Monday, February 29, 2016

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad EXTRA Day

"When you take off the halter, you're left with one thing: the truth." 
- Pat Parelli 

Yay!  Leap Year!  I get an extra day, and it's sunny, and it's beautiful.  


I should go play with Beautiful.  It will be fun.  It will be special.  She will love me.

I want to hug her and squeeze her...and let her be at liberty!

That's pretty much how my day started.

The first interactions between Beautiful and I were perfect, or perfect enough.  Haltering, leading, yielding, cone game, and poles.  Easy.

So easy, I decided to go further because I still had an hour and half before I needed to get ready for work.

I unhaltered her and said, "Be FREE!"

She didn't let the opportunity go to waste.

Here is what I learned from my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Extra Day:

1. Some days, your horse doesn't want to be with you.  Maybe you stink...or smell too good.  Who knows. Maybe they'd rather be with their buddies, their babies, their bales of hay.  Who knows. Who knows.

2.  If you plan for an hour with your horse, for safety sake, multiply that times ten.

3. Never think you're going to out-ZEN your horse.  Your horse has practiced staring up a road, thinking about who knows what, for hours.  If you think you're going to reach into your inner-peace-horse-whisperer-place and cast a magic spell--think again.  Some days that seems to work--which is why you may think it always does, but...well, just refer back to #1.

4.  Cussing at your horse is pointless in "at liberty" work.  The most you'll get is a kick and fart as they leave you in the dust.

5.  Sometimes you have to walk away....before you make MORE of a fool of yourself with your horse.

6. When you do walk away and head to work, you will feel like the biggest jerk, and it will affect everything else you do on your one, every four years, extra day.  (Insert big sad face)

7.  You will run, not walk, out to the barn when you get home to make up with her.

My consolation?

There are more days.


P.S. The video evidence has been destroyed.


I'm not lying.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Developing A Work Ethic

I was watching this video in fast forward yesterday and it cracked  me up.  I thought I'd save it that way and add in a little Keystone Cops music, especially for the "Cone Game."  It was fitting.  Leah and I are, obviously, still learning to communicate with one another.  (This will be my last video for a while.)

He who works with his hands is a laborer.

He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

St. Francis of Assisi

Yesterday morning I fed the horses, dragged the arena, did a long session of T-Touch with Leah to check her body for soreness, rode Leah, switched out for Cowboy, rode Cowboy on the trails with my daughter and her horse, Cowgirl, and then took my shower and went to the Spokane Symphony.

It occurred to me that I have a full life.  (And, following your blogs, I know that you all do, too!)

I had been thinking all week about developing a "work ethic" in horses--how do you do it, how long does it take, what changes occur in their brains, but I realized that it has been more about developing a work ethic in myself, a change in my own brain.

There are a few things I changed about myself this month.  

1.) A 30 Day Happiness-Rewire-Your-Brain Project.  Every day, for 30 days, think about 3 things you're grateful for, write about something that made you happy in the last 24 hours, exercise, meditate/pray, and do some random act of kindness.  

2.) Exercise.  I'm not one to go to gyms.  It doesn't fit into my life and what makes me happy.  But my daughter-in-law has taught Body Flow for Les Mills--yoga, pilates and Tai Chi combo--for four years, and I've seen it transform her both inside and outside. I wanted to do it--give it a try--work on my balance, core strength and flexibility--my mind--but I didn't want to join a gym.  It turns out, though, that they offer all their courses ON DEMAND, online for about $12.00 a month.  So, I took the plunge, and I LOVE IT. I already have better balance, flexibility and strength.  Its works the whole body and ends with 8  minutes of guided meditation.  

3.) The 100 Day Challenge.  When I was 34, I had melanoma..and it shook  me up.  For about two years afterward, I had a heightened appreciation of everything in my life.  But, after a while, it wore off.  I did many things from then until now.  One was having an online radio/blog.  Those of you who have followed my blog, are probably aware of it.  I met lots of people through interviews--Cindy Meehl, Julie Goodnight, Pulitzer winner Claudia Emerson (my favorite poet who died one year after the interview) ...many amazing people who had accomplished so, so much in their lifetimes.  

But last summer it hit me that I was spending all my time researching and interviewing people who had accomplished a lot, while putting my own dreams on the back burner.  Three--almost four--years of my life--not wasted--but not in pursuit of my own gifts and passions either.    I instantly put the show on hold--maybe temporarily--maybe permanently, I don't know.  What I do know is that my time here on earth is limited, and I feel like I have so much to squeeze in to what ever time I have left, there aren't enough hours in the day.  The Challenge has made me accountable for TIME and my DREAMS and GOALS.  Besides my family, my horses are my greatest source of happiness.  I can't waste a day or a moment that could and should be with them.

4.) Guitar.  I love music, and my piano is right next to my horses in the hierarchy of needs, but this Christmas I got a guitar, A Big Baby Taylor.  I've been taking lessons online (love the internet!) and I'm amazed at how easy it is to learn....with the exception of the bar chords and the "Effing F Chord".  Whenever I sit down to rest, there's my guitar next to my chair...I must play it!  So, for anyone out there who has always thought, "I want to learn an instrument," it's never too late.  Pick up a guitar and hit the You Tube Universe!


A work ethic--"the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward."   

I would add to that, though.  A work ethic is looking at what you want to accomplish and being thankful, way down deep in your soul, that you have the opportunity to do it.

(Shiloh and Cowgirl after our ride.)

Friday, February 26, 2016

First Rides on Leah: Video

Leah has been getting the impression that every ride requires leaving home and going to a barn, but today I wanted to prove her wrong, and, it turns out, it was a beautiful day to ride at home.  My goal was to help her have a relaxed (hopefully, rewarding) experience, see how long she could walk a straight line, and let her (and me) practice a little trotting together.

She started out racey on the ground--as if she was nervous about what we were going to do, but with a little lunging and direction changes, she finally slowed to a walk, and I was able to get on and have a wonderful ride.

I think she enjoyed herself, too because she was very loving and tuned in afterward.  Mission Accomplished.  Riding can be fun!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trailer Loading & Hauling Success

The trailer troubles I wrote about Monday are over.  Leah did not paw or rock back in the trailer either going to or coming from her lesson yesterday.  YAY!!!

But it wasn't solved by the work I did Saturday, Sunday, & Monday.  Not that it hurt to practice tying and standing with patience, but when I went out to load her Tuesday--two hours earlier than the lesson--she was still balking, pawing and pulling back.

Before I went out that morning, however, I had read another article from Jedi Horsemanship, The Trick to Trailer Loading.  In it, they pointed out that even if a horse goes into the trailer pretty easily (like Leah), if they paw and rock back, they are not okay with it.  And, if you want to fix any trailer loading/hauling issues, you have to teach your horse that the trailer is a place of rest and safety.

It was an Aha! Moment for me.  Leah wasn't okay with it.  She didn't think the trailer was a place to rest.  She sees the trailer as a stressful place--a place that means being alone, leaving the herd, and driving off to scary places.  No amount of tying her in it was going to solve that.  It only reinforced it! 

There are so many reasons a horse needs to be okay with a trailer--getting to a vet, possibly a new home someday (God forbid!), going on a ride...or to a lesson.

How could I make Leah okay with the trailer?

The article said, and here we go back to the basics again--make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.   I'm actually embarrassed to write that because I already knew it.  But because she loaded okay, I didn't associate her issue with not wanting to be in the trailer.  I had brain fog.  Remember what my trainer always says about Leah?  She's a horse who wants to please and do what she's asked, BUT she is sometimes resisting.  She's sending subtle cues that I'm NOT okay with this...really. And, if those cues go ignored, she has the potential to blow up.

The article also pointed out that a horse should load herself into the trailer, rather than being walked in (or pulled in) by her owner.  Another Aha! moment.  Loading herself would show that she is making a choice, rather than being coerced...trapped.  (Which is yet another thing my trainer is always having me do with Leah--give her choices!)

I asked her to load her front feet into the trailer and stand relaxed for a minute or so and then, before she had an opportunity to get resistant, I backed her out about 30 feet and over to the arena, where I did some work on the lunge line and gave her lots of praise.  Then, back to the trailer, and I asked her to load herself.  She went fully in without hesitation.  I stepped in and stood with her as she rested.  Backed her the arena...lunge line...back in the trailer standing out..lunge line...back to the trailer...tie...close door, open door..back out...lunge line...back to trailer, tie, close door.  Drive away.  Quiet.

And, we had our best lesson yet!

(Above: For Teresa, another reason ground tying is

When we loaded to go home, she went right in by herself, but as I got in the truck, she started prancing around.  I got out, unloaded her, worked her in the driveway, loaded her back.  As I got back in the truck, she started again and I got out and again and repeated.  That was that.  We had a quiet ride home.


At Liberty with Beautiful Girl on Monday.  It took a lot of running around and playing to get her to finally follow me.  She's an independent little cuss.

This pretty much sums up most of our At Liberty work that day. Her eyes were on the herd.

After yesterday's lesson, I did something I don't normally do...ride alone in the park.  Thankfully, there were lots of hikers and bikers there, so I wasn't really alone, alone....and it was one of the most magnificent rides I've ever had.  Maybe it was because I was alone with Cowboy...and listening to him and the world around me rather than chatting.  I don't know, but it was MAGICAL.  I'm still basking in the after glow today.  We trotted, we loped, we walked and meandered through the woods.  We even rode up to our friend's house, who lives near the park, to see if she was home.  She wasn't, but it was a good excuse to keep riding...because, again, Cowboy did not want to go back to the trailer.

(Lots of cars in the parking lot.  Yay!)


Success is sweet when you work so hard and worry so much about something, like I did trailer hauling Leah. What freedom to be on the other side of such a scary issue.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Trailer Loading Issues

The first horse I raised and trained was Tanner (above).  As a teenager, back in the early '80's, I purchased him for $500 when he was a weanling.  Actually, it was before he was weaned, so he was a foal at his mama's side.  I didn't know a darn thing about training, but the seller told me to walk him around a lot and spend a lot of time grooming and tying him, until he was old enough to be ridden.  

We did a lot of walking.

Back then, there was no internet.  Really...NO internet.  I actually had to go to the library and check out books on training horses!  There wasn't much of a selection either.  I remember checking out a couple of books from the 50's. 

When Tanner was 18 months--or close to 2, I threw a light weight saddle on him and would have him stand tied with it on for hours.  (Above, my little brother feeding Tanner.)  

And, I'd ride this surly appy below (7 year old Scooter) with Tanner running free in the pasture beside or behind us. 

When Tanner was 3 and ready to be saddle trained, an old cowboy put one ride on him--which was more like him just getting on, turning/bending a couple of times, then walking him out, and handing him over to me. 

We hit the trails and never looked back. It was simple.

I attribute the ease of his training to having him stand tied so often.


As you know, I've been working with Leah lately and she has developed a sourness to being trailered away from home. 

The problem: When Leah is loaded, she starts to paw the floor of the trailer and rock back on her haunches.  She gets worse when she can't see me.

She developed a mysterious lameness last week that has since gone away, but I figured it was a good opportunity to concentrate on trailer issues.

To start out, I asked myself, what is the one thing....the foundation, perhaps, of a horse being okay in a trailer?

My answer: Standing tied calmly.

Oh yeah, that thing...the building block of it all...the foundation....the basics.  She used to stand tied calmly, but has she been doing it recently?  Not that I can remember.  We're always busy doing something.

On my days off, Saturday & Sunday, we had our grand kids over, which means lots of horse time.  I took that opportunity to tie Leah to the trailer.

  (Penny was a bit grumpy and needed some ground work before riding.)
(Old Red, coming 36 this year, can still give the grand kids a ride.  The worst thing he does is go slow!)

After I put the sorrels away, I spent another thirty minutes, each day of the weekend, trailer loading and unloading Leah.

I was looking for relaxation.  Licking her lips.  Cocking a leg.  Eating from her hay bag.

I got mixed results.

Today, the third day of trailer training, I decided against closing the divider on her after having made a mental list of what I need to accomplish first.

1. Stand tied calmly for long periods of time outside of the trailer. (Blocker Tie Ring)
2. Be relaxed in the trailer untied.
3. Be relaxed in the trailer tied.
4. Be relaxed unloading from the trailer.

Once I have all 4 things done, I can think about closing that divider.

Today, she stood in the trailer for about 30 minutes alone.  When I saw her relaxing a little bit, I went in and stood with her for about another 15 minutes.  We unloaded slowly, and let her relax at each step. (Part of her anxiety has to do with backing off the trailer while unloading.)

When she was standing in the trailer for her 30 minutes, I stood outside near the other horses and Googled "Trailer Training 3 Horse Slant".  I found an excellent article written by some local horse people I know, Jedi Horsemanship, Trailer Loading Troubles.  I wish I'd read it earlier because it seems I'm reinventing the wheel.  They, too, stress standing tied calmly as a precursor to trailer training.  I HIGHLY recommend their article.

After trailer loading, I tied Leah to the outside of the trailer, (Blocker Tie Ring), with her hay bag, and I went into the house to get ready for work.  All of our rooms have windows that overlook the turnout, so I could keep an eye on her the whole time.  Below is a picture from the house.

My hope is that, by the end of this training, she is fear-free and relaxed in a trailer  We do have a lesson tomorrow, so we'll be putting all this to the test.

I read several other suggestions for dealing with pawing and rocking the trailer.  One suggestion was to tap on the brakes LIGHTLY when they start so they have to balance their body.  There was also a suggestion to sit in your truck and wait for the prancing around--when you feel it--move the truck and trailer forward until it stops.  Lastly, there was a suggestion, from a prominent trainer, to not let them sit very long waiting to move out, but instead, load right before you're ready to pull out and then get going.

What suggestions do you have for dealing with trailer issues?


The issue is SOLVED.  I'll write about how it was solved tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our Fear of Making Mistakes

 True Horsemanship Through Feel, by Bill Dorrance

Four or five years ago I read the book, The Perfect Wrong Note, by William Westney, on the advice of my piano teacher.  During my lessons, every time I'd make a mistake, I'd stop and apologize.  One day, my instructor said, please stop apologizing, and she asked me to switch places with her.  She proceeded to play the piece I was working on--technically perfect--but with no emotion.  Then, she played the piece again with many "wrong notes", but lots of heart.  She stopped and asked me, Which did you like better? I replied, The one you played with your heart.  She nodded, Play it like that.

If I have one thing that holds me back in my work with horses, it is fear of making mistakes. But it's also true, what Bill Dorrance said, that if you're afraid of your own mistakes, you'll pass that on to your horse and be afraid of theirs.

To allow your horse to make mistakes is to be willing to lose a little control.  To allow yourself the same, can also feel like a lack of control, but how else do we learn?  Live?  "Intolerance" is a teacher's enemy, and we are all, at the core of it, teachers to our horses.

Since yesterday, I've been tossing around this idea from The Cord of Connection, I don't want to find resistance.  What does it mean?

At the beginning of my work with Leah, my teacher was concerned that Leah is a very sweet horse who wants to please me, however, she was getting the impression that Leah was going through the motions, but, down deep, resisting.  Because of that, all of our work with her has been about giving her room to make a mistake--resist: working on a slack lead, letting her come to a one rein stop on her own, even if it means circling for five minutes...etc.  It's about finding out if there is resistance there--below the surface--something to signal you're not in sync--don't have that unity.

Resistance is the point at which you lose connection with your horse.  They say, I'd rather not, and you and I, we will now part ways.  Either they don't understand what you're asking or are unwilling to do what you ask...most likely out of fear.

I can think back to so many of those points...with all my horses.  And, I've had varying success working through them--water, tunnels, leaving the barn, trailering, standing tied...every unnatural thing we ask them to do.

Our goal should be to maintain the partnership, unity, togetherness, connection, trust--every step of the way by allowing our horses, somehow, to choose "yes" or "no".  In other words, to make "mistakes".  (I hesitate to call them mistakes, though, because to the horse, vulnerable to predators, she's acting exactly how nature has designed her.)

Yesterday, before my lesson, I went out and did some at liberty work with Leah.  She'd walk wherever I went, but she did not want to get into a trot.  Resistance?

I chalked it up to not wanting to be with me enough to put out that much effort.

Off to the lesson we went, and while I was warming her up, low and behold, I noticed she was slightly lame at the trot.  It was almost imperceptible, but there was definitely a slight upward motion of her head every time her left front struck.  My teacher agreed, and we canceled the lesson and brought her home.

I'll be working on resolving that issue, but until then, our lessons are on hold and I'm going to work with Beautiful Girl in her place.  Step one is getting Beautiful in the trailer and over to the lesson.  My instructor volunteered to come to my house and help me next Tuesday.

Quite honestly, I'm afraid of making a mistake with Beautiful, and I always have been.  I have such a need to keep her safe, I don't always allow her the opportunity to try and prove herself.   I have to let go of some control this week, and it's making me very nervous.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Cord of Connection

This inspired me today from the site Liberty Horse Training.  Now, I'm off to a lesson with Leah.  Hoping to have that cord of connection.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century

"You can't get a 'yes' if the horse can't say 'no'."  Robin Gates

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mind, Body and Spirit: Working With My Horses at Liberty

"Generally, people have no idea what I'm talking about, so we need to try to figure out some way to understand this thing the horse is so full of, and that he has such a strong desire to get from the person in return. ...It has to be togetherness. ....Mind, Body and Spirit is what we're talking about here."

Tom Dorrance, True Unity

I love how when you're actively engaged in a passion, one thing leads to another.  Maybe you're thinking about that thing more, so you naturally pick up brighter details.

"When you look over on that hill there, why you may not see anything the first time you look. But, you keep looking and you're liable to pick up something you didn't see the first time." Bill Dorrance, True Horsemanship Through Feel

After seeing the movie Taming Wild and then, in my search for more connection, or togetherness, with Leah, decided to give "at liberty" a try, I have been experimenting more and more with the "thing the horse is so full of, and that he has such a strong desire to get from the person in return." 

I spent the latter part of the week doing most of my work with the horses in their pasture.  It was so fun, and freeing, it didn't feel like "training", yet, there was so much going on in our relationships.

Cowboy so enjoyed following me at liberty, I couldn't get him to separate.  I walked, jogged, zig-zagged, and he was like glue.  He had a deep, natural desire to follow and be with me.

Beautiful, at first reactive, also started to follow, and even defied the herd leader, Cowgirl, to do so.  Also, by the end of the weekend, her usually high-held head had lowered.  She had a new calm as I'd walk up the road to their turnout. 

Leah, who had been avoiding me, started walking swiftly toward me whenever I'd enter the turnout.  It was as if I was holding treats...but I wasn't.  

I'm reading True Unity by Tom Dorrance and the same basic principles are there.  In fact, he said he wouldn't feel safe on a horse that he didn't have that togetherness with.  And, by togetherness he means body, mind, and spirit. I couldn't believe I was reading about the "spiritual" aspect of horses from an old cowboy.  

There's something strong that happens between horses and humans, and there's such a curiosity and joy in it all.


Guess what I got for Valentine's Day?

150 tons of sand.

And flowers.

And a date night to the Symphony (Tchaikovsky on Dante) at the beautiful Fox Theater.

It was a memorable weekend, love from my horses and love from my husband...lots of love to go around.  


After starting the book, True Unity, a post came up on my Facebook page from it:

"We are trying to build up a horse's confidence. We're trying to get him brave in his feet. His feet are really scared, so we are trying to get his feet to be really brave."

- Tom Dorrance from the book, "True Unity".

Just one of those sweet confirmations telling me I'm on the right path.

I welcome all of your own stories and thoughts on "at liberty" work, the book True Unity, Tom Dorrance and anything else you can add about the horse/human connection.


Note to myself: Don't try at liberty work when the horses are hungry. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wanted: Emotional Support

“The best thing that I try to do for myself is to try to listen to the horse, I don’t mean let him take over. I listen to how he’s operating, what he’s understanding or what he doesn’t understand, what’s bothering him and what isn’t bothering him. I try to feel what the horse is feeling and operate from where the horse is.”

 Tom Dorrance From Tom's book titled 'True Unity' 

Yesterday, I had a lesson planned that would require me to:  One, Load Leah in a trailer, which has been causing her stress, and Two, ask her to do some tough mental and physical work.

The question for me was, how do I get to my lesson and still respect the goal of creating a deeper partnership.  

I decided the only way I could attempt to combine both was to go out and be with her much earlier than the lesson, take more time together, get to the lesson an hour early and groom her longer, walk her around the facility, praise her more during the lesson, and spend more time with her unwinding after the lesson.

In other words--give her not only physical support, but EMOTIONAL SUPPORT, as well.

Since we spent more time together, there were more moments of connection.  She had more opportunities to give me try and to get lots of praise in return.  I had more time to tune into her, too.  We started at 9:00 am and I returned her to the herd at 1:30.  That was 4.5 hours of Leah and Me Time.

Did it work?


At 1:30 I returned Leah to the herd and picked up Cowboy.  Cowboy is a horse who LOVES to go out on trail rides.  He jumps into the trailer, scoots himself over, and says, Get this show on the road!  He's proud of that because he's a horse who wants to please me...when it's convenient, and not too scary, for him.

He's my soul horse, my heart horse, my out-of-this-world-with-love horse.  But how could I be a better partner to him on the trails?

We had the MOST lovely trail ride together.  We walked, we trotted, we meandered, we rested, we even saw 2 moose.  As usual, he did not want to go back to the trailer.  He pulled me away from it.  So, my friend and I decided to try the trail challenge course at the park.  Cowboy does about half of the challenges happily, and the other half stress him out.  He was starting to sour on me...on himself even.  The other horse was doing all the challenges perfect--which made Cowboy that much more unhappy.

Partner...partner...partner.  Hmmmm....


Cowboy loves to open gates--real gates.  Let's go open and close some gates!  Off we went together, opening and closing gates, side passing, scooting by inches, winding, turning.  He was such a great gate opener!  I praised him and praised and praised him and praised him.

He was happy again.


When I returned Cowboy to the herd, guess who walked across the turnout to see me?  Leah!

So, it did work.  She had grown some feelings for me throughout the day.  We're heading toward partnership!


At the end of each day, when it's pitch dark out and I go to let Red out of his stall from his supplement feeding, I've been wandering around the herd and petting each one...talking to them.  They love it.  I love it.  Bonding with our horses in the dark is HIGHLY underrated.  It's my goal to add it to the end of every ONE of my days.  What a great gift to look up at the skies from the side of your horse and witness the vastness of the universe--the many of your fingertips, too.  And the horses, at compete rest--so at ease in the darkness--accepting you into their quiet.

That is emotional support, too.  The kind we give our spouses at the end of the day when we curl up beside them in bed.  It's the being there and resting in one another's arms, and saying, life is good...when we're together.  We have each other's backs.  We're a team.  


Did you know porcupines climb trees? 

Monday, February 8, 2016

To Create A More Perfect Union

“It is a matter of timing and patience…although it may seem nothing is happening on the surface, there may be profound changes occurring a little deeper.”  Buck Brannaman

After last week, I was confused.  What was I looking for?  Why wasn't I getting it?  I asked the question, can I be connected to three horses?  Am I spreading myself so thin, I'm not able to provide quality training to any? (And, I thank you for all of your answers to that.)

It sent me back to square one.  What do I mean by connection?  Do I love these three horses?  Did each one speak to me in some special way?  Is that why each is here?

Yes.  I wasn't there to adopt a horse that day, but I saw Beautiful Girl in that pen and my heart wrapped right around her and has never let go.  I saw a picture of Leah on Craigs List 7 years ago, and she made my heart leap.  When I went to see her, she was the absolute SWEETEST horse EVER.  She tried to listen to what I wanted as I worked with her.  She tried to do what I wanted.  She listened.  She tried. I was sold.  And, Cowboy...we all know that story.

So, if I do have that heart connection to each of the three, what is it that is missing in the training?

I answered that question today.  Partnership.

(I've started writing down my training goals.  I think part of my issue last week was lack of focus.)

Did she walk away from you when you went to get her today? That was the question my trainer asked at Tuesday's lesson.  As a matter of fact, she did, I answered.

And, she did again this morning.

That's not partnership.  I've been so goal driven, I've lost the foundation of the relationship.

Today, I caught Leah, took her out of the pasture and walked her around and let her eat grass.  Then, as  I was watching her, the movie Taming Wild ran through  my head, and I wondered what would happen if I let her go.  Would she run away from me?  Would she follow?

We walked to the arena and I unhaltered her.  She stood there.  I walked around her.  She squared up with me like I'd taught her in our many training sessions.  But it was robotic.  Expected.  Trained. It wasn't her natural inclination.

I walked away from her.  I ran around the pen.  I walked back to her.  She was confused.

Then, I stood by her side, as if I had a halter and lead and I pretended to ask her to move out with me. She did it.

At first she followed behind as I jogged ahead.  Then, I slowed down and she came to my side and walked and walked at liberty.  I'd stop and pet her and tell her what a good girl she was.  I gushed over her.  Because, that small, small step, leading, the thing I EXPECT her to do, when done at liberty became a BIG, BIG thing that I had no right to expect.  It was a gift.  It was huge.

The small things are the big things, but they're bigger when our horses CHOOSE to give them to us.

I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and time with our barn cat as Leah grazed next to me.

After a while, I put her back with the herd.  Did I accomplish trailer loading?  No. It didn't matter.  I accomplished partnership.

I turned my attention to Beautiful who I had just let out with the herd on Sunday.  (That went smooth, by the way.  Amazingly so.)  Beautiful didn't want to be caught either.  She was clearly saying, I'm here in the herd, and this is where I want to be.  My goal was to make her want to be with me.

I stood at the hay bale and itched her withers and hind.

I let her sniff the lead rope and halter.

And, by the end of it, she was curious and possessive of my time.  A willing partnership.  Did I practice tying?  No.

I went up to the all the horses, rope and halter in hand, and did nothing but pet on them and tell them it's okay.  They don't have to always be anxious that I'm going to take them away from the herd.  They can trust me.

Like Buck said, it's all about patience.  It might seem small.  It might seem like it takes a long time.  But profound changes are taking place in their minds and hearts.

Also, yesterday I combined time with my heart horses, Cowboy and Leah.  I wanted Leah to have a positive experience loading with her buddies and a positive experience on the trails.

It was largely that, but today was better.

 That's what I'm talking about! At liberty.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Taming Wild Movie & the Good, Bad & Ugly In My Training

I want to give a BIG shout out to the movie, Taming Wild. I finally got to see the whole thing this weekend by Vimeo download, and I loved it!  It's a movie that explores the often asked question (at least on this blog)--do horses really want to be ridden by humans?  But what I took away from it, and thought was even more powerful, is what depths of trust can be achieved when you listen to, and respect, your horse. 

Trainer Elsa Sinclair wanted to see what would happen if you took a horse straight out of the wild and did not use ANY tools to train.  That's right, not a bridle, bit, whip, halter or lead rope.  Nada.  Nothing.

It opened my eyes to how much horses really do love humans, but most of us don't have the confidence to trust them back in the same way.  For example, I don't think I would be brave enough to trust my horse minus saddle, bridle, bit, in a new, open situation, like she did at the ocean.  (Although, the good thing is, if you fall, at least you fall in the sand.)

From start to finish, which horse to choose and at which speed the training would progress, Elsa looked to her horse for the answers, and you may be as shocked as I was to see what unfolds between the two of them.  And, there's a cute little surprise about nine months into the process, too.

A must see for all horse lovers.

and now.......

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Training.

Things have been going along as normal in the training of Leah and Beautiful Girl.  I had a lesson with Leah on Tuesday (Day #13 of the Challenge), and she was doing so well at the walk, we were able to spend a good portion of the lesson on the trot.

I was told to ask her to trot and then pull her into a run rein stop and just hold it until she would stop on her own.  I had already discovered, from working with her earlier, she wanted to move.  She was having a hard time standing still...and it took her a long time to come to a stop.  It felt like we circled for 2 or 3 minutes before I got a stop.

That was disappointing to me.  One of the things I loved about my first green horse/baby, Tanner, was that when he was pulled around to a one rein stop for the very first time, he circled once and knew to stop.  I remember my trainer saying--"He's a smart horse!"

I feel like that says Leah is not connected enough with me.

Maybe it also says she'd rather be home and is tired of being trailered off to lessons.

Yesterday, I took her to Riverside State Park Equestrian Area because they have a big, beautiful arena and round pen.

Before we left, she started rocking around the trailer and pawing the front really hard.  She had been doing more and more of that recently and I knew it was building to an "issue".

When we got to the arena, we worked from the ground until she would tune into me fully (rather than the other rider and horse in the round pen.  There was a woman working with her own green horse and it was bucking around and made her jump off.)  When Leah tuned in, I went ahead and got on and worked with her at the walk.  When I felt she was doing well at the walk, we advanced to the trot.  Trot meant GO, so we did the one rein stop.  She stopped a little sooner than the previous Tuesday, but not by much. The next time we tried, she gave me a really nice, engaged trot that lasted about a minute.  However, the third time I asked for it, she started to swing her head a bit and grind on her bit (she grinds her teeth when she's warning you.)

So, we went back to the walk and then ended the session on a positive note.

When we got home, I left her in the trailer to rest while I cleaned stalls.  And, today I'm going to go out and put her in the trailer and leave her there until she settles...without going anywhere.  I've GOT to get on that trailering issue before it becomes something very dangerous.

So, that's the good, the bad and the ugly of our week in training.  I find it hard to divide my time between three horses and I sense a lack of connection with all three when I do.

Is it possible to be connected with three?  I don't know the answer yet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Naughtiness & Nightmares

It's been a few days, so I can write about this from a distance now.  Every so often, it seems, we are faced with a nightmare scenario with our horses--no two of which are exactly alike.  We may plan for Nightmare A, but Nightmare A.25389 is what we get instead.

Let me start from the beginning.

On the 11th day of the 100 Day Horse Challenge, I worked with Beautiful Girl on going over poles.  She had such an acute awareness of where she was putting her feet and such a fluidity over the poles, I thought, I have to get this on video.  However, when I started taping her with my phone, Beautiful saw, or felt, the disconnection and used it as an opportunity to pull back.  That set in motion about a half hour of working together, culminating in a wonderful, willing partnership.  I jogged with her at  my side, and she would stop on a dime when I stopped, keep my pace, everything I could ask for in connectedness on the ground.

It was going so well, I thought let's try some trailer loading.  Off we went to the trailer, which we've been practicing a little bit every time we train.  I stand to the side and ask her to move into the trailer exactly as I would ask her to move out in a circle.  She has been doing this for me with  no problem.  She usually steps right in, looks around, smells the smells--then slowly exits off.

The day of the nightmare, we were doing so well, I figured we should go all the way in.  We did.  She didn't even hesitate for a second.  Once in, she was as relaxed as she was on the ground outside.  There was no sign of any concern on her part.  (Of course, she wasn't tied in moving down the road, either, but it was great progress.)  She backed out of the trailer equally calm and willing.

Which led to our 3rd training obstacle, tying.  I tied her a couple stalls down as I cleaned her stall.  She was tied to one of the barn support beams that we have a metal loop drilled into and then a Blocker Tie Ring attached to that.  Her lead rope was through the Blocker.

Well, as I was cleaning, I heard her pull back.  I ran out of the stall and over to her--or, at least, I walked fast, trying to keep the atmosphere calm.  I saw the stall door open and she was attached to it with her cheek squished--and she was pulling back with all her might.  I reached up to the Blocker, but it was slack.  I looked down at the door, and the cheek portion of her halter was stuck on the metal pin of the gate latch.  I remained calm and tried to loop it back over, but it was too tight with all her weight against it.  I didn't have a knife on me to cut it.  I couldn't get behind her without possibly scaring her more.  All I could do was talk quietly to her and hope she'd listen, relax, and come forward.

"Beautiful," I said, "It's okay, girl.  It's okay."  And, would you believe it, she listened!!  She released just a little tiny bit and I was able to get the halter off the pin.

(The pin.)

After that, she stood as calm and quiet as she ever had, but still curious and connected.

(The halter--you can see it is stretched out in the cheek portion.)

What did I learn from this?

1.) Never tie her in front of that particular stall because she is a smart curious horse and was probably trying to unlatch it--she had done it several times before--and even itch herself on the pin--thus, setting her up for that catastrophe.

2.) Always carry a knife with me in my pocket.  (My trainer from years ago had told me that already).

3.) No matter how hard you plan, when working with horses, anything can happen.

4.) Working with our horses on a regular basis does more than just "train" them, it helps to build the kind of trust that may be called upon in an emergency.  If I hadn't been working with her for the "Challenge", she would not have calmed down enough to get her free and the outcome could have been much different.

I was a lucky cowgirl last week, and I'm heading out there today for some more!