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.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Teddy Bear and Bo

I miss the ranch, and I miss Bo, a lot more than I tend to let on. He is my mentor, and has become a dear friend. We can talk for hours and still find interesting stuff to discuss. Every discussion is a discovery, and my world becomes bigger for it. He is a good person, and it is an honor to know him.

So, it was with great joy that I drove my ailing car up his drive after my nap with Solomon.

The conversation went as it always does.

"You want some tea or someting, Ev?"

Of course I did!

I pulled out one of the mugs that I always use. Horses are creatures of habit, but so are humans. Bo prefers this one American flag mug a lot of the time, I've noticed. I prefer a mug that says something about cowgirls... there are a few of them, and it's the flared shape of them that I like. Wider at the top than the bottom. I couldn't tell you why it is that I always want to use that mug, but something about it's organic curves appeals to me. I find myself always seeking it out.

I sit on the step stool, and Bo sits on the wooden stool across the kitchen from me. Or sometimes the positions are reversed. We discuss science, philosophy, martial arts, history, technology, and, always, horses. Everything ties back in to horses. There is so much meaning to be found. To understand them is to understand ourselves. To understand ourselves is to begin to understand them. The ride is a great joy, but it is not all about the ride for us. It is an entire journey. It is a lifestyle. No, it is more than a lifestyle. It is a life.

Once the tea and coffee are done, and I've put in my three packets of sucralose that I keep stashed there, and used the last of the half-n-half, which I always seem to do, we take our mugs into the dining room.

We continue our meandering over our ritual drinks- I with my tea, he with his coffee, sitting at the big solid wood coffee table in the lovely little house that he and DeDe built together. There is always a point, or a lesson, in what Bo says, and always an opportunity for me to expand upon the idea, so that we can explore and discover things together, hunting down new concepts, new angles, new connections.

This was no exception.

Bo said, presently, "well Ev, I've got a few things to check on. Why don't you go out and work with a horse? Maybe Teddy Bear?"

I happily washed my mug out and headed out the door, putting my boots back on while sitting on the front porch that overlooks the ranch. Teddy Bear's pasture ran alongside the house with a stretch of flat green space between them.

She recognized me when I walked over, and seemed happy to see me. Ears perked, she ambled over to the gate while I found her brown rope halter. A lot of halters on the ranch don't fit her because her head is so massive, but this one did, and I knew it. I got it all organized and read, then went to the gate.

I walked in and said hello, being sure to give Lilah some skritches as well. I let Teddy Bear know that I wasn't going to pressure her, and was happy to pet her a little before haltering her. It didn't have to go that way- I could tell that she was perfectly willing to get right down to work- but I knew she would appreciate the affection. These little bits of consideration count with horses. I rubbed the underside of her neck and the bulges of muscle running along it's sides behind her ears. Then I haltered her. She stuck her nose in for it, and held nice and still as I tied it with confidence. I used to hate rope halters. I had a hard time figuring out how to tie them. Now it's second nature, even more than tying my belt when I put on my gi for karate. I tucked the end back into the halter so that it wouldn't be smacking against her face. I made sure that her mane wasn't tangled up in the ropes.

Sedately we walked to the gate. I positioned us so that I could swing the gate inward, myself on the swinging side, and Tedders on the side with the post. Inward, so that Lilah would have a harder time trying to follow us out, and with me toward the swinging side so that if Teddy Bear spooked and ran into me, I would hit something that could move instead of something that I would be crushed against. Of course she was a good girl and followed me through.

"Swing yer butt," I said, and lightly pulled the rope around so that she moved out of the way of the closing gate, turning herself to face it, as I was doing. I knew it was important to not let her get distracted at the gate- a lot of wrecks happen at gates, and Bo drilled that into me often. When I would become lax about it, he would scold me like a wayward colt. "OH THAT WAS SO BAD, YOU KNOW BETTER!"

It all felt natural, like I hadn't been away at all. Like I'd never stopped coming up a couple times a week. I sure wished that I still could do that.

Teddy and I walked to the horse trailer, past DeDe's garden, lovely even in the winter all cut back, and the 60 foot round pen with it's relatively new sand layer. They put it in last fall, I think. Maybe summer? The sand has to be replenished form time to time, and dragged so that it is even. A horse tripping in a hole can be deadly, and running in a circle is challenging anyway.

I made certain to be extra soothing as we went around the trailer, because Teddy sometimes spooks a bit when she isn't sure what's on the other side. She also hates getting in the trailer, so she was a bit worried that I'd try to make her do that.

There was a hay bag hanging at the trailer, and she happily dug in as I tied her. The rope was secure high so that she wouldn't be able to tangle herself up in it as easily, but she was given enough room to relax her head as well as balance herself while I worked on her hooves. I used a slip knot with multiple loops- secure, but easy to undo quickly in an emergency.

Teddy Bear, I knew, could be fussy about her legs and her hooves because she didn't like having her chestnuts messed with. It was always a bit of a worry for her, but in the past year she'd gotten better about it. She was a mare with a lot of opinions, and Bo preferred it that was so long as she behaved herself. She is a teaching horse, and has to be able to do her job, which requires a bit of independent thought.

I also knew that she would be more open to her feet being picked and worked with if I sweetened the deal first. Teddy loves to be brushed, so I got to work on her, first with the curry comb, removing bits of dried mud from her coat while runnign my other hand behind it to check for lumps and oddities, and then a couple of brushes, which I dual-wielded, working her body over with practiced efficiency. Then I sprayed some show sheen into her mane and tail and brushed it all out.

Next, I picked her feet. She is supposed to wait while you run your hands carefully down her legs, asking her politely to pick a leg up. This she does with me for the first leg, but after that, well, quite some time ago I taught her that with me she could anticipate the next three hooves and just pick them up as I approached them. This is not something Bo wanted, since she was supposed to teach everyone a certain way, but she remembered that it worked that way with me, so that's exactly what she did. Sorry Bo! Amazing the things horses will remember, heh.

I picked out mud, stones and manure from Teddy's hooves, scraping it out from between the hoof wall and frog. I picked in both directions. A number of people feel that one should always pick away from onesself. Certainly the chances of getting gunk on yourself are lessened that way... but I find that I can get the hoof cleaned out a lot better when I also pick around the bars toward myself. Just have to be careful- it only takes being careless and getting manure up your nose once to learn that!

As I went back to brushing Teddy's mane and tail, Bo trimmed her hooves a little bit. There was only a tiny bit of drama from her- mostly she was a good girl.

"Why don't you take her to the roundpen now, Ev, and roundpen her a bit?"

"Okay Bo! Thank you for letting me roundpen- I haven't had a chance to since I left. There isn't one at the new place, and I want to keep my skills up. I want to keep that feel."

"Well sure Ev, you're welcome!"

I asked Teddy to walk and trot, and I asked her to turn around, walking and trotting the other direction. I kept my focus on her back half, making sure to not get my shoulders ahead of her, or she would turn. I used only enough energy to get her going at the speed I wanted. Any more, and things would escalate. Roundpenning can be a lot of pressure on a horse.

"Okay Ev, we're going to do a new exercise, since you're in so much better shape now," Bo said.

I looked over, and he was wearing the SenseiGrin(tm.)

What is the SenseiGrin? It's the grin every martial arts instructor gets when they are about to have you do something hard that they know is good for you. But they know it'll be hard on you too. I've seen Sensei get it, Shihan, Sensei Wah, and Bo, well he gets that look on his face too.

"I want you to get her trotting, and I want your footfalls to be in time with hers. Run around the ring with her."

Oh, it was hard! Running in a circle on sand is very difficult. Doing it and trying to keep time to a horse's hoofbeats is harder. But then Bo stepped up the challenge and said "now bring her to a lope. And keep time!"

Haha, it's a 3 beat gait! And I only have two legs! And I had to keep up with her but not get ahead of her! The grin got wider.

I worked at it though, and worked hard. It... needed work, but Teddy and I managed. And Teddy got SO EXCITED! Her tail was flagging like an Arab's, her head was high, and she started snorting! She got really worked up, but whenever I stopped she'd run up to me, saying SNORT SNORT! And then we'd be off again in the other direction. She didn't pin her ears or swish her tail, but she was on high alert. Maybe she enjoyed it? I have to admit I am not 100% sure either way. But I think she saw it as a kind of high-pressure play.

So then she was in quite a state of excitement. And Bo said "okay," and brought in the mounting block.

I looked at her wide eyes, her ready-for-action body, and her fast breath, and I thought, just a little bit, "really? Really???"

"Now we're going to take that energy, and we're going to bring it right back down again. Walk her around nice and quiet with the lead rope."

So we walked around the pen a couple of times, and I focused hard on lowering my heart rate, on slowing my breathing, and radiating relaxed calm.

"A lot of people will say 'oh I can't ride my horse today, she's too excited!' but you can affect the energy level of your horse with your own energy level. They will mirror you," Bo said.

It is true. Horses have their own thoughts and agendas and moods. Sometimes they are just having a bad day. But they also rely on each other for input, especially their leaders. If I say, "hey, everything's cool," then they are more likely to believe it and relax.

So I spoke softly to her, and I focused. Mindfulness, being in the moment, focused entirely on the moment, and ready for the next moment, is important both in the world of horses and martial arts. In many ways, the two compliment each other, as I find more and more. If you can be in the moment, you can bring your horse TO that moment, and you can then find harmony.

"Now, stand with one leg up, prepared to mount, but do not commit. Be ready to fall, and plan where you will fall. Always know where you will go if you have to fall. Always know how much of yourself you are committing to the mount. Balance."

So I stood with one leg up, almost over her back, but not quite. Remembering back stance, I had almost all of my weight rested on my back leg, which was very slightly bent, while my front leg rested slightly on Teddy Bear. I did not rely on her for balance, because she could have moved, and I did not want to fall forward under her hooves.

"Okay, now rest a moment. And the next time you raise your leg up, commit to it and mount."

So I stretched up my leg, which I had been working on the flexibility of in karate class, and smoothly mounted the sweet red mare. When I first arrived at the ranch, mounting was a hard and awkward process where I dragged myself on the horse's back. How far I have come!

"Now, find neutral. Find your center. Find her center. Imagine connecting them. Feel her breath and her heartbeat. Keep the energy down low. And take a handful of her mane."

I sat on her bare back, and I listened while I radiated calm. I felt so good and serene after my nap with Solomon. It was easy. I remembered the meditation I did just about every day that Sensei had assigned to me. I paid attention to our breaths, syncing them until they were as one.

"Now, lightly, think walk. I'll be helping." And I let my legs drape. I thought, "walk," and we moved.

I had thought that I would have a very hard time moving with Teddy Bear. Riding is like kata, in that you start to lose it if you don't practice. But the kata had served me well... all the stretching and drilling and sparring and balancing, all the weight loss and muscle gain, all the knowledge of my own body and balance that I'd finally regained in karate, and learning where my center was, they all helped. It felt... EASIER! I felt more in tune with my self, so I felt more in tune with teddy bear. She did not pin an ear or swish her tail. Willingly she carried me, and it felt comfortable. It was such a great joy and a gift to be on a horse's back again. And what a gift that she would carry me.

First, Bo lead her. Then, we worked on some walk/trot transitions. Two steps of trot, then back to walk. I felt good. I didn't feel like I was constantly tipping over and falling. It was a joy!

In time, Bo handed the lead rope to me. At first, he roundpenned her a the walk, and then I think maybe he walked out, but I don't really remember, because I was on cloud nine and really focused on Teddy and I. Maybe he didn't ever walk out... it didn't matter, because we were moving and it was awesome.

Teddy and I did sidepasses. We turned. It was a combination of shifting my weight, signaling with my legs, and moving the lead rope, though the lead rope wasn't as big of a factor. Sometimes I used the lead rope like a neck rein, sometimes like a normal rein. It was just attached in one spot, and I don't think I ever flipped it over my head. We just did our thing, no big expectations, no pressure, we just MOVED. And it felt like we were one.

Bo said, "Ev, this shows you you've remembered, and you've remembered because you've got it here in your heart. And you have kept an open mind and an open heart, and that's why you've been able to do this. Dismount."

I easily hopped off Teddy.

"That was 100% success, and nobody can ever take that from you, Ev!"

Teddy got a lot of rubs and love from me, and got to eat fresh green grass and clover. Bo and I chatted a little more, then I had to leave for karate class.

What a joy. What a gift! Life isn't always easy, but life is good. It's worth sticking around, when there is green grass and sunshine, when there are people like Bo, and horses. Always horses.

Great joy, great trust, great love.

A horse's heart is far more noble than mankind deserves. What a great gift they give to us when they grant to us their trust. Massive, towering beasts, they could kill us in an instant. Mighty hooves, strength and speed we can only dream of, senses and reflexes we can only yearn for, and yet they lay their lives down for us. They are a precious treasure. They have been our steadfast companions for thousands of years. Our empires were built upon their backs, with their sweat and their blood. Never forget this. Never.

It was a warm and sunny winter day when Solomon put his life in my hands.

Seeing me come up the road, he came to me.

We know each other well. We say so much with a touch, with a breath, with a gesture. Slowly, over the past 2 and a half years, I have come to learn a little bit of his language. I will never be as subtle as him. My movements are large and clumsy. I am missing ears that swivel, a tail that swishes, and a couple of feet. My mouth is not as flexible, it's movements not as fine, but still, we have learned to understand one another. There is a reassuring comfort to our companionship. A friendship that transcends the line of species. We have joy, we have love, and we have trust.

I have heard people say that horses are dumb. I think that they are wrong. There are things that horses are not good at. But there are things that humans are also not good at. A horse does not build cities. But then, a horse does not poison his world. He can sense a seizure, or a panic attack. He can read the racing of your pulse and know that you are excited. He can smell and taste your fear. He can interpret, if you give him the chance, the subtlest shift of your weight on his back.

The smallest shift in position speaks volumes to his companions.

Horses love, and nurture.

They worry, and they grieve.

Their massive mouths can filter out a tiny leaf that they don't care for from a big bite of food. Or that little pill that you were sure they wouldn't notice.

They are creatures of equal grace and humor.

Finely tuned for speed and lightning reflexes, they are beasts of prey. But sometimes, if you learn a little bit of grace and tread lightly in their world, they will relax and let you in.

Breaker is what Solomon could have become. If he was a different horse with a different personality. If he hadn't been stuck in a tiny stall for so long. If he'd not been shown that humans could be a good deal. He is a rescue as well, but he doesn't trust humans, and there's no pen to work him in. His current owners are good people, from what I hear. They simply do not have time to really work with him, and there isn't yet a space for him to work in close. He hangs around, wanting to be a part of the herd, knowing maybe there's something about people he should be interested in... but he doesn't want to let you get too close. He was treated very badly in the past. He has no reason to trust.

If I lived in Pope Valley, I'd tame him for free. He is cute, and well built, but even if he wasn't, he deserves a good chance at life. And I think that I could break through.

He let me get pretty close, and even dozed off a bit that day. Part of the key is keeping your energy really low. Not focusing hard on a big goal like catching him but just taking things one step at a time, and being prepared to back away if you need to. Being very patient, and approaching from the side, lined up shoulder to shoulder with him, instead of advancing by facing him, which is a challenge and and be a signal to move. Within a herd, the dominant, aggressive horse will approach a submissive horse head-on and expect him to move out of the way. Predators also approach in such a fashion, if they aren't ambushing their prey. It is a lot of pressure. Learning to communicate with low pressure can be the key for a nervous horse who fears mistreatment. He must be soothed and reassured. He must feel that he can rest, that you are a part of the group and that you are there to support and protect him, not attack him.

As I was working a little with breaker, Solomon, who had been brushed and had ticks removed, began to fall asleep. I'd already soothed him quite a bit, rubbing his cheeks, which releases endorphins, and giving him brow-skritches, which is something I know he particularly enjoys. He is comfortable enough now to love getting the bases of his ears rubbed as well.

So, he was nodding off.

And as I worked with Breaker, I heard a little grunt and a thump behind me.

Soon, everyone but Breaker followed suit.

And then Solly began to snore.

How far can I get, I wondered?

Then I decided to stop bugging him, since he'd woken up a bit again, and I wanted him to be able to nap. So I sat bside him, in front of his chest. And that's when it happened. He licked his lips a bit, looked at me, and put his head in my lap. I stroked his face, and he rolled onto his side. Then he began to snore again.

Hose heads are heavy! After a minute or two, I figured if he was going to show me such an incredible amount of trust, I would do the same for him. So I laid down. The top of his head was nestled against my chest, the rest of it snuggling against my belly.

The sun was warm and the grass was soft.

He didn't seem to care that one ear was all squished.

After a little while, I fell asleep.

When I woke up again, I took this final video. You know, for a time I had to use a stud chain with Solomon. His environment was wrong, I didn't know how to communicate and work with him right, and I hadn't earned his trust as a leader yet. But now, thanks to Bo, thanks to Solomon's noble, forgiving heart, and thanks to me finally opening my eyes and my heart, we have come to this place. A place of great joy, great trust, great love.

After a while, it was time to go. Reluctantly, I got up and trudged back to my car. Solomon awoke and watched me go.

He peered in the window of my car as I drove away, tracking me until I was over the hill.

It was a great gift that he gave to me today. Something few people ever experience. I will treasure it for the rest of my life.

I do not know of a more perfect creature in all the world than the horse.

Winter Worming

Hi folks!

Okay, I've been HORRIBLE lately at updating. I'm so sorry! I have some lovely pics and vids for you however.

Just around Yule, Sensei and I went up to the ranch, bearing an apple and a tube of worming medication.

First, the apple.

I decided to be crazy and share... a trick Solomon and I have done many times before, except I hadn't taken into account the Maggie Factor.

Solly went for it a bit faster than I'm comfy with, haha! But of course he didn't hurt me.

And Maggie got some apple too.

Now, Solomon knew that something sinister was up right away!

I won't bother with the first attempt, except to say that Solomon really cannot be wormed in an open pasture without being tied. Just not gonna happen! Here's the second attempt, which was successful.

After he shunned me for a little while, Sol came back for more loves, and some reassurance.

And here is our lovely yule picture!

Sensei was happy to be out in the clean air, visiting with the horses. He might not have ever been a big time horse person, but let me tell you, the horses just adore him!

Sensei discovered Maggie's magic spot- under her chin and her cheeks!

Maggie has a winter mustache! It probably is meant to protect a horse's lip from the ice a bit. It's so cute!