Thursday, January 26, 2012


I got in a little fight with Riley at the trailer just before we left for the clinic. It’s not hard to get into a fight with Riley, which is exactly why it shouldn’t have been that way. I had been learning well over the past several months how not to get into fights with her, because they simply don’t work. However, I seemed to be in a fighting mood. How kind of my (human) friend present to point out that she had been noticing a shift in my attitude recently, and that Riley noticed it too.

The clinic was a pleasant experience for myself and Riley and for our relationship. I learned things there that I would not have learned with any other horse, the most significant of which was recognizing the malingering emotions that I was experiencing within, which I most eloquently can only refer to as “grr.”

The particular activity which brought this home to me was a simple one; ride your horse on a circle around some “incentive”, i.e. food. When the horse follows your focus, allow them a bite. I imagine the addition of food was supposed to make the activity easier, but between Riley and I, it only provoked another fight. By the time I was breaking a sweat in the argument and rein wrestling, I began to recognize my embarrassment. Here I was, a supposed enlightened horseman, fighting with my horse about riding a circle. And I was angry, and frustrated.

They say that “wherever you go, there you are.” Riley hadn’t been the only one that was irritating me. I knew that I was feeling frustrated in my work, and that generally my temper was short. I had been snippy with Lucy too, expecting far more than I deserved. As I began to take the lesson to heart, I recognized that this “grr” was affecting every relationship in my life. I was feeling dis-empowered. And when I didn’t know what to do, I would be frustrated, and then angry.

Horses do a magnificent job of mirroring us. A mirror’s purpose is for checking out how you are doing. As Riley and I went through the clinic, I consistently found that if I was focused, she would be with me. If I was distracted, then she would lose it. I recognized too, the impact that my attitude and demeanor had on the people around me. Apart from horses, the next best way to find out who you are being is from an adolescent therapy client. Needless to say, I had been getting a lot of feedback.

There was a picture presented during this clinic that seemed to inspire all that I wanted to have in my relationship with Riley. It was a drawing of a cowboy and his horse bravely leaping over rocks and crevices in seeming retreat from some savages. But it hardly appeared like a retreat. It was like they were suspended in a moment of pure partnership, half in flight, half in fight. They were looking in opposite directions, yet their focus was the same. I realize in reflection that this was an image of a happy unit of measurement. The horse was that man’s mirror and what he was seeing was gold.

Riley gives me opportunities every day to check who I am being. My favorite game with her now is the smile game. If she comes to me with a particularly grumpy look on her face, I will take it as an opportunity to check my demeanor, and smile widely with my face and my heart until I see her do the same. It seems somewhat harder with people. But it really can work just as well if you can recognize yourself in the mirror. 
A bad mirror

Much better!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Duke learning to ride Bucky, May 2011

  About January 10th is when most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions. I like the turn of the new year; it makes me feel like I have a fresh start. I typically don't make “resolutions” for the very reason just mentioned. Or maybe I really do, I just don’t care to admit it... What I really like is the opportunity to reflect on the year past, and look forward to the next chapter.

At the beginning of 2011, I made a list of horsemanship goals that I wanted to accomplish. Some were specific, such as sending in my Parelli level 3 audition. Some were a little more vague, such as just enjoying my horses. As I looked back on this list, and what I actually did in 2011, I was quite surprised at the difference between the things that I for some reason did not even attempt, and the things that were not even on my list that I was able to accomplish.

At a horsemanship clinic with Riley, November 2011

One thing that seemed to characterize my year was a propensity to injury. Early on in 2011, I turned 30. That, I believe, was my first mistake. Shortly after, I sustained a giant lump on the noggin during one of my first play sessions with Zeta. A few months later, I received a swift kick in the gut from my girl Lucy while doing some ground driving. I believe I made it through summer without much incident, but must have been keenly developing my sense of inbalance, because in early fall, I began to come off horses.

The first was Innocence, a lovely horse that I have never wanted to ride, primarily because of her knack for “athleticism”. This incident dealt me a nastily bruised tailbone and a nicely shaken sense of confidence. I then hit the dust while taking a casual bareback ride on Zeta (thankfully she is not too far from the ground). Then I received a few warning bucks from Riley and Ziggy, which started me thinking... is every horse I ride going to try to buck me off? Finally, my dear Lucy unseated me during our first poles run at a local gaming show. In the middle of the arena. At a full gallop. In front of everyone.
My first ride with Zeta, June 2011

Looking back, however, has its merit. My first bump with Zeta turned into building a relationship, and proudly being able to ride her and trust her. The dangerous driving I did with Lucy, though it had shaken my confidence, caused me to work even harder in that zone. We ended up hitching to a cart in August. Her first hitch was, I can only assume, one of the most serene and lovely of them in the history of the world. The hard landings I had off of Innocence and Lucy caused me to take notice of my physical status and work to fix it. And that miserable buck from Riley did turn into a canter at a clinic in November. 

Lucy's first hitch, August 2011

A lot of other strange things happened in 2011, and just like we do, the horses remember them all. Research shows that horses remember people and learning experiences longer than ten years after being separated from them. And yet, I can give personal testament to how though they remember it all, they also forgive and move on.
How Lucy spent the hurricane of 2011

I am so grateful to know that no matter what has happened in the past, my horses live in the present moment. They are always open to the perfect new experience which can change everything. Every moment provides a fresh opportunity to live life new and better. No need for resolutions. 

Horse-sledding, January 2011