Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Life’s A Journey

Leaping, bounding, bouncing, running backwards and sidewise, I have gone through life in just about every direction but straight ahead until just here lately. Not much of a shock then that I would get partnered up with a horse who travels the same way.

Peter said to us several times over the past four days during his clinic at the Lancaster Event Center, Lincoln NE that our horses should operate like we are riding a cloud, no matter what we are doing. Move a foot here, there, it should follow the slack in the rope without resistance or move off the leg because it’s there and you ask it to.


Peter is showing us some things with his lovely Alice, a little gray mare he says is green green. We all wish we had our broke horses looking like her.




Peter and Alice


Portrait of Peter & Alice

These gorgeous photos are courtesy of Karen Johnson. We have the great fortune of having several very talented photographers as fellow riders. Lucky us!

She hangs up just a smidge, has her nose turned the wrong way just a little to the outside of what Peter wants her to do.

“Just wait here” he says. “Let her work at a little. Some folks might bump on her here but she doesn’t need that.” And sure enough, a couple seconds pass, she comes off her own pressure, shapes up beautifully and completes the maneuver.

During one of our morning warm ups before Foundation begins, I am asking Royal to walk around me to the right (only 54 years old, I am starting to figure out which way is right and which way is left). He’s always stiffer that way for whatever reason.

True to form, instead of all four feet reaching equal, his neck is a little bent the wrong way, his rib cage is in and his nose is out. I feel the tension pick up on the lead.  I bump, get off that. Bump again. He bumps back and we discuss for a moment how things ought to be.

Wait . . . WHAT?? Yes. I’ll be darned. I did that. I always do that. Okay, bud, let’s try that again. It hasn’t changed in four years so let’s see what happens if I keep my brains in my hands and do something different.

To the right. Sure enough, here comes the awkward inside out bend. I step back (yep, back) just a little. I hold but move my feet so I don’t get out of position and mess him up that way. He bounces his nose a little (pretty sure looking for the bump that has always been there from me, that’s my part of the disharmony). I just hold, wait.

It takes a bit because he is confused. I am not singing my part in a way that he can automatically fall into his. Eventually the nose softens my way, the body rounds out, his strides reach equally under him.  I ask him to drift his hind and it takes a second. He hangs a little on the halter rope, probably awaiting my answering bump. It doesn’t happen and again, he softens, steps deep under himself. Perfect.

You might have no idea how big that was, that part right there.

We work it some more. I pick up his tail and after doing first too much and then barely enough, I can send Royal into motion with a light ask from the end of it.

All four reaching equal

( I got no end of grief for wearing those light colored breeches. Someone thought I was taking riding nekkid just a little too far . . . nah, hate chafing!)

I won’t tell you Royal and I floated around like cloud nine the ENTIRE time but I will tell you, we had some. We got a taste and we both LOVED it.

Rolling down the rail a different day, picking up a brisk walk (how fast can you walk your horse, EASY now) Royal’s neck is arched lightly in front of me. His mane swings in time with his businesslike bob as he moves right out. I see something I have never witnessed in my horse in our years together. His ears waggle happily in time with the beat.

So relaxed and at ease.

Pick up your left rein, tip his nose to the left, step the hind a quarter turn.

It’s not perfectly smooth but it happens pretty neat. I resist the impulse to bump him back off the bit when I meet a little resistance. That habit lies DEEP in me as do so many. I hold that left rein and let him find his way off the pressure. No fussing, no argument. It makes sense to him.

Back them up using both reins with FEEL. One smooth fluid motion.

We do this, first out in the middle as it was a big class but when we got a little lost (I would have once thought we were doing great) we found the rail and let it help us get straight and smooth.

We stand and breathe. Royal is completely relaxed. I can hear soft footfalls all around me. There is an air of peace. I never tell other people’s stories, not my place but this time I really want to, so many people were trying so hard and things were already falling into place. Peter’s work is not in vain.

Clinic photo


Royal and I, 2012

Royal and I

ArabianWorst ride of our lives, 2011 or 12. Doesn’t matter he looked like this both of those years.

Us.  So nice to have him finally let down and stay that way.Relaxed Royal day twoDay 1 Foundation

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Set ‘em Up

For success. Your horse, your kids, your dog, yourself. 

I ran into a phrase a few years ago that I grabbed ahold of and have squeezed out all the mileage the law allows:

Ride the horse that shows up.

What that meant to me was to not allow my fears, my preconceived notions of how good or bad the horse would be to overshadow my ability to ride the horse in the moment we happened to be in.

Three years of riding with Peter Campbell has given me a different idea. Take the horse that shows up and set ‘em up for success.


If you do one thing for yourself this year, do this.

Sept 25-28
Lincoln, NE
FH, H1


One of the best rides me and the Spotted Wonder had this year was at the ranch on a quiet Wednesday evening. It began with him twitchy and restless at the rail, his anxiety growing by the moment. I was puzzled, as I always am when the little things I do here and there to calm a horse have no effect. With him, they often don’t.

I tried moving his feet, loosening the tightness in his body. He was a coiled spring full of sharp angles. 

I tried getting him to soften at the poll. Jerky mechanical movements followed my softest efforts.

The horse that showed up was not going to be much fun to ride.

Stepping back, I went to his left rear, stroking down his hind leg til I reached his ankle. I gently asked for the smallest give there. He pops it sharply in the air for me to clean.

Nope, thanks brother, but that is not it.

I set the foot down and start over. A bit of this process ensues. I feel the energy change in him as I reach down his leg. I am in no hurry. I breathe out a long breath. 

At the ankle, I ask again, just a little? I feel an easing of the steel joint. I increase the pressure of my fingers and the ankle comes with me. It’s not super soft yet and I stay with it til it is.

As the ankle loosens and rocks in my hand, the toe steady on the ground the tension drains out of my sweet pony. He stands like a rock to be saddled, and we have a ride of bliss and partnership.

Since that day, we have not had a bad one. The horse that shows up sometimes looks pretty ready to head out but I don’t take it for granted.

I ask. Loose here? Easy there?

The answer is almost always no, not really, and then we do the things I have learned with Peter and reinforced with Kip and my friend Colleen to bring Royal into the relaxed horse that he really wants to be all along.

This has been a summer of milestones, most of which chronicled in detail right here. Yesterday was another. We hauled over to the Nebraska Horse Trails Council Trail Challenge. Because yeah, we do this now. We go places. He loads smoothly, without fear, rides quietly, unloads with me every step. Not small right there, huh?

This is the only fundraiser the NHTC holds and all funds go directly to supporting the horse trails network here in Nebraska.  A handful of people do an amazing job of setting up a trail ride, obstacle course, FOOD, a bag auction and a real one complete with professional auctioneer. Me telling you it’s a heck of a good time misses the mark. Second weekend of September, mark your calendars now and you don’t have to be from Nebraska to come enjoy the fun!

Here’s Royal and I surveying the scene. All those bags represent a cool item for which you purchase raffle tickets, drop them in the bags of things you wish to own and hope like heck they draw your number!

Bag auction

The prizes are worth showing up for and you don’t have to compete to ride. Here’s my booty from the bag auction! Score!

NHTC Booty

Here and there, Royal and I have worked on actual obstacles. That really isn’t the point of any of it.

It’s all about controlling the life in the body through the feet and back up into the mind.  My goal for the day was to keep his brain between his ears in a crowd of 67 riders (they let us go in two’s and three’s so not a totally mad bunch to deal with, anywhere). I wanted to push us past our comfort zone (other than just showing up, in the first place) while not overloading his mind with my demands and blowing goal number one.

The biggest box I wanted to check mark was riding with a group. I also wanted Royal to calmly follow a horse he didn’t know and not freak out if it disappeared around a corner in front of him.

We checked boxes one and two with flying colors.

fun groupRiding nicely by DanaRiding with the crew, Dana is in the lead

Tina and Karen

When another rider wishing to move along a little quicker than our moseying bunch trotted by (quite politely, on their part) that caused us our only issue of the day.

Was completely low key on the Royal scale of Rictor, some high headed pranciness and strongly expressed desire to catch up, maybe pass that other guy. No leaping, no whirling, no twisting, no bounding. He stubbornly fought my attempts to bring back the inside ear which should turn back to me at my ask, keeping it cemented in the direction the other horse had disappeared.

Huge lightbulb.  At different times Royal EXPECTED me to spin him about. I would pick up a rein and his body would tighten and set up to whirl around. I have taught him that. Once again, I am minded at how very trainable these animals are and how we have to take responsibility for what we have installed, witting or no.

I set up different things, got stern in my request, this that, until finally I got to a place far enough away from the others I was riding with to disengage the hind, back him a step to softness, release him square, and let him stand and breathe it off. He was still too rattled to do the obstacle that appeared a few more yards down the trail, or maybe I was. We took the pass, picked up his brain where he had left it and continued along on our beautiful ride.

Gorgeous day to ride

Looking back, I might could have pushed a little harder on a couple of things but I also have to beware my desire to be competitive. It can overcome my good judgment, causing damage, and won’t make us one bit more ready than we were right then.

We were respectable in our showing, landing in the middle of the pack, but again the scores were not why we were there. His willingness to try warmed my heart, how softly he backed the U-turn between the closely set trees, and walking through the scary cavern of death at the end with only a dubious look and an “you sure this is a good idea?”

I will take it. I am glad I don’t have to ride the horse that shows up anymore. It was better than riding the nightmare between my ears or the anger and disappointment when the horse I was riding didn’t perform as my imagination said it would but this is far better yet.

Set ‘em up.