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.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Story Behind My New Header Photo

Since the bucking incident, I separated Beautiful into her own stall, and I've been working with her each morning and night--for a total of three times.  I figured it was good to just slow things down and evaluate while I heal--physically.  My ribs are still very tender, but my knees and tailbone are almost back to normal.  I have odd bruises all over my body--hips, legs, arms--that I didn't even know I had until that night when I looked in the mirror. The tailbone bruising must have come from the bucking, because I hit the rails front on as I swung off.

As I worked with Bee, I found a lot of resistance and anxiety being away from the herd.  No doubt, that was all in there the other day, but I glossed over it.  I've only discovered it going back to the very, very beginning foundational ground work.  I missed it earlier because she had learned to go along with me.  She knew how to go through the paces and mask her resistance.  I had become a bit complacent and overly-confident.  Obviously, a bad combination.

I took my tripod out with me yesterday to get a new header photo.  I saw the previous one of us riding, and it just didn't seem appropriate to where we are now.  As we were working in the arena (pictures from yesterday) I saw the back of my Cowgirl cave and thought that would be a good spot to get a photo. After we were done, I brought her over and took that series of shots.  The first one, the new header for the blog, I just looked up to heaven in a sort of--happy to be alive--not sure where this is going with us--not sure if I trust  you anymore--but here is my hand to try--kind of resignation.  As you can see, Beautiful is looking ahead in a kind of--Meh, not feeling it, but you have the lead rope, so here I am.

Pretty much sums it up.

The day before the bucking, I had worked Bee from the ground, and made the decision NOT to ride her.  I had seen that resistance, and I didn't think she was in the right frame of mind.  The next day, I worked her from the ground (no saddle), saddled her, worked from the ground again, then decided to mount.  I was still seeing anxiety, and the weather certainly wasn't perfect--temps had dropped the night before and it was windy, but I thought I was being too picky, and went for it.  (We know how that ended.)

What I haven't told you is that I had also been riding Leah, and working with a few things I learned at the Buck Brannaman clinic, and she was doing awesome.  The bucking so overshadowed everything, my time with Leah was all but forgotten.  But I was very proud of her.

There is another thing with Leah--she appeared to be watching the whole bucking incident.  When I looked over at the herd, after inspecting myself to make sure I was in one piece and before catching Bee, all the horses were gathered, and Leah had her head low, peeking between the fence rails in earnest.

When I was done with Bee, after working her hard so that she didn't think bucking was the answer, then tying her up so she didn't get what she ultimately wanted--back with the herd, I walked into the turnout to do something.  Leah followed me around, head low, and as close to my hands as she could.  There was such a concern in her, it really touched my heart.

No surprise, Leah and Beautiful don't get along very well.  Leah is a sweetheart and Beautiful is the enforcer--the mafiosa.  Beautiful would  like to be Leah's boss, but Leah is always promoted (by Cowgirl) ahead of her.  Herds never let the most anxious ones lead.  They wouldn't survive very long if they did.

If this post is sounding a little negative towards Bee, it's because it probably is.  Which is odd, because I didn't mean for it to.

I don't have any fear of getting back in the saddle--or bareback--with my other horses because I'm able to see each one of them pretty clearly.  Leah is not Bee.  Cowboy is not Bee. None of my other horses are Bee, except Bee. Although each one of them has normal aches and pains and avoidances /resistance, they communicate those to me in a way that I can adjust before things get bad.

I believe GHM said dynamite in her comments--and that describes it very well--explosive.

Some horses have a shorter fuse than others.  They're trying to go along--not be anxious--but it's building like a dam, without you knowing it--then BOOM.  Other horses, tolerate and tolerate and tolerate.  I've thought about that a lot these last couple of days--what I've seen horses tolerate without exploding.  I could make a list, but it would fill a thousand pages.

All that said, and all my present feelings of disappointment aside, I'm not the type to give up on a horse--especially this one.  In the moments after it happened, I said I was retiring her.

I didn't.

In fact, I did the exact opposite.  My husband came out last night and asked what I was doing.  He reminded me that I promised not to get on her again.  He asked me what I hoped to accomplish. He was just shocked--in a way that said, I don't want to take care of you in a nursing home.

I reassured him that I'm not getting back on her, but I'm not giving up on her either.  I don't know where it's going to go, but I'm starting over and seeing where it takes me.  Yep, she is way, way more different than my other horses--but I loved her from the moment I saw her.

So my hand is held out, as you see in the header, I'm not sure where it's going, as you see in the way my head is looking up to the sky in resignation, and Beautiful isn't all too sure she wants to go with me.

And all I can say is...

to be continued.