Monday, November 16, 2009

Emotional Fitness

Friday I thought I should give Black Elk a bit of a rest, an easy day. I had always wanted to get him used to walking behind the marsh, as I plan to ride there. It's a very claustrophobic trail dense with salal and overhanging branches. It is pretty though with views of the marsh and after about 1/4 mile opens up into a meadow which was the origonal homestead of the Tompstons family. I had taken Rascal there about a year ago, and by the time we got down that trail he was ready to blow up, and in fact through a fit bucking and cantering in circles around me. Not fun!

Even Cassie taking off in the bushes didn't bother him.

Black Elk led like a water flowing behind me. Not a worried moment. We stopped on occasion to let him eat a bit of green grass. I was amazed at his composure and emotional fitness. I wonder about this quality. I was so careful with him to respect his 'thresholds' and not push him when he was scared. We used the clicker for clearer communication, and I let him go at his own speed, sometimes taking quite a long time to grasp issues. But what I saw happening was once he got it, there was a willingness and eagerness to do as I bid that I did not always see with my other horses. But most of all it was the level of trust that seemed to grow as a result of never scaring him, of waitng and asking, of respecting him in his process.
I have made this effort with all my horses but I think I have gotten a bit more sensitve with each horse. 

Black Elk looking back toward Turtleback in Deer Harbor

So around the marsh we went, through the meadow where he got to graze and down the gravel roads I hope to ride him on soon. Nothing bothered him. He'd look and maybe bulge a bit away from somethings but was calm and respectful.
Now, I have trail riding issues. Almost 30 years ago while taking my daughter trail riding, she fell off and nearly died. Two weeks in intensive care in a coma, two more weeks until she could talk. She suffers physically to this day from that accident. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to both of us. I strive not to define my life around that accident, but it's a struggle every day.
Prior to her getting hurt, I thought galloping cross country over fences alone in the evening was a blast. I always rode the trails alone, and was basically fearless. I fox hunted and I evented. Untill that day. What had been my pleasure and greatest joy now brought up fear and grief. I sold my horses.

The Old Apple Truck on Bullocks Farm

It wasn't until 10 years ago that I had a horse again. My husband spent years putting horse ads in front of me. Eventually we started looking, and eventually we bought. Naturally I chose an alpha mare, who was a redhead and a thoroughbred. She was a terrible choice for me at the time. but she taught me alot. Why I could ride her in the arena prior to owning her, and not once I got home, is a long discussion. She forced me to find a new way of relating to horses, to learn about Natural Horsemanship, to study Parelli, and of course, she taught me about myself. My journey with horses is truely a healing journey. Isn't it always a lot more than just the desire to ride?
So, now after all these years, I have a horse who has emotional fitness and I feel safe enough to consider riding the trails. One more step in that healing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Black Elk Stands

 Black Elk watching his kitty Theo

Thursday was sunny and beautiful, in the 50's, and so of course I needed to be out with the horses. I wanted to see how Black Elk remembered his mounting lesson and if he'd stand without any moving. While brushing him, I put a box beside him to stand on, which in fact enables me to be able to brush his whole back. I thought if he got used to me being in that same spot while being brushed and eating his vitamins, it would help.
We went out into the arena, and worked on transitions, walk to trot to walk to trot, each getting lighter and more subtle. He is a great listener, and we both have good focus. All I had to do was let out my breath to stop him and bring him in. Then he'd get to rest by the mounting block. He stood every time. I took off the lunge line, tied the rope to his halter, led him up to the mounting block and he stood like a soldier! I had tucked a bite of apple under the pommel of the saddle and once seated, dropped it on the ground in front of him. He liked that.

Now we were off and running, or in our case walking - slowly. OK, well I had done the Throughbred thing and was no longer interested in hot horses, so slow was good. We worked on steering, first my eyes, then my belly button, then my legs and then the reins. In his case I use rythym. That will change when we start using the bit. Which will be soon.
I love his steadiness and unflapple nature. Some people might think he is not sensitive, but because he is somewhat introverted and if does not quite understand he just 'copes'. If given a chance to figure out what you want, he is very responsive. I used the clicker early on to create this connection, and he was an apt student. When the clicker comes out, he actually gets excited! He only gets a treat now and then after he grasps the concept, but he is ever hopeful.

I asked him for 'the big walk' and marveled again at how it felt so long and rolling, so very comfortable. The we worked on trotting. Well we have lots of work to do with the trotting, but I will say I am not worried about him being too hot! His head hardly raises and his trot is very slow yet.
You can see how he puts his butt under when trotting in our not so glamourous picture!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


 Shaman, Rascal and Ranger in the Lead

Another wet and wild day today, but as soon as the rain let up, I went out to ride. I was going to ride Rascal, but Black Elk was looking at me so longingly, and came up and put his head in the halter, so I took him instead. After yesterday, I though he might need a day off, but this morning, he did not seem to think so.
I figured we'd work on mounting, or to be more specific, standing still while mounting. We did some ground work, then off to stand by the mounting block. Before doing anything, I stood with him and tried to breath with him. Then to slow me down and to make me remember what is really important here, I sang to him. 'All I want for you is forever to remember me loving you'. This song, or chant is actually a Sufi dance and I used it alot while gentling Black Elk. It really helps me get into the right frame of mind.
Then we got to do our dance. Moving in, moving away and Black Elk's job was to stand still. Then moving in and getting up on the mounting block and off, while he stood still, then up on the block and hanging on the saddle. I added my clicker to reinforce his good behavior and made him circle if he moved. The dance continued, when he was able to stand still with increasing pressure, he got a bite of apple. Up and down, up and down, petting, singing, circling. Eventually I moved the block so it was parrell to the fence so he could go frontways or backwards but not swing his butt out.. and Success!  I got on. He got a bite of apple.  Once on he was fine, a bit more energetic than yesterday, but fine. Later I realized he had quite a bit of pent up energy. We kept the ride short, working on figure 8's and turns on the forehand. All coming along very quickly. Meanwhile it had started rainning just about the time I went out into the arena. I took my phone with me in a plastic bag, and I was getting wetter and wetter. So, we called it a day, or so I thought.


I put all four of the horses out in the arena and went in for lunch. Oh boy, with the wind and the rain, those guys were putting on quite a rodeo. Black Elk seems to be gaining confidence from the riding, because he is initiating a lot of the horseplay. Prior to actually getting anything to eat, Black Elk was pushed through the fence by Ranger.  I just moved that fence. Quess he was not used to the space being a tad smaller..and they were loose!  Yahoo.. the big escape, how they love being wild again. After 4 days of rain, our pastures were saturated and they had a blast ripping them up. Then off to the neighbors and down the road. Fortunately they have a favorite place to go; Rob's place. He's usually there, roasting Coffee and loves our guys, why I am not sure.  Perhaps their escapes to his house adds some excitement to his day, while I am mostly worried about the holes in his lawn.

I got my boots back on and down the road I went with an apple in my pocket. There they were on Rob's nice green lawn. I walked right up to Rascal and put the halter on him, and then Rob lent me a rope for Black Elk. Then, I realized I should get the halter on Black Elk and the rope on Rascal, so I switched. Down the road we went with Ranger trotting along behind and in front.  I had managed to capture Shaman and put him in the arena,  so he was home yelling his head off about the indignity of being left alone.



November is definitely here. It's dark in the morning and barely gets light all day unless the sun peaks out. Lots of showers today and wind. Took a walk with Mary and Cassie along the water during a semi dry spell. Lovely and warm and windy.
After shoveling, I took Black Elk out again, today with just a halter, as he is fussing with the bit being put in his mouth. I want to just have as long as I need to work in tiny steps getting him OK with the bit again, and since it was already pretty dusky and I wanted to ride, I put it off for another day.

So I lunged him a bit and then did our mounting block routine. He is way to big for me to get on without steps!  He has been standing beautifully for the most part, but not today. I did not work with him on the ground as long as ususal, because I was really running out of light. Sometimes you really get it that is never pays to hurry. We went back and forth about me getting on. He'd move away, I'd move him back, he'd move backwards, I'd move him frontwards. After about 4 of those every time he moved away I sent him off in circles. Brought him back. Same routine, circles again. Then I got out the lunge whip. He moved away, and I moved him back with the whip in my hand. Never touched him, but after that he stood.
I got on.

Over night he seemed to have grasped the steering thing. He was able to go around the outside of the arena with no big issues. Wow! huge improvement. Then we went in our 24 meter circle. Well, he's a big horse, why not? He had that down pretty well too. So, then we trotted a bit. I am so amazed at the comfort of this huge trot. It's like a big old fashioned caddy. No need to post. It's like floating on a cloud. Now, it's true this is his SLOW trot, things might be different when he really gets going. This guy has gears, low and slow and big and  ground covering. We have not been in the ground covering trot as yet..but soon, yes, soon.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trotting Black Elk

Today was Black Elk's 7th ride. It was kind of windy today and when I went out to the barn to get Black Elk, the horses did not hear me and suddenly I was there. I scared them. Even Black Elk, this is unusual for him to jump, he is such a mellow fellow.
Went in to put on his new super sized halter and he dropped his head as I fastened it, and lightly followed me through the man gate. He is getting lighter. Not as light as my more educated horses, but lighter.

He loves the time we spend together brushing him, untangling his mane, removing the hay from his face. I give him his vitamins and some pellets and after the bit some apples. He drools! He gets high from it. Putting on the bridle is not as smooth as I'd like, we need to work on that. He is not fond of the bit. I am mostly riding him in a halter but he carries the bit and we spend a few minutes each ride using the bit. Not long as it is still stressful for him. I like to train like watching grass growing, you think nothing is changing, as there is never any fuss.

But, let me tell you after riding Black Elk and then jumping on Rascal, there is a lot of training and a lot of learning on Rascal's part. We all take so much for granted, like thinking the horse understands steering naturally. Black Elk doesn't and I don't think most green horses do. It is all about giving to pressure and even though he understands that concept add the stress of someone on your back and it's easy to forget. I have found if I pulse the rein ( attached to the halter) he is getting the idea. Today we worked on staying by the rail and making circles. There is a lot of steering in a circle. I use my body first, legs and position of my hips and shoulders, but it takes a while for the horse to mimic you when you first start to ride. Many horses never do this, but once you ride a horse who has learned to bend you will never be able to go back. Black Elk is straight in his body, Rascal bends around my  legs in a perfect arch. I appreciated this much more today after my ride on Black Elk.

When we finally were getting pretty good circles and he was understanding moving out to the outside of the circle with leg pressure, I added pressure with both legs. Good thing I have been doing all those inner thigh excercises with Pilates! Wow, lots of leg to get this big guy to move. After his slow walk, I got a long loose walk at about twice the speed of the first walk, which is a fine walk, he tracks up about 3 hoof prints with that walk. The extended walk is really a ground covering walk, he will be awesome on the trails. I kept asking and finally he trotted, head down, relaxed just a few steps. I was thrilled. Lots of pats and praise, then I asked again and we trotted as relaxed as can be half way round the circle. Wow!


Let me tell yo this was some different from starting Rascal. We must have walked for a year, he seemed so unsure and so unbalanced. When we started trotting it was trot 3-4 steps and slam on the brakes. Eventurally it was half a circle and the brakes. Talk about whiplash! My neck hurt for months. Now the reminant of that is when he's on the bit, he'll raise his head a bit and hesitate, that is when I give leg!  We are working to this day on downward transitions.

Rascal age 8

Black Elk is so easy that I find the contrast stunning. I always wondered about people who progressed with their horses so quickly, the cowboys who were out on the trail after 3 rides. Well, now I know, it has a lot to do with the horse you pick. I always went for the ones with their ears pricked and aware of every little thing. If a leaf fell in the next county, they would know it. The Wranglers at Burns would often try to steer me in another direction, but until Black Elk, I couldn't listen.