Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In which Ev rides around barrels and does not die!

There's a new face at the ranch!

"Shorty" here did stay at the ranch last year for about a month, but went off to training. He belongs to A___ who also owns Nick.

The land at the ranch, through careful stewardship, keeps getting healthier and healthier. Now a few ducks and a pair of geese have joined the great blue heron, pair of ravens, falcon, countless hawks, vultures, blackbirds, bluebirds, nitchatches, woodpeckers, sparrows, and robins.

(They say "honk honk!")

Another batch of lovely flowers are blooming.

The tadpoles are quickly becoming little froggers.

There are even giant bright green water bugs. Never seen a green one like this before.

Remember Magic the Arabian horse? Well Magic the Arab's mom is off to Australia for a year, so now when I am up at the ranch, I am in charge of giving her some attention and loves.

Magic is just the sweetest little thing... a tiny Arab, around 20 years old, and just a love. I turned her out in the front paddock for a little while.

She really doesn't like being far away from her buddy, Pallie.

After brushing her up and giving her some time in the paddock, I pulled her out and hand-grazed her. Meanwhile, Bo was working with Jewel, a tobiano bay American Paint mare.

Jewel is very much on the green side, and doesn't know much yet. She is a pretty high-strung mare, second in command in the mare herd, and she tends to react strongly to things she doesn't like. Compounded by this was her being worked for a while by an unsuitable trainer who would punish her whenever she didn't understand anything... so now she sometimes goes to that mental place where she panics a bit if she doesn't understand because she's afraid painful scary things will happen. Not a good combination, adding anticipation and fear of pain to an already hot horse.

Bo is working her though that.

So here she is, learning trailer loading. She really doesn't know trailers.

Bo is just easing her in, one step at a time, being patient and giving her time to figure out what the trailer is all about.

There's some resistance here.

Eventually she gets a little more curious and starts to try to figure out what it's all about.


He made sure she backed out halfway before letting her turn around and walk out. Then they worked on the ramp, going forward and then carefully backing up, until she got used to the concept of backing out of the trailer. He began with success, and he ended with it. Rather than giving her a whole slew of negative experiences and "ending on a good note," he worked carefully and patiently to build and build on positive experiences.

I stopped by to say hello to Solly for a bit.


I just love it when his ears are all perked like that.


Solomon has decided that he owns that fenceline there. He's looking, of course, at Cali, the yearling. Solomon spends his days making sure the other two horses in the pasture don't hang out at HIS fenceline.

Cali girl!

She is starting to get over her awkward "jr high" physical phase.

Next, Bo showed me how he was beginning to train Jewel to be supple, and to collect. Bo always says "you cannot get vertical flexion wihtout lateral flexion."

Here he is showing me that there should be space for two fingers under a chin strap on a bridle.

This bit isn't one that Bo would really ride her in very much. It's useful for the first part of the lesson, but you'll notice that when he's riding her around he ends up switching to a nylon web halter with reins, because that is more appropriate for the riding lesson. She is not, however, distressed by this bit- it has copper on it, and maybe a roller. The whole time she had it in her mouth, she was sucking on it. Not chomping, not resisting, sucking. Thup thup thup! I've never seen a horse suck on a bit before!

Here you can see that she is already learning to bend her head to the side with only a little bit of signal from the reins. Softness is the key and the goal here. Note that when a horse pends their head to the side in a relaxed state, their head automatically lowers. Bending in this fashion teaches a high-headed horse to lower and collect. You can really see her sucking on that bit here, too, haha.

She quickly learns what is being asked of her, and does it with softer and softer signals. She's only asked to hold her head there for a moment or two. It isn't comfortable for them to have their head turned so sharply for a long period of time, and the amount of time when they actually learn something is fairly short anyway.

Here she is, beginning to bend. She bends more easily to one side than the other. This is often the case with horses, as well as with humans... we tend to be more flexible to one side than we are to the other, unless we really work at it. And just as with human athletes, horses need physical training to overcome these things as well. It isn't just a matter of learning things mentally.

Here Bo is talking about lightness and softness of signals.

Haha okay, so here he's talking about what not to do with your hands while riding. People when they first start out will often flails their arms about, raising them up grazy high or pulling way out to the sides, flapping their elbows like a chicken, etc. I have certainly been guilty of all of these things many times. I have to work hard to not raise my arms up while trying to balance in the trot.

It does look like he's making "monster hands" though.

Jewel is unimpressed.

Now it's time to ride! Here he starts out with the bridle, for a bit.

Bo demonstrates switching from split reins to neck-reining. Later on in the day, he had me practice going from two hands to one and back again on Teddy Bear.

Now it is time to work not only on bending, but also beginning to introduce sidepassing.

I think here he is just bending.

Turning faster now.

And now, why I am not allowed to ride this horse even though she's physically capable of it, no problem. She is green and hot and fiery, and like I mentioned before, she tends to stress out when asked to do something she does not understand. Sidepassing is a little beyond her.

When a horse bucks or rears, instead of getting angry or freaked out, Bo tends to say "WOOHOO!" He makes it all out to be no big deal, and both he and the horse tend to move on.


And this was taken just after the previous two shots. Note that he acknowledged that the pressure was just a bit too much, and moved on, calming the situation down again. He did not have to "finish what he started," because he recognized that she had reached a mental limit and simply would not have been able to handle any more pressure. She would not have learned anything constructive. You should always have a plan b and a plan c, and you should be willing, in training your horse, to be flexible and to let go of your plans and move on to something else for a while.

Jewel will learn to sidepass. Bo will teach her in his steady, consistent, patient manner. She will not only learn to sidepass, but she will also learn to trust and look to her rider as a good leader and a safe partner. The methods he uses do not produced a finished horse in 60 days, but they do provide a strong foundation of trust and mutual respect that can be built upon for the rest of the horse's life. It is an approach like this that yields horses that run to him in the pasture, that immediately stop if he comes off, and that can put their mouths on him without him fearing getting bit.

Okay, I am very sorry I don't have pictures or videos of the most exciting part of the day, but there was no one to take them- we were all on horses!

Bo had me go get Teddy Bear. I found her in the far corner of the pasture, of course, and she wasn't feeling inclined to work. I'm not sure I'm her favorite person right now, but she doesn't hate me either. She's pretty affectionate once I have her out of her pasture, but she talked me out of pulling her out a couple of times, so she was hoping she could do that again today via passive resistance.

In other words, she planted her feet and wouldn't walk towards the gate. She would circle, and she would back, however. This was the key, heh. I said "okay, well, you don't have to walk towards the gate. We're still going through it. It will be more work for you, and harder, but sure, we can do it your way.

I turned her sorrel roan butt around and backed her up. Slowly, calmly, quietly... but we were headed to the gate. I let her turn around and tried walking her forward a number of times, but she would only take a step or two and then decided that she just wasn't going to do it, no ma'am... so it was back to backing. Finally when we were about 20 feet or so from the gate she let out a big sigh and gave in. I turned her around and she quietly went through the gate for me. Hah, you do not have my number after all, Teddy Bear!

The walk to the trailer was fairly uneventful. The wind was dying down some, so she wasn't too excitable. She stood nice and calm for me and gave me her feet, gently rested her nose on my shoulder and breathed on me, the way they do, you know? She'd probably rather hang out in her pasture than be a lesson horse for such a novice rider, but we get along okay, and once she knows it's work time, she gets to work. She has an excellent work ethic, and is a very good babysitter.

If she didn't, I could have been very badly hurt today!

We saddled Teddy Bear up, and went into the roundpen. I mounted up, and spent a quiet moment centering myself and working to sync myself with the horse. I stretched my awareness out, and let myself feel her breathing, the rhythm of her body, the muscles of the animal under my legs.

There is a concept in martial arts called "mushin." "mushin no shin" means, roughly, "mind no mind." In this state of being, one not only reacts without though, one reacts before being consciously aware of the situation. If someone is in a state of mushin, and their opponent INTENDS to swing a kick, they begin to block before being consciously aware of the person intending to kick, or being aware of them preparing to kick. It may be metaphysical or it may simply be an increased state of sensitivity... a state that horses are in a lot of the time. They must, as prey animals, be able to react to danger without thinking about it first.

As riders, we must learn to get as close to this as possible. WE must learn sensitivity. We must learn to react without thinking.

If a person is throwing a kick, and you have to think "oh look he is going to kick. I need to move my body this way to be in the right balance to counter it. Now I need to cock my hip back. Now I need to swing my knee forward to counterblock," you are going to get kicked before you can react.

If a horse is going to spook, or the cow you are cutting from the herd is about to dodge to the right, or gods forbid, you are going to get thrown and there is no staying on, your body must be prepared to respond to these things. You must be able to respond without having to sit and think about it. How?

You must have focus. Intense, unbreakable focus. This focus is more complex than just focusing on the horse, or your hands, or the environment, but it requires a focus on all of these things at once. An awareness. A dedication to the task at hand. Put aside your thoughts of what's for dinner. How you will make that next car payment. Why your friend got that funny look when she said that one thing. Whether or not you remembered to polish your boots. Exist in the moment. Be fully immersed in it, and you will be prepared for what the next moment brings.

You must practice, practice, practice. Expose yourself to a variety of situations, and if possible, a variety of horses. Let all of the things you need to do to ride, keeping hands soft, heels down and under the hips, upper body still, hips moving, center of balance just a couple inches under the navel, sunk into the saddle, signaling properly with legs and hands and entire body, thoughtless muscle memory. There are no shortcuts here. To become an expert, you must get a lot of experience. I think that I will consider myself a novice for a very, very long time. I have found that some things I don't have to think about as much. In a saddle, at the walk, I don't feel imbalanced any more. I don't spend much time consciously thinking about whether or not my hips are moving with the horse. In time, perhaps a great deal of time, I won't have to think much about moving with the horse at the trot. But only hours and hours and hours of practice will teach me that, and I will only truly learn it when I have ridden a variety of horses at a variety of speeds.

You must come to understand the horse. This is a lifelong journey. There is so much we still don't know. And there is so much that can only be learned in time, and with the right instincts, the right "feel." The first thing to learn about horses is that they never are, and never will be, 100% predictable. I lead Solomon through the gate easily 60 times at Hossmoor, and on the 61st time instead of going through the gate, he spun and ran down the road. What this means is that you must always remain, mentally, open to the possibility that anything could happen. Stop allowing for this, and when something unexpected does happen, you run the risk of mentally freezing up. But in time, if you make the effort, not just in the saddle, but on the ground, in the pasture, out on the road, in all the places where the same horse is, in fact, a different horse than she was in all of the other places, to observe and understand, you will learn to read your animal... and perhaps understand what they are about to do!

Being focused and aware, practicing, and understanding the nature of the animal you are working with can help you be prepared to responding appropriatelyw tihout thinking. It can help you begin to get your spooking horse under control. It can help you move to the right with your horse as he cuts off the cow from escaping. It can help you tuck and roll when you fall instead of bracing and breaking an arm.

Now, I'm talking about these things, but please don't think I'm claiming to have achieved them, either in martial arts or in riding. This, for me, is a goal to work towards, and I am writing it here to help myself focus on it as much as to explain it. I don't know if it will be helpful for anybody else, but hey, if it does help, that's a bonus, right?

It is also a matter of mental training. Learning to get into the headspace that allows it. It is an altered state of consciousness, and one that people tend to train themselves to do via meditation, and practice. More practice. If one can achieve this mental state, however, I will quote my sensei... "Mushin will allow you to flow with events and make correct decisions while things are occurring. Or to even influence events before they occur." If you know, going back to the spooking horse, that something is about to happen that will spook him, you can, without thinking about it, begin to get him under control so that he does not spook in the first place.

So you might wonder why else I'm going on about all of these things. It's because today, though Bo did all he could to stack the odds in favor of 100% success, life, and horses, are not 100% predictable, and I learned a number of important lessons because of this.

I rode around in the roundpen, and that went well. Tedders was nice and responsive, and while she did stop in the middle a few times when she wasn't supposed to (I need to be clearer and perhaps stronger with my cues) she did figure 8s for me and turned well. Bo was on a young reining horse himself, and after a while he had me dismount, walk outside the roundpen with Teddy Bear, and mount up again. This went nice and smooth. Mounting has gotten so much easier for me. I'm going to post about progress in a couple blog posts after this one.

There were some factors at play in the environment around us, of course, as there always are. Across the street, there were men working on the roof of the one house visible from the ranch. They were using machinery the horses weren't familiar with. Even the air hose, which Bo has one of, was not the SAME air hose as he uses, so to the horses, the sound was completely different, and not a known factor. There was also some wind. There were birds doing their crazy it-is-spring bird things.

And then there was the other boarder who showed up and started riding. ALWAYS, other people on other horses are a factor that should be kept in mind.

Bo saw the other boarder show up. This boarder has a tendency to run her horses around. Bo told me to be ready to bail if she galloped her horse over and Teddy Bear took off. "You haven't had a bad fall yet, Ev, but today could be the day. You be PREPARED to meet the ground."

Bo had me ride with him in big circles. Sometimes he was in front of us on Sissy, and sometimes we were in front of him. Teddy Bear was a good girl and did a good job of doing what I asked, though she certainly focused on Bo a lot. Bo is a better leader than I am. I still make a lot of mistakes and am not as clear. It is natural of her to look to him instead, though I am learning to get her to focus more on me.

The horse will always by default look to what they see as being the best and strongest leader, and they will always by default do what THEY believe will keep them safest. They will follow who and what they trust. As a horseperson and a rider, it is my duty to learn to become that leader.

Things went along pretty placidly up until the point that everything fell into pandemonium.

I hate to make an example of anyone. I will start off, then, by saying that we all have bad days, we all make mistakes, we all panic and freeze up, and we all have things happen to us that we didn't expect.

But it's an example with a lot of good lessons to it, so.

The boarder in question was riding her horse out in the open. I don't know what exactly happened, but she got too close to the mare who was out loose, grazing. This mare is often out, and it was known that she was. The mare in question is also pretty curious, so she might have approached, but the boarder's first mistake was being close enough to engage the mare's interest. Perhaps she could have requested that the mare get put away, but there is also a lot of space at the ranch for riding, away from the mare.

The mare was coming into heat, and expressed her interest in the boarder's gelding by kicking him in the butt. Both the horse and rider went into a panic at this point. Her second mistake was losing control of herself.

Her third mistake was freezing up. Instead of retaining focus and being a leader, she shut down in fear.

Just as a horse would, instead of moving to an area where the mare would not follow, she ran to the closest leader. That leader being Bo. Bo being on a horse himself, a young one, and being with me, a novice rider who only had a halter with reins on her horse.


Unfortunately, the boarder was at that point checked out. She was not aware of her environment. She was not prepared for the situation. She did not understand how the horses would react, and was too afraid to consider it. I understand, I have been in that place mentally, both on a horse and not.

For my part, I'm pretty proud. THAT day, I think I handled it well. I can aspire to handle it that well every day, but I'm sure I will freeze up and mess up myself again sometime.

I had advance warning from Bo, who sensed that something was happening across the ranch. He let me know that the boarder was coming and that the mare was running along with them before I could even hear the hoofbeats. I also owe my safety to him that day.

I did my best to prepare myself for the coming incident. I walked Teddy Bear, calmly, away, and when the energy of the approaching horses hit our horses, I had already stopped her and had her standing quietly. I was prepared, as much as I could be, when the situation hit her and she lifted her hooves about an inch off the ground.

The strangest thing was that I could feel her asking me what to do. The strangest thing, and the best thing.

She looked to me for her cue. She asked me, "should I spook? Should we run for it?"

And somehow, I am not sure how exactly, but somehow I managed to tell her "no, we'll stay calm," without really thinking about it. I knew and was prepared for her to spook. But I don't know how, in that moment, I did it. I just let my instincts and my feel tell me, and we understood one another. She trusted me, and she also did her best to take care of me and keep me safe. I won't claim to have found a moment of riding mushin, exactly, but I am proud that we had a moment of understanding.

I saw that the tangle the boarder and mare had caused would take some time to fix, and Bo had to go take care of it. I decided that Teddy Bear and I would take that opportunity to work together.

Sometimes I find that I do really well by just exploring and trying something, keeping my focus completely on the task at hand without having any external input except for the input I accept to retain environmental awareness. I took advantage of this time to try something. I also had an advantage in that Teddy Bear and I were alone, so I had the opportunity to be the only leader available, if Teddy Bear would be willing to accept me. Encouraged by her acceptance of my input when he thought about spooking, I asked her to start walking.

We walked up to one of the three barrels out in the field, and then we went around it.

Then we moved on to the next barrel, and did the same!

Soon we were going around all the barrels, and that's what Bo found when he was able to come back to us. So then he guided me through doing a proper barrel pattern... we did one left turn, and two right turns around the three barrels spaced around the big front field. It took me a while to realize that when he said "around" he meant going all the way around a barrel in a complete circle once before moving on to the next one, but I got it eventually. He showed me how I should be stepping into the turn, opening up the inside leg and putting pressure on the outside leg. He showed me how I must loosen the rein on the outside while signaling with the inside rein in order to clearly give a "turning" cue. He explained to me that I needed to be looking forward to whatever I was about to do, and focusing on that, while not thinking about anything I had JUST done, or anything I had just messed up on. Always being aware in the moment and anticipating the next.

Teddy Bear and I both had some energy pent up from the incident, which while resolved, hadn't finished touching us. She was quick to trot, being warmed up and wanting to shake off some of that excess energy. Horses often deal with stress by running it off.

I found that I had a hard time moving properly with the horse at the trot. I am not good at it yet anyway, but I had moments of clarity in the roundpen. Outside of the roundpen it is a different deal, and a different movement, too, since we were going in a straight line outside, and I had a lot more things to think about. A lot to work on, but we'll get through it!

We finished the lesson, and Bo told me to try keeping my foot in the stirrup as I dismounted this time instead of kicking it out and jumping off. I looked at this with a bit of mistrust, as I'd learned to always kick both feet out to avoid getting dragged if the horse took off, but I trusted him to not set me up to do something TOO risky. I tried to do it, but didn't end up lowering myself slowly like he's wanted. Instinct took over, hah! I got an "oh you CHEATED" but next time I'll do better. :}

Teddy Bear got a cookie and got hosed down, as she had actually worked up a good sweat under the saddle for once. She got to eat some clover, and then go back to her pasture. We jogged part of the way there, which she seems to enjoy.

Then I went out to see Solly, pick his feet, and groom him up a bit. It was dinner time, so I mostly let him be. He still got loves though, and was my focus the next time I went up to the ranch, which was yesterday.

"Oh hi mom! OM NOM NOM!"

Solomon is "welcoming" the new horse to the pasture. Yeah, he's posturing and making faces... but he's still letting him kind of eat from the same pile.

The new horse seems to follow him around a lot, in fact. For Solly, it's good to be the kind for once.

I also helped clean all the stalls.

It was a very big day! Overall, I think things went very well, and I feel like I made a lot of progress and learned a lot. Yeah, some things went wrong, but ultimately everyone was okay, and I think I learned more because things weren't perfect.

I am grateful for all of the opportunities I've had up here at D&D Ranch.

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