As I get older, I gravitate more and more to less. I see what has been done with bitless/bridle-free riding and partnership training and I know that's the kind of relationship I'd like to have with all my horses. But I have a long way to go. (I am looking at my bitless bridle with deep intent.)
One example is my latest epiphany. I used to think that whenever you started training a horse in earnest, you should separate them from the herd to help get them locked onto you and a little less herd-bound. I've always done it that way. Last year, however, I did it with Beautiful Girl for a week and after that week, when I released her back, she was almost impossible to catch. Our sessions hadn't gone well and, by the time it was over, neither of us were dying to be together.
I put her out of my mind and concentrated on Cowboy.
This year started out in earnest--trail rides throughout the weeks--lots of sunshine and an amazingly warm spring--and a trailer that has been completely reconditioned with new tires and brakes.
In a field of Balsamroot.
Salnave Conservation area.
Palisades ride and flat tire (Left) Since that trip we have all new tires and brakes.
All spring, however, I've had questions running through my mind about Beautiful Girl and how to salvage our relationship.
There was a night, about a month ago, I had this dying urge to walk out and find them in their pasture. It was pitch dark with hardly any light from the moon, so I had to follow their path and keep an ear out for them.
The first one I came across was Beautiful...most likely because she's always extra alert. She didn't look too happy--was even a little snorty and protective of her herd now that she's high up in the order. She tried to keep Cowboy and Money Penny from coming to me.
So, call me crazy, but I talked to her. I don't really think horses understand our words, sometimes I doubt they even know their names, but I do think they understand intent and tone. I talked to her all about our relationship and my relationship with the others, her place in the herd, my place in their lives, and our future.
And, yes, our relationship was better the days after that--for whatever reason. Apparently, a little night talk went a long way.
Back to the topic--willing students--after a day of training--tying, crossing water, saddling, and other basics, I put Beautiful Girl away in a stall thinking, like I always did, separating her would be best. But as I thought about it, a new idea came to me--what if putting her away is, in fact, cheating? If I had a crappy day with training and didn't exercise self-control & respect, she'd still have to come to me because she'd be "caught." Yet, if she was free with the herd, I could gauge the effectiveness of my training/partnership by whether she would willingly be caught.
I reversed course and released her.
The big test came this morning when I went out to get her. I was rewarded. For a second she did turn away, but I stopped where I was and talked to her, lead rope clearly in front of me, and she stopped and turned to me and allowed me to approach and halter.
She's still herd bound in a bad way, but consistent time away from the herd will take care of it. She has a good memory, though, for her previous lessons and saddle work. She almost took right up where she left off and allowed me to saddle, lunge, and then get on and move her around. She did get broncy at one point in the lunging--I think she mistook the lead rope for a snake because she went straight up and down about 5 times, snorting.
The problem in her training is loping. She's acting like it's difficult for her to get into and maintain a gentle lope. I'm worried about that and whether it's a conformational problem. She demonstrated the same thing last year. I'm going to keep moving forward and see if it's not just a training thing and if it persists, I'll have my farrier assess her the next time he comes out.
I didn't love my horses any less, but I didn't have a pressing need to ride all the time or train much. I just wanted to let them be in their herd running free on our pastures. And, you know, I don't feel bad about that.
I didn't feel guilty about it then, and I don't regret it now. Our lives are complicated and full of changes and sometimes, for whatever reason, we pull away from our passions only to return in earnest to them later. We can't always figure out why it happens or how to "fix" it. I do know my horses are one of the greatest joys in my life, no matter if I'm riding them every day or enjoying them from the ground. This chapter of my life has thrown me back together with them, and I'm having a lot of fun.
Surprisingly to me, I like my new self better than my old. When your nest is empty you only have you...and, in my case, my husband. But the YOU part becomes more important. Not in a vanity way, but in a caring way. For the first time, I'm asking myself how to take care of and protect myself better. This takes on many forms, but the crux of it is... I like ME quite a bit. I might even love ME. I hope I do. I love a lot of other people, too. And mine and other animals--pretty much any animal that crosses my path actually..and flowers and plants, too.
I believe all things are created spiritually first and foremost--that is what I'm most in touch with at this point in my life--the sanctity of all life and the huge and happy responsibility I have to those around me....and myself.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Since riding with Teresa-two-hours-is-a-short-ride cowgirl, I found I agree. My happy place is on my horse. When I step into the saddle it's like this whoosh of positive energy sweeps over me. So why quit? Why get off? Ever.
The weather forecast for today was upper 50's and sunny, so we packed a lunch of boiled eggs, sandwiches and (unfortunately for the horses) one apple, split three ways, and took off for a six hour ride.
We got to watch Canada geese floating the rapids and honking along at each other, deer running to get clear of us, and lots of gorgeous basalt cliffs, sunshine and pine. Happiness really is on horseback.
My daughter left her main horse at home to try Brandie out, and all I can say is everyone needs a Brandie. There's a lot of them out there and they make trail rides awesome!
Cowboy is somewhat of a Brandie. He's been my main horse for over ten years now. He doesn't have her willingness to go wherever you point her, but he gets the job done....eventually. He's safe and he walks out fast on trail rides. Still, everyone needs a Brandie, if for no other reason, they teach the others what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.
I love all my horses. They take me places I may never have gotten to otherwise. Every day on horseback is a gift.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Not a lot changed around our place until this week.
Cowboy's head shaking started up when the days got brighter, I gave him his anti-seizure meds, and it calmed down. Shadow, our old gray gelding, is about 25 now and too arthritic to be safe on trails, he remained, and remains, largely retired.
Old Red, our good ol' boy, go-to horse for the grand-kids seemed to be doing okay, but at age 33/34 he is just about toothless and pretty much entirely on pelleted feed. We saddled up a couple of weeks ago for a little ride and it became clear pretty quick, his arthritic left shoulder has ended his riding career--even for those under 50 pounds.
The loss of Red and Shadow (loss meaning retired, not dead!) left us without a good horse for the grand-kids and guests we have to our house, so I put feelers out among my friends for a good addition to our herd--one that anyone can ride, but still has some spunk left in them, too.
Within days one of my friends offered us her daughter's horse--a mare that many of my other friends have rode or borrowed and that has a reputation for being an absolute gem. We were hesitant to bring in another horse, but she made us an offer we couldn't refuse--we could test her out for two weeks, no strings attached.
So, I set a time to go pick her up when we both got off work figuring I'd load her and go. (That's the herd watching me pull out as I left to get her.)
My friend had other plans. She invited me and another friend on a "short" ride to give Brandie a whirl. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. And--WOW--Cowboy's saddle and bridle fit perfectly.
Teresa is the kind of cowgirl everyone needs to ride with--trail smart, fearless, and lots of go. Turns out, a short ride for her is two hours. She forges her own trails, rides with a flashlight strapped to her cowboy hat (which came in handy since we didn't get back to her house until well after dark), and has a campfire going after every trail ride with lots of wine! If you ride with her, she even makes you your own street sign! I'm Linda's Lookout--which may be a "Lookout for Linda!"
Here it was in the low 40's and she just had to go belly-deep through the lake!
Brandie was a lot of fun to ride. She took the lead on the trail, didn't spook at the herds of deer we encountered running off, ate up rocks barefoot as we traversed those non-paths that Teresa likes to forge so we could enjoy grand cliff-side views--or at least they'd be grand views during daylight hours. My mind was pretty much made up five minutes into the ride. I just kept thinking, "Man, am I lucky to get this horse! I hope she doesn't change her mind before I get her in my trailer!!"
She didn't. I left like a thief in the night with my grand haul of a horse. The only hurdle left was to convince my husband. For that, I had to make a bargain: the new grand piano I'd been shopping for in return for Brandie. That was an easy decision.
And now Brandie is our newest horse.
Going to the barn to play with her is fun. The nieces couldn't wait to see her.
Our oldest grand-daughter can't wait to ride her. She'll be able to do so much more now. Brandie can take her anywhere she wants to go, safely and at any gait. Her life with horses will really take off.
A mare like this is worth gold and silver. She's a precious gift and I thank my lucky stars she's now part of our family.
And here's my other little girl--Her Grand Spunkiness. She's not exactly a kid horse, but her antics make life a little more interesting. Gotta love that!