Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Mom and Boy Bonding Day & a Deer Surprise

Tumbleweed has accomplished so much this week with his solo trail rides, arena work, and obstacles, I decided today would be 100% about bonding. I don't want him to think that every time I load him into the trailer we're going to work his hind end off. 

I wanted to take a little time and smell the roses. ...or blanket flowers and vetch.

We still went over obstacles, but tried to keep them very positive. Tweed was a rock star, of course.

I realized, after watching this video, I talk to him like a baby. LOL. He seems to like it, so whatever works.

After that, we went for 2 1/2 mile walk, in-hand, so that we could spend time together and I could introduce him to the steep, rocky declines and the tight, narrow trails that lead up to the bluff over the river. Let me tell you, that was some work! For me. I about had a heart attack going up those hills. I did it all in these new Double H boots, the "Charity". OMG, these boots are foot candy!! I could NEVER have done a walk like that in my old boots. I still have the boots on, and it has been two hours since I got home. They make my feet feel fine, fine, fine.

He kept snatching the vetch, which can be toxic to horses, but good luck keeping them away from it on a walk.

After we got back to the trailer, I pulled up a seat to rehydrate, and Tweed enjoyed lunch nearby.

Oh, I forgot to mention the scary deer. When we had just begun our walk, and passed by the building where Tweed sometimes gets a little anxious (when we're riding in the arena), a deer popped up and scared the bejeezers out of Tweed. I was so happy that I was having a mom and boy bonding day, and not in saddle right then! But I took the opportunity to train him around deer and we spent a lot of time there, then circled back to that deer at the end of the ride. It was still there. 

Can we keep her, mom? She can be my deer little sister.

We were together around 3 hours today. When I got home, I put the horses out, and Epona was so happy to be free. I had them locked in yesterday due to wind and heat.

You know, this work I'm doing with Tweed is deeply rewarding, and fear free, for me and, hopefully, mostly for him. The path I've chosen should be called, "bringing a horse along," because it's more than "training." 

Bringing them along suggests a long road, not a shortcut. It suggests a life together, rather than a section of life where you're trying to accomplish this or that. This or that isn't important, but the relationship between horse and rider is deeply important.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Working Toward Softness and Confidence

Today was a BIG day with Tumbleweed at the equestrian park. I left early to beat the heat, and I was the first one there. T and I worked the obstacles from the ground, and he gave me a lot of softness. He was much better at the "log pull."

After that, I took him back to the trailer and tried my old, beloved saddle on him. I've ridden in that saddle for over two decades, and it sets me in the exact right position to be solid. My last ride on T was so rough, it hurt my back. There was no way I was going to ride in that saddle again, so my old one had to work. It did shift back, as saddles do when you're riding, and I need a blanket that is about 1-2 inches longer, but he moved out in it with more energy, and I had a solid seat and center. It was a win win.

We decided it was time to fly, and after some basic walk, trot work, I just let him loose in the arena for some natural, fast loping. Perhaps, that would be a canter? I just call it a fast lope, or a natural lope. He has a beautiful western jog (slow lope) but it is difficult to carry that for long. I wanted to see what he had and how he acted when I let him loose, and he did very well. The release really brought up his energy level with the rest of the work, we ended with the western jog, just to make sure he still had it. Whew. He did.

While we were there a trailer pulled up and it had two horses in it. I worked T on that side of the arena.. because he wanted to look at them. Okay, you can look, but you have to do this "softening" work, too. Hmm...that makes it hard to look, doesn't it?

It was a very nice woman and her daughter, and they invited me to ride the trails with them. I declined because I'm sticking to the program I designed for myself, and I don't want to be pressured into moving along too fast or not being able to spend the time at trouble spots...which we did have on this ride.

After maybe 20 minutes or so in the arena, he opened and closed the gate, and we went out on another ride. We focused on the hills with loose rock, and ventured down a few new paths. There were a lot of scary things to see today, and it was a little windy (windier now). Scary logs. Scary rocks. Scary mud. I let him rest and look at the logs and rocks, and the mud I allowed him to walk the edges and rest at the edges. I didn't try to force him into it. I did, however, dismount, and work him through it from the ground. It was very sticky, slick mud, and when we were done, it was all over my boots, but he had an easier time doing it with me on the ground, so it was worth the effort.

We rode various loops for about an hour or so, then rode back to the equestrian area and into the obstacle course. We rode through the "car wash" together. He did pretty well, but rushed it a bit. We rode the bridge (as usual). We rode up to the seesaw bridge, but I didn't pressure him onto it. We did the sandpit, which is a two tiered sand box your ride up, then down. And we ended with the log pull. He allowed me to sidepass over to the rope, run the rope over his body, and then he pulled the log a couple of feet, sidepassed back to the sign, and allowed me to hang the rope back up. Yay, Tweed! We are making good progress!

My trainer had warned me that T gets insecure around new horses riding up, and we got to see that in action when, at the end of the obstacle course, I took him back into the arena. First, Tweed was like, um, we did this already. I was like, uh huh, we did, and we can do it again.  And then a horse and rider came in together, and the rider released her horse (it turned out to be an acquaintance of mine). T's head was up pretty high wondering what was going to happen and, to be honest, I didn't feel comfortable putting him in that situation, but my friend assured me her old horse would stay put, and he did.

Well, we sat and watched the horse because I didn't want to provoke a ruckus by working Tumbleweed and the other horse getting amped up. I told my friend that I'd rather not have him free, and she gathered him up. We then rode over and talked to her over the fence which gave me an opportunity to let Tumbleweed relax and think it through. I can see that it's an issue with him, and I'm not sure why, but we will look for every opportunity to expose him to new horses in safe situations.

I had started out the day looking for "softness," and I got a lot of it, but it certainly wasn't all soft, and there were times he had a little attitude, hardness, or anxiety. I tried really hard to tap into my flowchart work and adjust accordingly. It definitely helped. That chart has given me a much faster decision making process--is this where we rest? Work harder? Avoid for now and circle back to a rock star spot? Break it down into easier bits? In the past, I'd be thinking those things through in real time, and I suppose I am now, too, but my brain jumps back and forth between the possibilities much faster, and my decision feels much more solid. It has purpose. 


Softness. That is what I'm focusing on now. It's the one word I want to take with me when I work with Tumbleweed today. I've been watching videos, seeing how other horse-people get softness, and I've been thinking a lot about what it looks and feels like, and when I've found it with T. 

What does it look like on the ground warming up, in saddle, over obstacles. 

What is softness?

It's definitely a willingness. It's a yes, without bracing. It's a serenity of coupleness, a suppleness. 

Soft, soft, soft.

That is the word of the day.

And I also wonder what it looks like in my life with the humans I love. I think it is worthy of being cultivated in ourselves as much as our horses.

Those thoughts are what I'm taking with me today.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sweet T's Second Trail Ride & New Obstacles

Sorry for all the posts, but when I'm in the obsessive training mode, there are lots and lots of updates. Eventually, everything will be so routine (I hope) that this won't be the case anymore. It will be all yawn, yawn (for me) and not as, wow, wow, Tweed, Tweed!

Today's ride alone went very well. I lengthened time and distance, and added a few steep hills to practice going up and down together. One had lots of rocks that made Tweed insecure for a moment, but he got the hang of it. That hill will prepare him for a much, much steeper and rockier one he will soon encounter, and another very steep one that winds down through dense trees from a high plateau. (I have shared many photos from that plateau). But we will work our way up in increments. Could he do it today. Yes. But I don't want to overwhelm him. I want this to be fun, and so far, he comes to me every morning to be haltered, and jumps right in the trailer. I don't want to ruin that willingness.

He is doing very well on the bridge now, so instead of boring him with it, we've moved onto the log pull and the dreaded teeter totter bridge.

All I did today was throw the rope around his body, then drag the log behind him from the ground. I have him in one hand, and the log pull rope in the other. I let it drag right at his back feet, and he threatened to kick it, but got used to it after awhile. In saddle, I side passed him over to the rope and picked it up and held it. I didn't drag the log...yet.

The seesaw or teeter totter bridge. I have mixed thoughts about this one, but I do think we need to work on it. Today, I only wanted him to face it, then put his front two feet on it. He did both. This little short is our first approach, and I think I have something in my mouth while I'm talking. Maybe my glove. I can't remember. I was very proud of him for approaching it calmly and then putting his front feet on it.  Good start.

Our First Solo Ride on the Trails

Trail training continues, and yesterday I wanted to see how Tumbleweed did over the "bad bridge" with me in saddle. At first, he was hesitant, but we got there. He wanted to rush onto, and across, the bridge, but I asked him to stop and back up, then move up to it in increments. If he rushes over it, that's a sign he isn't really doing what I'm requesting, but what he has decided it's "safe" to do. In other words, he is saying he is doing it, but only on his terms.

In case you want to see it, here is his refusal at the bridge. I asked him to stand in front of it and rest at his "yes" spot.

After a short session at the bridges, we moved to the arena where I tried out riding in different stirrup lengths, trying to get the right set of my ankles to hips to shoulders without losing the stirrup when riding. (I may need to add a couple of new holes.)

After the arena, I set out for T's first solo ride (with me) and we walked and trotted the trails together. I would have loped him on the trails, but I thought the ask for speed was cueing him that there was something to be afraid of in the woods. When we took up the trot, he shied away from a log, and that gave me the impression he didn't need to be amped up anymore. After all, it was our first time out alone together, and I wanted it to be safe and build both of our confidence levels. It did.

Riding the trails alone isn't ideal, but the work we're doing is so individual and incremental, it isn't really fair to ask another person to haul all the way over and watch this cake be baked. I need the flexibility to listen to Tumbleweed and make instant changes to the plan. 

I'm going to add a new trail to our rides each time we ride, and build very slowly. I want to encounter things on the trail like joggers, bikers, dogs--and get him used to these scary intrusions little by little. Adding in another horse, a friend's horse or one of our own, will only slow this process down right now. It will happen soon though.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

New Equipment (Yay!)

New day, new reins. I'm tired of messing with the mecate rein that I start all my horses in, and Sweet T is ready for some simplicity.

When I was with the girls Wednesday, my friend with the 5 year old was using an interesting set up--the Schutz Quiet Control Single Rein. It has a little weight at the bit, in the form of the leather straps, sort of like the slobber straps, but not as big and heavy. She had attached a swivel clip on both ends, too. They had a really nice to feel to them. Perhaps, their greatest asset is the little leather nubs built into them on each side so that you know where the "even" point is as you slide up to shorten or lengthen your reins. Turns out, another friend there was using them, too.

I ordered a pair in this year's favorite color--blue. Turquoise blue, which looks amazing on Tumbleweed! 

Obviously, I have turquoise on the brain, because I ordered a summer shirt by Orvis in the same color.

My husband fixed my saddle, so that is ready to go. Although, I would like to replace the latigo before a really long ride.

I wrote yesterday about how Tweed is becoming fun, fun, fun. It's true. Riding him makes me feel like a kid again. Sarah put a super solid foundation on him for me, I just had to unlock it. We will encounter a lot out on the trail, but I plan to take it very slow and build little by little. 

I knew the day would come when I wouldn't have a horse fit enough for the kind of trails I ride with my friends, and that happened last year when Cowboy couldn't get up and down. He can still do easy, flat trails, but I cannot ask him to go down steep terrain or over large obstacles. Leah has always had her own lameness issues that I've worked around. BG overreacted too many times for me to trust her on the trails. The rest of my herd is retired and / or only used for light work. (Foxy, Little Joe, and Cowboy)

To have a horse again, one that can do what I want to do, and is so close to me, and me to him, after raising him from a baby--well, it's what I dreamed would happen. When Tweed was a few months old and just arriving here from Shirley's in Canada, it seemed like raising him would take forever, but it went fast, didn't it? 

Friday, June 24, 2022

And Just Like That, It Became Fun

And just like that, my Sweet Tea became fun, fun, fun! He has conquered the bridge, and he is keeping his lope. He's opening and closing gates, and standing ground tied for saddling and unsaddling. He's not frightened at the park, and he's super tuned in to the partnership.  We're ready for the trails.

I was right about all that work I did with the bridge, and how it isn't about the bridge, but something much bigger. It's, Am I going to trust you and follow your lead? That's everything in a nutshell. 

We started today with bridge work, and I came ready for success, flag in hand. It was all about the yes, no, and maybe, small increments, rest, and making the wrong choice hard. Voila. It really does work, but not always on our timeline.

When it clicks, it clicks in lots of other areas. The Tweed who came home from training had disconnected from me. The Sweet Tea I have now is tuned in and connected.

I tried to get some decent video, but my phone overheated and turned itself off. It only caught a small part of our session, the first lope. The lope got much better with time, but I can see that the saddle stirrups still need some adjustment (my husband fixed my saddle yesterday. He's pretty awesome.)

Here are some video, if you'd like to get a little glimpse of the work.

Tweed's trainer is well known for giving you blunt, honest assessments so that you know what you might encounter when you go home. That's a big might, because you never know how they will blossom with their owner. Sweet Tea has been my baby since a week after he was born, and all that time together counts for something. Since T has been home, he has surpassed my expectations, and I can see a bright, bright future. And lots of FUN!!

This is the long version, sped up, if you want to see what it took to get him on the bridge.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Putting the Chart to the Reality Test


June was a big birthday month for my cowgirl friends. We celebrated by meeting up at the park and having a potluck lunch and cupcakes--a little horse play time and ride time together. I love these days because it allows me to spend many hours, about 6 hours yesterday, with my boy. It bonds us. When we're in a group like that, he realizes he and I are the herd. 

I arrived around 11 and got set up. Unfortunately, while I was riding Sweet T, a bolt came loose from one of my fenders, and it was way up under the seat. A couple of us tried to fix it together, but it was impossible. That ended my riding.

We had lunch. They rode off. I stayed back with T to work on obstacles.

Recap: Tumbleweed used to do every obstacle I put in front of him, UNTIL I took him over the teeter totter bridge last year. That set him back, and he began to refuse the solid bridge at the park and the teeter totter. (On a side note: One of my friends there yesterday had the exact same issue with her 5 year old. He went over the teeter totter, jumped off, refused to go over again, and refused the solid bridge. 100% exactly like Tweed.)

I had been studying my flowchart pretty intensely, and made the decision to try to turn a "no" into a "maybe" or a "yes." Yes, no, maybe post. 

At the end of the day, I made a change to the flowchart, based upon what happened. It's a small, simple change, and I'll explain.

(Stubborn T, he refuses to put a foot on the bridge. Unfortunately, the only photos I took were at this juncture, because it was too distracting holding a phone and a rope.)

Yes, no, or maybe/try. 

I knew where the yes was on the bridge obstacle, and that was walking up to it and facing it straight on. That was a definite yes, and it became our "rock star" sweet spot to return to when things went south.

Now to the maybe part of the bridge obstacle and the no--which were almost indistinguishable and went back and forth between each other at any given moment.

I had time on my hands. Lots of time. I decided to go beyond the try, hope to keep the try, but if I encountered the hard, ingrained no, I'd make the wrong decision hard, the right decision easy. 

Thus, the change in my flowchart. I added a line between two boxes the one that makes the wrong thing hard and the box that breaks obstacles down into their smaller parts with lots of wait.

This is how it went: T walks up to the bridge, refuses to put feet up. I let him rest at his yes spot, then I asked for more. He gave me both front feet on the bridge. That was the try / maybe.

I let him rest with two feet on the bridge, and quite quickly that became his new yes spot, and the one we would return to when things went south.

After the rest, I asked for more, and was able to get him to commit all of his body, but not his back two feet. If I asked for too much, he'd leave the bridge. We'd circle back to his yes spot, and wait again.

It went on and on like that for about 45 minutes, until one of my friends showed up late for our party. She didn't bring a horse, but she saw me and joined me at the obstacle. Tweed's body was 90% on the bridge, and he was resting. It had become a waiting game.

As long as Tweed was in that 90% committed position, I let him rest as I talked to my friend, E. We looked like quite the pair! A few riders came by and said, "Hey, you're making progress!" haha. (They had been watching the whole thing.) They stopped to chat on their three horses, and I looked over at Tweed who seemed to think it was perfectly normal to stand with two feet and most of his body on the bridge, but not his back feet. They rode off and Tweed watched them go.

E and I continued to chat.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Tweed had an epiphany and walked onto the bridge very relaxed. Loose rope. No ask. He had finally figured out that what he was doing was much harder than just standing by me on the bridge.

E and I looked at each other and laughed. I think I'll take the win and call it a day! E replied, YES! Take that win!

The change in the flowchart connects all the yes, no, and maybe moments. Sweet T had moments of panic (increased heart rate), but he also had stubborn, ingrained "no" moments, with no anxiety. He went back and forth between all three in one session, and I had to go back and forth between methods. There was a time he tried to run through me to get off the bridge, and I had to get really big back at him. He tried to get bigger. I got bigger. He decided to return to the positive side of the flowchart because he doesn't like to fight with his mama.

When he got big like that, and pushy, the truth is, I began to get frustrated. We had been there a long time. He isn't really scared of bridges, because he does them all the time here at home. When he threw his body at me, my adrenalin spiked, and I could see both of us escalating to a reactionary space. 

I was able to quickly recover and see the bigger picture because of all the prep ahead of time. It was clear afterward that, within one obstacle, there is a lot of yes, no, and maybe. 

After we were done, my friends returned from their ride. haha. I had already said by goodbyes, because I didn't think I'd still be there. But I was, and we had a little laugh about that. It gave me a chance to chat with the friend who had the same situation with the bridge with her 5 year old. 

I said, you know, I spent a lot of time here on this bridge today, but it wasn't really about the bridge. It was about T and me and how we're going to do this relationship. I'm going to help him get through life's obstacles. He can't push me around or put us in danger, but I will wait as long as it takes to make this partnership happen.

Some of us went back to the trailers and got our chairs back out. No rush to get home. We sat and chatted while Sweet Tea stood near me resting. All that relationship building had worked. I felt an overflowing of love for my boy, my partner, my sweet, sweet T.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Yes, No, and Maybe

When my kids were growing up they always wanted play dates with their friends. I was juggling a million things all the time, and they'd ask me that basic question pretty regularly.

Apparently, I had three possible answers: No, I don't Know and Maybe. I didn't realize I was mindlessly replying that way, until one day, when my daughter was begging me to have her friends over.  I remember it very well. I was getting out of my white 1990 4-Runner (I have a white 4-Runner now, too) with a hand full of groceries, and Shiloh was at my heels begging and pleading. I thoughtlessly gave her the answer, Maybe.

Shiloh began to cry and cry, adding to the bedlam of putting away groceries with children. 

The most memorable part, however, was when her younger brother stepped in to console her. He said, Don't cry Shiloh. "I don't know" means no. "No" means no. But "maybe" means yes.

Haha. I laughed and laughed. He was 100% correct, and I have told that story over and over ever since.

As I was making my flow chart for training T, it struck me that "try" is kind of like a "maybe." It is a yes that reserves the right to switch to no at any moment. It's a non-committal, non-contractual yes. Yet, it can look, and sound, (to us) like a no. Indeed, sometimes it starts out more on the no side, but not a solid no, just a no, perhaps, waiting to be turned into a yes.

This is my flowchart in progress. A rough draft, so to speak. A way to help my mind categorize possible responses and have them available in a split second. A way to know what I'm seeing, and what I'm looking for, a path on how to get there.

Mr T gets his new shoes on this afternoon, and we have nothing but sunshine in our forecast. There will be a lot of time to put this flowchart to the test.

Here is the same flowchart, but more generic for any horse in training. Horse Training Flowchart. Or maybe it's people / rider training? Me training.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Still the Mama (Very Much So!)

I don't want to be too repetitive, but for those new to the blog, or catching up, I have been replacing Cowgirl, Epona's mama, with Foxy, the head mare in our herd. Cowgirl wanted this change, and was refusing to go into her stall next to Epona at night.

It seemed as if she'd released her baby.

However, that isn't what was happening at all. 

 Now, for some herd psychology / dynamics:

Mares are all about "community." Mares are all about herd order. Cowgirl, far from releasing Epona, was pushing her out into the herd community--for Epona's safety. 

In fact, the other members were demanding she release Epona into the community system. 

(Above. Foxy and Epona. Epona had rapid growth in her knees. I tried Cosequin ASU powder, but it required grain, too, and she has to be on a limited grain program. I found out about Rejuvenaide, by Progressive, which is a pelleted and palatable format that does not require grain. There is another version, Leg Aide that is available only through your veterinarian and is dosed higher under their care, and contains calcium carbonate. Otherwise, it is the same product, sold over the counter. It is amazing! I hope it will balance out her rapid growth in those plates. So far, it has given her back her energy and full soundness. I would recommend it be used preventively for any fast growing foals. I wish someone had told me about it. Grrr.)

How do I know this about mares, Cowgirl Mama / Epona Baby, and herd order, you ask?

Last week, when we first started this separation, Epona went a couple of days without being released with Cowgirl, her biological mama. She was very happy in the stall next to Foxy, and all was going very well. But when I released her with the others, she ran right for Cowgirl Mama, and Beautiful Girl did not want that. She started chasing Epona away, and Cowgirl started getting between them to protect Epona. It was a mess. I got Epona haltered, put Foxy out, and Foxy brought herd order. Whew. No one was hurt.

Bad Beautiful Girl, right?


It had me scratching my head, that's for sure. 1. Cowgirl was still very protective of Epona. 2. Cowgirl was submitting to a herd hierarchy. 3. Beautiful Girl was enforcing that hierarchy 4. Foxy was the mastermind and the glue of the hierarchy.


Fast forward to last night, three days after that fiasco. Someone was putting away horses for me, a very complex job that they did not fully understand. In that process, they failed to put Tumbleweed in his stall before opening the gate for the mare herd.

I was putting food away in the kitchen, and when I looked out the window I could see Cowgirl and Tumbleweed fighting it out, something I have been working tirelessly to prevent. I have put them in stalls next to one another, in turnouts next to one another--all, in an effort to have them work out whatever is going on safely, over a barrier. But this threw all that out, and HELL broke loose.

Off I flew, running to the pasture, grabbed a halter and rope, and into the turnout. It was bedlam. But what I saw happening with the mares was quite noble. 

1. Cowgirl was protecting Epona. She was blocking her from Tumbleweed with her full body, and going butt to butt when he tried to ram past her. 2. Beautiful Girl and Foxy were trying to get in between them all and herd Tumbleweed away. When they'd get him away, they would try to corral him. (It didn't work.) 

When BG and Foxy got Tumbleweed away for the 4th or 5th time, I was able to approach T and get him haltered. He had thrown a shoe a couple days before, and I wasn't wanting him to go crazy on those feet, but alas, he did anyway. Other than that, they all seemed unscathed.

The lesson here: herds are very, very complex, and nothing happens without a reason. What we see as mean could very well save their lives in a dangerous situation. 

I'm not sure how I will proceed. I do want to have them all integrated at some point, but not before I know none will be injured in the process. That could be sooner, later, or even never. 

The other lesson learned: Cowgirl is a helluva a mama.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

How Do We Recognize "Try?"

I had another lovely day with SweetTea at the park, and we are definitely on the right path to becoming a SweetTeam on the trails. 

Yesterday was a day of epiphany. As I've written about previously, my trainer tells you what you have to work on when she is done training. If you don't feel like you can do it, you can leave your horse there longer, or you can take them home and get help, but she doesn't sugarcoat it. She is very clear about what she encounters, how she worked through it, and how you will need to do the same. All of SweetTea's issues were related to confidence. He was coming up with a lot of "no." I went on a mission to find his "yes," and now I am at the next stage, finding his "try."

I had to remind myself about my ultimate goal--to safely ride trails. What do you need for that? Well, first and foremost, a true partnership. You are one on the trails. If he bolts, I'm bolting. If he balks, I'm balking. Therefore, my ultimate goal isn't really staying safe on trail rides, it's a true partnership, right? Without true partnership, you are less safe on the trails. Period. End stop.

What things should I do to foster that partnership? Beneath the ultimate goal, there are many lesser goals, all in the service of the ultimate goal. If you're going to become one, you also need to ride as one, which is what I'm working on in the arena. We have a long way to go toward that goal, but at the very least, I am comfortable riding him at all gaits, and I have seen how he evades and / or spooks at scary objects, and know how to ride it out. It helps him to be familiar with me, my communication through the aids, and the feel of my seat. It helps me to know how he communicates back and what it feels like when he is moving under me.

We spent our time yesterday, 1/ going over the obstacles in hand, 2/ bending, then riding, in the arena, 3/ riding through the obstacles as a team, 4/ resting with a SweetTea hay snack afterward. (I do this every time I ride because I do not want him to think we end and then he goes directly home, thus setting up a situation where he wants to bolt to the trailer at the end of every ride. Hanging out also allows him to see people coming and going on horses, bikes, etc. while he is at rest and relaxed. And, I think it helps him end on a positive note so that he will jump into the trailer to go the next time.)

As I was doing all of this yesterday, I had one focus, REWARD the try. I mean, really reward the try. Like make him think he was the greatest warrior horse ever dropped onto this earth. Like, you are the guy, T! You are my guy! My hero!

And yes, I had this breakthrough about it. I saw that I was putting too much on him at once, and getting stuck at the areas where I knew I'd get a no. It was flawed thinking, especially with a young horse who needs confidence. So instead, I only worked on half the obstacles yesterday. I wanted more, YOU ROCK moments, and less, Oh, come on, why are you so scared, moments.

We did approach every obstacle, but the obstacles where I have gotten his real, heartfelt no, in the past, I only looked for try--which, in this case, was his willingness to walk up squarely and face it--without fear.

It got my wheels spinning, really thinking about how do we know, and reward, a try? We're told not to release at the wrong moment or we will reward the no. We're told sometimes no is just an excuse to do what they want. So, what does it mean to find, and reward, a sincere try.

Ahhhh, that is the secret sauce, isn't it? Because it is so unique to horse and rider teams. Those on the outside can start to give advice, based upon their own experiences, but it might not relate at all to your unique situation. No, it comes down to you tuning into each other, and getting to know each other, and even then, you won't always get it right. It's a fine line between yes, no, and try.

Here are my thoughts on how to find our partner horse's try:

1. Learn to listen to our horses, and let our horse know we heard them.

     Yesterday, T alerted to several sound indicators of people in our area. As I've written about previously, we have some unusual people at the park, so I have a vested interested in what is happening around us, too. I listened to T's warnings, I investigated his warnings, and then I came back and assured him of what I saw. And guess what. He relaxed. He was visibly relieved to know I had listened and investigated. That's the #1 goal in becoming a SweetTeam. Listen to one another. Respect one another.

2. What is their heart rate and breathing telling us?

    Part of listening is knowing your horse's signs of stress. Every big no from T is accompanied by an increase in heart rate. That is not always the case though. Sometimes a no is more about, I don't want to do what you're asking, I want to do this other thing--like run back to the barn or trailer. Their bodies tell us a lot about the quality of the no, and where it's coming from.

3. How do they act after the release and reward?

    A lot can be learned about how they respond to the release and praise. T was genuinely relieved and proud when he thought he did something right. You could see it in his chewing, relaxed breathing, lowered head, direction of his ears (on me), and improved gait (more confident gait). It told me I was getting sincere try.

4. Does the release and reward improve our ride and our time together?

     The ultimate test of our ability to know the difference between the two is the results we get. Do they get better, or worse, on the obstacles. Are they tuning into us, or getting hard-eyed and impatient? T was getting softer and more responsive, so I knew we were on the right path.

5. Remind ourselves of the ultimate goal, partnership / togetherness / SweetTeam, then break it down into its smaller parts, opening and closing gates (and all that entails), riding through streams /rivers, riding new trails, staying in place, rather than bolting, when something scary happens on a trail, listening to the rider on trail rides, being comfortable at all gaits, being okay with buddies riding away, or new people / horses/ bikes/ joggers, etc we encounter on trails.

     It's easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees. Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, what is my big goal here--my ultimate goal. Is it to sit the trot smoothly? To lope a perfect figure 8? To walk Tweed up on a bridge obstacle or a seesaw bridge? No. The ultimate goal is a true partnership, what might be a lifelong partnership. A living and breathing partnership that will change everyday. His training gave him a solid foundation on the basic mechanics of riding and listening to aids. He has a go and a whoa. He can open and close gates. He understands collection. But a true partnership can only be earned by these foundational steps, day by day, just the two of us.

Here are few fast forward videos of some of our warm up arena work. We didn't spend much time in there, just enough to get on the same page, and then he opened and closed the arena gate, and we rode out and spent most of our time on the obstacle course. (I noticed these videos are out of order. 2 is 1, and 1 is 2. haha)

Friday, June 17, 2022

Getting Our Lope On


Ready for some excuses? Well, they're going to come fast and furious, so beware.

Sweet Tea and I continue to work on our partnership away from home. It has provided wonderful training opportunities, the most important of which is a variety of new horses he has to share an arena with at the public trails. Does he like it? No. Every time he sees a new horse trailer pull in, he gets cranky. Once the horses (or mules) are unloaded, he begins to calm back down and get his head in the game again.

This week we have been working on the lope, and we have had a number of issues (and excuses for those issues):

1. The saddle I've had to switch to with Sweet Tea, due to his short back, is really hard for me to get used to riding in. As you can see in the photo, it sets my feet and ankles in front of my hips and shoulders. I'm going to lengthen the stirrups today and see if it helps, but that might be an issue with the saddle that I will need to take up with my saddle repair guy. (I might also try my main saddle on Tweed, as I haven't done it since last year. Unfortunately, however, I haven't noticed any extra lengthening in his back, so it will probably be a waste of time.)

2. Sweet Tea needs my farrier to come out and put new shoes on him. I haven't been able to reach him to do so, but I would feel so much better if we could get that done. T's right front is longer in the heel than the left. 

3. Sweet Tea is very resistant to loping away from the gate, but oh so happy to lope towards it. No surprise there, because most horses are that way. It will take time. My trainer uses spurs when she rides, and I'm sure he is used to that extra training tool, but I prefer not to have to use them, if I can find another way. And, another way is a crop, but you don't always have a crop. Honestly, I think I'm going to have to strap back on my spurs. They are very gentle, and turned down a bit, which means you have to deliberately want to use them. I think I'll start wearing them again, but I'll only use them when he has an outright refusal. Currently, I have to stop posting the trot, sit back deep in my saddle, and then ask for the lope. If he doesn't give it to me, I have to endure a lot of shake, rattle, and rolling. I don't like that one little bit. haha. 

4. Sweet Tea spooked at a couple of things in the arena, but his evasions were to stop loping and fall to the trot, and scoot out, away from the fence. None of it was bad. So far, he hasn't stopped moving forward, like many horses do when they brace, putting you in that horrible position of trying to control for a buck, back, spin, or runaway. Yay. (If that does happen, I will be off in a flash, and working him through it on the ground.)  He also hasn't tried to bolt for his buddy horses. Nor has he acted up when I ride away from them. In fact, he does better away from them. Although, that hasn't been put to the full test of the buddy horse leaving the arena altogether. 

Today I'm heading to the park without his buddies. We spoke to the park ranger, and she said there have been a few suspicious cars parking down there, but no reports of assault...yet. makes me mad! These random men will pull up in cars, park them in front of the equestrian area, and just sit and watch. There is a paved parking lot for single cars on the other side of the trail head, but they insist on coming into our space. I feel like they should put signs up saying that the parking there is only for horse trailers, loading and unloading.  

It's sad when my greatest fear is NOT being hurt by my horse, but instead, being attacked by a man. Crime has gotten so out of control around here. The police are just disgusted because when they arrest people for crimes the DA puts them right back out on the streets where they immediately commit more crimes, and more, and more, and more--rap sheets longer than both your arms. Nada. They don't do zip. Homeless drug camps are setting up everywhere. They have tow trucks move in non-functional motor homes, park them on vacant state lots, and set up hundreds of tents and similar residences. We also find these homeless encampments in our local parks, with lots of drug sales and prostitution being conducted from them. It's ruining our community, and no one seems to care. Oh, did I mention all the garbage piling up in the parks and around the roads? Uh huh, that, too. If it doesn't get better, we really need to think about moving out of this state.

Rant over, concern not over. 

Off I go.

Monday, June 13, 2022

More Time With Sweet Tea

My niece came to visit for the weekend, and we had a great time playing with the horses and going to an art show and play. 

They did a phenomenal job making the train seem as if it was moving by projecting moving scenery behind it.

We hauled Foxy and Tumbleweed to the state park and rode them in the outdoor arena and then over the obstacle course. 

Tweed (Sweet Tea today) did really well in saddle. I didn't push him. Just being out there, learning to balance a rider and take care of himself and me at the same time, was a lot to put on him. I didn't want to get into any fights, but instead do the obstacles he was good at and get some movement toward the obstacles he was resistant doing.  I think he felt successful and proud of himself by the end.  That's really all I care about right now. We are both building confidence in ourselves as a Sweet Tea(m).

A funny story. While we were riding around, and we pretty much had the entire park to ourselves, a truck with tinted windows came in and parked right next to my open trailer.  They could have parked anywhere, but they chose right there in front of us, next to my trailer. I was freaked out, and texted my husband about it. Then, I held my phone right up and started filming the truck. They got the hint and pulled out, parking further down the arena. I rode T up to the new truck and tried to get a good look inside, but the windows were too dark. Pretty quickly, a truck and trailer pulled up and joined them. A smiling woman got out of the truck I'd been filming. She was meeting her husband with their two mules. Haha! 

They were very nice, and we got to chatting it up. I started riding out again, and I see a very familiar car pulling up.  It was my husband. I had not updated my last SOS messages, my phone was off, and I wasn't answering his calls, and he was scared to death something had happened to me. I felt so bad!

Although, I was happy to be reminded of why he is my knight in shining armor. 

A follow up to the Double H (HH) Charity boots. I wore them all day yesterday, and they broke in fast. They have the best arch support of any boots I've owned, and my feet were so happy. They also fit into a stirrup nicely, and didn't slip around. They gave me a good stable grip. The leather is very thick, as is the sole, but they softened up in the right areas. I'm waiting for a conditioner to arrive tomorrow.

The old boots, and the new. 

It has rained non-stop since last night, and won't let up until tomorrow or the next day. I've never seen this much rain here. Never. Ever.  It was 46 degrees this morning, windy, raining, and it felt more like winter than late spring / almost summer. I'll be visiting Tumbleweed in the barn, but that's about it. 

Oh, I also separated Cowgirl and Epona's stalls, and replaced Cowgirl with Foxy. Cowgirl did not want to return to the stall. She seems very much done with raising Epona and happy to trade off with Foxy. Foxy was happy as a clam to be near Epona, and Epona was happy to have a nice mama, rather than psycho mom.   Cowgirl.  On another note, Foxy is done with Tumbleweed. She didn't even want to ride beside him in the arena. She is all in on mothering a new baby and has kicked our Sweet Tea to the curb. That's fine with me, because I want to step in and be his companion now.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Building Confidence & Having Fun


Working with Tweed again has been a lot of fun. He has shown me quite a bit of what he learned at boot camp, training.

He wants a job, and he wants guidance. If it's not given, he becomes disconnected.  If it is given, he melts in your hands and relaxes. I attribute that to spending two months with the trainer. When they were together, he had a task.  It doesn't have to be very much either, just some basic disengaging work, or even pick up the flag, and he is tuned into you.

I got to ride him two days ago at the park. We played a fun, confidence building game I call, Gonna Getcha. He was so chill and relaxed that I saddled him up and rode, even though the drill team had shown up again for another practice. He didn't pay any attention to them. I still feel wonky riding his trot, but we were getting in a groove by the time it ended.

Here's the game we were playing: Gonna Getcha. The rules are simple, if you chase it, it runs. If you look at it, it stops. If you run, it chases you.

I purchased a new pair of boots yesterday. The Luccheses I've worn for the last few years have holes in the soles.  My trainer had told us about Double H, made in the USA, working cowboy boots, and I found them online. I was hesitant to purchase them without trying them on, and lucky me, when I was buying feed at the North 40, I checked out their boot selection, and there they were.

They have great insoles, and arch support, so I'll condition them, break them in, and let you know how I like them. My feet are getting pickier and pickier about comfort these days. A poor fitting shoe makes me feel crippled after a long day.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

As the Land Heals, The Heart Heals

Last year, at this time, it seemed like everything was dying. It was a true season of death. From people and animals I held dear, to the land itself, made to endure scorching hot June temperatures and drought; it seemed that the only things surviving were weeds and despair.

But this year is different. It is colder, and it is wetter. The deprivation of the earth, its soil, is transformed and made soft with continuous showers. Healing plants, like dandelions, and mushrooms, even the bitterroot, a plant I have never seen grow on our land, sprout up everywhere, softening the soil, and giving succor to earth and living things. Like grass. Like horses. Like me.

Bitterroot. What a beauty. What a work of art. It is the Montana state plant, and is known as an herb with healing powers.

"This medicinal herb can be chewed as a cure for toothaches and sore throats, made into cough syrup, or placed on the hot stones in the sweatlodge to create a decongestant steam. This Native American herb can also be used by singers to keep their voices strong."

It is part of the succulent family.

It's a powerful symbol for me, this year of all years, because we hiked the Selway-Bitterroot as a family, long ago. Yet, I have never seen this flower until now. On one of those hikes, my dad was singing his way along the path, and we stopped to look out over the mountains.  It was quiet, so I looked over at my dad, and his face was completely lit up with something I'd never seen. To this day, I haven't seen it again, from anyone else. He said, Look Linda, you can see God. I looked, but only saw mountains. 

Since then, I have seen many beautiful sights, and they have filled me with wonder, but not like what I saw in him that day. It made me realize we might see God differently. 

This year, of all years, a precious flower called bitterroot, a plant that heals, a plant that gives you back your voice, maybe your soul, too...well, it magically appeared at my house. 

I take that as a bonafide miracle, a gift from my dad, wherever he is in this infinite multiverse.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

I Only Want To Know About Yes

Right now, I'm not interested in "no." With Tweed, that is. I'm sure the bigger world has many no's left for me.  When it comes to Tweed, I've heard about his no's: no slicker, no water, no leaving the herd, no, no, no. 

I know that every no is a signal, and it says, I'm not confident.

This week, I've only been interested in finding out about his yes

What are you willing to say yes to, Tweed? What can I do to help you say yes? Let's start with the first question: Do you want to be with me today?

Two months away at horse boot camp, and Tweed was, and here's an understatement, disconnected. 

He was tuned into the herd and the new dynamics since he's been gone. He was worried about his place in the herd. Very distracted. I kept him in a stall that communicated with most of the herd, and I rotated Cowgirl (the one he most needs to make peace with) next to his stall part of the day. (They're still working it out.) One thing I will not do is throw him out there to the wolves mares. Cowgirl is just too protective over Epona and her own, newly re-established, leader role. She sees him as a threat, and she's very aggressive. Working it out over the fence is much better than risking injury by throwing them in together. It's going to take a while, but I have all the time in the world. In the meantime, he's let out during the day with horses I can trust. Or, he's out and about with me.

Today has been one week since we brought him home.  We had three days of wicked storms and rain, but I tried to work with him a little every day in between systems. In the evenings, I would try to go out spend time with him in his stall. All we did here at home was very easy work over obstacles, some exercises I've learned along the way to help disengage and move out away from me (establishes his space and my space), facing and giving full attention, working on choosing to bend into me. Everything was done on the ground. (Remember the golden rule: If you don't have their attention, don't get on. My definition of "their attention" is their willingness, their togetherness, their yes.)

Monday we hauled him down to the state park with Foxy. When we arrived, there were horses and people everywhere. Turns out, they were having drill team practice. Hmmm, to leave or to stay?....  We stayed. What a perfect opportunity to have him around a lot of other horses! 

At first he was distracted, but very soon we were working over obstacles and he wasn't concerned at all about the flags and riders and running horses.

Here we are finding his yes.

It was a pleasant, successful evening.

Tuesday I stayed home and worked with Tweed here. We did everything on the lunge line. He was very responsive and willing, but he had to be coaxed into the lope. I am concerned about his feet. The right front hoof looks off balance with the rest of the hooves. It's longer in the heel. I have a call into my farrier to come out and put new shoes on him and give me an assessment. I don't want him loping if he's not solid on his feet.

Fast forward to today. I drove down to the state park by myself. Just me and Tweed. He jumped right into the trailer, hauled quietly, backed out like a gentlemen, and was extremely chill and calm. Not a single herd-bound issue. No whinnying for backup. Nada. Nothing but happiness to be together.  This tells me Tweed is a one-on-one horse. He's a horse that needs his special person. Being one of many just doesn't do it for him.

I wanted to test him and see how much it would take to get his attention in the roundpen.

First, I did nothing, and I got nothing.

Next, I raised my left hand. Got nothing.

Third, I dragged in the flag, the main tool of his trainer. His ears tuned in.

I barely picked up the flag, and he was moving around the pen.

He went half a circle, and I set the flag down. He immediately came into me.

Here he is ready to work. Aha, I see he did learn something while he was away.

A little flag bodywork at liberty to see how long he would stay and if he was nervous.

Nervous? Not so much.

Now, he's following me to the gate where I stashed the tarp.

I figured the tarp would remind him of the slicker, but I wanted him to say it was okay to move each step of the way. I did the first introduction at liberty.

After a bit of that, I added the lead rope.

And that's where the photos end, because a friend of mine pulled up, and came over and chatted while I worked with Tweed. I thought it through and figured the addition would fit well with what I was trying to accomplish. We probably stood and talked for two hours while I worked on Tweed with that tarp all over his body, Masterson Method work, disengaging, and him standing half asleep with his head in my arms. 

Yeah, it was kind of perfect.

If all goes well, tomorrow we ride!