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.


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