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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Falling Head Over Heels

(photo courtesy of Charles Brooks Photography, 2011)

Every year that passes, I fall a little more in love with the horse.  The more I understand them, the more admiration I have.  I read something in Tom Dorrance's book True Unity today that caught my attention.  He said, "...the rider needs to recognize the horse's need for self-preservation in mind, body, and spirit...  He needs to realize how the person's approach can assure the horse that he can have his self-preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do."  Have you ever thought about how incredible it is that these animals will either trust us, or fear us enough to put themselves in situations all the time that they feel may sacrifice their well being?  

A lot of people think a horse is "being bad" when all he is doing is trying to stay out of harm's way in his mind.  It is easy to understand their preservation of mind and body, but what exactly is the preservation of their spirit?  Tom has a difficult time giving a textbook definition and I can relate as I ask myself the same question.  All I can come up with is that they have a need to hold onto their personality, heart, and those unique attributes that are THEM.  Their rider should embrace their strengths and give them a job that they enjoy where they can add it a little of their personality.  I have seen so many horses that look broken inside and it really makes my heart heavy.  I added this picture above because I think this horse looks happy and relaxed.  His ears are perked forward and his head is in a balanced position.  

I've been roping off of a horse that has his share of skeletons in the closet.  A human in his past failed him, or many humans did.  This includes but may not be limited to:  being beaten with a rope, running WAY too many cattle, being taught strictly based on fear, and never being given any praise.   By nature, he is exceptionally sensitive, therefore this sort of treatment has caused a number of things.  When he showed up to our place he pulled back, could not be caught (I had a number of 45+ minute sessions), he would run away when you stepped off, the list goes on and on.  As my boyfriend told me the first time I rode him, "The safest place to be is on him!"

I wrote this horse off for a long time.  I really wanted nothing to do with him.  But one day I needed an extra practice head horse and I cracked him out to ride.  That day I saw a glimmer of what the horse could be.  Our first steer he worked beautifully.  After that, he got really worked up and started ducking out but I had seen all I needed to see.  I decided after that to ride the horse for what I wanted him to be.  I knew the bit we were using on him was too severe because of how sensitive he is, but the problem was he was pretty much a runaway without it.  Some very knowledgeable trainers I know advised me to change him to a hackamore and I tried that and he slowly started to relax.  The pressure of the other bit was way too much.   I would rope off of him in the hackamore and then on days where I just worked on his foundation, I would put him in a snaffle bit and work on putting feel back into him.  From there, I progressed to a broken bit with a short shank and he is thriving in it.  I got choked up last week when we got second at our first jackpot together.  We get better with each practice.  I am so excited to see what the future holds for us as a team. I'm really falling for this horse;)

The point of this story is, this horse taught me a lot more compassion because he was so scared.  I didn't want him to be afraid.  I just wanted him to understand and relax.  I pet him and reward him a lot, kind of like a super sensitive child.  He is so eager to please that I can show him something once and he remembers and does it the next time when I ask.  I know a lot of horses used to irritate me when they wouldn't do something.  But I see it differently now.  I know that it means their self preservation is strong.  You should be able to say- Hey! Trust me!! Follow me!  I am your leader and I will not let you get hurt! You will understand what I ask because I will teach you patiently and consistently!  We are going to do amazing things together!"  And if you have built a relationship upon trust and respect, your horse will say yes.  

As our understanding of this concept grows, so will our love for such a kind, beautiful, sensitive, and intelligent animal that God has blessed us with. We will be able to have a fulfilling, personal relationship with our horses and they will enjoy what they do.  I hope to bring more of this attitude to team roping.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

After a brief three month blog hiatus I'm back in the saddle again. One of the most integral components of a successful blog is consistency, but Roping and riding down south caused me to fall off the blogwagon for a few. However, I am an optimist. So I feel time away can sometimes refuel the fire and definitely give you more new material. Did you know most of us live in a prison we have built ourselves? It's a routine "not terrible, but not outstanding" place called our comfort zone. It looks appealing, but it's far from invigorating. Comfort to me is not exercising, eating whatever I want, working for someone else in a dead end job, not roping the dummy, not getting my horses on a program, not making business calls, not reading inspirational and motivational books, and not asking people I admire for help. It's safe. It's easy. And it's not how you get famous. It's not how you find fulfillment. It's not how you get successful either. I think most people never step out of their comfort zone because of two reasons 1.) laziness and 2.) fear of failure, self limiting beliefs, and fear of what others think. I've come to this place where I do not care what other people think and it feels amazing. This is MY life. And in a few years we will all be dead! Morbid, but true! Do what you want! Don't live other people's dreams. A lot of people lose limiting beliefs by the time they are older. By then they wish they had had the belief when they were younger when they could do more about it. And it's super cliche, but the most successful people are always the ones who have failed the most. They have heard the most no's, felt the most rejection, and messed up the most. But they learned from it, grew, and moved on. When you feel the HUNGER deep within to look your best you will go work out every day. When you feel the HUNGER to win the barrel race or roping you will work your horse and practice. No matter whether it is 20 below, or a beautiful sunny day when everyone's drinking margaritas. People who want to achieve their goals NO MATTER WHAT don't have to pry themselves off the couch. They are so excited they are jumping up with a smile on their face to go practice. Any time I have had the HUNGER, it didn't feel like work. If you want to be successful, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Have a WHY that is more important to you than any discomfort. The more you can just be a rockstar and do things that make you uncomfortable all the time, the more invigorate you will feel. And isn't LIFE about feeling ALIVE??!?!?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Habit Changing in Horsemanship

I've been riding a lot lately and it's given me plenty of time to reflect. I think about horsemanship frequently because I believe a lot of training is done with a philosophy in mind. By this I mean that to get into a horse's head you can't just run the air out of them. Well you can... And then they get in shape.... Or they get turned out for awhile and the problem is still there when you crack them out again. I like to stick to the mentality of "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult". You must be a problem solver willing to think outside the box and think like a horse. There is no overnight remedy to a lot of horse problems. All you can ask for is a little bit of improvement every day. And most horse problems are created by people anyways. A lot of horse issues aren't really issues at all. They are just habits that need to be changed. Let's say you have a horse that's really bad about walking away when you go to get on them. There's a few drills that can fix that but if you dig deeper into why a horse does it, you can find the solution. Horses walk away when you get on them because most people get on and away they go. If you change that habit by getting on, sitting for a minute or two and relaxing of flexing your horse and do this every single time, they will usually stop walking off. They do that in anticipation and you have just taken away that anticipation with no hassle.

I have a colt in who has a strong flight response. He started bolting when I'd ask for the first few steps and would stiffen up and not respond to a one rein stop. I was at a loss and talking to a trainer staying with us and he said to change the habit. Start by ponying him off another horse for the first few steps and then unhook, or put him in a smaller pen and get his feet moving. I could have kept doing the same thing over and over again (insanity right?), or change the habit. Today when I rode the colt, he didn't bolt. I changed the routine and set myself up for success. It's not giving in or giving up. You have to let go of human thought and create a new routine for the horse.

All horse behavior is habitual. Use your brain, not violence or force, to come to an answer that best benefits the partnership of you and your horse.