Weekly Photo Challenge: Inspiration.

SpiritJustaHorse (335x640)

“Just a horse.”

A $600. stud colt.

Out of Nifty Sally;

no pedigree to speak of.

Not especially athletic.

 

Nearly three decades later,

there isn’t much left of him.

Just a horse;

nothing out of the ordinary,

but Inspiration–

enough to bet a life on.

No regrets. Not one.

 

How about you?

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.)

 

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Available now: Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn. It’s the story of the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse who carried me in between. Available at all online book sellers now. To get updates and the inside story, sign up here: Prairie Moon News. Thank you.

 

“Inspiration.”

Helmets, Gravity, and Human Superiority.

Leslie and AndanteAugust 1st is International Helmet Awareness Day. It’s the day Riders4Helmets started, in the wake of US Olympian Courtney King-Dye’s traumatic brain injury, to raise awareness and promote equestrian helmet use. Helmet retailers join in by giving discounts and tomorrow is the day.

This is the fifth year and every year I write about helmets because it’s so important. Every year, I repeat statistics like this: Equestrians are 20x more likely to sustain an injury than a motorcycle rider or that speed makes no difference. Many brain injuries happen while mounting. Last year I wrote about nearly getting in a bar fight on the topic. Previously, I wrote about a woman I met in a nursing home who haunts me still; she’s living my biggest personal fear. Every year riders who wear helmets cheer this day. Preaching to the choir is easy–and the other side is dug in and defensive.

If helmet use was about needing logical proof, overwhelming statistics about brain injury would convince people. There is no debate. Helmets are like seat belts; they save lives. Still, we had to pass a law. We pride ourselves in being the superior species but still put our politics above our intellect and common sense. Everyone has heard it all before and it’s disheartening. Even now mothers ride without helmets, mothers allow their children to ride without helmets. There’s an argument this conversation is hopeless. Does stubborn, self-defeating, belligerent foolishness–masquerading as personal choice–ever wear you down?

Instead of more ranting, can I tell you what I love about gravity? It’s dependable, as consistent and fair as any notion around. Gravity has no respect for governments or religions. No respect for emotions or personal codes. Gravity is a natural law. It’s never up for re-election, it isn’t racist or sexist or ageist or any other ‘ist’ imaginable. Gravity treats each of us equally regardless of income. Amen to that.

It’s enough to give you a real love of black and white distinctions in our world of gray excuses. There’s no buy-out. It isn’t personal. No one gets a pass, and as much as humans love to think they are the exception to the rule, none of us are. Preach personal choice all you want. Defy gravity on moral or ethical grounds. Have at it. But gravity will ignore us and our arrogance, while it pulls us down to collide with the truth.

What is it about humans that we squander our gifts? How did we get so ungrateful as to value our brain so little? I understand and respect ignorance, but how did it come to pass that willful stupidity became a valid choice? We lose horse-crazy little girls and strong equine professionals and backyard riders all the time. We languish in hindsight, wishing we had a do-over and even with that knowledge, some of us still think we are immune. None of us is that lucky.

In the end, gravity will win. Before that, Alzheimer’s will take some of us. It’s as uncontrollable as gravity.  None of us knows the future, but of all the gifts I’m blessed with, it’s my mind that I value the most; it’s my door to a world of wonder and beauty and freedom.

Last year someone posted a comment on my blog that I saved in my file of statistics. A woman said, “I wear one especially when on green horses because my daughter-in-law refuses to change my diapers.”

I had to laugh. My good brain will always giggle at gallows humor. It’s funny, unless of course you remember a young woman, confined in a nursing home, wearing diapers.

Humans. We’re supposed to be the smart ones but we could take a lesson in self-preservation from all the other “less-evolved” species.

Anna Blake. Infinity Farm.

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A reminder that my memoir, Stable Relation, is on sale at all online booksellers. Here is the book trailer; you can find my author blog at http://www.annablake.com or on Facebook.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close Up.

sharing breath

Close up. Personal. Intimate.

Sharing breath is sacred. No matter who does it.

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Eeow! You’re kidding, right? He smells like wet wool.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]Available now: Stable Relation, a memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn. It’s the story of the farm I grew up on, the farm I have now, and the horse who carried me in between. Available at all online book sellers now. To get updates and the inside story, sign up here: Prairie Moon News. Thank you.

(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.)

“Close Up.”

Behavior, Personality, and Anxiety.

WMfine eyeCan you tell the difference between personality, who a horse is, and behavior, what a horse does?

With people it can be a bit easier because we are used to separating the two. We’re taught to “hate the sin and love the sinner.” Most of us know someone who is kind and funny, but a hot mess when they’re drunk. This is progress from generalized beliefs about groups resulting in racism, sexism and all the other “isms”; better than grouping people together without concern for who they are as individuals.

Horses are honest animals. It’s a rare and crazy thing that a prey animal should volunteer to partner with a predator, but they do. When watching foals play, they are curious, tentative, smart, and agile. They are born ready to respond to reward and they are easily frightened. We have a vote in what happens next.

I know a horsewoman who prides herself on being good with horses. She owns a small herd and tells me, over time, that each one of the horses is hot. It’s just who they are. There are young horses, old horses, and several breeds, but each of them has behavioral problems that look nearly identical. Did I mention her hands are brutal?

When they don’t listen at the walk, she sends them to the trot, and when that comes apart, she pushes them to the canter. She just rides them through it. She runs them fast and hard to get the energy out of them and she is a brave rider. Eventually they become exhausted and give in. Lots of us were trained to do it this way and it even works to a small degree for some horses. But for others, it accelerates to hysteria and becomes a chronic pattern. It’s how an elder horse can still be dangerous. And I’ll say, misunderstood. Is he really hot or honestly fearful of the pain and tension felt from his rider?

Historically women were judged too high-strung and emotional for many jobs. We were excused from important positions because we were inadequate by virtue of our sex. We might as well have been name-called Arabians, for all the false assumptions that were made.

In the end, horses are some combination of DNA, accident of birth, and experience. We can’t change the past for them, but we can improve their experience. We can reshape their future.

This is where recognizing anxiety becomes important. When you see a horse with wild eyes, a stiff neck, and a tense tap-dance of hooves, it’s easy to recognize the short list of negative behaviors. Is he mad or aggressive? Is he hot and crazy? Does he need to be exhausted for his brain to kick in? Or does he have some sort of plan to personally humiliate you, or ruin your breeches because they’re expensive, or test you for some random reason that he made up when you didn’t give him a carrot when you haltered him. And who is it sounding unbalanced now?

The foundation of dressage says that a horse should be relaxed. We don’t do it to please the judge, we do it for the good of the horse. It should be obvious to a rider that a horse can’t learn if he’s afraid. Or more truthfully, can’t learn anything positive. He can learn humans are callous and cruel leaders. We can train him to know we have no compassion.

There is one other option. Instead of running him into the ground or psychoanalyzing him, how about helping him relax? Instead of pushing him to distrust you at even faster gaits, how about walking and giving him enough rein to breathe. It isn’t as dramatic. It takes more skill and patience than bravado. And you have to listen to the inside of your horse instead of being distracted by exterior behavior. First you have to remember who he is and then you have to remind him. It’s what a positive leader does.

Because even if you can ride through the behavior, anxiety is a killer. Anxiety is the base ingredient in your horse’s overall well-being and has a direct connection to his health, happiness, and long-term soundness and ride-ability.

Here is the physical part: a horse’s adrenal glands are located in front of the kidneys in the lower back. It’s their job to manage stress by producing the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol, as well as the hormone adrenaline, when the fight-or-flight response is activated.

If anxiety and stress become a habit, the adrenal glands become over-worked, causing adrenal fatigue or burnout. Horses struggling with adrenal fatigue show symptoms that can seem a bit bi-polar: they are excitable but with little stamina, meaning short bursts of energy in between crashes. They can be unpredictable, often having complete meltdowns over seemingly little things.

Chronically anxious horses have a high rate of stomach ulcers and colic. It’s also proven that stress affects the immune system, so these horses have a harder time fighting off illness, and are more likely to suffer more severe reactions to insect bites, parasites, and vaccinations.

Do you still want to screw up your courage and dominate him through his fit? Statistics also tell us that a huge number of rescue horses are given up because of behavioral problems. How many of those horses could be good partners if we had dealt with the real problem instead of fighting the symptoms? When will we finally learn to listen and not take his clear message as an insult to our egos? And even if you don’t want to do better for your horse, how is this level of stress working for you?

Breathe. Give peace a chance. Sing it at the walk.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half and Half

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Bold and timid. Turbulent and still. Deliberate and spontaneous. Stoic and emotional. Powerful and frail. Physical and spiritual.

Half and half: The equine paradox and the art of balance.

Stable_Relation_3D_Cover[1]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.)

“Half and Half.”

Consistency: Doing Math in the Saddle.

claratackConsistency is a great aid but do you know how it actually works? There’s an analogy I heard decades ago that has stuck with me. It involves bank accounts. You’re right; never listen to me about money, but it’s not that kind of bank account.

Start by thinking that you and your horse each have a bank account of experience. For your horse it’s a reckoning of all of his experiences with humans–all the good times and all those times where he got scared and had no help. Confidence, fear, willingness to partner, and what caused pain and when rewards were given. The account is his possession. He’s the one who quantifies the contents.

Your account has all of your horsemanship experiences, including the times you were confident or fearful. It’s what you have learned from experts and how well you listen to your horse. You get extra points for patience. A tiny corner is reserved for your dreams. It’s your personal wealth as a potential partner for a horse.

It’s simple. In any situation, either of you can make deposits or withdrawals. An experienced rider can help a young horse with a deposit of patience and positive training. An old campaigner can enrich a novice rider by carrying them through a rough spot. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Twenty Year Rule; for the best results the sum of experience shared by the horse and rider should equal twenty years or so.

It makes perfect sense; all of us are the sum of our experience. But there was one problem. Back then, I had a very green and spooky young horse and I wasn’t as brave and crazy as when I was a kid. Bankrupt. Neither of us had much to draw on. We had good intentions but it was an against-the-odds start.

It’s a pretty common dilemma. Most rideable horses that end up in rescue have training problems, stemming from poor handling. Some riders manage to buy a well-trained horse, but without the right skills, the horse’s account is quickly depleted and he becomes resistant and sour. A rider’s good intentions can become spent on a confused horse, as well.

Seen this way, it’s a fair, impartial accounting of any situation, whether it’s a competition horse or a trail horse. Seeing a horse/rider problem as a math equation takes some of the emotion and blame out of it on both sides and that’s a great first step. Guilt and failure are negative deposits.

Start now. The past is data; you can’t change that, so let it be. Horses have strong memories and if that trait is working against you, your best hope is to layer good memories on top that will eventually out-number the bad. You have to get the numbers in his favor. If your confidence is shaky, or you need a few more training tools, then make that investment in getting good, professional help and watch your own numbers go up.

Here is where consistency comes in. Horses love a routine and it’s the sacred job of every rider to leave the horse in a better place at the end of the ride than the beginning. It’s our version of First Do No Harm.

Just like the stock market, horses are always moving in an overall tendency. They are getting better or worse. Long range investments have less drama and are more dependable, while others think taking their life savings to Vegas for the weekend is a smart bet. It’s a choice.

Start your ride start slowly with a warm-up that relaxes and supples him. Reward him for being alive. Get happy. Notice him liking what you’re saying; reward that. On this one day, the most you can do is have one ride. Lower your expectations of perfecting your world in an instant. Instead of getting greedy, be content to make one good deposit.

The truest thing that I know about horses is that it’s time and consistency that trains a horse. There are no shortcuts, no get rich quick schemes, that will ever take the place of a simple Piggy Bank approach.

The thing we pay attention to grows. If we make a problem bigger than it is by isolating it and scrutinizing it into a huge issue, then we squander an opportunity. We can invest worry until the issue blocks out the daylight or invest in knowing it all works out in hindsight. Because it really does.

Here’s the secret: never give up. Get a tortoise tattoo if you need to, but just stick it out, slowly and patiently, because consistency is the greatest kindness a horse will ever know. He wants the confidence to clearly understand where he should be, without fear of pain. One positive ride at a time, consistency will buy you a new normal.

You know that rider that you see who is smiling, riding a dream horse that will do anything? That horse people call a push-button horse? They focused on what was right about their ride and built their fortune one penny at a time. It was no accident; it was a long-term goal. Praise their consistency.

And then one day, if you are very, very lucky, you will take a short twenty-minute ride on a green and frightened horse. In those moments you will have a wealth of  understanding and positive leadership to give him. You will be an aid to him. Then he will exhale that first shallow blow of baby trust, as you exhale a breath rich in the memory of that first horse you invested your best self in. Rich in the knowledge that you have something of value to offer a horse.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

What Is Home?

Anna Blake:

Yes, it’s a book review, but I couldn’t help myself.

Originally posted on CurTales:

untitled-0136(Rascal, at home)

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Stable Relation: A memoir of one woman’s spirited journey home, by way of the barn

By

Anna Blake

When friends ask me why I like to read memoirs I usually say it’s because I’m the curious sort. Perhaps that’s just another way of saying I’m nosy, but there you have it. I like to read about how other people have navigated the challenges they’ve met in life. Because we all have them, you know. Some memoirs do a great job of telling you about everything that went right or wrong, but fail to really explore the nuts and bolts of the journey. That’s not a criticism; everyone tells their story their own way and for different reasons. But I happen to be most fond of the memoirs that tackle the grittier stuff. The stuff that makes you have to put the book down and really chew…

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