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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

RIP lilly

Sweet old Lilly passed away the day before yesterday. She was a kind and gentle mare, and she will be missed by everyone at the ranch, including her best friend, Nikky.

She's the lighter colored mare.








Thursday, April 15, 2010

Surprising news about Solomon.

When I turned the car off up at the ranch today, I heard "meow. meow. MEOW!"

"Well that can't be right," I said to Sensei, "it sounds like there's a cat out there."

"Yeah, I hear that too," he said, and we got out of the car to find this:





Okay folks. I'm going to give you a short little lecture right now about dropping your housecat out in the country. Or any pet.

You don't want fluffy any more. Maybe he doesn't match your new curtains, or you actually believe that he will suffocate your new baby at night because he is an agent of the devil. Or maybe you can't afford to take care of him any more and don't know what else you can do.

So you think to yourself, "oh hey, I'll let Fluffy live in the country where he can be free and wild and happy, frolicking in the flowers!"

No.

No, Fluffy will be terrified and starving, thirsty, with no knowledge of how to hunt for food on his own. Fluffy will get hunted down and eaten by coyotes, run over by a car, shot by a rancher who doesn't like cats or who worries that the barking, charging dog is going to attack his stock, or slowly, painfully starve to death, scared and alone.

That's what happens most of the time when you take Fluffy out to the country and dump him.

This cat is ribby and scared and clearly isn't used to living in the country. He's small enough for a large owl to take. He doesn't seem to know how to hunt, and he has that desperate "please save me and take me home" cry.

Does anybody want a cat? Anybody here in Northern California? I'll drive him to you if you can commit to giving him a good home. I haven't been able to convince my entire household to take him yet, and even if I could, I don't know if he'd be able to get on with my two cats. He is pretty and friendly and sweet though. He purrs if you pick him up. Not a feral cat. Bo says he's a city cat, somebody's abandoned pet. Bo is not a cat person.

Okay, we have that bit out of the way. Now on to horses.

All the photos taken today were taken by sensei. I was busy doing horse stuff for the most part, some of it pretty visceral wet stuff, so a camera was just not practical for me to carry around. Thank you, sensei, for taking photos!

Lil was running around, having a blast being a horse. I really do like this mare!



Bo and I talked about approaching a horse, getting to know her, getting her to accept you, and working on co-operation instead of coercion. She could have gone anywhere on the ranch when this picture was taken, but instead she let us mess with her, pick up her feet, play with her tail, rub her belly, rub her ears, eyes, face, everything.





Wow, my pants are WAY too big. :/

The equine dentist I saw today, Dr. Stewart, was a really great guy!

He was kind, compassionate, and patient with the horses. They all responded to this eventually, even the one who rears when you stick a needle in her. He kept calling them "sweetheart" and telling them that no one was going to hurt them. He told them he was just going to help them feel good. They don't speak English, but they do understand focused intent, and they understood his.

He managed to look in Sol's mouth before sedating him. Nice work! Then he sedated him, and thought carefully before sedating him some more. "I don't like to sedate a horse more than he needs to be sedated," he said. I like that. Solomon is a sweet boy but he gets mental blocks with certain things and really fights losing control. If you drug him, he'll fight the drug.

Sol had good teeth. The best he'd seen yet on the ranch, the dentist told me. The last people who floated his teeth did a very good job. He evened out his incisors, which were only a little bit off.

I asked Dr. Stewart, "hey, how old do you think this horse is?"

"Well," he said, after looking and carefully considering, "going by his incisors, I'd say 18 or 19 years old, but we're going to have to look deeper to get a really good idea of how old he is."



"It's okay sweetheart, I'm going to help you and make you feel good," he said, putting the oral speculum on Solomon's head.



He looked in Solomon's mouth and said he only needed a little work there too, which he did. When he took the device off, he turned to me and spoke.

"Well, if I were to have jsut gone by his incisors, I would have said 18 or 19," he said, "but you have to take a look at the 4th molar. It's the first tooth to come in, and the first to wear. Now, I have been wrong about a horse's age before, but I'm pretty confident of this. When a horse reaches about 22 or 23 years old, their 4th molar starts to cup. His tooth has been cupping for a while now, looks like, at least a number of years. I'd say this horse has to be at least 25 years old. At least."

WHOA.

So Solly is 25 or older? Oh. Oh wow. Okay.

The people at the place I rescued him from said he was in his early teens, 12 or so. Somebody else told me 14. The vet who just looked at his incisors at the time said between 15 and 17 or so, probably more like 17. A year ago I got the estimate of 18. I figured he was probably on the older side and maybe about 19 by now. I did kind of of wonder if he might be older though.

If he's 50 or older, he's doing pretty well for a retired horse with physical issues!

"Oh, well! That might explain why he doesn't have so much pep," Bo said.

After Solomon got his teeth cleaned, and the dentist pulled out a couple good sized beans, Sol was still so stoned that we didn't want him to try to walk anywhere. He fights sedatives, but then they hit him later like a ton of bricks.



I love stoned horses.

I had to help him balance himself for a while. He really seemed at fist of toppling over. It seems like holding on to his head helps better than leaning on a shoulder, especially since when he's stoned he doesn't really think about how leaning back would just result in falling down and squishing mom.



Of course I had to be a complete dork, and drag my poor old horse into the dorkiness pool by making him "talk" with his droopy stoned lower lip. Yeah, I know, should I really post this on the internet? Oh well!



I decided I'd put it off long enough, once he could more or less stand on his own. I asked sensei to hold him (I have to start teaching him basic groundwork, holding horses, moving through gates, that sort of thing) and I got the bucket, the gloves, and the Excalibur.

Yes, in case you missed it before, the sheath cleaning soap I use is called "Excalibur." HURP A DUR HURRRR!

Okay I let it go a year. This, as it turns out, is WAY too long to let Sol's sheath go without a cleaning. I felt so bad about it! It was... okay it was not pretty. I don't think I even managed to get everything on the inside of the sheath loose. I got most of it, but it took so long that the sedative started to wear off enough for Solomon to a) decide he was enjoying it a bit too much, and b) decide to go on walkabout. Sensei doesn't know how to handle horses yet really, so he didn't know how to STOP Sol from wandering over to sniff another sedated horse. That was the end of the sheath cleaning session. But my back was screaming by that time anyway.

He has a little lesion on his penis. It might be that he just scratched it somehow on something, I don't know. But I'll have to keep an eye on it. I know that a few years ago with a previous owner he got summer sores on it and had to go to U.C. Davis for treatment. Yeah, don't want that to happen!

Anyway, I hosed out his sheath (cold water, poor baby!) and then I completed the trifecta of torture by worming him. He was in the cross ties, sensei was trying to hold his head with the halter, and he was still pretty drugged, but this was Solomon so he tossed his head and fought. Instead of trying to steal it though, I did what Bo has done, let him get used to the tube touching his face, sticking my finger in his mouth, and eventually (EVENTUALLY, heh) just sticking the tube in and filling his mouth with nasty nasty wormer.

Once defeated, and after I held his head up for a minute or so, stroking his throat to encourage swallowing, I let Solomon go, and he had to do his thing. Every time I worm him, or something else terribly upsetting happens, he has to hide his face under my arm. He shoves his head under until his eyes are shielded, and then he stands there.

So I hug him



"I am safe, Mom has me and no one can see me because I cannot see them!"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Focus

The other day, sensei and I went up to the ranch.

Okay, okay, OKAY. You English people and your helmets. I pulled my helmet out of my trunk, and prepped it for use.

Meet SafetyGnome.



"Wear your helmets, kids, and keep a light handy!"



As you can see, sensei is very impressed with this helmet.



And I am ready to go!



Next, it was time for me to catch Lil and put her back in her pen. Sensei is still getting used to the camera, but I wanted to show a couple shots anyway.



When I took a couple of lessons a year and a half ago, the woman who taught me had me gripping the lead rope right under the horse's chin very firmly. It's a tight, controlling grip. I was confused overall, because it did not actually help me get my horse to do what I asked more willingly. Instead, he was more prone to resist, tense up, and panic. Of course, he also wasn't being allowed to be a horse as much, and I was tenser, and resisting more.

Mark Rashid and Bo both take the approach that if you want to GET softness from a horse, you have to GIVE softness. There are horses that feel more comfortable with more or less clear, firm cues, of course, and there are situations that require a little more control. But overall, I've found, under Bo's guidance, that horses are very sensitive, and they tend to appreciate it when things are a little more relaxed. Give a little, get a lot. Lil is a sensitive mare with a lot of opinions about life. I try to give her time, patience, understanding, and softness. She seems to really appreciate this.



When I first got here, Bo showed me how he could walk his horses around with the lead rope just tucked in his pocket. Actually it seems like a lot of the time he doesn't even really need the rope... they'll usually just follow him around.

I think that groundwork is really underappreciated. Taking the time to get to know a horse's personality can be so valuable. That bit of comfort and understanding can go a long way when you are on the horse's back too. You might think it is silly of me to write numerous paragraphs about walking a horse 50 feet, but my goal is to not just become a rider. My goal is to become a horsewoman. My goal is to have a purpose behind every movement I make, and thought behind that purpose.

A while ago, Bo told me to try doing some stuff like brush my teeth with my left hand instead of my right, and put my shoes on in the opposite order that I normally put them on. The purpose of this was to get me thinking about what were automatic actions. I found myself feeling a little challenged by brushing my teeth with my off hand, though I have been learning bit by bit to be a little more ambidextrous. But I also found myself breaking down every action. I found myself thinking "okay, this is how I've always done this... but can I do it better? Are there other ways to do this? What, exactly, am I doing every step of the process?"

So I can lead a horse, or I can consciously lead a horse. I can consciously choose to be softer. This doesn't mean not losing my "feel," which is something that comes to you with time and experience and personality, like an instinct.

But I find myself thinking, "well... I could grip the lead rope in my fist... or I could just balance it on my fingertips. Will she still understand me when I do this? Will she feel calmer, or less sure of herself?"

With Lil, as with many horses, I found that she was calmer. She was very easily able to understand what I was asking just by a slight change in the weight of the rope. Lifting a pinky sent her a message, and she was listening to it.



But the thing is, it isn't really just about groundwork. Because someday, if I keep practicing, I hope to learn to ride a horse with the same softness. Wiggling a pinky can be all the signal a horse needs to turn. I even saw Bo guide Solomon this way.

But like so many things with horses, it goes both ways. It doesn't just teach me softness when riding, it also teaches a horse softness undersaddle. If I can guide a horse with a loose lead rope, I think I probably have a better chance of getting that horse to steer and respond well to a loose rein.

I was looking at a coffee table book of photos of Mark Rashid doing clinics the other day, and I noticed a theme in all of the riders he was teaching- soft hands, guiding and steering lightly with the fingers, almost sideways. Now, it does depend on what exactly you are DOING with the horse, but this hand position interested me. A little mental note for myself, really... I am still so new to riding. I am working on keeping my hands low and soft and in the same position. But in time, I will want to become much more refined in my cues. I like the idea of guiding with just the lightest wiggle of a finger.

On the way to Sol's pasture, we noticed that the pond has tadpoles!



Eeee, they look like they're going to get little leggies soon.

Big scary sensei took pictures of flowers.



I "caught" Solomon, which consisted of him pacing at the gate and nickering until I found a halter for him and told him to back so I could get in his pasture and hook him up.

Now, that day Sol required a firmer hand than Lil. He gets really excited about going up that hill... mostly, I think, because he wants to go charging back DOWN the hill. And there's all this nummy green grass, see? So he needs a bit more of a reminder that he should be listening to, and focusing on, mom. When we walk around the ranch doing our normal thing, I often just toss the lead rope on my shoulder and let it balance there while I walk. The ridge, however, is like a giant rollercoaster ride to Solly.

Here we are, the most dignified, serious pair ever.



I just love Sol's pretty head.



Yep, serious beings!



The problem with going past the really well fertilized spot at the back of the ranch was that Solomon was rather disinclined to leave. I think that might be oat grass there, not sure.



Yeppers, he was Not Pleased with leaving the Best Grazing Spot Ever.



I held my hand high because Solomon kept wanting to graze instead of walk. I think in stressful situations, like going someplace he doesn't normally go to, he has a tendency to comfort eat. I think he grazes to assure himself that things are okay. Or maybe he's trying to retain some control over the situation. Or maybe he's just really food greedy. I think it's probably mostly a combination of the first and the last idea.



He isn't very easy to handle going up the ridge, and while I often forget these days that I have exercise asthma, I sure remember it when we're taking this walk!



Time to run in a circle around mom! Yeah, we have some work to do.



Note though, that while he's jiggy, Solomon has an ear on me. He almost always does.



Finally we got to the top! I felt like my lungs were full of fluid and was wheezing at this point. Sensei chided me gently for not having brought my inhaler. I almost never need it at the ranch these days, so I didn't think about it.



Solomon loves to graze and snuggle me with his head at the same time. This is a mutual comfort thing, and it's him checking in.



Then a horse down at the ranch below called. Solomon braced and screamed back. He still has an ear on me though! Sometimes I really think he must have some Arab in there.



Shortly after this picture, I let Solomon go back down the hill. He knew when I was about to let him go, and got really jiggy and head-tossy. He really wanted to go back to his familiar grazing area where the other horses were! I made him stand still before I would let him go. He trotted off for a few steps and then took off.

Little bit of vanity here... I actually like this picture of me! I just felt so happy and peaceful up there at the top of the ridge. My life really has gotten a lot better since we moved there.



The walk down was a lot calmer, and I was able to take the camera for a bit.



Spring in Pope Valley makes the other three seasons worth it!



A close-up of the lupines, which I'm pretty proud of. I think they're related to Texas bluebonnets somewhat.



Sensei, smirking slightly. I think he had just snapped the lead rope at me. I will get him back, someday! Uh, somehow.



Heading down the little ridge trail.



See those dark spots on the right side of the trail? Solomon was here. Very very briefly.



A field, and more hoofprints if you look carefully.



I think he had to have some pretty good acceleration at this point! He's not fast like he used to be, but that horse can still run.



Sensei and I both thought the grain and color of this log at the milling part of the ranch was really cool. Wigglywood!



Oh hey, there he is, by his favorite tree!



"Hi mom!" How could I ever resist this face?



It looks like earlier in the day, or late the day before, Shin the big huge grey ThoroughBred, was turned out. Be impressed by the extensive detective work I did to come to this conclusion!



Bo took time out of his busy day to have a nice chat with me, talking about horsemanship, and how much it means to really live the life. We were talking about how short life is, and how important it is to find your joy and focus on it. You never know how long you have. I didn't know sensei was taking these pictures, but he told me our friendship and the mutual respect we have for each other makes him smile, and he wanted to try to snap a few shots that showed that.



In a way, I really have two senseis.



Bo had a project he was working on today, and there wasn't really a good time for me to ride, so sensei decided we'd have a lesson. We focused mostly on falling. Learning to fall well is something that both Bo and sensei have told me is a good skill to have, especially if I am going to be balancing myself on the back of a large, fast-moving prey animal.

I learned a number of things that lesson.

I learned that Bo had been teaching me a few things that come directly from martial arts, in horsemanship. Redirecting energy, how to be the center of a circle, how to move others around your center, how to turn an aggressive move into a neutral one... all of these things are used in aikido. They are also used in kyokushin, though kyokushin is a much more direct martial combat kind of discipline. Sensei's core discipline is kyokushin, but he has learned some of a number of other disciplines, including aikido. I discovered that, if he wanted to, sensei could just send me out and away from him no matter how many times I rushed him, or how intimidating I tried to make myself be. I really suspect that I might have a lot more in common with Remmy than I want to admit, hah! And I think that learning more about this redirection is a good way to learn how to deal with a horse like him.

If you mirror aggressiveness with aggressiveness, you might win... but you might not. With a horse who is very playful or likes to use intimidation, reacting violently might be exactly what he's looking for. And if you do that, he's controlling the situation. If you can, instead of mirroring him, get him to mirror you by moving the energy of his onslaught aside, then you might just have a much better chance of deescalating the situation. You have a chance of turning a conflict into mutual understanding.

For me, with sensei, the mutual understanding eventually ended up with me facedown on the ground in an arm lock, but I earned that! Hah.

I learned that horses really can remain pretty calm when they know the focus of an aggressive move is not directed at them. It's interesting... run in a field, and you might set them all off, getting them running with you... and the horses in the next field over might start running around too. But here we were, spinning around each other, with me hurling myself (or being hurled) at the ground, and occasionally yelling, but what was the herd doing? They were all standing at the fence by us, one back leg cocked, dozing off in the sun. All except for Cali, that is, who was completely sprawled out on the ground, passed out asleep.

Somehow they knew that what we were doing wasn't anything upsetting. It wasn't anything for them to be concerned about at all. It was mild entertainment.

There was one point where sensei used a pressure point on my jaw that hurt like the dickens. I spun around and charged at him, and at that point Solomon, who had been grazing nearby, came over and snuffled us both, as if to say "hey... things aren't getting out of hand here, are they?" Of course, neither one of us could resist Solly's sweet face, and the lesson was paused so we could give him head-skritchies and wither-rubs.

I learned that focus is a hard thing to maintain. At one point sensei was having me punch his palms, and Bo came out of the house. I immediately started tracking Bo, watching what he was doing. Sensei watched me do this, and let me see, wiht a look in his eyes, that I should think about that. Then I realized that I wasn't giving proper attention to my lesson, or showing my sensei proper respect. I realized that I needed to keep my focus on him. And I thought, we humans aren't often able to keep 100% focus on only one thing, when other things are going on around us. Perhaps we should have a little more empathy for horses when they lose focus. Sensei could have smacked me upside the head to get me to focus on him again, but instead he let me figure out that I should be listening to him. A horse might need a little more guidance than that, but him using a softer approach to redirect my energy back TO him was food for thought. Do I need to really pull hard on a leadrope or "bump" a horse with the reins to get him to focus back on me? Or is there a better way?

A softer way? Will the horse then appreciate me being understanding more, and be more willing to do as I ask, just as I am with sensei? He gave me a little ground, gave me a chance to learn for myself, and to choose to listen to him. And in return, I gave him a lot of focus. If he had smacked me upside the head, I would have been giving him focus too... but I might have felt resentful. I might have had the urge to resist his lesson more. I might have felt defensive. I might have ended up thinking about how I could get away. I might in a way lose focus on the lesson, instead focusing on whether or not he might smack me again.

Instead, he made the conflict never happen, and brought us to an understanding.

There is a game we play. Kids play it. He holds his palms up, and I put my palms on them. He then tries to slap the tops of my hands. He purposefully twitches or makes an eye movement to give me a cue and trick me into thinking he's going to slap my hands. But if I just try to focus on that, I lose every time. If I try to look beyond that, to his focus, to his intent, then I can ALMOST get my hands away in time. He's pretty fast, but a funny thing happened the other day... when I closed my eyes and made myself go still and quiet, I actually did a lot better at the game. I weeded out all the extra cues, and just tried to FEEL his intent. In a way, it is teaching me to be more sensitive. A little more like a horse. They are so keyed up to subtle cues that they can read intent from us that we do not even know we are projecting.

I do have to say, though, that sensei can't quite move his hands away from me when I'm doing the slapping, either. I think I have my horsemanship training to thank for THAT, too!

I learned that appearances can be deceiving.

The ground we chose to do our lesson on was covered in lush, soft, green spring grass. A great place to learn falls, right?

Oh but the ground underneath was full of gravel. Ow ow ow ow ow!

And lastly, once again, I learned that what Bo told me when I first came to the ranch was true. Humans are very good at limiting themselves. I can't grow stronger. I can't ride that horse up that hill. I can't get him to listen to me. I can't find a way out of this. I can't I can't I can't. We can easily fall into the trap of defining ourselves by what we believe we can't do. Or we can go ahead and give it a try anyway. If it's relatively sane.

A year ago, I couldn't safely do a dive roll. No way, no how. I kind of got that idea stuck in my head, despite my health changing for the better. I told Bo a month or two ago "I can't do a dive-roll like I could when I was a gymnast. I'd just break an arm!" Bo just smiled, shook his head, and said "well Ev, you're young and you'd be amazed at the things you can do, or will be able to do again someday."

So there I was, kneeling and listening to sensei describe a forward fall. "you roll on your forearm, and transfer the energy of the fall from your forearm to your shoulder and keep rolling on your back, then you can just get right back on your feet from there," he said. "Now stand up and we'll try it."

I stood up, and I found that there was a block there. I was scared. I was sure I was going to break that arm. Sensei said "no, it's okay, really, look," and he did it himself. He then stood next to me and waited patiently.

"I don't know," I replied, still unable to move, "I really don't know if I can do that."

"You can."

He was calm and he was confident. He didn't get frustrated with my fear, and he didn't give in to it. He just gave me enough room to figure it out, but also enough guidance and confidence to feel like maybe it was okay after all. I remembered what Bo had told me, and I decided you know what? I'm going to try.

So I did. I dove at that hard rocky ground, my forearm out, and I rolled over my shoulder and my back, then popped right back up on my feet.

I got so happy and excited, and I turned around and said "I did it! I really did it! I dind't think I could, but I did!"

And sensei smiled and told me I did well. He told me he was proud of me. I remembered then that Bo does the same thing with horses. He calmly guides them through, and if they are afraid, he lets them know that he believes it will be okay, until they believe him enough to at least give it a try. Then, when they try and look to him, he lets them know that they were good and they did well. Success, success, success.

Walking back across the big field, I saw Bo come out of the house. I called out, "Hey Bo, look what I can do!" and then I dove and rolled, popping back up on my feet...