*Needs Confident Rider*

WMNubeTackSky*Needs a confident rider*. If you see those words while paging though horse ads, what do you think? Used car salesmen don’t have a thing on horse traders. Would you climb in the saddle? Is it the punchline for a joke?

Maybe the real question is what horse doesn’t need a confident rider? It’s kind of a no-brainer when you look at it from that direction.

Where do you rank on the confidence scale?

I’m about to make an unpopular statement: I think a rider can have too much confidence. When an overly-confident rider gets into a rough spot, they ride through it. It’s a good idea but not in the extreme. Just because you are tough enough to ride through it, it doesn’t mean that was the best choice for the horse. Horses don’t learn when they are frightened. If the answer is always forward-forward-forward, without understanding, then a certain percentage of horses don’t get over it, but instead learn to be more fearful. Ignoring the horse isn’t the same as helping him. I wonder how many horses described as *hot* are actually habitually frightened.

On the other hand, I don’t think there are many horses who prefer a timid rider with a body language that’s a bit like stalking, or walking on egg shells. It’s an overall feeling of reluctance or even resistance. Each time the environment changes and the rider flinches, she slows down the horse, often pulling on the bit with each stride or micro-managing or just moving too slow. The result is to unbalance the horse. For them it’s like having a coyote in the saddle. One aspect of being a prey animal is the need to move forward freely, it is intrinsically necessary to their well-being and a horse that is always held back starts to act spooky or erratic.

Ironically, these two riding styles might produce a horse that acts pretty similarly.

Most horses fall into one of two categories in these situations: they either shut down or over-react. When things get too overwhelming, the horses prone to shutting down get quiet and almost bored looking. We call them lazy or stupid, our cues get louder and the louder the cues get, the more deaf the horse appears. Sometimes in nature an animal’s best defense is to play dead. He may be stoic in his actions but this horse is still sensitive. He is just being less honest about it.

The horse we are likely to call over-sensitive is prancing or tossing his head or wild-eyed and tense. He over-reacts to every cue and spooks often. His feet barely reach the ground. He is so overwhelmed that he is kind of hysterical. He is feeling all the same confusion that the shut down horse feels, he is just being more honest.

There is a middle place for the horse between these extremes. In Dressage we use the word losgelassenheit. There is some debate about literal translation but the concept is a balance of relaxation, combined with rhythmic, ground covering strides. Relaxed and forward is the goal, and each behavior is important and shouldn’t be sacrificed for the other.

There is a middle place for the rider, too. It isn’t quite as easy as telling a over-confident rider to slow down and the timid rider to speed up. It’s the quality of connection between the horse and rider that should change.

There are technical skills to improve: Breathe deeply and go slow. Keep elastic elbows. Ride transitions softly and clearly. Give all cues in rhythm with the horse’s movement. Reward your horse frequently.

And then there is a mental quick fix. It’s almost like cheating, but it works…

A couple years ago, Edgar Rice Burro had an acting gig. (See post here) The script called for Edgar and one of the actors to greet everyone at the door. The sun was setting altering the visibility and there were lots of spontaneous people and unpredictable behaviors. Edgar hasn’t done a lot of stage work. The actor with him had not been around donkeys; no experience with horses either. If something went wrong and Edgar got frightened, she might not be able to help him. She might even get hurt.

I watched from a short distance. The actor played a Calamity Jane sort of character; loud, ‘drunk-ish’, and a little too comfortable in her skin, if you know what I mean. She called to every attendee, “Would you like to pet my ass?” and cackled.  Edgar had the time of his life, not because the actor knew donkeys, but because she stayed in character. Again and again, I saw things that might challenge him, but Calamity Jane was also acting the part of a good leader, so it was all right. She acted relaxed and didn’t ignore Edgar; she included him in the conversation, like her character would have, and he felt supported. It was a bizarre experience to get a riding lesson from an actor who doesn’t ride.

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” -Shakespeare.

Do you have to be confident, or is it enough to act that way? If you play the part long enough, does it leak over into real life and become habit? I confess, there are times around horses, while riding or giving a lesson, where things start to come apart, but acting like everything is good, gives that exact result.

Try this experiment: Pick your best version of confident and ride that way. Let me know what your horse thinks of your performance.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

WordPress Photo Challenge: Fray.

WMHorizon

There is a place that is not the earth and not the sky, an in-between place where some of us ride the fray.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

A Recipe for Patience.

WMSunGlareI want to start by saying I used to consider patience the exact same thing as procrastination. I had no time for patience. It was a dull, slow-witted thing, so foreign to me that I couldn’t even figure out what it was that people did while they were being patient. You know? Patience isn’t even a verb. Trying to be patient stressed me out.

My parents gave up early, having no patience with my impatience. The usual public school education didn’t even touch it. Clearly I needed horses to teach me.

Now I’ve been at it long enough to have had several horses school me and I have hindsight. Patience isn’t the same thing as experience, but they usually come in a matched pair. Not available by mail order.

It always starts the same way: A simple love of horses. It’s the most magical thing and it will half-kill both of you. There’s a reaction that happens when that love is mixed with a moment of equine confusion: Bewilderment, which can be easily mistaken for disobedience.  Time speeds up, breathing goes shallow and lofty training goals degenerate into a wrestling match.

Impatience is when your brain has a runaway to the land of fear, resistance and frustration and drags your horse along. Horses reflect these feelings so quickly that we think it was them in the first place. Now who’s confused?

I am all for a gallops where our hearts soar with freedom and confidence. I notice a lot of us fall short of that Black Beauty fantasy. Can we all agree on one fundamental fact? Horses can not learn if they are afraid or confused. The best work is volunteered.

If that last statement makes you tilt your head to the side and perk up your ears like a corgi who hears kibble hit the kitchen floor, then you might be ready to take your riding to the next level. First you will need even more patience.

Patience is the ability to control time and influence outcome. Doesn’t that almost sound like world domination?

Patience is not just simply the ability to stay present in the moment, it’s how we behave in that moment. It’s the ability to breathe really deeply into a teeny split-second and expand it large enough, and make it slothful enough, to give you all the time you need to stay peacefully connected with your horse. Patience isn’t a verb, it’s a near Zen-like state of being where time slows and partnership grows. It is the one quality that raises any equine endeavor to an art form.

On the low side, patience doesn’t tolerate being hurried, shoved around, or jerked onto the bit. Go figure.

Recipe for Patience
(You want to make this from scratch, the store-bought kind doesn’t hold up.)

Ingredients: Start with one fresh, crisp horse and add one rider with heart and commitment.

Mix together with all the time in the world. It’s elastic, let it be any size and shape when you start. Stir in positive training techniques and moisten with compassion for the horse and kindness for yourself. Strengthen with a shot of passion. Season generously with humility. Add a pinch of humor to make that last ingredient more palatable.

Mix with intestinal fortitude, you get that from your grandmother. Blend smoothly with consistency and fairness. Grease the way with understanding. Sweeten to taste with organic gratitude. Turn out and cover with acceptance. Let it rise to double and bake in the saddle to a golden color.

Serve with soft hands to the world. This is what riding horses with compassion looks like: a partnership where both sides feast on the best in each other. Then cut into small pieces of memory that last longer than the years we have with that horse. Carry them in your heart forever so that other horses can recognize it in you.

Does this all sound just too fussy for you? It isn’t too late to switch over to riding something with an ignition.

Patience, also known as living in horse time. May you dwell there forever.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WPC…Silhouette

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“As God is my witness, … I’ll never be hungry again.” -Gone with the Wind, Infinity Farm Version.

*snicker, snicker*

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

You be the Judge.

WMNubeEyeBlue“Too bad about that half pass to the left.”

My horse and I were leaving the arena after my test, reins long and my trademark competition smile: Lips stuck on my gums above my teeth. I had a great horse.

The comment was made by a woman who felt no sympathy at all for that less-than-flawless half pass. We weren’t friends really but she smiled. She might not have shoved herself through the hoops required to show her horse and open herself up to the judgment of others, but she wanted me to know she was capable of recognizing wrong when she saw it.

The first year I showed, when my horse spooked at the letters and ran off with me in each test, she never passed a word my way. But now our hard work was paying off and she developed the habit of letting me know our shortcomings from her enlightened position on the rail. She didn’t show because she could never find a horse good enough.

No hard feelings, I was living my dream. I wanted to be here since watching the rich kids in 4-H at the county fair. It was before I knew there were kids even richer than those kids.

Some riders say they hate the show world, that all competition is wicked and evil. They will never show. Fair enough, it isn’t for everyone. The rant still rings of judgment. Reminder: Pre-judging isn’t the same thing as not judging.

Besides, you can be just as judgmental and not even have to leave the house. It’s open season on riding videos on YouTube. We have free speech, anyone can comment. If we aren’t face to face, is there any reason to hold your tongue? Threaten bodily harm if you want. The truth is that if we didn’t even have horses, we would be still judging other people’s appearance, intelligence, lifestyle. It’s human nature to notice. It’s how we learn and grow our perceptions. Most of all, in the process of judging others, we judge ourselves. Maybe it’s the need to label things as right or wrong that is the most damaging.

Disclaimer: I’m no angel. I have all kinds of judgement. It’s judgement that I even remember this woman’s comment from the rail 20 years ago. Beyond that, my work is about judgement. Giving a riding lesson begins with an assessment of a horse and rider, balancing clarity and honesty with as much understanding and kindness as possible. It would be easier to yell and name-call but I’ve had lessons like that and I notice I didn’t learn much.

Competing your horse is about being your best self when it matters. It’s hard. It takes discipline. It builds character. Maybe the best reason to show is that it changes the view from the rail. It changes who you are with your horse and it gives you a chance to change your view of others. Is re-compassionize a word?

There’s an old adage -if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I go with that only if you are in such a rage that your eye is twitching and you spit when you speak. Short of that level of anger, I disagree. It makes us passive aggressive and we languish, lifting ourselves up by standing on others.

Yes, this is a parable. There are bigger things in the world than showing horses. It’s been a mean summer, stressful with lots of challenge and loss. And entirely too many harsh armchair judgements on anyone or anything that falls short, touted by pundits who have nothing on the line. It makes me tired. It will always be easier to shoot down someone else than find the strength to stand up and be vulnerable.

My first riding mentor was also a judge, and she was very clear. She said it was a cheap shot to look for faults. Any idiot could pick them out, it took no special perception to tell which horse was struggling. In the end, you would be left mitigating failures and giving the blue ribbon to the least bad. She encouraged me to look for what I liked and affirm that. Judge the best in the ride, let your eye rest there and ignore the everything else.

Being critical of others makes us earthbound with self-loathing judgement, thinly veiled in our criticism of others. And focusing on the worst just breeds more. How does that feel? Maybe it’s time to sit up straight.

Judgement is really a vote of how you see the world; how you want the world to be. The most votes win and you can vote as often as you like. Consider what’s at stake. Sometimes in the dark, rising up and casting an unlikely vote can change everything.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

 

WMEdgareye

There is texture on the surface that is ruffled. It might be fluffy or prickly, sleek or unkempt. Some patches are chewed off and some stick straight up. It might even change colors.

There is a window we can look through to see the texture on the inside: velvety, mushy, feathery soft… Edgar.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

What does the horsie say? Seriously.

WMHannahHugOur barn rat, Hannah, didn’t meet the horses her first visit to the farm. She was only 3 days old. We waited till her second visit later that week. It was love at first sight for all of us. By the time she was toddling and learning to talk, she knew all the horse’s names. Her parents taught her the animal sound game, “What does a horsie say?” Hannah’s answer was a high-pitched, arching trill, “Nei-ay-ay-agh!” Her voice is so high that it is almost inaudible to anyone but the dogs.

Warning: Do not be fooled by the tutu. Don’t let the pink-themed wardrobe distract you. Don’t let the near toxic level of cuteness cancel out the message.

With the parent’s game over, Hannah wandered down the stall row and came to Grace’s pen. The mare met her at the gate with her nose toddler high and gave her one of those deep growl-y mare nickers. Almost a moan, slow and quiet. And Hannah answered her back. The toddler’s voice droped so low that she almost sounded possessed. Which she clearly was. But not in a bad way. “Uuh-oo-oo-uuh” came from behind Hannah’s belly button and barely cleared her lips. But Grace heard it.

Hannah is bi-lingual. She has one answer for humans, and a separate answer for horses. She is that smart.

Disclaimer: I think kids are kind of in the same boat as mini horses. They are fully complete, sentient creatures who know as much as anyone else and deserve respect, but we see them as pint-sized caricatures of the real thing and diminish them. What if Hannah shares that deep well of intuitive knowledge that horses do, and just lacks the superficial communication skills that we adults use? The horses seem to think she is communicating fine.

Most of us have had that experience of seeing horses take care of little kids. The same horses that are a total handful for adults who ‘know how to ride’. At the same time, we remember riding as kids, free and effortless. We knew less and got more from our horses. When did riding get so complicated? What have we forgotten?

Hannah is right, we do need to use a separate language for horses. They don’t speak English just because they can take a canter cue from the word Canter! Responding to a verbal cue is good, but was it the actual word they understood, or your body language before the word? We can chatter away at them; we can coo and cluck with our horses and feel just great. Don’t mistake that with a real relationship based in a shared language beyond words, spoken with our bodies and our intentions. A trainer can’t literally teach relationship, they can only try to inspire a rider to feel it, and then acknowledge it when a horse and rider have the experience. Trainers are translators.

If humans are the more evolved species (the jury is out on that but going with that assumption,) then it is up to us to move beyond our more limited senses and evolve our language to meet the horse. More importantly, if we want to progress farther with our horses, we have to communicate even more eloquently. Just getting louder doesn’t work.

How many times do we climb on a horse and then talk about him behind his back. We sit in the saddle and ignore him, while we have an intense mental conversation with ourselves about our horses. We check mental lists of technique and we put dark thought into anxiety or worry. Our critical thoughts run like a rat on a wheel, while we pander to our worst opinions of ourselves.

How is the ride going so far? Is this any different than texting and driving?

Let’s focus on us first. Take a body check. Are you sound? Is your body soft and open, or does tension in your shoulders cut off you off at the neck? Are your hips tight and restrictive on the ground? Don’t expect a horse to do their best work if you are lame or stiff.

Slow down, take some time and breathe. Inflate your ribs, let them be elastic. Exhale out the day’s drama. Inhale and know that you have all the time you need. Exhale out any erratic human emotions. Inhale and know you are fine as you are. Exhale and feel balance in your body. Here and now, reset yourself to less judgement and more acceptance. Less thinking and more feeling. Less correction, more direction. Be. Here. Now.

By the time you get to the mounting block, know that you are crossing a border into another country. You can play the ugly American, talking loud and looking for a McDonalds for lunch, or you can open your mind and learn the local customs. The best trips are the ones where both sides respect and learn. And the sum of these parts make a better world.

It’s the one thing that all my clients say they want most of all: A better relationship with their horse. Take a cue from Hannah. If you want to have a more elite connection with your horse, develop your nicker.

Meanwhile, Hannah and Grace are still at the gate. It isn’t about treats, and it isn’t that the mare can’t leave if she wants. They are being together. They are acknowledging each other by sharing breath, sharing time, and sharing their heart’s language. Existing in the present moment without expectations or demands is an art form. Respect the masters.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.