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.

Friday, October 9, 2015


In this whole horsemanship thing I've struggled to define what "relationship" really is. People can make a horse be obedient and not have a real relationship with that horse. When you ask a horse to do something and the horse does it not only because it is obedient but because it was you who asked, that's relationship. And when you ask your horse to do something and he does not do it and you don't assume he is only being disobedient but has a reason and if you don't know what it is, you look for it, that's relationship. It is a two way street. That might not be all relationship in horsemanship is, but it is part of it and it was part of what I was thinking about today.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

a better human being

The thing about humans that often makes their work with horses ineffective is that humans are always living in the next moment; at least in the next moment, if not one five years out. Get the bridle on in order to ride, turn the horse out in order to get home

Horses are all here and now, although they will remember if you've been an ass (or nice). They think how you put the bridle on is just as important as what you are going to do later with them in it. If they disregard you at the gate and tear away from you before you even get the halter off, they disregarded you long before that and they will continue to the next time they see you too.

The thing about horses and humans is that sometimes, rarely, a human may help a horse heal, but the horse pretty much always heals the human, and I believe that is the result of the horse requiring the human to be fully present in the here and now to be at all effective with that horse. Also, to be effective with horses you can never lose your temper, you have to take what you get today, you cannot take it or mean it personally, and you cannot be impatient. All make for a better human being.

Friday, July 31, 2015

It's so worth my time

I *love* going out to the fields to get horses.  Of course, sometimes I dread it -- long walk, heat, the time it takes.  And then after the ride, usually they have to be taken back out, which IS shorter because you just turn them loose at the closest gate. But still.

But still.  It is some of the best bonding and learning time there is.  Herd learning.  Here in high summer they don't generally come to me, not from very far away anyway.  I walk out and note where they are for the time of day, and who is with whom.  I have my intention clear in my own head and heart about who I am coming for, although I will pet and pay attention to others if that is what happens.

If the whole herd is totally ignoring me I have been known to sit down, or even lay flat out, and wait.  Because one of them will get curious.  And then I get to laugh as they seem to comment, "You are the weirdest human being we've ever known."

If who I intend to work with gives me eyes and ears, I stop and allow them to come if they will.  With grass they usually don't.  With less grass they usually do.  And once I'm closer they usually do.  Sometimes they will come from way away; that is always a gift.  And usually, once they come to me, we can choose to not halter at all until ready to go through the gate, we can play stick to me at different gates, and yields.  Sometimes I get to see a bit of their playfulness.  This is a quality that I'm trying to figure out how to better bring out in other work.  Play.  Desire.

And for sure, work is play for me.

*The title of this post is a quote from someone I was unfortunate enough to work with for a time.  We got paid per ride and he would say, "It's not worth my time to go get one."  Obviously, I disagree.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

turn out

Some weeks one horse or another from the field gets brought in, practices staying in a stall, gets worked with several times.  Usually Jin or her brother Whiskers.  This week it was Jin.

Now, Jin has been so introverted.  I could tell you all about her bottom of the herd place, about how it took some months before she could acknowledge a shoulder scratch as a pleasant thing, about how cantering seems to be exceedingly difficult for her.  Not physically.  Physically she is a glorious specimen.  But letting go that much.  Meeting the world at that pace.

Then I could go in to the seeming fact that most horses I ride seem to have some issue going into canter.  Yeah, not right now.  Besides, it's improving.

So here we are.  Sometime she'll offer canter at liberty.  Sometimes she'll maintain a whole circle at canter on-line.  We can canter a couple times around the arena.  Simple changes are usually fairly simple.  We've even done a flying change or two.  She can trot a tiny jump and canter off usually.  She can do the riding part of that stuff with other horses, sometimes even a lot of other horses, around.

Where she used to always be alone in the field, sometimes now she's with a horse or two, often Rock.  Who I swear I drool over Rock -- he is just gorgeous in that classic little QH way with the softest brown eyes and he might be next year's project.  Used to you'd turn her out and she'd just see if you had a carrot for her and when you left her, she'd walk off picking.  Used to you'd never see her cantering in the field, even coming TO grain.  She might trot.  Her favorite ploy was to walk so as not to draw any attention and thus get to eat in peace until the others caught on.  But canter?  I almost never saw it.

Until this morning.  We rode last night and she went out with Belle.  I brought her in, let her eat, then turned her out.  That field of horses were not in sight -- likely they were at the creek which is the furthest corner of the field and that's a big field.  I took her halter off, scratched her belly button, and went to the gate.  She looked at me.  "I don't have a cookie today."  She looked to the horizon.  Nickered.  Belle nickered back from the barn, and then CC or somebody from another field.  Jin nickered again.  Then trotted away from the nickers and toward the unseeable creek.

Then teetered up to a canter.  Nice, easy, canter.  Then someone nickered and she broke back to a trot for a few strides, then back up, other lead.  Kind of just like we've been doing it except effortless of course.

And then she was over the hill.

Next week's concentration should be on Zip.

But I'm kind of thinking of trying to do a level 3 freestyle audition with Belle.  And needing to see where I am approaching level 3 online and liberty with Jin.  Or somebody.  That could be Zip really because he's so free with himself when you aren't on him.  I just haven't worked with him a lot.

Monday, July 20, 2015

DQ and NH

I got to watch a lesson with a rider and a horse I know, with a young DQ I'm also quite familiar with.  I learned some useful stuff, some stuff I think I can apply.  She's good, the DQ, a good rider, a good teacher.  Accomplished.  Young.  "Make the resistance harder than the work."  That was something I heard from K but I could hear it today too.  "He needs to KNOW" blah blah blah.

And it is true.  They need to know.  We need to be consistent.

But there is also this thing called desire.  And horses have it too.  A lot of it is good riding -- horses ridden well like to be ridden.  I remember particularly the grey arab mares in the 3rd quarter pool at MM, and when the two girly girls got them (I do not remember their names), the horses refused jump after jump.  I remember the day Struby let me take one from one of those girls.  I'd had her the previous week if I remember correctly and we'd jumped everything.  She was a horse you had to ride, true enough -- you couldn't point her and sit there.  Thinking back on it it was truly what Buck talks about having the rectangle and keeping the horse in the rectangle.  That little mare would try every side of that rectangle and if there was a crack anywhere, she wasn't going over that jump.  But if you moved the rectangle over that jump, she went picture perfect.  So maybe you couldn't say she had desire;  she wasn't Lucky who when he went in an arena and there were jumps, he said (and you could hear him), "Oh good."  But I don't remember her hating jumping either.

Of course, it was a thing with me then.  And I was never afraid I would get more than I could handle because I knew I could handle *anything*.  Dumb young kid.  But I also remember Out of Luck Charlie.  Oh, I loved that horse.  Everyone hated that horse.  He was known to kick in the stall, and they were tie stalls.  So when I drew him, on Sunday I went to his stall, to his head in the feed isle, with a bag of carrots and I talked to him.  "Look, I'll be riding you and I'd really like to not get kicked so I'll bring you a carrot every day and I won't surprise you and I'll be good to you and you'll be good to me.  Deal?"  He was not naturally forward so talking him into that was . . . interesting.  I got to ride him in one of the BIG group rides for Mrs. M (K) and I got chosen to lead because she knew it would push me and then also push some of the riders on the bigger, more forward horses, just in different directions.  And that was the day Mrs. M said how good I'd become.  It meant the world to me.  Anyway, he never even raised a hoof.  We got along famously.  I even got an A on him on show day but it was because I didn't place at all -- he *always* refused on show day because he'd learned he could, so I took a crop with me and when, two strides out from that first jump he sucked back, he felt that crop and went on and we had a wonderful round but the crop disqualified us but we didn't need it next time at all.

So a lot of it is riding, whether it is that grey arab or Charlie -- if you can get them to want to do for you, they will.

But there is also deeper relationship, at least possible.  And there are also the horse's responsibilities.  And those are likely things I've really only learned theoretically in the last four years even if I knew some of it intuitively before.

You know, a horse may be obedient and not spook badly at something, but that doesn't mean he trusts his rider OR that he is brave -- only that he is more dreadful of the consequences of spooking badly.  Obedient is good, but sometimes you have to listen to your horse too.

I know I'm not the first person to be trying to look at these things.  I'm certainly not the most talented or gifted person to do it.  I'm too old.  I want to be open, to try it, but I also want to be on the horse's side of this thing.  "I'm here for the horse."  Ray said that.  Likely Tom too.  I try to tell people who work, "There isn't a list of tasks that have to be done and then the job is done.  The job is to take care of the horses and you do certain tasks to do that but you might have to do more than that."  Or sometimes even less than that.  I try to tell people, "Every time you do anything with any horse, you are training that horse."  The relationship with that horse cannot be all one way, top down.

Can you go low deep and round if you give immediately?  Can they learn to step that inside hind up under and cross over from hq yields?  Can they be attentive to the rider without having to be told every step?  Can you know exactly where every foot is without riding every step?  Does dressage have to destroy a horse's hocks?  Can I ride a horse and not make them reticent to go forward (wtf)?  When is it set it up and wait and when is it "I said now"?

Friday, July 3, 2015


She was the most standoffish horse ever, really.  She'd be caught.  She'd ride.  She'd let you groom her.  She obediently and softly picked up all her feet from one side.  But she didn't like anything.

Imajin BN Broke.  What a name.  Her mother was a little tiny mare named Spec.  Her daddy was Dr. Haught's stud.  Both squirrelly.  Bottom of the pecking order.  She liked to come in but it seemed as much because she wanted to be invisible in a stall as anything else.

Then one day I went to get her.  I had in mind a nice little ride in the fields I think.  I put her in a stall.  I likely gave her some grain because I usually do that with the field horses I bring in.  And something that day made me scratch on her shoulder, right where the neck comes in.  Maybe I was grooming her, maybe it was before that.  But I could tell she liked it, even though there were really no outward signs.  It was likely an exhale, or a relaxation of the eye and ears.  That small.  Until I stepped away from her and she turned so as to "give" me the shoulder again, asking me to keep scratching.

That was the first ever interaction with me initiated by her.  I scratched her for a long time.  Then I took her back out to the field and turned her out again.

In a lot of ways we've come a long way since then.  Not nearly so far as I would have liked to.  Gosh, I would like to have done so much.  But she canters now, at least in a manner of speaking.  We don't have the nice dressage transitions to it still, STILL, but she's usually willing.  Even online she will canter now, and she's offered it at liberty boomerang come to me.  She gets stuck sometimes if we are riding out and there is not a horse to follow but with a little work we can get past it, but it does take the work.  She will step in most any puddle.  She doesn't like trailers.  She will get on the stock trailer, and with skilled help I can get her on other things but she doesn't much like it.  You know, so there is stuff.  She can make me feel like I am so freaking ignorant.  I am so fascinated at the layers we go through -- like how now she can sometimes have "happy feet" where she used to be so stuck, so "if I'm really really still, no one will see me".

But if I go into the field, she comes.  Maybe slow with the grass in, but she knows I'm her heard.  Sometimes, but not always, she'll play with me.  It is in there.   If I can get that out, she'll do for me.  That I'm sure of.  And she loves to be scratched now, in a lot of different places, and she will do the reciprocal thing too.  And that's a big deal for her.  And for me.

And the last time playing with her, she put all four feet on the pedestal and stood there.  She's always liked the pedestal but ours is a little small and she is a big horse but once she was up there she was like, oh.  And I emptied my pockets and scratched her belly and then we ate grass on the way back out.

Now I'm riding her half brother Whiskers too.  He is very much like her in body, less squirrelly in mind.  A solid citizen.  But oh I so do not have his heart yet.  I may only have half of Jin's heart, even in all this time, but his is not mine.  And only time will break through that.  Time and scratches.

So today I spent all morning grooming and searching for those spots, and working on him asking me questions.  And this afternoon on getting some more language.  Jin watched this last from her field.

Friday, June 12, 2015

woo woo

There are, I believe, things in this world/Universe that are not "scientific" -- that science cannot explain.  Science is a useful tool, but like a hammer, has its limits.  I suppose this makes sense to horsemen who have a connection with their horses that can't really be explained, especially by science.

And so people make up religions to explain things.  I don't think that works so well either because then they get in fights about how literal seven days is or whether daylight savings time or gay marriage is "Biblical" or not.  I just think there are some things I can't explain from this dimension.  Like dreams and how they make sense when you are dreaming them but when you wake up suddenly they don't make a lick of sense -- because they were dealing in a different dimensionality.  Like the fact that so many "religious" things (writings, experiences, whatever) are similar across religions and cultures -- the things in common are the most likely to be "real" or "right" or probably a much better word would be "useful".

All that to introduce today's woo woo.  That I can't explain.  That I don't know what it means.  That I don't know where it will go.  But it is definitely some synchronicity and it has been a persistent and long term synchronicity too.

So to tell the whole thing:

I grew up with horses.  I thought that was going to be my whole life's thing by the time I was 18, but by the time I was 20, I had fallen into an abyss (or run full speed ahead into it) and for the next 20 years didn't have horses at all.  That was timed pretty perfectly to coincide with the rise of "natural horsemanship".  So I knew *nothing* about it.

Once I found horses again, it took me ten years to wiggle my way back to really being with them again.  And that was where I really started learning about "natural horsemanship" (I mean, you know anyone who knows something about horses knows about some of this stuff, like release the daggummed pressure, but still).  And that was the first place I heard the name "Buck Brannaman".  That was 2011.

As soon as I heard that name, I found the movie and watched it, and as soon as I watched it I thought, oh gee, what would it be like to get to see him work?  Probably only weeks after that Cielo said to me, "He's going to be near me in September.  Want to come down?"  So we did that.  That was 2012.

Of course I'd no more that seen him mount a horse when I just thought, oh wow, wouldn't it be just grand to get to actually ride with him?  And when his schedule came out for 2013 my husband said to call, and I called and I got in a clinic even tho at the moment of making that call I did not have the money to do it, I did not have a horse to do it with, I did not have a trailer to get a horse there in, and I did not have a truck to haul a horse trailer with.  But by September of that year we'd worked all that out and there I was, riding with Buck.  He said two things to me the entire four days:  "Your timing is a little late on that Denise," and "That's better."  It was so worth it.  That was 2013.

Also at least since auditing I'd been poking around and trying to make connections with other folks.  I'd say "like-minded" but I'm not sure that is right.  But I'm always interested in people's stories, and how they came to know stuff, and be interested in stuff.  And somehow in this search I'd found Kathleen.  I know NOTHING about her but what was on her website, but she'd started in hunter/jumpers, she'd had a *very* serious setback young (a stroke in her case), and she was still doing horses.  In the time I've followed her, she's gotten married, settled at a farm in Georgia, gone through a couple iterations of her business.  I can relate to all of it.  If I weren't neurotic about money, I'd have already had her to McPherson's for a clinic.  But I'm neurotic.  And right at this moment that isn't one I've got the time or energy to tackle because too many other really great things take up my time and energy.

At some point a fellow MM alum mentioned to me that she'd co-written a book with Mark Rashid.  Hmmm.  For whatever reasons, she doesn't mention that she worked with him for like a decade, but she is listed as a trusted trainer on his site.  But the library didn't have any of his books.

So then, last fall I'm getting some hay from my friend Johnnie and we of course spend an hour talking horses which is why my husband did not go with me to help me load the hay.  And she confessed, "You know, probably my very favorite trainer/writer is Mark Rashid."  Well, goosebumps.  I told her about my stalking of Kathleen, and we both got goosebumps.  That was 2014.

Now in the meantime, I work at a very Parelli barn.  And I'd gotten my level one and level two pretty quickly.  But Parelli seemed a lot like Spanish to me and I struggled some.  Finally, now, after nearly four years, I'm beginning to find some fluency.  And some real usefulness.  My daughter helped me at Buck and started riding after that and this year she, not I, rode in the Carol Coppinger clinic that McPherson's sponsors every year.  And she got her level one and level two.  I missed riding, and I'm determined that yes I can get my level three, etc., but one of the things that Johnnie and I did was take the opportunity to exchange books with each other.  I took her Buck's ground work book, plus a video or two.  She brought me one she had from Mark Rashid.  This is 2015.

Today the clinic has been over maybe 10 days, and I finally got around to posting the photos from the clinic although not to organizing my notes yet.  But it took me until today to pick up the book she'd brought for me and finally really look at it.

And I opened it up and.

The first thing I see is.

Skyhorse Publishing.

Goosebumps.  Because, if you don't know, that's my real chosen last name.

I can't explain.  I don't know what it means.  I don't know where it will go.  But it is definitely some synchronicity and it has been a persistent and long term synchronicity too.  All I am doing is paying attention.  Acknowledging.  Continuing to encourage the good and the happy and the meaningful and the useful and the just plain full and shed otherwise.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

the thinking today

I was thinking today, as I was riding Whiskers who is a horse who is "broke" to ride but he isn't "broke" to much ground work beyond being polite and to nothing like flexions although he is pretty responsive to leg:  I was thinking today as I was asking him to trot and asking him to not stick his nose out and asking him to bend just a touch; I was thinking today as I was asking him that stuff after asking him to track up walking a circle, then to drift his HQ, then to step under with his HQ:  I was thinking as I asked him to feel back for me even as I made my communication more effective:  I was thinking how very different it is to attempt to teach a horse to move correctly than it is to hold a horse in form with hands and legs.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

no skin off my nose

One of the horses I care for is an old stud.  Like nearing 30.  He is a great and a polite stallion, needs no stud chain.  Doesn't do anything but look pretty.

But he IS a stallion.  Which does mean testosterone.

So I was having a little issue with him taking him out of the gate at one lot to go to the turn-out.  Nothing too big, just him playing, but enough that you don't want just anyone handling that.  He would rush, pretend rear, dive for grass.  He'd try it sometimes other places but mostly just there, just then.

And then I opened the gate so that tall grass was on his side of it and encouraged him to eat some of it even before he came up to me to put his halter on.  I do NOT put his halter on but wait for him to say, ok, I'm ready to put my halter on now.  I've learned to do this no matter who I'm haltering, or when or why (pretty much -- I AM human and do sometimes have a time limit), but especially with him because he loves to make you come and get him.  I guess it is him moving your feet, essentially.  So I don't.  You want breakfast?  You want to go out?  You prefer to stand there?  Fine.  He very quickly gets over it.

So I open the gate so the tall grass gets to his side, wait for him to chomp chomp chomp then look to me for his halter, and then, waaalaaa, we walk calmly out the gate and to the other field with zero heroics.

How cool.

Monday, April 27, 2015

four horse gate

One of my favorite things, on the mornings when I am there by myself, is getting two horses at a time in from the four horse PM turnout field.  The second two are obviously no problem, but the first two have to be gotten out of the field without the other two getting out, opening and shutting the gate, everyone calm.  I love doing this with a sense of quality, softness, ease.  When Ray Hunt or Buck Brannaman say, "I don't train horses, I just ride them with quality," well, I know I'm not up to that.  I try.  I aspire.  I try some more.  But on this one thing, probably also because there is no one ever looking and no one to compare myself to, I have some quality.  Just me and the horses.

There are so many things.  Hey guys, I'm coming.  Do the two I need first know it.  If ONLY they know it, it is easier.  That almost never happens, but sometimes.  The big marmaduke cannot come first but has to be told daily that he doesn't own the gate, or anything else in this field either.  The big old one-eyed man owns the gate, gets his halter first.   Then the red gelding, who really doesn't appreciate the big marmaduke but mostly because marmaduke is the only horse he can push around any at all.

It doesn't matter if it is raining or freezing or anything else, get the halters, open the gate in, shut the gate, latch the gate.  Ideally they put their own halters on.  Wait until they do that.  Without anyone getting in any trouble.  Wait.  Back off any troublemakers, often with just a mare look.  Acknowledge I'm the leader here, push your own nose into your own halter, get your pet and smile from me.  There can never ever ever be any hurry, any rush.   Wait.  Back off any trouble makers, arrange leads.  Open the gate in.  First horse walks out, walks out far enough, I ask for hindquarter yield with lead timed up with the stepping under hind leg.  I go out.  Second horse comes out, ask for hq yield timed up with reaching under hind foot as soon as haunches clear the gate.  Shut and latch gate.  Turn pair however required to get on one eyed horse's eyed side.  Walk in.

Seems simple. I love it easy and quiet.  Sure, there are times when one must get effective, but I love easy and quiet.

Monday, April 13, 2015

if I had a question

Well, the next time I rode her out, by herself, she was broke again, and I don't mean that in the good horse way.  Actually what she was was balky.  Not too, and it didn't take too long to work through it, but it didn't take less than last time either.  I probably did more pressure release and less approach retreat because 1) I wasn't scared and 2) I wasn't patient.  In the end it was a good ride, a fun ride, and what I mean by that is that we went everywhere, did everything.  I did go into the arena to canter but we did do that and did it quite nicely and quite a bit with more than several and less than numerous transitions on each side.

Now, lots of things go into this for Jin.  Hormones #1.  If it were all the same to me, she'd either get pregnant or get regumate.  But it isn't all the same to me.  We've brought her in this week to be turned out with the horse who, it turns out, is the love of her life, another mare who I guess at least isn't mean to her.  Jin is in love with her. So our choices there aren't helping.  I just don't think they are hurting it either tho -- that it is an issue that is going to be there to deal with anyway.

On the good side, I've been ponying.  Which has been interesting and productive.  On the bad side, it is these two mares I've ponied so far.  But others are coming in the mix.  But it'll be next week before I can get to that.

One of the thoughts I've had is that working with her and her being a better horse has NOT made her easier to ride.  Which is interesting.

Also, the more confident she gets, the more "left brained" she gets --  "make me" & "what's in it for me".

And when she's unconfident, she accepts me as leader but as she gets more confident, well, maybe there's something missing from my leadership there?  I think of Blaze.  I think of Zip who I am actively working with now.  So far so good with him but I can already tell that at some point he is going to say to me, "Are you my leader or am I yours?"

Now, the absolutely "I control your feet" thing has been VERY important.  As Buck puts it, they need to understand (and deeply understand) three things: 1) I can move your feet; 2) you cannot move my feet; 3) you can move your feet without being troubled.  I have (perhaps ironically) used this a good bit or standing still.  Obviously I need to use it more moving.

If I had a teacher right now I'd ask:  How do I do that leadership thing?  In the round pen?  On the lead rope?  Riding?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

fixed and broke

I've been trying to write this for a week and have had trouble.  So I thought I'd look at what's troubling me.  First, I tend to have trouble writing about horses anyway.  Maybe they mean too much to me for words.  Maybe it is that what I absolutely do NOT mean is training advice.  Maybe it is that I tend to write "this happened then that happened" and get lost in that instead of what I mean to actually be conveyed in the description.

After I fixed it, I knew how I broke it.  Although "fixed" and "broke" are the wrong words and if I could think of others I would surely use them.

For years I've ridden her outside, in the fields, in the open, with others and alone.  But sometime in early winter she had a estrus from h*ll, fell in love with another mare, and threw a fit on me one day.  A fit enough that she scared me.  I'm not that easy to scare, but when I'm in the fields alone and think about the possibility that I could come off and it could be awhile before someone could find me, and that I could really get hurt, and that I have no insurance, and that it could be the last time I ride, I can get scared at my age. At 20 it wouldn't have phased me.  At 54 (jebus no sh*t almost) it does and I'm not ashamed that it does, I just don't know what to do with it.  Anyway, that day, that ride, the "broke" ride, I was mostly just irritated by the whole thing, a bad day, a bad ride, but I didn't really think that much about it.  We went into the arena and finished our ride.  I continued to ride her but we didn't do a whole heck of a lot of riding this winter and I didn't have the opportunity to go outside again for awhile.

And then, the next time I took her into the fields she was all pissy.  Balky.  "No, I'm not going." We went, but we didn't go far and we didn't go pretty.

She is a horse who can be really incredibly soft, if a little slow.  And her feet are sticky.  And she has trouble cantering.  Not physically.  But even in the field, you don't see her canter much.  But I do love it when I go to get her in and when she hears me whistle and spots me, she comes to me.  Mostly at a walk.  Sometimes at a trot.  Once, after getting chased by Annie, at a canter but I thought I'd take that anyway.  Mostly at a walk.  In the recent Michael Sparling clinic we participated in, one of the things that hit me as truth was, "Look at how she relaxes and her expression softens when she trusts that you mean to really move forward."  Oh.  Don't reassure; MOVE.

And so the day came again with a perfect opportunity to ride in the fields.  Why those days always happen on open arena days beats me.  Well, part of it is my and my family's current schedule.  Sunday tends to work if the weather does, and Sunday is open arena.  So there are people and frankly I don't want to get in a fight with her with people watching.  People watching and maybe I'd give up too soon or fight for too long but I don't so much trust myself with people watching.  Strangers anyway.  So of course no one is there until I get her tacked up, then two trailers.  So I have to trust myself anyway.

So, to avoid that blow by blow stuff, a major balk happened very soon, I used some approach retreat, I used some pressure release, I used some MOVE (yes that is better).  And after we'd worked past that first balk, there was one more to which I said, "H*ll no" and to which she said, "I want to buck. . .oh no I don't either, I think I'll move and be rather happy about it", and then after that there were a couple of sticky feet moments which rather simple pressure release took care of, and that was pretty much it.  And we just took a nice walkabout in the sun, in all the fields, and took in where the grown-up fence rows have been taken out, and did a little bit of precision "put this foot there" sorts of work but always in the process of having a nice walkabout.

Today we did it again with zero balks, and nearly no sticky feet, and real work where ever we happened to be, circles and closed serpentines and hq yields and all gaits and transitions and soft feel and work on breaking at the poll and not at the third vertebrae and halt and stand and relax and walkabout all.

It is a funny thing, a thing I don't understand and don't always know what to do with it, but as her confidence increases (she was THE *MOST* unconfident horse in the world), it comes out first as pissiness.  I think I have to not be afraid to say a hard "Oh h*ll no" because, counter-intuitive to me, that is not going to decrease her confidence in herself but actually increase it in me.

We'll see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

what you have, where you have it

I watched that video and grinned, laughing inside, because at that very moment we had a horse at the barn I work at who was being led in and out of turn-out with a chain over or under his nose.  "First, take the stud chain off."  But I still wasn't brave enough to do it.  I was amazed that this horse could be working for about anyone at 1st level, schooling higher, beginning flying changes, and yet had not been taught to pick up his feet, stand for the farrier, or lead.  You could canter this horse around and yet you could not stop at the end of the barn and catch up on business with someone while you were leading him out.  His legs were important and expensive enough to be booted up but he was not capable of standing there while you took them off.

Honestly, it didn't take me long to teach him to stand there while I took those boots off.  About a week.  But leading him, with another horse, without a stud chain?  In truth it was the cowboy who was hired to put some miles on the horse who got tired of dealing with the chain and put a cotton lead on, and once it was there I left it.  And it was fine.

And what I was thinking in regards to this is that you start where you are.  And you start where the horse is.  You work where you are, with what you have.  I remember Buck talking about colts in the East, and how they don't get to be colts and horses in the way they do in the West.  And he has a point.  I don't live where a horse has a regular job.  I don't make a lot of money but I've got to make some and I've found I can't sell snake oil no matter how hard I try so I do what I do and feel lucky to be able to do that and little along, and part of what I'm doing now and will likely always be doing as long as I get to work with horses is dealing with boarders' horses with said boarders having very different ideas of horsemanship and horse behavior and needs than I do.  And working with other minimum wage workers, mostly boys, who are doing a job temporarily until they find something better, who's idea is to get to the end of the tasks and not to take care of the horses.

And none of that matters.  I do what I do.  I learn.  I do better.  I am where I am.  I hallucinate that someday my horse(s) will be so extraordinary that people will say, how did you do that?  But usually they just say, will you teach my horse to pick up his feet?  And I'll tell ya, I'm grateful for the opportunity.  Because I learn.  And the horse learns.  And I get to do stuff.  And I get to care, and take care, and sometimes even to be taken care of.

Friday, March 6, 2015

feel the feeling of pleased

The power of pressure and release, and particularly of well timed release, never fails to amaze me.  I know a lot of times my timing is not perfect and thus my results are less than they could be and my horse is less sure and happy than he could be too but other times it works out pretty good.  Sometimes I get a whiff of that feeling I used to have of knowing exactly what to do. 

I feel pretty good that the horses I work with tend to come for me when I go for them.  Yeah yeah yeah it helps that it is winter and the grass is not green and succulent and their bellies would especially welcome a bit of grain and I could make caveats for myself forever but the fact is that if I go to Jin's field and whistle and she sees me, she'll walk to me from just about anywhere.  And I play with CC and Blaze and Lily in their field about every morning when I check water and so they'll pretty well always come too.  Not always down from the top, but often.  And even Zip and Whiskers, both newer rides for me, are curious, receptive; Whiskers more skeptical but then, he's been ridden more before me too.  Sometimes it takes them awhile to get over that feeling that there is nothing in it for them.

And then there is Brat.  She isn't my horse but my daughter rides her some, learns with her some.  Brat knows everything but Brat is a very shut down horse too.  And Brat will almost never come, even for her "mother". 

But the other day I went for her.  And I knew she wouldn't come and I was mostly just relieved when I walked out there that she wasn't at the top of the field.  I walked toward her with purpose and Blaze was like, "Me?  Me?" and I rhythm-ed "no" to him and said aloud, "I am not here for you Blaze.  My intention is for Brat," and I held the intention strongly and walked.  And she raised her head.  And I stopped and cocked a leg and though, "hmmmm."  And she put her head back down and I continued to walk toward her with purpose and the next thing she did surprised me so much:  She raised her head and took a step toward me in one motion. 

I stopped, cocked a leg, laughed, and got a treat out of my pocket.

Friday, February 13, 2015

perfect practice

There are things I learn a hundred thousand times, and things that never quite make sense.  Release is the first -- I've learned its importance over and over again, like I've always known it and yet continually learn it.  But perfect practice?  One I never feel perfect.  And two, perfect is the enemy of good.  I'm pretty sure there are more quotes about that too.

But I did experience something about perfect practice the other day.  I got Jin from the field, and now she is again out in the big front field with about ten other horses so it is a bigger deal to go get her.  Probably is for her too although she seems to be doing fairly well there.  And the first thing was that all the horses were waaaay in the front but as soon as I caught sight of her over the rise, I whistled and her head came up, and after a short pause to look around she started toward the gate between the field she was in and the one I was in.  She didn't trot but she sure came steadily.  It was heartwarming.  Since the rest of the horses had not come, we just led by liberty to the gate.

I put the halter on her and got her through the gate then turned her loose to get the gate and she very quickly said, "Grass.  Over here.  See ya."  Ok.  Message received.

I've worked with Jin a relatively long time.  She knows how to saddle, and how to saddle correctly, how to stand still.  She's always wanted to move a little forward, especially if I do it in the stall, but she knows, especially in the hallway.  I haven't tied her or gotten someone to hold her in forever.  But I also know that the last few times I've saddled, which have usually been with some kind of  hurry, she didn't stand so well.

So there we are, in the hallway, and I decide that yes, I'm going to insist you do this correctly.  If that is all I have time to do today, we will do that.  Just like with a colt I throw the pad a few times, correct a few times.  No big deal.  She stands with the lead just resting over my arm.  I pick up the saddle.  And make her step back.  She's very soft about it, not resistant, not scared.  I start with the saddle.  And make her step back.  In the end I probably threw the saddle (well, not throw) seven or eight times.  It was just a step.  But I did it until she didn't do it.

And what I thought about was all the times I hadn't insisted on that.  Because it was "just a step".  Because she was soft and not resistant and not scared.

We have a big fancy expensive dressage horse boarder and for all his training, he doesn't know how to lead.  Because no one ever taught him, or expected it of him.  And I thought then that I just wasn't expecting enough of Jin.

Sometimes I don't know what to expect, what to release for.  Sometimes I waller through stuff trying to get to something to release for.  But not that time.  And yet I had neglected that looking for other things.

As Kathleen said recently, " If you build your loop with a twist built in it, you're going to end up with a loop with a twist in it."  I don't know a thing about roping (at least not yet) but even I can understand that.

We had a lovely ride in the fields, after some groundwork and after I insisted that yes, she was too going on.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

change and stability

So, I changed this blog again.  This is its 3rd iteration.

I'm not sure what to say about that.  About doing the same thing, differently.  About the different paths one takes with the same goal.  About how you have to have a direction to get anywhere, and how you have to change too.  This is more like a dance and you do want to get better at the dance, not finish it, and always be aware of your partner in that dance too.  I want to have clearer communication, I want to have better timing, I want to be more effective.   And yes, I would like every horse I ride to be my feet in whatever manner they are capable of.

I've been reassessing.  This year my focus is on doing the work.  It isn't entirely up to me but I plan to focus on Jin, Whiskers and Zip at McQs, and on actually doing something with Increase here.  And also working on Clyde's ground manners because he has none.  He ties, he drives, he doesn't lead worth a crap.  I want him light leading, not running over my ass or pushing Ro around.  I have available some clinics with Michael Sparling using primarily Buck methods.  Ro has my Carol clinic spot this year (and I am very tickled with that), although I may think about doing some level 3 auditions if the family membership thing comes available especially.

Do the work.  Although this dang freezing weather ain't going to help either me or Ro this week.  But I have hay and a truck that works and I have morning pages every day and I may be old but that's ok because I'm still moving and I'll go get Jin for some ground work at least -- I want to rope those feet, follow a feel is the goal for this week and I'd like to do it with the three of them.

Inky, hon, you are a magical pooka horse and I thank you.  Let us move it forward again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

make love, not war

Don't worry any more about the specifics.  I mean, do, of course, worry about the specifics but not weight and seat and left little finger.  Stay in the middle of the horse even when you are not on him, focus on willingness and good posture in the horse no matter what you are doing, train yourself to do the same thing everything time you expect the same thing.

And FEEL it.  Dance it.  Love it.