Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Restoring the Soul--Horse Time Heals the Wounds

Two days after the most shocking and painful election of my lifetime, I had a ride and picnic with my two Cowboys at James T Slavin conservation area.

We ran into a friend who took our picture and later she shared this photo below of the Trumpet Swans that were there that day.  I couldn't get a good photo on my cell phone camera!

Above: Photo copyright Cindy & Gary Miller

I asked my husband to take a picture of the same spot we were in last summer to show the difference between the seasons.

July 8, 2016

November 10, 2016

Leah and I have been working on walk trot transitions on as loose a rein as possible. I hold the reins in a position where I'm framing in the outer-boundaries of where she can place her head, but they are loose.  If she decides to put her head down or up, when I ask for the trot, she hits the bit.  That area in between is quite large--not overly collected or tight.  As soon as she gives me a few relaxed steps, I stop and praise her.  So far, we have only been successful in a large circle.  And, as we move through the circle, I have to lift the rein and direct her, but as soon as she responds, I give it all back to her.

There were two days last week that were just awful for me--and I did not attempt to work with Leah during those times.  I felt like I missed out on two sunny, beautiful days--and I did--but my soul hurt so badly, it wouldn't have been fair to her.  It's a reminder to me--do everything you can to limit your exposure to toxic people. Sometimes, it's difficult, especially if you work with the public, but you still need to do all you can when you see those early warning signs of a cruel temperament.  If you don't heed the signs, you will most certainly lose a little of what is most precious and that cannot be bought back--not even with all the money you can make in a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What a Training Session with Leah Looks Like Now

After all the lessons, clinics, trail rides, books, videos, physical challenges, vet visits and our own unique experiences & personalities, I want to share with you what a day training Leah looks like.

Whenever I go out to work with Leah in saddle, I allot myself 1.5 hours minimum.  I'm addressing the whole horse--body, mind, and spirit, and that is the least amount of time I can do everything I need to do.

I start by going to get her.  If she's in a stall, I expect her to come to me or face me.  If she doesn't, I call her.  If she still doesn't, I may swing my lead rope toward her hind.  If she runs out of the stall, I wait for her to come back in and face me.  If she's in the pasture, I expect her to stand still.  If, when we're haltering, she puts her head way up in the air, I massage her poll and face until she drops her head willingly into the halter.

If we're riding, I always massage Leah in the arena, rather than the barn, first thing.  The reason why is because I want her to relax where we're going to ride.  She's already relaxed in the barn.  (On days we don't ride, however, I do massage her in the barn.) On the way there, I have her lead on a loose rein.  If there happens to be a big rain puddle, I ask her to cross through it.  When we get to the arena, I close the gate and throw the rope over her back.  I start the massage by running my hands along her top line--looking for any soreness or sensitivity.  From there, I concentrate on the poll, neck looking for knotty spots or sensitivity.  Usually she tells me where she wants to be worked. Here's a great diagram of the different muscles on a horse.

After that, I bend her in and get my hand behind her shoulder and work my way down.  She loves that work and it really helps her bend in.

Then I continue down her back and move to the other side.  I also do work on her face and around the base of her ears.  Some days, I do tail rotations and pulls and leg stretches.

After her massage, we walk around the arena both directions keeping her always on the side of the rail.  This gives her practice being led on the right and left side, which I hope will balance out her left dominance.  Some days, we go around 3 times both ways and then I throw the rope over her back and lead her all over the arena hands-free.  This walking is good for her and me. It warms us both up, gets us connected to one another, and works off some steps towards my Fitbit goals.

We may also do some flexion and disengagement of hind-quarters.

Then we go off to saddle.  Before we saddle, if I haven't already, I groom her and do another body check for pain. Leah is really good with saddling.  I don't bridle her at the saddle area.  Instead, I throw the bridle over her saddle horn, put on my helmet, and walk her back to the arena.

At the arena, in saddle, a new phase starts, and it's as if we are starting from scratch.  So, we walk around the arena again, both ways, we bend and disengage, and then I start the process of bridling.  If, during bridling, Leah starts with her head way up, I massage around her poll, ears and face until she drops her head.  Then I present the bridle to her and see if she stays relaxed.  If she does, I place it onto her and get it secure, walking around on both sides to make sure it fits well over the brow and under the neck.

When everything looks good, I tighten the cinch again, and bend her in both ways with the bit.  Then I'm ready to mount.  I can mount from the ground or a mounting block, but I mix it up so that she learns to stand for both. My mounting block is a turned-over trough--so nothing fancy!

In saddle, before I ask anything of her, I drop the reins and massage her neck, poll, and when she turns in, her face.  During that time, I also get my own seat underneath me--trying to balance up and get my back straight and legs relaxed at the sides.  When we're both ready, I ask her to turn and disengage her hindquarters both ways.  This helps her practice turning tight and moving all four feet.  She's gotten much better at it in the last couple of months.  Losing weight probably helped a ton!  After the turns,  I squeeze my legs and ask her to move out.

The next part has changed over the last couple of months, but since she no longer pulls to the left (Woohoo! That is OVER! No more bag, no more crop!  Solved in less than one week!) I throw her the rein and ask her to move out on the rail.  At this point, I still have the reins in my hands, but they are loose.  I try to influence her with my body only.  If I start to feel her get unbalanced--which makes the saddle feel off on one side or the other--I put more weight on the weak side at each step to that side.  I make sure to move my hips with hers, and I work my legs in a similar walking pattern to Leah. After a while, going around the arena both ways and working on walk-trot transitions (I'm trying to get her to do the transitions smoothly), I throw her the reins all together and work on hands-free cues. 

She LOVES this part!  Leah is a great candidate for bridleless, bit-free riding. I'm actually shocked.  Just three months ago, if you remember, I thought she needed "lots of support" with the bit.  Ha!  I was wrong!  Support to Leah is giving her room to make mistakes--lots of room.  The more room, the less "mistakes."

When working on the stop, I try to use body CUE first, then voice cue, if she doesn't hear my body.  Since we're new to this, we still need the voice cue.

In this video you see her ears go back, that's when I sat back and pushed my heels down.  She was listening for something, she knew there was going to be a change, but she wasn't sure what.  Then, I added the voice cue and her head went up and she stopped.  We'll keep working on this until she's so comfortable with my body cue that her head stays in a relaxed position and she stops without voice cue.  Leah tends to get a little anxious about any new cue--until she realizes she is doing the right thing.  She's a sensitive soul!

We're also working on hands-free turns with leg pressure only.  She tends to want to trot off and resist turning right now, but I go with her and pick up the rein lightly when she ignores the leg.  When I get the turn, I praise her to high heaven.  She loves praise when it involves being petted.  It always relaxes her and we make much faster progress.

I'm very new to this way of training with Leah. I use a loose rein and hands-free with Cowboy, as with all my trail horses, but Leah being green, I rejected those basic principles, scrambled for more control and made a mess out of her.  Now, I feel like I'm working back from a negative position.  She expects a heavy hand on her mouth and her head goes up a lot when she anticipates it, and I'm having to prove to her that rider is GONE.  I think that's why I get her very best when we go hands-free.  It takes the worry out of her for a bit/rein cue.  It strips all the layers away and allows her to concentrate on my body cues.

She's a happier horse and, honestly, I'm having WAY more fun, too.  What we are doing is so much more satisfying.  It's the deep soul stuff, the WOW moments, as Rebecca calls them. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Finding Gold On the Eve of Election 2016

Heaven says--Enter between these two ears,

I'll give you my gold--

Here, in the United States, we're on the Eve of an election, one that each of  us takes personally and that may change the course of our lives and our children's lives.  As for me, I'm much more concerned with my children's lives.  I'm getting older now, and I've lived a full life, but it is my hope that my kids live longer and do better than me.  I think most Americans feel that way. Most people around the world feel that way.  I don't know why I was blessed to be born and live here and have this quality of life, but I am so thankful...and I do not take it lightly.

My friends without horses always tell me how lucky I am to have horses.  They're right.  In this moment, on this spot of earth, I am blessed.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I have hope in the goodness of people no matter the outcome.

And, for as long as I can, I'm going to keep pointing my way between those two ears--my way to gold, my way to heaven on earth.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Leah's Second Clinic: Riding & Leading Hands-Free

Today's clinic--the second in a set of seven--was about influencing your horse without aids (leading your horse hands/rope-free), touch (massage in saddle and on the ground), and with your body (Rising trot, following seat, influencing seat, etc.)

I took my granddaughter over to the arena last night to catch her up and when she experienced leading her horse, Penny, hands-free--no rope--she was thrilled.  Today's clinic built on that.  Not only did we lead hands-free, but we also rode our horses hands-free.

One of the activities we did to help us learn to communicate with our bodies--no hands--was break into teams and lunge each other.  In fact, what we did was just hold the lunge line while our riding partner worked on riding hands-free at the walk, trot, and whoa.  Not easy.  It took Leah three times around to understand that me sitting back and pressing my heels down meant whoa.  Her walk-trot transitions got much better without the bit, though.  She was more pleasant.  She was also very good at knowing when I signaled for a walk from the trot.  I sit back and move my feet in a walking motion.

(My granddaughter lunging another young participant.)

This type of work is PERFECT for Leah.. The whole point is to get your horse so in tune with you, so wanting to be with you, so willing to trust you, that you don't need a bit or a bridle or reins or anything. Not that we got to that point today, but we did get a long way towards it.

Leah was wonderful.  She only balked at one point--crossing over a set of large plastic poles. (And, this was when I was holding the reins.) For some reason, she just did not like those poles and she bolted left.  Even watching other horses go over the poles did not ease her fears.  Our instructor saw us and came over and helped her over them a few times.  When we got her somewhat comfortable, I tried it on my own again, and she started to bolt left, but I had my crop, and I smacked her real quick on her neck. She corrected immediately and proceeded over the poles.

So about that crop.  You remember from the last post that I was using a plastic bag to block her to the left?  Well, now I've progressed to a short crop.  When she bolts, I have it ready, and I usually only need to flip it up in front of her.

Shirley pointed out two things which were quite accurate.  1.) It gets her out of her left side frame of mind.  It's almost like she has a dazed, hard eye and when you flip a bag or a crop over there, she snaps out of it.  Which leads to 2.) How long will it last?

I don't want to overuse my trick.  Last night at the arena, if needed, I used my left hand only.  I bent forward and put in front of her left eye.  It worked.  Today, I used the crop.  I haven't been using the bag at all since the trail ride, and I may not need to ever again.  The loose rein, influencing her with my body movement, massaging her on the ground and in saddle and just that overall hands-free partnership--wanting to be together--it's all working.

If you'd told me three weeks ago I would have had these wonderful rides with my left-bolting-Leah, I wouldn't have believed it, but I have.  Even in an open field today on a loose rein--she was a rock star.

I'm thrilled.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Testing the Miracle

A miracle has to pass a few tests to make sure it's a real miracle, right?

I figured the best way to put this "cure" to the test was to take Leah out on the trail--loose rein, massage, PLASTIC BAG.

Yes, the miracle cure is holding a plastic bag in my left hand, and when she bolts left to avoid crossing water, walking through mud or when she wants to go see her buddies--I shake the bag in front of her eye.

Rebecca suggested putting the bag on a small crop, and I will probably do that for the next ride, but I have to say the cure worked!  She bolted left several times--down hills, in front of the Waste Water Treatment Plant, when she spied a large down log, when she didn't want to cross water--but I shook the bag and she jumped back over and stayed on track.

All the massage and bending, weight loss, and exercise has made her a much more athletic and balanced horse than she was three months ago.  She was able to perform all kinds of pretzel contortions without tripping up.

Here are some highlights from our ride.

It took us a good hour working through several large puddles like this, first, on the ground, and then in saddle.  (And the bag came in handy for that, too.)

I rode a loose rein the whole way and just rode the speed bumps.  If she broke out in a trot, I'd pick up the rein until she walked.  If she bolted left, I put the left leg on her and shook the bag towards her left eye. A couple of her early bolts happened too fast and were too powerful to get the bag up there in time, so I rode them to the left, circled back around and got my bag in place. Eventually, I had speed and direction control with no reins.

Me, Leah, and my plastic bag.  Unfortunately, I ingrained bolting to the left into her because I didn't have a way to stop her until now.  Too much back and side pressure made her go up.  The bag, however, seems to act as a separate entity--not of me--so Leah and I can maintain our partnership.  She even seems to like me much, much better than before the bag.

She did awesome on a loose rein!  I couldn't ask for more.  With time, I don't think the bag will ever be needed because she seems to be a quick learner.  And, I got my HORSE BACK!

The scary down-log.

Teaching her to walk through water.

Putting it to practice in saddle.  So proud of her!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Leah and I went to the arena tonight.

I let her run all around it.  

She wasn't scared.  

I saddled up and rode her.

She wasn't scared.


She didn't want to go through a section of the arena that had flooded.  


She started bolting to the left to get away from it.

I massaged.  I rode on a loose rein.  I gave her her head.  


It was much better than before, but not cured.

The arena owner came in and she about ran him over going to the left.  

I said,

"She was great until three months ago.  I don't know what happened, but I need a miracle cure."

Rebecca sat watching me at the end of the arena.

"I have an idea," she said.

And, that idea she had FIXED it.  It was the MIRACLE cure I'd been waiting for.  Leah was the most amazing ride after we applied the MIRACLE cure.


In retrospect, is was so damn obvious.

To be continued....

Julie Goodnight Marathon & Training Horses On a Loose Rein

I tape all of the Julie Goodnight Horse Master shows.  She makes working with horses seem so stress-free & logical.

Last night, I had an impromptu Horse Master Marathon, and what kept standing out to me was the loose rein.  As Julie put it, and I'm paraphrasing from episode 921 above--"Working with horses can be counter-intuitive. We feel the horse growing anxious and our impulse is to pull harder to control them with the reins, but actually we might be surprised that if we threw them the rein instead, they probably wouldn't do much. Tightening the reins tells the horse to be anxious, loosening the reins tells them it's okay." Again, that's a big paraphrase, but I think it captures her advice.  (Here's an article--same concept--to stop a horse from jigging).

With that in mind...

Today I ordered a set of yacht rope reins--they're similar, but different, to what Goodnight uses and I like the weight in them.  Julie Goodnight's reins, however, don't use the metal clasp, which can annoy horses.  She devised a better system.  Her reins are highly recommended. Click here to see them.  Right now I'm using split leather, but I feel like they don't have enough give and quick hand forgiveness.  I used to use a yacht rope mecate with Leah, but I didn't like the system from the ground.  The long end that functions as the lead rope, is only attached to one side, making it good from that side, but not the other. And, I don't feel comfortable tying her with it, if the need arose on the trail. Instead, I prefer to ride with a rope halter underneath the bridle & a lead rope separate.  Now, I'll be using this yacht rope rein.

The other thing I like about this rein is that it allows me to massage her neck while riding and not have to worry about the reins slipping off.  I already drop the reins and ride her hands free while massaging, but I have worried they'd slip.

Anyway, I'm going to be doing more hands free riding in the future.  One of the episodes was all about things you can do with your horse to warm them up and some of it was hands free.  Actually, much of what she showed I was already doing in some form or another--like riding above them in a modified 2-Point position to let them stretch out freely.  I've been doing a lot of that with Leah at the trot.

I will be looking for things I can do to help her get collected and engage her hind end more--on a loose rein.  As it is now, I'm using my body to influence hers.  I sit back in the saddle and really push her, with my hips swinging as hers do.    Any suggestions for loose rein collection work would be appreciated.

Tonight I'm taking her back to the scary arena.  I'm going to let her run free in it and then I'm going to spend the whole evening working at her comfort level.  If all goes well, I'll take her to the clinic on Saturday.  I'm off tomorrow and Friday, so I'm going to get a couple of trail rides in, too.  I'll pony her tomorrow and then--possibly ride her on the trails Friday.

While I was ordering the reins (ebay), I found a pair of my favorite boots for sale!  I bought them about six years ago and wore them OUT. Let's just say, the barn was not kind to them. I've looked and looked for another pair like them, but they aren't made anymore by UGG.  This set of the UGG Channing is "like new".  Good enough!  I'll take them!