Conversations With a Couple of Mares

dsc00174I had such a wonderful day at the Ranch today! I nearly always enjoy myself, but today I met two very special mares. So very different, but both delightful. It will be great finding good forever homes for these ladies!

The first one was very nervous at first, a hair’s breadth from quivering. Tuning in to her, what I felt was confusion and fear. She seemingly had no idea what was going to happen next, and she expected it to be unpleasant and likely dangerous. I don’t know her story, and my guess is that someone she trusted fell on hard times and this lovely girl suddenly found herself with no human connection.

She didn’t offer to do anything wrong while she was being saddled, and I talked to her to try to explain what was going on and why. If she’d just do what she was asked, I said, we’d get a video and that would help us find her a good person to love her. She may have had no idea what I was saying, but she must have understood voice tone, because she did calm down.

Out in the arena under saddle, she did a wonderful job. This girl has a Quarter Horse stop that you’d better be prepared for—she tucks her fanny and if you’re not ready, you’ll go right on over her head, or nearly. Very nice! Rusty, but nice.

Afterwards, she was so much calmer—it’s like she figured it out, and felt like she could do what we were asking. And then the magic: You could feel the beginning of hope in her energy, and her eyes were brighter. The trainer and I walked her back to her turnout area, with cookies and stops for grass along the way. No worries, Sweetheart, life is on the upswing now!

The seco201609211037351nd mare is an interesting sort. She’s self-assured, reserved, and exceedingly capable. She’s also big, athletic, and FAST. She was in a good mood today, and we shot some nice video of her moving through her gaits, stopping, standing, backing up, and generally being a good Quarter Horse.

An hour or so later, after she’d been put back in her stall, we realized that we hadn’t done the “interview,” where the trainer talks about the horse. So I went back down to get her out again.

I rarely get a chance to handle the horses myself—usually I just shoot video—so this was really exciting. I had the usual moment of nervousness, entering a stall with a horse I don’t know well (that has never gone away!), but it didn’t last long. She was great for haltering and led nicely down the barn aisle.

Things got interesting when we got to the arena. I walked over to the tie ring and went to loop her rope through it—and she gave me a pretty good shove with her head. Hmmm….

Here’s the ensuing conversation. It was quiet and calm on both sides, which was the really cool part.

Me: No, we don’t do that. That’s not polite. Let’s back up now.

Mare: Nope. I like shoving people and that’s what I do.

Me: No, you need to back up. Can you back up?

Mare: Nope.

Me: Well, how about you move that foot back a step. Can you do that? (I lean toward her, no pressure on the rope. She doesn’t budge.) Come on now; move that white foot just a little bit. Can you do that? (I tap her chest gently with a fold of the lead rope.)

Mare. I guess I could do that.

Me: Thank you! Now, how about that other foot. Could you move that one back?

Mare: OK. I could do that.

Me: Great job! Thank you! Now, let’s try moving forward again.

And of course, as soon as I got ready to tie her, she went to head-butt me again, but this time I was ready and stepped aside. She looked at me, and I looked at her….

Me: No, we don’t do that. When that happens, we back up. Now let’s go. Can you back up for me?

Mare: No. I don’t want to. I like butting people. I told you that already.

Me: Yes, I heard you, and you’re going to back up now. Move that white foot again. Good girl! Now the brown foot. Good! Now take another step.

Mare: OK. Fine. Whatever.

Me: Good girl! Now let’s get you tied up here.

And this time she didn’t butt me. She thought about it, but didn’t do it.

We got our interview done, and I got ready to take her back. First, I suggested she stand beside me and back up with me. I leaned back, then stepped one foot back myself.

Me: Come on, back up with me.

Mare: Nope. I don’t know how to do that.

Me: OK, well, I’m going to stand here and you’re going to move that white foot back.

Mare: Nope. I’m going to go sideways.

Me: No, I don’t think so. There’s a wall there.

Mare: Oh. Well, then. Maybe I’ll just stand here.

Me: You could do that. Or you could move that white foot back. (I tap her chest gently.)

Mare: Oh. I remember that. I can do that.

Me: Good girl! Now the brown one?

Mare: OK.

Me: Wonderful! Here’s a cookie!

Mare: Oh! That’s tasty! Can I have another one?

Me: Sure. We’re going to walk a little bit first.

And off we went down the aisle back to her stall, with several more “stop and back with me” practices along the way, with a few more cookies.

By the time we got there, she was stopping and backing up with me several steps at a time, with no fuss. She seemed positively pleased with herself. Her head was down and she was relaxed and happy.

Got her into her stall, though, and she braced up again—old habits resurfacing. It seemed like we’d had enough of a lesson, so I just looked at her hip and took a step toward her—and she yielded her hindquarters very nicely indeed. Think I caught her by surprise, before she had time to decide not to do it. So I took the halter off, thanked her, and left her to her hay.

Woohoo!

I’m posting this not so much because of the fact that I got the job done, and done really well with absolutely no drama. I’m mostly posting it because I was SO HAPPY AND EXCITED about the interaction! I may be 65 on the outside, but inside I’m still that horse-crazy ten-year-old whose biggest, brightest, most precious dream is to be able to talk with horses and to be around them.

It’s not often that we grown-ups get to be a kid again, and I want to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way. Woohoo!

Livin’ the dream, folks! I am so incredibly blessed!

Waterholes Ritual Clinic in October!

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Join us in Fenton, Missouri (near St. Louis) for a three-day clinic with Teddie Ziegler, Certified Master Trainer in the Carolyn Resnick Method. The Waterhole Rituals have been life-changing for me and my horses. Hope you can attend! For more information, you can just leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you right away!

Trust is a precious thing

20160108131912 (9)It’s been a long-time dream of mine to learn dressage—just the basics, nothing fancy. I’ve had my eye on my mare Nevada, because she’s a natural athlete and has a wonderful way of moving. Now that she’s six, we figured it was time to start her under saddle again.

Originally, she was taught to carry a rider when she was really young—there was an error on her papers from the Rescue Ranch. She took to it quite well, and I actually rode her a couple of times, including out on the trail. She did wonderfully! But when we realized how young she actually was, we gave her a few years off to let her bones mature.

I didn’t anticipate any problems with the re-training, given how well she had done the first time. But I had forgotten one BIG and important rule: Don’t make assumptions.

One of the reasons we hadn’t started her last summer was that for the past two or three years an underlying skin condition had gotten worse. Poor Nevada was just so itchy and miserable, for no reason that we or the vet could discern. We even tried steroids, which helped, but she also gained a couple of hundred pounds, and we decided that it was too great a risk to her health to continue. Once we tapered her off the dose, the itching returned.

This winter, we decided to try freshly ground organic flax seed, and by early this spring, the itching had diminished considerably. These days, she doesn’t scratch any more than any other horse out there.

Unless, that is, she gets nervous. Then, she starts biting at her side and front leg. Once she settles down, she quits scratching.

All this is background to the real “drama.”

Back in February, I made the decision to hire a trainer to bring my little mare back up to speed. This woman has years of experience and is someone I really like and respect. I especially like her firm-but-gentle hand with the horses, and they respond well to her. So again, I didn’t anticipate any difficulty at all.

My first inkling that something was amiss came when I tried to saddle Nevada. We’d gotten the saddle on her a couple of times, and the fit was good. The first few times we put it on, she gave no more trouble than you’d expect from a green horse. But things got worse, not better, once the lessons started. And she’d try to scratch throughout the lesson. We and the trainer thought it was likely just a nervous habit that she could unlearn.

Her very first lesson seemed fine. She responded well to the bitless bridle and moved forward readily. But there was that pesky saddling issue. I noted it in my journal: “I do think it makes her itch a bit; that’s unfortunate, for sure. But I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Key phrase: “I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Second lesson, and my journal entry doesn’t mention the saddle. I was just so proud of her:

I am so happy and excited, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This really is a childhood dream come true—Nevada and I are going to be able to dance together, to ride together beautifully and enjoy the experience. So wonderful!

I had decided that the fix was to practice with the saddle in between the weekly lessons. Two days later, I tried saddling her again. Nevada was really clear that she didn’t want any part of it. She’d evade and spook and walk away from me (I refused to tie her up and force it on her). It took me half an hour to get the thing on her back. She was clearly NOT enjoying this business at all.

I kept at it:

Yesterday I didn’t try to saddle her—just left the stuff in the arena on the mounting block while we did other things. She said it was too scary to go sniff it—but then when I left the arena to get carrots, I caught her sniffing it when she didn’t know I was watching. She is a drama queen….

“Drama queen”?

It may be that she associates the saddle with itching—which is a nervous habit, for the most part, at this point. She can be persuaded to keep moving through it, but it’s not easy. We can’t catch every instance, and if we try, it makes our interactions kind of jagged and not-fun. Our trainer says it won’t be too hard to get rid of the habit, but I’m not so sure.

Dunno…. But I think that with patience she’ll be just fine about it. I’m just going to keep at it until she gives in. It isn’t, after all, such a big deal that she can’t do it. I watch horses go through the process every time I’m out at the Rescue Ranch, and I know how it works.

Finally, a month into the process, I really started to question:

I’m kind of sad this morning—I think I won’t be able to continue lessons with Nevada under saddle. I question whether I have the right to demand that she do something that so obviously makes her uncomfortable. She is my friend, a sentient being…and if I force this on her, then what’s all that liberty work for? If, in the end, I still force her into service, that it’s all been a sham.

So. We’ll see. Wish I could ask her how she feels about it.

Really? You “can’t ask her how she feels about it”? Could she be any more clear?

And again, the next day:

I had a kind of come-to-Jesus moment yesterday morning—the simmering concerns from the other night coalesced, and I realized that what was really bothering me was that I was well on the way to forcing Nevada to wear that saddle regardless of her feelings…. That was pretty painful. If I’m going to insist that she do something that she really dislikes, then all the liberty work, and the pretty words about how she gets to say no, is meaningless. That was pretty shocking. I was so upset!

So I argued with myself for a while, but finally and tearfully admitted that if Nevada really hates the saddle, I will simply not ride that way. Bareback, if she’s OK with it (and she does know how to tell me yes or no on that one), even though that’s more dangerous for me. But if she truly hates it, no saddle.

Poor Nevada. Since I clearly was NOT listening to her, she started “acting out” in the pasture:

Nevada came over willingly to get her food, but let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to leave the pasture. She wasn’t unpleasant about it, but moved off as soon as I showed her the halter. I let her do her thing.

My response? None. Lesson day came, and when she wouldn’t let me catch her easily, I “walked her down” and made her come out. The lesson that day was memorable:

We did the lesson in the big indoor arena. I had worked with her in there a number of times, but she was still nervous about it—and the trainer came off. Evidently the saddle shifted just a little when she got on, and when she tried to shift it back, Nevada got scared and bucked her off. Gently, or as gently as a horse can buck, and the trainer did a tuck-and-roll dismount, with no harm done. Nevada stopped a few paces away and waited, apologetically. After walking her around for a few minutes, the trainer got back on and continued the lesson. Whew….

And my comment? In my own defense (I don’t really feel like I have much of a defense, actually), this was after consultation with the trainer herself and my partner:

We all decided that the little horse is doing really well, all things considered. It’s just going to take time. I’ll continue to take her in there and walk her, trot her, lunge her, and anything else I can think of to do. She’ll come around, eventually. This is a tough point in our journey—we’re going to feel like it’s just too hard, and that maybe we should just give up, but we need to press on and work through it.

By early May, the trainer had come off once more, and Nevada was not “getting used” to the saddle. I continued to worry, and thought about pulling the plug on the lessons. Left to my own devices, I certainly would have done so. Unfortunately, the others involved still felt like we needed to “not give up on Nevada,” and to “give her another chance.” And there was that long-time dream of mine to learn to ride dressage…. But my journal records that I knew that I was lying to myself:

Nevada is not ready for it, wants no part of it, and I’m pushing past the limits of our “contract.” Not good…and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it. I also realized that the problem I’m having with Nevada is a failure in my leadership. She no longer trusts me to look after her. And damned if I can figure out how to use liberty methods to fix that….

No, Kay, it’s not a failure of leadership. Or actually, it is—but first and foremost, it’s a failure to listen. And no, you cannot use liberty methods to accomplish something that is completely against the basic tenets of liberty work.

Wow…I really didn’t want to see what was going on.

Toward the end of May, I had one wonderful day with her—a day where she regained, for a little while, the softness and trust that I was so sure I had lost for good. On that day, we did real liberty work, and played with obstacles like ground poles that she enjoys working with. It was wonderful—and it really reminded me of what we were missing.

But true to form, I let the lessons go on. The final lesson was memorable indeed:

Well. No more riding lessons for Nevada; she has been expelled from school. She bucked the trainer off again yesterday, and this one was pretty dramatic, apparently: Nevada got spooked by something; she bucked and twisted; the trainer went up, the saddle pad (!) somehow went sideways, the saddle went down, and Nevada careened around the arena for some time with the saddle under her belly and the reins around her legs. OMG. I am so glad I was not there to see it. Bad enough hearing about it. The trainer, thank God, wasn’t badly hurt, and neither was Nevada.

OMG. I should have listened to my horse—she has been trying and trying to tell us that she can’t do this, but all of us thought we knew better. Nope.

OMG.

Anyway, there go my dreams of riding my little mustang and learning dressage. She’ll have to become my liberty horse, I guess. Maybe I can find another horse to ride….

I am a wreck….

That was a month ago. During that month, Nevada steadfastly refused to let herself be caught in the pasture without half an hour of “walking her down.” Mostly, I don’t try; I just bring her food to her in the pasture. Sometimes, though, I need to get her out—for the farrier or the vet—so we go around and around in the blazing sun until she finally tires out or I’m able to bribe her to stand still. It has been heartbreaking.

I would love to just sit with her and share space in the pasture—sharing territory is the best possible way to bring back the bond. It’s mid-summer, though, and it’s been a hot one. The older I get, the less well I handle heat, so sitting out there is not an option.

Trust is so easy to win, initially, but once it’s broken, it’s nearly impossible to win back. Worst of all, I knew better, but wasn’t strong enough to stand up for my horse. I don’t deserve her trust, at this point. It’s been a painful lesson.

Wish I could say it was the first time this kind of thing has happened, or that it will be the last. It happened with Galahad several times when I first got him, but didn’t know enough to call a halt when my then-trainer worked him hard for hours at a time.

But then just two weeks ago, during a session with a client, I was trying to get Galahad to go over a tiny cross-rail jump. At first he was willing—but then he hit the rail on the way over, and the pole moved and he got scared. I asked him to go over it again, and he refused, frightened…but rather than acknowledging his fear and changing the subject, I went straight back to natural horsemanship and tried to make him do it.

Poor Galahad! He was trying in every way to explain to me that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but that it was a terrible, horse-eating creature that I was asking him to step over. “Please, don’t make me do it! I’m scared!”

He was so clear: He was turning his head away and pointing at the gate to the arena—not trying to run, just pointing to the gate. SO clear…but did I listen? Nope. I was deep into “making him do it” and refused to hear him.

Then suddenly I realized what was happening. Oh my…how embarrassing. At first I tried to blame it on Galahad, and explain to my client that what I was doing was for Galahad’s benefit. But then I realized that NOBODY was fooled. Not me, not my client, and certainly not the horse…. So in the end I just said, “I really screwed up.”  It turned out to be a good learning experience for the client, but oh my goodness….

Fortunately, Galahad and I have worked through a lot of things together, and this was a pretty small and isolated incident. He didn’t hold it against me, other than to be a little standoffish for about five minutes the next day—but after that, no problem. He still hesitates to go over those ground poles, though—and I haven’t even suggested cross-rails.

Sheesh.

I’m hopeful that Nevada and I can work things out, too. Just the last couple of days, she has come over to me when I crawled through the pasture fence—something she had not done for two months, at least—and didn’t run off when I started to put the halter on her. The weather is cooler this week, too, and that means I can spend some time just hanging out with her and her girlfriends in the pasture. No more saddles, no more forcing her to do things just because I want her to. Maybe this time I’ve finally learned my lesson…or at least, maybe the next time I do something stupid, I’ll see it sooner.

Yeah. That’s probably more likely. There’ll just be a shorter time between doing the stupid thing and seeing the stupid thing. Maybe I’m just being too hard on myself, but still….

Sigh.

Just as I finished this blog piece, I got the Horse Conscious newsletter from my friend Mark Mottershead. In it I found this quote—could NOT have been more appropriate:

“When your horse shows resistance to compliance with a request, rather than saying he doesn’t want to do this or that, consider saying he is afraid to do this or that. If you do this your approach to the entire situation will change and will put you on the path to a successful outcome.”

Absolutely spot on.

 

 

Note: There is NOTHING wrong with using natural horsemanship techniques, if a person knows what they’re doing and they remember that the horse is a sentient being who deserves to be treated with an eye to respect and relationship, not simply dominance and fear. However, natural horsemanship is not the paradigm from which I try to work with my horses, and it’s not the “contract” we have together.

 

Message from Galahad

20140520 ST Galahad (9)The other night, on the edge of sleep, I was jolted by an image: My big buckskin Galahad was right there in front of me. He seemed huge, and his energy was high, with a distinctly unpleasant edge to it. He barged into me and nearly knocked me over; then, just as suddenly, he was gone. I came to complete consciousness as I tried to catch myself to keep from falling.

It was an extraordinary experience whose “reality” was as intense as if it were actually happening. I sat straight up in bed, heart pounding. The image was not related to anything I had been thinking about—I had been peacefully drifting off to sleep.

Knowing that I had a client coming the next morning to work with Galahad, I made a mental note to be a bit more cautious around him, just in case. Then I went on to sleep.

Next morning, my client and I walked out into the pasture to get the big guy. He saw us immediately and headed our way…and just kept coming. His energy was just as he showed me the night before. The flies were driving him mad, and he was in a terrible, sullen mood—I doubt that he got any sleep at all. Fortunately, I was prepared for this attitude. After I moved him around the pasture pretty strongly for a few minutes, he calmed down. Once he had some fly spray, he was much better.

Pretty amazing.

It’s actually not the first time he’s “spoken” to me like that. A year ago, we had to put Galahad in a stall for a couple of nights because he seemed to have some version of the flu. During that time, I took his temperature several times. Each time, he stood like a statue for me.

It turns out that Galahad HATES the thermometer, and he let me know in the same way: I was nearly asleep the second night when suddenly, in my mind’s eye, Galahad jerked his head angrily toward me as I was inserting the thermometer. I came wide awake with a start—it was so obviously real….

He’s contacted me in a gentler way by sharing a dream (you can read about it here), and I can often sense his energy from home. But these “tantrums” are strange and a bit unsettling! However, I’d rather know about his moods ahead of time than discover them accidentally.

How interesting!

 

 

Cross-posted on It’s an Alchemical LIfe.

Eye Contact

20160417_153304I gave Nevada a bath the other afternoon. By the time we finished and I put her back out in the pasture, it was getting late and the sun was low in the sky, giving everything that lovely golden glow. From way down by the road, clear across the geldings pasture, I could see Nevada’s coat gleaming copper-bronze. She looked so beautiful!

I wanted to get a photo of her, and I wanted to get it from the side, so that the light would reflect off her flanks. I kept walking back and forth, the length of Midnight’s paddock—quite a distance!—but all I could see in the viewfinder was her blaze. That seemed so odd!

After a couple of trips back and forth without getting a single shot of her standing sideways, I finally figured out what was going on: Nevada, across the pasture, was playing her version of Carolyn Resnick’s “eye contact” game, which she enjoys and is VERY good at: She was keeping her nose facing me, with two eyes watching my every move, no matter where I went.

Of course, by the time I figured that out, she had quit doing it, so I was able to get the photo, sort of…but the sun had gone behind the clouds.

Smart horse, with a sense of humor.

Galahad and the Barrels

IMG_7260The other afternoon, after Nevada’s lesson under saddle (a whole ‘nother story), I brought Galahad out of the pasture. We stopped by the outdoor arena, where he wandered around and rolled; then we went and got him his dinner by the car. I was tired and needed to get home for an evening with friends, but he wasn’t ready to go back to the pasture. The arena was still empty, so we went back in.

They have that particular arena set up for practicing barrels, so Galahad and I went and looked at the them. I decided to try to get him to circle one of them—maybe he’ll enjoy “running barrels” on his own some day—and at first he thought I wanted him to touch the barrel. I said no, “go around” with a new hand signal I made up. That meant he had to figure it out. He loves that! So he tried a few options.

Does it mean bite the barrel? No? Does it mean stick my head inside the barrel, since this one is upside down? No? Then what?

So I showed him—got him to follow me around it. And the light bulb went off! I wish I had video of that—it’s just so clear in his body language when he suddenly understands what I’m asking. So he went around! Then we walked to the next one, and I said, “go around.” A bit tentatively, he first touched it, but then went around it…and we went on to the third one. He went around this one right away. Got it! Good boy!

He loves it when he’s been “good.” He gets very proud of himself, I swear.

I am super careful with this horse not to “drill” anything, so I was going to stop and take him out to the pasture and give him a carrot on the way. But he wasn’t ready to go. He paused at the barrel, looking directly at it. “Can I do it again, please?”

Any time he shows an interest in doing something again, I encourage him, so we “went around” a couple more times—that barrel and the next one. After that, he was willing to leave.

What a good boy! It is a lovely feeling to know that there are things that are such fun for both of us, where we can improve our communication.

I sure love this horse.

Feeding Non-Frenzy

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I was SO proud of Galahad yesterday! He had been mooning around the west pasture fence, watching me, the entire time I was with Nevada; he was still there when I put her back, planning on leaving. I wasn’t going to feed Galahad—it was 70 degrees and he for sure didn’t need additional calories. I don’t feed him every day anyway. But there he was, looking forlorn, watching me. So of course I went back to the car and got him some dinner.

Since I was feeding him in a completely different place than his normal dinner spot, I figured it would be fair to do a little training around it. He was anxious to eat (after all, a guy builds up quite an appetite standing around watching for a whole hour), and started being a little pushy. But I told him—with voice, body language, and reed—to wait, and asked him to back up a few steps, and he did. Then I asked him to come to me instead of going directly to the food—and was surprised and very pleased when he did so!

There was some head-tossing when I asked him to follow me in a circle away from the feed pan. But again, he came with me, and didn’t offer to crowd me at all. Then he stopped when asked, ten or so feet from the pan, and stood with me until I took him over to the food.

Wow. All the work I’ve done with him is really paying off.

Galahad is a horse with a big presence and lots of energy when he’s “on.” In the past, he would crowd me and sometimes actually push into me with his shoulder to get to the food pan. Because of that, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working with him around food, so that he’s polite about it and respects my space. These days, I can lead him alongside me while carrying his pan of food, and not have to worry about him trying to circle in front of me or reach across to steal a bite. When we get to where we’re going (I don’t always feed in the same spot), I can set the pan down and have him wait, more or less patiently but at least not moving, until I tell him he can have it.

Recently, I’ve begun giving Galahad’s best friend Dancer a snack when I feed Galahad over in the corner of the pasture (this is with Dancer’s owner’s permission). When I started that, the two of them would spar over who got which spot. I didn’t feel safe with two big horses shoving each other for position, ears pinned.

The current arrangement, which took only three days to set up, is that they must stand facing the fence, quietly, and wait for me to put the feed pans down. If either one moves, neither one gets his food until they both settle down. I just wait them out.

Horses are really smart around food, and because they could see the feed pans on my side of the fence, there was no doubt in their minds about what was at stake. The first day it took some correcting with the reed when Galahad swung his hip to boot Dancer out of position. I moved my guy back into his spot and waited until they both stood still.

The second day was all about eyes, ears, and teeth. They were standing where they belonged, but not relaxed in the least. I just waited, and pretty soon, they were both at attention, focused on me.

The third day was almost flawless—a tiny bit of jockeying for position, then silence and stillness…and food.

Pretty amazing.

So all the work is paying off. This, like most of the training I do at this point, is not just to exert my dominance, or to teach tricks. It’s about my safety. Yesterday’s feeding exercise at the west fence was really about keeping me safer around a 1200-pound horse. If he’s willing to listen to me at a time like that, then I can be more confident that he’ll listen to me at other times as well.

I do love that big horse of mine. He teaches me so much.

 

Cleaning Hooves

20151018_151136“Sweet” Sir Galahad was not in the mood to have his feet cleaned today. Usually I can clean them while he’s standing around in the pasture. Today he kept walking off every time I asked him to pick up a foot.

I’m actually pretty proud of the way I handled it.

I did tie him to the fence; I was not in the mood to let him lead me on a half-mile chase. He was not best pleased at this. He stood quietly, but he still didn’t want to lift his feet. His hooves have to be treated pretty much every day until they heal up completely from a late-summer thrush outbreak, so he actually did have to let me do them. Refusing was not an option I could or would accept.

Rather than making a fuss about it, though, I just kept asking quietly. When he refused to lift his right front, I tried the right hind, and after a few requests, he obliged. Then the left hind—yes, he could do that, too. And the left front. But the right front? No, still no…. So I went back around, and by the time I got to the right front again, he discovered he could lift it after all. Good boy!

I made a second pass around to spray them with the antiseptic solution. The right front was still an issue—makes me wonder if that one, or maybe the left front, is still a little sore. In any case, with a bit more quiet asking, he finally did lift it again.

Once we finished, he got dinner and carrots. Good boy!

Best of all, though, I didn’t get upset about his shenanigans, and we got the job done without drama. Excellent!

(The photo is pretty ugly. It was taken last month, just before a trim. Things are looking WAY better now.)

A State of Grace

20150913 GraceThe topic for discussion at the recent dinner meeting of our Pacifica group was “grace.” What does that mean? How does each of us define it? What have been our experiences of grace in our lifetime?

Thinking about the topic on the way home from the barn that afternoon, in preparation for the meeting, I remembered instances where what I experienced seemed like a state of grace. I have been blessed in this life with so many!

I’ve always felt that what we call “the grace of God” is always available to us, if we can allow ourselves to accept it. We’ve gotten ourselves separated from grace and from our divine nature, but it seems to me that “grace” is always there. It’s our natural state.

A friend once chided me gently when I told her that. No, she insisted, the grace of God is something that’s only available when it’s given, that is, when God decides, in His wisdom, to grant us grace.

But I don’t believe that God—or however one conceptualizes the Divine—is conditional. I think that’s a human thing. I think the grace of God is always there—we just have to somehow be able to relax into it and accept it. It doesn’t always look like we want it to look; it’s not necessarily “happy.” Some of the most profound experiences of grace that I’ve experienced have been deeply painful times, where suddenly in spite of the agony that I’m going through—in my case it’s been not so much physical pain as emotional—all of a sudden something opens up and I’m just so incredibly grateful for the experience and for my life and for the blessing of being alive to it all…. Gratitude has a lot to do with being able to perceive grace.

Horses, and probably all animals, live in a state of grace most or all of the time. They’re not surprised by it when it comes upon them, because it just IS; we humans are surprised by it because we’re so separated from the natural acceptance of what is. We’re so busy trying to do stuff and fix stuff and make stuff. Trying to relax into grace is very hard to do! It’s so foreign to what we spend our lives at.

Grace, in my experience, is a gift, a gift that’s given without strings—and it’s always there.

[Cross-posted on It’s an Alchemical Life]

Riding Galahad…Again

Galahad testing out the new saddle

Galahad testing out the new saddle

I saddled Galahad and rode him yesterday for a bit. It was the first time I’ve ridden him in any serious way in nearly four years, so it’s a big deal. A friend whom I haven’t seen for quite a while was surprised that I hadn’t been riding him regularly, like I was when she was here in town last, and asked me why.

I used to ride Galahad a lot–pretty much every day. I always hopped on him (bareback, rope halter, no helmet) as soon as I took him out of his stall, then rode him down the lane past the other barns and into the arena barn where Midnight lived. I’d feed him a snack there, and we’d decide what else to do for the day. Then I’d ride him back home. He wasn’t even four years old when we started, and he was a frisky fellow!

Second place in our class!

Second place in our class!

He’d crow-hop once in a while, but I’d stay on him anyway, even bareback. One time he actually bucked, and I stayed on that time, too. I wasn’t fearless, exactly, but I was more or less confident. We got along well. We rode in the arenas; we rode on the trails, by ourselves and with others. I entered him in a horse show—“Western Walk-Trot,” and we won second place! (Don’t ask me how many were in the class, OK?) I even managed to avoid letting him gouge his eye out on a tree with three-inch thorns one time when he decided he didn’t want to stay on the trail.

So what happened?

Well, you can read about it here, but basically, a jogger came around from behind some bushes and leaped into the creek; Galahad spun and I did not. Bareback/rope halter/no helmet (our standard riding attire) resulted in a minor skull fracture for yours truly. I was banned from riding for 2 months. Immediately following that, Galahad injured his leg badly, and I couldn’t ride for another two months. By the time those four months elapsed, the fear was set in stone. All my friends telling me to “get back on!” only made things worse. In the end, even going to the barn at all became enormously stressful.

I did ride him a little after that, sometimes with a saddle and sometimes not, but never regained my confidence.

Galahad at four years old

Galahad at four years old

It was a great blessing that about that time I found Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals. Liberty work is what I had been looking for all along—I’ve never, EVER liked bits, spurs, whips, and MAKING a horse do things. Carolyn’s method let me train Galahad while we both have TONS of fun without riding him, while at the same time building a relationship that isn’t based on making him do something. Over time, I’ve learned to trust him again.

So no, I’ve not been riding him the last couple of years, but we’re starting again now…and it just happened. Three days ago, I had no plan to ride for the foreseeable future, but yesterday it felt right.

I bought that pretty saddle for Nevada, actually, who’s now 5 and mature enough to begin riding in a serious way. Her personality is totally different from Galahad’s, and I’ve never been afraid of her at all, but her itchiness has kept us from doing much of anything with her until recently.

On a whim, I put the saddle on Galahad the other day, just to see what would happen. In the past, saddles haven’t been his favorite thing; occasionally he’s reported that he cannot remember how to move forward when wearing one (ever put a leash on a cat?)—and no, it wasn’t the fit, as far as we could tell. He just wasn’t ready.

This time, though, it was like there wasn’t a saddle on his back at all. He ignored it completely!

So yesterday I saddled him again, and we played some games in the small arena so that he could get used to moving in it. No problem. On a whim, I got up on the mounting block and patted my leg—his signal to step over so I can get on. He practically scampered over—I am NOT kidding—and stood quietly, waiting.

Now, Galahad knows that he can say NO if he wants to. We practice that frequently. And if he’s not in the mood, he may come over, but he’ll stand crooked, or only come over halfway; he sometimes won’t step over at all. And he knows that I’ll respect his wishes. So when he came over and stood square and still, there was NO doubt at all that he was happy to oblige.

I got on and we did a little flexing, some backing up (which he does way faster when I’m on his back than he does when I’m standing on the ground, for whatever reason), and then walked off. I could feel his energy—happy, excited, ready to play! There is a HUGE difference between a horse who’s not thrilled about having you on his back and wants to trot and hop, and a horse who’s delighted because Mom’s back in the saddle and just wants to toss his head and hop with excitement.

Riding Galahad must be rather like riding a cruise missile or maybe a great big Harley. You KNOW you’ve got some serious horsepower between your legs. So I didn’t ride him long, and I didn’t let him trot. That’s for later—when I have a few more riding lessons under my belt. But ride we will—and we will have fun doing it. Both of us.

The best part is that he is happy to have me back in the saddle!