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!

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.

“Leading” Galahad

20150421 G 5 piles (9)Yesterday afternoon I wanted to work with Galahad in the west pasture—the one they are resting at the moment. Open space to work, and no other horses to try to eat his treats. I brought him in at liberty, with no halter to control him. That meant that there could be no “cheating” on my part. This was about me figuring out a way to get him to want to walk with me over to the south fence where I had set up the little piles of hay and soaked grass hay/alfalfa cubes (this time of year, the horses have ZERO interest in plain hay).

I knew he would be very happy to work with me over by the fence once he discovered that there were yummy hay cubes involved. The challenge was to get him to walk with me over to that area instead of going where he wanted to go: to the main pasture gate and out to where I usually feed and work with him.

When he first followed me into the west pasture, Galahad immediately started walking toward the main gate. I stopped him (which he does willingly) and asked him to walk with me toward where the treat piles were set up. He followed for a few steps, then refused and put on his “stubborn face.” That’s the expression he often uses when you first ask him to do anything that’s not his own idea.

Galahad isn’t categorically unwilling to do what’s asked, by any means. The thing is, if he perceives it as an order, he will almost always balk and get sulky. I really believe that’s a leftover response to the way he was trained initially, by the so-called “trainer” who was his original owner (yes, the one who starved him nearly to death). My own trainer used the same kinds of Natural Horsemanship methods (though with way more skill and understanding), and Galahad seems to think that anything that seems like “training” and not “fun” is something he needs to refuse, if he can. “No” is his default setting.

That’s why Carolyn Resnick’s methods work so very well for this horse: One of the most important ideas in her method is to make the training fun for both horse and human. Galahad responds to that beautifully!

(Disclaimer: I am NOT certified by Carolyn Resnick, and anything I talk about or show here is MY INTERPRETATION of what she teaches, not something she has approved. If you like what you see, I urge you to take one of her online courses, or go to a clinic like the one we’re offering this June here in Missouri with Certified Master Trainer Teddie Ziegler.)

So my task yesterday was to figure out a way to make Galahad WANT to walk with me instead of checking out each pile of poop on his way to the main gate. It was a fun challenge! I’ve got a little video clip of the process–quite by accident, and only because I had the camera running when I went to get him. Watch it full-screen if you can.

The first thing I did was walk away and ignore him for a while. He knows he needs me to open the gate, so he stayed pretty close. I just hung out, following him slowly but pulling weeds and doing my own thing, not pestering him. I tried catching his eye and drawing him to me, but he was having none of that. Too “natural horsemanship” for him. I needed to be more subtle.

I also knew that if I tried too hard to influence WHERE he walked right then, he’d take off at a trot and head directly for the main gate. So I just waited. After a while I went and stood beside him, letting him look around and graze. When I could feel his attention shift to me, I moved a little ways away from him and resumed pulling weeds.

It took a while, but he had turned his body and was keeping an eye on me. I continued to wait.

Eventually, he moved closer and I was able to call him over. I wanted to use a draw to get him to walk with me, not to push him, but I was on the wrong side; so after a while I moved carefully to his other side, turned slightly away from him, and he came along with me. Yippee! Still had to be careful, though, and wait when he stopped to look at something or other. But suddenly he was willing!

Times like this, when all the study and observation I’ve done pays off, are just magic. Even such a little thing as this is so special to me, because it means that the bond my horse and I have, the relationship we’re building, is growing. My Galahad loves me, there is no doubt, in the way horses love. But horses are not dogs, and “obedience” and “leadership” have different meanings to them. How amazing it is to know how to time my requests just right and express them in a language that he understands, so that he’s willing to follow my leadership!

So yesterday turned out to be a fun game for both of us, just like Carolyn suggests. No pressure, no time frame, and staying very much in the moment. Woohoo!

Wow…. This is a dream come true for me.

Galahad and the White Dog

2014-06-03_17-41-12_601Part One: My Horse

[Note: the first White Dog post is here, on my other blog. This one will make more sense if you read that one first.]

Let’s start with a video made a couple of weeks ago for an online class. The task involved getting my horse to come to me, instead of going immediately to a pile of goodies placed in the center of the arena. When he comes to me, I take him to the goodies and he gets to eat. Galahad knows this game from past classes, and he likes it. He’s so good at it that he doesn’t even LOOK at the pile of treats—he just comes right over to me.

This time, for some reason, I interpreted the exercise differently, and decided it was about keeping the horse away from the pile. I wanted him to stop and wait and still not try to get to the treats. Why did I change the rules? I’m honestly not sure. It seemed clear to me at the time….

So poor Galahad circled me, round and round, very slowly, stopping occasionally to ask if he could come over to me so that I’d take him in for a treat. Every time he’d stop and ask, I’d send him off again. I just stood there, not even looking at him, policing the pile of goodies, keeping him away and refusing to let him come to me when he asked.

After 15 minutes, Galahad did stop. He stood there, looking pretty sullen, and did not attempt to go to the pile. Then, in utter frustration, he threw a very quiet hissy fit. I’ve NEVER seen him behave this way. At the time, I was almost happy that I’d gotten that reaction. Why? Dunno….

Eventually, I decided he’d been good long enough, and I called him over to me and took him to get the treats. He came, but he wasn’t happy with me; he wasn’t enjoying this game at all.

But I was so pleased with the video! I had kept my horse away from the treats and gotten him to stop and stand still! Yay!

On the conference call, my friend the instructor pointed out another way of viewing the situation—from Galahad’s perspective. Oh. Well. That looks quite a bit different. I was pretty shocked at this new viewpoint.

Had I been aware in the moment of the “game,” I would have seen the significance of Galahad’s “hissy fit”: He was NOT having fun doing what was supposed to be a fun exercise. But as usual, I wasn’t in the moment with my horse. Nope. I was in “trainer’s mind,” working to MAKE him stop and stand still. Furthermore, he had to stop without my influence—so I wasn’t even allowing him to get my attention when he asked for it. No wonder he had a fit! He must have been SO confused and frustrated—I had suddenly completely changed the rules of a game he knew well and really enjoyed.

OUCH.

Part Two: The Pain, Again

The last seven weeks have been a nightmare much of the time. The pain in my jaw and tongue returned on the third of March. Why? This time, I know the answer.

In February I started paying attention to the “Law of Attraction,” which in its simplest form just means that “like attracts like.” For years, I’ve known that people, things, and events show up in my life because of what I’ve always called “resonance.” People in our lives are there because there’s something in our experience or in our energy that is similar. We attract those whose life stories reflect our own in some way, or have similar themes. The Law of Attraction.

No problem with this—it’s just the way the world works. But enter Abraham-Hicks (Esther Hicks and the entity who call themselves Abraham), who specialize in large-scale events at which they share their patented inspirational messages on how to create our own reality.

Abraham-Hicks and their version of message has a pretty militant sound to it. Abraham, channeled by Esther Hicks, is a brilliant and inspirational speaker with a kind of take-no-prisoners approach. Control your thoughts; choose the best and highest thought in order to get “into the vortex” and manifest! Feel joy! That’s why you’re here—to experience joy! It’s up to you! The tone sounds just like my dad.

So I started controlling my thoughts, all right. I felt great! I felt joy! I monitored my thoughts at every moment and made sure I was feeling JOY! If anyone could get into the Vortex, I could—because I could monitor my thoughts!

Can you imagine someone hearing, “Be joyful!” and interpreting it as a command, with dire consequences for failure? No? Well, that’s exactly what I did. I drove myself nuts, policing my joy. But really, it’s not so surprising. That’s how I was raised. That’s how Arthur, my father, taught me. My dad was always DOING something, and it had to be perfect. No sitting around for him! Sitting around (and, presumably, experiencing joy) was a sign of sloth. And so we kids learned that we had to be busy. And oh, did I mention perfect, too? Yup. One “B” marring a report card full of “A’s” rated a scolding. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.

So a few days into my “you will feel joy!” episode, I woke up in excruciating pain…again. It has gone on for nearly seven weeks now, and it’s just beginning to let up. A few days into it, I no longer cared about feeling joy. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine joy any more. All I could manage was to survive from one day to another. Once again, I found myself unable to eat, sleep, or talk. Anything creative was completely out of the question.

Part Three: Putting It All Together

Journal entry, April 15th:

Wow. The conference call last night was tough. I was so wrong about that video—I can really see that, now. But it fits a pattern, doesn’t it? It’s Kay-as-Arthur again, the Arthur who’s now living inside my head, the Arthur who taught me what the world was like and how to behave there. Arthur the Perfectionist, Arthur the Drill Sergeant, Arthur the Enforcer.

I still can’t get rid of the image of the White Dog. I’m certain that the dog has something to do with all this….

OMG: just now, a really scary understanding—that innocent, playful pup crushed beneath the wheels of my car; my own playful innocence also crushed. But what does the car represent?

And besides the white dog…. The pain this time began just as I was working—WORKING!— with the Abraham-Hicks stuff. Constantly policing myself, policing my joy, for Pete’s sake!

“Policing my joy”…. That image is the same one that was captured in the video of me and Galahad doing that exercise the other day. It could not be clearer.

There in the video is my poor Galahad responding as I probably did when I was a kid, when nothing I ever did was good enough for Dad…. And I just realized that Dad, if he ever thought about it (and he might not have ever done so until after he crossed over), would have been so sad to realize that the relationship between us wasn’t working the way he wanted; but he had no idea how to do it differently, or even that any different way existed….

The White Dog, crushed under the wheels of my car. My car—my way of moving through life. The dog, that happy innocence, crushed under the wheels of my way of being-in-the-world, which I inherited from Arthur, and he from his mother Anna, and she from (I suspect) a parent or grandparent. The saying in my family is, “There’s one in every generation.”

And me, little Kay, crushed under the weight of my father’s expectations. Wow.

That way of life, the way I was taught by my father, is relentless. “Relentless” is an excellent word for it. It never, EVER relents. There’s no relaxation, no peace, certainly no “let it be, let it unfold.”

After the accident with the dog, my Guides kept saying, “Some things cannot be prevented.” That’s true—on many levels. On this very personal level, it’s clear that with my current mindset, neither I nor Galahad (nor the unfortunate White Dog, for that matter) has any hope of anything changing. But now I can SEE what’s happening, and maybe, just maybe, I can make a change.

So anyway. Joy. Innocence. Trust. Three things that seem to have been lost to me as a child. Three things I want to retain and develop in my horses, and regain for myself. But that can’t be done by coercion, by policing, or by suddenly changing the rules.

I am so grateful for all the events that have helped me see and understand the full significance of the way I’ve always lived my life. If you don’t see something, you can’t change it.

So I’m going to change it…but calmly, quietly, by letting things flow.

Wow. What a funny place this life is, eh?

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

Covering the Knots

knots 1I went by the barn yesterday afternoon to feed everybody. I was planning on staying only a very short time, but the day turned out so lovely (40+ degrees and sunny!) that I could hardly tear myself away. I took some video of me working a little bit with Galahad and Nevada on the halter but with a slack or draped lead line.

What fun! Even out in the open (video here), HRH sticks pretty close with the rope draped over her back and only a tiny touch under her chin now and then. She’s generally very good about this in the small arena. She’s not that “well behaved” in the pasture, but I think that’s because she has her duties as a lead mare to consider.

Galahad isn’t as “easy” as Nevada is about staying with me—that’s just his nature. I don’t feel safe draping the rope over his back and just walking around. He’s apt to take off to play bite-face with the gelding in the pen across the road, or investigate the pretty mare tied up by the barn.

I covered the knots and the noseband of my rope halter the other evening to make it a gentler tool, and tried it out yesterday; I learned (at least) two things:

1. There is indeed some pain/discomfort produced by the rope halter’s knots. I know this because Galahad tested me a lot more yesterday than he normally does, most likely because he wasn’t having to avoid discomfort.

2. I have been jerking on his face with the lead rope, whether or not I intended to do so. If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have noticed the lack of discomfort yesterday, and he likely wouldn’t have tested me more than usual.

Interesting. Good information. Rather horrifying, actually.

It is much harder for me to do liberty work outside an arena or the pasture, because my barn requires that the horses be on the lead at all times when not in an enclosed area like the round pen or a stall. And when there is a lead rope attached, all my natural horsemanship training comes into play again, whether I want it or not.

Especially the “bump their nose” idea. If the horse is doing something you don’t want him to do, or isn’t paying attention, “bump his nose” with the lead rope. This transfers the pressure sharply to his nose via the knots on the halter. I never liked that part, though I can see the effectiveness of it.

I do try to be gentle with the rope halter, way more gentle than I was originally taught, and for the most part I get good results. But I find lately that because I don’t want to jerk the halter, I end up using just plain pressure—i.e., pulling steadily—which doesn’t work particularly well with a 1100-pound animal. No surprise, that.

My horses have had their noses bumped a LOT, both of them, by trainers and by me. The result has been that they do what they’re asked in that way, and they do NOT pull on the lead rope even when they’re spooked. They will dance all around me, pivoting on that lead rope, and it looks pretty impressive from the onlooker’s perspective. I’ve seen that happen many times, and until just this moment, as I type this, have thought it was a really good demonstration of their trust in my leadership.

“They trust me!” Um, maybe not so much, eh? Maybe they’re just avoiding pain! When I consider what the horse might be experiencing, it makes me never want to that to happen again. Which is more frightening to my horse: the scary object, or the threat of pain on a sensitive nerve bundle? Oh my goodness.

That doesn’t make me feel so proud.

I also watched the video that I took of me and Galahad yesterday, and saw how often the lead rope tightened in response to something he did that I didn’t want him to do. He wasn’t offered an option at those times—I just pulled (gently or not) on his head. I’m not giving myself a whole lot of grief about this, since it’s something I’m working on; however, I look forward to the day when I can work with the rope draped over his back and not pull on him at all.

Well, my goodness. Galahad is certainly my teacher, in this and so much else.

I’m not sure what to think about all of this. I don’t wish to pass judgement on any good-hearted and well intentioned horse person; there are many, many effective ways to train a horse. I sure don’t have all the answers. All I know is that I want to do what is best for my horse, keeping him and me both safe and happy in each other’s company; and I want to do so in a way that is cooperative, not dominant, and that builds a relationship based on trust and pleasure.

What a fascinating journey!

Measures of Learning

20141204154411 (2)It was an interesting day at the barn yesterday. Foggy, misty, cool but not really cold. When I arrived, the horses were grazing peacefully in the east pasture. Galahad followed me back to the fence, where I put on his halter and tied him so he’d stand still for me to treat his rain rot with iodine. Sometimes he gets bored and wants to wander off.

The peace and quiet didn’t last long. I had gotten maybe six square inches of that big, broad back treated when things got going.

It started with the mares in the other pasture. SOMETHING BAD, they said, was on the trail. Their intensity got the geldings’ attention, including Galahad’s. I couldn’t see a thing. The rest of the geldings were tense, snorting and dancing, not really sure what was wrong.

As everyone’s energy mounted, Galahad started to prance and snort, and I could feel my fear rising—an old reaction that I haven’t felt in a while. If he hadn’t been on the lead rope, I’d simply have moved him off to a safe distance. As it was, my mind called up the old image of a Raging Creature on a String. What to do?

First thing I did was take a breath and feel into the fear. Yes, I really did have the presence of mind to become conscious of it, and to understand that although I was afraid, I do now have the tools and training to handle the situation.

I’m quite proud of that split-second awareness! Guess I’ve learned something over these last few years!

The next thing I did was to untie the rope from the fence. Then I waited to see what would happen. Didn’t have to wait long. He reared and tossed his head. I bumped the lead rope, surprisingly calmly, and he dropped back down. Then I backed him about 25 or 30 feet, asked him to circle me on the line a time or two in each direction, then backed him some more. He did it all with a lot of energy, but no resistance.

Then I walked over and took the halter off, expecting him to whirl and run.

He didn’t. He stayed facing me, paying attention to ME and not to his herd mates, who were still milling excitedly around near the mares. In fact, I was able to back him up, circle him a bit more, move his hind end, and get him to change directions, all at liberty.

Then I sent him off to be with the herd. Pretty amazing.

In general, I think I did OK. My first thought was to control him—back to the natural horsemanship techniques that are (thankfully, sometimes) second nature by now. Control is probably not a bad thing to think about, considering that he’s 1100+ pounds of muscle, bone, and hoof. And goodness knows how tall he is when he’s standing on his hind legs! There was also the fact that he was not at liberty—I couldn’t readily send him off—and I needed to have him calm enough to get his halter off safely.

The unexpected and delightful part of this experience is twofold: First, he never actually tried to get away. His rearing was just a statement of what he’d LIKE to do. He wasn’t threatening me, and had he wanted to get away, he most certainly could have. I wouldn’t have tried to stop him.

Second, he trusted me way more than I trusted myself in this situation. Galahad did what I asked, even though the other horses were agitated and moving around. He chose me over his herd. I know that, because he did not leave me after I took his halter off, until I asked him to go.

Wow….

How interesting. Hopefully, next time I’ll remember all this, and not need to be afraid. My horse trusts me. That is amazing.

Summertime

2014-06-03_17-41-12_601Summer weather here in Missouri is definitely not a favorite of mine. I do not function much at all when the temperature and humidity are up, so not much “training” gets done. That is, if you’re looking for training as in “directed activity outside the pasture.”

Feeding, sometimes, gets done outside the pasture, but mostly not. Walking around outside the pasture sometimes happens, but not often. There are too many days where I do a “drive-by” feeding: mix the food ahead of time and run by the barn to deliver it to each horse, along with a dose of fly spray and a quick check of each one’s physical condition.

The only other interactions are sitting around watching the horses, walking slowly around the pasture with the herd, or standing next to Galahad while he naps. This is his favorite summertime activity other than eating. Sometimes he will pester me into standing still and letting him nap with his head on me.

Yesterday it was miserably hot—mid-90s with the dew point in the 70s. The trimmer came to check Galahad’s hoof (he developed an abscess in his right front foot a couple of weeks ago), but we managed to find a shady spot to work in. Afterwards, in between bouts of grazing on a line, he came over and napped for a bit with his nose buried in my armpit.

Hmmm…. A curiously intimate moment, for sure, and strange from a human perspective. But it’s pretty heartwarming, too, given that the first thing he does when he goes back to the pasture after an absence of more than a few hours is to roll luxuriantly and get the good herd-smell back onto his body. My smell apparently is good and comforting to him.

Is this “training”? I think so: It’s relationship-building, for sure. And I’m happy that he’s developed that kind of trust and comfort in my presence.