Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Goal Has Been Reached, And I Am Better For It

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

I know my days on earth are finite.  The average lifespan of a female in the US is 81.2 years.  In other words, 29,638 days.  Of those days, I've already expended approximately 19,000.  Three years ago, I decided to be a better steward of those days, because as Benjamin Franklin so wisely said, "Lost time is never found again."

But there was more to it than that.  It was also this thing I learned long ago--the concept of Time = Love.  Where do you spend your time?  Well, that is what you love.  If not, you are certainly wasting your time, because your soul needs so desperately to do what it loves.  The beings that you love so desperately need your time.  

Today is the 183rd day of my 2018 Challenge.  My personal goal was 183 days of either riding or actively training a horse.  (And when I say training, I mean more than just grooming, feeding, cleaning their stalls.)  Days that I drove up to Canada to see and work with Tumbleweed, were included in that count. 

The Time = Love equation works in several ways  ---

1. It reveals what you love.
2. It makes the thing you love feel loved.
3. It makes you love, the thing you love, even more.

I can tell you that #3 is what has surprised me the most.  The more time I devote to my horses, the more time I want to devote to my horses.  Lucky for me, 2019 will give me that opportunity.

Here is a brief recap of my 2018 Challenge:


Leah and I had trail ride after trail ride this year.  I learned what a solid mount she is--wherever I took her.  On one ride, we got lost, and we had to ride several miles of paved road with loud trucks going by.  Leah was golden.  We rode Rustler's Gulch during in spring, and then again, in fall during hunting season.  We rode Hog Lake, Fish Lake, James Slavin, Palisades, and Riverside State Park.

I reached day 183, today, with Leah. After working on the touch exercises yesterday, I rode her bareback and practiced the same theme-- "kind" hands.  Riding bareback, I can feel her every twitch--instant feed back if my hands become rough.  Leah is sensitive and she wants to do it right.  Proper release is ever so important--timing--gentle asks--praise.

She responded well to "kind hands," and after our ride, I did a touch session with her.  Look at how relaxed she was. 

Our biggest milestone was opening and closing gates.  Leah would work herself up with gates, and a few years back, she fell over and almost landed on me during gate work--which compounded the anxiety.  This year, we worked step by step, stopping to allow her heart to rest--and soon enough, we had that gate opened and closed.  Once she mastered it and felt confident, gates were no problem.

Beautiful Girl

Things were going really well for Beautiful and I, until I decided to push her too hard.  That earned me a well-deserved "buck off."  Unfortunately, it set us back, but life with horses isn't all about the good things; it's also about dusting ourselves off and starting over.  And, that's where we are.  

My biggest milestone with Beautiful has been forgive and forget.  The forgiving was easy, and the forgetting is coming by replacing that bad memory with new good ones.  


What can I say about my heart horse that I haven't already said?  He has given me wings to fly, and for that I can never repay him.  He is 23 and living on borrowed time with that previously broken and displaced front P3 (coffin bone).  We are 12 years post injury, and everyone who knows how bad it was at the time shakes their head to hear that he's still going.  He also had, and still has, Head Shaking Syndrome--probably from the issues of that P3 that has developed arthritis.  

All that is to say--EVERY DAY IS A GIFT.

My biggest milestone with Cowboy was riding bareback and no reins, something we're still working on together.  That, and riding him bareback on two long trail rides.  Yeah, now that I think back, those bareback trail rides were the pinnacle of our time together this  year.

I've had a lot of time with Cowboy, and there is a lot of LOVE between us.


I committed to Tumbleweed the first week of his life.

 I mean, who couldn't fall in love with this sweet soul?

Everything fell into place, like it was meant to be, and the next thing I knew, I was driving to Canada every few weeks to see him.  And, I finally got to meet my blogging friend, Shirley, from Ride a Good Horse.  I had long admired Beamer's babies, and now I have one.  

I love him so much, it scares me.

Today, the vet came to give him shots and follow up wormer.  She did a short physical and thought  he seemed very healthy.  She remarked that he'd grown a lot since she last saw him.  She taped him at 350 pounds a month ago, and now he is taping at 500 pounds.  

I don't know what our future holds, but I'm going to enjoy every minute I'm given.


I hate to leave out the rest of the herd, because I have spent time with all of them, and I'm getting ready to start riding Foxy.  She is going to be the horse I use to pony Tumbleweed around.  I have a lesson set up for this Sunday, to help me get used to her, and try out a few different bit options.  She and Tumbleweed are currently sharing a large stall and turnout.

I just realized a 4th thing about Time = Love, and that is, when you do what you love, you are loving  yourself.  

I'll end with an excerpt from my own poem, The Breathing.

I hear their breathing,
each year stronger,
and something like love,
pulling me there.

What is time, 
but a rotation under the sun, 
a perception of what has been, 
a perception of moving 
toward what is to come.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Should You Ride Your Horse Bareback on the Trails?

Yesterday, a well-meaning friend, who saw the picture above, lectured me on Facebook about the dangers of riding bareback.  It kind of went back and forth, but her last statement was this:
Riding on your property bareback is great, but you never know what you’ll encounter on a trail. Your horse isn’t going to worry about your comfort, only about his flight instinct to get away fast from danger.
I ended the exchange saying that I can handle whatever he dishes out.

It got me thinking, how many other people think that trail riding bareback is just beyond dangerous--and borders on irresponsible.  I googled it and found this interesting thread, where most of the commenters simply LOVE riding bareback on the trails.  Horse Forum: Riding Bareback on the Trails.

Here are my thoughts on "Riding Bareback on the Trail."  And by the way, these are only suggestions--each rider needs to determine for themselves what they feel comfortable riding.

1. The same rule of thumb for trail riding, in general, applies to riding bareback on the trails--you need to be confident on your horse at every gait--walk, trot, lope, and canter.  You have to be ready to handle whatever comes your way out on the trail.  If  your horse goes into flight mode, you need to be able to sit whatever its response is.  In other words, if you can do this--

You're probably safe on the trails, my well-meaning friend!

2. Do it at home first.  I rode with a friend two weeks ago who had never ridden her, otherwise solid, horse bareback.  She was aware that it might spook him, so she got on in the arena.  Indeed, it did spook him, and he bucked her off into the sand.  We moved him to the round-pen and I held him as she got on again, and he was perfectly fine.  For some reason, the feel of bareback initially unsettled him.  But we rode for miles that day and he was golden.  Also, she rides her other horses bareback a lot, and can sit almost anything.

3.  Bareback riding will improve your core balance--and FAST.  When I first started bareback riding, and those who follow my blog know it has been recent, I was initially fearful.  Part of that was because I was using muscles I hadn't used before, and it was demanding more core strength and balance.  But my body learned very fast and soon I was able to balance and ride all gaits.  I started gripping less and less and balancing more and more.  That core balance is good for me.  When I get done with a bareback trail ride, I actually feel like I've gotten a work out.

4.  Bareback riding in the heat is going to make your pants sweaty.  (No explanation needed.)

5. Bareback riding in the winter is going to help keep you WARM!  (applause here)

6. It's easier to slip off bareback than get thrown off in saddle, and getting off and on your horse bareback is good practice for slipping off, in an emergency.  How many of us actually know how far it is from the back of our horse to the ground without stirrups or mounting blocks?  Well, you find out pretty quick when you dismount bareback.  And that information is not lost on your brain.  You can actually feel your brain calculating the length of fall, the impact to the feet and legs and joints, and adjusting the body to accommodate it all.

7. Riding long distances will not be kind to your "bare" seat.  (If you know what I mean.)  Wednesday I rode miles with no padding, and suffered the consequences.  Yesterday, I rode with a semi-diaper, and it was much better.  All of this is to say, SOMEONE needs to invent bareback riding pants!!  They need some padding in the seat, and they need a full leather seat to grip the horse.  I rode in my Kerrits winter riding pants on Wednesday, and when I was going up steep hills, I was slipping and had to grab onto Cowboy's mane.  Yesterday, I rode in jeans, and there was much better grip.  But if I had a leather seat in my pants--I'd stick even better, and it would withstand sweat.  So please, someone invent BAREBACK RIDING PANTS.

8. Every new (and even experienced) rider should get lessons riding bareback.  When I went full-on bareback, my riding improved in saddle.  Shocker!  Now, I'm a believer in starting bareback.  When I was a kid, my friend's parents would let us ride their horses, but NOT use their saddles.  Thus, all I knew was bareback riding, and I hated it.  When I finally got my own horse, and a saddle, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  Stirrups.  Yay!  But I've come full circle.  Looking back, I realize they did us a favor, and every young person learning to ride should first ride bareback--on a well-trained horse.

9.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, will  make you feel more at ONE with your horse, than riding bareback.  I swear, you will feel the slightest thought in your horse's brain trickle down its back and into its feet.  Likewise, your horse will feel your slightest thought. You'll find that the saddle is a barrier between your communication with your horse, and you will be surprised at what they're trying to say, but for the most part hide.  Yesterday, we rode in a group of four.  Cowboy hates groups more than 2 or 3.  He was giving me signs, all through the ride, that he was uncomfortable in this larger group.  They were subtle, but I felt them every time a horse would get too close to his bubble.

Today, I'm going to go shopping for full-seat winter pants.  I have already found some online, but I don't know what size to buy.  I'm thinking that I'll start using them for these bareback rides through winter.  They don't have padding, but I may be able to sew something in and invent my own bareback riding pants.  Maybe a little memory foam--or who knows--I'll just need a trip out to Hobby Lobby.

One final thought: I'm not advocating that everyone ride bareback.  I think it's easier and more fun than we give it credit for, but it's not without risk.  Nothing with  horses is without risk.  In the end, you have to do what you feel comfortable doing with the horse you have.  I only wrote this post to get off my mind what my well-meaning friend brought up--but that I didn't think was Facebook length.  Therefore, I've subjected you all to it!  Sorry 'bout that.

And happy bareback trails (or just trails--whatever!), my friends!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

I Wish I Had the Words

The happiest moments I've had on horseback have been right here--on the back of this horse--Cowboy.  When I ride him, I wonder why he isn't the only one I ride.  When I ride him, he wants to help me fly.

Yesterday, we did fly.

It was a coldish day, and Tumbleweed is doing much better, so I asked a friend if she'd like to accompany us on the trail.  She rode in saddle, and I rode bareback.

Taking a step back--Cowboy loves when I ride him bareback.  He hates saddles.  He hates being confined.  He'd be thrilled if I ditched the bridle and bit and trusted him 100%.

Also, Cowboy is an Omega horse and he is almost always pushed away from the herd.  When I go out to find him each evening to bring him in, he's always on the furthest part of the pasture, away from the herd and hay.

But he has me.  And he knows it.  And when I call him, he comes to me--even in the dark.  And I give him a safe stall and equine senior and all the love he needs.  He's very appreciative.  We are deeply connected and he is my soul's horse.

When we ride, we're one. We don't fight. We don't even bicker.  I listen to him, he listens to me, and we communicate a thousand things to one another with the slightest movements or sounds.  All of that communication is based on the many years we've struggled to communicate and hammered out a mutual understanding and our own unique language.

Yesterday, we cantered bareback on the trails, we climbed up steep hills where the only thing that kept me on was gripping hard to both sides of his mane, and we waded into the frigid water and looked out over the beauty of the world.

I don't have words to describe the feeling to you, but I'm pretty sure you all know it.