Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wanted: Emotional Support

“The best thing that I try to do for myself is to try to listen to the horse, I don’t mean let him take over. I listen to how he’s operating, what he’s understanding or what he doesn’t understand, what’s bothering him and what isn’t bothering him. I try to feel what the horse is feeling and operate from where the horse is.”

 Tom Dorrance From Tom's book titled 'True Unity' 

Yesterday, I had a lesson planned that would require me to:  One, Load Leah in a trailer, which has been causing her stress, and Two, ask her to do some tough mental and physical work.

The question for me was, how do I get to my lesson and still respect the goal of creating a deeper partnership.  

I decided the only way I could attempt to combine both was to go out and be with her much earlier than the lesson, take more time together, get to the lesson an hour early and groom her longer, walk her around the facility, praise her more during the lesson, and spend more time with her unwinding after the lesson.

In other words--give her not only physical support, but EMOTIONAL SUPPORT, as well.

Since we spent more time together, there were more moments of connection.  She had more opportunities to give me try and to get lots of praise in return.  I had more time to tune into her, too.  We started at 9:00 am and I returned her to the herd at 1:30.  That was 4.5 hours of Leah and Me Time.

Did it work?


At 1:30 I returned Leah to the herd and picked up Cowboy.  Cowboy is a horse who LOVES to go out on trail rides.  He jumps into the trailer, scoots himself over, and says, Get this show on the road!  He's proud of that because he's a horse who wants to please me...when it's convenient, and not too scary, for him.

He's my soul horse, my heart horse, my out-of-this-world-with-love horse.  But how could I be a better partner to him on the trails?

We had the MOST lovely trail ride together.  We walked, we trotted, we meandered, we rested, we even saw 2 moose.  As usual, he did not want to go back to the trailer.  He pulled me away from it.  So, my friend and I decided to try the trail challenge course at the park.  Cowboy does about half of the challenges happily, and the other half stress him out.  He was starting to sour on me...on himself even.  The other horse was doing all the challenges perfect--which made Cowboy that much more unhappy.

Partner...partner...partner.  Hmmmm....


Cowboy loves to open gates--real gates.  Let's go open and close some gates!  Off we went together, opening and closing gates, side passing, scooting by inches, winding, turning.  He was such a great gate opener!  I praised him and praised and praised him and praised him.

He was happy again.


When I returned Cowboy to the herd, guess who walked across the turnout to see me?  Leah!

So, it did work.  She had grown some feelings for me throughout the day.  We're heading toward partnership!


At the end of each day, when it's pitch dark out and I go to let Red out of his stall from his supplement feeding, I've been wandering around the herd and petting each one...talking to them.  They love it.  I love it.  Bonding with our horses in the dark is HIGHLY underrated.  It's my goal to add it to the end of every ONE of my days.  What a great gift to look up at the skies from the side of your horse and witness the vastness of the universe--the many of your fingertips, too.  And the horses, at compete rest--so at ease in the darkness--accepting you into their quiet.

That is emotional support, too.  The kind we give our spouses at the end of the day when we curl up beside them in bed.  It's the being there and resting in one another's arms, and saying, life is good...when we're together.  We have each other's backs.  We're a team.  


Did you know porcupines climb trees? 

Monday, February 8, 2016

To Create A More Perfect Union

“It is a matter of timing and patience…although it may seem nothing is happening on the surface, there may be profound changes occurring a little deeper.”  Buck Brannaman

After last week, I was confused.  What was I looking for?  Why wasn't I getting it?  I asked the question, can I be connected to three horses?  Am I spreading myself so thin, I'm not able to provide quality training to any? (And, I thank you for all of your answers to that.)

It sent me back to square one.  What do I mean by connection?  Do I love these three horses?  Did each one speak to me in some special way?  Is that why each is here?

Yes.  I wasn't there to adopt a horse that day, but I saw Beautiful Girl in that pen and my heart wrapped right around her and has never let go.  I saw a picture of Leah on Craigs List 7 years ago, and she made my heart leap.  When I went to see her, she was the absolute SWEETEST horse EVER.  She tried to listen to what I wanted as I worked with her.  She tried to do what I wanted.  She listened.  She tried. I was sold.  And, Cowboy...we all know that story.

So, if I do have that heart connection to each of the three, what is it that is missing in the training?

I answered that question today.  Partnership.

(I've started writing down my training goals.  I think part of my issue last week was lack of focus.)

Did she walk away from you when you went to get her today? That was the question my trainer asked at Tuesday's lesson.  As a matter of fact, she did, I answered.

And, she did again this morning.

That's not partnership.  I've been so goal driven, I've lost the foundation of the relationship.

Today, I caught Leah, took her out of the pasture and walked her around and let her eat grass.  Then, as  I was watching her, the movie Taming Wild ran through  my head, and I wondered what would happen if I let her go.  Would she run away from me?  Would she follow?

We walked to the arena and I unhaltered her.  She stood there.  I walked around her.  She squared up with me like I'd taught her in our many training sessions.  But it was robotic.  Expected.  Trained. It wasn't her natural inclination.

I walked away from her.  I ran around the pen.  I walked back to her.  She was confused.

Then, I stood by her side, as if I had a halter and lead and I pretended to ask her to move out with me. She did it.

At first she followed behind as I jogged ahead.  Then, I slowed down and she came to my side and walked and walked at liberty.  I'd stop and pet her and tell her what a good girl she was.  I gushed over her.  Because, that small, small step, leading, the thing I EXPECT her to do, when done at liberty became a BIG, BIG thing that I had no right to expect.  It was a gift.  It was huge.

The small things are the big things, but they're bigger when our horses CHOOSE to give them to us.

I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and time with our barn cat as Leah grazed next to me.

After a while, I put her back with the herd.  Did I accomplish trailer loading?  No. It didn't matter.  I accomplished partnership.

I turned my attention to Beautiful who I had just let out with the herd on Sunday.  (That went smooth, by the way.  Amazingly so.)  Beautiful didn't want to be caught either.  She was clearly saying, I'm here in the herd, and this is where I want to be.  My goal was to make her want to be with me.

I stood at the hay bale and itched her withers and hind.

I let her sniff the lead rope and halter.

And, by the end of it, she was curious and possessive of my time.  A willing partnership.  Did I practice tying?  No.

I went up to the all the horses, rope and halter in hand, and did nothing but pet on them and tell them it's okay.  They don't have to always be anxious that I'm going to take them away from the herd.  They can trust me.

Like Buck said, it's all about patience.  It might seem small.  It might seem like it takes a long time.  But profound changes are taking place in their minds and hearts.

Also, yesterday I combined time with my heart horses, Cowboy and Leah.  I wanted Leah to have a positive experience loading with her buddies and a positive experience on the trails.

It was largely that, but today was better.

 That's what I'm talking about! At liberty.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Taming Wild Movie & the Good, Bad & Ugly In My Training

I want to give a BIG shout out to the movie, Taming Wild. I finally got to see the whole thing this weekend by Vimeo download, and I loved it!  It's a movie that explores the often asked question (at least on this blog)--do horses really want to be ridden by humans?  But what I took away from it, and thought was even more powerful, is what depths of trust can be achieved when you listen to, and respect, your horse. 

Trainer Elsa Sinclair wanted to see what would happen if you took a horse straight out of the wild and did not use ANY tools to train.  That's right, not a bridle, bit, whip, halter or lead rope.  Nada.  Nothing.

It opened my eyes to how much horses really do love humans, but most of us don't have the confidence to trust them back in the same way.  For example, I don't think I would be brave enough to trust my horse minus saddle, bridle, bit, in a new, open situation, like she did at the ocean.  (Although, the good thing is, if you fall, at least you fall in the sand.)

From start to finish, which horse to choose and at which speed the training would progress, Elsa looked to her horse for the answers, and you may be as shocked as I was to see what unfolds between the two of them.  And, there's a cute little surprise about nine months into the process, too.

A must see for all horse lovers.

and now.......

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Training.

Things have been going along as normal in the training of Leah and Beautiful Girl.  I had a lesson with Leah on Tuesday (Day #13 of the Challenge), and she was doing so well at the walk, we were able to spend a good portion of the lesson on the trot.

I was told to ask her to trot and then pull her into a run rein stop and just hold it until she would stop on her own.  I had already discovered, from working with her earlier, she wanted to move.  She was having a hard time standing still...and it took her a long time to come to a stop.  It felt like we circled for 2 or 3 minutes before I got a stop.

That was disappointing to me.  One of the things I loved about my first green horse/baby, Tanner, was that when he was pulled around to a one rein stop for the very first time, he circled once and knew to stop.  I remember my trainer saying--"He's a smart horse!"

I feel like that says Leah is not connected enough with me.

Maybe it also says she'd rather be home and is tired of being trailered off to lessons.

Yesterday, I took her to Riverside State Park Equestrian Area because they have a big, beautiful arena and round pen.

Before we left, she started rocking around the trailer and pawing the front really hard.  She had been doing more and more of that recently and I knew it was building to an "issue".

When we got to the arena, we worked from the ground until she would tune into me fully (rather than the other rider and horse in the round pen.  There was a woman working with her own green horse and it was bucking around and made her jump off.)  When Leah tuned in, I went ahead and got on and worked with her at the walk.  When I felt she was doing well at the walk, we advanced to the trot.  Trot meant GO, so we did the one rein stop.  She stopped a little sooner than the previous Tuesday, but not by much. The next time we tried, she gave me a really nice, engaged trot that lasted about a minute.  However, the third time I asked for it, she started to swing her head a bit and grind on her bit (she grinds her teeth when she's warning you.)

So, we went back to the walk and then ended the session on a positive note.

When we got home, I left her in the trailer to rest while I cleaned stalls.  And, today I'm going to go out and put her in the trailer and leave her there until she settles...without going anywhere.  I've GOT to get on that trailering issue before it becomes something very dangerous.

So, that's the good, the bad and the ugly of our week in training.  I find it hard to divide my time between three horses and I sense a lack of connection with all three when I do.

Is it possible to be connected with three?  I don't know the answer yet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Naughtiness & Nightmares

It's been a few days, so I can write about this from a distance now.  Every so often, it seems, we are faced with a nightmare scenario with our horses--no two of which are exactly alike.  We may plan for Nightmare A, but Nightmare A.25389 is what we get instead.

Let me start from the beginning.

On the 11th day of the 100 Day Horse Challenge, I worked with Beautiful Girl on going over poles.  She had such an acute awareness of where she was putting her feet and such a fluidity over the poles, I thought, I have to get this on video.  However, when I started taping her with my phone, Beautiful saw, or felt, the disconnection and used it as an opportunity to pull back.  That set in motion about a half hour of working together, culminating in a wonderful, willing partnership.  I jogged with her at  my side, and she would stop on a dime when I stopped, keep my pace, everything I could ask for in connectedness on the ground.

It was going so well, I thought let's try some trailer loading.  Off we went to the trailer, which we've been practicing a little bit every time we train.  I stand to the side and ask her to move into the trailer exactly as I would ask her to move out in a circle.  She has been doing this for me with  no problem.  She usually steps right in, looks around, smells the smells--then slowly exits off.

The day of the nightmare, we were doing so well, I figured we should go all the way in.  We did.  She didn't even hesitate for a second.  Once in, she was as relaxed as she was on the ground outside.  There was no sign of any concern on her part.  (Of course, she wasn't tied in moving down the road, either, but it was great progress.)  She backed out of the trailer equally calm and willing.

Which led to our 3rd training obstacle, tying.  I tied her a couple stalls down as I cleaned her stall.  She was tied to one of the barn support beams that we have a metal loop drilled into and then a Blocker Tie Ring attached to that.  Her lead rope was through the Blocker.

Well, as I was cleaning, I heard her pull back.  I ran out of the stall and over to her--or, at least, I walked fast, trying to keep the atmosphere calm.  I saw the stall door open and she was attached to it with her cheek squished--and she was pulling back with all her might.  I reached up to the Blocker, but it was slack.  I looked down at the door, and the cheek portion of her halter was stuck on the metal pin of the gate latch.  I remained calm and tried to loop it back over, but it was too tight with all her weight against it.  I didn't have a knife on me to cut it.  I couldn't get behind her without possibly scaring her more.  All I could do was talk quietly to her and hope she'd listen, relax, and come forward.

"Beautiful," I said, "It's okay, girl.  It's okay."  And, would you believe it, she listened!!  She released just a little tiny bit and I was able to get the halter off the pin.

(The pin.)

After that, she stood as calm and quiet as she ever had, but still curious and connected.

(The halter--you can see it is stretched out in the cheek portion.)

What did I learn from this?

1.) Never tie her in front of that particular stall because she is a smart curious horse and was probably trying to unlatch it--she had done it several times before--and even itch herself on the pin--thus, setting her up for that catastrophe.

2.) Always carry a knife with me in my pocket.  (My trainer from years ago had told me that already).

3.) No matter how hard you plan, when working with horses, anything can happen.

4.) Working with our horses on a regular basis does more than just "train" them, it helps to build the kind of trust that may be called upon in an emergency.  If I hadn't been working with her for the "Challenge", she would not have calmed down enough to get her free and the outcome could have been much different.

I was a lucky cowgirl last week, and I'm heading out there today for some more!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Introducing a "New" Horse to the Herd

Welcome to the Mare Wars.

In Ring One, we have sweet Money Penny, a 21 year old Quarter Horse/Arabian...or in other words, a Quarter Arab.  Penny, it would seem, is made of sugar, because she is sweet, sweet, sweet.

In Ring Two, we have the feisty wild horse, Beautiful Girl.  Beautiful likes herd order, and she likes being second in command to the Alpha Mare.  Beautiful fights to the end, and has even gone butt to butt with the alpha male of the herd and run him off.  Beautiful is made of piss and vinegar.

Three months ago, Money Penny began challenging Beautiful Girl for the #2 spot in the Mare Herd, and Beautiful came down, surprisingly, lame.  A big win in Round One for Money Penny, as it sent Beautiful Girl to the healing stall for some R & R and Money Penny secured her top spot.

Round Two began by placing Beautiful Girl back on the same side of the barn as the turnout, and then Money Penny came up with a mysterious head injury, a win for Beautiful Girl, as it required Money Penny's removal from the herd, raising Leah to the top spot.

For the record, Leah would rather not have the top spot, and by top spot, I mean 2nd to the top, because the top is most certainly Cowgirl--the alpha mare in every herd she's been in since she was 2.

My farrier watched them all interact last week and said, "Boy, you're going to have WWIII when you put these two together."  True words.

But both will have to be released soon, and I don't want either to get hurt, so I'm putting together a list of safety practices when introducing "new" horses to your herd.  This is list is for myself and for others who might be reading the blog and find themselves in the same situation.  Some of these suggestions are ones I've learned from experience and some are from several articles I've read in preparation for the big day.  (Please share your own advice in the comments.)

Introducing a New Horse to Your Herd:

1.  Make sure the ground is solid and not muddy, icey, or slick.

2. Make sure there are no pens or corners that they can get trapped in when they're chased.  Also, make sure there is nothing dangerous they could run into--implements, wood, low branches, etc.

3.  Introduce them AFTER you've already fed the herd, to minimize the dominance issues over feeding.

4. Introduce them to the alpha horses first, then slowly introduce the lower horses who may be more insecure about their place in the herd (ie. Penny and Beautiful Girl).  The alpha horse will help protect the new horse from their challengers and will help them find their place in the hierarchy.)   An alternate to this #11.

5. If the horse is truly brand new (unlike my two), make sure they are turned out alone first so they can learn the boundaries and fence lines.

6. Turn them out during daylight.  (I learned this the hard way once and lost my herd at night when one of the members accidentally went through a wire fence.)

7. Turn them out when you're home so that you are there if intervention is required.

8. Turn them out for a couple of hours the first day and then longer each day.

9. Before turning them out, introduce them through a barrier--in our case, the runs from the barn adjoin the large, shared turnout.  Let them get to know each other that way and work out some of their challenges with the barrier as a safety net. (If this is a new horse, consider quarantine away from your herd first, so that you don't introduce germs, worms, etc.--especially since they will all be under a great deal of stress, lowering their immune systems).

10. If you have a gelding who is confused about his gelding status--mounts mares, challenges the alpha geldings in stallion type fights--consider not introducing them to a mixed herd.

11.  One article suggested having them introduced to a gentle herd member first so they have a "buddy" before the big turnout, but I've done that in the past and didn't find it very helpful.  The alpha still moves the "buddy" to the sidelines and even seems to resent the interference.  But it has probably worked in some situations or else people wouldn't suggest it.

12. Pour yourself a glass of something very strong and try to relax and console yourself with the knowledge that horses have been doing this for thousands of years and it usually turns out just fine.

And, for that matter, you can always do what my farrier suggested to me....

"Let them out, and then go shopping for the whole day!"

Please add your suggestions in the comments.  What have you learned about introducing a new herd member?