Thursday, May 19, 2016

Isn't it grand?

I had a wonderful ride on Eags last night.  It was so peaceful and quiet...

We spent a bit of time doing relaxation maneuvers (him, not me) with flexions, head and neck, then legs and a little massage.  He adored it!  His eyes were so droopy he kinda looked like a hound dog and he just yawned and yawned and yawned - licked, chewed and more yawning.  *sigh*  It was a beautiful sight.

Then I saddled him up and we just walked around.  I decided to use as little rein as I possibly could, and I rode him in the side pull, no bit.  We were in the round pen, so I wasn't worried about anything. The evening air was cool and there was a slight breeze.  Perfect weather for riding.  He did no rooting at all.  Not one bit.  I'm not sure what made the difference, but I think it was directly related to how mellow he was to begin with, and I wasn't nervous or worried at all riding in the small ring, as opposed to being in the big corral, and nothing in his mouth.  Likely it was a combination of all those things, but it was so enjoyable.

I didn't ride long, probably twenty minutes or so, but quality over quantity, pure gold.  We both felt good.  Afterwards I brushed him down and held his head in my arms and told him how wonderful he was.  First horse I've ever had that would let me hold him and be so at ease with it all.  I just love that.
I've had several people and one close friend who've told me how silly I was to get this horse.  How someone like me, who's become what many will call, a timid rider, shouldn't have picked a troubled horse, one who especially needed a very confident rider to give him confidence.  I can't say that I disagree with their logic.  In my head I would agree with the strong leadership being so important for a horse like Eagle.  But, mostly I just shake my head and tell them that we're exactly what the other one needed.  And at the perfect time.  When I watch Eagle in the field with the other horses, he oozes confidence and exhibits a quiet leadership role over all the other horses in his herd.  He shows kindness and patience.  And that's exactly what he's needed from the people in his life.

For whatever reason, and I no longer question it - we needed each other.  For different reasons, maybe.  But he is the perfect horse for me, emotionally.  He's so cool, so loving, so patient and kind with me.  All I ever want to show him in return, is my love and my trust.  He's given his trust to me.  In spades.  Now it's my turn.  I will learn to relax and place my trust in this horse.  This very special horse who I'm so very smitten with.  He is my gift.

I'm so sure of that.

And I'm so very thankful that I was chosen to care for him.  Aren't I the lucky one?  Deep in my heart, I know we were meant to be.  I have no idea what our future together holds.  I don't know if my dreams of riding in the mountains on the back of this majestic Mustang will ever come true.  Maybe we will.  But if all we ever have is this relationship we're building in the safety of our back yard, then I will be eternally grateful for that.  All I know for sure is this:  I am enjoying this journey.

And who knows where we'll end up.

Until next time,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tractors, chainsaws, barking dogs and monsters

Seriously.  Those were the distractions we faced during last nights' ride.  *sheesh*

But we've lived to tell the tale!  Neighbor Bob was on his tractor mowing, moving logs, cutting those logs into firewood, and providing plenty of nervous distractions for me.  Eagle was good with all of that.  Mostly.  Me?  I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.  Oh, and I forgot the goats.  Eagle nor I were too concerned about them.  They're always coming through our fence and cruising wherever they want to go, whenever they want.  All good stuff right?  Well, tell my poor old heart that, will ya? My back is actually a little stiff from tensing up so much.  Oh, and it was our first time riding in the big, outside corral.  Shouldn't have made a difference, but remember we're dealing with my head here.

The distractions that did prove to concern Eagle were the "monster" that lives in the brushy area near the apple tree in one corner of the corral; and Charlotte, who was barking continuously at the injustice of having to stay in the yard while we had our lesson.  Occasionally, she'd come up to the fence line and bark, making herself invisible in the tall grass.  That proved to be Eagle's un-doing. He spooked, rather shied really, a couple of times.  One time he did the stop and drop deal.  Neither was a big deal, both were good lessons for me, but still.  Let's just say, a relaxed ride it was not.

Jessica praised my efforts, told me I'd done well, but I know better.  I so wanted to quit.  I was tired.  I was not having fun.  But I hung in there.  Bless Eagle's heart, he was doing his best to take care of me.  I know he was.  Jessica said as much to me as well, so I know it's the case.  But, he made me work for every little movement the whole time.  Good grief!  We had no rhythm, no cadence at all - even at the walk.  Eagle was so tentative in his movements, just wanted to stop, which meant I had to work for every little bit of forward movement the entire time.  He stops just fine.  No doubt his favorite thing.  I really had to struggle to keep him straight between my reins.  Who am I kidding?  We had no straightness!

The previous nights' ride in the round pen had been my best to date.  I thought so anyway.  I was totally relaxed, had some confidence too.  Eagle was working fairly well for me.  Still makes me work for forward, tries to root his nose down, but it was a pretty good ride.  I guess they were both good rides though, I prevailed and ended on good notes both times.

An issue that seems to come up fairly often is while travelling to the left, he likes to get strong and go to the inside.  All the time.  I really have to use a lot of inside leg and outside rein to try and keep him on the rail.  After a while my arm gets tired and I just try to use leg and ask for more forward to keep him moving.  Jessica would like to switch bits, I'm not certain at all that's the answer. I just don't really know what the solution is.  Keep at it I guess.  Seat deep, heels down, eyes where I want to go.  Breathe.

I'm already questioning my instructor's approach.  Not good.  Certainly not everything, just some. The problem is, I've learned my methods from the best of the best.  Now to me, that's not a problem, it's the best way to approach horsemanship.  The problem is, most trainers/instructors don't necessarily follow how I've learned.  In part they do, but in part they don't.  Presents a challenge.  In my head, I know the answer is not a different bit, or any kind of gadget.  It just never works in the end.  Truly, the best way is to work with the horse's mind to control the life in the body, through the feet.  Simple enough right?  However, it's more difficult in practicality.  The approach is everything.  I run short on how to, really quickly.  I'm not getting discouraged.  Not really.  I just want to stay true to what I know is right, and find the best way to get Eagle to stay soft, and continue to get softer through his body, but liven up his feet and lighten up his body.  He feels heavy.  He feels strong.  Just don't know how else to describe it.    He is soon to be 16 years old, and was in reality, started at 15.  He's not had anything done right, for most of his life.  Truthfully, he's been treated unfairly, unkindly, was starved, neglected and mistreated.  My promise to him was this.  No more pain.  Ever.  Nothing that is unfair.  I just will not treat him in any way, but respectfully.  How do I accomplish this when I need help from someone for me?  For my confidence?  Nothing's ever simple is it?

I've ridden 5 times since my last lesson.  I have a little over a week to make some change for the better before our next session with Jessica.  I'm certain of only one thing.  The problem lies within me, not with my horse.  With time and consistency, Eagle will improve and learn.  He's super smart and willing, if he's got a good rider aboard, the odds are stacked in his favor.  I just don't want to compromise the standards for my horse, for my sake.

I need to put my big girl panties on.

In between rides, I guess it can't hurt to brush up on a little reading.  It's supposed to start raining tomorrow, that will likely cut into my riding time, but as I keep trying to remind myself - there is no time clock here.  I just need to keep at it.  Like that tiny trickle of water that over time will carve a crevice through the rock...

be like the water.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rock Stars and Courage

Remember to breathe.  Important stuff when trying to relax.  In case you're wondering, this is filed under my mental, "notes to self".  My list is getting quite long these days.  But it sure helps.  

"Whistle, grin and ride".  Something Ray used to say.  A lot.  It's why I ride.  I feel more pure and simple joy when in the saddle than at any other time.  I can't whistle, but I sometimes sing and I'm real good at grinning.

I've ridden Eagle twice this week.  First time, we spent the majority of our time doing groundwork, catching up and getting rid of my third thumb.  *sigh*  Remember that old saying?  "If ya don't use it, you lose it".  True enough.

I haven't done anything except for caretaking and some grooming since last summer, and it's showing.  For the first few times, I feel like a total newbie.  Like I've never done this before and I'm all thumbs.  Then it starts to come back to me, slowly at first, and then it's like riding a bike.  I just go with the flow, it comes naturally and it feels so good.

Eagle, of course, has been a perfect gentleman.  *sigh*  Dear God, how I love that horse.  I often wonder to myself, what did I ever do to deserve such a horse?  He is just wonderful.

So, getting a little ahead of myself.  A week ago yesterday, May 3rd, Jessica came out to meet my horse.  We decided not to waste the beautiful evening and got to work.  We did some groundwork, saddled him up and Jessica rode him.  Beautifully, I might add.  I was just a tad jealous.  Well, if I'm truthful, I was completely enchanted with watching how beautifully she had my boy going.  Amazing what a little confidence can do.  Or a lot.  Just makes me sad that I struggle with my own abilities so much these days.  Honestly, it breaks my heart.  I sometimes think that I'll never get back to where I used to be.  You know, completely at ease, and feeling more at home than at any other place I could possibly be?  Yeah.  That's how I used to be.  My favorite spot in the whole, wide world was on my horse's back.  Out in the woods, feeling so free.  And peaceful.  Joyful beyond explanation.

But, if you've been reading for any amount of time, you know that these days I struggle.  I have to work so hard at my confidence, my abilities and my level of comfort on my horse.  I've not suffered any wrecks, have no concrete reason to feel fear.  But it is fear that I feel.  It can be crippling on some days, but I'm not about to let myself be overcome.  I will survive.

And more than that, I want to triumph over my fear.  I choose to acknowledge my fear, give it its' due, but then put it down, and mount up anyway.  I try to quiet my mind, squelch my thoughts and breathe.  Sometimes I pray, sometimes I sing.  Sometimes both.  I've been known to cry.  But, I have absolutely no plans of quitting.  I want this, so I am willing to work at it.

So far, Jessica seems to be a good fit for me.  She has the skills and the experience no doubt.  But more importantly, she seems to understand and be willing to work with me, at any necessary level and speed, to bring back my level of comfort and revive my confidence in myself, and help me convince my horse that I am capable of taking care of him.  That is my goal.

True partnership.  True harmony.  I do not believe in overpowering the horse, or manipulating him into doing what I want him to do, by any means at my disposal.  Absolutely not.  If that were my only choice, I'd never ride again.  What I want is to see my horse as my equal, have respect for him and his emotions, his likes and dislikes, and yes, give him permission to feel his own fears.  Show him that there will never be any punishment, no pain, no retaliation for any of his expressions, whatever they may be.  Some things he could choose to do are unacceptable to me, of course.  But I want him, to want to take care of me, just like I want to take care of him.  It's the only way.  For me, it is truly, the only way.

So.  First ride was short and sweet.  I won't lie, I was timid and nervous.  But I got on, walked around for a short while, did some flexing and then just sat there and enjoyed being on my horse's back.  I stroked his big, beautiful neck, ran my fingers through his mane and talked softly to him, told him how very amazing he was and what a gift I thought him to be.  And after he let out a big, old sigh and started licking his lips and chewing, I got off.  I felt good and so did he.  It had been a good start, and was a perfect place to stop.

Last night, I did some groundwork while Jessica watched, then she mounted up and got Eagle good and warmed up for me, and then it was my turn.  Again, I was a bit nervous.  Not like the previous time, but still uneasy.  I rode at the walk and the trot, did some flexing, some backing, some cross overs in the front and a lot of changing directions and practiced our one-rein stop.  That is my go-to emergency button so it needs to be smooth as silk and as common to each of us as eating our breakfast, or breathing.  Yes, I believe it's that important.  If you don't practice it perfectly, you won't ever achieve a perfect one-rein stop.  Bottom line - it won't be there when you need it.  Notice I said when, not if.  Because if you ride enough, you will need it at some point.  Harley had the one-rein stop better than any other horse I've ever ridden, and it saved my butt more than once.  It worked like a charm.  That's how common and reliable I want it to be for Eagle.  Harley wasn't a small horse, in fact he was a good inch taller, but he doesn't feel half as strong as Eagle does.  Eagle is a powerhouse and having lived in the wild, his self-preservation runs deeper.  I have the ultimate respect for that.  I need to for both our sakes.

So, long story short.  By the time I finished up with my ride, I felt good.  I felt relaxed on my horse.  And Eagle?  He was like butter warmed by the evening sun...I couldn't have wished for more.

I can't wait to try it again.  I'm a softer rider than Jessica.  She's not aggressive, but she is more assertive than I am.  That's not a bad thing, we're just different.  I need to be a little more assertive for now, but in between lessons I'll be working on softness, lots of flexing, directing the feet, backing, getting that "soft feel" whenever I ask for it, and yes, that ever-important one-rein stop.

And, at the core of it all, maybe the most important element of all.  I will give my horse the time that it takes for him to learn what I'd like, the luxury of not understanding, or even making mistakes without fear of punishment.  Isn't that how we all learn, how we all learned?  Rome wasn't built in a day.  And my favorite horseman of all time used to say, "the slower you go, the faster you'll get there".   The clinician that I'll be riding with this June, Joe Wolter says to, "give him time to soak". Important stuff, that.

It feels so good to be riding again!  I just can't explain how good.  So, although I'm just in the round pen for now, I'm looking ahead to moving into the corral, and even beyond to those glorious mountain trails.  Jessica has already offered to bring her trailer and one of her horses, so we can go ride the trails.  When I'm ready, no pressure...but I can't wait.  She even offered to ride Eagle, and let me ride a more experienced, well-seasoned trail horse and if I want to switch, we can.  I think we're going to get along just fine.  I'm looking forward to more.

Courage was my chosen word for this year.  And yes, this is exactly what I had in mind when that word came to me.  My horse and my riding.  Courage.  Stepping outside that comfort zone even though fear is my riding partner.

My faith is bigger than my fear...

and it sure doesn't hurt to have the most amazing horse in the world.  Seriously!!  He blows my mind with all that heart, all that try.  The willingness to please and be accepted and feel safe.  So humbling for me to think about what an awesome responsibility I have to protect and take care of this horse.

And what a pleasure it is.

The Rockstar