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]

A really good day!

Galahad and the bridge(12)Today was a really good day!

I went to the barn around noon and spent quite a while with Galahad. First we did an Easter Egg hunt in the muddy jump arena (plastic eggs with bits of carrots in them, hidden near the jumps; he has to find them and touch them with his nose). It took him a bit to realize there were eggs hidden there—at first all he wanted to do was eat the grass around the edges. Once he saw the first one, though, he was all attention (other than taking time out to roll).

His problem was that I had deliberately put the eggs fairly close to the jumps—and he’s nervous about those jumps, which was my whole point. He managed to touch the first one after I moved it two inches (!) farther away from the post. When I asked him where the next one was, he looked around, saw it (I swear he saw it, over by the next jump), and spent a LONG while examining each and every fallen leaf, clod of dirt, or spot of poop in the area, just in case one of them turned out to be an egg.

Finally he made brave to go and touch the egg—and tried to roll it away from the jump so he could get it himself. No, fella, you have to touch it, raise your head, and wait for me to open it. Nice try, though.

He does love this game. I’ve learned to use only the biggest plastic eggs (so he can’t get them into his mouth) and limit the number of eggs to six or seven so that he doesn’t get bored. So we finished up quickly and sampled a little more grass at the edge of the arena before moving on out to the next event.

I let him graze for a little while near the “bridge” that I’ve been trying to get him to walk over. Back in June, we spent some time working near it, and he would walk over it the short way but not walk along it with me (the photo above was taken on that day). Today I decided to see what he’d be willing to do for me.

What I most love about learning to work with my horses in a less structured way is having a big “toolbox” of techniques and skills and being able to pick whatever tool or method works in the moment. As my relationship with Galahad grows closer, it seems that “less is more” for sure. Our training sessions have become shorter, less demanding, and way more fun and effective.

Today, for instance, he still didn’t want to walk along the length of the bridge. When I asked, he’d paw at it; he’d put both feet on it—no problem. I made sure he knew that whatever he gave me was wonderful—he got praise and grass in between tries…and then I’d ask again. It was a slow process, and very low-pressure.

We started by watching another horse walk over it twice, with a rider. Galahad paid close attention. I asked if he would just follow that horse across, but he declined. Too scary, still. I asked if he’d walk behind me across it. Nope, he couldn’t do that, either. So we just kept at it, slowly, over a period of fifteen or so minutes—not long, really.

What I did was based in the natural horsemanship methods that I’ve studied in the past—from one of the best trainers in the Midwest—and learned quite well. But there was no “increasing pressure.” Instead, I made a request with a gentle “send” signal and the barest hint of a wave with my other hand. He knows what that means, so the communication was perfectly clear. Then I waited for him to respond. And then I’d ask again, in the same, low-key way, and wait. If he tried to evade it completely, I’d gently ask him to back up and try again, but I never pushed, pulled, or smacked him with the rope.

Galahad knew what I was asking, and I think he appreciated the fact that I didn’t try to pressure him into doing it before he was ready. And he got praise for the slightest try! That big horse—stubborn as he can be when he perceives something as “work”—really does like to please. He likes knowing he’s done something “right.”

Finally, he offered to sidepass over the bridge—that’s always his fallback move. “Can I do this instead?” Um, no, buddy, it’s WAY too wide for that. How about you walk behind me, and let’s go across it together.

Suddenly, I could feel him make up his mind. I wasn’t looking at him—in fact, I was already partway across the bridge when I felt the change, through the loose lead rope. No idea what it the signal was that I received—but I KNEW at that moment that he would follow me across, and he did.

Wow—good boy! I turned around to face him as he made the last few steps, and just praised him to the skies! He put his head down and I swear he looked pleased as punch! What a good horse he is! Needless to say, we went and got carrots and dinner after that!

It was such a thrill—a silly little task in the grand scheme of things, but heartwarming to realize how far the two of us have come. Clear communication, mutual trust and respect, and virtually NO pressure…we got the job done and had a good time doing it.

It just doesn’t get much better than that! Boy, do I love that horse of mine!

(“Leading Tarkin” is another post that describes this method I’m using these days.)

Such different horses!

20140417 Deb adn Nevada6(1)Had an interesting encounter with Nevada yesterday afternoon. It was cool and overcast when I got to the barn around 2:30 or so. It didn’t look like they got as much rain out there as we got here at the house (just under 3”!), so it wasn’t especially muddy, thank goodness.

Nevada and the mares were grazing toward the east side of the pasture, keeping an eye on one of the barn staff, who was trimming bushes along the fence. She acknowledged me when I arrived, but didn’t offer to come over, and declined to walk with me back to the fence where I’d left her food (out of sight). I stood around with her for quite a while, just watching and being in the moment, matching her movements and hanging out. It was so pleasant outside for a change!

After ten or fifteen minutes, I checked again to see if she’d come with me—nope. So more matching/mirroring for a while longer. Still nope. So then I decided to move her around a bit, to get her more in the mood to follow my lead. I kept her going, slowly and gently and in no particular direction, but wouldn’t let her stop and graze.

After a little while I began to direct her over toward the west fence, away from the herd. She went, but stopped every few feet and moved as though to turn and go back to the others. When she did that, I just pointed toward the fence and gently raised the tip of my stick (if I hadn’t had the stick, I could have just signaled with my hand). She’d then walk along a few more steps and stop again, asking if I had changed my mind.

I think she thought I was going to take her out of the pasture, and while she would have gone with me, she wasn’t too much in favor of the idea, for whatever reason. But when we got near the gate and I motioned away from it and toward where I’d left her feed pan, she figured out what was going on. Then she was more than willing to move with me. Food!

After her dinner, I walked back with her toward the rest of the mares. She moved easily in that direction, but stopped every time I asked her to, so it was clear that she was walking with me, not the other way around. Halfway across the pasture I asked her to stop. Then I backed away to break our connection, and sent her away quickly. She trotted off with a little toss of her head.

Good girl!

Galahad, on the other hand, came over to me from way across the pasture almost as soon as he saw me. I met him halfway and we walked back to the fence together. He also stopped whenever I asked him to.

Galahad wanted to go out, though. As far as he is concerned, all the fun stuff happens outside the pasture, and he hasn’t been out for a while…too hot for this old lady! When I tried to send him off after he ate, he kept running off and then circling back to the gate. “Out, Mom! Let’s go out and play!” I never did get him to actually go away. Eventually, I just laughed, called him over, and did a few minutes of moving around and backing up. Then he got the last carrot and I left.

Love those horses! Every day is different, and the two of them have such different personalities. It’s exciting to be around them, and to just let them be themselves like this.

Crazy Hans

20150730_103305Hans—crazy Hans: I was feeding Galahad in the corner by Midnight’s house, and everyone else was up at the north end of the pasture grazing quietly. Suddenly I heard hoofbeats, and looked up to see Hans driving two of the other horses, at a gallop, straight down the fence line toward me. Darn guy. So I ducked under Galahad’s neck, stepped toward them, and cracked my little whip on the ground a few times. They did go around—even Hans—and Galahad, of course, just kept on eating. I swear Hans was smirking. He got NO carrots.

(Just to be clear: Had I been in any real danger, I would have ducked under the FENCE. But there was plenty of warning and these are horses I know well.)

Meditation with the herd

DozingThe past couple of mornings it’s been lovely and cool—very unusual for Missouri in August. It’s been wonderful being out in the pasture with my horses again!

Yesterday I hung out with Galahad and the herd for the best part of an hour, doing nothing but observing and meditating. It was really interesting, learning how to be very relaxed and in-the-moment while remaining observant and attentive to what’s going on around me—the state the horses enjoy by their very nature.

I needed to do that yesterday: The herd were standing by the west fence of the winter pasture, napping and drooling clover juice. I was against the fence on the south side of Galahad, who was dozing with his chin on the cable. Beside him to my right, nose to flank, was “Degas,” Galahad’s best buddy. On the other side of Galahad, maybe five feet away and facing the fence, was “Hans,” the herd leader. Well beyond Hans to the north was “Chuckie,” former herd leader and forever dominant gelding, cropping grass between snoozes. (More on the relationship between these two geldings in a later post.)

My position was not a particularly safe one. I couldn’t really see either Chuckie or Hans from where I stood. Chuckie in particular is prone to sudden, threatening movements that make the entire herd jump to attention. As soon as I realized this (not being a horse, it took me a few minutes), I moved away from Galahad so that if he spun, I wouldn’t be knocked over and trampled. Still, I needed to keep an eye on Chuckie just in case.

What a lovely state of awareness! The horses are all dozing, and it’s so incredibly peaceful. Cloudy and cool, with a bit of a breeze. Birdsong; horses whinnying; the occasional drift of a conversation from over near the barn. Chuckie moves closer; Hans shifts position slightly. The energy stays low and tranquil, and Hans’s head drops again, drool spilling from his slack lips. Galahad flicks an ear; Degas doesn’t even move. We all drift off again, but awareness remains.

It is blissful. It just … IS.

I came out of this altered state some time later, when my stomach started to growl. A couple of quick videos (knowing I’d be doing this blog post) and I was off to feed Nevada and Midnight and grab a snack for myself. The herd stayed where they were for another half an hour, dozing companionably.

I feel so blessed to be able to share this time with them…and maybe to convey some of it to you, my readers. It’s not often that we humans get to experience this!


20150706093440(1)It wasn’t quite as hot yesterday as it has been lately, and a thick overcast helped a bit, too. It was nice to be able to head for the pasture with Nevada’s feed pan and not feel overstressed from heat before I even climbed through the fence.

The mares were huddled in their house, avoiding the ever-present flies. I could see Nevada’s white blaze from quite a distance as she watched me, wondering if it was worth coming out to see me. I had left the feed pan by the fence, so she didn’t know it was there.

I was in no hurry—it was pleasant just watching them and listening to the birds. Eventually, she shouldered her way through the other mares (Nevada always commands the best spot, way in the back) and stepped out. Everyone else followed, and then one of the other mares headed off, away from me, to graze near the south fence. Nevada stopped and looked at me. I asked her twice if she was sure she didn’t want to come with me, but she turned away to follow her friends.

There was a time when I would have been disappointed by this, and would likely have tried to beg her to come with me; I might have gone to get her with a halter. Yesterday, I just walked away from her when she moved off.

It’s a wonderful thing to build the kind of relationship I now have with my horses. They feel comfortable saying no when they want to, knowing that there’s no punishment for expressing an opinion. There may or may not be consequences to their decision, but it’s never punishment. The “worst” that will happen is that they may have to move their feet when they’d rather stand still, but that’s as far as it goes.

The benefit for me is huge! When the horse does something I ask, I now know without a doubt that it’s because they are willing to do it, and it’s not that they feel coerced, or fear punishment. And even more important, they say “yes” way more often!

So yesterday I just went partway across the pasture and hung out, watching bees and wasps, pulling a few weeds, and listening to the birds. It was lovely and peaceful. I could see Nevada watching me, and sure enough, after a few minutes she ambled over to see what I was up to.

Eventually she noticed her feed pan across the fence. That got her attention! She started walking that way, but stopped when she noticed I wasn’t following. I waited a minute or two, then asked her to walk WITH me, not ahead of me, over to the food, and she did.

NO fuss, no effort, nothing but a pleasant interaction between friends. How wonderful is that?!

NOT Riding Galahad…Again….

Rodeo redux 1Well, my dream of riding Galahad is going to have to wait a while. He still remembers how to crow hop. Fortunately, I still remember how to stay on. And after the “event,” we went out and had fun, with me safely on the ground, in the jump arena.

A crow hop, as I understand it, is not really bucking. There’s no kicking out behind. The front end goes up first, usually, and all four feet stay pointed at the ground. Someone described it as “riding a pogo stick.” Yeah, pretty much. Not a lot of fun for the rider, IMO.

Some of this rodeo was captured on the video I had running, expecting to show us calmly walking and trotting around the arena. I’m glad to have the video, because it shows part of what happened, both before and after the event. He did manage to scoot into a corner where the camera couldn’t reach, though. Smart lad.

The good news is that somehow, I didn’t get scared, and didn’t even raise my voice (you can hear my quiet “Whoa!”). Didn’t lose my stirrups, didn’t yank on his face, didn’t go into the fetal position. Didn’t bail, either, when he stopped. Instead, I made him disengage his hind end in both directions and back up nicely before I hopped off.

Galahad is a spoiled brat, there is no doubt about it. And yesterday, he didn’t feel like having me ride him. So he threw a tantrum.

I posted that first paragraph as my Facebook status last night, and the responses of various people in my horse community have been interesting. A sampling:

A good friend and trainer said, “Time for school Mr. Galahad… Naughty boy!” I had to laugh, and a large part of me agrees wholeheartedly.

Another friend advised, “Why wait to ride him again? He’s a young horse, they play games. You rode it out (literally) and reminded him what behavior won’t be tolerated and asked for what you did want, and he listened. That’s what it’s all about. No reason you can’t start fresh today.” A valid perspective, and probably the one most of my friends would advise.

One friend reminded me of a chapter in Carolyn Resnick’s book Naked Liberty (a book I highly recommend—it’s been inspirational for me!) about Carolyn’s “naughty” little pony Pepper. I found it very helpful indeed—more about that later.

So what to do now? This, really, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where my intention and my resolve are tested.

It would be so easy to get a trainer—and I know several really good ones—to get on him and remind him what being a “good horse” is about. And he would do it. He did it before (most of the time).

I want with all my heart to ride my beautiful horse. I ache to ride him again. But here’s the thing: Do I just want to ride my horse, or do I actually mean all the pretty things I’ve said about liberty work, about him having a choice, about never doing anything that wasn’t health-related that wasn’t fun for both of us? Can I stand my ground when it really counts?

If I “make him do it,” then I’ve broken my word to him, and more importantly, to myself. That, and the fact that I’d always wonder if he was doing something with me because he wanted to, or because he had to. It’s taken us more than two years to get to this point in our relationship.

If I continue with the liberty methods, then riding him will take longer, and might not happen at all. With liberty methods, I have to be able to accept that possibility.

What if I can never, ever ride him? Dunno…. That thought is painful.

But yes, I am going to keep my promise. He’s a dream on the ground—willful, yes, and not easy. Never easy. He has a lot more to teach me, for sure. But we’re in this for the long haul.

I have a lot more to say about this, and lots more to process…but that will have to wait for another blog.

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!

Love how liberty work works!

20150505 one pile in pasture G (7)Well, what an interesting day! I invited two of the women who will be attending Teddie Ziegler’s clinic next month to get a refresher lesson on moving a horse away from them and setting boundaries around their personal space. Both of these skills are necessary to be safe around horses at liberty.

These two women are very nice, easy-going, and fun to be around. They both have good instincts around the horses—they move forward when a horse approaches, not back and away, and they seem to have good natural boundaries in spite of wanting to hug and love on the horses—which they did NOT do.

We met with Nevada in the indoor arena, and she was very well behaved, though also a bit confused about why we didn’t want her to come close. (She WANTED all that loving and hugging!) Then we took her back and went out into the pasture to meet Galahad, who gave us the perfect demonstration of why liberty work is a very good thing:

When we first arrived, he didn’t want to be bothered with us, for whatever reason—he indicated that he preferred to be with his buddies, and pretended not to see us. So we stood around, halfway across the pasture, and talked among ourselves for a five or ten minutes, really and truly ignoring him. And what happened? His curiosity got the better of him, and he lumbered over to see what we were up to.

We then spent a few minutes working with him, mostly having him back off and stop mugging my two friends for treats (which we didn’t have anyway). After a bit, because he was being a pest and wasn’t actually staying away when asked, I sent him off in no uncertain terms, and chased him to the point where he didn’t come back to us. Then we resumed talking among ourselves.

After a while, we noticed him standing with his buddies, but facing us, head up, very interested in what we were up to. I signaled him to come over, and he did, slowly and attentively. About 15 feet away, I asked him to stop, and he did. There he stood, watching, until I invited him in. And he approached with a lot more respect than he had exhibited earlier. I was so pleased!

So he showed us some of the wonders of liberty work—thing that make no sense at all to people who don’t really understand horses. Ignoring your horse makes him “easy to catch” (in fact, he “catches” himself) because he wants to be with you. And sending your horse away strongly makes him want even more to be with you, but at the same time makes him pay way more attention to how he approaches when you do ask him to come back, and to how he behaves when he gets there.

Pretty cool!!!

Can’t wait for Teddie’s clinic!!!