Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Couple's Counseling

As Tweed and I were waiting for our trainer to show up on Saturday, a thought came to me that she is kind of like a couple's counselor. Like any relationship, this is all about communicating better. 

The initial stage is just wanting to spend time together, the easy, feel good part.  But as time goes on, we also have a need to feel heard and respected. 

Stressful situations, and life has plenty of those, can erode that communication and respect, and cause us to grow apart. Sometimes, we need a little help communicating what we need and what is acceptable, versus what is not acceptable. 

If we fail at communication, we end up blaming the other for letting us down. Tweed might get resentful that my release came late. I might get resentful that he tries to spin and run away.

If the relationship is going to thrive, of course, we need to have each other's backs and be able to trust.

Our counselor has been worth her weight in gold. (And though this is an analogy of horses and humans, I do highly recommend counseling for human couples, too. Nothing has made that more clear than what we have been through this summer.)

Tweed's and my counseling sessions have paid off. We are doing much better in the saddle together. Yesterday we rode around the equestrian park on what turned out to be an absolutely beautiful, sunny fall day, and I was able to introduce him to two new obstacles.  We did the log pull and the rope gate. He was a champ, even when the log was coming right at him as we made our turn. It was a fun day, and I can't wait to go back with him again today. I love my time with Tumbleweed!

Our couple's counseling helped in another way, too. We often hear of the fight or flight response in horses (and humans.) But there is a third response, and it is called FREEZE. Cowgirl is a perfect example of a horse who goes to the freeze mode in stressful situations. I always loved that about her, and it saved my daughter on a couple of occasions.

I went into the freeze mode this summer when everything happened. I concentrated all my energy into my daughter and grandson, as if their lives depended upon it,...because it did. However, since I was putting so much energy, and thought, into them, I didn't have it for Tweed. I took a few steps back, and called my trainer  counselor. She kept us going through that stressful time of life, and we grew as a couple. I have to pat my June-self on the back for making such a wise decision. Good job, June-self!

I ran into to two of my good friends getting off their trail ride as I was there with Tweed. We talked for a bit, and they didn't pressure me, but said they looked forward to riding with us on the trail when we are ready.

You know what, I'm starting to feel ready again. 

Friday, October 27, 2023


But when a soul, 
by choice and conscience, 
doth throw out 
her full force 
on another soul,
the conscience 
and the concentration both 
make mere life, 

Four years ago I had photos taken with Cowboy, thinking that would be his last year. It wasn't. But it was his last year on the trail. Since then, he has been fully retired.

I had made a decision in spring to give Cowboy one more summer, and then put him down before winter. It's almost November, and I don't want to do it. Instead, I blanket him at night, and I've given him the large stall with big turnout, and I plan to take it day by day. 

I understand that love, sometimes, has to make hard decisions for the better good, but I haven't tipped to the point of seeing the better good yet. He still has life in him, and so much love! 

But it is like he also knows our time is short. 

Whenever I go out to tend to him, he stops and stays with me for as long as I will allow. He refuses to leave, until I leave. If I walk by the fence, he always comes to me. 

They always say you will know when the time is right, and I am abiding by that wisdom.

Day by day, and enjoy each day he is here to greet me in the barn or pasture.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Four Feet Ahead and Forward

Fall has flown by! We've been so busy with traveling and family that I had about 3 weeks between lessons.

However, as my trainer foretold: what you teach is what they will remember. 

That is why I'm taking lessons, I want to be very careful about what I'm teaching. It must have been all good, because Tumbleweed took right off in our progress, as if no time had separated lessons.

We are working on two main things: balance and focus. The focus portion, as you might remember from my last post, is the imaginary box around his shoulders, where you want to keep his head. The balance portion is resisting pulling him around in a circle, but allowing to come through obstacles straight, and straight out.

Friday's lesson was doing all of this in saddle, with the added caveat that when I keep his head in the imaginary box, to also make sure his focus is 4' directly ahead, BEFORE I ask him to move forward. Tweed is looking for a way out, so waiting takes a little time right now. Wait, wait, wait, bring him back, bring him back. Finally, forward focus, 4' ahead to where we're going. Ask with legs. In. Over. Off. Stay straight. Stop.

Success! Yay!

Oh, I forgot one important part! Keep my butt down in the saddle. Sit. On. My. Pockets.

We are working on another exercise from the ground, which is moving his head, shoulders, and hind through a series of obstacles on a long lead. 

I'm going to try to embed the video on Facebook by Franco Giani. oops. It didn't work. Here's the link. Beautiful, beautiful work from the ground.

Regina, my trainer, started us on this work by pinpointing the three areas we are working to control: head, shoulder, hind. We worked on a set of straight tracks, asking him to walk between the tracks in a line, then circle out and in front of me, crossing over the tracks. Over to the other side, same pattern, until it was a clover leaf pattern. That was harder than it looks, but Tumbleweed was proud of himself when he finally got it. Next, we rode the same pattern.

The temperatures have been beautiful, but they are soon going to drop. We get a deep freeze Wednesday. We had new sand brought into our arena, and when they close the equestrian area we will start having lessons at home, where I set up a round pen inside the arena. All ready to go!

My husband is still working on the tack room / sitting room in the barn, but it is so hard for him to find the time with everything going on.

A few highlights were...

Our 21st anniversary in Sandpoint, ID

Also, a trip to Iowa/Nebraska for a wedding, and an unexpected pit stop to meet the Freedom Governor, Governor DeSantis. He's our choice for POTUS. 

He was so nice in person, and talked to us for quite a while because he was in shock that people from Washington were in a little bar in Sidney, Iowa! 

In fact, we drove an hour to get there, then an hour back, and barely had time to change into a dress (me) and suits (husband & son).

Quite an adventure!

We even signed his bus.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Two Breakthroughs And the Two Wolves

I had two major breakthroughs today. One was regarding Tweed and the teeter totter bridge, and the other was regarding mine and my daughter's journey, and how it fits into the bigger picture of resiliency and finding meaning in suffering.

First, Tumbleweed.

I asked Regina if it was alright to do a groundwork lesson today with Tweed, and use the obstacle course, since the park will be closing soon. You may remember that we had issues with the seesaw, or teeter-totter bridge last year, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to reintroduce it to him again. He trusted me to go over the bridge last year, but when he saw it fall, he jumped off, and then he developed an instant distrust of all bridges and, I think, a distrust of me for having made a bad choice.

Honestly, I didn't see how I could ever get him over the bridge again.

Regina thought it was a good idea and set about helping me. She asked me to walk him to the ladder obstacle, which he can do with his eyes closed. But instead of walking through it, she wanted me to ask him to place his two front feet in a box.

It was very easy for him to do it, but he wasn't doing it right.  His head was on the ground.

Regina walked over and drew a box in the air in front of his shoulders. She said, he needs to keep his head in this box and pointing forward, with an ear on you. If his head goes to the side, down, or up--anywhere out of the box, bring him back to center.

Okay, got it. 

Then she asked me to try his back feet, but when it came to the back feet, he rushed out of the box. Regina told me to back him up (out of the box), then bring him around again. She wanted me to ask, and expect, one half step at a time--then stop him with a "whoa"--and then another half step. (Always remembering, however, to keep his head in the imaginary box, and one ear on me.)

After a few times, and lots of wanting to look at other horses, or eat grass on the ground, or fill in the blank (be distracted), then bringing his head back to the engaged / thinking position, he gave me his two back feet. Good job, Tweed!

That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be!

This is where the photos end. We went to the stationary bridge and worked this same way over it. Half steps, head center, at the shoulder, ear on me. (This might seem nitpicky, but it was incredibly effective.)

Our next stop was the seesaw bridge. Of course, Tweed was a major no at first. He'd put a hoof onto it, then take it right off. However, with persistence, and keeping his head in the front frame of attention, he soon had his two front feet on it and he was relaxed.

Regina wanted to reward him and break it up, so she had me take him through the carwash obstacle and do the same thing there. Tweed went through, but ran out a few times, with me bringing his head around and doing it again. 

Regina had an aha moment. She asked that I not bring him around, but walk with him, or let him go straight out of the carwash, and then bring him to a halt facing the same, straight direction. Again, this doesn't seem like a big thing, (and at the time, I didn't know why she had me do it) but it made an instant difference, and Tweed began walking half step by half step through the carwash, standing in it with the arms blowing all over him, and then taking half step by half step out, then halting. (She was onto something).

Back to the seesaw bridge, and we were soon up and over it. As soon as he came onto the bridge with his back legs, Regina told me to keep on walking, but keep him straight. He flew off the bridge when it fell down with a huge bang, but I held and kept him straight. Yay, Tweed! She told me to make a big deal over him. He had faced one of his biggest fears!

The something Regina realized is that he is insecure really engaging his hind quarters to 1) come off the bridge, 2) go down hills. It's also what we're constantly working on with vertical flexion. They're all connected.

It has been affecting trail rides and walk, trot, lope transitions. It is affecting a lot of obstacle work. In other words, it's a big freaking deal.

Regina found a hill along a path that she wanted me to lunge Tweed on. The ground was uneven, the descent was steep, but all he had to do was walk down it, then go up the other side. Of course, the same rules still applied about where his head should be--the imaginary box. If his head went down towards the grass--which it did, as he tried to grab a bite and almost went tumbling down the hillside--or if it went to the side to yank himself away and avoid the work, take a side kick out at me in defiance, or look at other horses and people--I was to bring it back.

At first, Tweed was a hot mess. He was using his front quarters to navigate the descent, and he was trotting down it, rather than engaging his hind quarters and walking. As I said, he took a side kick out at me, tried to eat grass and almost went tumbling, and was a real baby. But, with a little work, he was soon sitting back on his haunches and walking down the hill like a mature trail horse. We did it both directions, then went back to the teeter totter bridge.

Back at the teeter totter bridge we ended on a positive note. As we walked back to the trailer, we went over the solid bridge again--but kept him straight as he walked off in half steps. The rest of the way back to the trailer, he looked like a different horse. Regina was behind us and she said, Look at you, Tweed! Wow!

I looked at him to see what she was talking about, and his movement, was just beautiful. He was cat-like. His head was relaxed. It was the beauty of balance. His whole body was engaged. There was an energy, but no anxiety.

That is what I called a GREAT lesson.


Regarding resilience, and my breakthrough today. There are a list of things that make a person resilient and, hopefully, we learn these tools along our journey. Developing them helps us prepare for the inevitable challenges and suffering. This list is: Developing our Core Values, Finding Meaning in Adversity, Equanimity, Self Care, Healthy Coping Skills, Support and Connection with Others, and a Pro-active world view. 

We all have what is called a hero's journey. The hero's journey, ironically, takes us not to pride, but to selflessness.

The photo above illustrates it. 

Well, I was contemplating my own "hero's journey," and at the end of it, I realized that my hero's journey has been scary, awful, beautiful, at times weak, then strong, sometimes messy and unexpected--definitely imperfect--yet it has perfectly equipped me for this moment in life. 

It gave me the necessary tools to help my own daughter (and grandson) find love, forgiveness, faith in themselves, hope, joy--not that we're there yet--or that I can do it for them--but I can help.

The course I'm listening to on audible that has this information is called, Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity.

At the end of the first chapter, she shared this story.

My job is simply to help them feed the good wolves for as long as I'm able.