Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I'm Already In Heaven

I may have a post with this title already, because it's true.  I'm in heaven. 

When I woke up from the anesthesia, I heard the nurse talking about my happy place, and it was like--yep, that makes total sense.  Why?  Because I am one of the lucky people who has heaven on earth right here.

*I have horses, and when I work with my horses, endorphins are flooding my brain. Heaven.

*I'm married to my prince charming, and when I'm in his presence, endorphins are flooding my brain. Heaven.

*I have the sweetest children AND grandchildren, and when I think of them, my eyes will start to tear up and endorphins wash over my brain. Heaven.

*I'm grateful for all the above and much more, and when I think of those blessings.....refer to the above.

I want to add something to my gratitude list.

Yesterday, my daughter came over to ride with me.  We took our horses to the next door barn: Shiloh took Cowgirl, and I took Beautiful Girl.

Well, drum roll.....

Bee did so good at the ground driving--past the scary stuff--the scary sounds....I decided to try riding her....

And, we rode solo AWAY FROM HOME for the first time.....

And, it went great!

Unfortunately, there were not photos of yesterday's ride, but I included some from our last ride at home. 

The best thing about our ride at the barn was that she was so responsive to being bent around.  I credit that to the ground driving.  It has become so habitual for her now, she doesn't even think to fight it.  And, if I can keep her turned around and soft in the bit, there is MUCH LESS chance of bucking. 

I had that epiphany about ground driving a couple of months ago, and I cannot stress enough how helpful it is in training a green horse!!  Rebecca's advice to start in halter, rather than bit, was genius.  In fact, it works so well, I'm going to take Leah through the ground driving routine, too.  I think it can only help to take a couple steps back and work on our communication through reins and bit.

Bee and I are definitely on the right path.  Last week, I took her to the next door barn before my surgery, and I drove her from the ground, but when I went to ride her, she started backing up nervously.  I did some basic bends and ended on a positive note without asking her to move out.  After that day, I was really discouraged and thinking we'd never get there.  But we did.  Let that be a lesson to self.  Darkest before the dawn.

Here is my daughter riding Cowgirl.

Later yesterday, I rode Leah, and we continued to work on the dance of opening gates.  I have them all stand ground tied in front of the Cowgirl Cave as I saddle and unsaddle.  Leah acts like she would love to jump in and live in the cave.  I don't blame her--it's warm and cozy in there.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Would You Like To Dance?

"So much wasted time."

David Cassidy's last words as he was dying.

When the nurse told me to “go to my happy place,” she said I told her it would be the horses. (My husband and children gave me a bit of grief about that!)  I woke up feeling euphoric, just as the nurse was telling my husband the story. It felt right. It felt like I had truly been with my horses.

I’ve written before about how it feels for me to climb into the saddle—it’s like a swoosh of endorphins flooding my brain. I also have this image of heaven, my herd galloping to meet me when I pass over. It gives me comfort. I love my family with all my heart, but my relationship with the horses is other-worldly. I hope the readers will understand what I mean, and maybe even be able to clarify it more, in the comments section.

Yesterday was the first day I was able to work with my horses—Cowboy, Leah, and Beautiful--since the heart ablation.  I didn’t expect it to be any different, but it was. Something had changed in me, a way of communicating. It's as if, when they fixed my heart, they also helped it to feel more vividly the emotions of my horses.

The idea of The Dance became clearer and shifted from a--

We're going to dance!

To a--

Would you like to dance?

I had more patience to ask and wait for the give.  More patience to see it as a series of dance steps, rather than a whole dance.  And, this great understanding that learning the steps to the dance is not wasted time, but rushing the dance or not dancing at all IS wasted time.

Seeing it that way, I was able to get insight into my relationships the three horses I worked with, and I want to share it and ask you to leave a comment explaining how you see your own dances with your horses.



As I tried to take Cowboy's picture, he wanted to come to me.  He didn't want to graze.  He didn't want to walk back to the herd.  He wanted to dance.  With me.

We are those long-time dance partners you see on the dance floor, feet shuffling back and forth, back and forth, hands held tight--knowing the rhythm, the steps, the give and take.  Imagine the most perfect couple out on the dance floor, the one that just has you mesmerized, and then look over to the side at the ones who aren't that good, but you can tell they've been dancing together for a long time, too.  That is us.  Cowboy and me.  There is still a bit of tension here and there, but we've learned to dance together and we're used to each other.

Cowboy doesn't like the tango.  We don't do the tango.  We only dance the ones he likes.  For the most part, I lead, but there are some steep or rocky sections, where I let Cowboy choose the path, and he always gets us where we need to go.  Opening and closing gates--the tap-tap on his side--he scoots over a wee bit. A gentle squeeze--he takes one step--a gentle squeeze--another step.  He hears me softly say, "Whoooaaaa," and he stands still enough that I can reach down to the chain and unlatch the gate.

Dancing with Cowboy wasn't always this easy or fun, but it is  now.  I wish I'd been a more patient partner in the early days, but he has been forgiving.  Nowadays, we dance as much as we can to keep his body going in his older age. 



It struck me that I'd been stepping on Leah's toes a lot as we've been learning to dance together.  She's a gentle soul, takes everything deeply, doesn't want to make missteps--and I need to honor that. 

Yesterday, we danced on the ground first.  I worked with her at a trot, in circles, all around the arena.  We danced over the poles, around the barrels, along the rail.  She was a lovely partner.

I wanted a plan in saddle.  What dance would be learning?  Which steps did we need to learn?

I decided the dance was opening the gate (without actually opening the gate), and the steps would be moving off my leg and learning the gentle--one step forward--stop and rest--one more step forward--stop and rest--side pass, side pass--rest--don't be frightened of me bending over--rest--don't be frightened of the sound of the chain clinking against metal--rest. We could call this the waltz, and our practice a dry run.  No music.  No putting the steps all together.  Just work at learning the subtle shifting, counting--gentle pushing away and pulling in.


Beautiful Girl.

If you can't dance well together on the ground, how can you possibly dance well in the saddle? 

Bee had a week off, and she was on edge.  She wants to learn to dance, but but she thinks she knows the dance already--and constantly attempts to take the lead from me.  Her dance is one of self-preservation--I heard a sound, let's get the hell out of here!  She is in the early stages of the steps: getting used to the feel of bridle and bit, the tug of a rein, the pressure of a leg, the weight of a rider. 

Yesterday, we worked on the ground dance.  At first her trot was fast and fearful, but we twirled around the arena in circles until she slowed down and tuned into her dance partner.  At that point, she watched the up and down of my left hand as it urged her to continue forward over poles and tires.  She felt the tug of my right hand guiding her forward, then into a circle, then forward, then over a pole, then forward, then into a circle--and so on. 

We have quite a few steps to learn together, but working with her, and the others, is my happy place.  Why rush the dance?  Those older couples you see on the dance floor probably didn't look so great when they were first learning.  The element of TIME is essential. Forgiveness.  Togetherness. And just plain wanting to dance together in the first place. 

This is not wasted time. 

It's precious time.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Is This What It's Like to Be Born?

Two days before Thanksgiving, I went in for my Cardiac Ablation Procedure.  Not one to frequent doctors, you could say I wasn't thrilled about it.  As you know from previous posts, I had an extra node on my heart that would sometimes kick into a rapid heart beat, 220+ bpm, and wouldn't stop itself.  On one occasion, I was taken to Urgent Care, who called the paramedics, who stopped my heart to reset it, and took me to the ER.  During that episode, they were able to get an ECG that showed an extra electrical point, and it was my doctor's opinion that the extra node be ablated--or burned off.  After talking to him, and others, I suspended my medical aversion and scheduled the procedure.

First, let me say, an SVT, the one I had, won't kill you. But before my procedure, the cardiologist (specialty electrophysiology)  was required to tell me that the risks of the surgery were stroke, heart attack and, yes, death.

That wasn't the first time I'd heard the risks, but I informed him I preferred none of those three--nor the possibility of a pace maker (another risk factor we'd discussed earlier) and if it came to any question--50/50--during the 2-6 hour procedure, please err on the side of CAUTION.  He said he would.

And with that, I was wheeled on a gurny into a large room where I was surrounded by 4-5 people introducing themselves and their part in the team.  My doctor, and someone else, was in an adjoining room overseeing them all and giving them directions.  There was an anesthesiologist working behind me, but definitely getting his job done to a tee because before I knew it I was OUT.


I had never been under anesthesia, so you can imagine the shock when I woke up.  I started to write a poem about it that night.  Here is what I have so far.

Is this what it's like
To be dead? 

A big FAT blank.

Not even being able to think--

Is this what it's like
To be dead?  

So, I was gone. More GONE than I ever dreamed possible.

Coming back to life seemed instantaneous, though it probably wasn't.   Your memory isn't good after you come out of anesthesia.  I woke up as they were wheeling me from the recovery room to the room where I'd been prepped. 

The nurse was telling my husband she'd told me to, "Go to my happy place." 

She said I replied, "I'll be with my horses."

And don't remember that, but I woke up so happy and refreshed, I believe I must have really gone there.

I was thrilled to be alive.  Thankful beyond belief that I was able to be thrilled.

I started asking them if they were successful and making it fire off.  (They have to get the extra node to expose itself).  The answer: YES.  Were they successful in burning it off?  Answer: Yes.  Where was it? Answer: on the back of the heart (left atrium).

Apparently, only 5% of these SVTs occur in the "back of the heart".  My doctor had told me that was a remote possibility, so I put it out of my head.  Surely, I would NOT be one of those 5%.  But I was. Because of that, I am VERY THANKFUL I had one of the best cardiological eletrophysiologists in the business.  He was able to penetrate the septum and burn off the offender--everything--in 1.5 hours. I was out of the hospital about 3 hours after they wheeled me back to the room.

And, I am feeling FABULOUS today.

(To put it in perspective: my mom's friend had the exact same procedure I did--and was part of that unlucky 5%--and her surgery--time on the table--was SIX hours.)

Would I do it again.  Probably not.  But was it worth it?  Yes.

Our annual Thanksgiving was yesterday, and I continued to remember, and cherish, that feeling as I opened my eyes on the gurney.    I am the luckiest person to be alive.  I am the luckiest person to have that kind of "happy place."  I'm lucky in a thousand more ways, too many to mention.  And, I'm grateful.

Turns out, gratitude is a powerful elixir.  Here is a list of the 31 Benefits of Gratitude.

Is this what it's like 
to be born?

The whole world
In front of you.

Your happy places,
Spread like golden pastures

Just waiting for you to gallop through,
Thinking, singing, screaming--

Is this what it's like
to be born?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

(Video) My 5th Ride On Beautiful Girl

This is officially my 5th ride on Bee, but I'd really say 2nd, since the first three could barely be called rides--they were more about getting on to see what I had and didn't have so that I could go back to the drawing board.

Today, there were more distractions, and she started out a little grumpy.  You can hear the planes going by (they're training at the base today) and it rained all night and is cold out.

I lunged her in saddle, threw the rope around her, bent her in on both sides, walked her around the arena and over the poles, and then mounted.

At 3:19, you will see her going to the side and backing up a little.  That is because she sees the obstacles in her path.  She does the same thing, but worse, when I'm ground driving her, until she gets used to going over them.  You'll see her think through and resolve the issue, then move forward.  A similar thing happens at the poles.  She wants to move them out of our way.  Horses are very unsure of themselves when they first have riders on their backs, and they feel less confident of their feet.  She doesn't want to take bad steps, so she tries to move the poles.  I think that's quite nice of her..and smart.

She was bracing against the bit today, so tomorrow I'll go back to ground driving.  I'd rather work on softness in the bridle from the ground than when she is also worried about balancing a rider.  For a while, I may be alternating between driving and riding.

Before and after, we worked on going through puddles.  Like most Mustangs, she likes the water.  I imagine it brings back times with her herd.  Every mustang has been to a watering hole with their mama.

A Day of Buck Reckoning

I must have an extreme sense of self-preservation because I could not sleep last night with my mind firing off, what seemed an infinite amount of data, about my ride on Beautiful Girl yesterday.  I was tossing and turning as my fingers, legs, stomach, skin--my whole body--was processing the feel of that ride with the image of her bucking my trainer off.

And there were words and questions just reeling and reeling.  Was she mad? Was she startled? Is she a dirty bucker? Can you stop a buck? What might provoke a buck? Can I handle being bucked off? ....on and on.

The bucking did not jive with what I felt in saddle yesterday.  It didn't jive then with what I'd always known of her.  She wasn't a bucker, she was a backer.  Any time Bee was scared, she'd back up--not kick out or buck.  But she definitely bucked that evening.  It was big.

And, I did see her buck a few times on the line, in saddle,--AFTER the bucking incident--which is perfectly normal for horse, but not so much for her.  I didn't make a big deal about it, but continued to push her forward on the circle and she quit.  Was that good enough to break a habit--if she'd formed one?

Tossing and turning (keeping my husband awake) I played the moments (my ride & my trainer's) over and over--and compared them to one another.  Then I remembered--

I have it all on tape!  I took a gazillion photos and a couple videos leading up to the buck.  It seemed so smoothe--so boring even--I stopped taping--

right before the buck.

At 5:00 am, my eyes popped open.  And, the first thing that came to my mind was--FIND THOSE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS!

I did, and now I'm going to reconstruct the evening here.  I'm looking for data from Bee--warning signs--something to learn from.  I AM NOT questioning my trainer, and I ask that you not either.  It was Bee's 5th ride and she she hadn't shown any signs of bucking up to that day.  My trainer took her time at every step and only proceeded to the next when she felt safe to do so.  This is all about me analyzing my horse so that I can have a plan for future rides.

Here it goes:

 We practiced loading and unloading her into two different trailers, taking our time with each.

When my trainer felt she was calm, she secured the panel, then she closed the door and sat on the wheel well of the trailer (from the outside) to observe Bee as I drove down the driveway.  Bee was calm, so she gave me the thumbs up and we proceeded to the arena.

Unloading and walking to the roundpen.

Letting Bee check things out.

Bee is alert and looking at another horse we'd brought in a separate trailer.  That horse is nineteen, but very scared in new situations, and he was acting up.

 Allowing Bee to check out the tack and mounting block.

Bee is still alert.

She gets her moving again.

What do I see in Bee?

1. She's not giving 100% attention to the rider.
2. She's resisting transition to the trot.
3. She checks in with me and the other observer--another sign of distraction.
4. My trainer has the perfect amount of contact with her in the bit.

(not seen on video)

5. At the time of the buck, she was moving on the rail in a straight line.
6. Before the buck, she was moving at a trot, and she showed no signs of resistance or agitation.
7. The buck seemed to have come out of nowhere, as if it was purely involuntary.
8. After she was done bucking, she stood calm, my trainer remounted, and she rode on perfectly.
9. One added bit of info: this was the first time she'd been taken off our property in 9 years.  That's pretty big.

How do I analyze that?

There are many times our horses aren't tuned into us 100%, but Bee is a green horse, and it's more important than ever that I have her undivided attention each step of the way.

I think, too, I will probably keep her in a circle for a while before letting her move out on straight lines--and then only short segments.  She needs to practice bending and moving--and it is more difficult to buck in a circle.

I will also keep contact in the bit for now.  I need to have that slight feel of her mouth at all times--if it becomes bracey, I know something is brewing, and I'm in a better position to pull her head up and around.  It all gives her another level of support from me and reminds here that I'm up there.  On that note, I'll continue to do some ground driving so that our communication through the bit becomes more and more rock solid on its own.

She needs lots of encouragement, so I'll stop her more often and give her praise and rest. She likes to please.  Leah hates to be told "good girl", but Bee melts when she hears it.

She has to be introduced to going new places slowly.  When I do trailer her away, the first few times I'll only pony her--no in saddle work.  Bee is a horse that has to have each step solid before proceeding to the next--no holes.

Oh, and I'm going to do all of our work at the walk until she's solid carrying a rider and yielding to leg and bit.  There's no reason for me to push her to the next gait before she's mastered the first.

I don't know if I'll face a buck from her someday-but I can sure narrow my chances with preparation.  I'm pretty positive she did not do it to be mean or to fight.  I believe wholeheartedly it was done instantaneously as a reaction to something that she perceived might hurt her.

I'm heading out this morning to ride her.  I'm asking my husband to take some video which I'll share later.

My next post will recap everything I've done to train Beautiful Girl since the bucking incident. We've done quite a bit.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Our Best Ride Yet--In the Saddle With Beautiful Girl

Why would I ever want less than a complete and willing partnership?

Today, I decided to work with Bee, and see how it went.  If it went well, I hoped to ride her.

After her bucking incident with my trainer, I went back to the fundamentals.  Lots of time standing tied, working on the line in saddle, and ground driving, in the halter and bit, over lots of scary obstacles.  I wanted to accomplish a few things--communication through reins and bit, comfort carrying a saddle, and courage to face new obstacles, without me by her side where she can see me (as it will be when I'm mounted).

To prepare her today, I lunged her at walk, trot, and lope, in saddle.  I threw the rope around her body, from both sides, until I got her to turn in and accept it.  I bent her in to both sides from the ground.
As you can see in the photo, her bend is quite lovely and soft.  So soft, that I decided I would have enough control, should I need to bend her in during our ride.  

I mounted and rode, and we had the best ride yet.  She wasn't sticky or reactive to my leg cues.  She wasn't stressed about the bit in her mouth.  She yielded to pressure in the bit.  She was paying attention.  She was calm.

As I was unsaddling her, I felt this feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It was the feeling of fear.  I hadn't felt it while I was riding her, but apparently, it was there.  I told Bee that we probably both have a little of that right now, and about the time we both don't have it--we'll be riding all over the place together.  Until then, we don't have to push things.  We can continue to take our baby steps and build our courage.

After riding Bee, and praising her to heaven and above, I went to get my boy--my heart horse, Cowboy.  I have been trying to ride him every day to improve  his elderly condition.  

Here, you can see Mt. Spokane between Cowboy's ears.

For some reason, the herd is keeping him away from the food.  I have to go get him and bring him in to eat every day.  You can see how they've banished him to the furthest corner here.

I got a ride on him yesterday, too.  It was sunny and gorgeous out.

 I got a new helmet last month--the Fallon Taylor turquoise riding helmet.  I LOVE it.  It's so comfortable, I forget I'm wearing it, and I wear it into the house!

It has an adjustable band in the back, which you can customize to fit your own head.  It clicks to loosen and clicks back to tighten.  Brilliant!!