Friday, July 19, 2013

The Chicken or the Egg

When you see a golden horse spanish walking across a parking lot at your new boarding barn, it tends to get your attention. At least it gets my attention. This was the first time I saw my friend Teresa and her horse Saint, the kiger mustang, working together. My immediate thought was "That's awesome! Her and I are going to be friends." Poor Teresa, I must have seemed like that annoying , lonely neighbor who lays in wait and chirps "yoo-hoo..." every time you poke your nose out the back door. In any case from these very humble beginnings grew a fine friendship with a fine horsewoman. Like all horse people we had arrived at our current level of horsemanship through various paths. Me on fire with the natural horsemanship I had just learned via John Lyons and she with her mentor, Harry Whitney. The conversations we shared where often very spirited! Because I was so newly christened in the method of my choosing, I could not grasp the nuance of what Teresa was sharing. I secretly wanted to be as "organic" and "agendaless" as she was but had a very hard time letting go of the method I felt so suited to. The biggest sticking point was, how is "direct the feet to get the change in thought" different from "direct the thought to get the change in feet". Reading it today it seems much less murky, but then I'm way older( ahem) and fresh from a Harry Whitney week long clinic. So back then, I didnt understand the fact that it makes a big difference in how the horse feels about all of it. Its no secret in Lyons training that we use the feet and lungs to get the horse to change his thought or search for a new answer. Done well, this should look no more taxing than a simple lunge line warm up in a round pen. Done poorly, well, most of us have seen it done poorly. Don't get me wrong,I'm not here to bash another method, especially one that I am forever grateful to for opening my eyes to a whole new way of being with horses, not to mention giving me a pretty kick ass career for the past 14 years. However as most of you reading this know, I've been a bit lost in my horsemanship journey, these past four years. Simply put I was ready to see the difference now. Imagine this conversation between Teresa and I: Me: yeah but, how do you address a horses thought..I mean physically how do you do it? Teresa: you direct his thought. Me: yeah but, what do you do, specifically? Teresa:you direct his thought.... She demonstrates by pointing to the right and her horse walks to the right.... Me: so you are driving his head away? Teresa: no.... im not driving anything, im directing the thought. she points left and her horse goes left Me: did an inside turn? but how did you get his feet to go? Teresa: BY DIRECTING THE THOUGHT!!!!! You get the picture, its amazing she didn't run screaming when I showed up at the barn! In any case I could not grasp the big difference or the big deal with the big difference, except, I wanted to know how she got her horse to try all these cool things she taught him. I mean my horses didn't seem that interested in tricks nor could i figure out how to break down a trick to teach them so I wrote it off to, me not really needing to be interested in learning tricks, after all I had a method to teach clients that was practically fool proof and made their horses gentle/ safe for them. End of story right? Noooooooo...... What is the big difference? In a nut shell , how the horse feels about you, and what you are asking him to do for you. Now before there is a hoopla about how airy fairy this all sounds, take a good look at how your horse responds to your requests, does he seem dull,nervous,grouchy,stiff,frantic,lazy? The list goes on and on with words describing lackluster response from the horse. Is the secret that once the horse gets used to it, understands it, has done it enough times for you that this changes? well, in my limited experience yes and no. In other words his performance in our eyes, may improve, but in his head does it really? I believe in his head it doesn't and I'll talk about that in more detail later. This is why three equine teachers have been sent to me to try to help me get this concept. The first, was a little white lippizan, he was very facially expressive and shall we say, physically expressive in a polite way, under saddle. Anyone who has ridden Nibs( now named Nigel) when he was displeased about anything, can recall how hard he stabbed his little hooves into the ground, jarring kidney and filling alike! Yet, I could not see it and plugged away uttering my Lyonisms for comfort and support. Here are three Lyonisms that fit this situation : #1 Im sorry, but do it any way.#2 The horse must be calmer after the lesson than before it began. #3 get it, get it consistently, get it consistently where you want it then improve on it. Then came Cuervo, who was physically challenged enough to not be able to do the repetitions needed in conditioned response to really get anywhere with the JL system. If anyone for a minute thinks the universe is not obvious in its irony just think about this for a moment. Here is this fabulous little horse Beth and he needs you, but guess what? you cant train him like all the others you have worked with, because you will break him. So have fun, buh bye! Then finally, there is Leo( may I be worthy of this wonderful creature)Who said consistently, I don't like it, try something else or I wont play. All while being so freaking magnetic I couldn't keep my hands off of him. AY CARAMBA! So lets move on to what I learned from each of these fabulous equines. Nibs while obvious in his responses, I simply wrote off as not a good match for me anyway, Beth: 1 Universe: 0, so from him, sadly, I learned not very much at the time. Hind sight as they say is 20/20 though. Cuervo, well, Cuervo I learned several new approaches to try and had some limited success, I strangely felt safe on him, even as others thought I was in very grave danger. In the end, I was injured by him and that's when I hit bottom in my horsemanship. You see he was the first one I tried to be more organic with, more fly by the seat of my pants with. I guess technically I did fly too, just not the way I wanted. Now we have Leo, he is a challenge, and my life line in my horsemanship. I am well aware of his responses to my ham handed requests, he was seriously displeased. I got bit...a lot, grumpy ears, a lot, Oh so lack luster responses alot. Seized up feet,wierd hinges in the wrong places, zero interest in even trying new things. I felt as if all we did is poke back and forth at each other like some brother and sister act. Luckily for him,the new approaches I used on Cuervo,elicited the same behaviour so I had to keep searching and even luckier for both us, Teresa sent me Harry Whitneys schedule, and wouldnt you know he was only three hours away. And wouldn't you know, they had a rare last minute spot open up, and wouldnt you know, my truck sold and I had a bit of extra cash. Universe 1, Beth:0. Day one of the clinic I saw Harry direct the thought, I saw a very flighty, busy arab,do exactly as Harry asked, in a calm and interested manner. I saw that arab reach for what he offered when a few moments before she was trying to get away and out of the arena. So you can say I was hooked, right then and there. The way its done does not cause the horse to try to get away from you. It does not drive the horse or bring up the "flee" in the horse. Its not consequence training. It offers what Im ready to have now with my horse, what I've always wanted to have with my horse. An understanding and trust and mutual satisfaction. 14 years ago I wanted a different way with horses than I had learned at equine college and found John Lyons. As John himself always told us,"Horses are the best hobby in the whole world, because you will never know it all when it comes to horses. You will continue to grow and learn through out your life time with them. How great is that?" I say pretty darn great. Looking forward to the next 45 years myself. Heres to paso shaped life lines,new beginnings and true horsemanship.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Saturday, I watched one of my horses drive away in someone elses trailer. He is going to school. He is going to see what he would like to be good at. This is his shot to learn skills that will help him in his new home. At 13 he is my most"at risk" horse. What does that mean? Well, he is a horse I have loved from the beginning and had no expectations from. We dinked around with this and that but had no real agenda on developing his potential as he wasn't very sound. When he became sound 4 years later, I decided to try to develop him only to realize he surpassed my rusty riding skills. So one big fall later I made the very heart breaking decision to re-home him. Sounds like a bail doesn't it? Well I did beat myself up with that word and those feelings for about two months then I gave myself a break. Part of being a good trainer is to know when you are over faced. Be that emotionally or physically. Its happened with other peoples horses, and I gracefully took my leave with out a backward thought. When its your own horse it makes it a little more complicated to separate the truth from the emotional fiction. A wise friend once said to me "Just because you don't have the answer for him doesn't mean someone else doesn't..." We never say die types don't like harsh truths like that but its that exact truth that has freed me from the guilt I was using to not be "solutional" I had to examine my motives. Why was this lovely little horse any different than a horse I would not take in training? Being mine was not a good enough reason. Allowing him to be a pasture pet was selfish and unrealistic. Why? Well, being a good steward to our pets is about thinking down the road for them. If some thing happened to me could all my horses be re-homed on their own merits? Could my friends and family find them a new forever home with out the added stress that they would simply be a fantastic pasture ornament? Not in this current financial climate. Its a big commitment to take on a horse for its natural life time. People want to enjoy their investment. Even if the horse is free, riding him, using him for therapy purposes, etc etc, make that monthly investment easier to bear. So off he went to someone who will help show him a life outside of the cloistered life he has lived for 5 years. I was asked by more than a few people, why I was paying to have him trained just to sell him? Well, that's all part of it too isn't it? What chance would he have in the real world with limited skills? A 13 year old, green horse can end up in many horrible places. This is his ticket to ride, it puts him on an even playing field with the rest of the hard working ponies out there where his looks and his wonderful personality will give him an edge, I believe. Its still no guarantee, look at the crisis in Spain where centuries of carefully bred Andalusians are ending up on the meat wagon from simple want of funds to feed them and buyers to buy them. Not 5 years ago, these same horses fetched tens of thousands of dollars all over the world and now the sad fates for them. Its heartbreaking and its a truth that every horse owner and breeder should consider before buying that project horse, breeding that brood mare and "rescuing" that 22 year old unsound gelding from the auction block. Will you still be willing to pay for that colt, that old horse who deserves a chance, in three years? In ten? Will you be able too? Will you burden your friends and family with your "collection" of living , breathing, eating, feeling charges? Many people can rationalize their way around these very hard to think about topics. I am one of them. For the sake of my current and future critters I wanted to get real. My fingers are crossed for my little guy and Im banking on the fact that he will rise to the occasion. As for me and the remaining herd? We will continue on together, with luck, for the rest of our natural lives.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Physical - Mental- Emotional

In the beginning of my horsemanship I mistook conditioning a horse physically for training a horses mind. After all if you could get his feet to do what you wanted wouldn't that mean his mind was somehow involved? The repetition of the patterns I was instructed to ride and the exercises I practiced where for the purpose of performance. If the horse could do his "job" in the ring surely he must be well trained. Its a notion that started to take a jostling as soon as I got my first job at a fancy hunter barn. One of the most decorated horses in their string of impressive show horses had to have his bridle taken apart and reconstructed on his head every ride. The reverse had to happen when removing it. He was not happy about grooming especially his face and upper neck. Leading him could be challenging in new environments and on occasion he had to be backed into a schooling ring as he would refuse to go forward with his rider. Once in the arena though, he was all business usually winning a blue ribbon for his flawless form over fences. He was well loved and considered quirky not untrained. Looking back I can see how that horse had the barest level of training that dealt only in his physical preparedness and that his mental and emotional preparedness were nonexistent. A horse becomes mentally prepared for his job when it is presented to him in a way he understands. For some horses that means tiny steps repeated often, for others it means a little of this, a little of that and heres how these things connect. Still others will read the book and get back to you in the morning with an idea of what happens in the next book in the series.(Haven't we all had one of those types in our barns at one time or another?) As a trainer( thats who ever is imparting the knowledge to the horse) its important to know what type you are working with. The third element to a well trained horse is emotional preparedness. This is a trickier topic, as there are many approaches to accomplishing this. There is flooding,approach - retreat,positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement,and ignoring the topic all together as froo froo fairy dust talk. Recently I attended a Buck Brannamen clinic where emotional training was brought home to me on a very personal level. Ironically the gal who's experience I will share with you next is named Beth as well. The morning session was colt starting so 20 riders give or take a few, got on their baby horses for the first time in front of an audience and with 20 of their closest friends. If that wasnt anxiety producing enough they then as a group had to walk trot and canter for the first time with the help of Buck and his amazing bridle horse Rebel. The horse Beth was riding was a very busy, very excitable grey warmblood. Buck started right of with her making sure she could turn on the haunch left and then right in order to slow and control her horse should it get out of control. She had to use first one rein then the other as Buck flagged them along the rail. The grim look of determination on Beths face told the story of how little fun this exercise was and we all breathed a sigh of relief when he let her exit the round pen as he moved on to others in her group. Like her I had had that same feeling of "thank god its over and I lived" at John's Where we had the same treatment except all alone in our own round pen with John at the helm until he felt we could execute the emergency stop effectively. This experience was so traumatic for me that I vowed never to subject my students to it. Sorry guys, I messed up, I should have terrorized you on horse back....really! Read on... Beth's sigh of relief was relatively short lived as Buck called her back into the round pen. You could almost see her sag a little, or maybe that was me, feeling for her. Back in she came and the process began again. This time though in short order, the horse began to lose its frantic, jerky responses and develop a sense of balance and grace to its movements. You could see the light come on in the horses head. When Beth realized how her horse was changing you could see her begin to relax. Her responses where less mechanical and more natural. Again she was allowed to leave the round pen. This time she was beaming. On her third trip in, she and the horse where practically dancing. Not only had the mechanics been mastered but both had received the emotional training they needed to have confidence in one another. You see,its more than being physically prepared to do a job, and mentally aware of what is involved, its about understanding that you can really do it and that your horse is right there in it with you, connected. What I experienced stopped at mental. We physically performed, I mentally knew what to do but emotionally I never wanted to do it again. How does this relate to the blue ribbon hunter at the beginning of this tome? Well, he was physically able to do his job and do it well, and in certain environments you might say he was mentally able to keep up, but emotionally he was unprepared as evident by his reactive behaviour outside of the arena. This is the trilogy of horse training. Its not complete without all parts being in place. How will you know when they are all there? It will be a dance and everyone will be smiling.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lost. Not a happy word in my opinion. Its kind of lonely and hopeless. Even when used describing something positive like “lost in a good book” or “lost in thought” It still makes me cringe a little. Lost is exactly where I have been in my horsemanship for several years now. I cant explain it exactly. One is tempted to lump it under burn out but it went so much deeper than that and frankly scared the living be-jesus out of me. I questioned even having a horse. For those of you who know me best that’s like saying I’m considering taking a vow of silence. So improbable that you would laugh out loud …no really its ok, I know I yack A LOT….I prefer to think of myself as gregarious on steroids! In any case as I struggled to understand what had shifted and when. I realized that I had been doing the same thing with horses for almost 12 years. The exact same lessons taught, revisited and practiced for 12 years. Oh I dabbled here and there and honestly attended a few clinics that where mind blowing ( Ray Hunt, Charles Dekumfy come to mind) but then I would stall again. Caught up in the daily teaching of clients and new horses. Don’t get me wrong, I learned from each new horse something I did not know. I gained new insight from each clients questions. Even if they where the same as the last client, explaining the nuances for their particular horse was a constant source of information and understanding. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your horsemanship journey with me! I realized only recently that each of my clients had a horse or two they where deeply passionate about which made their journey all the more fun for me and emotionally challenging for them. Getting them in sync with their special critter was the best pay check I could ask for. I didn’t even realize I had nothing that momentous at home with my own critters. I like all my horses past and present, they have all taught me more about me than I have a right to know ,honestly. However passionate, inspirational, motivating, exciting?…..well, no…. until Cuervo, who inspired all those things and more. But there was a catch. The training I knew and trusted did not work the wonders on him it had on previous horses nor could I use it fully due to his physical limitations at the time. If I pushed through with the repetitions I felt he needed he didn’t stay sound, so the chiropractor would come out and put him right and I would hedge on how to convey to him the lessons I wanted us to share. I wasn’t ready to let go of what I knew. Funny , as I was in the same exact position when I went to John Lyons. But slowly after making statements like “ I don’t care if I ever ride Cuervo, its enough he makes me smile” and “I have Boo to ride when I have time…” I knew these where not quite honest. So I searched and talked( big surprise) and read and watched and tried really hard to ignite a spark that would get my horsemanship on track. Where did I want to be? What did I want to do?, How did I want to ride? What made it all click? Well, part of the problem was in the “trying“. I have always been a square peg in the round hole kind of person. That means push it hard enough and it will eventually , kinda, fit! The search did open up some wonderful friendships and coined me a new way to approach Cuervo that he prefers over the previous way. But I was forcing it and faking it and flogging myself for it. Why? Why? WHY? Its like that line in a song by Pink, she sings “ why do I do that ?”, then , in a speaking voice, as if to herself ,she asks exasperatedly “why do I do that?” Same thing going on here. I wasn’t sparking, heck not even smoldering and I was trying sooooo hard! Then an opportunity arose, that was ill timed for my current circumstances but I knew I needed to take it, even when I was doubting myself in the first weeks, thinking, Ive gone down this path before. And I have. This time though, something was different. That difference was passion. I like every horse that I get to touch, I LOVE my big Boo for the journey we have been on together for 15 years and will continue on for her lifetime. I LOVE my Cuervo who has lit a new way for me to see and continues to wait for me. And my sweet Lacey girl, who through her random trail rides has helped me decide what it is I really want in my partnerships with horses. I like them all, but Ive loved only a few. Love is a funny thing and as most of us have experienced , love it is exhilarating, exasperating, energizing. It sparks! Despite conventional thinking( overrated) friendly advise( much appreciated) and cosmic timing( learn to trust) I am proud to introduce to you Leonidis de Echo my new partner in crime. He is a three year old paso fino gelding whom I was smitten with two years ago at the paso fino show in Asheville. There is a spark now folks, and with proper care and feeding it will be a flame. I want to thank Lori West and Echo West Farm for reaching out to me with an offer I couldn’t refuse and for including me in some very theraputic saddle time on the gorgeous FETA trails that surround their home. I am more grateful than you can ever imagine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The unclear path.....

Exploring the feelings around horse ownership has led me to some interesting discoveries. First and foremost, horses have always been a non negotiable in my life. This is not a bad thing. What I realized is that when something is non negotiable one does not think about it again, as its, well, non-negotiable. The reason for all my angst however is the fact that I never looked at the topic again and I believe that all topics must be explored on a regular basis to really grow and learn. This subject, as I thought, illicited so many wonderful emails. I had some great conversations with folks who have made changes that included no longer owning or riding horses. It’s a very personal journey. A very individual one. I thought I would share some of the things that really helped me get unstuck. My brilliant friend Gerri gave me an exercise to do. One she had recently completed with surprising results. I’ve dubbed it “the cleanse”. Its not your typical “ if I haven’t used it in a year, donate it” type of cleanse. Its much more about surrounding yourself with things that you have given a lot of thought to. I began in my house with the “things” that make up a life. I have always believed that things take energy to own, they are not passive in their existence in our lives. I realized that some of the things I have kept for many years where more the result of being fond of the person who gave the item to me and less to do with being fond of the item. What results is, an item that is literally overlooked. Something hidden in plain sight. Something existing in my space that was negatively taking up energy. I realize that this is a very lucky problem to have and I want to point out that I’m grateful to be so cursed. But I still needed to create space to think and thus to feel. If I didn’t love the thing, if it didn’t bring me peace and joy to behold, if it didn’t move me, it left my space. How could this possibly help me with my horse dilemma you ask? Well, it works all those muscles around true feelings. Its active which is important to someone like me who has trouble waiting for clarity to just come. Lori G wrote one simple sentence that tied in nicely to the above theme “ Get back to what you love.” yep, yep, yep. A wise man named John ( not the one named Lyons this time) shared that some of the horses in his life where like good friends whose company he enjoyed more than other horses.( and most people heehee) and that was OK, not every horse that comes through the door is your favorite. Angela pointed out that it may not be an all or nothing proposition, Tim listened with his heart and offered to be my riding buddy and Sweet Ruthie shared her own experience and in doing so showed me I wasn’t alone. *
Through all of this feedback I realized that the conversation I had been having with myself internally for several long years has been the practical VS the emotional. Apples to Oranges, concrete VS ethereal. Impossibly unproductive. There was no balance and therefore no resolution. So in a nod to the practical I devised a plan and to the emotional I said wait and really “see”. I feel the train moving forward again and for that I’m eternally grateful. Here’s to life’s journeys may they always be as surprising as they are humbling.

* to all of you not mentioned by name in this blog, you have all touched my soul many hugs and many kisses……

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What is Love?

I Love horses! Always have...In fact Ive had a horse in my life almost continuously since I was 10 years old. They are my favorite animal, I couldn't imagine life with out them....or could I? Could I look out a window and enjoy the view with out a horse pasture in front of it? Could I walk into my brand new barn and inhale with out the smells of hay and leather to greet me? Could I forgo the feel of warm, sweet horse hide under my hands on any given day? The prickle of questing horse lips on the patch of skin revealed in the search of treats from a pocket? I remember a time where this thought never entered my mind. Where I secretly was horrified that a mentor could retire and sell all of her horses, give away her dog and move to a condo in a warmer state. "NO!" I said to myself that will never be me. I expected life to change, but horses where the constant. I was going to be that 80 plus year old dame still racking up the trail miles every weekend. This was the goal, this was the given, changing. Now Ive been struggling, wrestling,denying, arguing,pleading,worrying about this shift in my whole existence for three long years. Which may not have been when I first felt it but was when I first, cautiously gave voice to it. If you are one of those friends I have explored this with then you know what a earth shattering experience this is for me. I say "is" because I have not got it all worked out yet. I'm a horsewoman, its in my DNA! All my friends I made through horses, all my life spent learning about horses, all my money spent on horses, where I live dictated by horses, life decisions based on horses! Hell, I don't even own any non horse clothing...

When I acknowledged this insidious doubt, this niggling question, I immediately went into discover mode. The big, ugly why of it all. And I received some good insights, some good reasons for this lunatic fringe I found myself treading. Everything from stress, to burnout, to moving ,to out of practice, to starting a new biz , new life, new job, new house, to not having a riding buddy, not having the right horse, a sound horse, the right trailer, the right its a phase.
And you know what, I'm sure all of this has something to do with it. But what made me feel a little less panicky was the fact that everyone I spoke to is, has or will be addressing this very issue. It seems to be an inevitable fact of life to all of us horseophiles. Some of us blow on through, some of us close the lid on the box and with relief, set it out for the recycle guy. Some of us like myself wallow in the middle feeling scared, confused and shaken. I believe there is an answer out there for me somewhere and I hope by sharing in my search I will magically come upon it for myself and maybe a few other struggling horse-aholics. At least that is my sincere hope. The Irony that all will be revealed in time is not lost on me as the lesson of patience has been what my equine friends where sent to teach.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Big Burning Question

So I follow this cool blog by Danielle LaPorte(, she is the Goddess of crap cutting. Her recent challenge to the masses was to really define how we wanted our goals to feel....yep you read right, not how we wanted them to look, but to feel. For me this is very timely. I'm about to bare my soul to all who care to read it about a three year battle I have been fighting, one that I believe all horse women come up against and maybe some of the men too, its just I haven't had the input from them......yet! So lets begin at the beginning and define how our goals should feel.
I want my day to feel like a warm ocean current
I want kissing to feel like Oxygen overload
I want my next success to feel like a bubble bursting from a hot lava flow
I want my body to feel like a young horse testing his speed against his fellows
I want smiling to feel like blossoms on a honey suckle vine
I want my friendships to feel like cashmere sweaters, Swiss chocolate,and warm sand
I want my nervous system to feel like an indefinite savasana
I want my gigs to feel like, the traveling circuses of old, a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, and a bit of melancholy when you leave
I want my neighborhood to feel like the wizarding world of Harry Potter
I want my integrity to feel like syphoned, pea berry coffee
I want my word to feel like sun ripened chermoya
I want my laughter to feel like extra sweet sparkling wine
I want the end of the day to feel like a morning glory closing up for the night
I want being of service to feel like a table well set for an Amish barn raising supper
I want my philanthropy to feel like the Orinoco flow
I want my challenges to feel like soorya namaskar..sun salutation.
I want my love to feel like an albatross flight
I want my writing to feel like Dr Suess: whimsically taught life lessons, Cormac McCarthy: diarrhea of the pen and Diane Gaballdon: hopelessly swash and buckle, romantic
I want my ideas to feel like finding a widows mite on an Israeli beach

So what do you think? try it for yourself...its fun, and.....hard actually. But I think its a good way to begin, to define. When one is lost one needs to seek....let the games begin!