Monday, May 4, 2020

The Perfect Horse, But How Did He Get This Way?

Cowboy is 25, my heart horse--and he's perfect.  When I ride him bareback, I climb up on the trailer's wheel well, precariously perched on its narrow shelf, holding onto a tie ring and a rein--he sees me, scoots over to the very edge, allows me to jump on, then moves out.  He will do that every time, even if he's prancing around nervously because his buddy is already moving out. Last week, we ran into a pissed off snake on a narrow trail. The front horse bolted. Cowboy stood his ground with me--scared to death--waiting to see what I wanted.

I could go on and on and on--but suffice to say, it's as if he reads my mind--and I his.

But it wasn't always this way.  It was there for the taking, but I somehow got in the way of it.

It began to change for us...

5 years ago, when I took Cowboy to his last ever, "Hell for Horses." 

(It's not really called that.  It's called a despooking clinic, but Cowboy hates them.) 

He was 20, and I'd been riding the trails with him for 14 years by then--my heart horse--and a pretty damn good boy.  Not perfect, like he is now, but pretty solid as trail horses go. 

I thought the clinic would be fun.

It wasn't.

"That horse is going to hurt you."

I'll never forget those words of the woman helping us at the clinic.  Cowboy lost his mind, pushed through me--he was pissed---probably for betraying him by taking him there when he was already such a solid boy.

Look at Cowboy's eye in this photo--like, what bullshit is this with the ball on my back?

And he proceeded to fight me on every ask--no matter how small. If I said go left, he went right. 

As bad as that day was, it was that clinic that woke me up. I would never again ask Cowboy to do something he didn't want to do.

I realize what I just said goes against EVERYTHING we've ever heard. But I thought, hey, he's 20 years old--he's a great horse on the trails--which is what a despooking clinic is for--and if he doesn't want to be tortured by chainsaws, faux water crossings, car washes--and whatever else humans can come up with to scare him--why am I making him suffer?

From there, it was a logical progression to other things--on the trail--Cowboy, you don't like this--how about this?  At home--Cowboy, you don't feel well enough for a ride today--stay home.  Every little thing between us became a conversation--but it came from a place of trust.  I trusted that his refusal was coming from a real place--not a place of disrespect and defiance.

When I started having those conversations with Cowboy and really listening to him--I started to get more yes answers. I started to get more yes answers before I even asked. In fact, that's when asking became just thinking it.

Old too soon, and wise too late.

Yes, and no.

I've had five years (and counting!) to explore what a relationship with a horse can be--at its best.  It would only be too late if I fail to learn from this and carry it into my next horse/human relationships.

What does it mean to really listen? How much of my agenda would I have to give up? How can listening to a horse's fear also work against the horse? How do I know the difference between giving in from weakness and giving from respect?

I think the answer to all the questions above-- "how do you know questions?" can only be gauged by the results.

Does the listening and giving from you to your horse yield more "yes" answers from your horse, in the long run--or more "no" answers?

If you find your horse saying, Yes, more often--you're on the right path with your listening and adjusting.

But if you find your horse doing what you ask, before you even ask it--you've transcended into something completely different--that special place where the two paths have become one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Getting Tumbleweed Ready for 2 Year Old School

An update on Mr. Tweed who I'm trying to prepare for June kindergarten. I don't want to instill any bad habits in him, so I'm really only concentrating on the basics -- at the heart of which --- is rewarding him for try.

He stands tied everyday  --- started with Uncle Cowboy --- then progressed to time alone --- each day the time tied increases --- his release is when he cocks a leg and relaxes.

The work Shirley did with him sure helps with this, but it's never fun for a horse to stand for long periods of time alone. When he goes to training, he will consider that time his chance to relax.  He will stand tied for hours a day -- but that's for June --- this is now --he stands tied about 30 minutes.

We grab a glass of wine or clean stalls while he is practicing being tied. The dogs even get in on the watching action.  I kind of feel sorry for Tweed, but I know it's going to make him a better horse -- and golden horses always have a home in this world -- no matter what happens.

We started lunging after a long winter break.

la resistance'!

la blow up'

Like every horse, he is great at doing just enough --- but take him slightly past just enough -- you will discover resistance.  That is our goal -- find it -- remain calm -- continue with your plan -- do not let him get away with it. Um no, I asked you to continue on that way, T'weed.  

And voila! You get a well-mannered boy.

And well-mannered boys get some lovin'.

He is trying to understand what I want and give it -- but I'm trying to get him to the point that he understands that when we're together -- it's a creative process -- different ever day --- no time limit -- no set amount of laps on the line -- it's an all in experience for however long it takes.

I call it a work ethic. He's going to need it in June. He's going to need it in life with humans.

A couple day of packing various blankets. I work with him until I can drop his lead, have him stand "ground tied" and allow me to throw the blanket all over his back, butt, neck, head -- from both sides -- as well as --- drop it on the ground on both sides -- pack it at a trot -- allowing it to fall off on both sides as he's moving.

The blanket training was interesting. He was quite scared of the blue bareback pad. I would hold it out in front of him --- and when he looked at it, I'd withdraw it. That advanced to when he put his nose on it -- I'd withdraw it.  And all that advanced to him not caring one wit about it.

The training wasn't about the pad -- really -- it was about facing what he fears and seeing the scary thing move away.  Oh, he's so powerful, that boy!  He just looks at the monsters --- and they dissolve!

We're still good buddies, and he still comes trotting up to me when I come out to get him.  I guess we're okay.

I sure am going to miss him when he goes to kindergarten.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Tumbleweed, a Natural at Herding & a New Saddle Pad for Swayback Horses

The weather has been unusually spring-like, which has given me time with my horses.  I've ridden at home and on the trails.

(A mild winter was good for Cowboy!)

I took it slow with Leah--ground work, then light riding in the arena, and obstacle work. She did great.  I really feel that SLOW is the new FAST when it comes to horses.  Solid steps forward are priceless, as they build the relationship with your horse.  She and I will go out on the trail together this week.  None of the horses have shoes yet, but the ground is soft.

As you know, much of my herd is geriatric, so I ordered a new swayback saddle pad today by Reiner. It has great reviews, and I'll do my own when it arrives. The horses in my herd which it might help: Cowboy, Foxy, Little Joe, and Leah.  If I like it, I will order another. (I'm not a fan of neoprene, but the reviews were glowing.)

I have continued to progress in knitting: hats, baby blankets, and shawls.

I experimented with my own leather labels--ravens, with my initials on the flip side. Knitting is very relaxing for me and helps the time pass on road or plane trips--or while watching TV at night.

I also threw myself back into guitar study, but this time I found a GREAT online course by Guitar Tricks.  I've been at it for a few weeks, going way back to make sure I fill in the holes of my self-training, and it is an amazing course.  I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone wanting to learn to play the guitar.  They have awesome, easy tutorials, play-alongs with their bands, downloads of the sheet music and lessons.  It's remarkably incremental.

Tumbleweed has a reservation for kindergarten training in June, and my daughter, Shiloh, who has been working horses with me, decided to take her horse Cowgirl, at the same time, for a refresher.  I couldn't be happier, as that will give Tumbleweed a herd-mate and lower his stress level. 

She's not Foxy, but she is the herd leader, and is the one who tells them all what to do and when.  I often find she and Tumbleweed together in the turnout.  He lives a charmed life. 

My trainer is amazing at putting a solid foundation on horses, foundations that stick.  As long as I've known her, she has had waiting lists to get in, especially during spring/summer--so I reserved T'weed's spot over a year ago. He'll go for a month, then come home, grow up, and go back for 60 days next year.  At that point, I'll probably do the rest myself through lessons and clinics.  I expect that he will be easy, but he does have a stubborn streak, and a mischievous side--like most babies.  She's used to that.

Oh, another thing about T'weed--he's a natural herder.  He herds Cowboy around in the turnout--running him down the fence, getting out in front of him, turning him around, running him again.  

My granddaughter came over Saturday (I gave her the Penny hair bracelet--it was small, but she was able to add an extender onto it, which made it perfect) and T'weed was herding Cowboy as we all watched from inside.  It was quite the show, and everyone was amazed at how genetically wired he is for it.  Movement is good for Cowboy, too.  Cowboy was never a natural herder, but he always liked bossing cows around.  A natural omega, he makes a great practice cow for Tumbleweed. LOL.