Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Path of the Horse, Beyond Riding

Recently, I watched a horse documentary that took my breath away, The Path of the Horse.  (It's free to watch at that link.) The filmmaker sold her ranch to fund the project--a personal journey to meet the most enlightened, visionary horsemen and women she had read about: Alexander Nevzorov, Klaus Hempfling, Mark Rashid, Linda Kohanov, Carolyn Resnick and Kim McElroy.

A lot of what I heard and saw in that documentary resonated with me since I'm always looking for the least amount of force or coercion, as we all are, and as the filmmaker, Stormy May, was.  I wrote her for an interview, so I could learn more.

As we talked during the interview, she said something I didn't expect--that she had given up riding altogether.

That was a new and shocking idea to me.   I have eight horses and enjoy relationships from the ground with all of them, but five of them entirely.  I wasn't surprised that someone could find a non-riding relationship as good, valuable and worthy as a riding one.  The time I spend feeding and grooming Old Red, my 34-year-old horse, every day is one of the joys of my life. It has proven to me that horses have value far beyond their riding days.  And people who say, "That horse isn't useful anymore, time to put him down," are cheating themselves out of the most beautiful parts of a life with horses.

But to give up riding altogether?  I had to think about that.

Since our conversation I've had several trail rides during which I mulled over the concept and questions:

Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me?
How much coercion was I using during the rides?
Could I be convinced to give up riding altogether?

My answers:

Did Cowboy want to ride the trails with me?  Most every day I go out to see my horse and spend time with him, and he knows he can see me that way or during a ride.  Each day I was going to ride I hooked up the trailer and pulled it around so that he could see clearly that I was coming to get him for a ride.

My answer: Each time I went out to halter him for a ride he came to me and was happy to go and seemed to have a wonderful time.  (By the way, during long trail rides we do stop and give our horses a little break--eat lunch and relax--and at the end of every ride we spend a fair amount of time at the trail heads grooming and letting the horses relax.  Cowboy always stands ground tied and falls asleep.)

That said, he doesn't particularly seem thrilled to be saddled or bridled, but he tolerates it well.  At that point in the whole routine he does tend to give me a hard eye.

The full answer: Cowboy likes adventure and he likes me, thus, he likes the trails.  However, Cowboy would prefer I ditch the saddle and the bridle.

How much coercion did I use on the ride?  Pretty much none.  I ride on a loose rein and he moves out eagerly on the trails.

So, what does this mean for me and riding?  I don't know.  I love for my ideas to be challenged and to look at things in a different way--especially when it comes to horses.  I'm going to continue to think about it.

One thing it has definitely done is to solidify by belief that for horses out on pasture with a herd, a relationship on the ground is a perfectly legitimate choice and your horse won't feel robbed one little bit that he gets to spend time with you in a non-riding situation.  In fact, as in the case of Old Red, he may show you something about the horse/human relationship you've never seen before, but are so very thankful you were entrusted with.

I want to thank Stormy May for accepting my invitation to converse on this topic and not to judge me for being a rider, but to so graciously understand that we're all on a journey with our horses.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Horse and Rider, A Poem

Once there was a horse, and on the horse there was a rider.  How handsome they looked in the autumn sunlight, approaching a strange city! People thronged the streets or called from the high windows.  Old women sat among flowerpots.  But when you looked about for another horse or another rider, you looked in vain.  My friend, said the animal, why not abandon me?  Alone, you can find your way here.  But to abandon you, said the other, would be to leave a part of myself behind, and how can I do that when I do not know which part you are?

by Louise Gluck
from The Faithful and Virtuous Night

Time for an autumn ride on that horse which is a part of me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Self-Preservation In Horses

This was being shared on Facebook, and I thought I'd add it here for those who haven't seen it.  I love this quote.  The same could be said for people.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

No Tricks, No Treats

I'm always learning about horses and me with horses, which is, by its nature, different than someone else and their horses.

That being said, I personally have a philosophy of "No tricks, No treats" to get a positive answer to my requests.  I adhere to that policy even if time is "of the essence."  This doesn't mean that I never give treats, it just means I never give treats when making a request of my horse.

Today was manicure/pedicure day for my herd.  As I've said before, I have a wonderful farrier, the kind who shows up early rather than late and never misses an appointment.  The kind that keeps all my horses sound and barefoot, but is willing to hot shoe if needed.  His philosophy, if it isn't broke, don't fix it.  In this case, if they can handle the rocks, why put on shoes?  If it turns out you need them, call me, we'll put them on.  If ever I have an issue with any kind of lameness, I call him first and he comes out to the house--no charge--as soon as he can. Because of him, I'm riding my horse Cowboy 7+ years post P3 fracture/displacement into the coffin joint.

In exchange, I give him my trust and the freedom for him to manage my horse's feet on a schedule he thinks is best.  In our case, it's about every six weeks.  Pretty simple.

Today, like most days, he showed up early and before I'd had a chance to gather the horses.  I went out to meet him and haltered and tied two to get him started and then went out to the North Pasture to gather the rest--which basically amounted to our mare herd plus Cowboy--who isn't sure if he's a mare or a gelding on most days.  He's like the little brother whose older sisters are constantly dressing him in dresses and painting his fingernails pink.

Of the mare herd (plus Cowboy) each one allowed me to approach and halter EXCEPT Beautiful Girl.  She decided she'd rather be a naughty little stinker and deny my repeated requests to come say hi to her Uncle Scott.

I walked back to the barn and asked Uncle Scott if he was okay with me doing what I needed to do to catch Beautiful Girl while he continued to trim.  He said no problem--go for it!  (I always ask his permission before I do anything that could upset the horses since he's the one underneath and in possible harm's way.)

I went back out to the pasture and did the basic Catching a Naughty, Willful, Little Stinker Horse 101--which amounts to what we all know as pressure and release--pushing away, directing the feet, waiting for some basic joining up clues like licking the lips, keeping an ear cocked in my direction, and turning to look at me, and when all those things occur, approaching with halter and rope openly displayed.

It took more time (4-5 minutes all and all), and a little more walking on my part, but was worth every bit of it.

When I got back to the barn Uncle Scott was waiting patiently.  He told her, Silly girl, you just made more work for yourself and then got down to the simple business of making her feet pretty as she stood tied like the most docile, sweet mare you've ever seen.

There are some horses for which this won't work or, at the very least, will take much longer to work, and they are usually the ones who have had some "Trick and/or Treating" in their previous lives.  I had one of those and my response was to do the catching well ahead of the farrier arriving--like the day before.

That being said, there are times I give treats.  I give treats when they don't expect them and when there's nothing to be gained from giving them.  I'll go out at night after they've had dinner, for example, and walk among them in the pasture handing out treats.  I like to do that every so often so that they don't think I'm always coming out there to get something from them.

However, the best treat of all, in my opinion, is being petted and scratched on their withers, rather than a food treat.  I love to go out there and surprise them with a little lovin'.  I'd prefer to be the sugar cube rather than the sugar cube being the sugar cube.

I've been meaning to write a post on tying the hard to tie horse with the use of Blocker Tie Rings.  In case it's a while before I do, I just want to say that using a Blocker Tie Ring at each leave 1, 2 and, eventually, 3 is a wonderful way to teach being tied without risking a dangerous pullback.

More on that later...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Willing Students & Life Changes

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.

Riverside State Park (Above)

Salnave Conservation area.
Checking out a geocache (Above

Palisades ride and flat tire (Left) Since that trip we have all  new tires and brakes.

 Lots of rides with cowgirls on what I like to call my "Vitamin C"--Cowboy.

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.

This will probably be my last entry for a while because I found that writing too much about my training with BG kind of takes the wind out of my sails.  So much of training is intuition, mistakes and correcting mistakes, but it happens in its time.  I know a lot of bloggers write retrospectively, and I think that's probably how I'll need to do it, too.
Before I leave, one other thought came to me today.  Last year I was pretty discouraged about horses because of Cowboy's head shaking and I was also preoccupied with starting our new business--a HUGE undertaking--and, oh yea, my last kid grew up and moved out which really left my identity as a "mom" in temporary ruin.  I did not feel like myself most of the time, I guess because I didn't know what myself was anymore.

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

Happiness is on Horseback

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

A New Horse Worth Gold and Silver

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!