Saturday, December 31, 2011

On to a New Year

I have been writing this blog since August of 2006, a year after Lena Rey Flo-wed into our lives. Every year I try to summarize the previous 12 months and set a few goals for myself and the horses, and every year they say "That's a great plan, now let's go off on this tangent because we'll all learn more."

Since plans with horses play out as they will, I'm not sure that's the tact I'll take this year, but in perusing that first year's set of posts, I came across this one. It is pre-Calabar by a year, hints at the start of an inkling for horse number two, and highlights what I was only beginning to understand about what a horse gives to you.

If I were to set a goal or two, it would be to remember what I wrote there when I'm feeling discouraged or am just feeling trapped in the office some nights.The other goal would be to just relax and ride more. Nothing more complicated than that, though I have some obstacles of my own making (mostly) to get over, through, around, under...well, you get the picture.

This year has presented me with some hurdles, of that there is no doubt.

The fall in April was a tough thing to work through--more on the mental side than on the physical side, though the latter was no picnic. I think I've gotten through the fear fairly well and managed to go since April with no more injuries. (That thunking sound you hear is me knocking wood.) I am ready to ride more and Calabar has always been ready to work with me when I get to the barn in time to saddle him and ride.

I just need to get there.

Work this year has also been a challenge. Not work per se, but the balancing of the professional responsibilities I have with the personal fulfillment I need from my "other" life. I have to examine, honestly, whether I'm using work as an excuse. Sometimes, I probably am. But other times I really don't know how I'll get it all done.

On the plus side, I'm writing a lot, including my own "regular" column (Spitting Sand--A Learner's Journey) for the local horse publication--Sonoma County Horse Journal--so that's pretty cool.

We also did our first clinic this fall, survived it, and are in fact planning number two at the end of January with the same instructor.

On a sad note, we lost two of our outdoor kitties to old age this year, but then we gained Oliver. Oliver has decided he is currently an outdoor cat but we think we'll win him over again when it really starts raining.

And now it is time for Steve and I to go out for New Year's Eve! This may be the first time we've ever done this, but after 11 years together, it seemed like a good time to try something new.

Happy New Year to you all! May 2012 bring you much joy and happiness, love and abundance.

p.s. No. I am not going to apologize for that incredibly bad play on words in the first sentence. It is a tribute to my dearly departed and  pun-tastic father who insisted he loved my writing. I miss you every day, Dad.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter ruminations

Winter is cold and dark. And I know that Californians such as myself are quite spoiled--we think 45 is cold. I've heard tell that in the Midwest, t-shirts come out in that type of weather.

Not so for us delicate flowers of the West Coast. I have at least four layers on by the time I get to the barn, and sometimes that's not enough for me. Delicate. Flower.

It has been dry and cold here of late. And dark. I get to the barn at 5:15 p.m. and I am fishing for my flashlight shortly thereafter.

My point to all of this is that my motivation to ride is not always as high as it should be. It does not help that I am still fighting the plague and every time I do some work with my pony, I end up snuffling and somewhat feverish. I have decided that since it doesn't seem to help to take it easy, I might as well do what I want even if I am too tired.

Of course, that means I haven't ridden my horse enough so that when I finally did ride him Tuesday night, my body asked me how much Ibuprofen I had on hand.  It's still asking. Good grief, where did my muscles go? I'm still doing my yoga! I'm still walking! "Yes, but you are not posting and you are not riding." THOSE muscles have had a hiatus and I am hearing about it. Painfully.

It does not help that I sit for a living. All those body parts have had 8 hours (plus) a day to sit and become seized. Like a motor. I can feel the resistance, like non-lubricated machinery grinding as it starts up.

Yep. That's my body right now.

The only way to make this better is ride more. (And get out of my chair during the day.)

At least we are on the uphill side of daylight time, now. Every day, a few more minutes of light.

Believe me, it counts.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Four years of OTTB madness

Thursday, December 22nd, marked four years since Calabar bounced into our lives. It is a little hard to believe, actually, and some days I feel like I've done a lot and some days I feel like I'm back at square one.

I guess if I'm still learning and he's still engaged and learning with me, we're in good shape.

Here is a shot of Calabar and Lena meeting for the first time. (And his tendon looks so much better now!!)

Here is Lena being moonie-eyed over her new neighbor. That has mostly worn off, but they are still pretty attached to each other. We are an odd little herd, that's for sure.

There is even a video of Devon riding him the day I decided he would be mine on this post from December 2007.

Four years ago, I got the best gift ever--a fuzzy, brown Thoroughbred mirror. Little did I know the ups and downs--some literal--that we would experience. Do I regret any of it? Maybe some of the fear, but since it's all been part of the learning experience, I can't even regret that.

Through it all, I have learned more about myself as I've learned more about Calabar.

"Mom. They is on backwards, duh."

I'm still learning to breathe. I'm still learning to ride. I'm still learning to trust my horse and he's still learning to trust me. I've even learned which way the antlers go, though not until after this year's photo shoot. 

Learning I don't have all the answers has been the best gift of all.

Happy Christmas to all of you out there. May your holidays be full of joy and love, family and furry folks.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Outdoor arena

One of the goals from my fear series was to ride in the outdoor arena, a place that has been kinda scary for me for a long time. Though I wanted to end up there to do a little work today, it was not my intention to start there with a horse that hasn't been worked enough over the last two weeks.

I was derailed.

Neither Steve or I have recovered from the dumb germ, yet, and it's been two weeks. The horses have not gotten out enough and are understandably a bit on the wild side. I had worked Bar last night so he wasn't completely fresh, but the bounce was still very evident.

Normally, he and I would go into the round pen and dance around before we went into the indoor--let alone the outdoor--arena. However, the round pen was in use and I had already saddled up my big, bouncy horse.

Lena and Steve were in the outdoor arena and were having quite a raucous ride. The horse waiting for Peter in the round pen was reacting to the echoes that bounce into the indoor arena from the outdoor arena by bucking and snorting.

Calabar reacted to both of them. How can 1200 pounds levitate? I don't actually know the physics involved, but I have witnessed it. In person. Recently.

And yet.

I needed to do this. I didn't need to gallop, I didn't need to do anything complicated. I just needed to get on and ride in the outdoor arena. Bar needed me to ride in the outdoor arena, too. He didn't know it, but he did.

And we did okay. We walked--bouncy, bouncy, bouncy--me feeling his front feet as they moved zoomily (yes, zoomily) forward. Poing, poing, poing. I was doing well. Feet down, sitting solid in the saddle, trying not to curl forward, trying to move with the big brown spring under my butt.

We stayed at a walk. I'd love it if I could tell you I threw my hands in the air and galloped courageously around the arena, but .. no. I did handle a spook and a spin, though, as well as a high level of Thoroughbred energy. Poing, poing, poing.

"What are those??!!" "Those are bike riders on the bike path down below us." "Okay. Iwillbelievetheyarenotdemonsifyousayso." "They are not demons." "K.Fine."

Poing, poing, poing.

I knew he wanted to run. I even wanted to let him run. I just wasn't ready. Luckily, he agreed to me not being ready and to listened to me. Okay, maybe not luckily but because he and I have done a LOT of work together. Either way, we have made an agreement.

I sang in the saddle, mainly because it helped me breathe. Breathing is good, it helps me relax and not tighten every muscle in my body--a very counter-productive thing to do while riding.

I am glad we are at a place where he doesn't just do what he wants to do, a place where he is taking care of me. I want to get to the place where I can let him do some of what he wants to do rather than what he knows I feel safe doing. I want to run him out there, I do.

Baby steps, baby steps.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Oliver has braved the outdoors

Ollie on the retaining wall, blending with the forest.

Actually, Oliver appears to prefer the outdoors.

For the past couple of days, Ollie-pants (as I lovingly call him) has paced back and forth from the kitchen to the den to the living room, sometimes staring out the back door at the other cats. This usually coincides with feeding time, but he has been known to just stare rather longingly out the door at times, too.

Up until yesterday, he did not actually choose to venture out when the door was opened for him. Yesterday, he ventured.

He did a tour of the deck and the back patio before heading down the side and then under the house. Sigh.

I know it looks dark, but this was at about 7 a.m. Friday morning

I think I called Steve five times during the day, pretending it was for other reasons but really just to see if Ollie had come out again. Alas, every time I asked the answer was still no. All day and through the night I worried. But I also knew Ollie had bonded with us, or at least with the regular tasty food we offered, and figured that the house really represented a giant version of the hassock he'd hidden under for a week before venturing out into the rest of the house.

I worried, but it turns out Ollie has it all under control.

Then this morning, as I was starting to wake up, I heard Steve say hello to Ollie. Not call Ollie, like we'd both been doing, but say hello. I opened my eyes, looked out at the retaining wall I can see from our bedroom windows, and there was Ollie. Long, lean, and ready for breakfast.

We could not convince him to come in the house again, but he seems to be holding his own with the rest of our weird little cat herd. He watched me do yoga through the door this morning, but didn't want to come in when I was done and offered.

It has to be his decision, and  I think he will get there with time--it just may take a little while and some very studious observation of how this whole in-and-outdoor cat thing works in real life. I'm hoping Elmer will be helpful in this endeavor. We will see.

In the meantime, he is doing a fine job of proving he has a place here. He blends into the forest like he was born here and faces down the other cats with calm, quiet resolve. In other words, he is largely unimpressed with their bluster.

Welcome to the forest, Ollie. It is a good home.

The holidays approach

I have to confess that I'm not much for the commercial hype of the season. It may be that shopping is one of my least favorite activities--unless it's for new boots or tack--and then only if I have the money to spend. I know. Totally bad for the economy, right? Too bad.

I try (not that I always succeed) to treat my family nicely all year and not save it all up for some arbitrary season so that the holidays do not become drowned in obligation and annoyance at said obligation.

But dressing up the horses for a holiday photo shoot? That is right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was not up their alley, but we got some nice photos nonetheless.


 This may be one of my most favorite shots of Calabar ever taken. Thanks to Katie for capturing it.

Just a neat artistic shot, also taken by Katie.

I am holding the antlers on his head. He is unimpressed. 

 Katie likes this shot because it looks like she made Forrest do this on purpose. I'll never tell.

We did get a group shot or two, here's one.

Me and my fuzzy mirror.

 Calabar and Jess, posing.

Katie and Forrest posing.

Lena Rey, feeling left out of the posing. Poor Lena.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And if nothing else convinces you...

Is this how you want your tax dollars spent? According to this post on Forbes:
No funding has been earmarked for the inspections in the appropriations bill and the estimated $5 million price tag will be paid by U.S. taxpayers even though all the meat will be exported to foreign markets. This will take away from funding for vital food assistance, food safety and education programs on which many U.S. families rely.
The slaughter industry is broken. BROKEN. It is bad enough for cows and other meat animals, let alone horses. In our quest to have cheap meat, we have supported mass-production where animals are crammed together on feed lots and then shipped to places where they are "humanely" slaughtered. That leads to disease and the antibiotics and such that go into preventing disease from spreading in close-in populations. 

That is somewhat more regulated than the horse industry. As the post on Forbes points out, there is no way to regulate what has been injected into your average pleasure horse, let alone race horses.

The other thing that we as humans (even those outside the horse community) needs to think about is how to approach what we eat. Eat local. Raise your own if you can. I can't--no land and nowhere near enough freezer space--but I can make good meat choices and Steve and have made a commitment to do that as much as possible. My friend Tom raises two cows every year to split with three other families. Why? "I know what goes in them that way," he says.

The other thing is that little karma thing. I know, I know. So West Sonoma County of me to bring it up, right? But if the last thing your dinner remembers is terror, how much of that leaks like poison into the meat you're eating? And how much of that energy gets transferred with every bite of that steak?

I may not get all of this right, but I can try to change my little corner of the world. That's a start and an easy bite for most of us to take. Pun so very absolutely intended.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Be a part of the solution

This is exactly (EXACTLY) what I was talking about in my earlier posts when I said we, the horse industry, need to take responsibility for our own.

This article in Forbes (thank you to Natalie at Retired Racehorse for posting) shows that the Thoroughbred racing industry is making progress by starting to support and partner with the myriad of Thoroughbred adoption/retraining organizations out there. It is a start, and even baby steps get us closer.

If the racing industry can do it, so can the rest of us.

Following up

This article on NPR does a good job of condensing and crystallizing some of the points I tried to make in my earlier post about the challenges around horse slaughter. (Yes, I know my thoughts are not original, but they have simmered for so long, they needed an out.)

I would not personally eat horse meat (I find it a little surreal that the NPR story is on their Food Blog), and I agree whole-heartedly that--as it is practiced--horse slaughter is a horrible process. But at the risk of repeating myself, the issue is not black and white and it is not easily solved. (To see my personal opinion, scroll back a couple articles on the blog--I really don't think I could write that all out again.)

Sarah, over at Miles on Miles, also reiterated the very valid--and hopefully hugely deterrent--argument that we put some nasty stuff in our horses to keep them healthy or to relieve pain in performance horses.

I originally had a paragraph that talked specifically about that, but as I restructured my article, it ended up  not being relevant to the point I decided was important--if only to me--so I cut it out.

She's absolutely right, of course, and if it makes one less person decide eating horse meat is a bad idea, I'll keep shouting it from the roof tops, too. Less demand will hopefully also lead to less supply, if only because the profit motive will be removed or at least diminished.

It still means we have to deal with the supply issue as a whole, and until we get our arms around that, we will have a horse slaughter dilemma in this country.

The elusive Ollie-cat is on the move

Oliver is taking his time settling in, but he is getting there. Considering all the trauma we know about, and some we can surmise from his behavior, I'd say he's doing exceptionally well. He still mostly likes to be somewhere safe where he can see everything happening--under the hassock, back behind the kitchen table, or under the piano in the den--but the last two mornings, he was sitting on the sofa when we got up and didn't disappear when we came into the room.

We are making progress!

Then this morning, he made overtures to Elmer. They've been eating side by side for several days now, nobody trying to eat anyone else's food, no hissing, fairly good behavior all things considered. So after a cheese snack for both, Elmer was sitting staring out the back door pretending not to notice Ollie when Ollie came up quietly and sniffed the end of Elmer's tail. Elmer promptly hissed and batted at Ollie, but didn't connect. We told Elmer that wasn't allowed, but didn't put him out until he asked. I have no idea how cat discipline works, but he huffed outside with only mildly ruffled feathers. Since we introduced Ollie into Elmer's territory, it's only fair to let them work things out to some extent and not punish Elmer for no doubt being a little peeved at the status change.

That apparently awakened Ollie's curiosity about the other cats and the great outdoors because he is now roaming around the available parts of the house (kitchen, living room, bathroom, and den) very restlessly. I think he is bored. Bored enough to to have paced back and forth to the back door six times in the last fifteen minutes, meowing loudly the whole time.

I know he wants out, but we want to be sure he knows this is where he is supposed to come back to first. I think we are close, though, and maybe within a week or so he can romp under the trees and sniff out slugs in the yard.

The pictures I've taken are not great because we are inside, it's winter, and Ollie is frequently under things. That requires the flash which leads to demon-eyed cat pictures. His eyes are truly lovely, deep coppery brown, like in this picture from the friend who initially rescued him, but I'm posting some of mine anyway so you can see he really is living here. He has not learned from Bar and Lena that if you just pose quickly, the photo session will end much more rapidly.

 Ollie under the hassock with his blankie

Ollie under the table

Ollie in the open in the kitchen

As I finish up this post, he has braved the sofa next to Steve and is curled up in a purring ball snoozing away. Progress indeed. You will always be as safe as we can make you here, Ollie. Welcome.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Where has you been?

And does you has carrots to make up for so many days of neglect?

I did have carrots and (barely) enough energy for a good romp in the round pen.

Good to see my pony again for sure. Now back to the sofa.

Friday, December 02, 2011

That issue, you know the one

Horse slaughter as it exists is a horrible, inhumane, cruel and horrid industry. It is also a convenient scapegoat--a symptom of another, deeper problem in the horse industry. We have too many unwanted horses in this country and not enough people taking responsibility for them.

Let's be clear, the bill recently signed by our president allows the horse slaughter industry to resume production DOMESTICALLY. Within U.S Borders. Horses are still being slaughtered in North America, specifically in Mexico and Canada. They are still headed for slaughter, they just have to travel further to get there.

But horse slaughter is still just the symptom, folks. The problem is there are unwanted horses in the United States. Lots of unwanted horses. And with human nature being what it is, if there is a way to take someone else's misfortune and make a profit, humans will do that. To deny that is to turn a blind eye to reality and dealing with the symptom merely pushes the problem down the road. Until we face head to head and--as a whole community--take responsibility for the number of horses out there, the problem will not go away and the market will have supply that meets the demand.

We in the horse industry--owners, breeders, business people--need to step up and take this problem on within our own circle of influence, not keep blaming the slaughter industry for cleaning up our mess. Talking about what is in horses, trying to wean people off it as a delicacy is a good tactic--reduced demand leads to decreased profit for the killer-buyer and the lure is less, but it will always be there for some people. Just as there are still going to be unwanted horses in this country because we make too many of them and we are not all good at taking responsibility for each and every one that gallops through our lives.

Unwanted horses

Oh yes, they exist. Hard for any little girl longing for a horse to believe, but it's true. The rescue groups have been hammered since the recession started and they do an amazing and admirable job of finding homes for a lot of horses. But even they can't home every horse out there and I've seen some really nasty vitriol spewed at rescues that made the choice to euthanize a horse they deemed unadoptable. And those horses are out there. Look at your barn. Really look. How many horses are tended every day? How many horses haven't seen their owner for months?

We have an old Belgian mare in our pasture that has never been ridden, possibly never even had a halter on. She lives out there and eats, but she's not ridable. What if her owners stopped paying her bills? Luckily, Peter would probably just let her stay since she maintains her weight without additional feed, but what if she got sick? What if she wasn't at a barn where the barn owner would simply call the vet and have her euthanized? What would her fate be then? What about a family who has to make the choice between feeding their children or feeding their horse?

There is no easy answer to any of these questions. Is starving a horse more humane than sending it to auction, possibly to slaughter? Would I do it, no. But I know I have options. Good, bad, right, or wrong--desperate people don't always see those options. Our job in the community is to be sure their horses have those options.

Horses as food

Horses are raised in the U.S. as pets, companions, competitors. They are smart (most of the time), playful, and delightful creatures. And we make too darn many of them. The backyard breeders, the various breed industries, the race industry, all of us--in breeding for perfection, we've worsened the gene pool and filled the auction houses with the results. Sometimes those imperfect horses are still someone's dream come true. And sometimes they are not. The downturn in the economy has swelled the corrals at horse rescue organizations across the country to bursting. And--like it or not, and I don't--the ban on slaughter in this country has actually made the situation worse.

Would I eat Calabar? Gah, no. Not unless we had a Donner Party situation going on and I'm not even sure I could then. (Likely, I'd let myself die and he'd eat me to survive and wouldn't that be ironic.) But I have the luxury of landing squarely in the "Friends not food" corner when it comes to horses. Yes, horses are a luxury item, as much as it doesn't seem that way when you are knee deep in mud and poop. That gives me a different perspective, and gives me the ability to see horses as different beasts than cows and to realize the practices used to slaughter cows don't work for horses. We are supremely lucky and blessed that our horses do not stand between us and the survival of our families, that they are in fact lovely parts of our family--not potential food sources. On the flip side, there are those that view horse meat as a delicacy. Our job, our responsibility as horse owners, is to shut down the slaughter industry from within. Providing people with a special food delight simply because we aren't tending to our own is not acceptable.

In this country, we raise cows to be food. We should be doing it in a more humane and sustainable way, but they are raised for food or food production. There is a spark in a horse's eye that I just don't see in cows, sheep, or oysters. (Okay, so oysters don't have eyes, but you know what I mean.) I won't eat octopus, either, because they have proven to be problem solvers which leads me to believe there is more going on there than you realize. But would I begrudge a rancher the choice to eat one of his own horses if that were his decision? Nope. Does that make me inconsistent? Possibly. Will I ever be a vegetarian? Not likely. Would I eat my own horse? I think I answered that as best I can in the light of our current circumstances.

But what else can we do? They can't all be released into the wild and they won't all be adopted. Period. Heck, there really isn't enough space for the real wild horses we do have, but that is another soap box for another day. Today is about those of us in the horse industry putting on our big person pants and figuring out a solution for the real problem. What do we do with all these horses? How many Thoroughbreds are born each year and how many wash out on the track a mere two to three years later? They don't even have to wash out on the track to end up in the slaughter house--Secretariat's own brother was hours away from oblivion when he was rescued. No, horses just have to end up in a situation where no one knows or cares where they are.

Our responsibility

Horses are not cars. I could sell my Miata tomorrow and be glad I had it and not really care where it went and if someone didn't change its oil regularly. (Mostly, anyway.) If for some unforeseen and horrible reason I could not care for Calabar any more (and believe me, I would do anything--ANYTHING--to prevent that), I would never lose sight of where he went. Never. They'd probably have me arrested as a stalker, actually. Lena has the same bargain from me, as does Forrest. They are my responsibility to take care of and watch over until I can no longer do so or until they pass on to the next realm.

My other responsibility is to not add to the population, no matter what a delightful and well-bred mare I have. Lena has beautiful confirmation and is a truly striking horse. Her bloodlines are fantastic in the world of Cutting, despite the fact that she outgrew her calling by nearly two hands. Don't get me wrong, I get tempted sometimes. But that's one more thing I choose not to do, one more being I don't have to be responsible for tending, caring for, and finding a home if I can't do that anymore.

That is the deal, in my mind. We as a community have the responsibility to make good choices for these glorious beings we have brought into our lives--either by buying or breeding or adopting. They cannot make those decisions themselves. Sometimes their owners can't make those decisions themselves. The horse community needs to step up and fix what is in our own house and that is what will ultimately shut down the horse slaughter industry. Not laws, not regulations, not horse rescues. You. Me. Us.

I've seen what we can do when we put our minds to it. We just have to put our minds to the right thing. The horse slaughter industry exists for a reason. Let's remove that reason. There can be no profit if there is simply no supply to meet the demand. We owe it to these glorious creatures that allow us to fly without wings. We owe it to ourselves.

And finally

I have hesitated for years to address this issue here, offer any opinions on Facebook, etc., because I know it's a heated issue and I grew up a soother, a balancer of great emotions. In other words, controversy is my anathema and I want everyone to see the other side. That is not always possible, so I hope I have done a good job of expressing my opinion and the things I consider are part of the real issue.

If you don't agree with my opinions, that is your right. I just ask that any comments made be civil and on topic. Thank you for reading.

I'm bored, therefore I blog

Me, bored, pre-crud. Me bored with the crud is too scary to post.

Having been hit by the crud this week, there has not been much riding and yesterday there was not much but sleeping (and snoring) going on.

Today is a little better--bored is better than comatose. I might even shower. In a minute. Or two.

Steve just left to go tend the horses. Sigh. I'm hoping Calabar remembers me when I get back to the barn this weekend. That was WHEN, not IF.

In case you were all curious, I do not get sick often and I do not do sick very well. It makes me very, very grumpy. Illness makes me feel as if my body has betrayed me somehow and I find that rude. Yes. I do know I'm human. I just like to pretend I'm superhuman most of the time.

In the meantime, I've been perusing some of my favorite blogs by some of my favorite folks.

Natalie at Retired Racehorse is always a good read. I hear there's a book in the works. Maybe.

Susan over at Off-Track Thoroughbreds is great, too--highlighting the things our fabulous OTTBs can do after the last finish line has been crossed. Who knew that the War Horse story had an OTTB link? Susan did.

And little did I know that post about a horse named Jaguar Hope would lead me to another blog I follow, From Racehorse to Showhorse.

And let's not forget Miles on Miles where Sarah does a fine job of describing her journey with Miles (who very likely walked past Calabar at GGF at least once), but has now rescued her first horse and is working with her, too.

But lest you think I am only focused on ex-racehorse blogs, there are a couple others I like.

Kate at A Year with Horses always has an interesting tale to tell and very often tricks I can use with both my sparkly horses.

A Tale of Two Buckskins almost always makes me smile, and not just because of Dave's often-colorful turns of phrase. Some of his trail rides are downright spectacular.

Grey Horse Matters deals with the trials and tribulations of riding for us slightly more mature folks. She also has a spotty horse with a big, blue eye.

I've also recently discovered Geek with a Horse which appeals to me for several reasons. One, who doesn't love a big draft horse? And two, I live with a software developer learning to be a horseman. I myself am not quite that geeky, but since I just replaced the RAM in my own laptop, I have a little geek cred of my own to stand on.

 Reading today, but tomorrow.. tomorrow will hopefully be another story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best intentions go astray

I was quite excited to be back from our long weekend, ready to get back in the saddle and back into some training for both Bar and me.

Then this tickle started in the back of my throat, followed not too shortly thereafter by a cough, aches, and weariness.

Really? I have things to do! Things that don't involve being sick, tired or grumpy. Work is a must, so barn time is compromised until I feel a little better. Poor Calabar. He got carrots and licorice last night, but that took all the energy I had. Tonight I didn't even get there because poor Steve came down with the stomach flu and someone had to buy something for dinner or we'd all starve.

By the way, Oliver likes roast chicken. A lot. I'm not even sure he chewed.

Ugh. Stupid, inconvenient, bad-timing, germs. Bah.

Going to bed now. Take that, dumb germs.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New family member

As the long weekend drew to a close, we adopted a new family member. 

This lovely cat (pictures do not do him justice) is Oliver. He is kind of a tabby/brindle/pattern-less cat with amber-colored eyes. He is beautiful. 

Oliver was found by my friend Kathryn in a storm drain a few months ago, after being mauled by we don't know what. She took him in, gave him lots of attention, medical care, and time to heal. She tried to give him a good home, but with two other male, indoor cats, it was not quite the right place for "Ollie."

Searches were made for appropriate parents, but--lucky for us--none were found.

Ollie is currently watching things unfold from under the table, but he has eaten and he has been "introduced" to Elmer without major incident. Elmer needed a little bit of head scratching and love to reassure him, but he seemed to accept Ollie with only minor fur ruffling. 

Welcome to Oliver, who is way more exciting (to me, anyway) than the official start of the holiday shopping season.  And thank you to Kathryn for pulling a cat out of a storm drain!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lena supervising and wishing all a happy day to all

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Our day has been very quiet so far because we aren't actually gathering with family until tomorrow--in Pismo Beach.

Should be fun, though Katie has opted out. Something to do with her turning 21 today and having plans this weekend. Whatever.

Hope everyone had a lovely day and enough to eat. Cheers!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I don't even really know what a 15m circle is--though thanks to Peter I do know my circles tend to look like eggs--and I don't even know how to coordinate my outfits, let alone my aids, but Calm, Forward, Straight hits on several things in this post that I can relate to, things I do struggle with. Nausea, for one.

Okay, I don't usually feel nauseous. Sometimes just a little fluttery in my stomach. Normally, I'm merely fighting to breathe around my heart as it slams first into the front of my rib cage, then into the back of my rib cage, kind of like it's trying to give itself CPR.

But lately, I'm finding the fun part again. The get on and laugh part. The "well, that was an interesting reaction" part.

And Calabar seems to be coming along with me. Nudging me when I need to be nudged and following me in our funny little dance.

He inspires me to be a better rider, and other writers I read inspire me with their own journeys.

Life is a good place to be.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Good rides

Along this journey, I've learned many, many things from a lot of different people. I've also watched countless videos and read a ton of books and websites, sucked in so much data my brain is losing it faster than it ever came in.

But the people have really been key.

More friends than I can count--both local and via the blogosphere--have offered support and advice, or just reminders of how far Calabar and I have come and to keep at it. Peter has helped me rebuild my confidence and get back on my horse. Ike and Cheri have been there to encourage and support me, plus taught Calabar he could meet cows with bravery and a beautiful, arched neck. Ellen offered some simple concepts that helped me reconnect with my horse and my own body. 

And much of it simply comes down to getting back in the saddle.

I didn't have enough rides this week, but they were good rides--quality over quantity will have to do for now. Calabar and I did more work at the walk--his big swinging walk is back and I'm doing a better and better job feeling and moving with his front feet. At the walk, anyway. We are still working on the trot, but that is my theme song. (Something like, "Someday the trot will come...")

However, we did have some good luck with turns by using the same principals Ellen talked about. Think about me being the one doing the walking, what would my body do and try to feel it in him. If it were me, I would hold that inside foot still (or shorten the stride), lengthen the "stride" of the outside leg. Lo and behold, it worked!

So cool!!

People and horses have both taught me a lot, and I treasure every lesson--even the hard ones.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Still some go

It turns out I have not ruined my horse and he does remember how to move his feet. He even really likes this new thing we're doing where I try to move with him.

Don't get me wrong, there is ample (and I do mean ample) room for improvement, but I was able to get a good spirited walk (thank you, Bar the Chiropractor) and even communicate speed changes to him. Not perfectly, but hey, it's a start. Speed up, slow down, all with my funny little feet. It was cool.

I also got a nice couple of walk-offs from our butt-yields, an awesome bonus.

There was even a potential spook moment averted nicely by one of us sitting calmly in the saddle and the other one deciding it might be too much effort. Ghostly spectre hovering outside the arena in the dark, then a spotlight and a glowing blue tarp.. what could it be?? Oh. It's just Peter, out getting wood. No biggie.

There is still plenty of work to do, of course. Knowing the goal of feeling his front feet worked really well at the walk, and his butt-yields were fantastic, but our trot is still a discombobulated mess. Such a big bouncy thing he is, and yes, I'm in my feet, but holy cow what do I do now? I believe the word is "practice." Another one would be "patience." Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So I think I really will stop beating myself up, now.  Bar says it's counter-productive and besides, we had fun tonight.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fear management - Part six

Bar says he was good when there were cows involved. No small feat, for sure, let along for an OTTB
Last of the series--but the most important in many ways--exercise six asks you to create an action plan of small steps that are reasonable, that you can accomplish on the way to where you want to be.

The instructions say this is where it becomes personal, where I determine my starting point and how I get from here to your goal.

My here and now is a horse who has scared me and hurt me, but who now works very hard to try to do what I ask. A horse who has sublimated (mostly, anyway) his very nature and has likely bound up his own body in order to comply with my wishes.

My wishes must change or he and I will be stuck.

Where do I want to go? I believe galloping down the beach is my answer.

Small accomplishable steps between where we are and where I want to be are both specific and general:

  • Drop into my feet and legs, relax, feel him and our connection.
  • Remind him how to move forward with impulsion and give him permission to do so.
  • Feel his front legs.
  • Practice that one-rein-butt-over move. A lot.
  • Get out of the round pen and into the rest of the arena more often.
  • Ride in the outdoor arena.
  • Get the walk to move right.
  • Get the trot to work right.
  • Ask for a canter without being terrified. Or if terrified, breathe, then ask for it anyway.
  • Get the canter to work right.
  • Canter. A lot. 
  • Do all of the above in the outdoor arena. A lot.
  • Make big circles and small circles.
  • Do transitions - walk/trot and trot/canter. 
  • Practice lead changes just for fun.. (He doesn't need much practice, but I do.)
  • Try new things that make us both nervous and work through the reactions.
  • Breathe. 
  • Breathe some more.
  • Sing to him. He likes it and it helps me breathe.
  • Just get on and ride.
  • Ride some more.
  • Reward him for the try and ask him to try again. 
  • Reward him again.
  • Reward myself for the try.
  • Be patient.
That's a good list to start with, though I'm sure I'll add more as I go along, and I'm pretty sure the last one will need to be interjected here, there and everywhere.

True love

Sometimes, in the midst of beating myself up and wishing I'd done better, Steve smacks me (delicately) upside my head.

He just told me how proud he is of me and how much I've been able to accomplish with Calabar and reminded me not to minimize all the work we've actually done together. He said, "You love him and he loves you and I think you did have an epiphany yesterday!" He's excited to see what is going to happen with us now.

Then he made me cry.

As I stated in an earlier post, one of my biggest fears is that Calabar will hurt me badly enough I can't ride. Or worse. And then he'd be the horse no one would want because he hurt his rider.

Do you know what Steve just promised me? He promised that if anything happened, he would do his very best to find my big horse a home. He'd call Devon and Howie and Karen and find my network of blog and Facebook friends and make sure my big guy didn't become dog food.

NOT, by the way, that I intend to let anything happen, but good grief I feel like a lucky girl.

Outside the comfort zone

Calabar and Lena, post lesson, enjoying brunch

Getting us out, way out, of our comfort zone was a good thing for both Bar and me. It was not an easy thing, and I don't just mean the whole rigmarole of getting horses in trailers, going to a new place and doing something totally different.

What is hard, what is breaking my heart, is the realization that I have boxed in my horse It hurts--even though I know the whys and the reasons--that I've removed Calabar's "go" instead of finding a way to channel it into productive movement. I have a better sense of that, now, and will eventually stop beating myself up.

There is a silver lining, to this, though. I have to push him because he's doing what he thinks I want, what I've told him time after time after time is the right thing--don't go fast, hesitate when you don't know what I'm asking. He is listening to me, I just have to change what I'm telling him so we both get better.

The other positive note is that we did get out and do this new and somewhat scary thing and--after a bit of a rocky start--we all learned something.

Both horses loaded wonderfully, even Calabar needed little encouragement to climb in on our way to the day's adventure. The drive to the facility was short--10 minutes, tops--and uneventful, and unloading was calmly done.

Things got a little dicey with both horses when they began to notice the activity level around them--a group lesson in one arena, geese and a pond to our right, someone shooting something off nearby, a horse jumping in the arena behind us AND a hot air balloon low on the horizon.

Lena held it together fairly well, but Calabar needed a reminder (read elbow to rib cage) that just because he's freaked out, he can't forget I'm standing there.

He has always reacted with a lot of energy, shall we say, to new situations--particularly new situations with lots of horses doing lots of different things--and yesterday was no different. After Steve and Lena went up to the jump arena to warm up, I climbed on Bar to follow. He was not being good. Dancing, spinning, not listening. So I got off. And we did many circles in the driveway until he could walk next to me without dancing past me, allowing me to reward him by going to where Lena and Steve were.

He still wasn't settled, though, and the sight of many colorful jumps did not help. "WHAT?! You want me to jump? What do you want me to do? Where is Lena? Why is she over there. WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE???" I think that about covers what was going on his fuzzy Thoroughbred brain. I kept him circling around me, away from me, changing directions, whatever speed he needed to go--as long as he didn't run me over--until he was circling me at a walk. I tried to hard to be his oasis, to be calm and steady while he danced around, and when he was calm, he could come in for a head scratch. Luckily, he did manage to stop levitating in time for our session.

There are no pictures of the session, sorry. We rode together and, as it turns out, my camera battery was dead anyway, so my words will have to suffice.

Ellen started with me and my stiff self, and gave me a vision. Move with his front feet, feel them, let the rest follow. Oh, and sit up straight, push into my feet. Funny that the "in the feet" bit sounded a lot like Ike. "If you're in your feet, you're ready for what they might do." Right. Ike said that too. Where did I forget it?

Here's where the spotlight hit me. One of the things I needed to do was push Calabar forward, get him to go. Where he used to launch himself into a big, swinging walk I could dance with, he now plods along, waiting for me to stop him from going too fast. In trying to do what I want, he has compromised his own beautiful movement.

As I said earlier, the good bit of that is that he is trying to do what I want. So I need to want different things, or at very least give him an outlet that gives me control and doesn't shut him down.

Ellen gave me a tool. Not the one rein stop, no--the one-rein-move-your-butt-over. This one simple movement accomplishes a couple things. One, it redirects the energy, allowing me more control and more safety; two, it teaches him when I pick up the reins, he needs to do something with his hind end. The latter will be something we can build on.

You could see the wheels turning when I slid my inside hand down and pulled his head out. "Oh, you want my head. Here it is. Um. You're not letting go. Can I bob my head up and down and make you let go? No. Hm. What are you asking me to do??!!"

It occurs to me as I write about it that my horse and I are so very much alike. The first few times we tried it, as Bar struggled to figure out what I wanted, I asked Ellen if I should nudge his butt with my foot. The answer was, "No. Just wait for him." He bobbed his head and played with his bit, I was convinced he needed another cue and was ready to deliver it to help him, fairly humming with restraint.

However, part of the problem was that he had physically blocked himself in with his outside rear and couldn't move onto it to move his hind end over, so all my extra pushing would only have frustrated him more. It took a few tries--and my perpetual personal challenge, patience--but he got it. First, all he had to do was shift his weight and I'd release the rein, but gradually we got to where as soon as I slid that hand down the rein, the hind would move over and I'd release. The goal, the thing I need to work on is a) making sure it's his hind end moving over and not his front and b) if he walks off from there, letting him. We did this over and over and he should have gotten irritated or frustrated. But he didn't. He got looser and softer and more responsive. When  he would start to get fidgety, we'd walk for awhile, Bar teaching me to feel those front legs and move with them.

Ellen said she had a Thoroughbred once that when things would get out of hand and he'd get nervous, she'd go to this exercise. He knew it, he'd relax because he knew it, and things would de-escalate. Bar is like that. If he knows what you're asking, he calms down and does it. Part of our problem is me not knowing how to ask and him not knowing what I'm asking, so having a trick like this--a tool to use to remind him he does know something and I do know how to tell him to do it--is a gift.

We got to use the new trick in real life, even. While Ellen was working with Steve and Lena, Bar and I worked on feeling his front legs up the side of the arena. Then, I don't know, a moth flew by, and he danced. And I reached down and moved his butt over and he stopped.

So next up is telling him it's okay to move forward again, go with him when he does it, and correct him only as needed. I'd like to be able to do this without a Dressage whip or spurs, but I might have to use one or the other until both of us believe me. Ellen offered Ike-like advice, there, too. As long as they know it's there, that's really all you ever need.

As for Steve and Lena Rey, they got to do some more active things and she showed off her athletic side and beautiful sensitive self. They worked on things like lateral movement to get Steve in the right place for Lena to be comfortable and confident in her own movements. Ellen thought Lena was quite lovely and said so. Lena heard her, too, and you could tell. If a horse could bat her eyelashes, Lena did.

Lena likes her rider to be balanced, as do all horses. She's just super sensitive to it and has been known to give her opinion by way of bucking, crow hopping, or doing the shoulder drop and spin that dumped me off last year. Bar, of course, is no saint in that area, but he has gotten to where he will tolerate my lapses most of the time. It would be better if he didn't have to, though.

Katie Dougherty-Kunde and Willoughby

After our session, we got to watch the beauty and grace that Katie Dougherty-Kunde and Willoughby create together. While I was watching, Ellen pointed out that everything Katie was asking Will to do was based on the very simple things Steve and I had done with Lena and Calabar. I had been feeling like I hadn't done all the things I set out to do in the lesson, but that helped me realize that I'd done more than I thought.

Bar and I had traveled way outside our safe little box and we'd done pretty well, all things considered. Steve and Lena had also found new ways to work together that they both enjoyed.

We all survived, we all learned and we all enjoyed the experience. More than that, I see a pathway to helping Bar be the horse he is meant to be and still have me as his rider. Peter used to tell me to "liven" Bar up, and now I see not only what he meant but why and how to move us along.

That sounds like a win to me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Clinic day

Steve is cooking breakfast and I'm trying to slow down and relax a little bit so I can actually eat it.

I'm excited, but still a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous. I even had a dream we got there, and then Steve and the horses disappeared and left me there!

The weather looks like it will be nice, though we'll be inside as far as I know.

I'll have the camera, but not sure how much photography I'll be able to manage.

I'm babbling, aren't I?

So, a little about the clinic and the clinician.

The clinic is being taught by Ellen Eckstein, who primarily works with Dressage, but really works with anyone who wants to ride better. She has been my friend Katie Dougherty's coach for many years and worked with Tom Dorrance for over 30 years combining classical Dressage principals with his natural horsemanship teachings.

My initial goals are to work on my position so I can start to work on Bar's position and gaits. We will, however, see what we end up doing once we get there.

Steve says he and Lena have nothing specific, which is not surprising to me. I'm sure they will find something to work on with the big, spotty mare, and in fact, I think she could very easily learn to do some Dressage.

I don't really care what I'm doing as long as we're learning. The balance and correct collection principals of Dressage (as it is meant to be taught) are so good for any horse, but I think for Bar it could improve his movement and flexibility tremendously.

Even if we do it a western saddle. (Or in a weird endurance saddle as the case may be.)

Off we go!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The dark and the cold

Bar several months ago.. when it was not DARK when I got to the barn 

I loved the time change the morning it happened because it made me feel oh-so-efficient. I had so much more done an hour earlier than normal! It was fabulous!

And then.

I actually left work on time a few times this week--an extreme rarity these days--and it was already dark (DARK) by the time I got to the barn. Even the full moon, while lovely, wasn't quite high enough to help most of the time.


It's not only dark, but it's cold. Cold for me, anyway. I live in California, so I consider 45 degrees cold. I know. I'm a wuss. I'm sure if I lived in the snow, I would acclimate. But I'm not moving so I'll take my 45 degrees and tough it out. As you colder weather folks know, there is only so much bundling that works with riding. You do have to be able to move a little, right?

The cold also affects joints--both mine and Calabar's. He takes a little longer to warm up this time of year and he's not so hot to go racing off. I know that seems odd, and sometimes he does bounce around like a hot, fresh horse in cool weather, but not usually at night. At night, he acts like things are not as flexible as they could be, preferring the trot to the canter until things flow a little better and creak a little less.

I tell him I completely understand. I have even been known to do knee bends to demonstrate that his are not the only joints that make fearful noises. He usually looks at me dubiously at this point. "What does that have to do with me?" he asks.

It has to do with the fact that I know movement is the best therapy, so let's both keep at it. Even just a little. Because it's oh so much work if the parts start to seize up.

Someday, we both may believe me.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Upcoming clinic

Calabar expressing my deep-rooted fear of public embarrassment

I confess I'm mildly terrified about doing a clinic. Here, let me get on my horse in front of a bunch of strangers and let them see all of my insecurities and troubles. Gah.

Maybe they will snicker behind their hands, or roll their eyes. Maybe they will shake their heads in pity. Or maybe, just maybe, we will all learn something.

Maybe my troubles, the things that bother me and that test my own resolve, will actually turn out to be bigger in my own head then they are when viewed by an audience.

Maybe they won't be, but I'm just saying there are other possibilities than total mortification.

Maybe something we learn will help someone else. Maybe something someone else learns will help us.

So if I follow the previous post with visualizing success, I need to think of being out there--naked with all my fears and anxieties exposed--turning that into something that teaches. Something that moves us--Bar and me--a few steps forward.

My heart may be pounding, but my gut says to trust him. Up at Slide, he went into a strange arena with lots of new horses, not to mention cows, and he did great. He stayed with me, listened to me, even when I was too afraid to let him run. Even when he ached to race past these tiny little Quarter Horses on his long Thoroughbred legs, he deferred to me.

He wants to learn, he wants to be ridden. He tells me this all the time.

I need to stop thinking of all that could go wrong, and believe in all the things that could go right.

And how far could we go with that? Very far indeed, I suspect.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Fear Management -- Part Five

I love my horse. I do. I had a great ride today. And I had to reach through the fear, hear my breath over my pounding heart, and get on a horse who was high, lit up with the cool weather and his own need for movement. And the message? Do it anyway. Exercise five on the fear management list is to Visualize Success. So I did.

Today I decided to visualize me, relaxing on Calabar. Sit deep, shoulders back and relaxed, hands loose, elbows out--and we got there. We still have a journey, I still have a journey, but today was a good day.

Next weekend, we have a new piece to add--a clinic. I have so many things to worry about. So many things I can imagine that could go wrong. A clinic? Other strange horses? New experiences? Anathema to my big, brown routine-oriented ex-racehorse. But instead, I think I will imagine things going right. I will imagine me, being calm in the saddle, communicating that level of relaxation to him as we try new things, as we learn new things together.

 We can do this, Bar and me. We can do even more than that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Elmer two years later

Upon hearing the sad news that we'd lost a couple of our older cats in recent weeks, my mom asked me how long Elmer had been around.

So I searched my blog and it turns out it's been almost exactly two years since he first arrived.

Since then, someone fixed him and he decided he liked it better here than there and so .. here he remains.

Currently, he is snoring on the sofa. Fabulous, lovely cat. Even if he does steal my spot when I'm not watching.

Fear Management -- Part Four

Exercise four in the fear series asks "What am I afraid of?" Then it moves to refining that question into a few categories: What it is; How I currently respond to each fear; What skills I'd like to have to address the issue; Assess where I am right now on a scale of 1 to 10; Map my path to a 10

What is my biggest fear? Getting hurt so badly that I can't ride anymore probably hits the high note, but part of that is also the worry of what would happen to Calabar if I were that badly injured. Yes, there is me--and the irony of saying I'm afraid to ride because I might end up unable to ride is not lost on me. But who would love a horse that broke his rider? Who would understand and be willing to work with him if he was labeled "the horse who hurt (or worse) his owner?"

I cannot fail him. I can't fail me either.

So on to the exercise.

How do I currently respond to each fear?

Um. Sometimes okay, sometimes not so great. It would probably be easier if I just focused on what would happen to him, but I'm a little too selfish for that. 

So it comes back to me. I am trying hard to just get up and ride and to challenge the fear with at least one thing that pushes me a tiny bit past my current bubble of a comfort zone. Breathing deeply, shoulders back, I ask for a canter. Crap. I lost my inside stirrup. Stay with him, relax, use your seat. Cool, I'm still on. Ask him to slow down, now.. gently. 

Ask him to do something I'm scared to ask, and go with what he offers if it's in line with what I asked. Ask a little harder if he doesn't respond and correct him if it's not what I asked for at all. 

What skills would I like to have? I'd like the skill to separate my mind from my body so my terrified lizard brain isn't directing my body to do the exact opposite of what it needs to do. Stop gibbering, darn it! I do NOT need to curl up into a protective ball in the saddle! I need to sit up, breathe deeply, and not  wrap my legs tightly around this coiled spring of prey-animal like a nasty, ornery predator might do. 

Assess where I am now. I am at about 40% of where I need to be. Some days, I'm doing really well and I can talk my hammering heart out of exploding out of my chest. Some days..well, ground work is better. I am having more days like the first part, so that's good. I'd like more days, though. 

Mapping my path is actually not so hard. The main goal is to actually ride more. Nothing will get better without me getting my butt in the saddle for more hours. This is a work in progress as my real job seems to be counterproductive to my fantasy life as a cowgirl, but it is the only path to horsey goodness.

There may be more concrete steps I can take, but it all comes down to more saddle time and more sweaty saddle blankets for both of us. 

A horse is a commitment. Some people think of a horse as the means to an end--be it shows or ribbons or other glories. I think of Calabar as my partner on this journey. The best path is the one we create together.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horse History--A photographic journey

I've written several times about our horse journey, how we ended up at this place in our lives scooping horse poop and breaking bones here and there along the way. Here is the Clift Notes version in pictures.

It really all started with Katie. Here she is, decked out in her show outfit on a patient Quarter Horse mare named Dixie.

But really? It started here. Yep, that's me in full 90's maternity fashion glory. The glasses in particular are truly fabulous, yes? Because inside that 6-month old belly was my darling daughter, the one who has not yet outgrown her adolescent horse phase and somehow infected the rest of us along the way.

Katie showed Western Pleasure for a few years. Then we ruined her by giving her the gift of Slide Mountain Ranch and cutting horses. Little did we know Steve would also discover his long lost cowboy gene.

Or that I would meet Eclipse, one of several fine steeds that taught me a lot about horses and more about myself. (The steam rolling off Eclipse indicates how truly cold and horrid it was up there that trip. Poor Ike caught pneumonia after we left, I think)

The obsession grew.

We met Lena Rey Flo in 2004, brought her home in August of 2005, almost lost her two weeks later to colic, and have appreciated her spotty beauty and feisty personality for the last six plus years. She is the reason I started the blog in the first place and the very first horse story (pre-Calabar) can be found here.

And then came Calabar--a dark brown off-the-track-Thoroughbred who continues to show me the places I need to go to be a better horse-woman. Our story is a work in progress and our journey can be found all over this blog.

And where are we now? Just a couple of folks learning to be horse people with a couple of good, four-legged teachers guiding us along the way. Some days are better than others, but any day I get to see my horse is  better than a day I don't.

I don't know much, but I am fairly certain there is more to come--more adventures, more mishaps, and more learning. 

I can't wait!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fear Management, Part Three

Next in the series from the Horse and Rider article is Exercise 3: What can I do? How well can I do it? 

Calabar says, "What are you so worried about, Mom?"

The direction is to make a list of everything I can do that is related to the horse--start to finish--writing in the affirmative, then rate how well I do it on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being "No way, Jose!") It's really a way to acknowledge what I can do and build my confidence from there. Turns out, there is a lot I can do with this horse of mine.

I can go into my horse's paddock and not be afraid. I can pick up his feet, do stretches with him and simple ground exercises using my own energy and a few carrots. I can direct him away from me when I'm graining so he waits to approach until I give the go-ahead. (10)

I can lead him without him crowding me or pulling my arm off to get to grass. I can work him on the ground in the round pen using just voice commands and body language. We can walk together, stop together and back together. I can direct his head and hindquarters and move him sideways both directions and backwards without touching him. (9)

I can (and do) get on him bareback with just his halter and lead rope. I can ride him at the walk bareback and ask him for trot, though we are still working on the smoothness and coordination of that particular thing. (8)

I can tack him up and ride him in the indoor arena. (8)

I can ride him in the outdoor arena. (4 -- I am nervous above the trot but can take him over obstacles at the walk.)

I can load him in the trailer, even into the first slot, most days. I can always turn him around in the trailer and unload him without him running me over. (8--I need to work on my own patience here.)

I can take him out on the trail and feel pretty calm and confident, even when doing something new--including following after deer for a few steps just because I pointed him that way and asked nicely. I can even ask him to trot or lope on a trail, though we mostly stick to trotting unless we're on the beach. (8)

I can have him around cows and not have him spin away from them. In fact, I can have him face down a cow--at least from the other side of a fence. (7--mostly because we've only done it once.)

I can ride him around a group of horses he doesn't know, keep him from trying to glue himself to Lena, and hold his attention. (8)

I can decipher when he's being naughty and when he is reacting out of fear and address the situation appropriately. (7)

I can work the sore spots in his body and not get bitten because he knows better and because I pay attention to his pain limits. (9)

I can give him a bath and reach inside his sheath to clean it. I can pat his fuzzy, brown belly and even walk (well, crouching anyway) under him. All of this without getting kicked, or even the threat of being kicked. (9)

I can doctor his wounds and wrap his legs and spray him with fly spray. I can put his fly mask on without having to halter him. (10)

I can ask him for a canter, though (as with the trot) the smoothness of the asking and resulting gait still leaves a bit to be desired. (5--I don't do it enough yet to improve)

I can lean my head against him and get a Thoroughbred neck hug in return. (10, duh.)

I think I could actually go on forever, but here's what I see so far: I do some things pretty well, and in fact approach some things that should be scarier (like trail riding) with less trepidation than more "normal" things, like arena riding. Being a little backwards is sort of the story of my life, so this is not all that surprising. 

Since I still want to gallop my horse down the beach, there are a few things we need to work on. But the point of this exercise (I think) is to remind me that there is a lot I can do, a lot I'm already doing, and maybe--just maybe--it's okay to add a few things to the list.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fear Management, part two

I'd intended to get to this next post a little quicker, but my computer decided that breaking was its next order of business. Luckily Steve is willing to share his computer so I can write about Exercise number two: What are my goals?

Exercise two asks, "If fear weren't an issue, what would you want to do with your horse? What are some specific things you would do?

Well, fear is less of an issue than work for me right now--I can't get out of the office early enough to even get to the fear part--BUT.. I digress.

If fear weren't an issue, I'd gallop Calabar as fast as he could go--which is actually pretty fast. I'd lean forward and feel the energy and power of my horse as he did what he was born to do. I'd go out to the beach and we'd race Steve and Lena and see who really is faster in the long run. My eyes would water, his mane would whip me in the face, and I'd know what a jockey felt like for real. I'd know what it felt like to fly.

Exercise two also tells me to visualize fulfilling my goal 15-20 minutes a day. Not just picture it, but incorporate detail. The sound of the sea gulls at the coast, the constant wind and sound of the surf, the thud of his hooves as they hit the sand, the waves and spray sending salty mist into our faces, the sound of his breath huffing out of his big Thoroughbred nostrils, the stretch and surge of his muscles (and mine) as he pours himself into the run, the sweet smell of his sweat and warmth of his neck between my hands, watching it all from between his brown ears, moving with him, being relaxed, laughing as the beach races by below us.

I'm supposed to rank my goals in order of importance, but I really only have one. It dovetails into many other things, but there is really only one.

Every step we take together, every time I push him past the grumpy stage and get him to go along with whatever odd thing I'm asking, I know I get a little closer.

The very first step is not tensing up when I ask him for a canter. Actually, scratch that. The first step is not tensing up. Period.

If there are other specifics, say a little low jumping, it all falls into the same category--trusting myself to handle what he throws at me, if he decides to throw anything at all. Which he hasn't done. In a really long time. 

I think he's trying to tell me something.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fear management, part one

Calabar and Jess, Slide Mountain trip, July 2011

I've written a lot about overcoming fear in the last couple of years and how it still seems to be a constant battle for me. When I get on and just go, I usually do better than when I think too much about it or over-prepare. I know it affects my riding, and not just the enjoyment aspect, but the physical side, too. I curl into myself, which puts me in odd positions that make the centered balance I need even harder to achieve. This causes cascading effects I'll talk about in a minute.

Peter has watched me ride for the last five years and has worked with me a lot on my position, particularly recently, and on relaxing in the saddle and moving with the horse. He also knows that's the hardest thing for me, so he gave me an article to read from October issue of Horse&Rider all about working through fears. The article had some good suggestions in the form of six proactive exercises. I'm going tackle them one at a time through my blog, which hopefully means I'll blog a little more as well.

The very first exercise asks "Why do I ride?" I'm supposed to write down, as fast as I can without censoring, the reasons I want to ride, so here goes--flow of consciousness.
Companionship, the bond between Calabar and me, strengthening it, feeling the connection, it's fun, new adventures, trails, being out in nature, challenging myself, the warm dusty smell of horse, the lightbulb when we finally click together on something, the rolling motion of the ride itself, the clean smell out on the trails, pine needles, oak leaves, dirt, warm sun on my skin, something solid and real and in the moment, something Steve and I can do together, it nourishes my soul, learning, reacting, living for now, simple and uncomplicated.
So those are all really good reasons to ride--and I'm sure there are more--and all things that get chased out of my head when I get afraid. The fear also affects my position, which in turn contributes to the increase of fear.

What do I mean? Well, when I ride, I know my body is tense and often curled in forward. Peter and Steve have both pointed this out both in the arena and even on the trail. In addition to not giving me the balance point I need, I think it reinforces the fear--mentally, but also physically. It is a fearful, protective position, but it also closes in my chest which makes it harder to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply helps with relaxation and squaring my shoulders makes me feel braver.

I experimented with this bareback the other day and I do feel a difference, as does Bar. When I'm in what I now refer to as the "brave" position, I am less in his way and he can respond to what I'm asking much easier. That makes us both feel more confident, and the downward spiral reverses. The mental mimics the physical in both directions, in both horse and rider.

So maybe if I just pretend to be a little braver and put my body in the same mindset, a little more fear will fall away and a little more riding will fall into place.

Next post will feature Exercise 2: What are your goals?