Monday, January 25, 2010

Today, something was missing

Today I went out to the barn, determined to have my fourth day in a row working on myself and my horses. The weather was stunning, a preview of spring without the flies who still haven't quite made it back yet from the hard freezes. The sky was the blue you think of when you think of Texas, ridiculously clear, full of promise.

When I got there, Lily was waiting at the gate when I walked in. I get the sense she's enjoying getting out. Maybe she wants a break from Armador, maybe she just looks forward to the extra hay and cookies that come with a riding session. Either way, it's a change from her usual attitude and I'm glad for it.

I feel a connection with her growing, she's giving me less attitude as I become clearer in my requests.

But the most interesting thing was when I went to get Cibolo out of the herd.

Usually I'm chasing off the other three horses with a wave of hand and rope, wanting to get to my horse. I might say hello, but mostly I'm focused on getting in and out, making sure no one is pushing me around.

Today I felt different. I read a few posts on this thing called the "water hole ritual". I actually have no idea what it is because I'm not buying a DVD training set, but the gist I picked up was about herd dynamics. And a mutual respect. And speaking horse. A little new agey, maybe. I can't really say. But interesting.

So I decided to change my approach. Enter quietly. Stand.

After a moment, the herd leader of the little group of geldings came up to me. It's QH Amigo, who looks alot like Cibolo. I greeted him, and we had a brief conversation. I asked him, politely, to step back. He did, dropping his head to my hand slightly. We stood there in silence for a bit. I told him I was going to take Cibolo out for a ride and he'd be back pretty quickly. Right then Cibolo came over, and hung back a bit behind QH Amigo, while the other horses hung back further. The herd leader dropped his head even lower, and I stepped in and haltered Cibolo with no problem. In fact he dropped his head into the halter and kept it low for me to tie it (we've been working on this and nothing was really working). Then we walked out, the herd leader walking beside us quietly until I went through the gate.

I felt calm. Confident. Happy.

I saddled both horses up and began working with Lily. It's amazing the difference between our round pen session four days ago and today. Today was effortless. And when I got on her back and we rode, it was easy. I had no anxiety going into the canter. None. She started to get a little "rushy" and I worked the reins lightly and she stopped. And we loped and loped.

I then switched out with Cibolo. There was one very minor head toss in the round pen, and I turned him and we had a few quick turns while that was worked out. Then, I rode him and kissed him into a canter.

It was gone. The anxiousness was gone. I felt light and yet deep in the rythmn of the canter. My seat was back. I drove him forward, keeping him in the canter when he thought of dropping off. I found that one slight head check which I fixed with a clear, consistent no.

We loped and loped, going each way, then walked it off.

I laughed as we walked back into the middle of the circle.

And I wasn't afraid.


I don't think this is over. But I do think this was an important day and that I've gotten somewhere, I've got a foot hold.

Horse and Rider has a quote from a woman this month who talks about her journey with horses, how she kept getting all these horses and how they'd all start out great, and then they'd just become a wreck. And how she figured out, finally, that it was her. That she had given up the reins, literally. She worked with Clinton Anderson training and found her way back.

And how she fixed it with a horse she had let become a wreck.

I have seen that woman in my mirror, and I was determined not to be caught in the same loop.

The article is part of a series that has been all about ground work. I don't agree with the theory that if you have respect on the ground you have it in the saddle. I had it on the ground. But you have to keep the reins, too. You have to know what to do in saddle, know the signs of unraveling from on top, not just on the ground.

Today I know just a tiny bit more. And that feels like a whole lot.


Veronica said...

That's great, it truly is.

Susan said...

You are an inspiration to me. And I just love reading about all the discoveries women are making about life through their horses in different blogs.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

That's just awesome! I'm glad you've had a breakthrough and have an idea of what to do to make your communication become clearer between you and your horses. And I agree about the ground work, too.
I spent countless hours working on the ground with my mare, and we had respect and clear communication on the ground, but it meant very little once I was on her back.

Just like a horse must be trained on both sides of their body (Clinton Anderson says that if you have one horse, you actually have two, because everything you do on one side of your horse, you must repeat on the other), a horse must also relate to their rider in the saddle in a different way than on the ground.

Sounds like your on your way, my friend.


Leah Fry said...

Those seemingly small, quiet times are my absolute favorite things.

I read that woman's story in H&R, and vowed that I would do everything in my power to not make the same mistakes. I know my own ineptitude gets in my way.

And Lisa, I know EXACTLY what you're talking about, because that's what I get from Poco. He will walk thru fire with me on the ground, but he knows my limitations in the saddle. The big difference is that I never got the outright hostility that BD often gave you. I think that's the only reason I haven't given up on him.

Great inspirational post.

Kate said...

Very cool stuff - see, you did deserve that Intrepid Rider Award!

Gail said...

Wonderful! I lone for the time I feel the same way.

Trailrider said...

Yep...Yep...Yep...Couldn't agree more.

I sometimes try this when I'm going to catch a horse out of the herd: try to catch the one that doesn't want to be caught FIRST, or at LEAST engage that horse (usually the herd leader), even if you're not going to halter that horse. Once you've run that horse or caused him to recognize you as herd leader, the others usually fall right in line.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Great post. It sounds like you've really come far and and are now much more confident and enjoying yourself. I'm really happy for you.

Wolfie said...

Fantastic. Good for you. I got goosebumps reading your post.

jacksonsgrrl said...

Yup, Yup, Yup. I was hoping you'd straighten it out and not decide to sell him. And you are. Horses give us extreme highs and some mighty lows, but I wouldn't change it, I think you would agree! I've been invited to ride in a Walter Zettl clinic in April. He is a master dressage Olympian/trainer/MASTER who is currently touring with Parelli. I want to do it, but I will be the worst one there....What do you think? I mean, I WILL really be the worst one there. At the last clinic the rider's were all way above me in experience in the area of dressage, and I haven't had my lessons in 2 months due to WEATHER... But to say I was in a Walter clinic.... OH MY. Earth will spin on it's axis and the ground will shift. It would be no small accomplishment! Grin. Scary...

Tammy in TX said...

Wonderful! And I agree, just because there is respect on the ground, doesn't mean there is respect in the saddle. To me, that is a hole nother issue. My mare and I are a team on the ground, in the saddle and in the shafts. My cattle sorting instructor is very impressed at the responsiveness Summer gives me. And you are on your way there. It is a wonderful and insightful journey.

P.S. I am so digging your blog! Keep up the good work!

Breathe said...

Thanks! I swear I feel like I have the best people in the world helping me on this journey. When I get discouraged, ya'll help me keep the faith while acknowledging the challenge.

You're the best.

Now, all I need is to build skill. Intrepid Rider indeed!

Mrs Mom said...

EXCELLENT!!!! Lope for me too next time! ;) (I'm willing but our footing is bad bad bad right now...)

Keep it up girl. You're on the path and getting there!

allhorsestuff said...

Great stuff intrepid sister!
You happen to be the first person to acknowledge what I have thought all least with my mare.
I HAVE respect on the ground...I have an awesome relationship with my the saddle is another has less to do with me than it does with my mare. She has issues bug time fear ,pain and some hatred towards work...mostly in the arena.
I will keep at it..and so will you. Through patience and expertise and timing...we shall reach our equine loves and learn some true depth to ourselves!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sounds like an awesome experience. Once the weather clears up and I can start round penning Gabbrielle, I plan to just sit quietly in the saddle and ask her with my mind to walk forward. I suspect it will work. The last time I "rode" her, she would only walk backwards with all my crop-tapping, kicking, and "forward" commands. I suspect if I take a quiet approach and remove all the extraneous cues, she might just understand and we can then move forward in her training.

Shirley said...

I believe that respect on the ground is easier to accomplish than respect under saddle. Why- because we are more confident on the ground,and the horse knows it. Being on their backs is a whole 'nother world, and one where any self doubt becomes magnified by the fear of being hurt. Any negative thoughts you have, the horse will pick up on. They can feel a fly land on their skin, so they darn sure can feel you tense up; which increases their fear, and lack of trust of you as a leader.
But as you found out, when you're "in the zone" communicating without fear, loving your horse, it's pure magic. Remember the feeling you had flying across the land at full tilt on that lovely black mare? I'd bet there wasn't a doubt in your mind.....

Breathe said...

Thanks everybody! Every one of these comments makes me just that much braver and confident. It takes a village to get a woman to canter.

or something like that. LOL

I'm glad to hear all this reinforcement about the ground vs. saddle thing. I have been sick of being told that if "only you knew how to round pen". Or "if only you had his respect on the ground."