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.