Tuesday, September 27, 2016

mini manifesto

I've been thinking about what "horsemanship" means to me lately. What ever my horse, and whatever I'm doing, I want my horse to move in a healthy manner, to be handy, and to like his life. You can work on some very seemingly simple things, and if you are very good at them, you might turn that into piaffe, or into a fine bridle horse, you can take it to jumping, or showing, or hunting or trail riding or working in harness. But horsemanship is horsemanship, and the basics are the basics. You can do a lot worse than be really really good at the walk.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The gift of many

I was riding a horse today who pretty well demands you get your position right before he will canter right.  Well, left, but correctly.

And I was thinking about Buck talking about how horses fill in for us.  I think it is Buck, might be Ray, or Tom even in that mystical tome of his.  But horses fill in for us all the time, and most people never even realize it, the horse is going, ok, yeah, fine, that isn't really helping me do that but I get that is what you want and fine, I'll do it.  We don't quite have our bodies balanced but the horse stays straight anyway.  All sorts of things.

And this is one of the gifts of getting to ride a lot of different horses:  Each horse will have something that they won't fill in so much on.  And you have to get that right or they won't get it.  And that helps you get that right.  With every horse.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

less sooner

A whole lot of people not that into horsemanship but into horses don't understand that feeding them, leading them in and out of the fields, that's where horsemanship lies.  Or doesn't.  Riding, that's a thing, sure.  A really really big thing.  But if you are riding a horse you can't actually lead, well, you are riding some pretty big holes.

If you can't lead a horse through grass and not have that horse dive to pick grass, your timing is bad.  If the horse makes it to grass, he has his reward, and you are likely pulling, jerking, yelling, hitting --or saying, well, ok, have a bite or two, that's fine.

That's what "do less sooner" means.  You have to be paying enough attention to know that horse is about to go for grass before much, if anything, visible happens.  Then your response can be a very very very light "pay attention" change.

If the horse pulls before you even know it is happening, you are going to have a pulling horse, and never ever ever lightness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

the drift

I got to work with someone else's horse the other night at group ride.  Doing ground work, her owner was trying to get Mia to do a figure 8 around cones, which is great at equalizing drive and draw, yielding shoulders, teaching the human to be still, all sorts of things.  Mia was being a bit explosive.  And in that explosive she would not necessarily hesitate to run over her person.

Her person had put a shorter rope on her, partly because she was unused to handling the longer rope.  but when she asked me if I wanted to work with her, I immediately, intuitively, got the longer rope.  This horse was going to need that drift.

Thinking more about it since it has happened, I realize Mia was only doing what she thought she needed to do to stay alive.  She's afraid.  But she isn't stuck.  When her person says, "BUT I SAID GET OVER THERE!", well, Mia is like, "Fine then," and goes WAY over there.  Or, afraid of the drive, she knows to drive her human and often times that gets the human to quit driving her.

As Carol always says, the answer is to slow down.

And also, not to worry about the specifics.  It doesn't matter if you miss that cone.  Did you drive and draw?  Were you calm and not afraid?  Responsive and respectful?  Confident?

Anyway, in the end, she could do the figure 8 for me, walking calmly.  But it took . . . time.  It took, softness.  It took staying at ask, not tell, until her brain could unfreeze and figure it out.  It took breathing and being pleased.

And it took that long rope, and that open hand, and when she was frightened and needing to explode to be allowed the room to get away and to be laughed at and told, no hon, you are fine, I'm not trying to kill you, I like you.  Draw back in.  Get told all that again.  Be sent again, calmly.  Until she believed being sent didn't mean she needed to make it all the way to the moon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

the wait ing

You'd think it was so simple that it wouldn't even be a thing.  Plus I think maybe I've written about it before, particularly about the subtlety of working with the board horse just going in and out of the fields, especially at the gate or at the stall, waiting for them to put their halters on.  Or maybe I just thought about it, I don't know.

I do know I wrote about this tho -- how humans want to be effective, and if you start at effective, you never ever ever achieve light (and in fact, you lose effective but let's not go there).

So I've bridled horses all my life and I'm not bad at it:  I don't bang teeth or get much resistance.  But except for the draft horses who have pretty much already been trained to open their mouths for the bit (and I don't really know how this was/is done), I've pretty much always stuck a finger in the side of their mouth and guided the bit in.

And then from watching or listening to something, I have no idea what actually, I started waiting.  Buck has some really good explanations on how to bridle and I basically start like that, but when that bit is held flat in my fingers, I just stop there and don't put my thumb in their mouth.  I likely touch their lips with the bit.  And lo and behold, much to my great surprise, with no sugar cube and  no molasses on the bit, they open their mouths and take the bit in.

And so there that is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


My grandfather taught me how to turn a horse out when I was three years old:  go through the gate, turn the horse to face the gate, take halter off.  There are at least two reasons:  it puts you between the horse and the gate, and it puts you in a less perilous position if the horse bolts and kicks (if the horse runs past you and kicks, your head is in some danger).

This morning I took a horse out and didn't do that.  I took those horses out, thinking of the cold and weather and how my family and farm will, well, weather it and we went through the gate, I took the first halter off, took the second halter off, and she turned around and walked right out that gate.

It was ok.  It almost always is.  But you shake your head at yourself.  And there is no sense in chasing a horse.  Try to keep them out of trouble and wait.  And bring halter and feed.

My grandfather also taught me, at three years old, that if you got bit, kicked, or stepped on, it is your own fault, not the horse's.  I learned much much later to not be angry, never at the horse but not even at myself.

Hey I didn't get kicked in the head.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

the Horseman and the Human

The horseman wants the horse to respond to the least communication (and is sensitive himself to the lightest communication from the horse).  Thus the horseman starts the communication with what Buck calls "the good deal", and what Parelli calls "phase one".  When he starts this, the horse has no clue.  None.  So he does the next thing until it is effective.  The horse may try one or two things before the right thing and the horseman does not get upset by this but appreciates the try.  The volume may remain the same but persistent, or the volume may go up albeit without rancor or upset, but the horseman hangs in there until effectiveness is achieved.  *And then releases.*  This means stop.  And then starts again, with the lightest touch.  And the horse learns.

The human starts with the lightest touch, the horse has no clue, and so does the next thing until it is effective.  All too often the human just keeps asking, even though the horse is doing it; this is nagging.  When the human does deign to stop and to start again, the human often starts with whatever was effective, not with the lightest touch.  The horse learns from this too.

This is what I was thinking about today.

And riding, I noticed how difficult it was to ask for a turn first with my legs and only reinforce it with my hands. 

There is nothing wrong with contact but when that is the only way the horse knows to turn left, well, there probably IS something wrong with that.  Or at least missing from that.  If I'm on the ground and the horse is running over me and I have to get big and do jumping jacks to keep from getting killed, there is definitely something wrong with that.

But that lightness?  There is something right about that.  That's something to chase.  And that is horsemanship.

Monday, February 1, 2016

random horse and non-horse thoughts

As I was leading horses in and out of the fields this morning and pondering a dream from last night, I was thinking about achieving partnership with horses.  It is one thing to get obedience.  At least theoretically you can get that with pressure and release as long as you are willing to get loud enough with the pressure and release relatively accurately.  But it is something else to get a horse who wants to do stuff.

Take, for example, Jin.  Jin Jin Jin.  The horse who never wanted to canter.  The horse who is sometimes so soft and willing and sometimes so not.  The horse who always gets beat up in the field.  The horse who comes to the fence nearly every day to see if I'm going to come and get her.

Oh, that last one, you'd think that was willing.  But evidently I'm good enough to get her out of the field, out of that danger, but not actually completely safe.   For awhile she would come as soon as I whistled but now, even in the dead of winter, she mostly doesn't, not until I'm closer, not since I worked with her with all the herd around.  And to slip into some anthropomorphism, she seems to like riding and otherwise being worked with well enough but also not well enough:  She likes it so long as she isn't asked too much.  She likes to get on the pedestal because she gets left alone on the pedestal.  Come to think of it, maybe that opposition isn't about "safe" because in a different environment she'll look to me and do for me, but in one she knows, she's sometimes of the opinion that she'd rather not.

And I frankly don't know what to do to further our partnership.  Of course, I've felt that way most of the time and yet we continue to progress.  She rocked the pony club trail class this year despite being the world's most unconfident horse!  But I still need to get her feet unstuck and I need to get her to want to do it.

I thought of my horse Lucky, the one I did the most stuff I wanted to do on -- went to shows, won shows, scored a 70 in dressage, ran cross country, jumped the moon.  He loved to jump and you could feel his excitement when he saw you setting the jumps up.  He liked it.

I've known horses who were exceedingly well trained, even obedient, but who hated what they did (or sometimes who they did it for).  I wonder sometimes what I missed knowing about Lucky in particular.  How I could have increased his joy.

But I was also thinking about pressure and release when it comes to humans, to me.  And the secret to seek out the releases.  I think maybe people aren't as smart as horses in seeking that release, that peace.  I remember phrasing it as, "pay attention to what makes your heart sing and do more of that."  You know, there are things that are hard and stressful that are just part of adulting.  And what you find particularly difficult, I may not, but there will be something that I think is hard that you do not too.  You just do those.  But for the longest time I think I thought there were things I was supposed to do, supposed to be.  Sometimes I still do.  That stuff can be awfully hard to see through but as long as you are examining the image instead of looking into the water below it, well, all you'll discern is the image and there will be no new vision.

Always open, always open.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


So much I feel/think I don't know what I'm doing.  I do relatively ok in the moment.  But what exactly is the bigger picture?  What is the meta thing that needs to be going on right now?  Sometimes it goes so well that I don't ask that question but if I'm asking the question, then I'm not sure of the answer.

It is Jin, of course.  Mare.  Older.  Bred of an inbred mare and a stallion known for producing horses you can't trust.  Left in a field for years.  Bottom of the pecking order.  Absolutely beautiful in body. Perhaps the most unconfident horse I've ever met.

Perhaps if when I'd started I'd had more confidence in letting her move her feet THEN.  Ah but I didn't.  It is what it is.  Always.  I know I have had the thought before that I need to have forward always be the answer for her.  I've had that thought.  I haven't been effective or I haven't translated or . . . well it IS better.  It just isn't good still.

I'm really not much of one for anthropomorphizing but I know this is significant and I only know how to think of it as a human so here it is.  Some months ago I worked her on line in the field with her herd.  She actually did rather well although I may have forced the issue of going through the water a bit (my thought process:  sh*t, she drinks out of it, she can't walk through it?  bullsh*t).  Well, not "forced".  Not cowboy forced.  But she didn't want to and I was like, well, there is no peace anywhere else.  But I don't really think that was the issue.  I think the issue was that it was in front of the herd.  However it is horses look at that.  And then, at the end, when I let her go and started to walk away, Annie, who is the lead b*tch mare in that field, who is just plain mean to other horses and who I used to have to repeatedly back off just to get Jin out of the field;  Annie saw Jin didn't have me anymore and lit out from across the herd to bite Jin and chase her, yes, across the creek.

Now, Jin had already begun even before that day to not necessarily come to me in the field.  She doesn't go away but she used to come at my whistle.  What was I doing before, what changed?  I'm not sure.  Did she love going up the mountain?  Riding in the fields?  Getting fly spray?  Had I stopped that to "work" on something?  That's what my human mind thinks but I'm not sure the timing would actually sync up.

Since then, and since she really hasn't been so eager (and since Zip has been so eager), I've backed off of her to see if that would "help".  Or is it really that more work always helps? At least, more work that is fun.  Anyway.  I rode her on a Tuesday night and sat around a lot as we are wont to do and then she was very much "I don't want to do anything then."  And the next night, Zip stood around tied most of the time and could not WAIT until I got on him and asked him for a few things.  And as I thought about it, I thought, ground work maybe?  I remember Michael talking about getting her moving more freely and she'd be happier of mind too.  Loose the feet there and they'd be looser backed too?

I don't ever quite trust anything you know.  I trust that moment with the horse.  But I don't trust that it is going anywhere. Maybe Buck has started thousands and so he knows, he trusts.  But when I saw him in the fall of 2014 and his bridle horse had essentially lost his flying changes, I wondered if he doesn't sometimes just not know too; if he says, hmmmmmmm, and just tries something and sees if it is that or not and still doesn't really know.  I don't know but I thought, I felt, ground work.

I need to do that anyway.  I may not be able to do the level 3 on line auditions with her anyway (if she can't sustain a canter) but, well, we'd about have it (except that canter) if we worked a bit more at it.  And maybe liberty.  I'm planning to use Belle for the freestyle, and I could use Belle for the others too, maybe.  I've got other potentials but they are further away and you just don't know what complications they are going to have too before you get there.

So I brought Jin in the round pen with every intention of working more Parelli-ish on line stuff.  Instead I did my version of roping her feet and asking her to follow that feel.  The first time I ever tried that I thought she'd yank my hands off and I was a little scared I'd done it completely wrong.  I'd never done her back feet.  I think we did ok -- she was calm, mostly soft, as always a little slow.  I also asked her to circle me at liberty, at any speed which ended up being just a walk, in the Parelli manner (her maintaining her gate), and it took awhile to get that first complete circle.  And I'm sure we did a few other things.  Some spins there at the end.  And sometime in that, a lot through that, I thought, I need to not care how slow she is, I need to not care how long I may have to wait for the thought to get to her feet.  I need to reward her thought when it is turned toward me.

So I don't know if that is right or not.

But here was a thing she did on that Wednesday night after her "I don't want to" session (and before the Saturday round pen session).  I went to get Zip.  Zip was making his way toward me before I could even see him.  She raised her head then went back to grazing.  I whistled and told her I had a cookie specifically for her if she wanted it.  She grazed.  We left.  I was out of the field and halfway to the barn when I heard her telltale voice nicker at me.  She'd just topped the rise and the western sky was still lit by the already set sun.  And yes, I left Zip to graze for a minute and went back to the gate to meet her and give her her cookie.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

little things #2

This one came from a passing comment I heard Pat Parelli make, something like, "People ask me how to improve their trail horses.  I tell them, squeeze them through every puddle you come to.  When they are good at that, they are better at everything else."

I ride out quite a bit, and there are puddles.  When I first started this with Jin, she had a lot of problems with it.  "Oh my god the horse swallowing puddle! Nooooo I can't step in that!"  But every time we were out and there was a puddle, I'd make her step in it.  It didn't start out pretty, that's for sure, but sometimes now we have the finesse to specify which foot should step in the puddle first.

Now I tend to do it with all horses all the time.  If I've got two horses leading out to their field and there are lots of puddles in the road, I might ask first the horse on this side to step in that puddle, and then the horse on that side to step in the next one.  In that situation I'm not insisting, just asking, just suggesting, just taking in information.  If I only have one horse, and it is a horse I am riding, then I'm likely to work on it a bit if we need to; "Oh let's try that again how about it?"

What this does is so much I won't be able to explain it all but horsemen will see it.  It is an ask, a willingness, a trust, a leadership.  It is controlling each foot.  It involves whoa and go in balance.  It can involve some play, some curiosity.

Last night it was pouring rain as we left the arena and water was flowing through the parking lot.  We rode down in the dark.  I haven't ridden Zip that much but he's squeezed a few puddles.  Last night he walked through flowing water.  He was a little unsure but I was like, "We are going to the barn as fast as we dare."  "Oh yeah, the barn," he said, and went.

I will add here what a freaking brilliant horse he is.  Beautiful for one.  Willing.  Just opinionated enough.  His only "trouble" is he isn't all that athletic.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

little things

I've wanted to write a post forever it seems about how the little things ARE the big things but I never get around to it, or get bogged down, so I'm going to try to write just a few of the little things so

Little Things #1

I've heard Buck say in every colt starting clinic I've seen, and Michael Sparling repeated this, and I've heard essentially the same thing from Carol Coppinger, "My horse needs to know three things:  he can't move my feet; I can move his feet; he can move his feet without being troubled."

Whether at the gate or in the stall or doing ground work, he can't move my feet.  Luke crowds me at the gate, I move him back or maybe put his halter on him first (without moving my feet) and move him back.  Belle won't come to the stall door?  I wait her out usually, may throw lead to her but as encouragement.  "Put that foot back" has become a common phrase.  Even if the gate swings open, if I don't move, they don't move.  Etc.

Monday, October 26, 2015

opportunities -- and how I feel about them

I've had a couple of opportunities come up in the past couple of weeks, and the truth is, nothing makes me feel more insecure.  What if I fail?  But that quickly morphs in to,"What is failure?"  And then the definition of what I DO want to do.  I don't want to have the opportunity to ride this horse because I want to compare myself to someone else, but for what I can (in a small way) offer this horse and this horse's person.  I don't want to help this person become more comfortable on her horse in order to prove myself to anyone at all but for what I can (in a small way) offer this person and her horse.

And usually I don't really know what that is.

And then the insecurity again.

And how do you teach lightness? I'm just starting to figure it out myself, maybe, and there are layers upon layers.

I think I'm not ambitious.  I don't have an ambition to "make" a bridle horse, just a decent snaffle horse.  A light snaffle horse.  A bold snaffle horse.  A willing snaffle horse.  A horse I could open a gate with, cross a stream with, push a cow with, gallop a cross country jump with.  All with grace.

I just like playing with horses.  I just like that moment.

I dislike proving, testing in that way where "failure" is not interesting information but basis for judgment.

I'm beginning to learn to not look at how someone doesn't do something, but at how they do do it.

I used the affirmation for a long time, "I have something to offer."  I'm just not sure what that is. 

Except me.