Monday, January 22, 2018

Learning to Be An Observer and to Release Tension In My Horses

My 2018 goal with Leah is helping her to be less reactive.  I blame myself for creating the tension in the first place.

What I did wrong:

1. I only went out to get her when we had something to do.
2. I took weekly lessons away from home which required a lot of trailering away--she started to get stressed in the trailer because the lessons were a lot of work and she didn't want to leave her herd.
3. I gathered the reins inelegantly, every time I went to ask for a transition change.  Now, when I pick up the reins, she automatically transitions when sometimes I'm only trying to get better grip on my reins.
4. I missed the signs of laminitis and continued to train her when she was hurting. (Part of her rehab was being ridden, but it was light work in a sand arena, rather than trails and collection work at lessons)
5. I didn't spend an adequate amount of time stretching, massaging, and TTouching her.

I've been riding Leah a lot this week, sometimes bareback, and I can feel the tension in her back at transition changes.  I could also feel her tense when I went to mount.  It's much easier to create tension than it is to release it, but I'm dedicated to doing just that.


(Video of me practicing TTouch and massage with Leah. I'm doing it much faster than usual because of the video process--and it still took 8 minutes to tape.  I'll make another that shows the actual motion and timing.)

I took a series of private TTouch lessons from a certified practitioner back in 2013, and it did wonders for Cowboy and Old Red.  Last week, I started re-introducing it with massage.

Ttouch, basic grooming, stretching and massage do a number of things:

1. It helps them to give us parts of their body they don't trust us with (ears, mouth, tail, feet, etc.)

2 It teaches them that our hands are okay--more than okay--they are instruments of tenderness and communication,

3 It gives us information about where they may be hurting (and most horses hurt somewhere)

4 It gives us time together, before a ride, to bring our energies together with an emphasis on deep breathing and slow movements.

5. It calms us down before a ride and makes us much more aware of our partner.

6. It helps them release tension and pain in their bodies.

7. Using our touch methods (whatever they may be) in saddle, helps our  horses to relax and remember that we're on their back as a partner.


I had a trainer friend who was the most observant horse person I've ever met.  Sometimes, I thought too observant.  "Hey, your horse is lame."  "Hey, your horse needs wormed."  "Hey, your horse is taking advantage of you."  It was always true, and I was always shocked that I'd missed what was so obvious to her.  I had a deep respect for her observation.

My granddaughters came to visit last weekend and, since it was windy and cold, we did a lot of work in the barn--learning to be observers.  They watched the video I made (above), and they practiced the art of deep grooming, TTouching, stretching, and massage.  I even had them observe as they approached their horses in turnout.  Did they seem happy? Grumpy? Willing to be caught? Did they walk politely at their sides? Did they tune into them?  Other horses?

I asked them to tell  me three good things that their horses did and one thing that they'd need to work on, and I was shocked at how observant they were when pressed. I told them to NEVER doubt their observations.  NEVER do something you don't feel comfortable doing.  TRUST yourself. 

Trust your observations.  Trust yourself.

The granddaughters and I groomed, massaged, TTouched, and stretched our horses for an hour, and it went by fast.  Afterward, they mounted and rode their horses.  I hope they learned that both are equally rewarding.  I hope they take those touches with them and remember them until the next time they get to see Penny and Little Joe.

They say, people don't remember what you say so much as the way you make them feel. 

I hope I become the person that makes all my horses feel good when they see me coming to the barn and when I'm on their backs.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January, I Must Survive January

My mantra: January, I must survive January. 

When T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month, breeding. lilacs out of the dead land, mixing. memory and desire, stirring. dull roots with spring rain," he was wrong....

January is.

However, I am determined to make the most of it.  I tell myself the days are getting longer. We are closer to spring every day. My tailbone is almost fully healed.  I've had the week off of work!  The bad weather keeps us inside, slows us down, yet inspires more family gatherings.

And, the horses are so appreciative of their massages.

Monday, I rode Cowboy and Leah in the arena--the only place that has decent footing. It's not great, but it's rideable at the walk.  My only goal with the rides is to get them to relax and enjoy it.  I stop a  lot, massage their necks, walk a little, stop again, slide off, finish massaging and stretching them.

I have spent a lot of time and money on lessons in the past--and recently, too.  Some of those lessons were from a T-Touch practitioner and, lately, it has come in handy.  The horses sure love it.

Yesterday, I got to share some of my lessons with a friend who is working with her somewhat green horse this winter on much of what I was working on with Leah a while back.  I gave her the exercises my teacher's gave me.

Start in the small circle, when you've got relaxation, move to a larger circle, proceed to a circular set of lines--or points on the wall--ride 4 steps to them, look at the next point, four steps, next point, etc--expand out to longer lines toward points--and the last of all the steps is the straight line along the arena walls, but support the nervous horse with a light touch of the bit on alternating reins.  It is a miniature version of taking them to different points and keeping their mind working.  Of course, if all hell breaks loose, you go back to the small circle.

Today, I rode Cowboy and worked with Leah and Bee.

As I worked with the girls, Cowboy watched from a distance.

As I worked with Cowboy, the herd watched.

I wonder how January would look if I didn't have horses.  What would I do to survive the cold and snow and ice?  What would pull me outside into the elements every day, if not horses?


For Christmas, I received a very special gift from my granddaughter, Sophie--these drawings.  They are extra special because they are her first serious attempts at drawing horses, and I watched her sketching, erasing, sketching, each one of these over a long period of time.

I'm having them framed into one large piece.

The night before she left, I gave her a canvas and paints, and she whipped out a picture of Little Joe and Penny-- (They're our new married pair.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Week In Snow

The really deep snow, the really slick ice, all coincided with a really sore tailbone.  You could say the fates conspired against me, and my training program, last week.  In fact, as I sat here this morning, I had a hard time remembering what I'd done this week, so I consulted my phone for photos.

Monday, January 8, 2018: Worked Leah and Bee, cleaned the barn, wrote a blog post.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018: Sore tailbone, lots of ice outside, stayed in and cleaned the house, then went to work.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018: Had coffee with my cowgirl friends, then went to work.

Thursday, January 11, 2018: Was supposed to fly out to Omaha, but a storm here, and a storm there, caused us to cancel our flight and stay put, to take care of the horses.  We ended up getting over 6" of snow that day, and we went no where.

Friday, January 12, 2018: The temps started to warm up, and melt everything, and we started digging out of the snow.

(Pictures of the day it started snowing)

Friday afternoon, we went shopping and ended up buying a Nespresso machine.  It makes much richer coffee than Keurig.  The pods are a bit spendy, but the quality of java makes it worth it.

Friday night, my husband and I walked our property in the dark--through the snow--with the dogs at our heels.  The snow makes it bright enough to navigate easily.  After our walk, we had a date in my Cowgirl Cave--scotch, cigars, and the Echo Dot playing a steady stream of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
"Save your love through loneliness, save your love through sorrow. I gave you my loneliness, give me your tomorrow."

Saturday, January 13, 2018--Colt Starting Clinic with Beautiful Girl.

(Bee getting ready to walk over with all the gear.  I have her wear the bridle at all times, to get her used to it. She's really not as thin as she looks in this photo.)

Bee got to stand around a lot while we watched the others work in the round pen.  The snow was coming off the roof, in a loud fashion, and it caused her to pull back several times, but she adjusted.  It was good for her.

What I learned at the clinic was really fine-tuning what I already know:

*When round penning, and she's nervous and not listening, find ways to get her to tune into me--snapping my fingers, waving a hand, lots of transition--whatever works.

*I already do a lot of driving from behind Bee, but we worked on driving her in the circle.  It was good for her because the outside line was on her butt and legs a lot--causing her to kick out and buck a little bit until she got used to it.  It was good desensitizing.  Another participant at the clinic didn't feel comfortable driving her own horse, so I asked if she wanted to practice with Bee.  She did, and they did great together.

Sunday, January 14, 2018:  Ride Cowboy

I remember, not long ago, when I was riding three horses a day.  My tailbone injury, and the ice, has slowed me down.  But I was feeling well enough Sunday to ride Cowboy bareback.

I took it easy and stopped a lot to give him neck massages.  When we were done, I slipped off and gave him a nose to tail T-touch session.  He melted and followed me all over, with his head on my hands, as I tried to gather everything up and leave.  It was so sweet, I couldn't leave him.  So, I sat on my overturned trough and just spent the  most wonderful time being with him.  He was like a puppy.

I was thinking about it last night, as I was trying to fall asleep (a problem I have--thinking too much at bedtime)--I was trying to find a way to describe how my love for Cowboy feels.  First, he has been with me for almost 30% of my life!  That is a lot of wrapping around one another.  And, my journey with him has been so bumpy--times I thought I would lose him, times he surprised me and recovered, scary situations we got ourselves into--fights, makeups, growing old together, sharing pain together.  When I think of love for him, I think of these words:

joy, fragility, hope, sorrow, pride, comfort, awe, vulnerability, heart-bumps, heaven, laughter, miracles, friendship, gratitude.

That was my week in snow, and today the sun is shining super bright--I have the day off--and I'm heading to the barn.  Here's another word--GLORIOUS!

Monday, January 8, 2018

What To Do With Horses When You Have a Sore Bum

Thank you all for your condolences regarding Irish, our goat, and for well wishes since my fall on ice. Day 5 post-fall, and I'm still sore in my tailbone.  Riding a horse certainly didn't make it any better.  But I haven't given up working with my horses--I just have to be creative.

Here's my list I'm titling--


1. Practice standing ground tied while getting saddled or stand tied solid. (yesterday)

2. Driving in both bridle and halter.

3. Taking Long Walks together--today, in the fog.

4. Playing Simon Says. I choose how far I want her away from me, then I take one step, ask her to take one step.  If she takes two, I back her one, if I walk a step backward, she should walk a step backward.

5. The Catch and Release Game. I've told you about this before.  Walk up to all the horses, one at a time, halter them, then release them. Yesterday, my daughter went out to catch her horse, Cowgirl, and she ran from her over and over.  I asked to take the lead rope and halter, and I took one step toward Cowgirl, and she turned and walked RIGHT to me.  My daughter looked shocked.  I told her it's very simple.  I play catch and release every day.  Horses really aren't that complicated.  Play this game and you will be able to halter your horse anytime, anywhere.

6. Grooming--picking up feet, etc.
7. Trailer practice.
8. At Liberty heeding work.
9. Practice on the line transitioning to different gaits (I'm not doing that in the slick snow we have.)
10. Set up trail obstacles--tarps, poles, mazes/labyrinths, tires, etc.


The ice has been bad, and I've ordered myself some yaktrax, but I was more worried about the horses.  I had a hard time sleeping one night thinking how I could reduce the danger in their turnout.  

The idea I came up with--spreading their wasted hay over their walking paths.

My helpers.

I must say, it worked awesome!

The horses started walking along the grass paths immediately. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


(Photo take last week.)

After riding Cowboy the other day, my tailbone injury was aggravated and sore, so the last few training days have all been on groundwork—driving, leading, and At Liberty heeding.

During my walk with Bee, yesterday, we saw what looked like an animal lying in the snow at the end of our property. As we walked closer, it looked the color and size of a deer, a small fawn, and I started to think maybe a coyote had gotten one. But as we drew closer, I could see the details, and it was not a deer—it was our goat, Irish.

There was no sign that she’d been attacked by an animal, she just lay there—frozen.  I examined and felt her body, then Bee stood over her, bending down and touching her all over with her nose. Tenderly. Bee lifted her head and touched her nose to my hands, where they'd run over Irish. When I went to walk away, Bee wouldn’t follow, even though she is usually happy to walk back toward home. She wanted to stand with Irish.

Irish was one of three goats we raised together, and she was 12 years old. She was a few months older than Scotty and his sweet little sister English.  She was an older baby when we purchased her, and she didn't trust people.  The farm where we purchased her was a 2.5 hour drive from our home, and when we arrived there we were shocked to find that it was filthy and the animals were housed in poor conditions.  Irish hadn't been handled and it was difficult to even catch her.  As we took her away from her mom, she was mawing loudly back for her.  A few weeks later, we purchased English and Scotty, and because they were smaller, Irish would bully them.  We separated them until they got bigger, at which point,  Scotty put her in her place and she became docile.  He took care and guarded over her just like he did his sweet sister.

I don’t know how she ended up at the edge of our property. Did she follow horses there? Was she delirious and wandered there? After all, she had been laying around more and really showing signs of her age.

I don’t know how she wandered off and died at the edge of our property. But now, the goat that I got, Scotty, is the only goat we have.

RIP, Irish the goat.  (Fall 2005-Winter 2018)

Information about pygmy goats.  The average pygmy goat lives from 8 to 10 years old.  The longest living pygmy goat, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is 22 years old.