Thursday, February 25, 2010

Life Lessons With Horses

On Sunday,
my young friend Aurora came over for a ground school lesson with Shaman. She is 12 and longs for her own horse, but it is not just horses she is learning about. These are life lessons about using your energy, maintaining good boundaries and paying attention. For many young woman it is about finding your voice and being heard.  I remind her she is in charge and help her to find that place. She is learning about body language. The horses are masters of that art. She likes to work with Shaman, who is crazy about her. When she arrived, Shaman got up from his nap and came and stood at the gate watching her, then went over and rolled the barrel in a circle at a canter..(surely this will get her attention!)
Aurora usually cleans the corral prior to her lesson. Then she uses her body language to encourage Shaman to come to her and lower his head for the halter. We use a rope halter as it provides clearer information for the horse. Grooming is one way of establshing a relationship and Shaman loves the scratching and brushing! Aurora is working with him to stand still on the black mat and after two lessons with her, he is being very cooperative. 
The first few lessons Aurora worked in the round corral, but this week we headed out into the arena for some lunging. Shaman was happy to move out at a trot and canter, listening attentively to Aurora. It was really fun for me to see how well behaved he was. 

That seemed so easy, we set up a course for Aurora and Shaman and he loved that!  Aurora had to jog and she had roses in her cheeks when she was done!

Shaman is a Kiger Mustang. We adopted him at 6 months of age. The Kigers are the most well known of the herds in Oregon, and are highly sought after as they are very Iberian in origon. You can see from this photo how he tucks his butt under him and brings up his back, arches his neck and carries himself with pride. Yet, on the ground he is quiet enough for a complete novice. (with Supervision)  Kigers are known also for the dun factor: dark points, spider webbing on his legs and chest, hooked ears that looked as if they were dipped in an ink well, thick dark mane and tail, fine boned, hard feet and easy keepers. He has never been shod and never been lame.

Like most horses he looks better in the summers!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Breaking Their Spirit

For years I have struggled with the 'right' way to treat a horse. As a young woman I was very confident with horses and there were times when I asked too much too soon and there were disasters. Sometimes I followed the mantra of that time: "just make him do it!"  But, mostly I was sensitive and gentle, preferring to maintain the relationship rather than force the horse.  I  rode Thoroughbreds and other hot blooded horses, and like me, they were sensitive, and I knew they could not tolerate rough handling. Sometimes I was told I was too soft.

Ten years ago when I got back into horses I wanted a quiet trail horse or a sensible dressage horse. While horse shopping, over and over again I met horses that had 'checked out'. I looked in their eye and they were 'hidden'. Dissociated.  So many horses with a dull, blank expression. The laid back trail horse seemed impossible to find,  many people seemed to think 'trained' meant a horse would follow his buddy down a trail. God help you if a bike went by, or a plastic bag flew up in the air. So many horses who had been bullied and pushed too fast. Ruined before being fully grown.

Eventually I discovered Mustangs and they were definitely NOT checked out! They were alert but not flighty, curious, intelligent and they wanted to interact. They enjoyed playing with people and one another. Their spirits were intact. I have come to think that what many of us seek in our horses is their Spirit. As their caregivers it is our job to protect their spirits, their joy in living, their desire to engage in life.

As a young woman I was sent to Catholic Schools and eventually a Convent School. Life was rigid there, prayers starting at 5 am, bells signifying what we were required to do throughout the day. The Rule of Silence for some reason was extended to the girls, only teens, most of us not planning on being nuns.  We were not allowed to visit or talk in our dorms, all but two hours of the day were scheduled for us, nor could we go home most weekends. You may find this hard to believe, but there was chain link fencing surrounding the school. I begged my parents to be set free. They ignored me. I was incarcerated. There were many ways that School and the Church tried to break my spirit. We were not allowed phone calls, our letters were opened and read, dressed in uniforms we were told how soiled we were by simply being young women.

Eventually I learned how to check out, how to dissociate, how to create a glass wall for protection.  Recently I read these are ways institutions try to break your spirit.  When I read that I thought oh.. Now I know, now I see why I chose the wild ones, the mustangs, the Horses with their Spirits Intact.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Sweet Black Elk Dumped Me!

Wonder where I have been? Well first my daughter and I went to Mexico to sun ourselves on the beaches and laugh and have a bit of an adventure. It was great..we had a ball. Snorkled off of Playa Morelles north of Play del Carmen at the most pristine reef loaded with all kinds of colorful fish. Spent days bouncing in the surf, walking the beaches and eating guacamole. That was fun!
Came home to sunshine in the Pacific Northwest.. and then rain. Not much horse time in the rain, so it was a quite a while between rides on Black Elk. He seemed as mellow as usual. I did my ground work routine, I lunged him and then I got on. He was fine. Or so I thought. We rode around calmly for about ten minutes, then my foot hit one of the barrels we were going around, he spooked and starting bucking, I think I acually fell off when he took a sharp turn to the right. OWWWW!
Fortunately Ken was home, as this was not one of those brush your britches off and climb back on kind of falls. I knew I'd broken ribs.. a bunch of ribs and I could barely breath. Somehow I mustered up enough breath to call for Ken and he came out and helped me into the house. By then I was begging for pain, I am not a pain pill kinda gal, but that's what I wanted. Ken cut off my muddy sweatshirt and got me to the couch. Little did I know that is where I'd stay for weeks! 
It's not been that much fun, as I like being out of doors and not laying around. But now.. eight weeks later, I am getting back to some kind of normal. Not that I am riding yet, but I did garden today in the 55 degree sunshine and that was wonderful.
The boys had other ideas on how to spend the day.

Black Elk at age 4 is coming into his own. He is much bigger than his buddies and challanging them all of the the time. Where as last year, he struggled to canter in the arena, now he canters small easy circles while playing. He is also much more forceful and likes to play charger with Rascal and Shaman.Would you ever guess that by this photo?
Rascal ( standing) and Black Elk