Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ear Pinning and riding a plan

Thursday night I caught up on some Julie Goodnight episodes and, as usual, found a few things I could bring to my horse work.

I also watched a rather disturbing episode - did anyone catch the one with the paint that would take off on it's owner? What was distrubing was not the action of the horse taking off but the attitude after the fix.

The formula with Julie Goodnight, for those of you who somehow fill your television hours with something other than horses, is this:

1. Person and Horse presented, problem described.
2. Problem demonstrated with Julie commenting.
3. Julie steps in either with guidance or by doing some hands on schooling with horse, then rider. Generally this involves a bit change (Myler bits is the sponsor, but you do see many horses fussing with the bit).
4. Person practices with horse with Julie's tutelage.
5. Person sent off to practice on their own for a day.
6. Person comes back with problem largely resolved.

In the episode the paint had learned to pull the lunge line away from the owner and take off. Julie showed how to keep the horse's nose into the center to not allow the horse to get any weight in the direction of leaving. While Julie corrected the horse it was alert, ears up and responding. When the owner did this under Julie's lead, it did the same.

But for the first time when the horse came back the second day I didn't like what I saw at all. I swear it looked like the horse was pinning its ears toward the owner. It definitely wasn't running off, but I looked at that paint's head and thought - that horse is going to lunge AT that woman.

But maybe I was reading it wrong. I was just glad it wasn't my horse. I was struck that Julie didn't comment on it, so maybe they weren't really pinned.

(but it darn well looked like it).

Anyway, in another episode Julie talked about the importance of having a plan. Mark talks about the same thing - you have to have a direction, speed, and destination in mind when you're working with a horse.

I had very little time this morning, so I decided I'd work with Lily only, and on three specific things - figure 8, arena cantering, and giving me her hind feet, something we are getting unstuck. Given that I was rushed, I had to stop myself from going into monkey brain (thinking a million things at once) and clear my mind of the clock anxiety. I set an alarm on my phone (on a song, no barking dogs this time) so I wouldn't keep checking the time and set to work.

Since I've ridden Lily in just the halter and just in the round pen and simple trails, it's been enough. But in the arena the steering needed more precision. But I wasn't going to bit her up - I didn't have the time to make sure it went well. Instead I decided to ride more with my legs. Lily is pretty responsive to leg cues, but I'm not as consistent as I need to be. Today I'd practice doing better.

At first I wasn't sure it would work. Moving into the arena brings out a little of what Julie called "barrel attitude" in Lily. She's raced barrels and she definitely gets a little hot in an arena setting, even one as low key as ours. But we know what to expect from one another. I can feel her trust in me growing. She seems to understand that I'm not going to ask her anything she can't do, although I think some of my cue - in particular the one for side passing - must be different from her previous life. Or she never really learned it well.

It's on our list.

More tomorrow, it got late on me. Hope you've ridden all over tar-nation this week.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Off Topic - Crib Notes - Movie Night in Peril!

This is next in our Netflix rotation. A true sign of desperate times.

Friday movie night is in big trouble.

With an eight year old, a twelve year old, and a pair of late 40 somethings, it’s getting pretty challenging to find a movie we can all endure… er, enjoy.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, we are somewhere between Stuart Little and the Lovely Bones. It’s vast movie wasteland, populated by Home Alone and a few classics, like the Sound of Music. And after a while, the hills are not so alive with the sound of music.

It’s not just the age difference either. It’s tough to find a movie with some action for Dad, nothing too scary for third grader Mireya, some innocent romance for tweenager Sierra, and some caliber of production quality for me. As in dialogue that has multi-syllable words.

We are the ultimate tough room.

Movie night is a tradition we started some years ago and our resident traditionalist, Mireya, insists it take place so matter what the circumstances. There were many times we had “Rerun Movie night” since not every week delivers something worth watching.

Now that we are in the Bermuda triangle of family movie watching, I’m considering a replacement for movie night. Among the options are:

Family Game Night – We have tried this before, but due to wildly different interpretations of the concept of “rules” I hesitate to try again. Marriage is fragile enough without having to google the rules for collecting $200 in bookopoly. And here too the age and interest differences don’t help. There is no middle ground between Pretty Pretty Princess and Black Jack.

Craft Night - Once a craft queen, I considered reviving our crafty ways. But given that I have a house filled with flower pens, dioramas, and dried out clay sculptures of... something, I don’t think I can find the shelving for the results. Of course, if we focused our efforts on paper mache we might open up a miniature pinata shop this summer.

Cooking Night - We’ve entered a stage with Mireya that I recognize from years with her older sister - she is unwilling to eat anything outside three favorite items. But there’s no such thing as a skinny chef! Maybe we could explore new worlds of food! We could watch the food network and cook just one thing that wasn’t chicken!

Fortunately the days are getting longer, the weather nice and warm, the canker worms have left the trees to become moths. Maybe we can just sit outside on Fridays and roast hot dogs (those are one of the three favorite foods), sing songs, and count stars.

Maybe the ultimate solution to a tough room is getting out of it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sharing Horse Time and the Horse Boy

Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet some women who are working with the Horse Boy Foundation. The Foundation is based close to here and I once spoke with them on the phone about helping out.

A friend who knows the people working with the foundation thought I could be helpful in some way. I have an extensive background working with not profits - serving on boards, connecting people with corporate partners, helping them get through a strategic planning process.

But when I called, it was clear I couldn't help much. They were headed in a direction that I couldn't be much help with - primarily raising money through events.

I'm not too keen on raising money that way, costs are high, return is limited. While every not for profit should have some events on its fund raising calendar, it's neither my bailiwick nor the core of most programs.

But not for profits built on celebrity often function so differently that I have difficulty knowing where my skills and experience can be of much help. There are very successful models - Lance Armstrong comes to mind - and others that flash and die. I hope this isn't the latter.

What was fascinating about the group I met was that they are all dressage riders (with one exception). In other words, they can RIDE. To be able to use the method they suggest, one has to be able to ride a collected canter while holding a child in front of you.

So I watched the movie (it's on Hulu now). It was a good reminder of how horses heal. I have some experience with the shamanic path, given the work my father does in this area. In my mind the combination is critical, but finding a reindeer riding shaman is perhaps beyond what can be done in Elgin, Texas.

They invited me to train to be a therapist, but I'm not nearly the rider I'd need to be, nor do I have the time. facilities, or the horse to truly give what is needed to provide therapy services. I think there's a way for me to help, and perhaps the how will become clear to me.


My friend from work came out to ride today. I don't usually invite people out to ride, but if they ask, I follow through. I remember how desperate I was to ride, but how out of my life horses were. Still, I'm careful. Generally you can pick out the folks who just want to canter your horses to pieces, then go have a beer while you unsaddle them. My BIL is this kind of guy. M just loves animals and wants to be with horses.

We had a lovely ride, I rode both Smokey and Lily in turn while she was on Cody. Lily is still too demanding for a beginner. In fact, I jumped on Smokey without any round penning and just rode his willies out, but Lily was too full of herself for that. After 3 minutes in the round pen she was ready.

It's taking less and less time. But it still takes time. Horses like Lily don't do short cuts.

We talked, M and I, about life challenges she is facing. I remembered how difficult life has been for us and the rocky road we continue to navigate, and shared with her so she'd know that she's not alone. Yet I am more and more in a place of treasuring what I have. Of finding joy in very small things.

  • Spraying water on my horse's jaw, gently so she closes her eyes.
  • Putting fly repellent around the old horse's eyes and hearing him sigh as if he knows what it's for.
  • Rubbing the side of my horse's muzzle under his fly mask and feeling him drop into my hands, relaxed.

I come home and the treasures are scattered all around me, and embarrassment of riches - laughing children, a dog with a new trick, a sauntering cat, DH piling up the kids for a few hours of pool time.

I'm glad to be still here, struggling as we are, finally having the good sense to see the treasure and not just the hole.

Welcome to the day after the cancellation of rapture. May they all be this lovely.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lily update, lovely canter

I've been working with Lily regularly, bringing her back to a place of confidence. Today started out with Lily giving me a little bit of a stink eye. Not a lot, just enough that I opted to adjust my energy slightly. There's a sternness line I have to find with Lily in moments like that. She needs a level of seriousness, no nonsense energy. Proof that I'm serious.

It takes just a moment. And it's crazy subtle. I often over deliver and have to dial back.

I saddled both horses and headed to the round pen. Lily did well, although I admit I'm not trying to bit her at all. I rode her and the nerves shed been showing during the start of our last session were gone. Riding her without a bit is amazing. She's so sensitive to my legs and a tiny touch on the reins. In a moment we were cantering with just a kiss, collected and sweet around the round pen. Then off for a trail ride on our own. There a slight bit of her nerves were back. But not bad. Not bad at all.

Then Smokey and I set to work and had one of our best sessions yet. Last night I'd been thinking that maybe I should (if I had the money, which I don't) send him to a trainer for finishing. Riding Lily reminds me of how wonderful it is to have a horse that's so responsive.

Then Smokey was absolutely like butter today. Easy canter. Almost perfect circles. Great on the trail. Cantered up hill.

If it is the end of the world, then I can feel good about my last day before the big R. If tomorrow comes, then I'm on a good road.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Only Way to Learn

The second in an occasional series of ramblings about the unexpected things I learned from horses.

From the upcoming movie BUCK (about Buck Buchanan)

"All your horses are a mirror to your soul; and sometimes, you might not like what you see in the mirror. You can't hold it against him for how his life has been. Maybe there are some things for you to learn about you; and, maybe the horse is going to be the only damn way you're gonna learn it."

It's frightening how true this is for me in my journey with horses. I remember a moment, a dark one on my horse journey, where I wondered if I would be like a blogger I'd read. A woman blogger (who is no longer blogging, and hasn't for a few years) had clearly decided not to ride any more. She never said it, but her posts went from confronting her fears to brushing and grooming - and never, ever riding.

I saw myself there, not sure if I was going to make it across the chasm where fear silently grabbed at my throat. I could see the other side of the chasm, but there was no bridge to get there. I could see the other side, a place where people were riding with a certain level of confidence, not of ignorance (I'm young and immortal!) not years of experience (Off to Rolex!), but who somehow made it. They had once been on this side where I stood and yet managed to leap across.

It was terribly wide and the bottom so distant, I couldn't bear to think of the fall. Again and again I rode up to the chasm, on two different horses. Again and again I backed away, burying my face in my hands. I simply could not jump.

The horses I was with told me this. That until I could jump, leap into the air, I simply could not provide what they needed.

I had to face something I never wanted to speak out loud. Leadership isn't getting a horse to do inside turns in a round pen. It isn't having them stop behind you when you stop walking. It isn't having them lift their hooves as requested.

Those are actions. They can grow out of leadership, be learned through leadership, but they can also be tricks.

Leadership is locked inside us. It's not an action. It's not a stance. It's not rote behavior. It's some strange combination of energy, attitude, and soul that is only unmistakable when you finally feel it.

But no one really wants to tell you that it's not all these physical things, these things you can fake, especially when you are on the fear side of the chasm. Because then you'll know how impossibly big the leap is. Because it has to be REAL.

And on that cliff you know exactly how far from REAL you are. The danger is that you'll realize this, shudder, unhook your lead rope and walk away. Forever.

For so many reasons, we want everyone to jump, to land safely on the other side.

Getting through my fear, leaping my chasm and becoming this person, what I think of as a more fully realized version of myself, has been one of the most important things I've accomplished in my life. Everything else spills out from this, and I face every challenge before me slightly differently because of this place I am with my horses.

But you know what's funny? I don't even know why I jumped. Why I didn't just groom and brush my lovely horses, and be satisfied with that.

But I do know I am on the other side.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Off Topic - Crib Notes - Schools of Parenting

News flash: I'll be putting together a collection of crib notes as an e-book and am looking for a review or two. If you're up to it, drop me a line. In the meantime, here's what's going on in our end of things...

Schools of Parenting

We walk a fine line in parenting between two schools of thought. One is the if-you-leave-them-alone-they-will-work-it-out. The other is the sometimes-you-have-to-kick-them-in-the-you-know-what.

To the outside observer I’m sure it looks like we’re vacillating wildly from one school to the other. To those of us on the inside, it feels the same way, only with whiplash.

For example, let’s take the chore of loading and emptying the dishwasher. At first I was fairly certain that unloading the dishwasher was a task that could happen with little to no supervision. After all our children have lived here for their entire lives. Surely they have noticed where the bowls, spatula, and various eating utensils are stored.

Little did I know that everything that takes place in the kitchen is actually completely invisible. Apparently food merely floats out of the cabinets and lands on the table, completely prepared, distributed by fairies who have nothing better to do than spend three hours looking for the measuring cup!

But I digress.

After a few weeks of utensil chaos, I realized it was time to get the other school of thought in gear and we had kitchen boot camp. By the end of it, every plastic storage container had a lid. We had spoons again. All the cartoon glasses were back on their shelf.

The problem with the kick-in-the-you-know-what school is that while it delivers results, it is exhausting to maintain. It’s the kind of school of thought that does not tolerate any slacking off. Nor does it handle a healthy sense of humor well.

Which is why I have no hope of ever maintaining the necessary discipline around here. Pretty soon the kitchen fairies are back to rescuing the measuring spoons from the regular spoons, and the bowls are a leaning tower of mismatched soup, popcorn, and salad bowls.

Then again, the let-them-figure-it-out school has produced all the best memories in our house.

Like the time I let Sierra figure out how to use her new paint set and came back to find her with a completely blue arm.

And the time I suggested Mireya amuse herself and when I came back she’d set up an elaborate western scene, complete with horses, cows, Indians on boxes (clearly planning an ambush), and unsuspecting cowboys in round up position. This authentic western scene came from the princess in her Disney heels.

So I guess we’ll keep both schools up and running. That way I can both find the steak knives and, periodically, bits of wonder.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lily is Home

Lily made it through four days of camp and wrote desperate letters home filled with the usual camp stories:

Day one:
"I can't believe you sent me here! It's scary! I want to go home! They made me run and run and run until I was a sweaty mess! Don't you love me?"

Day two:
"OMG, this mare over here is a total witch (I'm being polite, but you KNOW what I REALLY mean). She has chased me all over. Like I want anything to do with her gnarly herd anyway. I think you should come and get me. I'll be by the back paddock with my halter on. "

Day three:
"It is so boooring here. Do you know what I had to do today? STAND. In one place. Thought I was going to go crazy. Plus the other mare STILL hates me. I don't know what kind of "training" you think I'm getting, but let me tell you, it ain't happening."

Day four:
"If he wanted me to bend my neck, all he had to do was get a cookie. Seriously. Did you not leave any instructions? More running in circles. I didn't have to run quite so fast. And we did a little riding around. Mom, I promise, if I come home I'll be real, real good. Just break me out of this joint!"

So, I went and picked her up. (for the rest of the story, see trail rider's blog).

She hopped in the trailer and calmly stood there for me to close the door. I swear she exhaled in the trailer and gave a huge sigh.

When she arrived back at our barn, she was greeted with a chorus of whinneys.

The next day I made sure to follow up on the start that TR had worked through. Remarkably her round pen skills were much better - she was moving off a gesture from me, no racing around at all, complete control of all gates. Of course she and I know our signals very well, she knows what to expect. There's no whoa from the ground, but that's typical of this stage of her refresher course. I'll get the whoa in another week. We rode around and she was as smooth as glass and I kissed her up to a nice, calm canter in the round pen. She stopped on a dime. Lovely, Lily. Lovely.

I worked Smokey and it was so funny. All of a sudden all the power steering I had with Lily in the halter was gone with Smokey. She's so much more finished, he still needs that smoothing out. Then Smokey and I ponied Lily around the drive way for practice. I wanted her to get out and about a bit and wanted to see how it would go.

You know, you really need a horse that can neck rein before you go around ponying. Just saying.

Fortunately all wrecks were avoided, even when a huge beetle flew down the front of my shirt and had us all in a tangle while I tried not to scream.

Then Lily got a nice long bath and was giving me that feel. That coming back to herself feel.

Welcome home Lily. You'll be back in riding shape in two weeks. Then we'll get busy. :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lily Goes to TR Camp

Lily, sweet mare.

Over the last year, Lily has been ridden less and less. Initially it was soundness issues. Then it was her mouth. Then it was soundness issues. Then she became less predictable. Jumpy. Insecure.

Our steady eddie horse has become a mess.

Another factor is her paddock. She's a leader over Smokey and Pepe the donkey. Thing is that Lily is never the leader. She's low man in every herd she's been in since I've known her. I don't think there's anything that will make you more nervous than to be thrust into a position of authority when you don't really have it in you.

This post by Mugwump sums up the issue with Lily completely (it's a terrific post - get over there and read it!). I stopped expecting anything from her, basically abandoned her as I focused on Smokey.

It was reasonable in some ways. She wasn't sound. I wanted her in a safe herd. She needed to recover. I should have spent more time with her doing other things, but she was pretty grouchy and not so thrilled to be messed with.

Early riding days. Love her socks. Knee highs. :)

Pain does that.

But now she's better. The MSM is working, the Adequan is working. No more lameness. Her coat is shiny again, a sign of better health. Unfortunately time off and MSM did nothing for her sense of security. At first it was just jumpiness. Then it was the unwillingness to take the bit, gritting her teeth.

Frankly she's around a corner and it feels like very, very far away from who I know she is.

On Saturday I rode her out, determined to start her back to work. To get her back on the right road. She was jumpy as a kitten. Her eyes were wide. She looked green.

We are going to take it slow, mare. It'll be fine.

She would have scoffed if she could have inhaled.

I thought of her like a person who has been out of work for a long period of time who comes in to do a relatively simple job. They are nervous - they need this job, but at the same time they are so worried about making a mistake.

"Is that the copier? I've never seen one like that. Do they use a code? I can't remember. Who is that in that room and what's with the stink eye? This is my desk? Should I ask where the supplies are? What does this acronym mean? How can I spell check if I don't even know what they're talking about?"

They wander around in a dazed state, looking for familiar things, hoping someone, anyone, will help.

Lily - previously spookfree

So I kept it simple. A simple circle from the barn and back. Maybe 20 yards. I felt like she was literally trembling underneath me. I oozed calm. I wanted to be a salve on her nerves. At ten feet she tried to turn. I turned her back. She stopped. I ever so gently urged her forward. She was reacting to everything in a huge way. I focused on being still. Firm. Confident.

We made our first circle.

We duplicated it exactly. After the third time we went an extra 5 yards, slowly spiraling out. I expected her to hold her head in the right place and to go where I directed at a walk. At the end of each circle she calmed down. Her breathing slowed. Her eyes softened.

We came back to the barn when she was in as quiet a space as I'd seen her in a long time. When we tied up in the barn aisle she was different and I saw a glimpse of the old Lily.


Unfortunately I don't have the time it takes to bring her back all the way. Full time job with significant amounts of drama going on these days plus kids, plus hubby, plus, plus, plus. Smokey takes up all of the little time I do have.

Fortunately I have a good friend. Lily's off to camp with TR who is looking for a new training challenge. He's always liked Lily's speed and ultra smooth trot. I hope he can restore her to her former confidence.

After that, I don't know. Lily has intimidated Sierra with her speed. Sierra has latched onto Cody instead and rides so little it's hardly worth having another horse. Maybe I need to consider finding her a home with a western pleasure/ gymkana rider. Maybe I have to keep her ridden so I have a horse for friends when they want to ride. Maybe I can realize other dreams in time and Lily can work into those...

Right now I'm just grateful TR will be helping her come back around. The right situation will present itself, and I'll know better what the right thing to do is.

The right thing for Lily.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Does this saddle make my butt look big?

I was talking to my friend, who is not horsey, about my saddle.

You know someone is a real friend when you can bore them with the details of your saddle and they will actually feign interest! Her hilarious blog is over here, by the way...

I was saying that my new saddle, which is a 15 instead of a 15.5 like my old one, fits now, but I'm currently in my skinny/fit stage. I gain one pound and its all over. The first place every excess ounce heads is my... hindquarters.

She was fascinated that saddles were sized to butts this way, and I proceeded to ramble on about how you can try to size your saddle based on height and weight, that there are charts you can use. I prefer the jeans size method since I figure that's a more accurate measure of my ...hind quarters. 'Cept for wranglers. I can't fit in any size wrangler, since have no waist.

But the problem with my hindquarters is that they are somewhat unstable, if you know what I mean. So I need the yoga pant equivalent in saddles -- elastic cantle and Cheyenne roll, some thing that can stretch to accommodate the occasional chips and salsa binge.

Maybe a woman really needs to have a fat saddle for that one week a month. Or that two month period where all food triples in calorie size. (mmm. egg nog...)

The new saddle (which currently fits my on the lite side butt and is perfect on Smokey's back) is a challenge in another way. I'm sitting in a completely different way. Many endurance saddles have this kind of seat, sort of flat on the horse. I always had barrel saddles which put you nice and deep. I'm getting the hang of it at the walk and trot.

The canter, notsomuch.

My big horn barrel saddle that I will never get rid of.
Fits Lily fine and most QHs... I don't use this saddle pad
with it. Must have been the only one handy...

My Tennessean that fit Cibolo perfectly
and may have fit Smokey. Sold during Rashid Clinic.
Cuz I'm smart that way.

So how about it, endurance riders? What's up with the flat seat anyway? Why is it better on long rides? There must be a reason - endurance riders are the least worried about show and all about go...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Peace and horses

There is something peaceful
about being with my horse.

It would be a whole lot more peaceful if you
were less obsessed with bathing me.

Really, Smokey, I think
is a little strong.

It's totally accurate.
Besides, sweat is good.
Sweat creates armor.

Armor? Sweat armor?

Besides, babies get washed all the time.
I'm growed up. I don't need baths.

Look, hon, the manure cologne is just not doing it for me.
Besides, you just turned gold again. I want to see it

I like my dark phase.
Adds to the mystery.

If only it didn't add to the flies.

Hmm. Well, there is that.

Lucky for you I have to work this week.
I won't be within a mile of the hose.

Woo hoo!

Can I get back to my point now?

Absolutely. By all means.


A sense of peace washes over me when...

Again with the washing!

It's. a. metaphor.

It's. a. noy. ying.

G'night, you goof ball.

Don't forget to toss me some alfalfa.
Clean horses get alfalfa, I was told.