Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Becoming a Trail Horse

At my last lesson yesterday, my instructor and I went off into the woods with Leah to practice going up and down hills.  We had been working on this thing I do with the reins--basically, "opening doors", although the doors became very small.  It amounts to a slight bend of the wrist for the left door, walk, walk, slight bend of the wrist for the right door, walk, walk.  That constant "opening doors" helps Leah keep her mind on the walk. Buck Brannaman calls it the "Triangle of Support".   You're just letting your horse know they're not alone.

My instructor worked with us until we had that down and then said, let's go.

Leah helped me open and close the arena gate, went over the bridge, and off to the woods.

In the woods, she got really nervous going downhill, but my instructor had me work on swinging my hips more so that she would know to loosen hers up.  It worked great.

Today, (pic above), a friend went out with us on the trail.  I warned her ahead of time that it would be a training day, but she was happy to go.  She has a steady Eddy horse.  We went up and down some steep hills, past some scary objects, met a few people along the way (one with a weed whacker) and Leah did GREAT.  She led out the whole way and had a very fast, but comfortable walk.

At the end of the ride, we went through the trail challenge.  Leah did many of the challenges very well, but she didn't like the bridge at the park. (I was surprised since she's so confident at the one at the barn.)

After our trail ride, when she was really tired and starting to get trippy, I unsaddled her and walked her back to the bridge to get a more positive experience from the ground.  My friend was leaving the park with her horse and trailer, but she stopped and took the photo above.

I could not have been more pleased with our first time out this year.  It was so much fun. I'm looking forward to many more.

Monday, July 18, 2016

To Chillax or Not to Chillax

To chillax or not to chillax, that is the question.

I was walking Leah to the arena for her lesson this morning, and finding myself, like usual, all chillaxed--just kind of moseying over, with her on a loose lead.  She was trailing a bit and sight-seeing a bit. 

And then, the book I'm reading came back to me--Zen Mind, Zen Horse--and what the author said about walking with Chi--aliveness, life force energy or life breath.  I stood up straight, took a deep breath, and walked with purpose.  

Leah liked it.  She was like, Who is this new girl with all this girl-power?!? 

The argument for chillaxing is this: if you keep your energy and re-activeness low, the horse/animal/person keeps theirs low.  That's not such a bad thing, right?  And, I will say, I have chillaxed animals.  As I write this, I'm filtering through a lifetime of memories where that relaxed, chilling attitude helped me survive many a tense human--to-human interaction by diffusing it.  

Diffusing it?  Hamilton describes that purposeless walk as hesitant and diffuseDiffuse.  Diffusing.  Ah, a light bulb is coming on.

But there has to be a happy medium place--and that place is being relaxed and comfortable, but also walking and working with "purpose and will".  

The lesson barn has an obstacle bridge in front of the arena, and as I WALKED WITH PURPOSE, I noticed it for the FIRST time.  Aha!  What a great obstacle to warm up with!  I walked onto the bridge and asked Leah to join me.

Leah: No.

Me: How about I jump off the bridge and pull you over the bridge.

Leah: Okay, but only over the short part.

Lightbulb: Ask her to go over it by herself like you ask her to load in the trailer by herself.  

Me: Standing to her side and waving the end of the lead behind her. Up on the bridge, Leah.  Girl Power!

Leah: Oh yeah!  I'm going on that there bridge!  And....here I am, mom, up on the bridge.  Voila!  (Hoof and fist pump).

It will not surprise you to learn that our lesson was wonderful.  Not that Leah had transformed into a Grand Prix Level Dressage horse, or me a Grand Prix rider, but she and I were a partnership working through our mutual issues.  I felt this great trust and communication with her, like I have with Cowboy.  

My instructor asked if she was afraid of cattle (because there are cattle at the end of the arena in an outside/adjoining pen.)  I felt so confident with Leah that I said I didn't know, but I sure wanted to find out.  So, off to the end of the arena to finish our lesson, and Leah did GREAT.

I didn't want to dismount.  I usually do dismount and walk her back to the trailer, but we were having too much fun.  I walked her out of the arena and over to the obstacle bridge, asked her to mount it, and up she went without hesitation!

Girl Power!!

As we stood on the bridge, I could feel the beginning of a trail relationship!

And, I told her so at the trailer.

Me:  Leah, you ARE going to be my trail horse.  You are.


Monday, July 11, 2016

How many Gallons Per Minute Do You Need?

(Thankfully, this is NOT the cabin we put the offer in on.)

My husband and I are looking for a cabin.  In fact, our offer was accepted on a cabin.  While we toured said cabin, the realtor told us the well produced 13 GPM.  That seemed adequate for a place we'd only be using here and there.  However, we found out from the well report, it only produces 7 GPM.

When you have a family get-together, there can be 10 people in the house--and lots of showers, baths, teeth-brushing, dishes, and laundry.  Also, we can have up to 4 horses on this property, so I'm hoping to bring a couple of horses with me when we go there.  (Fill up their waterers.)

That said, the cabin is au natural, so doesn't need any lawn watering.  Just the household stuff.

Here's another caveat, we'd like to use it as vacation rental--a Bed and Barn--right on the lake.  People could come up, use the place, ride their horses, and fish or water ski, or whatever they want to do on a lake.

Is 7 GPM enough?  I need your help!

Friday, July 8, 2016

I'm a Lover, Not a Fighter

No philosophy today, just the facts.  Books are great, but they're no substitute for getting out on your horse and developing that unique one-to-one relationship, which sometimes defies logic.


Yesterday I got a ride in with my favorite cowboy.

He kind of looks like a badass in this picture, because he is.  A few years back we were on a date night in the downtown and a very large, drunk man lunged at us from the shadows as we were walking along the sidewalk to a bookstore.  I was scared to death and prepared to run, but my husband lunged forward at him and told him to the "Get the "F" away" and the drunk guy backed right down.  Later, when we left the bookstore, the drunk guy saw us coming and walked across the opposite street to avoid my husband.  Guess you could say I feel safe with him.

He gets things done with the horses, too.  He's the one doing all the heavy lifting around here.  The horses gravitate to him.  They know a good leader when they see one.  My husband is the definition of disciplined, and he tries to teach that trait to others.

Me, not so much.  I like to ride horses, play my guitar, pet horses, play my piano, read about horses, plant some flowers.  You could say I'm laid back, and  you'd be right.  So, I'm thankful to have a disciplined husband to balance me out.

I'm a lover, not a fighter.

Case in point:

On our ride yesterday, we came to a large log in the trail.  Cowboy balked and would not cross over it.  I didn't fight him.  At this point in our long relationship, Cowboy and I have a truce.  So, I let my husband lead the way over the log, then Cowboy followed, and he jumped it rather than walking over it.  Okay, Cowboy, whatever you want.  

I'm in this for the love.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Our Shared Horse Stories & What They Teach Me

"Horses react to what lies in our hearts, not in our heads.  They are not confused by the words we use to lie to ourselves or hide from others."

Zen Mind, Zen Horse

One of the reasons I find the book Zen Mind, Zen Horse so fascinating is that it's written by a Harvard-trained brain surgeon who is also a horse trainer, Dr. Allan Hamilton.  He goes into great detail about how the horse's mind works vs how the human mind works.  One particular area of incongruity between equus and human is the human's communication between right and left hemispheres of the brain.  The right is our emotional, instinctual side and the left is our verbal hemisphere which, as he writes, has the skills "of the preacher, the orator, or even the snake-oil salesman."

After my last post, and reading all of your wonderful stories, I started thinking that one of the greatest gifts the horse gives us is the ability to live more in the right hemisphere.  It's a place beyond less-then, not good enough, and all the other things that may be going through our minds either from our own doing or from the hurtful things either said about us, or done to us, by others.

It's important to silence the mind--and when you do think, to talk well of yourself to yourself, as you'd talk to a friend, perhaps.  Or, your horse.  That's the forgiveness part, although, maybe a better word is grace.

Another theme of our shared stories is courage, and the horses give us that, too.

Last weekend we spent most of our time on our boat at Lake Spokane.  On one of those days, my "brave friend" joined us.  She is a former military vet, a horsewoman, and an excellent slalom skier, as it turns out.  I was very impressed by my brave friend.  She even asked us to pull near the shore so she could get out and join a bunch of teenagers who were cliff jumping. My brave friend is older than me, but there she was climbing up a steep hill to jump off a really high cliff.

Really high.

Afterward, I asked her if she was just fearless.  She answered me that she has lots of fears, especially heights!!, but she refuses to let fear stop her from doing what she wants to do.  (I thought to myself, I don't want to jump off that cliff, so I'm not being stopped by fear!).

Joke aside, I get her point.

We want to ride and work with horses and, even when a challenging experience with one may make us fearful, we tend to not let it stop us.  Like Leah. Like Eagle. Like Carmen. Like Tex. Like Gambler. (To name a few of the most recent postings).

The other thing my friend said was that it felt like it took her an hour to hit the water, when to us it was seconds.  Time slowed down.  Does working with horses, living moment by moment, slowing our left brain, slow down time, too?  Do animals, who live much shorter chronological lives than us, actually live much longer lives than us because of this phenomenon?

When we pulled into our house after boating, the first thing I saw was Leah under the tree (photo above). Her mane was lifted gently up by the breeze and the sun was shining through it like a halo.  Her eyes were closed (before I came to take her picture) and she was at peace.  Zen horse.

Cowboy was grazing nearby and headed over to greet me.  Zen Mind.