Monday, February 28, 2011

Are the Best Leaders Horse People?

(George Washington, Prayer at Valley Forge, although, the horse he rode most during the Revolution was his sorrel horse, Nelson.)

I was going through the checkout the other day and saw the 100th Anniversary Commemorative magazine for Ronald Reagan. While I was waiting, I thumbed through it, and what I was amazed at were all the wonderful pictures of him with horses.

It made me ask the question--are the best leaders horse people? I'm not talking about the ones who hop on a horse for a photo-op or buy a ranch to be more Reaganesque. I'm talking about real, true, dyed-in-the-wool horse lovers who have learned life's lessons through horsemanship. And I'm not talking about policies, which we may or may not agree with--I'm thinking about leadership qualities: the ability to inspire and change people.

And then, I thought of the leaders who weren't or aren't horse people, and how they could have benefited from a life with horses. Richard Nixon? Maybe he'd have been more honest. Gerald Ford? Maybe he'd be more real and approachable. Jimmy Carter? Maybe he'd be tougher. President Obama? Rather than being just a good orator--good with words--maybe he'd be able to speak deeper, stronger and more true. Sarah Palin? Maybe she'd talk less and listen more.

There was a time when everyone needed horses and every leader was depicted on horseback--almost mythically. But then, there were those politicians who loved horses just for the horse's sake: Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and others.

Here are some pictures of great leaders and their horses. If you know of others, please let us know in the comments. And, I'm not positive the politicians above are not horse people in some way, but from what I've seen, they don't appear to be. If I'm wrong, correct me.

In my searches, Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt were the easiest ones to find pictures with horses. In fact, there were so many pictures of them, I only included a very small sample. These were, truly, humans who would rather be horseback. We do know, however, many others of our first founders were also avid horsemen, but with the lack of photography, we are left to the few paintings.

George Washington: Washington's favorite horse during the Revolution was his sorrel horse, Nelson.

"Washington had been passionately fond of horses from early boyhood, and owned his first horse at 17. His mother, Mary Ball Washington, was a skilled horsewoman who taught young George how to train horses using only the gentlest of methods, and to never resort to any cruelty. Washington learned that harsh training methods were counter-productive, because horses treated with respect are eager to please their riders." from James Hodges, click here to read more about the horsemanship of George Washington--I'm pretty sure you horse lovers will be fascinated with what it says there.

Abraham Lincoln: "I care not for a man’s religion, whose dog and cat are not better for it."

Lincoln owned several horses: Tom, Belle, Old Buck, and a reddish-brown horse named Robin (who was called "Old Bob"). Lincoln rode Old Bob when on the circuit as a lawyer.

"Don't Change horses in midstream"--from his quote: "An old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams."

Theodore Roosevelt--leader of the Rough Riders. When, during his time in the White House, they asked him to switch to automobiles, he refused saying, "The Roosevelts are horse people."

You may enjoy this walk through the White House Horse History.

A letter to Theodore Roosevelt from RB Cunninghame Graham in 1917: "God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses." I've often thought the same thing.

A book I want to read:

Winston Churchill: "No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle."

Franklin Pierce--14th President of US: "If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth". Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe, letter to President Franklin Pierce. What his actual relationship was with horses and animals in general, I don't know. This photograph is more of the mythological type--where the horse is depicted as almost surreal, fantastical--and lends to the appearance of Pierce being more of a war hero.

Ronald Reagan: "I've often said there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse."

Every conservative wants to be Ronald Reagan. Guess what? They're not. He was one-of-a-kind and there will never be another.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Quiet of the Herd

I'm thoroughly enjoying all the winter ruminations about horsemanship. What better time to read the thoughts of other equestrians than when it's below freezing, ice and snow packed?

This morning, I got a dose of inspiration from Annette's blog, News from Aspen Meadows. We've all talked about how the qualities of passive leadership would really be the qualities of an excellent human leader, as well. Annette takes it from human to horse as she highlights some of those qualities in this and her previous posts. Very inspiring.

Yesterday I played with my horses. Ahhh, what a life. I get to play with horses. It was cold, but the sun was shining and the horses were in the most delightful mood. I walked with them, chased them, teased them, had some fun. I hadn't gone out there to tape it, but I had my little pocket camera with me, so I captured a few minutes--as much as my bare hand could handle before needing to replace the glove.

This clip gives you a good idea of what my daily life is like with the herd. It's our little interactions that make the horse life special. You can see all of their personalities so much better from this view--much more realistic than the clips I assembled of them chasing each other around.

There's one thing I didn't capture because I didn't expect it, and that was Beautiful running full out through the snow, past her herd buddies who were trying to get her to go the other way, to say goodbye to me as I left the pasture. I had almost made it to the gate when I caught her from the corner of my eye running toward me. It may have been the first time any of my horses have ran to me like that without me holding some sort of food. I gave her a rub on the withers and a kiss goodbye before leaving. Does a horse care about a kiss? Probably, but even if she didnt, I do.

Quiet of the Herd

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Thoughts on Letting Go

If you haven't followed this link already from Kate's blog, please do. I think you'll be happy you took the time. The blog is called Equine Insanity. The post is about how horses come into our lives to teach us lessons. These lessons can only be truly learned when we enter into a relationship that is more important than just riding.

Her story so much reminded me of my horse, Cowboy. He was the most fearful horse when I got him, and I always thought he was doing it on purpose. As if he had an actual plan to make my life hard.

But I loved him like CRAZY, and I was determined to stick with him no matter what. Why would I want to stick with a horse who had an actual "plan" against me? Probably, on some level, I knew he didn't. There were far more moments of tenderness between us than contention. He was as drawn to me as I to him. In me he saw a forever person. In him, I saw many of the answers I was seeking.

Cowboy really has taught me most of what I know about horses. I've shuffled through one philosophy after another to reach out to him and form that relationship we both wanted. Because I didn't feel safe with him, I first gravitated toward the "alpha role". It was the easiest thing to grab onto at the time and it did move us from unsafe to safe--and safe, with horses, is a very good place to be. That "alpha" stance probably got me 70 percent of the way with Cowboy because it increased my confidence in him and his in me. It made me feel like I didn't have anything, physically, to fear anymore. It was the only way, at the time, I could really wrap my brain around the idea of boundaries and how to enforce them. Boundaries, are a good thing.

I think back and ask myself if I could have learned this "passive leader" role before going through the alpha role, and I don't know the answer. I don't know if I had enough hands-on information about horses to trust them enough to make it work. Living with them, day in and day out, has helped me with that, but I still have a long, long way to go. I have a goal--a vision of sorts--and each day working with my horses seems to confirm it and build toward it, but it's not 100 percent natural for me yet because of my lack of confidence.

With each new horse, you almost have to learn it all over again. After all, Beautiful's not Cowboy. Can I trust her in the same way?

Let me quote the Crazy 8 ball, All signs point to yes.

It appears that, after a relationship is formed and your horse knows you understand it is a partnership, that you're going to listen to them as much they listen to you and respect what they're saying, their fears diminish. When their fears diminish, our confidence can increase.

This is why it's so good to let go of old stories.

1.) Because maybe, just maybe, 90 percent of what our horses "did wrong" was due to us. Just maybe, a few years down the road, we're going to look back and think--oh my, that wasn't Cowboy's fault, that was MY fault!

2.) We have to give them space to react and not confine them. In my mind: the idea of flight, or the possibility of flight, is more powerful to a horse's internal management system than actually fleeing. A horse must first know there is an exit in order to decide not to take it. Remember when I wrote about how I was afraid of Cowboy jumping streams and logs, so I held him back? Then, I took jumping lessons, went out on the trail last year and gave him his head and he never jumped! When he knew he could, he didn't. How can we give them this space if our bodies are always anticipating the worst?

My friend who trains horses can sit anything. She was born in a saddle. When she test rode Cowboy for me eight years ago, he didn't do the things he was going to eventually do with me. Why? I can only attribute it to her confidence as a rider and her natural tendency to let a horse "out"--let them make "mistakes"--let them move under her. She's not a bit fearful, so she doesn't anticipate problems. I've found anticipation creates problems, rather than prevents them.

If I was expecting Beautiful to turn and run out of the trailer, what would I do different? I'd probably hold her lead rope tight and "confine" her. But what a joke that would be. Little old me is going to "confine" a thousand pound horse? Don't think so. It had to be her choice. All I could do was encourage and lead her and help her feel safe. If I had been holding on tight to her lead rope, what would that have been communicating to her? Probably, that she did, indeed, have something to fear.

If I'm expecting Cowboy to jump and I don't want him to, what would I do to stop him? Instinctively, I'd probably pull back on his reins. Ha! What a joke. He's either going to back up and go nowhere or jump anyway, the bit is only a tool for communication, it's not a true barrier that stops a horse.

So, what's another way I could do it? I could use the bit as a communication tool, signal my desire for him to walk over the log, and give him the opportunity to walk over it. If he doesn't, I can turn him around and ask again, and again, and again until I get a walk, and then proceed. Maybe you all can think of other ways to do it.

I think all of us would like to do the minimum amount to get the maximum relationship with our horses, and there is so much we can learn from each other as we work toward this mutual goal. It's like we're all making maps of a new and wonderful territory and then sharing what we've seen. That's why I so enjoy going to all your horse blogs and reading your stories with your horses and the insights learned from them. We all have the same destination--a journey to the heart of our horse.

Katariina has this quote on her blog, Equine Insanity:

If you have come to help are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

-Quote by Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland, 1970s


The pictures above were the calm before last night's storm. We got 12" of snow and it's still coming. So, I'm homebound, reading all of your wonderful stories and thinking about spring!

Happy last of the winter trails, everyone!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beautiful's Story: Week One

The great thing about horses is that they take every day for what it is--a new story. People aren't usually like that. We like to hold onto old stories...about ourselves, each other, our animals. We like to say THIS is who I am, and THAT is who you are. So there.

But that's not reality. We are not who we were yesterday. We are not fairy tales, or cliches, or caricatures--all good and pure or all mean and evil.

Last week I had an epiphany--that I was holding onto a story or, more accurately, a fairy tale, about Beautiful Mustang. I thought it wasn't good for her or me or our training, and since it wasn't good, I decided to let it go.

An amazing thing happened, though, because when I let it go, I found out she is even smarter and more amazing than I thought. She is calmer than I thought. She thinks things through more than I thought. She is more of a willing partner than I knew.

Each day, of the last six days, I've devoted to one of the major foundational training areas: Clipping, Tying, Leading, and Loading. In my mind, I can't go further until these are accomplished. Each one of the major areas has potential for things to go wrong. I don't want BG to have negative baggage about any of them, so I didn't want anything to go wrong.

The first two days were clipping with the electric clippers--and a little tying--I was patient, and it took a while, but, in the end, it went great (more in the movie). Then, there was a day of tying while I cleaned stalls (also shown in the movie). And finally, a couple days of loading and leading. I had exposed her to the trailer last year, but she never actually got in. This year, we started at about the same place we left off. (Horses have good memories.)

There isn't much video of that first day because my husband and I were alternating trailer duty with an approach/withdraw/gentle pressure and release strategy. Finally, after about an hour--or maybe forty-five minutes (I didn't time it) we decided to end on a positive note and feed her a little grain at the trailer's edge.

Surprisingly, at about that time, while I was at her side, she had a slack rope, and we were relaxed with no expectations, she decided to put her front feet in and smell around. She put them both solidly in and sniffed the dividers, the roof, the ground--as if she was sizing it up to see if she'd fit in there and be safe. Then, just as calmly, she stepped back down, and we made a big, happy deal about it.

My husband decided to move back further in the trailer with the grain and see what happened. With the rope still slack, and no pressure whatsoever, in she walked, slow and gentle, and stood there eating for about five minutes. She looked around, back at me, out at the other horses, and she was as calm as could be. I said, Let's try just backing her out since she's so calm. And, out she backed, like she'd done it for years.

Day #2 is on the video. How did she do the second day? Did she load without grain? What were her memories from the first day?

This is the end of week #1--I learned new things about Beautiful. I trust and respect her more than I did at the start of the week. I feel more confident about her ability to think things through. Now, we're on to week #2 and I have plans, but few expectations--because every day is a new day--as it should be. And, if you hadn't noticed, that's my new motto. I've used it many times before, but now it's moved up to motto status. Or, said differently,

To truly enjoy life, to see yourself and others in fresh ways, you must be willing to let go of the stories that keep you tied to the past. Linda Kohanov, Way of the Horse.

***One last BG update--it took two weeks, but she is well-established in the herd now. She occupies a comfortable position second to last (Cowboy is the good-natured Omega, the confidence builder, and babysitter--which, btw, has great benefits for him).

Just yesterday, she was let into the round bale circle with the whole herd. Before that, she had to wait until they were all done. How she accomplished the feat was funny to watch. She went barrelling around them at break-neck speeds, bucking and fussing. They all stood there calmly, watching the spectacle. Then, as if to put an end to it, they signalled some passivity or permission, she walked in slowly, took a timid bite, and they all went back to eating...together.

Now, the herd is six.

I'm so proud, proud, proud of Beautiful. I want to talk about her all the time, but I get a lot of blank stares, the not-to-subtle point to change the subject.

Here she is this morning, standing her ground against the snow, in-line with the rest of the herd. Isn't she amazing?!? I love her.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Balance & Letting the Story Go

(So, she is a little curious. Who's that in my stall? Does she have treats?)

Nuzzling Muzzles pulled a card for me from, Way of the Horse, in answer to my question: What do I need to do, or what aura or impression is there surrounding my work with Jasmine?

Here is the answer:

Card Pulled: Lionheart (Protecting without Sacrificing Sensitivity, Assertiveness without Aggression, The Courage to Feel and the Willingness to Act)

From Linda Kohanov's Way of the Horse:

"THE GIFT: Human beings carry the wisdom of both predator and prey. True empowerment depends on finding a balance between the two."

"THE CHALLENGE: Cultivating the strength of your "inner lion," without letting it run amok, is tricky. If you don't have enough lion, people will walk all over you, and you'll lack the conviction and focus to follow your dreams. If you have too much lion, you'll lose the sensitivity that nurtures relationship and creativity."

"THE JOURNEY: ...Horses have much to teach us about the middle ground between submission and aggression... Horses model the strengths of nonpredatory behavior: relationship over territory, process over goal, responsiveness over strategy, cooperation over competition, emotion and intuition over reason."

I found this to be an amazingly perceptive card for me. Jasmine is a pony, and no horse more than a pony has seen these two extremes in humans. They are children's horses and children only know how to spoil them. Adults are impatient, get frustrated, and can easily man-handle them.

In my work with Jasmine, it's hard to be patient sometimes. The key word that describes my work with her is frustration. I've tried everything, nothing seems to work. Sometimes, it seems she's looking at me with eyes that say, keep trying--dig deeper and try to find a way to reach me. And that is why I still have her.

I want her heart more than I want her submission, and achieving this goal, I believe, will work out something very good inside of me. I think that card sums it all up about as well as anything could.

Since I last blogged about Jasmine, I've been going out several times a day and feeding her treats, sometimes pulling up a chair and sitting with her. She's eating the treats out of my hands real well. Sometimes I just let her eat the treat, but sometimes I move over beside her and put my arm around her and pet her. If she walks away, I follow her and make sure she gets touched--no more of this shunning business. I'm not going to manipulate or man-handle her, but I'm not going to let her play the pony card of, I get treats and then ignore you. I'm trying to find that balance.

My friend, Laura, loaned me the book, You Can Train Your Horse To Do Anything, by Shawna and Vinton Karrasch, so I can study up on Clicker training. It's the one thing I haven't ever done with Jasmine, so I'm willing to give it a try, too.

My second question to Nuzzling Muzzles was:

What do I need to do, or what aura or impression is there surrounding my work with Beautiful?

Card Pulled: Back to Grazing (Emotional Agility, Trust in the Universe, Letting the Story Go)

From Linda Kohanov's Way of the Horse:

"THE GIFT: When you move through emotions like horses do, when you get the message behind a troubling feeling and change something in response, you experience greater periods of authentic peace and fulfillment."

"THE CHALLENGE: To truly enjoy life, to see yourself and others in fresh ways, you must be willing to let go of the stories that keep you tied to the past."

"THE JOURNEY: ...Whether the tone is peaceful or playful, angry or fearful, horses are effusive yet efficient creatures. When trouble arises in the herd, they deal with it and move on..."

My interpretations: Don't ruminate over the past. Be like a horse. Live for the moment. Don't hang on to useless emotions if they have nothing to do with the present situation.

This one is a perfect fit for me, too. It's a fit in so many ways, I'll have to refer back to it in future posts.

I can't hold her past mistakes against her. I can't over-protect her. And, I can't let her become "a story." Every day is a new day for her and me out there. I've got to open myself up to that and all the ups and downs, surprises, setbacks and successes.

So, as I've thought about what all this means, I've made a decision to limit my blog entries for a while. I'm hoping this will free us up to make mistakes together, problem-solve together, and then write, at the end of each week, in hind-sight. Basically, I'm going to let go of the story.

Before I sign off for this week, I want to thank you all for the support, encouragement and great ideas that I'm going to draw upon as I work to accomplish my goals with Jasmine, Beautiful, Cia, and Cowboy.

Be back soon....

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wanted: To Accomplish These Goals

Wanted: Beautiful saddle trained.

I have several horse projects at my house this spring, the first of which is saddle-training Beautiful. I've been having fun with the movies of her introduction to the herd, but in all seriousness, what the herd has done for me is priceless. Basically, it's good cop, bad cop. Before I moved on to the next phase of her training, she had to go back into the herd and learn the most fundamental lessons.

What has she learned? They have desensitized her to a number of spooky things, they've taught her respect and boundaries, they've heightened her attention to what's going on around her--to name a few things I've seen by my own observations.

When I worked with her on Sunday, she was the sweetest, quietest little horse you could imagine. I owe that to the head mare, Cowgirl. She has spent night and day to earn the peace in the herd that I see out there now. The reason I can aspire to be a leader like Red is because there's a real leader like Cowgirl in her herd.

Wanted: Ride Cia on the trails.

I've been working with Cia for three years. The first year I just sacked her out and saddled her. The second year, I did the same, but hired a trainer to put on the first ride here at my house and to guide me through my own first rides. Having him here gave me great peace of mind, and I might bring him out again this spring as I work with these two horses. He has a special way with the horses, tender and quiet, and only did what he had to and no more.

Here are pictures of Cia's training history. The bowing pictures were with her first owner.

As a baby.

These were taking with her previous owner. I ran into her at Aslin-Finch (Local Feed Store) last week. She used to own the mare she's out of and bred her to get Cia. She wanted to know how she was doing and said she still thinks about her all the time--even has her picture up in her house still. Sweet. As for Cia's mom--a wonderful sorrel QH--she eventually had to sell her, too, to a 4-H girl who has been doing fabulous.

First year. The barn wasn't even built.

I said once that my opinion about roundpenning changed with Cia, and it's true. Cia taught me that I have to be more observant about what my horse is saying and doing--even if it means leaving what I've learned behind. I roundpenned her more than necessary and wasn't giving at the proper time. Luckily, horses are forgiving, or at least she is, and we were able to take steps back and do it right.

Still the first year.

First ride, second year.

Second ride, second year.

Wanted: A sound horse. Cowboy has been camping out his injured leg more often now. Any suggestions about what to do if that hoof gets arthritic? (It's an old P3 injury--severly fractured--from toe to coffin joint-and displaced coffin bone.) But I've been able to ride him for the last three years, and I consider every day a gift. He's a miracle on four hooves!

Wanted: A pony who will approach me in a large turnout or pasture.

I've been working with Jasmine for years now, and I do finally have her to the point of being easily caught in a 36x36 turnout. By easily caught, I mean she stands and let's me approach and halter her. However, if you increase the size, she will not come or stop. She's great when she's finally "caught", you can do about anything with her, but she does not prefer people if she has her choice.

No one really knows Jasmine's history, but you can guess some really poor handling when she was young. I'm not sure how far I'll ever be able to get with her, but I continue to try, and she continues to make small improvements. I guess we have the rest of our lives.

So, for now, I'm letting her loose in the arena with a halter and lead each day so that I can catch her and work with her. When she gets to the point that she let's me approach and catch her easily or, better yet, that she comes to me on her own, I'll release her back in the herd.

Until then, no. She used to be with the herd, but the third or fourth time she broke the fence and I couldn't catch her, I thought a horse that cannot be caught has no business being out there. What if it was an emergency? Plus, I wanted to work with her every day and get her to attach to me rather than the herd.

So, how is this new tactic working (letting her loose on a lead)? Pretty good. Sunday was two steps back, maybe because of the good weather, but she wanted nothing to do with getting caught for at least three hours. I let her be and came back at dinner time. She came right up and let me catch her. You know that windstorm I wrote about? I had to halter her to switch stalls, and she came right up to me then, too--like there wasn't a windstorm at all. So, I think she's very, very, very, very, very, to infinity, smart. Scared when she wants to be. Hmmmm.....

If you've followed my blog, you know that my husband and I walk her with the dog. We live in a rural area where we can do this, and she seems to like it.

So, those are my goals for 2011--saddle train, trail train, keep sound, and have the pony approach me on her own.

Any suggestions for Cowboy and the pony are greatly welcomed. Encouragement is always welcome, too!