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