself in possession of, those I hauled to the sale because that’s where those kind go. I would warn the audience, for adults only but sales are what sales are and anyone thinking any different is nothing but na├»ve.

What benefit this kind of education gives me is that if  you are bad guy, I can pretty much see you coming from way down the road. I know your tricks and games, I’ve seen them played by likely better than you.

I have no interest in joining in the game but if you come for me or the people I love, be warned. I am watching and I’m not afraid to fight back. I’ll do it legal and I will do it above board but you won’t run over me or anyone around me. I will shine the brightest light I can find in your squinting eyes and send you scurrying down the road with your tail tucked.

The other day I am reminded, they still walk among us. They are smiling at you, promising you the best deal you’ve ever had. You might have a little warning in your gut, telling you not all is as it seems. They will smooth that away with reasonable sounding talk and cheery good fellow grins.

The better of you will shake your heads and say no thanks because that’s what the right kind does. Some of you will think you are getting that deal of a lifetime, getting something for a little bit of nothing and I wish you luck with that.

Some of you will fall in, thinking that the straight life is for rubes, marks and the weaker of the specie. You’ve got it backwards, my friend. To stand up straight will take everything you have, once you get to that place.

To decide to protect the weak rather than to prey, to quietly take a stand and not be budged, even when it appears it’s in your best interest to take the advantage. That takes some strength and internal fortitude.

Here’s the good news. If you are hanging in the balance of who and what you want to be in the world, the choice stands there in front of you. Right now. You can make that choice today.

I don’t think a person is ever too far gone. Sometimes, to right the wrong, the price will be very, very high. Might cost you pride, time, and heaven forbid, money. There will always be a way to do the right thing, at the right time. To turn about and be that right kind of human being you were born to be.  If I can do it, anyone can. 

Today I look into the mirror of my horses’ eye and I’m proud of what looks back at me.

Thursday, November 27, 2014



I've been in some jams. I mean, of the serious there is no way in hell you are going to survive this one kind. Not just the omigosh I have stepped up on the wrong horse at the wrong time kind. Those aren't great either but the ones I am talking about are of considerably greater magnitude.

I have faced eviction as the single mother of two little kids and a certain amount of cats. Innocent lives depending on me to make a midnight hour right decision after I've probably made a series of wrong ones. I have watched my only vehicle ride away on the end of a tow truck because I skipped one too many payments (usually in favor of groceries or staving off said eviction but it matters not on the bottom line).

I have said the final word, the straw that broke the camel's back and destroyed relationships that meant the world to me. I've woke up in the middle of the night with the firm conviction the world would not miss me, where I to depart and that I surely would not miss it. I've opened my eyes in the morning, disappointed to still be alive.

Cheery, eh, on this day of Thanksgiving? And isn't this supposed to be a blog about horses? Don't worry, it's about to take an upturn and there's going to be a horse, almost always, there's going to be a horse.

I woke up this morning understanding how very incredibly blessed I am, me and just about everyone I know. There’s the basics, roof overhead, heat that works, food in the fridge. The luxuries are too numerous to mention. There is just about no way to get from the places and people I have been to where I find myself and at times, ungratefully even yet.

I've had to learn how to live life differently to stop the above type events from repeating themselves. Taken in solidly to heart that if you don't like what you are getting, change what you are doing.  Hey, yeah, this applies to horses, too . . .

I used to think the things I did had something to do with lack of choices. “Did what I had to do.”

If I had a nickel for every time those words have been my excuse, I'd not need the day job I currently show up to whether I “feel it” or not.

There's been the gift of a series of teachers my entire life bringing home to me the message that what I do, I choose. Take responsibility for the results and if they aren't what I care for, there is ALWAYS another choice to make. When you are in the tunnel, you probably won't know this; I don't, but one foot in front of the other will get you some amazing places.  (you can insert horse, here if you like)

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Last night I am teaching my little lesson group, an honor I am privileged to have. We are in the indoor arena, big beautiful thing with the frigid chill just touched by the comfort of the wood stove chugging away in the corner. It's downright cozy. The technique for the night is backing up from the ground, horse straight, soft, chin down and in.

I grasp Royal by the halter knot, facing him. I pick a spot behind us and set my intention to back to that spot. I may only need a step or two, or it might take us halfway across the arena to get it right. I am willing to be as soft as I am able and as firm as I need, to get my point across. As with human beings, it’s almost always softer than I think that does the job.

Doesn't take much, in fact he's a lousy demo because it's really hard to see what I am doing to get him to do what he is doing.

It's not as easy as it sounds and it certainly isn't as easy as Royal is making it look. I laugh and explain he surely did not start like this. I talk about the rebellious head flinging that used to greet my requests for give. The snail like rolling of his neck til his chin was upside down against his chest, feet heavily braced until he had to jump away from me rather than acquiesce to my request.  How that squirrelly butt will often go anywhere, everywhere than take steps straight behind.

So, things don’t always go easy, in fact, the most worth while rarely do. It’s the lessons learned on the way that turn out to be of lasting value. Who knew?

I say Peter has been the latest in that line of great teachers, but you know, really it's Royal. He's the one it mattered enough to hang in there with, not the first but the latest.

Learning how to stay in for the long haul started quite awhile ago, pretty accidentally with friends I found I could let go of for a moment but not a lifetime.

Kids whose love matters more to me than anything on the planet so I take care to preserve our relationships and now, their kids that I can hopefully be the right kind of Grandma to, a first in a long line of teachers to come. A husband that has grown with and beside me. We might not always agree but neither one of us are living with our hand on the door knob and we'll keep working things out and enjoying one another's company. There’s that job that isn't looking forward to the day I am  not there.

Committing to the long haul is showing up one day at a time, suiting up in the best way you are able and sometimes that just means staying alive and drawing breath until the next good step to take shows up.

We are all in this alone, have to take our steps ourselves. And, none of us are truly alone, there is always someone with a hand to grasp even though you might not see it right away or it might be a different one than you thought you needed.

This is all about surviving the dark night of the soul and it shows up eventually for us all and some, sooner and more often than others. It's about making changes that the twins, fear and pride tell you aren't possible or necessary.

Those changes start small and end up unimaginably big.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the sun coming up for one more day, of life, of choices, of offering gratitude and another opportunity to saddle up and ride.

Happy Thanksgiving all, may your day be blessed and your saddle never leave a sore. (insert horse)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laughing and Dancing and Magick and such

My Wednesday night group stands about me in a small circle, intrepid nutballs that they are. I had given the option of skipping that evening’s lesson as the temps were probably flirting with a real feel of something like nothing. That would be zero.

Handy Charlie’s wood stove was chugging away in the corner and earlier, Greg was like, nah, it’s fine in the barn, we’re good! Okayyy, guess I better cowgirl up and get with the picture.

This group is mostly my new friend Jane Manchester’s fault. She rode my Huey horse during our car parking season and was determined to not just survive the adventure but get good with it. That meant getting along with Huey and THAT meant making some adjustments.

I like to see my crew live to ride another day and once in awhile I’d interject a friendly suggestion or a really stern one if it looked like the friendly wasn’t going to take effect in time to save her life. Fortunately, she didn’t tell me where I could stuff my advice, would have been tough through all those layers anyway, and before we were done parking cars, she had Huey happy. And, she had me fired up about teaching horsemanship again.

My new barn agreed to let me start a little lesson group and I jumped in with both feet. I know a bit more about a lot of things than I did when I ran my business full time. I know I can’t keep a handle on my carefully guarded and hard fought for peace of mind and serenity if my livelihood depends on horse business. I have a day job for that. No danger of me jumping ship, strapping on chaps and spurs again for any full time ventures.

This then, is a labor of love. Don’t get me wrong, I get paid for it. Adding a little dinero to the equation lends weight to the veracity of what I teach and inspires me to plan my lessons and do it right.

I know some different things about horsemanship and what looks good and right on a horse than I did a few years back too. I am far far from where I hope to be when I take my last ride, but I am a heck of a long way from not that long ago. I am thrilled to find some people who want to play horse with me.

The group hangs in, the horses start to make a change here and there and the one thing I want to say over and over, is this isn’t even barely the tip of the iceberg of what this horsemanship does. Hang in there, even and especially if you struggle a little, what you figure out for yourself, what your horse figures out for himself is worth more than any of the words coming out of my mouth.

I can show what I have learned, give direction, show what it looks like on Royal, who’s pretty smooth with most of what I ask these days, but it’s you, in the trenches alone with your horse that’s got to work it out. The learning doesn’t happen in the lesson, or the clinic, for that matter. It happens later, at home while you try to make things work for you and your horse, together.

As most of you know, my beloved Royal is on the injured/reserved list right now. He’s not injured as such, for a change, we are taking a serious swing at healing a pesky sarcoid that sits right on his girth area where the dressage saddle buckles. We are starting out with a zinc oxide ointment that worked for a friend of mine and tonight, I am cautiously optimistic it’s working for us, too.

He’s not sore from the treatment, not crabby and rather enjoying his recuperation time. I am not one who usually bonds with my horses while they are recovering from injury. I am usually either mad at the horse for doing whatever stupid thing they did that got them hurt, or, I am mad at myself for doing whatever stupid thing I did that got them hurt. Always mad, though.

This has been different. He’s happy to see my truck when I pull in, and it doesn’t always depend on whether I have an apple in my hand or just a halter. I find myself spending time, my arms around his neck, face buried in the fragrant woolly fur of him. No hurry, no agenda.

We did groundwork in the indoor arena the other day. I set up three barrels a few feet apart in a cloverleaf and played games around them. This is a lot trickier than it sounds, involves changing hands on the lead rope, setting the front foot over with timing to keep the horse on the circle, disengaging the hind to help them come around and through. It helps a claustrophobic horse too. I never really played this game with this horse much before, my barrels have been 45 miles south of where he’s been, the past three years.

It was awkward at first, and then we both started getting the hang of things. I am rusty with it too, even though I invented the darned game! As Royal started nicely following a feel around through this one, then that one, I change things up.

The last thing I want is him to get set on automatic and just cut a pattern around the barrels because he thinks that what I want him to do. I want him placing his feet when, where and how I ask him to, and the result gets kind of pretty.

Then, we turn it around and back through them, chin down and in. That was of some concern to my pretty fellow as it caused barrels to come up close on each side behind him, never a favorite for him.

There’s lots of petting involved, just me and my horse, floating around, getting stuck, getting unstuck, figuring out what it takes to move this foot and then that one. Having him trust me to make good decisions for us.

I laugh out loud, such joy to be found in small victories. I wonder to myself how this will look on him when we are riding again, and it matters not. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and I have no worries. He’s going to be fine.

Walking down the icy slope to his pen, Royal sinks his head and takes small careful steps beside my cautious old-lady ones. I don’t want to bust my butt on the hard ground! I look over and realize I don’t have to bump him back or bend him or do anything to get him to stay with me. He’s just there. He’s been there with me, quite awhile now. If you have read this blog any length of time or know our story, you know just how huge that is. Magick in a very fine form.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Like A Cloud

says Peter. Your horse should operate on a cushion of air between you and him, no matter if it’s on a halter rope, responding to your rein or your leg on his side.

I had an idea that the horse should not push or pull on you for quite some time. Even back in the day when I thought lunging or running the wind out of them in the round pen was good groundwork and solid horsemanship.

I wince a little now, remembering the running sweat, heaving sides when I’d run a horse til it had no option but to turn to me. Hard on them, mentally, and physically too.  I didn’t cripple any on the spot but more luck than skill. I can only wonder and hope for the two and three year olds that had to experience all that stress on their delicate immature joints.

I send a coil down my lead line to the pretty mare hanging out on the other end. She raises her head, one bright eye on me, the other turned a little to the side thinking it might be better for her off to the right than here straight on with me. The coil pops her rope halter just a little and I get both eyes. Her head comes up, she doesn’t know what to do with her feet. She braces, a natural reaction when the feet are stuck.

Finding a feel

I send a little more and she shifts her weight. I do nothing, letting her sort out what she’s going to make of our situation. She takes a step back then another and another. We get straight and I stop asking.

We are at the first of Kip Fladland’s winter series one day clinics he holds at the Chance Ridge Event Center in Elkhorn, NE. The mare belongs to a friend of mine.

Royal is home. He is sitting this one out as I am holding back my pennies to treat the pesky sarcoid on his girth area that has decided it wants to take off and grow.  The one on the other side, point of his shoulder that I thought would be no issue is growing too. It’s time and hopefully, not past time to get this stuff taken care of.

Kip gets us set up doing the first steps of effective groundwork. I have plenty of faith that after lunch when we step up on our horses I will have a good sense of Missy and what I will find when I fill my stirrup.

He has us send the horse around us. We are looking for three components here. A good walk with life in it,  the horse to be looking in the direction she’s traveling maintaining a proper arc in her body and that the feet are united. That means all four reaching equally. If the horse were traveling on a train track, the front would step evenly on each side of the track, the outside hind stays on track, the inside tracks to the inside or reaches a little deeper to maintain the arc.

You wouldn’t believe how difficult this is to achieve unless you have tried. The person has to be mindful of their position in relation to their horse, has to be aware of what all the parts of the horse’s body are doing, are the ribs pushing in? Is that why there’s a chiropractor defying crick in the horse’s neck causing a deep vee in the place of that pretty bend? You need to know where the feet are falling and how to time what you are doing to affect the foot you want to reach. Wait too long? You get a different foot and a different result. There’s nothing accidental about the energy you put into the rope, your body.



I am ALWAYS shocked at how clumsy and unhandy I am, how I am never as smooth and efficient at handling my tools as I think I am going to be. I know I am likely to be awkward with the flag, it’s a newer tool for me but one I am beginning to like as I understand more about it’s uses. But still, fumbling with the coils of my lead? Stepping backwards and getting my horse off balance by accidentally misdirecting a foot? Really?

Kip asks this one gal how often she rides her horse as she finds a little difficulty here and there with her mare. About twice a week, she allows. And, how much of that, asks Kip, do you begin by doing this kind of groundwork on your horse? Well not too often.

I think yep, me too. I don’t practice much and yet I wonder why I’m not as good as I think I should be.  Here lies the main reason I have started the small lesson group at my new barn, it will get ME more disciplined in practicing this stuff that I KNOW to be so worthwhile!

The arena is quiet, we are concentrating hard. I am surrounded by people who want to do better for their horses, the music of good horsemanship talk is filling my ears.

Missy, the good looking 8 year old Quarab is showing herself a nice representative of one of my favorite crosses. Her refined head hangs on a small throatlatch and flows into a muscular athletic body. Her eyes shine with intelligence and her good attitude about all these strange new things is apparent for all to see.


We work on forward and back. The three basic ways to back a horse, how to roll the hindquarter over and change direction. The half circle exercise. Feel feel feel. Timing comes from feel. (Peter)

Backing up the third way

Halfway through the morning groundwork, I’ve touched her all over with the flag and am pretty confident there’s no hidden boogers. She was appropriately concerned when I brought the flag from ground to shoulder. After I’d let her see it on both sides, I let the flag sit on other side of her body so she could look at it that way. Soon enough, I will have a leg on each side and I want to give her an idea of how that’s going to feel.

You would not want to grab your flag or stick, string, whatever and run out and start doing this with your horse right now. You really want to know how they look when they are checked out good on both sides before you start offering to have them see things from that far side. Wearing a thousand pounds of horse as your hat is not to be recommended and is an easy mistake to make while you are figuring this stuff out.

She’s been saddled, ridden before and I know my friend would tell me if she thought there were any big worries in there. On the other hand, it’s my life I take into my hands when I step up on a horse, any horse green or not, and I check them out every way I know before I get on.

An older more experienced horse, that process might take 30 minutes or 30 seconds. The green ones, for me, take a little longer. The beauty of a clinic situation like this is we have an entire morning to find and fill holes so we know what’s going by the time we are sitting up top.

The saddle goes on with no issue. I am delighted with this horse. Last year another gal did me the honor of having me ride her mare in one of Kip’s and I fell in love with that one too. There’s nothing on this planet for me like making magic with a horse; seeing the faces change, the eyes and ears soften as the feet find out they always have a place to go when they learn to take a little direction.

After lunch I take Missy out in the arena, check her out again with the flag. She’s had a chance to stand, soak a little on the things we did and I want to see how she feels about all that. It goes fine. I feel justified in getting on.

I take care at the mounting block to bring her square, take my saddle horn and move it back and forth setting her feet. When I put my foot in the stirrup I am committed and I don’t mess around. I put my leg over and it’s cowgirl up. Might not have been the worst to have done some standing in the stirrups first, get her a little warmer to what was coming next.

The mare is concerned. I have her walk off and it’s that slightly hunched squatting over a bowling ball movement that let’s me know I need to have my wits about me.

We had a caution flag on the field rather than full out wreck and I let her move out into the arena with the other horses. I pick up a rein asking her to yield her hindquarter as we have done all morning. She’s sticky and I wait a moment, then gently bump with my inside calf, asking that hip to step over and under. We get it. Not smooth.  Take a few steps forward, ask again.

I get what feels like decent-ish hip control on both sides and I am cussing myself that I didn’t pay better attention earlier. The horse always tells you in the groundwork what you will find in the saddle if you are savvy enough to know what you are seeing.

That’s the difference effective groundwork makes. The horse tells you where he’s at and if you have some of these tools, you can shape him up to be where you would like to be. You don’t have to be at the mercy of the horse that shows up.

Early ride

A moment’s wonder at what the heck I am still doing riding green ones and I push the thought out of my head. I am here, we are going to do this. My friend is trusting me to help her horse, and the horse is trusting me too. I am not going to let either one of them down if I can help it.

The riding goes well. We move from stiff uncertainty to flowing around with everybody else. I don’t expect her to know things that Royal would and I ask smaller than I would on a horse with more riding.  I let her ride out on a loose rein, loving that fine swinging walk she naturally brings to the party.

Eventually, I start picking up and asking for a soft feel. At first, my reach is met with a push back from her. She doesn’t understand what I want and why should she? As Missy works things out, her jaw softens to me. Her chin comes down and in. By day’s end, she can back up this way and carry it forward a step or two.  She trusts that if she gives to me I am giving right back.

Working the soft feel

Kip did some really cool work with another lady’s Appaloosa mare, a big beefy girl that had learned to throw her weight around. In short order, he had the mare paying attention, moving her feet as he directed and ONLY as he directed.

Lots of good people have said within my hearing that any step your horse takes that you don’t ask it for is that horse taking over. No different than running away or bucking you off and a direct straight line path to those events somewhere on your horizon. I still let them do it.

Today I am sharpening up. We did a couple ground exercises new to me and when I could time it close, Missy would move exactly the foot I wanted and no others til I wanted them to.

We went back for that in the riding. It felt really good as this kind of thing always does. I have learned to seek and hunt it, much like a horse will when he finds a really good deal.

Missy under saddle

If you look up on a Saturday this winter, a weekend or two or three this year and you don’t know where I am, here’s where you will find me. I’ll be in an arena where good horsemanship is spoken in the company of my fellows searching for more and better ways to make the kind of magic I love best in a very magickal world. The clinic

Sunday, October 26, 2014

All About The Feet

The handsome young Paint arcs his neck awkwardly against the bit. His head comes up, his eyes are big. His feet are stuck and he doesn’t know what to do.

I have just enough tension on the rein to let him know he needs to figure out a way to get relief but not so much as to freak him out and possibly end up upside down in a very bad way.

I wait. I am in no hurry. We are parking cars for the hayrack rides at the ranch and I am setting up situations to help this guy learn to move his feet while it’s quiet. Once the chips are down and we are sending cars this way, trucks that way, no ma’am, you pay the lady down at the barn I will just spend your money foolishly, there’s no time to teach only to do.

The outfit on the horse’s head does not improve our situation. The ranch used him as a wrangle horse most of the summer and the quick fix to the head tossing, locked up feet was to run a leather strap from his halter to his cinch in a makeshift tie down. It did keep anyone from getting hurt so that part was definitely successful.

“Don’t back  him up. The guy that owned him all his life said he might flip over if you try to back him up.”

I had felt that in him when I rode the Paint out in the hills to see if he’d be a parking candidate. A real good horse, I don’t have to ride long at all to know what I have. One that’s real bad, not going to ride him long either.

It’s the ones that land in the middle, kinda dicey but wait, what if I ask like this? How do you like that, and they say, yeah that might be okay. Those, I ride longer.

I rode Huey almost 45 minutes that first day. At the end, he was backing a few steps softly on a loose rein and I figured he’d be okay if we were careful.

Sometimes I think it does a horse no favor to get him really broke, soft to the hand and leg. Not if you are going to send him out to a world that often had the best intentions in the world when it comes to a horse, but  not the knowledge or ability to ride one that knows more than they do. Nobody knows what they don’t know until they know better.

This horse had some decent experiences back in his young life somewhere but had become very confused when the rules he knew changed without warning.

We decided I better ride that one, and we’d put my crew on less complicated horses.  Most people think, oh! Park  cars on horses! Fun, easy job. Nope. It’s not. It IS sometimes fun but it’s not easy and when you are parking 50 to 60 cars at a time in a tight space in the dark, no lines to guide them as they are in a rush to get to their party, it’s high end stressful for horse and rider alike.

So, here I am, heading up the hill to the terrace, our first parking area.  Huey is in his tie down and tom thumb bit. I know the owner, my friend, is thinking he’s keeping me safer with this rig. I am not in agreement but it’s his horse and I can work with what I have.

I have a magic bullet rant. Here’s a piece of that. Your issue is not your halter, your lead, your bit, whatever. The best tools for a job absolutely raise the odds of successfully completing the task and if you don’t have the skill to pound a nail with a toothpick, you better grab a hammer. If you are unhandy with the hammer, it’s not the nail’s fault if you smash your finger.

Tack fit does not fit in this rant. I have seen many nice horses get upset and downright dangerous over pinching bits, poorly fitting saddles and the like. Make sure your stuff fits your horse. I don’t really care at all if it fits you, until it fits your horse.

Here’s the test to my theory. Can I pound a nail with a tie down and a bit I really don’t like? Going to have to. I understand how the leverage works on a shank bit that is broken in the middle. There are about a hundred ways to use that thing wrong so it jabs the horse in the side of the face, his tongue, roof of his mouth. Then if he raises his head to escape the pain, there’s that tie down saying nope, stay here and take it big boy.

I pick up a rein, raising it cautiously along the big horse’s neck. I want him to feel it but not become afraid. He’s already afraid so this is delicate. I don’t care if he moves his feet while he searches out what he can do.

His neck arcs awkwardly, and here’s where we came in, gentle reader. I just sit and wait. It’s not impossible I would have put too much pressure there while I am also trying to figure things out and if he were to get upset, I know not to try to get through something bad to get to something good. I’d let him go and start over.

Also not impossible I wouldn’t send enough down the rein to mean anything to him and he’d just stand there. That’s tricky because sometimes what I think is just standing there is the horse trying to sort things out and me adding pressure right there can really mess things up. This stuff takes trial and error for a person where I am in my journey.

Peter, my teacher? He knows how much to send before he ever twitches a muscle. He’s human and might have to make an adjustment along the way too, but he’s the least human horse person I have seen and I’ve watched a few.

Huey sits there for a moment in that oddly bent position. I know he’s thinking about what comes next and I sure hope I have guessed right. A horse can get unhappy and come over on you in one quick moment when the mind and the feet are stuck. They don’t think they have anywhere else to go.

He begins to shift his weight and I release pressure. I could not care less where he is going, as long as it’s not up. He is trying and I am going to reward that all day long, build back a confidence in his rider to stay with him and not leave him in the clinches. Hugh, you can thank Royal T and Peter Campbell for that one.

I ask again, thinking to myself I’d really like that right hind to step under. It doesn’t take long at all and the foot goes where I am thinking it should.

After that, it was pretty much fun, games and good times for us. Huey learned he could operate on a soft feel and never touch that tie down.

I may or may not have made a point of backing him in half and full circles up there on that terrace in full view for the world to see. (“It changes a horse” says Peter and he is right as rain.)

Huey just gets softer and happier. As the day goes on, we do our part. It’s not a super hot heavy omigod here they come kind of a day. My daughter, Sarah, is working with me and that adds an untold measure of delight to the whole deal. She’s been on a horse maybe five times in the past ten years but she was a pretty decent hand as a kid and it’s coming back to her fast.

me and Sar tooShe always had the lightest hands. I had to work for mine! Me and SarSarah and the pali

Sarah and her palomino park the cars on one side, me and Huey sort off the trucks and SUV’s to park against the steeper hill on the other side. We do it with the biggest smile and soft happy footsteps.

Here’s Sarah, Rhonda and Jane who ended up on Huey as I took on yet another complicated Paint!

Getting ready


Here we are, getting ready to park the big pasture. There’s a rhyme, rhythm and reason to everything we do and it takes a game plan to get it done!Jane and HueyJane and Huey (we did later convince the owner things would go much smoother in a snaffle bit bridle and sans tie down. When it worked out, he grinned at me and said “See Terri, I told you we needed to change that bit!” I laughed and threatened him with a shovel full of horse manure . . .nice shot of Rhonda and Huey


Me and CiscoHere I am on Cisco, a horse I stepped up on for about five seconds last year when he first arrived at the ranch. He’d blown hard, squatted like a frog and I knew my best bet was step off while I still could. He’s seen a lot of life since then and was hands down the best car parking partner I have had to date.

 The Four HorsewomenThe Four Horsewomen! (We later replaced Sarah with Jess, and hopefully I’ll get some of the night time shots of these guys with their horses aglow with LED lights and glow sticks!)

This is why I ride with Peter Campbell. Yeah, it’s still all about him. What he gives me works not just for my horse there in the clinic setting but at home, on the trail, doing a job that doesn’t have a thing to do with horses.

I study hard when I am around the Campbell’s, I bring it home and work hard. I don’t have to be anywhere near a horse to be turning over in my head how I can better get along with one.  That learning sometimes also helps me with getting along with people, though that’s definitely a tougher nut to crack!

Thank you, Peter and Trina, too Smile

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Good or Better

I heard a long time ago the good is often the enemy of the best, or in my case, the better. There is such a joyous freedom in giving myself permission to learn, to throw out the idea that I “ought to know this stuff by now” in whatever direction I happen to be looking at the time.

Right now I am speaking of horsemanship but it sure does not have to be.

It’s one of the things that made this latest clinic that I rode in the best one of them yet. I was relaxed and at ease with the idea that I was there to gather whatever information was next accessible for me to digest. I wasn’t afraid of “messing up” or getting into trouble.  I understand I might not get things right, but I am better at not trying to go through something bad to get to something good. Better at understanding to take the try, set us up for a better result next time and just move on. That’s helped me in life more than you might know.

Peter said first thing Thursday morning that we needed to give ourselves permission to learn, that was a huge lightbulb for me. I settled into the theoretical saddle and got ready.

Day 3 listening to Peter

There was a troubled little Arab there and for once, it didn’t happen to be the one I was riding. This gelding had got real scared and his rider was scared too, and I don’t blame or judge either of them. Peter worked with them both and we got to see the kind of magic happen that I have come to expect when I ride his clinics.

Carly and her horse, making changes with Peter's helpPhoto collage courtesy of Karen Johnson

I watched changes. Peter worked with that horse first, on the ground and from the saddle. I watched that rider give herself permission to learn. I am not wanting to tell  her story, but I got to participate and then it becomes part of my story.

To help them with their fear, Peter had her pony the Arab off her gelding, and then stand by the rail. The rest of us were instructed that if we could safely ride our horses with flags we should get them.

Ride Royal with a flag? Once upon a time I would have laughed or cried at the thought. He and I were in such good space and I thought back to the trail ride with Christine and Corie when I used Christine’s shoofly, basically a rag on a stick to relieve my pony of the nattering creatures. He had glanced at it a couple of times, understood it was all good for  him and there was no issue.

How about now? I ride out to the stalls where my borrowed flag awaited. I figured I would find out on the way back to the arena if this were any kind of a good idea or now. I had to laugh when I met Colleen with Dervish there, having the same thought.

We were fine, the four of us. I have this warm glow in my heart as my horse can sort out and understand what is meant for him and what is just stuff going on in the background, even if the background is a flag inches away from him. He is also not dull to stimulation so that when I picked up that flag with intent, he could respond with respect instead of fear. That’s been a goal long time in coming.

The class rode along the rail and each of us approached the frightened horse in such a way as to not excite or move him, and we touched his back with the flag how Peter told us too. It mattered that we didn’t further upset him, we needed to be very conscious of our approach and able to handle our flag in such a way to help him make a calm change.

By day four, that gal was riding him in the H1 class and you wouldn’t know he’d been different than the rest of us. Just like me with Duke, Riata, now Royal and many others I have had the fortune to observe.

Carly and the ArabPhoto courtesy of Karen Johnson

We also did an exercise with her other horse, forming a circle and she rode past us keeping him in the circle using only her coiled rope. Royal got to experience that horse coming up on him, going past, at different rates of speed. I was proud my horse’s calm never waivered. It tells me what is out there for us.

day 3 helping Carly's horse

Back to being cows. Not naughty now, we are loping around the gathered cattle in pairs. The object is to keep our horses together on the circle. The inside rider has to work to keep their horse on the circle, not let them blow out and run into the outside horse who has to move quite a bit faster to keep the pace. If your horse can be a little sensitive to pressure, like mine, it’s quite a challenge. For different reasons, it was for most of us.

When it was my turn, the group was mostly paired up and Trina came forward to lope with us. I think the class thought my naughty cow miasma was going to roll over onto them as well. Trina wasn’t skeered Smile

First time around, I am on the outside and away we go. We didn’t mind having to pick up the pace and when Peter said the outside rider was going to have to “ride their horse” to keep up, we did just that. My game little horse set his ears back and moved!

Next turn, we are on the inside and that’s harder. She and her behemoth of a gelding kept us with us, and when Royal got a little worried at the close quarters and wanted to run through my leg, I checked him but her horse checked him first. It worked like it’s supposed to, Royal got back on track, never broke his stride in the meantime. It was a great exercise and I love that my horse stayed controllable and with me throughout.

Trina and I loping in pairs

My brain was not in the way of my being able to stay in the moment with my horse. I could ride up or down, whatever he needed, and he responded with me. Another goal VERY long in coming.

When it came time to work the actual cattle again on day four, we all had a much different experience. Most of the class could hold the cow for several turns, some looked downright talented. My goal was to try to stay out of the way and get correct turns.

Colleen and Dervish mirroring the cowDay 4 pushing spots

Realizing it’s my responsibility to be present where my horse is, work from where he is, and that I might not know that right away and have to do some things to figure it out is really freeing. I don’t blame my horse for getting upset, don’t get lost in “he does this or doesn’t do that.”

Release the blame, take responsibility, stay in the moment and work from where your horse is.

Day 3, Royal super relaxed

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cows Part Deux

cows looking at us

We are trailing the cattle. Letting our horses hook on so they learn to shape themselves and stay with the cow. My horse tries a couple of times. “Don’t PULL on your horse!” I can hear it but I can’t stop myself from doing it.

High hands make for a high head . . . as seen below. In the red shirt are day 2 photos but unfortunately, that stayed with me.

Day 2 cows, my hands are in the way

day 2 high hands, high head I post this one to keep it real. Cow stopped, I slam on the brakes, Royal is the last to know.

Eventually I can stay out of Royal’s way enough he catches a piece of it, shapes to the cow and follows. If only I could have relaxed enough to put my hands down and trust my horse. That’s huge, you know. Trust.

Most of us in the cattle working clinic are just here to learn better horsemanship. A tiny few of us work with cattle as part of everyday life, another small more play with them in sport.

The rest of us? We don’t see a cow except the ones breathing fire in a nearby field. We are here to learn how to shape our horses, to ride them in a different type of environment, acquire a new skill.

It’s because Peter taught me how to get Royal to look at a thing he feared I was able to survive years two and three parking cars on him. Shaping his body as if we were mirroring a cow on lonely trail ride after trail ride helped prepare us both how to control his feet when he wanted to spin and bolt some other way.

Just as most of what Peter teaches in horsemanship applies to life, what he teaches us in cattle working applies to horsemanship in whatever endeavor we wish to pursue.

I am becoming aware of how much I pull on Royal’s mouth. It’s one of my very pet peeves when I am with a group of riders and someone tries to send their horse forward only to rock backward and pull them up the moment they try to comply. Here I find me; doing things I really hate to see in others. Go figure.

I am also becoming aware that what I was thinking of taking him on the corner (that means one rein operating a quarter but not necessarily to a stop) is pretty different from what I have actually been doing. Perception not the same as reality? You don’t say.

Getting it straight in my head maybe the first time ever how to move his hind in order for his front to come through, how to set the outside front foot over to make room for the hind. I know you guys have heard me talk about this stuff before, it just all fell into place in a rather magical way for us. We were ready.

Day 2 Foundation in the dressage saddle

Position for the transition. Again, not just for horses.

Backing in circles, half circles, spending the afternoon figuring out how to be a partner has affected a change in Royal and I both. It’s easier to get us thinking now. I ask for a foot whether it’s on the ground or in either saddle and it’s where I want it to be without a lot of static attached.

We did an exercise in which we proceeded down the rail, made a half circle, leg yielded to the rail and loped a small circle the other direction. Most of us have been trained to cue for the canter by putting back our outside leg. I have always hated that cue, felt awkward and off balance with it. Peter wants us to cue with both legs. If the horse is set up correctly to take the proper lead, has been gotten READY, then lope off on the right lead he will.

Again, things are to be done smoothly. You are not to drag your horse by the reins, not allow him to cut in or push through your leg. If the hind is set up correctly, the shoulder does not drop.

First time, I cue the way I always do. It’s a habit. Awkward, but we lope around in some semblance of a circle. We can do that.

I try to configure my body to be able to sit deep, leg yield and prepare to lope off. It takes some tries, mostly we do lope a circle, only once or twice did I get in Royal’s way enough to get him cross firing or on the wrong lead.

Finally I am ready. Both legs. I set them to my horse with vigor! Bam, he about leaps out from under me in surprise and we have a little gallop about. Okay, do less next time.

I prepare again. Less. I breathe the energy into my legs after a rather pretty leg yield and Royal lopes elegantly in a nice even circle.

What does this have to do with cows, you might ask? They were over there, waiting for us. All day.


I had the days mixed up in my earlier blog, the long day was the third day. I was having a pretty good time and an extra long day with Peter teaching is frosting on a really good cake.

When we finally get around to the cattle working class, I am still pretty happy about the whole two legged balanced loping circles thing.

We are not so good at cows. None of us. Peter tries again and again to help us not lose our cow back into the herd. A few of the riders can hold theirs for a couple turns, most of us not so much.

Peter can't watch anymoreEven Lollipop says she can’t see any more of this. She is sad for her brethren horses.

Finally, exasperated Peter sends the cows away. Uh oh, we have lost our cows . . .  He gathers the riders in group in the middle, selects me (rather spectacularly unhandy at this, speedily losing our cow) and a fellow who is one of the better hands. Wha?

A how and how not to exercise coming up, I wonder?

Peter explains as to how he is going to be the clinic rider, one of us will be the cow.

“Terri, you be the cow.” He says. (I do know there is nothing personal behind this, he just knows I can lope my horse and probably not die.)

Really? I look down at my spotted horse, over at the cattle . . . hmm, I can see the resemblance. A gleeful imp of naughtiness grows behind my eyes.

Peter will ride an inside circle around the group, keeping his “cow” from rejoining the herd. The other gentleman will be the hazer and prevent the cow from escaping off into the arena.

?Oh yeah? says the cow.

I do swear I heard Peter say “ok get ready, set and lope.” I swear upon all that is holy I thought that is what he said.

With a big, bovine grin on my face I set Royal into a spanking lope and off we go. I look back, they are left in the shadow of my cowy dust.

I suspicion they will soon be upon us and like any good cow who suspects capture, I pick up the pace. I click up Royal who is with me in joy. We sail about the group in a very merry chase all by our onesies, much to the amusement of my on looking herd.

“Okayyy, that’s enough.” As I ride by, Peter catches my eye, shaking his head. Knowing when it’s time to stop being a naughty cow is an important survival skill and we stop immediately.

Peter straightens his face but I can see the laughter in those eyes and Trina pointedly avoids looking at me, I am pretty sure we’d have busted out in giggles unbecoming to the moment . . .

We get back to business but ya know, if ya gotta be a cow, be a NAUGHTY cow!

my buddy

Monday, October 6, 2014

Takes a Lifetime

To learn a lifetime. Driving with my daughter the other day I was again reflecting on how much easier our relationship might have been had I known any handful of the things I know now. Sadness gripped me and then I thought of Peter saying “don’t punch yourself out for not being somewhere other than where you are right now.”

I looked over at the lovely young woman my daughter has become and I felt very grateful we have the relationship today that we have. It’s taken a lifetime for us both.

You guys know I have a rule about telling other people’s stories. I can’t really even when I want to. I am not inside their heads, I don’t know what they have overcome to get to whatever place they are at.

Here’s what I do know. I spent four days in the company of some very wonderful people. Without trying to fill in the background,  I am going to share some photos and maybe you can get a feel for the joy, the camaraderie, the incredible sense of purpose and accomplishment we shared.

Trouble one: we have several very good amateur photographers that grace us with their talents. Karen Johnson, Deb Johnson, Della Beach; Donny Chalufas, Wendy Wojewodski, Roxanne Hill, just to name a few. When I save ph0tos, I rarely remember to save who to credit them to, so here they are in a bunch.

Also, I didn’t save all the photos I wanted to. There are a whole lot more  but here is a smattering.

Trouble two: I always leave out very important people, so don’t feel bad if your photo doesn’t show up here!

All further disclaimers aside, here we go:

Here is one of my best friends in life, and also our Lincoln NE clinic host, Colleen Parmenter Hamer. She is riding Dervish, an Arabian used-to-be-a-stallion that she has trained and done a wonderful job with.

Colleen and Dervish

Colleen best pic everColleen and Dervish mirroring the cow



Here is Bob. This young man started riding a very few short years ago and has come far.



Cindy and Miley, really coming along

Happiness is when we can share our passions with our spouses. With her husband, Pat, on the right.

Cindy and MileyCindy and PatPat

Great shot of Karen Johnson, laughing with Peter, photog gets snapped!

Karen smiling with Peter Della Beach, Karen’s sisterKaren the photogDella


The Donny’s (best guys ever)

The Donny'sme and donny

Starr with her dazzling smile!


Happy Roxanne!


Stephanie, another glowing rider

Stephanie smile

Last but certainly not least . . .

The lovely . . .

Trina portraitTrina Campbell


And himself, having a little fun and good times on a great horse

Peter and Lollipop getting down


I hope you can gather from these photos some of how we felt during that four days. Yes, we work our behinds off. Many of our photos show us with brows wrinkled in concentration.

If it doesn’t challenge you, you won’t grow!

I am here to grow. There will be more about cows.