Thursday, September 30, 2021

Building His Confidence

Things were crazy around here when I pulled out yesterday. Something got the horses riled up, and they were all running around like crazy, which scared Tumbleweed as he was loading. Part of me said, abort the mission! But the other side of me said, you can't make everything perfect, and he needs to know he can trust my decision to work today. The latter side won.

When we arrived at the trail head, he was still on edge, but we started our work on the obstacles in-hand. I didn't want to overburden him, since he has shutdown on them before, so I chose only one on which to concentrate. It's the bridge he has gone over 1000 times, but after the teeter-totter bridge, he firmly believes it is a teeter-totter in disguise. Before we can even think about mastering the TT bridge, we need to circle back on this one.

My daughter, who is due any day now, accompanied me. She and I think a lot like when it comes to training, so I bounced ideas off of her as I was working. Too much pressure? Need more? What do you see happening?

The winning approach for Tweed was a little bit of pressure, but lots of reinforcement. At one point, when he committed his front feet, and most of his back momentum, to the bridge, I stopped and kissed his sweet little mouth--which is something I do a lot around here--and he just immediately melted. It paved the way for several successful tries. A little pressure, a little release, lots of kissing. My training method!

After that, we did some work in the round pen and arena, and then rode out to try the obstacles in-saddle.

The Sand Box

The Poles. (This is one is good for teaching him to balance a rider while picking up his legs to maneuver over obstacles, something that still scares him. He seems to be very worried about his balance when we do these obstacles, so I take them slow.)

I apologize for the next one being crooked, but I sent it up to YouTube in the correct position, and it still processed it skewed. The Ladder. Last time I  tried this one with Tweed, in saddle, he refused it. So, this was a big, big win for us.

We did more of the obstacles, like the labyrinth and poles--going in, and backing out, but that gives you a good idea. I'm starting to use the obstacles more as a supplement, rather than an entire session. I'm going to build on them slowly, as he gains confidence. 

Today is going to be our first trail ride, and I think he's more than ready. It's a beautiful day, and I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Finding Our Way In a Big World

After my post, "My Mama Don't Want Your Advice," this photo popped up on Facebook. I liked it.

I also enjoyed reading the wisdom you all shared in the follow-up post, "Now That I've Scared Everyone off..."

I suppose this is all front-and-center in my mind because Tumbleweed and I are moving from a private relationship, working at home together, to a public relationship, riding the trails and integrating into the wider community of horse people. I don't want to be unteachable, yet I do want to carve out a private space to work through things in our own time, and our own way. It's a fine line.

I'm getting ready to go back to the equestrian area today, and I'm envisioning what it will look like. The  plan is to work on getting our bodies and communication in sync. So far, Tumbleweed seems to prefer work done in the saddle. It could be that the training he received as a 2 year old, then 3 year old, last spring, have conditioned him to thinking riding out his reward. My trainer said he really excelled in that area. 

I remember some more advice from my former farrier. Sadly, he retired. I really miss him. He told me that when you start a horse you should spend a little time in the arena, but get onto the trails as soon as you can, and ride them out a lot. That seems to be the progression Tumbleweed wants, too.

So, at this point, I just want to make sure I'm strong enough in the saddle to sit a spin, or a spook, or whatever we might encounter.

Off we go--into the great big world.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Now That I've Scared Everyone Off...

Now that I've scared everyone off from ever giving me advice again >insert laughing emoji<, I would like to shift gears and ask you to share the best piece of advice, or maybe more accurately, wisdom, you ever received.

For me, it was probably the day my vet told me Cowboy was a smart horse because he had a strong survival instinct. I was thinking about it from the negative--he's not a bright horse, because he's not allowing my vet to give him his vaccination shot, and I was making apologies. He turned that back around to the positive so fast my head was left spinning.

I was Cowboy's fifth owner by the time he was seven, partially because the poor guy had been caught up in a divorce situation. He was also an orphan foal. Cowboy must have thought if he was going to survive, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. When I look back, every blow up, every refusal, everything--was a failure of not meeting that most basic, essential need.

1. Have I done the necessary conditioning / training?

2. Have I earned this horse's trust?

3. Does my horse feel like he / she can communicate their needs to me and have them heard and respected?

4. Is anything I'm doing contributing to my horse's fear and survival instinct?

5. What's the best way I can get this horse past his fear and not make him more fearful?

6. At the end of the day, the relationship is more important than the results.

It took me a long time to get there with Cowboy, and I had to let some things go. He never enjoyed riding in super large groups. He always hated desensitization clinics. He wasn't good crossing water, and always took extra time. When he got it, he'd do it forever, but only that particular water crossing. In all other things, he gave me everything he had--really poured it out and wanted more time with me on the trail. 

How about all of you? What is that great epiphany? What piece of wisdom changed everything about your outlook?

Oh, and we introduced Foxy and Epona last night.

It was extremely uneventful.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

My Mama Don't Want Your Advice


I saw this onesie at a store last month and it cracked me up. My Parents Don't Want Your advice. There have been times this last week that I wish I had a shirt that said, My mama don't want your advice!

Let me back up for a moment and clarify two points:

1. I often ask for advice on this blog, and I'm thankful for your input. This does not apply to the blog.

2. I am guilty of what I'm about to describe.

When you train at a public park, you're going to run into well-meaning people who see you struggling and want to help. Unfortunately, help is often a distraction, and it almost always leads to a worse outcome. I'm not sure why that is, but every time I've taken someone's advice--I'm not talking about trainers, but random people who show up-- it got worse. It could be that it interferes with my natural method--which to someone on the outside might look "wrong". When I feel pressured to try to adopt their advice it makes me see it from their eyes--and not my own or my horse's. It interferes with the communication going on. I start seeing where we should be--and not where we actually are. It's frustrating, and it happened to me twice last week, setting back our progress.

Today the park was pretty full, and I shared a spot with a young woman and her horse. She backed her trailer up to the round pen right as I was going in. I started to feel the dread well up in me. Is she going to offer advice? Is she going to judge my methods? I mean, I think my methods are pretty solid, actually, but different horses need different things--and different people have different ways--and each horse and person is--for lack of a better word, different. 

Well, she didn't...because she has better manners than me. I have been that know-it-all person before offering help when it wasn't asked. I look back and cringe!  Please God, strike me moot if I ever go to offer unsolicited advice to another horse person.

Again, this advice comes from a good place and I in no way want to suggest it doesn't. It's just that it's not helpful.

We switched places and I went into the arena while she went into the round pen. As I was leaving, I saw her trying to load her horse, but she wouldn't get in the trailer. I didn't look at her, but walked slowly by, just in case she asked for my help. She didn't. She took her horse back into the round pen and started working her. As I drove off, I could see clearly, she was there to teach that horse to load properly, and that was all part of her plan. I was so thankful that I had kept my mouth shut.

Now, as I say this, I remember a time I did need help loading a horse, and a very nice man came over and gently asked me if I needed assistance. I had probably sent his group some imploring looks before he finally felt comfortable asking. I was very happy he did and accepted his help. Obviously, this isn't a hard and fast rule. It's delicate.

When we get past all of this elementary school training, and we've reached that greater plateau with our horses where we're doing all sorts of fun things on them--it is easy to forget how important the struggle was in getting there. It's also natural to want to share our many lessons with others who are back where we started, but this has taught me a valuable lesson that I hope I carry with me from here forward--Mama's Don't Want My Advice.

Here's my only video of Tumbleweed today. He still comes to me when I call him in, even though he knows I'm taking him off to work. That is something I never got from Leah or even Beautiful Girl. I've only ever had it with my first horse I raised from a weanling, Tanner, then Cowboy, Epona (so far), and Tweed.  The others will stand for me when I come and get them, but they're not going that extra mile to come to me. 

He had been way out in the pasture grazing when I called him in, and by the time it hit me to video it, he was almost there. It says volumes to me about his willingness and connection, despite whatever mistakes I've made.

Friday, September 24, 2021

No More BS

Have you ever experienced a moment with your horse where, if they could talk, you're pretty sure they'd say, This is bullshit? I had one of those today.

The beauty of my new system is that we're out at the park most of the day, so it allows me to stop and take a break and rethink my approach. Tumbleweed and I had started out with obstacles again, and I found him completely shutting down on me. Like, these were fun the first time, but enough is enough.

We went back to the trailer, and he ate his hay while I ate my lunch. I started to think, Okay, what's next then? I decided that part 2 of the day would be working him in the round pen to see if he had any frustration stored up, and to see if I could move his feet and get a connection. All of that went well, and I had his attention, so back we went to take another break at the trailer. 

It seemed the next likely step would be to ride him in the round pen. I saddled him up, and off we went. All was well in the round pen. The big empty arena seemed to be calling our name, and off we went to the big arena. After riding in both round pen and arena, we took another break, and my husband brought his work down to the park to join me.

At that point, I thought, Well, hell, why not take him out on the trail and over the obstacles in saddle, since he's doing so good?

We rode through trees, up and down the nearby trails, and then over the obstacles. Tumbleweed was a rock star.

By the end of the day, we had progressed from frustration and shutting down to, YOU DID AWESOME, TWEED! (kiss, kiss, hug, hug, kiss, kiss--happy boy.) I'm so thankful we corrected, because he does not need to be a frustrated 3 year old--he needs to build confidence--and LOTS of it. If I had gone down there and stopped at the first hour, we wouldn't have had the breakthrough. I wouldn't have figured out what Tumbleweed was trying to say to me. Four and half hours together gave us what we needed, and it increased my understanding of him.

Based upon everything I saw today, I think we are ready for a long ride this Sunday.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Falling In Love With You

Wise men say, only fools rush in,
but I can't help falling in love with you.
Like a river flows, surely, to the sea,
Tweed, so it goes, some things, are meant to be.
Take my hand, take my whole life too,
(Even over the teeter totter bridge),
For I can’t help falling in love with you.

Spending time with Tumbleweed at the equestrian area and taking it slow. I don't have an agenda, but I do have a goal of first, getting his whole heart, and second, to be riding those trails and obstacles. We're very close.  I'll know when it's time, because I'll have his feet. As of yesterday, he was still nervous and calling for a buddy. I want him to see me as that buddy. He has gone over the teeter totter bridge twice, but he's still nervous about it. We'll get there. In the meantime, I'm pursuing LoVe, encouragement, and enjoying our journey.

A little wine and cheese between training.

I wish I could say I came up with this philosophy of slow, long day training myself, but I actually stole it from another equestrian. I'd see her at the equestrian area with her horse last summer when I'd go down for rides. She was there everyday, most of the day, and her husband would sit and read a book. I'd see her before my rides, and I'd see her after my rides. She and her horse started out rough, and I didn't know how it would turn out for them, but by the end of the summer, she was riding her mare all over the place, and they had a deep connection. It made me think how like weekend clinics that is--you spend all day with your horse partner, and by the end of the day or weekend, you get this unbelievable bond. My horse camping friends get the same results. There's just something to be said with longer days together.

Update: Epona gets daily turnout with Cowgirl now, and Cowgirl isn't letting her nurse anymore--but we're watching them closely. Cowgirl seems to have turned off the spigot and has no interest in allowing her to assume the position. Epona isn't trying as much either. Good news for an eventual full reunion.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Getting to It

We talk a lot about heart horses, and everyone of mine has a deep place in my heart--therefore, I refer to them all as heart horses. But there is another element, and it is whether we have their whole hearts bent towards us, too. And that is an entirely different level of horsemanship--unity, togetherness, partnership, willingness, trust, love, try--what I've come to think of as the "it factor."  Whatever you want to label it, we know it when we see it, we know it when we feel it.

It doesn't come easy. In fact, it is often earned after a long period of illness when we are required to spend a lot of one on one time with our horse, and they are at their most vulnerable and alone. 

Epona is a good example. When she was at her weakest, I could sit down in her stall, lay her head on my lap, and rub each of her legs all the way down to the sweet little hooves. It was imprinting on steroids. But it came at a cost--the possibility of losing her, too. 

When Cowboy broke his P3, the prognosis was poor for a full recovery, since it had been misdiagnosed for so long. The veterinary college near us recommended conservative treatment from a farrier. Our farrier came to the rescue and said, I'll work on his hoof, you work on this--and he pointed to his heart and his brain. Cowboy would have to be confined to a 12x12 stall for nine months. It was up to me to keep his head and heart together. Though we'd been riding and working together for five years before his injury, the time we had together then, again, not knowing what the outcome would be, is what gave us the it factor.

I had only worked with Tweed on the ground during Epona's illness because my mind was consumed with saving Epona's life, and I didn't feel I could devote the attention and energy to riding a three year old Tumbleweed. Riding him requires all of my attention. I felt it wouldn't be safe, or productive, to jump in the saddle half-heartedly.

Last week after we got the good news about Epona, I walked into the barn the next morning with the weight of the world off my shoulders. I was able to see my other horses again--feel them again--and I knew it was time to obsess about my own horse--my future partner--sweet T.

And that is when all of the above started to gel in my mind. I want it with Tumbleweed, but without the sickness or injury. I want the it factor. How do I get it?

My theory:

1. Lots of time.

2. Lots of love.

3. Lots of encouragement.

Yesterday, I took him to our local equestrian park. I packed a lunch. We spent the whole day together. I will go back tonight and pack dinner. I will go back tomorrow and pack another lunch. And the same Friday. I will obsess about how to get past roadblocks in our training. I will obsess about how to love him and encourage him better. I will spend as much as time as he will allow tracing his body with my hands and learning him and he me. 

I will not stop until I get to it, without having it take bad luck getting us to it. 

I want his heart. I know what that feels like, I know it is possible with him and he wants to give it to me, and I will settle for nothing less.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

I Wish I Had Time To Bake You a Cake!

Yesterday was Epona's vet visit, and though we could see a remarkable change in her, we have learned to wait for the bloodwork and diagnostics before we celebrate.

The first thing we saw was that she had gained almost 100 pounds since our last visit. That was a big indicator something was going right. But being healthier also meant being stronger and more opinionated, and Epona was not happy about having her blood drawn. Our vet was impressed with her ground manners, considering she is an "orphan, non-orphan foal," but Epona definitely had spunk, and it made us all very happy to see it.

We loaded her back in the trailer to await the results of her blood test, and when our vet walked out to give us the news, her first words were, "I wish I had time to bake you a cake! --because we need to celebrate!"

There was a feeling of elation among all of us. A heavy weight lifted from our mutual shoulders. We thanked Dr Stein over and over, and she returned the praise to us. It was a team effort with a heavy dose of miracles from above.

Throughout this journey, I would often pray to God out in the barn, "I love her so much, can we keep her?" 

His answer was yes. 

Prognosis: No more vet visits. She has learned to swallow normally, and they expect her to have a normal life now. As you know, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to type those words.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Thank You For the Love

This has been a rough season of life for all of us, and I know emotional energy is hard to spare. We're having to harness every bit of what we have to survive and thrive and help those close to us do the same. It's not easy. I appreciate you all for following Epona's little journey. I thank you for sticking with us, even when we didn't know how it would turn out. Your prayers, advice, and constant friendship helped see us through. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. 

As an update, she has gone from 250 to 320 pounds in two weeks. She is strong, opinionated, and a stronger eater. We no longer hear the raspiness from hay or grain that she used to have while eating.

There has been so much taken from us this last couple of years, but I am reminded that love cannot be taken from us.  Sometimes, it does not seem like we have much to offer--me to you, me to Epona, you to me--but that is not true. Love is free and there is an infinite supply of it in our hearts, just waiting to be shared. 

Last year, my son married the love of his life, but because of Covid, they couldn't have a big ceremony. Instead, they postponed it to this year, hoping Covid would be a long gone thing of the past. Unfortunately, it isn't a thing of the past, but we were able to get a permit to hold the wedding outside, with some precautions, and everything worked out well. 

No matter how hard it seems sometimes, or even hopeless, never give up on loving each other. 

Love is more powerful than we'll ever know, and the world needs it now more than it ever has in my lifetime.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Epona Reunited With Mama--Our Test Run

The day came to test Epona and Cowgirl, and we decided to let them loose in the arena (that I've neglected.) She is 3 1/2 months old now, and we hoped that she'd given up being a baby.

However, when I brought Cowgirl into the pen, I immediately saw Epona licking her lips like it was chow time, and that pretty much summed up the test run.

Epona herded her mama around the arena into the nursing position, and we intervened and put them back in their stalls.

It was interesting to see how quickly they resumed their roles, as if nothing had ever changed, but a little disheartening for the future reunion. Epona, though an inefficient nurser, is an aggressive one, and she doesn't appear to want to give it up.

I'm thinking our next test will be with a buddy horse.

On another note, we have hay on the way to our house finally! Barring the truck breaking down en route, it should be here in thirty minutes. We have have had so many deliveries fall through at the last minute, but I think we will get some hay today! Wish us luck.

And, I'm in the process of knitting my grandson a blanket. I'm having tags made just for him, and guess what I decided to have engraved into the leather? A little Epona silhouette. What a cute little appy, with three white socks. 

The two babies will be forever connected, and I thought it a fitting symbol for his knitted goodies, with his initials on the other side of the tag.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Orphan Non-Orphan

Our situation with Epona is quite unique. Usually, when a foal is separated early from their mother it's because the mother died. In our case, mother was still alive, and well, and occupying a stall next to her baby. We didn't know how that would turn out, but it seems that Epona has been able to preserve a very strong bond with mama. She listens to her, and she does what she's told. She returns to her for safety and comfort. Cowgirl wields a mighty hand over the herd, even from a distance. They listen to her, too. No movement is made by the herd, or Epona, that Cowgirl does not approve, and Cowgirl does not want Epona near the herd without her.

Because of that, Epona hasn't developed a lot of the bad orphan behaviors. She is still very much a horse. A horse who LOVES people, yes, but a horse who still understands horse, and more importantly, you don't disrespect your mama!

We count the days to when we can put them fully back together safely, and that day will be coming soon. We have to know she won't try to nurse and Cowgirl won't develop milk for her again.

I'm happy we have gotten to this point. A month ago I wasn't sure we would. 


On another note, my daughter's husband was offered an amazing job a couple of months ago. It was an offer he couldn't refuse, but it came at a high cost. The job he'd had for eleven years had given him extended paternity leave, and an opportunity to work from home for as long as he needed. The new job offered him more money, stocks, bonuses, and a chance to earn what he wanted to earn while staying put in this city. (The old job would require moving to another location for upward mobility.) 

Well, in the theme of everything else this year, it became complicated quickly. The new job, at the local location, has been postponed because the company unknowingly built on tribal wetlands (I have no idea how such a large corporation could make that mistake.) Construction has been delayed. Instead of opening in October, they will be open, at the earliest, in April. 

Sadly, this new set of circumstances will take him away from here at the exact time their baby is being born. He can fly back and forth, but it will be a miracle if he makes it for the birth. And, he will have to work at a location on the other side of the state until the building is complete, which may require them moving, temporarily, to the other side of the state in the meantime.

What is the theme of this year? Curveballs. Lots and lots of curveballs. I feel like a batter with 2 strikes and 3 balls, constantly swinging at curveballs, and tipping them just enough to stay in the game. Crazy times.

I was talking to my mom the other day, and each of us knows several people who have been diagnosed with cancer this year. More than usual, and younger than usual. I have a friend with stage IV lung cancer, and she is only 59. I have a friend with stage IV prostate cancer, who retired and June and found it in July. He is 62. I have a friend who told me yesterday she has breast cancer. She is 60, and her husband retired this week, too. It makes me wonder what is happening. Is it just the age I'm at, or are these difficult times resulting in more sickness?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know it is important to focus on the positives, even in the hardest times--to focus on every miracle, however small it may seem. To be thankful for every day, hour, minute, because it is a gift to be alive and still swinging at the curveballs.

In a month, I will be in a hospital room watching my grandson enter into this crazy, wonderful world. I will be watching Epona move past all her struggles into maturity. 

How lucky am I to be a witness to all of this? 

The other theme of this year has been the power of "empty hands," not being able to control the future, but open to doing whatever it takes. To be of service even when the prospects look bleak. Sometimes, we get the outcome of our deepest heart wishes, and sometimes, we do everything humanly possible and do not. 

I remember when I said I looked forward to Epona being naughty again. Well, that has arrived, and I'll leave you with a little Epona fun. The flag is my friend when it comes to that little stinker.

Flag to the rescue.