The Year in Horses

Well, this year I’ve jumped feet first into improving my own foundation riding skills, particularly hand position. I’ve mentally sweated through the beginnings of creating new muscle memory that will benefit the layers of detail I add in the years to come. I’ve read countless articles and studied hundreds of pictures and I stay forever vigilant about how it affects the conversations I have with my horses. I’ve also managed to train my husband to bark at me every time my hands get out of the proper position. Not quite as cool as Pavlov, but effective none the less.

I’ve also decided, at least for now, to hang on to The Black Horse and see what I can make of him in terms of an all around saddle horse. My main focus for him this year has been exposure.  He is finally pretty relaxed in his home environment. However, new people have been an obstacle for him. I managed to thrust him in to the hands of a few complete strangers this year and the results gave me hope. At least no one died, although the chiropractor hasn’t called to set up a follow up appointment recently.

This coming year my plan is to to add heaps of worldy experience to his repertoire. I even have strange kids lined up to mess with him. There may also be a few small shows and clinics lined up for us. It’s refreshing to see the change from working within his limitations to finding out just how far I can take him. Although, having him around has really got me chewing on the idea of introverts owning horses. More on that some other time.

Finley has been an absolute pleasure to work with this year. Adding the final touches to her foundation work before she goes off to some fancy Dressage barn to be started has really kept me on my toes. It’s absolutely nerve racking to think that a lot of her success from here on out has to do with what we’ve worked on in these past months. I find myself simultaneously enjoying the quiet moments listening to her eat her grain just a little more while purposely detaching myself from her.

If I’ve made one major mistake with her (and I’ve tried very hard not to!) it has been to get too personal with her. To make her what I like instead of what she needs to be. It’s been great having her around because I’ve had to set aside some of my personal opinions (Ouch!) in order to give her the best shot at success. I’m excited to see what her third year of life will bring her. She’s already on the cover of a fancy magazine in my dreams, but really, just knowing she will be content with her place in the world will suffice.

Chisholm has also kept me chewing on things mentally. If he’s given me one gift it has been his part in helping me make some of my own definitions concerning my horsemanship. The major one came today when something we were working on started to fall apart and thankfully I had the presence of mind to step back instead of push forward.

Today, I learned my personal definition of what it means when I have a horse “going good”. To me, when a horse is going good, he isn’t just making progress in training. He needs to be okay with how things end as often as possible. This includes being okay with the environment and the equipment that was used. He gained more understanding and trust than he did fear. And, I think maybe one way to tell if a horse is ending on good note I how he starts out the next day. For instance, if we worked on his hobbling skills the day before does he see me step in to the pen with hobbles, and turn and run?  Or is he just as willing to try to see your point of view as he was yesterday? There’s always going to be set backs. And eventually we are going to ask a colt to do something he REALLY doesn’t want to do. I think that’s another time when I know if he’s going good. Is there absolutely no room for discussion on his side, or is he willing, based on past experiences, to try?

With Chisholm, I’ve tried to encourage and preserve his willingness to learn. It’s really helped me slow down enough to know specifically what I am looking for. Which in turn makes me ask more clearly. Which makes it easier for him to understand and respond. So basically, me slowing down and paying attention to every little detail, has sped things up. Fun stuff. He’s got a whole year before he is to be started. I hope by then it will be no surprise to him when I climb on board and start asking him to do all this stuff from his back. Cross your fingers.

I’ve been searching in every horse I’ve touched this year for the same feel I had in Clyde. (Sometime I’ll write more specifically about Clyde, but not yet.) I’m looking for the same attention and willingness. I feel it most often in Finley. I feel it every once in awhile in The Black Horse. Chisholm, not so much. But there’s plenty of time to work on that.

It’s interesting because while I am searching for what was at the base of how Clyde felt, I’ve learned so much about how much Clyde didn’t know. My friend, Kathleen Lindley Beckham just wrote a great facebook post about her ‘Easy Horse’ and how much he’s teaching her. If you get the chance, look it and her up. The post really brings to mind Clyde. I got away with a lot with that horse because we liked each other and he just wasn’t that big into disagreeing.

I think he came along at a perfect time and was the perfect first colt for me to start on my own. He never had a grumpy day and was always willing to play my silly games. He never scared me which gave me the confidence to spend more time with him. I’ll never forget the first time I had him riding out of the arena. We were about twenty minutes from the house when we scared a huge flock of wild turkey. They flapped and ran and made ruckus right underneath us. The only thought I could form was, “Louie is right, I am going to get myself killed!”. And then I realized all of the commotion hadn’t even made him break stride. For better or worse, I was really hooked on young horses then.

Still, while I will always miss him and be searching for that connection again, he may have gone away at the perfect time to. Since he’s been gone I’ve had my hands on dozens of other horses including foals that were minute old, upwards to retired blind, senile, old soldiers. I’ve messed around with troubled horses, solid old school horses, and completely blank slates. If nothing else, handling them while mentally comparing their feel to Clyde’s has sure made me appreciate easy horses and want to search that out more and more.

I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’m put here to do or even what I am. This year and the experiences I’ve had have given me a few more pieces of the puzzle. So far, Do The Work has worked out to be an excellent New Year’s resolution. We’ll see how it works out for me in 2016.



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