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.