The old Zen master answers: "Chop wood and carry water."
After ten years of faithfully carrying out these duties, the frustrated pupil returns and tells his master, "I've done as you asked. I have chopped wood and carried water for ten years, but still I have not attained enlightenment! What shold I do now, O Sage One?"
The master answers, "Continue to chop wood and carry water, my son."
The pupil faithfully returns to his duties. Another ten years pass. During that decade, the student matures and reaches satori. He returns to see his old master wearing a simple smile on his face.
"Master," he says, "I have reached satori, and now I am an enlightened being. What should I do now?"
The master answers, "Continue to chop wood and carry water then, O Enlightened One." The pupil bows deeply and retires to his wood and water."
Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working With Horses p. 47
After last week's setback, it occurred to me that I had been neglecting the building blocks of Leah's training, ground work. The time spent grooming, walking, moving feet, bending, and even getting her in good physical shape, are the foundation of success.
I looked at what went wrong with the "fall", and I started to see it as a series of issues.
1. Inability to rest and wait for my next ask.
2. Inability to balance in a tight turn.
3. Leah being overweight and that extra weight making it difficult for her to perform.
4. Leah wanting to return to the barn and her herd.
I decided I need to address all of those things by throwing myself into the basics--the basics which are also good for me because, not only does Leah need to get in shape--so do I. In fact, I've been wearing my Fitbit and trying to get 10,000 steps in a day on a treadmill.
Yesterday morning I thought, why am I walking on a treadmill when I have horses I can walk?!?
I put on my walking shoes, went out and got my new trail (and walking) buddy, and decided that from now on, we'd make it into a walk and training session.
Leah and I walked from the barn to the front pasture, where she could graze far away from the herd, thus learning to be comfortable with them calling for her and knowing she was a-okay. (400 steps one way).
Then, we'd turn and go back to the barn, stopping to smell the roses along the way. (Engaging her curiosity with the world).
We even stopped to smell the clematis and Leah grabbed a bite off one of my lilies.
At the barn, however, we did not rest. Instead, we worked on bending, disengaging the hind (something that she needs to become better at to keep from tripping at the turn), moving specific feet, backing, and coming forward.
After we worked, we walked back out to the front of the property and she was able to relax and graze again. (Repeat 5 times).
Another update: a trainer is boarding at the barn next door, and I asked her if she'd help me with my instructor's "Leah Homework" each week here at my home. She would basically be my eyes, and helper, from the ground. We start tonight.
While she was here, though, I also had her assess Beautiful Girl. A few years ago, I had started Beautiful under saddle, but when I saw the way she was landing on her feet (she is club footed) I became concerned that further training may cause her injury, and I stopped there.
The thing with Beautiful is I knew from the beginning she had clubby feet, and I had decided that no matter what happened with her, she was one of my heart horses and would be with me until the day I die--trail horse or not.
The new trainer inspected her legs and then asked me to do my normal things with her--walk, trot, yield, etc. Beautiful Girl is so smart and eager to please, she did everything perfect. But afterward, the trainer agreed with me that the kind of training it takes to get a horse to the trail, could create an injury with BG.
Here is a picture of her legs from that night:
She is perfectly sound in pasture, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'll continue to work with her, as always, because she loves to be worked with and it's good for her, but I'm not going to do the hardcore saddle training.
That probably sounds sad since this whole blog started because of Beautiful. In fact, I wouldn't be a blogger if it hadn't been for adopting her and finding that I had no clue what I was doing and turning to this blog, and others, for help.
Yet, the journey with Beautiful was about love from the beginning. From the moment I saw her in the pen--never intending to adopt a Mustang--she just called out to my soul. I had been at the fair to work in a booth and, passing by the BLM's pens, I saw her. The next thing I knew, I was in a tent signing paperwork and, hours later, backing my trailer in to get her. One of the best, non-decisions I ever made!
Before her, I had always thought of horses as utilitarian. You get a horse, you ride it, when it becomes too lame to ride, you put it down. Beautiful taught me that horses have just as much, if not more, to give to us as companions. From the moment a farrier (not my main farrier) looked at her feet and told me she would quite possibly become too lame to even be a pasture pet, I knew instantly I would take her any way she came. I was in it 'til death do we part.
Beautiful has taught me many things--like how strange it is for humans and horses to trust one another, and how lucky and blessed we are that horses give us that trust. Before her, I'd always had domesticated horses who had already been started in one way or another. Getting to Beautiful's heart was a new journey. And, once she gave me her heart, she never took it away.
Beautiful will always be the horse who teaches me that chopping wood and carrying water is the key not only to enlightenment, but heaven.
The gift of giving to a horse, with no expectations from them, has allowed me to see many amazing things! Old Red, arthritic Shadow, Lily the pony & Beautiful Girl--four horses in my herd I have the honor of serving and who have given me so much back in return by allowing me just to be a part of their lives.
I wrote a poem a few years ago that ended, "Some people hope for castles, As for heaven, I'd prefer a barn." It's the closest thing to heaven I've ever known.