Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Knot Head

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending four hours in the saddle on a horse that some years back I would have called a knothead. Other people were calling him that now.

Parking cars for a big event is hard on a horse, more strenuous mentally than people give credit. It's go, stop, turn, back here, no not there! All the while the rider is mostly focused on getting people in a spot and not being run over in the process.

My mount was a flunked hack horse. He'd learned he could stick his nose in the air, flip the bit upside down and not only could the dude aboard no longer punish his tender mouth, pony could go where he would whether. And, whether he would.

I don't park cars anymore or work on the ranch. I got a call from my friend who owns it. Big night, overwhelmed, a million hayracks going out, would I please come help. Checked my calendar. No real good reason to not.

"He rode the very best, at one time." I'm told this while I survey the placid looking mid size spotted gelding saddled and waiting. "Then, he went to the camp, and well, you know about that."

I do. Summer camps lease horses. They don't always have the most experienced people running them. They use the snot out of the good ones who return home thin and sometimes sour. This one came home both.

There's a thing that happens when you step up on a really good horse, if you've rode enough of both kinds to know the difference. I've had the grace and fortune of spending my life getting on horses and that's a gift I got that I didn't even know about, for a really long time.

I don't know if it's instinct or what but the good ones kind of steady up under you, It's a . . . click.

This horse did that. Right before he decided to leave without me. I registered the click and also the leaning into what was going to become steps here in a moment. Let's don't, I said. He fussed. A little.

The best part of parking cars, for me, is the time I get to play horsemanship. I pick up a rein,see if there's a foot attached and I play games with the horse. I set up opportunities for them to do a hundred things right and release to the best of my ability as they start to understand the game and seek out the reward.

The knot headed Paint (a super good horse in Halloween disguise) didn't trust my games. When he would respond without thinking about it, he would soften up and sync his feet with my brain so sweet it was like we'd rode together for years.

I'd take him on the corner, finessing the tricky broken mouthpiece bit with the long shanks so it didn't leverage against his face and left front foot, now right, now left.

Then, he would remember he was a knot head and . . . people had betrayed his softness with yanking hands, kicking feet, crude butts weighing heavy, awkward in the saddle hurting his spine.

I'm going to throw a fit, he'd tell me.

Okay I said. I could feel the low grade tension in his muscles, see the set of his ears. He thought there might be a fight coming and he was ready to the best of his good natured ability.

That was it, he'd say. Did you see it?

Yes, I said. Good job, now let's park this guy, ok?

Once in awhile he'd flip his head up and attempt a coup.  The Paint knew quite a few people would pull back helplessly with both reins on the sky high bit as he carried them back to the barn. He might get a whupping but he'd also get to stand at the rail, go back to his dreams and pretend he was somewhere far away, knee deep in tall grass.

Paint? I hate to interrupt your fantasy but we're still working here.

One rein, gently bringing his face around. When the hip turned loose, we were facing the direction we needed to be, his neck had relaxed and lowered in the course of the turn. I released the reins.

The sour laid back ears flickered. What?

I rubbed his neck. (Peter says to surprise the horse. Anybody can beat on them, get harsh with them. Do something unexpected.) The ears came up, relaxed. Then, a foot came lifted to take a step, unbidden. Leaving was a habit.

I caught the foot in mid air with my rein, asked him to set it down where I wanted instead of off in the direction Paint had chosen. (Peter: Always give the feet a place to go.)  Before there was any kind of argument, I asked another foot to move, put it here. Released. Let the games resume.

That Paint horse lined up and worked with me. He's one of the good ones who'd done what he felt he needed to to protect himself in situations he had no tools. He'd soften his jaw, round up, and move pretty under me.

We loped in the pitch black across the big pasture.  Chief Paint (I didn't name him, it was printed on his bridle) never missed a step. He was brave, bold and fun.

So, cured then? Four hours with me and him all better? No. That's not how it works. We had a great time and I did insult him by giggling at what he thought was full flown rebellion. Not out of disrespect for the unhappiness inside his guts that told him he needed to protect himself. I giggled because the inherent sweetness of his nature meant the rebellion was a few steps in the wrong direction. Don't get me wrong, A different rider, different experience than mine might have also found a different horse. A knot head.

I sure enjoyed the horse I rode. I'd own him if there was space in the budget to board another beside my equine soul mate and sweet Sam who is earning his hay bales with every ride. There isn't. I don't know what that horse's future holds. I do know that we had four hours of  good times. Him learning that even though my hands are not the best out there, a human can still release to him. Can still provide softness, trust, respect and guidance.

I hope his next rider does the same. Best of luck, Chief Paint.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Judge Not, eh?

Didn't have the best day with Royal the other day . . .  or, maybe I did.

He was high as a kite. I say that and you need to know that means something really different than what it did a few years ago. He stands like a stone to be groomed and saddled where once upon a time that swishy butt was in motion and his back was an ever moving target. Much has changed with us to the enormous positive.

Once saddled I turned Royal and Sam loose to blow some stink off. Sam, the OTTB trots off loose and easy. Royal rabbit steps a few feet and blows like a rodeo bronc. I have a pretty good idea what last September must have looked like as he bows up, all four feet off the ground, hairpin wither skyward and head buried between his toes. He gets to move then.

This is what happens with a high energy horse that eats good and works seldom. He is completely consistent.

I flagged my pair, controlling their direction asking them to turn toward me when changing directions. When one would spin off, I'd pick him up with my eyes, my body language and last, my flag. They didn't need to be afraid, they did need to respond with respect.

Sam and I worked circles on the halter rope.  I pay attention to his outside front foot asking it to trak on an even path. His right shoulder wanted to transgress into my space as he awkwardly figures out what to do with all those legs and feet. I am gentle, insisting on what I want without being stressed out or critical. Time to ride, he's ready. Sam is easy going, knows nothing and is a "give me 40 acres and I'll turn this rig around" kind of guy. I don't allow him to get lost and worried. When he gets crooked, I direct his feet in long serpentines. When he can be straight I leave him to it.

Royal. He waits patiently for his turn. He does his groundwork almost flawlessly except wait. The right hind skips and dances as he evades giving his hip. I ask seriously. He says no thank you, I do not believe I will listen to you today. I ask again and he says something unprintable about what I can do with my request.

Royal went through quite a bit of resistance and determined effort to avoid releasing that hip. He used a lot of energy attempting everything else but. I was persistent, didn't get emotionally involved in his drama any more than I could avoid. When he did eventually find the release, he made a change. And, so did I.

I discovered my heart rate was up. My breathing was fast. My stomach was churning. I was a ball of stress and anxiety. So maybe I followed his drama more than I thought, huh.

Becoming self aware is a lifetime's journey as far as I can tell. It's tempting to compare my progress against those around me but how would I know, really?

A few weeks ago I listened to a motivational call. One of the tips is to become aware of judgmental thoughts of self and others. When such thoughts were discovered to pray to be released from those thoughts and to bless whomever they were directed against with abundance and riches.

The first day I tried this, I became a very spiritual person. I prayed all day long to Whoever was on duty. Please release me from these judgmental thoughts and bless so and so with riches.

Dang, I am judgmental!

Day two was not as bad and I found myself happier, lighter of spirit. I thought I had begun this as a 30 day experiment but I have lost track of the days and this is going to stay with me ongoing.

As time goes on, I still pray a lot (don't get hung up on the word "pray" if you don't have a Higher Power, send the intentions into the Universe. All has the same effect, anyway). My heart released tension. As I let go of bitterness,criticism, complaining and condemning (from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People) the cup that holds my soul makes space to receive other information.

During the course of the day, my friend Greg Queal, who runs the barn where my horses live, showed a friend and I some stretches. He told me they were "psoas releases." He explained where those muscles live (Google is your friend here) and that releasing them physically also releases emotional and spiritual trauma.

My morning routine now includes my best attempts at yoga poses along with some other type of physical activity to bring my body back to the strength and flexibility I desire. (I am going to mount Sam from the ground without stressing his back or my knees. That is going to happen.)

Now my reader scrunches up brow and says, dang it Terri! What does all this have to do with horses?

It is this. Our horses mirror what is inside of us. That is why they are amazing therapy animals. We cannot lie to them even when we are fooling our own selves. When we are a mass of stress, judgment, tied in physical, emotional and spiritual knots we are not going to have relaxed, supple, responding with respect horses. How can we even have energy leftover for them when it's all tangled up inside our inner selves?

End of the day, it was not the best ever with Royal. I rode him. There was a bad moment when horses left the arena and he wanted to throw a fit. Fortunately for me I was not wool gathering or distracted at the time and I stopped what was going to happen before it happened. I was still scared and angry.

His head to my knee, I pop him sharply with bit and heel to remind him that leaving me was not going to be an option. I knew I had to get more interesting than the horses leaving and for a moment, I had not the slightest idea how. Suddenly I remember short serpentines. I put him in tight Christmas candy figures, insisting on one step between not five. Yield your hip, bring your front around. Do it now.

When he was softer I cautiously allowed him to straighten and walk off. Royal was not completely let down but there was no bowling ball time bomb under my saddle either. We did some shoulder fore both ways. Lots of argument, disagreeing on whether it was worth the effort. Trotted semi-decent circles. His cadence would echo the brilliance I know he has and then we would lose it. We were tight, still.

Tracking right. Lift left rein, disengage hip to face the wall. Stop, wait. Rock back on hindquarters. Bring the front to the left. Stop in your tracks. Do NOT go forward until I tell you to. Soft feel around the arena tracking left. Repeat.

Loped a few circles. Noise from the barn told me it was feeding time and though I could bring his ears (and therefore his feet) back to me, the raised ante told me I was done. I am happy I can so clearly feel the change in him when his feet are right. That place happened, I stopped and got down.

Not everyday is going to be sunshine and roses. Every day is however a road map from where I am to where I want to be. Cluttering my mind judging and critiquing where the rest of the world is in their development only impedes my progress. It's not my business and I am generally wrong in my assessments of you anyway. Other than to know we are all creating our Karmic lesson plans, that the Universe is wise, kind, generous and merciless. We will face our lessons time and again.

Opportunities for growth are placed in our path though we, make that I, often think the opportunity is something to step over rather than through.

Things that stop growing are dead. I have no intention of becoming dead before I absolutely have to and then, who knows. Maybe just growing on a different plane, even then.

Royal was not upset with me when I put him up. Years past, I would have been unfair to him. Blamed him for where we were, been sharp and rude in my response, no respect. We have both come a very long way and far to go before we are finished. Keeps it interesting, yes?

Until next time, happy trails!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Learning Curves

Just in case you are somewhere south of 55, heading north to catch up and you have an idea there is an age where you get past having to grow up and catch the learning curves I am here to tell you that is so far not the case.

You want to get a little humility, take on an activity that might be related to what you think you know but not quite.

Last weekend I was invited to join a group of friends to go horse camping. I have watched these groups of my friends go camping and riding together for years and years. Yes, there have been some tales of misadventures here and there. I knew I would likely make newbie errors but I had no idea I could make so many in one four day period of time . . . no time or interest in every single one, here's the highlight reel.

First enter the prep stage. There is the Royal factor. He is not any better in large groups than I am. He takes things personally like his human. When he thinks he is being dissed, he very honestly and true to his nature flips the freak out. We are both working on our social graces but I was not sure he was the horse to take on this new adventure.

The alternative was Just Sam. A three possibly four year old off the track Thoroughbred who has very recently come into my life. As in Monday, last week.

Sam raced for the last time about two weeks ago. This would also not at first glance be the horse to take, either but one or the other, right? Or, stay home which had also occurred . . .

Sam rode quiet in the indoor Monday night, exactly as I was told he would. Tuesday morning after I say good bye to my Orthopedic surgeon ("it's up to you now" ok, thanks doc, see ya) Greg Queal at The Riding Center takes a quick ride out with me to see if Sam can handle the open outside world.

Turns out he is unfazed by all except gaited horses and electric temporary pens and we won't know that until later.

Here's some tips for anyone else about to be newly camping with people you do not know well except maybe one.

1. Build a bigger pen than you think you need, flag the hot wire so your unsuspecting colt won't stick his neck under it turning your pen and all adjoining into fashion accessories he'd rather live without. Especially if there is a highway nearby.

2. Make sure if you take the greenest horse on the planet, you either arrange to ride out separately or be prepared to handle what happens when fire breathing gaited horses (Sam said they were, I myself personally saw no actual fire) leave the country in front of you when they innocently pick up their gaits to catch up with the riders out in front of them.

3. Don't expect people to play by your rules when it is their party. In fact, take this one and apply to all aspects of life. The tricky part to this is sometimes I am not aware I have that expectation and neither do they. What is obvious to me is not to them and vice versa.

There were a ton of laughs, good times and my friend Corie and I found solid gold under us when we took our greenies out for a quiet ride, just us. Bader Park, just north of Grand Island, NE is a pretty camp. The trails are low laying and they flood when it rains but are safe and it's not only acceptable to ride them when under water but a huge part of the attraction.

Tell me there are not kids going home with nightmares from this guy  . . .

Since Just Sam was unimpressed by a couple strands of hard to see hot wire, he spent the entire weekend tied to the trailer. Fortunately I have some excellent horse camping training from my CTR friends and I kept him as comfortable and safe as possible. When I finally caught on (at least one night late) that thin coated pampered baby horse really wanted a blanket against the damp chill nights, he was a lot happier. Thank you Robyn for the blanket and the bute!

Sam made the trip as a horse that I would possibly develop and find a home for, recoup some of the financial losses from the Huckleberry mishap. All I know right now, is maybe stupid money could buy him but it would have to be really stupid, like buy me a trailer stupid. Other than that, he's home. What a mind that horse has. You do not find them like this every day. Glad I know the difference with horses and I surely know the value I am looking at here.

Let me say again. Last race, two weeks ago. Zero transition to trail horse but here we are.

Water well above the knees along some of these trails. Sam is as tall as you think he is and I still picked my feet up a couple of times.

My friend Tammy Musil who was there with the Goddess of Horses incarnate ponied Sam who then decided he worshipped the ground Epona gaited on. There was a lot of offers of help and friendly support as we figured stuff out . . .

My biggest takeaway from the weekend? Going to leave them right here for your reading, growing and self development enjoyment. Until next time.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Take the Wheel . . .

Driving to the barn yesterday my stomach is heavy with dread. I am not looking forward to riding my horse. We had a very near blow up the other night that was getting bigger in my head every time I thought about it.

What would I tell a friend, committed to working out a relationship with a horse? I'd ask if they were taking the time to get the horse's mind right before they rode? In my case, check. How about your own state of mind? Deep breathe, relax, stretch, stay where your hands are. Okay, check. Now what?

When you are successful, what are you doing? We are in the arena working dressage figures. We are taking lessons, we are at a horse show. Royal succeeds in spades in all these areas.

I am a very firm believer real estate has nothing to do with how a horse behaves, pretty darned sure it all starts, middles and ends in the heart of the person riding. 

Being that the case, what do I do differently on the trail? About a 100 different things.

I tack up. My pony is friendly, gentle. He stands solidly. The nervous swishing about of a couple years ago is long gone. He likes me and has for a long time. The eye that once would look anywhere but at me gazes at me kindly. How to not mess this up? 

I step up from the ground, grinning at my new flexibility. You can say what you want about my Thrive thing but it's given me a new lease on life and that is that.

Royal stands square, waiting while I fiddle with setting the mecate in my belt and out the drive we go.

His araby head comes up, ear starts pointing around and he wants to poke, look at every little thing, maybe spook at the ghost in the lower barn that only he can see. I am thinking this is going to be a long short ride and I am hard wondering if I am the right person for this great horse.

Suddenly I am aware of the difference. I am allowing all this crap. I would never put up with it in a lesson that was costing me money. I remember Jose chastising me for letting a horse go all looky loo in the arena. "What, Terri, are you going to do while jumping a course? Stop and let him look around? 'E must do 'ee's job!!"

I gather up my reins, a little more contact to support him but not a death grip that kills communication. I direct the pointy ear to go forward and I look that way too. I put my leg on him to remind him those feet need to move at a good working walk.

He comes back to me, there are questions. I say go forward pony and mind your business.

We pick up a trot on the shoulder beside the road. I have Axel with me and FYI, we have received firm notice the McTyre's do NOT want dogs on the Ponca trails, so bear in mind. We are going to do a short road ride, the entire point is confidence building and a decision to be made by me.

I keep him pointed forward, ride him exactly like I would in a clinic, a lesson. I catch distraction as it's a thought and give him something else to do without making a federal case out of it. A few steps of shoulder in, increase speed posting in time with his movement, slow by sitting. He responds gorgeously just like he does in the arena. Of course.

Quick side rant. Posting. It took me years to understand the value of learning. Rise and fall with the shoulder on the wall. A SUPER PET PEEVE: watching people bounce up and down with no freaking idea or awareness of what the horse is doing under them! Not the people who are in the learning stages, the ones who think they know what they are doing, and some of you are calling yourselves trainers. 

Here's a tip. Posting can enhance your horse's movement and when you are doing it incorrectly, you not only impede the movement you throw the horse off balance, cause them to be nervous, unhappy and a raft of different evils. In my own defense, the years I didn't understand the value of posting I didn't do it at all . . . better that than some of the crap I've been watching. 

If you want to be a horse trainer, I am all over it. We need GOOD trainers in the world. Get your education. Learn from people who know more than you do. I am in this game over 40 years, retired from it and learning now more than ever. There are ALWAYS people who know more about different things than you do.

Okay, back to our ride, and posting away on my not skittery pony boy. That ear tilts, I check with the other rein. I want inside ear to come back to me, outside ear pointing forwards. Peter taught me that. The feet are right when the brain is right and the ears tell the story.

All that happens. His topline lets down. Sighs. Oh wait, culvert? Horse eating troll hole? I say, nope, I've heard that story, not going for it.

We have a fantastic ride. Later on that day, we have another one. This one is with three other riders. He wants some silliness a couple of times and gets sharply directed to stay between my hands and legs. No violating space which is anywhere outside our bubble. I get big enough it makes an impression without overwhelming him and getting lost in reaction. 

It's give and take, balance and direction. Peter has also taught me you do not correct a horse you direct him. I had no idea what that meant when I heard it the first 100 times or so. Human beings are all about correction. We are usually late to the party so all we can do is react with punishment because we do not know what else to do. 

Direction requires being there early, knowing what is going to happen before what happens happens and instead of being a passenger on your horse, in your life, you take the action and set the course for where you'd rather be.

Yep, there's the philosophical part. If you wait long enough, it will always show up. Are you a passenger or do you take the wheel and drive?   

We returned from our second ride of the day just glowing. Royal was easy, content. He had a leader that took care of him, didn't get him in trouble, didn't put the blame on him who is innocent in the whole deal. 

I can't tell you how many times in my life I have run up against the big things, the ones that cause you to reach deeper than you ever have, to give what you never have in order to get what you never got. There are times I duck the lesson, feeling it's too big for the day. The Universe is kinda patient with things like that if you define patience as you will keep seeing those lessons until you get it right. For me, the stakes get higher, cost of avoidance rises. 

Discipline, mindset, action. Decide you are successful. If you were a millionaire, self made, how would you act? A St. Prix rider, how do you treat your horse? When you don't know what to do, learn from someone who does. That is life as I know it.

There's a feeling you will get when you are flowing with the Universe (some of you call this God). It's like no other. Take action, put one foot in front of the other, trust in your guidance and there's not a thing in the world that is too big to get to the other side. I'll keep riding Royal and see where the ride takes us. We are not done, by a long shot.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Life Without Horses

During my recovery, it had occurred to me to wonder if I were approaching a stage of life that didn't have horses in it. A worthy question and one I've asked myself the few times I have hit the ground hard enough to either break something or damage myself into months of downtime and healing. I think only a sane person would wonder if continuing to put themselves in position for such things to happen is a good idea.

Then, there is the money. Non-horse people have zero idea how much money we plug into our sport, our hobby. I am currently in the process of closing a deal on an F250 I absolutely would not require in a life that didn't have horses in it. My trailer shopping budget is between 14 and 18k. Money that could go a bunch of different things . . . sans horses.

Except for days like the one in my last blog. And today. A day spent at the barn, doing barn things, smelling barn smells in the company of friends doing the same. Scrubbing buckets, hanging them back in place, petting the residents in their stalls, and watching my own two beasts down in their pen below unsuspectingly waiting their turn.

The glorious ride on Royal. I find myself posting around the arena, a little out of breath, a little off balance but he's keeping his cadence and I'm working on keeping up. I am not afraid. If you have followed my blog you know the fear demons that have beset me. I wondered if they'd raise their unwelcome heads again. That's another thing about a horse-less life. You never have to swallow back your fear and put your foot in the stirrup one more time. I have a feeling, though, the fear really has nothing to do with horses whatsoever but more the emptiness inside a person that lacks confidence in themselves. So, then, probably find that guy again some other place, horses or no.

I'm posting around, enjoying how very solid he feels. How straight a line he cuts, how nicely he rounds or squares into the corners depending on what I'm asking. During the warm up, I want him to come onto the outside rein, yield to my inside leg. To the right is tough. I go to put my right leg on him and it doesn't hurt, thankfully (no horses, less pain? maybe) but it also doesn't do put much strength into the effort either. He doesn't want to round into the small circle. His rib cage bumps my leg. I bump it back. Get over there.

We mess. I am looking for him to relax his underline, his throat, underside of his neck. It happens and his ears are right, his feet are right and his brain is between his curly ears where it belongs. This is what "putting them up on a good note" really means. I think back on how angry I was that Peter had me ride Royal after that steer when I was completely terrified he'd go to bucking again. Riding into that arena took every bit of steel I have in me. It worked out and I am so grateful that I rode. I got back, four months later on a horse I had faith in rather than one I had just shattered bones on. He had faith in me, too. World of difference.

Our 20 meter circles are decent. I know where the marks are now and Greg and I chat about the Shaggy show coming up first weekend of April. I had really hoped to move us into Training Level this year. I had not planned on several months of down time setting us firmly back in our schedule.

I am pleased though that we are not reinventing the wheel, Royal and I. We are both in a good place and we remember what we are doing. We will ride the Intro tests, for sure.

I look ahead. We are coming to the time if we were taking a lesson that Becky would say, okay when you hit M, round the corner, sit a few beats and ask for the canter.

I had almost ruined Royal's canter transition. I'd exaggerate my cues to set him up, do too much, get in his way. He was so annoyed with it all he'd stopped wanting to. Becky said, stop all that movement in the saddle. Sit like a princess, put your leg on him and EXPECT him to canter.

So we round at the bottom of the arena. I sit a few beats, put my leg on him and  . . . ka dum thump, ka dum thump, gorgeous little three beat canter. I'm so excited (he's not bucking or even thinking about bucking, he's on the correct lead, this is gorgeous   . .  this is  . . aw shit.) We lost it and trotted around. I gather him up and my ask the next time is not as natural and he pounds his trot into the ground. No canter from here. Can't happen, won't happen.

Come around again, sit back. One, two, three. Leg on. Here we go . .  . so lovely

Greg had to go and he took his big pony out. Royal's ears snap forward in a hard point. I'm being left? Oh no! This won't do!

That Royal. That's the one that gets in trouble. I circle him, working those ears, one pinned firmly to the barn door, the other flickering back and forth. With me, leaving me, with me, leaving . . . now, finally, both with me and we are back after it.

Other way, we get the canter super easy. I sit back, he floats. This is what it's supposed to be like. This is what it is, the deal. You don't get moments like this in a life without horses.

You don't get soft nickers from the other horse tied to the wall, his eyes not on the horse coming back toward him but fixed on YOU. The soft muzzle playing lip games, the big bald Painted face tucking to your chest when you rub a knot out of his neck. You don't get to see them sigh with relief when you help them relax, find confidence and let down from their worry.

There are so many things you don't get to have in a life that doesn't have horses in it, I'm not sure it would be worth living for me. I' m pretty glad it doesn't have to be that way. We are going to ride Training level too. No reason why not.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

All four Corners

I remember how revolutionary it was for me to hear that all four corners of the horse should reach equally. A supple, balanced horse does this. A tight upset horse cannot. Understanding the theory is a long way from knowing what it looks like though now that I know I can't imagine not knowing.

A horse in balance glides, loose joints move easily. They don't get hurt as often and they are not so likely to injure you, either. There is a flowing, rippling quality to the movement.

Back in the day when I would asses horses for a living either to purchase for myself or a client my absolute top goal was to survive the experience. Shortly thereafter on the priorities was not get in any kind of wreck whatsoever. Usually watching the owner handle and hopefully ride the animal would tell me everything I needed to know. Almost all the errors I saw were human created and the horse would do whatever it could to either get along or protect itself.

I'd watch the long suffering things throw their heads, hollow their necks and backs, pound around in a spine jarring gait under ill fitting saddles, big bits and hard sitting riders. I don't so much judge people for what they don't know though I do get a bit critical over willful ignorance.

My theory almost never wrong is that if the horse would put up with all that, I could probably get on, ride safely for a couple minutes to see what it knows and then strike a deal. I've bought some darned nice horses worth the money through people not having a clue what they have.

I've talked before about a little sorrel mare named Penelope and how she is the benchmark for what sitting on a broke horse feels like, There is something that happens when you get on one and they settle smoothly under you. There's no movement of feet but the weight shifts and you fit together like one beast.

Yesterday, that happened with Royal.

Following our wreck in September, I've hung in there for my return to ride date. Doctor wouldn't even discuss it with me for the longest. I was good, no way I was going to risk healing of something this important. I stayed off and mostly away from the horses all these months. There was enough pain and discomfort I knew the medical advice I was receiving was sound. Finally, I get the nod. Second weekend of February, it's on.

I had it in my head to maybe start out with a different horse. Use one of Greg's at the barn less likely to throw in some cold backed pyrotechnics, one that had maybe been ridden in the past four and a half months.

I get my two yesterday never even entertaining the idea of riding something else. My plan was spend the day and ride them both. Huckleberry is moving stiffly and I am not sure I want to throw the heavy western saddle twice. At this point I am not 100% certain I can throw it once.

I smile while digging the thing out from under pads and the assorted English saddle. My good bridle missing in action all this time after the clinic is hanging from the saddle horn. It's developing into a really good day. Sabrina, I've brought it home and the next time we see it, your gorgeous mecate will be in place.

I grin bigger as it's uncomfortable packing the saddle into the arena but doable. Fully rigged it weighs give or take 50 pounds. My wrist scowls but it doesn't wimp out and quit. I'm good with that.

The boys enjoy the dry soft sandy indoor while I finalize a deal on my trailer. Really good day, now eh. Trailer is sold, truck shopping will kick into highest gear so that money does not find itself other places and me no truck.

I go in, seek them out. They're done rolling, bucking, playing, farting and snorting. Now we stand, the three of us.. Huckleberry reaches over and snuffles me. Royal stands close. We breathe and I am loving this moment so much I don't really care if I do any other thing all day long.

Curious about Huck's movement, I slide my hand down his leg and ask for his foot. He politely hands it to me and I flex the ankle. The frog is retracted and he's sitting up high on his heels. They are way past due for a mani/peddy session. No wonder this horse is sore. I set the foot down and it must have hurt, as Huck flinches and pins his ears.

He glares at me in an owly fashion. I rub his neck but he's not having any and shakes his head at me. Okay, you need to move off, big boy. I don't get bully with him but I do make him leave and create a safer distance between us. I am not sure what's behind all that posturing but it's a silly person that ignores it.

After he figures out ears forward and soft eyes will let him come back, we do that.

Grooming is Zen time. I go over every inch of them, noting scars, nicks. Huck is sore over his topline. I've been thinking chiropractiry in his near future and I will make the appointment tomorrow. You can't train pain and this horse is not right, so he is mostly going to sit and hang out until I find out what's going on with him beside short toes and high heels.

Royal is calm. His affect is of a been there, done that saddle horse. I saddle, checking him closely while I tighten the cinch. I snug it up in stages, not taking a ton of time but watching my horse.

I make sure it won't go under his belly and cause us another problem, I pull halters and move both horses around. I fully expect Royal to blow up and buck the knots out of his back like he has done when first saddled for a long time. I can't even remember when that started or why I didn't think it was remarkable . . .

He doesn't. Trots around, Arab floaty, sassy nose in the air but not tight. Peter had commented during the clinic that Royal might not ever find the need to blow up like that again. I'd filed the thought away to revisit as I wasn't sure but watching my horse move comfortably, in balance told me he could be right. Then he tucks that nose and shows me the beautiful self carriage I love so much.

I put Royal through every test I know. I tried to spook him, suddenly flapping the flag in his rearview mirror. I did groundwork, circling him around, drifting the hind. That's asking the hind to reach further than the front requiring some athletic stretching and can't happen if there are knots.

I told Greg if I were assessing this horse back in the day, I'd already been on him for about three minutes to make sure what I was seeing was real, would have been off before the owner realizes what a nice horse they have. He'd have been in my trailer heading home.

No more putting it off. The horse is ready to ride and so am I.

I climb up on the mounting block and he swoops in to pick me up. Stands steady, square. I mess around, treating him like a colt. I move stirrups, lean over, flap offside stirrup. He waits patiently.

Okay, foot in, don't mess around. Get on, get settled. My stirrup leathers are stiff from sitting and it takes a minute to get my right foot in the stirrup. Royal doesn't care. He's so solid under me. I sit and appreciate him.

Pick up my right rein,ask him to flex that way and look at me out of his right eye. Yep, I see you, Terri. There you are.

To the left, yep, you are over there too. He is content, Neckline relaxed. Well Greg, I say, we aren't getting very far like this and I suppose it's time to ask him to move before he does stand here long enough to get tight.

He steps off like the broke saddle pony he really is. There is nothing in the world like being on your coming home horse, the one that sits so deep in your heart it doesn't matter what you have to go through to make the partnership work.

We work easy circles at the walk. I ask for a soft feel and he's there. We work at holding it. I don't fuss at him, let him find his way. We trot circles, do some serpentines, ride simple dressage patterns, move the hip and front end around. He's not as bendy as he is when we are in shape and neither am I.

We are willing partners though. There are no spooks, no big eyes or gasps at shadows. He doesn't care about noises or anything at all. I was thinking I'd stay on him and ride forever.

Greg needed to leave the barn and in the interest of being smart, ending on a great note, I decided not to keep riding if there were no one in proximity to at least be able to tell the story.

My horse is happy. He is enjoying being with me. What a long road that has been. Worth every mile.

People thought I was crazy to keep riding in the clinic after I got hurt. I am so glad I did. Both of my horses ended on good notes there and so did I. I will always tighten my own cinch and ride my own ride. I will listen to what my horse tells me.

Yesterday, he told me we were balanced on all four corners.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Get out of the way, You!

Or, rather, me. There's a Facebook meme going around that says "You Are Far Too Smart To Be In Your Own Way." Being too smart or more like thinking I am has kept me in my way my whole life.

I have a busy mind. We have established that in many a previous blog. It's what has me up, right now in the wee hours of the morning, tap tapping away on this blog installment.

You guys know I had a wreck coming off Royal end of September 2015. Fractured both bones in my wrist, strained ligaments in my knee. (That doesn't sound serious, at least not to me but turned out to be more so.) The fracture healed super (thanks to Thrive right? Orthopedic surgeon could not believe all the new bone he had to chop through when it became apparent a surgery was necessary to save the day). My wrist bones twisted inside the cast. That turns out to be a bad thing.

Fast forward as I am super sick of that whole subject, I'm now two weeks back to work and a week into losing the transitional brace and getting back into what I think of as my real life. I'm not cleared to ride and ya know, after not laying a hand on the ponies for almost three months, I'm good with that. I can do groundwork though! WOOHOO! Pony time, here we come!!

Yesterday was my day to go to the barn. A Saturday. I glanced at the forecast. Deep cold causes me a lot of discomfort right now but hey, mid thirties is totally doable! You should have seen Axel's face as I am pulling on layers. He knows what barn clothes look like and there was one ecstatic blue border collie racing around the house in mad delight.

Me too. My heart was racing with anticipation. What were they going to be like, Royal and Huck? Not that it mattered. Thanks to Peter, I can take the horse that shows up and help them be the horse they really want to be.

Greg pulls them up out of the icy pasture. The last thing we want is for me to go skidding and ruin the day with more damage before it even starts! Royal is easy to catch. Huckleberry would have liked to opt out but it was more trouble than it was worth. I think I am going to like that about him.

Into the indoor arena we go. I pull the halters to let them just roam around the dry unfrozen ground, roll, do whatever. They sniff suspiciously at all things and look a little like the feral beasts I had expected them to be. In a few minutes I approach. Nah, they quietly begin to wander away. I pick up my flag lightly and help them leave (can I tell you the one I bought from Trina and Peter is a WHOLE lot easier to use and better balanced than the cheaper fiberglass jobbie? Well worth the bucks.)

I don't ask hard, just let them know they need to move and to go in the direction I choose. When one looks to peel off I lightly shake the flag and the appointed horse falls back in line. So cool how horses pick up on energy. The one I am not directing at might be three feet away, be it Royal or Huck, was unaffected.

Breathing in horse. I am standing in the arena with my boys and my good dog. When Royal looks my way I dramatically release pressure by turning and walking away. He knows this game, faces up and stays put. Huckleberry keeps going. I move him around until he looks at me too. Give him the same release, he faces up and waits.

I approach each horse, extend my hand, see if they want to reach back. Nope, not yet. Royal is content to stand (fat boy) but he blows me off. Huckleberry is not quite ready and warily shifts back. It's subtle and I see it and quietly ask him to move off.

We do this a few times, both directions, pick up the pace to a trot for just a little. They are out of shape, thick heavy coats. The last thing I want is to come on strong, get them upset. We are getting to know each other again.

I doubt it takes ten minutes and they are following me like big shaggy dogs. I want to get photos because I am glowing hard that they chose to be with me. I didn't run them to death, they were not out of options. I simply rewarded the try, released them and made myself a good place to be.

After this, it's halter time and what do you guys still know? Royal "everything, what did you expect?" Huckleberry "Not a dime more than I did when you put me up which wasn't much but I remember  all of it." Something really to be said for putting them up on a good note. There's a lot of reasons why but I am very glad I sucked it up and rode the rest of the clinic. None of us have a lot of baggage . . .

That's a lesson I am learning in many different areas, in case you were wondering what any of this has to do with getting out of my own way. In this post, the horse stuff came first, now the philosophy. People also want to be recognized for try, want release of pressure and they want me to be a good safe place to be in order to want to hang out. You probably already know I am better at this with horses but my people skills are improving.

Wanting community and affiliation is a basic human need. Those of us who will tell you we don't need people around us are lying through our teeth and maybe mostly to ourselves. Once upon a time I tried to pick and choose the people who entered my life. I tried to hold on to them after it was time for them to move on. I have come to learn that while I absolutely will not tolerate chronically toxic (to me) people, there has to be a lot of elasticity if a relationship is going to have staying power.

I have a lot of gratitude for the community that has grown up around me. The Riding Center is the warmest least drama afflicted barn I have ever known. Greg goes out of his way for us in a thousand different ways. I have developed appreciation for my team mates at Pacific Life. Life is too short to be somewhere you hate. There are things I would rather do than sit at a desk 9 hours a day but they pay me well to do so and the company is congenial. My Le-vel/Thrive family? Wow. Who knew.

Getting out of my own way means surrender of ego. It means thinking through my emotional reactions and keeping that 24 hour window before I respond when I'm upset firmly in place. I still can't always do this but it's a whole lot better when I do.

Then there is the whole allowing myself to succeed. That's probably subject for another entire blog. Helping others succeed and realizing how their self doubt is nothing but myth and stuff they see in the mirror teaches me that about myself. Why not us?

I am not a big one on setting goals. I have sabotaged myself so much and broken my own heart many times over. Right now, I am working a day at a time. The success I have experienced both in my corporate job and Le-vel has been incredibly cool and opened doors for me to get to know some really wonderful people. It's already gone so much further in both than I had any idea it would the best I can do is not limit my vision with what I can see from here.

It's a new dawn, a new day. The future is looking bright, good thing I got shades . . .