Saturday, July 21, 2018

First At Liberty Sessions with Beautiful Girl

My husband can do a lot, in fact, he is the master of all trades.  This week he has been building by 36 x 12 loafing shed, sanded, puttied, and painted the rust and holes in my truck, helped me with the family vacation, worked three days when we got home from the vacation, is currently loading all the garbage to go to the dump AND planning a new jackleg fence for my turnout. 

As amazing as he is, however, there is one thing he doesn't have--

X-ray vision.

He is a doctor of the mind, not the bones, but that doesn't stop me from asking if things are broken--and accepting his homemade remedies.  I imagine anyone who is a married to a doctor rarely goes to a doctor.  You have to be on death's door.  So, the broken toe when I walked into the barbell--he taped it to my other toe, and said carry on.  (It worked.)  The ribs--he asked if I could cough without pain (I could) and he said they could be broken or bruised, but it would be the same either way--rest them.

I'm not quite to three weeks post-accident, but we are pretty sure they are broken, and I probably need to be better at resting them.  I have not gotten back on a horse since reinjuring them while trotting Cowboy. Trotting was a big mistake, and it has set me back in the healing process.  I stopped taking Motrin a few days ago, because I felt like the pain is a good reminder to slow down, and masking it only allows me to make bad choices.

I think I'm safe to walk and work from the ground, though, so I have started At Liberty training with Beautiful Girl.  

No surprise, she's a natural.


Aurora introduced me to Mustang Maddy.  After watching her free videos, I subscribed to her Facebook page to get more.  For subscribing, she sent me five videos of her "5 Golden Rules".  The first, "Rule #1: Use reinforcement to reward your horse" was very helpful for getting through to Beautiful and speeding up At Liberty work.

Basically, she says there are a couple ways to reward / motivate your horses:

*negative reinforcement (natural horsemanship--pressure and release and timing--opportunities to think about what they've learned.  It is a form of  what psychologists would term "negative reinforcement," but that doesn't mean it's negative. It can actually work really well.) The limitation with this type of training is for a couple horses--one of which is a "Shut Down Horse." The way they react to their fear is that they "almost leave their bodies."  They "shut down mentally and physically and get stuck."  "This is the horse that doesn't end up in "such good places."  It's a fear response which makes it easier for them to handle fear, stress and pressure. (This is Beautiful Girl!!  I've always said she goes somewhere when she's stressed--her eyes look blank--like she's not even there.  I knew it was a big issue, but I just tried to get her to come back to me and engage.  But she is the definition of a "Shut Down Horse."  Beautiful Girl shuts down, let's her anxiety build, then blows up.)

*Positive Reinforcement is another way to reward / motivate (grazing mode--food--lower level than safety and security concerns and you don't need them, but they can speed up the training & help a horse with trauma.)  Food "amplifies what you already have." You can do it without food, but it's faster with food.  Advantages--less pressure, it will speed learning (increase motivation), helps them relax.  "If a horse is really shutting down and holding onto trauma--food can help."  The problem with food treats is that horses can get "pocket crazy," (solve it by creating "cue spots" and only give it as a reward--use boundaries), another problem is "bribing".  


First Sessions of At Liberty

Since the bucking, Bee has been even more "shut down," and she wasn't eager to work with me again.  It was a negative experience for both of us.  But I decided that I'd give the motivation / reward thing a try, and I studied Mustang Maddy's beginning at liberty work with one of her Mustangs.  

Off we went to the arena, treats in pocket, short whip in hand.  The process is quite simple--flick the whip to ask for hindquarter disengagement--back leg steps over the other--if they don't move, add a clucking or kissing--if they still don't move--tap them with the end of the crop.  They move.  Relax and let them think about it. (Insert a food reward IF that's what you're doing.)  To give the food reward, if you choose to do so, stand to the side of the horse, wait until they raise their head directly in front of their body (away from you)--do NOT give it to them if they look toward you or poke around your pocket.

We also worked on backing up, (same concept) and moving away forequarters, (crossing front legs over). 

The first day we worked on it, I went out to the turnout in the evening and asked her to do all those things at liberty--completely free.  I only used the palm of my hand to motion for each--hindquarters, back up, forequarters.

She did them all.


Each day she's getting easier to catch, and she's showing interest in me again when she's just out in her turnout.  The pain in my ribs is rather symbolic of the pain in our hearts toward one another. It's healing, but slowly.

Sometimes, I look at her and I think how close she came to killing me. I feel the pain in my ribs, realize I can't ride for a while, and I blame her...and then myself for not heeding the signs.  

Sometimes, I look over at where it happened in the arena, and I try to imagine it as if I'd been standing outside the arena when it happened, rather than in the saddle. Then, I'll look at her and see her as that tornado of spins, bucks and runaway, and I can feel the power of her fear all over again.  

Last night, I wondered if I'll ever be able to see her fresh, separate from that day, and I don't know the answer.  

I hope so.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

First Ride Since Bailing Off & a New Understanding of What I Need

"Good judgement comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad Judgement.
And sometimes that bad judgement can be pretty horrific."

Val Geissler, Unbranded

A major down-side to getting bucked off so aggressively, was that I was unable to ride for fifteen days.  Of course, I'm very lucky it's not more, but still, it slowed me down and limited me to groundwork.  It would have been better for my confidence to have gotten right back on, but that wasn't possible.

To recap: the body bruising was wide-spread, but most of the pain was in the ribs & liver.  I was on Motrin day and night.  When the ribs started to feel a little better, I stopped the Motrin, and that's when I felt the hip and knee pain.  A few days ago, the knee pain all but disappeared, but the hip pain remains.  Kind of reminds me of last winter when I fell on ice.

Oh, and I almost forgot, while I was on vacation with my kids, I was stung by a hornet on my good arm--and had a bad allergic reaction with lots of swelling.  Five days later, it's still swollen and itchy!  Arghhhhh!

But anyway, all that aside, today was my day to get back on a horse, and I was surprised to find some real self-doubt lingering around.

I chose Cowboy, rather than Leah, since I'm still on the mend, and don't want to get myself into a situation I'm physically unprepared to handle.  But even with Cowboy, the doubts lingered, so I started going down a list of things, in my mind, that might be causing the fear:

Is it a BALANCE issue?  I reminded myself that I have good balance and can ride my horse bareback at every gait.  I can also go from a standing position to a legs crossed sitting position, and up again--without holding onto anything. (I read somewhere that that's a good test of longevity.)

Skill?  I have enough balance and skill, or a better word, experience, to have survived spinning, bucking, and bucking and running--bucking that was so hard, mind you, that my tailbone is still quite sore.  But I was able to navigate all that to the rail, pull her head around, swing myself off with my right arm and land on my feet. (pat self on back again.)

Judgement?  Ah, this is where I couldn't quite assuage myself.  As I was leading Cowboy to the mounting block, I thought back at all the many, many, many times I mounted a horse who was giving me signs that it needed something more--but I mounted anyway and took my chances in saddle.  It always worked out--until the day it didn't.

But with Beautiful Girl, I had been wary of that possibility, and I had hired my trainer to be beside me--to be that extra pair of eyes.

Do you think I'm good to mount?  I'd asked her.

But Rebecca wasn't there that day.  And, I wondered what she would have said if she had been there.

I know the answer.  She would have told me no.  No, Beautiful Girl was not in a frame of mind to go to the next step.

I need to work on that judgement part of my life.  It's almost like turning 50-something has dulled it.  Like it's made me more accident prone.  Why?  What has changed that I'm rushing so head-long out of cars, onto horses, around hornets?  Is it just bad luck?  Or, is it a mind too busy multi-tasking and not "present" enough?  Mindful?

I guess from all these questions, I can already see the answer.  My life is demanding I be more present.

So, I swung my leg over Cowboy and off we went bareback--walk, trotting, practicing our turns with no reins.  My tailbone hurt as I tilted my hips back for the stop, but it was a reminder that my life is fragile.  Its preservation demands my attention--not just with horses---but in ALL things.

I have some changes to make.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Traumatized Horse Who Needs Liberty Training


"The Liberty Start is a method of starting and rehabilitating horses that honors free will.  It allows horses to overcome trauma by allowing them to make their own choices and not feel trapped."

There is a reason I started this blog in 2007, and it's because I needed help training a mustang named Beautiful Girl.  "Bee" was a yearling when she came to Spokane with the BLM, and I was volunteering at an event she was brought to called, Ride the West. (They don't have that event anymore, unfortunately.) At the time, I had just moved to Spokane, and I wasn't the least bit interested in adopting a Mustang, but I heard they were there, so I took a break from our club's booth to go see them.  

I wasn't prepared for the sight. Horses, grouped by age, in pens, with number tags around their necks. I was sad for them. As I stood and looked at each one, Beautiful caught my eye, and I was drawn to her.  A volunteer noticed me and started a conversation about her own journey adopting a Mustang and how wonderful it had been.  The next thing I knew, I was in a tent signing papers.

Probably not the best way to go about adopting a Mustang, but sometimes life happens to us--Beautiful Girl definitely happened to me.

The gentling process was quite an adventure.  Bee was so scared--they had left her halter and lead on her, but when I picked up, and held, the end of the lead in my hand, Bee went crashing away right into the panels, as if they weren't even there.  She was terrified.  I started to think I was out of my league.

The next thing I knew, she had her halter off.  If you're interested, you can read about how I gentled her, and got it back on, in the earlier posts.  We've had many adventures.  But what stands out most is that Bee couldn't handle feeling trapped.  Tying was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do with her.  I did it in stages, but when I finally tied her solid, she threw herself backward and broke the ring off the post.  Even today, I always use Blocker Tie Rings with her--on level 3. 

I raised and trained Bee, by myself, to carry a saddle well, but something always stopped me from getting on her.  I had this intuition that normal training methods--bit and bridle--were not going to work for her personality.  I even bought a special halter from Andrea at Mustang Saga, with the plan to forego the bridle and bit.  But I didn't see how that would work either.  There were too many missing pieces. 

You may wonder why I didn't send her to a trainer.  I didn't think she was a good candidate for that either.  I thought they'd use methods that would only make her close up and fight.  So, my compromise, eventually, was to hire a trainer to come work with me and put some rides on her to get her started.  The rides didn't last long.  On the trainer's fourth ride, Bee blew into a bucking fit and threw my trainer off.  Then last week, on my 10th super short, easy ride with her (I never pushed her much) she bucked and got into a runaway, and I bailed off.

A couple posts back, Aurora shared the video above with me.  Mustang Maddy.  I was intrigued, so I subscribed to her videos.

I was disappointed with Bee, but Mustang Maddy made some good points about mustangs (and all horses, but more so with mustangs)--they're only doing what horses are designed to do--survive a predator.  The better they buck and run, the more likely they are to survive.  We can't be mad at them.  It reminded me of what an old Cowboy friend once told me, "Never hold a grudge against a horse."  I was holding a grudge.  I couldn't help myself.

I've been watching Mustang Maddy's videos, and I see some hope for Bee with Liberty training.  It's what I knew all along, but couldn't understand a way to make happen for us.  Maybe I can now. The journey can only serve to make me a better horsewoman with all my horses.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Things That Helped From the Buck Brannaman Clinic & Thoughts On Bee

I'm still on the mend, and haven't been able to ride (hoping to be back in the saddle next Monday), but I've continued to work with the horses from the ground on the principles I learned at the Buck Brannaman clinic.  For Leah, that has been disengaging her hind quarters, then stepping over in front, and learning to lower her head from a very small amount of pressure.  Buck said, less pressure, more waiting--and I've tried to bring that into our groundwork.

Before the incident with Bee, I had been in the saddle and bareback on Leah and Cowboy, putting a few of the tricks to work for us.  I'll tell you a little about I learned, and how it worked out.


What I learned:

Half Circle Exercise on the ground and in saddle: disengage hindquarters, then step the front feet over.  Hard to explain unless you watch this short video.  Leah got this quickly--in saddle--and now we're reinforcing it from the ground.

And that leads to Serpentines.  We did it both ways--just a simple serpentine, and then the one where we were disengaging hindquarters and stepping over in front.

Circles.  Not much to say about circles except your horse should have bend, flexion, and you shouldn't be supporting them with the rein and causing a brace.

Finding the light feel.  This concept, in saddle, is picking up on the reins with a light feel--and wait for your horse to respond and pick itself up, carry it for a few steps, then release.  The carrying part gets longer as you get the response faster.  Again, the reminder is that we're too hold lighter, wait longer.

The stop.  If you've been working on the "light feel," when you go to pick up the reins for the "Stop," your horse should be there for you.

Leah did well with all these exercises, and when we started working with the "light feel," her stop improved drastically.


Cowboy and I benefited from what he did with legs versus reins, since I want to go brideless.  Ask for a turn with the outside leg a little forward, and the inside leg a little back.  Practice doing it without reins so that you're not relying on them.  Here's an article Buck wrote for The Eclectic Horseman about Serpentines without Reins.  That just happens to be what we needed to work on as we try to communicate without a bridle.
"My horse needs to understand that my legs mold him left and right, and that he should bend around my inside leg. To go to the right, my right (inside) leg is back, my left (outside) leg is slightly forward. To go to the left, my left (inside) leg is slightly back and my right (outside) leg is slightly forward. The outside leg molds him around the inside leg to arc properly around the circle."
For the stop, he demonstrated how we should ROLL our hips back, rather than just sitting back.  And, he emphasized that we should not sit back/roll back our hips just to slow down our horse.  Only for the stop.  Even the back up, should be in the #2, active riding position.

(Buck refers to 3 positions--1 is how'd you be to prepare for a jump, 2 is actively riding, and 3 is the stop.)

When I tried it with Cowboy, he did way better at stopping. That tilting the hips back, rather than sitting back, was all he needed.  Someone must have trained him for that long ago because he got it. He still needs work on turning with the legs, and he likes to take advantage when he knows I'm dropping the reins (stinker) but it's not bad.  I just need to heal up and start back to work.

Beautiful Girl

Even though I blame myself for the incident with Bee--I ignored signs of her anxiety, and I allowed her to brace against the bit (something that pretty much always leads to a wreck), rather than taking steps back and breaking it down into smaller parts for her on the ground, I still feel a disappointment about the catastrophic level of her blowup.

When I see her, I think, why so big?  Why twice?  

I put her back in the herd, and she instantly reverted to her "enforcer" roll.  Hyper-vigilant. Defiant.

As my husband and I were out working on the 36x12 loafing shed last night, I observed her a lot and wondered about her.  I started to think, she'd be a horse who would do better in a herd of two--her and her person.  But I can't give her that life, so she's stuck with me, and I'm stuck with the personality it brings out of her.  Makes me a little sad, I guess, but I'm becoming resigned to it.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Summer of Road Trips & Connections

Roadtrips to see Tumbleweed have become these great opportunities to connect with the people who ride along and keep me company.  Six hours on the road, and meals together, provide ample opportunity for conversation, and one of those opportunities presented itself yesterday, with my sister-in-law and niece.

My niece will be leaving in August for her studies at Digipen and my sister-in-law will be heading to Japan for three months to visit her family and salvage some of her own artwork.  She's going to ship one painting back, but may be destroying the rest.  I would love to have one before she destroys them all.  And to think, I wouldn't have known any of it was happening had we not had that long road trip together.

Here's a trip recap:  Shirley had a tight schedule yesterday, so we left my house at 8:00 am and drove straight through except for one stop at you know where--Selkirk Sweets.  I'm trying my best to keep her in business, even if I have to gain ten pounds to do it!  We had croissants filled with caramelized onions and cheese for breakfast, while my niece had a turnover filled with coconut cream, and I grabbed a huckleberry scone for Shirley.


The trip went smooth and getting through the border was easy since everyone had passports.  We thought it would be cooler when we crossed the NORTHERN border, but in fact, it was HOT.  Someone up there had turned the oven up to anywhere from 94-100 degrees--since both temps registered in my car.  It was probably the 94 degrees, but we can say 100 for more drama.

This got me thinking that my next trip should be planned around morning and/or night.  It may even mean staying the night in Bonners Ferry at the lodge connected to the Selkirk Sweets bakery.  Now, there's a dangerous proposition!  But if I stayed there, I could possibly eat all the pastries in her display case see Tumbleweed in the morning and  night.

But I digress...

It was hot, but seeing Tumbleweed was worth it.  If you read Shirley's post from yesterday, you saw that we took mama and baby to the pond behind her house.  Mama, Rosalee, is an unbelievable horse, and she walked right in, eating grass and as relaxed as if she wasn't standing in a soft, muddy, watering hole--all the things horses are "supposed" to hate.  If one of my horses was in charge yesterday, T'weed may have been forever psychologically damaged toward water, but instead he had this rock star mama teaching him water is AWESOME!

T'weed did really well. He's acting more like a horse, and less like a baby all the time.  He also got reprimanded more like a horse and less like a baby.  While I was grooming him, I stopped paying close attention while I was chatting, and I must have rubbed him the wrong way because he gave me a little kick.  My reflex reaction was rather quick, too, what I would have done to any of my horses, but he responded very well and stood like a gentleman for the rest of his beauty session.

The trips to Canada are a lot for one day, but I have really learned to cherish them.  The border agent,  yesterday, asked me how long I would be staying in Canada, and I answered a couple of hours.  He looked surprised and said, Isn't that a long way to drive for such a short time?  Instead of a confession: You got me, I'm not really visiting a friend, I'm smuggling guns and drugs into your country, he got my look of shock.  Geez, Mr. Border patrol agent, I'd drive this far for ten minutes with my future horse. 

Sometimes, especially after getting bucked off last week, I think investing in a horse is as crucial a decision as investing in a spouse: they have the potential to last about the same amount of time (if not longer) and to bring you all the pain, sorrow, joy, comfort, grief, love, and thrills, --the whole dammit gamut of emotion and experience.  These road trips up to Canada, which I thought were all about seeing my future partner, have opened up so much more.  I've met Shirley and had time with her, I've met her sweet horses, and I've reconnected with several people who are very important to me while I'm at it.

When I arrived home last night, I was out watering my plants, and looked over to see this gorgeous sunset...

The picture doesn't quite capture the rays that were shooting up from the horizon--and it's a shame--because it was definitely the kind of sunset that you see at the end of a book...

with a very happy ending.