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?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Out and about

Photographic proof that at least Steve and the horses got out on this fine autumn day. You'll just have to believe it was me in the other side of the camera.
It was a lovely day, a good ride, and just what we all needed.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Lena says she feels left out

All this blogging about "feelings" and "horsemanship" is getting tedious, says the royal Spotty mare.

Remember where all this started, she says.

I do. With her delightful, beautiful, speckled self.

To my first muse, Lena Rey Flo--thank you for getting the ball rolling.

I owe you much more than carrots.

To be a horseman

What does it really mean to be a horseman? Hours in the saddle? Number of broken bones? Trophies?

Or is it just the sense of connection that sometimes happens when both of you have all the body parts moving the same way at the same time and at least one of you has a relaxed grin on your face? (I confess I'm not always in this zone, though it happens more now than it used to and it is always my goal.)

Yes, I did just watch "Buck" the movie. How could you tell? As most of the reviews state, it is in many ways much more about humans than it is about horses. It shows us horse people how to peel off the layers and look at ourselves with enough honesty to be the horsemen we want to be and that our horses need us to be.

Am I there yet? Not really. I'm not confident enough, yet, even though Bar keeps telling me it's okay to step up to the plate. In fact he wants and needs me to step up to the plate. When I do ride, he takes good care of me and even before I get on, he's asking me to climb up and work with him.

It's the getting to the riding part where we have challenges. I run through my ritual of warming him up in the round pen first and seeing where his head is, blah, blah, blah. He tells me--by nosing the saddle or the mounting block, standing still for the saddle and dropping his head for me to slip the bridle on--that he's ready for me to just ride.

It's really me that's the problem. As usual.

Last week I warmed him up in the round pen, then when we went out to the outer part of the arena he--saddled up and all--went up the side of the arena bucking and farting for about half the arena. Then he stopped, turned around, and headed for me and the mounting block. "Okay, had to test the new hacked saddle pad. Get on, now, 'kay?" I laughed at his antics over the pounding of my heart and decided to embrace his exuberance as a sign that he was feeling good, not sore. That mostly worked, actually, and we had a good ride.

Then last Sunday I got on again and had to work through the most anxiety I've felt in a long time. I did it, and he was good and patient and kind, but I felt so weak and unhappy with myself! I couldn't help thinking he deserves so much more from me! I can almost hear him telling me to just trust him and we'll be okay. And I can almost hear myself saying, "Sure, big guy!" And then part of me freezes.


So I've got the scars and some of the hours in the saddle. Sometimes that moment of clarity and connection even comes, too, but mostly I've got a ways to go to be a "horseman" I think. Luckily, I'm stubborn and not done trying. Bar says he'll wait for me, but it would be more fun if I just got down to it so we could ride.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Tack hacking

My current solution to Mr. Sensitive Withers issue with his (nearly) new pad.
This very same pad fits Lena perfectly, with the front portion sitting just in front if her not-insubstantial withers. But in Bar, that front cross section, when still connected, sat across his withers.
It seems like a small thing, but I know racer-back jog bras give me a headache, so.. I cut the front of the pad and we shall see if it helps.
It actually already seems to, so more on this later (when I'm not blogging from my cell phone in my chiropractor's office.)
Yep. It's my turn for some bodywork!