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.


  1. It's good to hear from you, but I wish writing didn't take the wind out of your sails. You do it so well.

    1. Nuz Muz--thank you--you're sweet! If you get to missing me, I do share daily poetry at bitsofpoetry.wordpress . I haven't been as faithful to that the last month or so, but poetry does the opposite of prose for me--so it fits in really well to my horse life.

  2. I've never heard of separating in training -- so I never have done that. I'm glad that you are finding your way with Beautiful Girl. As for how I found Lucy -- my trainer told me about her. She was too much horse for her previous owner and I got her for next to nothing because the owner just wanted her gone. I really lucked out -- she is too sensitive for a novice but perfect for me.

    1. Annette, Lucy is beautiful, athletic and well-trained--you are very lucky to have found her and I'm super happy for you!! So, you haven't heard of separating from the herd for training? When we'd send out horses to our trainer in the past, it naturally separated them from their herd, but they were still stalled next to other horses. We have all our horses out during the summer, and putting Beautiful in the barn would be leaving her alone. No wonder she was mad at me last year.

  3. I've missed reading your blog. It's good to see you're having a good time with the horses again! I'll be looking forward to your next post, even if it does take a while.

    1. Andrea, I feel horrible about your leg!! Hope you heal up quickly!!

  4. That was beautifully written, and good food for thought for many of us. Me especially.

    I also have never heard of separating during training. For me, the only reason I separate my horses at all is to micromanage their food intake. Otherwise the big bully will steal everyone's food. I would think that giving her that time to relax and unwind with her heard would be an awesome reward after a day of working and learning new things. Of course I am not a trainer, I barely muddle through with my own.

    1. Cindy, I think you're right, returning to the herd is a great destresser and reward. It's probably a good thing to teach them they can leave for a while and go back and still be safe.

  5. I have nominated your blog for the Leibster award! My private blog was nominated, and so that is why there is no post on Bits and Spurs.


    Thank and link back to the person who nominated you
    List 11 facts about yourself
    Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you
    Nominate 9 bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers (you can’t nominate the blogger who nominated you)
    Ask them 11 questions
    Let them know about the nomination

    Here are the questions:

    1. Brown or Black?
    2. Willow or pine trees?
    3. Sweet or Spicy?
    4. When you read, do you feel like you are in the story?
    5. What is your favorite thing to eat?
    6. What is your favorite thing to do?
    7. Which do you think are cuter as babies: Lambs or Goats?
    8. Would you rather be in the country or the city?
    9. What is your favorite flower?
    10. Do you bird watch?
    11. Have you ever been to the beach?

    Have a great day!

  6. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  7. Im late to the party, as always, but I have enjoyed your writing AND your training epiphanies on your blog...looking forward to reading more :) Wishing you a good rest of the summer !

  8. Feral, I'm later than you are.

    Good to hear from you again, and really, the empty nest can get filled with horses in a hurry. All of our kids have commented that they have been replaced. And they seem okay with it!


    1. Yes, horses are good for that. LOL. So, are grandkids!


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.