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.