Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Trails at Liberty with Shaman

Shaman is our Kiger Mustang and he is full of brio! He has been a challange for me in some ways. First of all he was supposed to be my husband's horse, but Ken never found the time, so I started working with him. He was fiesty and full of it, but also very sweet. He is very light and attentive and loves the ground work. However, I have been frustrated because after two falls from him  (ride # 1 and ride #2 - both bareback) I have not wanted to risk a third. I have chosen to have a younger, more athletic rider who is adept at the emergency dismount to ride under my supervision. Now, she's gone, and Shaman and I are back to working it out. Riding Shaman is such a dream for me due to his natually collected movements and lightness.
I have been working on just building a good conection with him. He loves working at liberty, even when all 4 ouf the boys are out in the arena together, Shaman will come and play games with me; circling at a trot and canter, standing on the stump, side passing over barrels, backing up with his tail, or hand signals, coming to me at a canter.

Yesterday, I asked him to jump the barrels, and even  with the other guys horsin' around, he willing jumped over several times.

Today when we played, we upped the anty. First we played our games in the arena, and he was very enthusiastic!  Then we went out of the arena. I took him up past the rabbits, with those guys scrambling around and all the construction stuff there, this is the horses' least favorite place. But, I felt we had such a good conection going that Shaman would be OK, and, he was! Quietly he watched me for cues and quietly he walked along. Once on the trail, I took his lead rope and put it over his back. He was free to do as he chose. Now it would be interesting to see what happend. He is not generally confident on the trail, so it was going to be a challange. The other horses were calling for him, he could chose to go to them, or come with me. At first I had to encourage him a lot. Just a few steps at a time. Then further and further, I was armed with tiny bites of apples. Then, I made a shift, and let go of all expectations. After all what could happen? He'd run home is all!

But, with the other horses calling he still chose to come with me! Then I made a second shift, I began to whistle and to not worry how 'close' he was. I relaxed and he relaxed. ( Ha, just like I tell my students!) We walked and trotted down the trail together, I never picked up his rope, never needed to.  Part of the time he walked beside me proud and relaxed. His expression was eager, alert and totally happy. Sometimes he followed me nibbling on grass when he found some. When  he got far behind, I'd 'trot' and he'd trot to catch up. This is a huge breakthrough for both of us. This is where I want to go with my horses - I want them to feel free and happy, enjoying adventures together.  ( photos not from today)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fear Issues with Horses

Note how fearful Shaman it, and how Abby is reassuring him.
FEAR - it raises it's scary face with most of us with horses at some time or another. I know all about fear and horses. My fear became deep seated when my 8 year old daughter fell from my sweetest and safest horse ever, lost her helmet and sustained a traumatic brain injury. Two weeks in a coma after neurosurgery, two weeks when she could neither talk or walk or swallow. A long path to recovery and still she struggles every single day with things most of us take for granted.

Shaman still is frightened, Abby is relaxed and reassuring.
First, the experts did not expect her to live, then they did not expect she would be capable of much, then they suggested  long term rehab center, then it was 'special classes'. A nightmare for a little girl.

I had different opinions. Good nutrition and being at home with her family, and therapy, hours and hours of therapy. We started with the basics: crawling. Up and down the hall, we crawled together. I followed many of the ideas of an independent thinker, Glen Dolman who wrote "Your Brain Injured Child". He believed in pattering and rebuilding the neural pathways or making new ones if necessary. It was a long road. She went swimming, jumped on a trampoline, when to a chiropractor, had PT and OT every day, and I made sure she had time with children her age to regain her social skills. It was a long hard road. She still is recovering almost 30 years later. We both are.

My Sweet Girl all grown up!
My sweet girl, Felicity graduated high school with her class, she got scholarships to the U. of Miami and graduated in 4 years with a double major. She lived in her own apartment from the time she was 19, as she was not into wasting her time with the party atmosphere at college. She's a hard worker and smart as a whip!

Felicity in Mexico

As for me, my lifetime passion with horses came to a screeching halt. Once my solace and happiness, they became my biggest fear. Eventually, I put aside horses as they brought up the pain and fear and the guilt.
Ken picking bales out of the field in Crow Valley

My husband, dear man felt that I needed to reclaim that part of myself, and over time began by quietly bringing horse magazines home. ..then we went and looked at some horses..  Well, here I am riding my mustangs - but, don't think for a minute that I am done with the FEAR. I have to deal with it all the time. I have tools to deal with it, gentle tools like EFT, and Stephanie Burns : 'move closer stay longer' , and most importantly learning how to read the horse. We, as the leader need to learn to help the horse with his fear issues. For it is when the horse is afraid that we get hurt.

I don't believe that 'just make him do it' works for the horse, or for the person! I believe if we take our time you and the horse will become more confident and competent. Learning how to handle a horse with expertise on the ground will give you more skills than you can imagine once you begin to ride. Understanding how to move the horse's body while standing next to a horse is a logical step to understanding how to move the horse's body while riding. So, lunging, ground driving, games with your horse, trail walks - all these things are building blocks for your future together. Every time you handle your horse, you are training your horse, that is why I feel it's so important to learn all the foundation steps. The payoffs are great. A safer and happier horse, a more confident and relaxed rider and much less fear!
When I met my student Betty, she said she didn't know if she ever would ride again.. but, here she is on Rascal - looking happy and relaxed. When I asked was she afraid, she said: "oh, no, not at all!"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Working in the Rain

So how many of you are willing to stand in the rain and work with your horses? I am not talking a little mist.. I am talking real rain, where you get cold and wet?

Do you think your kids would love to be with a horse this much?

Um.. warm fire and hot chocolate or rain and horses?? Even Shaman thinks he'd rather be cozy. (But I think it's good for a horse to learn sometimes he has to work in the rain!)
So, not to expect too much from Shaman, we got Black Elk out.. he's less concerned about discomfort.

Polly's working on having him listen to her by dropping his head.
 In case you think Polly would rather be somewhere else.. it was totally her choice..work in the rain or come back tomorrow.. this is what she wanted to do!

As usual, we had a blast! 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Teaching people and helping horses

It's been a great summer of teaching. New students, new challenges and lots of great feedback. I have a habit of trying to remember the good things.. Sure there is lots to gripe about, poor economy, my real estate career becoming bare bones, but life is short, so I try to focus on the good.

One of the highlights of my summer was my week long intensive with 9 year old Polly. She and my young Kiger really hit it off, and after a week, I saw a different horse.. He was more relaxed and much more accommodating. I see this as the power of love. Polly modeled firm and loving leadership with Shamen. Polly was a great student, but even more than that she was so much fun!  She is thoughtful and focused, and her focus grew with each day of working towards mastering her communication with Shaman.

This is what her Grandmother sent me, she told me to post it on my blog:

I would just like to say that it was truly a wonderful week for little Polly! I sensed that, it being summer and Orcas, that you had a  very busy week with many things besides "horse" lessons for Polly, but I must say it felt to me that when you were working with Polly you were so present with her each day, and clear and thoughtful about how each lesson would unfold.  Your enthusiasm and the love you have for what you are doing permeates the lessons. As you know, I was worried that Polly would be  disappointed not to be able to get up on a horse and ride this week. I feel that you  and you alone have taught her why it is important not to have done that and she was so happy with what you gave her, she hardly seemed to miss it. It seems that she really understands why. Your warmth and gentle, but firm and clear approach to Polly and what you are teaching is indeed a gift. In some ways I can see this work as therapy for these kids whose lives are so hectic and busy. I am glad we were able to make this available to Polly now when she is just 9 years old. It is a perfect age as she begins to see the world with a more global view.  These skills you have been teaching her I know will impact her relationships at school and at home. 

Even though I wish she could have been doing this ALL summer we are looking forward to another bit of time at the end of August!

Now Polly is back for a second week. She told me she was so upset she would not see Shaman or me again.. and was just told a few weeks ago, we had a plan for August. I was so tickled to see her, and we quickly picked up where we had left off.. a little review..and off we went.

Well, Shaman being the free thinking fellow he is, had to challenge her leadership. Small package does not mean small energy in Polly's case and Polly was up to the challange- using her core energy- her chi- to push Shaman out of her space to the outside of the round pen. Her grandmother, while watching, told me later.. 'whew.. that was really something!"

Mustangs are not the easiest of horses, they are bred for survival not mindless following of the rules. They like to make sure they are in good hands. Working with my students horses, I now see what good teachers they have been for me!

I often hear: "you make it look so easy'...

I have come to see that the trainer can step in and communicate with the horse and the horse often instantly responds, where as the student may have been struggling with this same issue for a long, long time. Often it's a little thing that stands in the way of communication. Like blocking the horses shoulder, or not positioning the horse correctly for the exercise, or just not standing your ground. I see 'problems' disappear during lessons.

The thing that I find so interesting is that although I can easily have the horse do as I bid, once the horse's person is taught the skills and master's those skills,  the quality of what the horse offers is so much greater. For example, I have a 15 year old student who has a Halflinger/Quarter Horse cross. Sadie, the mare is farily timid and was rather sluggish when asked to do anything. We worked her on a line for about a month and then in the round pen.

In the round pen, at liberty she came alive! She became much more engaged in the activity; was energetic and playful. Rosie had lots of draw with her mare. After a week with her open- hearted, loving owner, working in the round pen, she had given her heart. That week, Rosie rode her on a lunge line for the first time in a year,  and then we went downt to the River, just to see is we could work on getting Sadie's toes wet. To our surprise, the horse who had always been afraid of the water - happily followed her pal into the Nooksac River and they swam together.  I sat and watched in awe of this union!  We had worked on building a relationship, establishing leadership and respect, and here was the proof of the pudding. Love+Knowledge+Practice=Amazing Results!  WOW!!  And did I have a camera.. no!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Intensive

Today I finished a one week intensive in Horsemanship with a smart and talented 9 year old girl, named Polly.  We met daily at 10 am at our farm, and she worked primarily with Shaman, our Kiger Mustang. This was his first week long intensive, and Polly's as well.

Shaman is a smart and determined guy, who was a good match for a strong willed and smart young woman! Here they are the first day getting to know one another at liberty.

After learning how to 'catch' your horse, by having him come to you, Polly learned to put on a rope halter.

Learning how to use the tools is part of the learning curve, giving the horse room so he's not claustrophobic. Tighter does not mean more control!

Polly then had a lesson in round pening, beginning to learn how important her body language is!
 Shaman liked coming in to hang out with Polly for scratches and rubs.

Day three was with Rascal who gave Polly a chance to see how her new skills worked on a different horse.

Polly is bending over to look at Rascal's butt - this game is to 'disengage' the horse and bring him into you. She is very clear in what she wants!  Focus is so very important and you cannot lose it for one minute!

Here Polly is doing the "yo-yo" game with Shaman. She stands still and moves him with the wiggle of her finger or the rope!

Then she asks him to come in to her, and he gets praised and stroked.

At the end of that session they played a game of 'follow me'.. Shaman liked this a lot!

Being nine, Polly asked me if I ever played with my horses... Ummm, I thought, well I think of everything I do as play, but when I saw her braid Shaman's forelock, I suggested we paint him like a war pony the next day. She said she was so excited she could hardly sleep that night.
So, we braided ribbons and feathers in his mane, and used finger paints to paint him up like a real Indian Pony. I am not sure who had more fun!   Shaman thought this was the easiest day of all!
Naturally we needed a cowboy hat for the photo shoot!

Shaman was such a good horse during the entire week. He got calmer and more relaxed each day with Polly. She has helped him grow into a better partner, and she grew leaps and bounds in her horsemanship skills!  Thanks Polly for such a fun week! I miss you already!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Horse Kisses

I learn so much from the kids. Like how just being with the horse is so important, not 'making them do something' just being, hanging out, and in Niah's case kissing. Those boys of mine love this little girl!  When I am struggling with something I often ask Niah and Kiatan to help. They are naturals. That's why kids are so often better  with horses than adults - they are natural in their way of  relating to horses. These two remarkable children are never in a hurry. They are patient and kind. They have helped me teach and relax my horses on many occassions.

 Niah is working with Shaman to lower his head.

 While most horses might find this a bit too much, with Niah it's fine!

Niah putting on Shaman's halter. He's relaxed, attentive and respectful. Niah is intent!

She's got him haltered and saddled up. I am a firm believer that until you can handle the horse easily and with confidence on the ground and your communication skills are really good, you should not be in the saddle. With so many people they have no fear...until they get hurt.. then they want nothing else to do with horses. Yep, 80% of people who get into horses get out the first year. So sad. If only they learned how to be safe and knowledgeable on the ground first they might get to enjoy horses for a lifetime!  Oh, Niah is 5 years old.

Not Your Average Lesson Horses!

Teaching is now a daily part of my life. I have students coming and going most of the day, and spend a day or two in Whatcom County up by Deming and Glacier with three students there. It's challenging, fun and sometimes very tiring.

My lesson horses are my four mustangs adopted from the wild. They can be soft and gentle and they can be full of beans. In so many of my photos they are looking so relaxed and are so very gentle it's easy to forget how powerful they can be. The dun horse is Shaman, a 6 yr old Kiger. Gelded late, he's the pretty boy with perfect conformation.
They love it when all the gates are open and they can blast up and down the hills!
 Black Elk,  my 4 year old from Northern Nevada has the white socks.
I think I'd call this Horse Play!
 And then, because they are mustangs and they have a quick response, but also a quick let down to relaxation, they settle in and eat.