The thing you call cute, in a high-pitched squeal, hears no compliment. Is it your goal to demean me? Because you see me as less does not make me your servant. Your cooing says more about your standing in this herd than it does mine. This thing you call stubborn is the obvious reply given to one with such arrogance. Such rude heckling and pink-faced ranting does not rate an honest answer. You may judge me but height is only a temporary advantage, easy to overcome. Your predator privilege lands hollow in the herd where we value each other's strength. How to understand you, Human, with your needy treat outstretched. Stand tall, you who cannot find equity in your own herd, trust your worth. You can earn respect here without bribery.
Last week I answered a reader question about Making War on Horses and it got a predictably positive reception. It’s preaching to the choir for my readers. This week’s question is the flip-side of that last one, and a bit more challenging.
By reader request:
“I still have questions about how to express love to a horse where it feels good to both you and the horse. I know now for them it is a lot about being calm and not having busy energy in their presence, and sometimes not much touching, while for most humans it’s about petting, sweet talking and getting close. Geez…..seems pretty polar opposite.”
Sigh; a question that I want to answer with a question: Why is it such a big deal to us? Why must we express our love to horses in such noisy needy ways? Tell the truth. Doesn’t it seem a bit desperate sometimes?
We approach loving horses a little like a bowling ball approaches a triangle of pins.
It’s like we’re awkward insecure teenagers who want to show the world we can get a date. We coo baby-talk, manipulate them with treats, and find that itchy spot so we can make them make faces. Perish the thought that a horse might not want our white-hot affection; if he even feigns interest, we pounce. We cannot keep our hands (emotions) to ourselves.
I’ve said it before; the thing I hate about horses, other than their tiny feet and frail digestive systems, is that their best reward is a release –our least favorite thing. It’s the polar opposite mentioned in the question. I hate that moving out of their space is a reward so much that I ask horses to prove it a few dozen times a day. They happily oblige.
Look at it this way. If you were angry or frustrated with your horse, it would make good sense to take those big ugly feelings and back away. There’s no room for anger in training. Is it possible that when our feelings of love and equine addiction become overwhelming, we should do the same?
I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes I’ll be working with someone’s horse in a lesson or clinic, and he will do something that’s just spectacular. I’ll be gobsmacked; his behavior just pours gasoline on my burning heart. The reason to step back, exhale, and murmur “good” in a moment like this is that my emotional love-fit is as selfish as a temper tantrum would be. It’s all about me and I’m the one always lipping off about being an advocate for horses.
Or more importantly, I want to give my horse time to process what has just gone so well, so I step back or get very still, and let it be about him. I give him time. I shut up.
And I remember an old self-help book by Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages. Back in the day, I hated his excruciating explanation of why, if you really wanted your lover to give you flowers but instead they changed the oil in your truck, it was the same thing. In other words, an act of service is a gift of love, even if it doesn’t smell that way. It followed, if you wanted someone to feel your love, you should express it unselfishly, in a way they understood. It’s an evolved concept if you lean toward immaturity and really want the damn roses.
I’m a horse trainer but the truth is that I’m a couples therapist. I know a pretty fair amount about riding and training, but more often, I translate language between humans and horses, trying to iron out misunderstandings.
Horses do not thrive on drama. Love and anxiety are contradictions to a horse. I wish humans didn’t equate the two either. Emotional runaways, whether it’s anger or affection or even extreme confusion, aren’t positive input.
I don’t want to be a killjoy. I love a horse hug as much as anyone but more than that, I care that he feels confident and peaceful. Safety means more a horse than our undying chatter about love.
If it’s one of those days when a sideways look might reduce you to tears, consider loving your horse enough to stay away. Just because we feel better around a horse doesn’t mean it’s our right to dump our hard feelings on them.
The most common miscommunication I see between horses and riders is our apparent unwillingness to recognize anxiety. Years ago, looking at a horse for a client, the mare’s face showed every painful ulcer symptom I know and the sellers stood around laughing about how she liked to make “cute faces.” Worse yet, we commonly mistake signs of anxiety for affection and end up encouraging their anxiety.
How to tell if your love language is good for your horse? Quiet your mind. No, really. Then be honest and look deeper than what you want to see. Are his eyes soft? His face smooth? Does he show peace? It’s a lot less romantic than your horse mugging you but love shouldn’t look like insecurity.
How to let your horse know you love him? Develop a quiet mind. Give him a release but then pause. Wait for him to answer. It might be closing his eyes or licking. The huge calming signal response is a stretch and a blow. If you love him, give him time and space. Show him that respect.
Want to know my worst fear about my blog? Because I don’t believe in domination training, I fear that my message will be misconstrued to mean don’t ride, don’t ask for improvement, and just generally, let your horse walk all over you and call it love. Humans are such extremists; swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the far other is equal dysfunction.
I want clients to Ride the Middle. To have polite and complicated conversations about willing responses, balanced transitions, and eventually the weirdness of half-pass. Conversations that involve getting one good step, laughing, and taking a break. Conversations without blame, where we ask for the best of each other. The very best.
It isn’t just that we train performance horses, but we train in such a way that horses volunteer, feeling strong and confident. That’s love in action.
Solstice in Scotland: We’re in process of planning a series of clinics in June 2018. If you would like to host a clinic or attend a clinic, please contact me here.
This horse covers the ground more quietly on four hooves than my old feet can manage, dynamic strides so I stretch to keep up. Awareness pulses in his ears and nostrils. That's character carved in his jaw and if the sun is setting just right, you can look into his eye and see the universe lie flat and small at the left edge of his heart. I'm only a bit embarrassed to admit that I time my breath so I can take in his spent exhale. I'm six times his age. It seems the sharper his profile, the more mine loses definition. My cheeks are abraded flat with fruitless emotion and the prairie wind has turned my ears to gristle like the old donkey's. The corners of my mouth have stretched from screaming at the moon and my eyelids have gradually swollen to protect my eyes from sights that hurt them. Six times his age, using his breath, trailing safe in his stride.
It’s my bi-annual report on the animals fostered here at Infinity Farm. I try to balance on a tightrope when I write about rescue. I want to encourage people to adopt and at the same time, not get too romantic about it. I know with bloody certainty than I can’t save them all. I just think that the value of animals in our world is worth our inconvenience.
My little farm has always had an open-door policy when it comes to rescues. In the last ten years, 32 horses, mules and donkeys have temporarily fostered with us for evaluation or training. Most of them found their way to new homes and happy endings. Some found their way to peace.
We have two fosters now. Seamus, or Moose as he prefers, is a Welsh Corgi who’s been here six months. Sometimes when owners give up their dogs, they give a list of faults that serve as a justification for giving them up. In his case, the faults were worse than described. I’ve never met a dog who’s such an expert on punishment.
I’d love to say Seamus is happy again, frapping in the yard and cooing in my ear. It would be a lie. It’s true he rarely bites anymore but he is not a light-hearted little guy. He believes in evil; a trait you don’t often see in his breed. He tries to hide his fear with bravado but it makes him more bi-polar than cute. When he does play, he plays with a vengeance –the dark kind. It’s been hard on our other dogs and now the house has a maze of gates between rooms so that our dogs can be separated. It’s inconvenient.
On a good day, he sleeps on my chest, nearly crushes my lungs, and dreams.
Once Seamus had decompressed a couple of months, I took him to my vet. All of Seamus’ work came apart fast. The good news is that the vet didn’t get bitten. The good news is that she gave us tranquilizers and told us to come back in a week, under medication. The next visit, with a carefully negotiated muzzle, gave us hard medical answers. He has a bad hip and two bad elbows.
There is a term in rescue: Foster fail. It’s a joke that comes with a wink and a nod. It means a foster home has fallen in love. Seamus is the other kind –a literal failure at fostering. He has no place to go from here. He can’t be adopted out safely. Euthanizing is probably smart but he’s still a few months short of his second birthday. For now, he’ll stay. Maybe in a couple of years, he’ll age out of his aggression but by then his structural disadvantages will catch up with him. Bittersweet future.
Backyard puppy mills, like his, deserve a special place in hell. And maybe it’s me that likes the name Moose better. Say Seamus out loud and add an “on” in the middle. It wears me down.
It’s the one-year and one-month anniversary of Lilith’s arrival here. She’s somewhere over a hundred years old but we haven’t carbon dated her. She has “expired teeth” that, if she’d let you lift her lip up, you don’t want to see. She came to rescue from an old ranch where she’d been fighting coyotes for at least a couple of decades. Cantankerous is the charming word for her foul temper.
That extra one-month on her anniversary is because that first month we thought she had come here to die. But that didn’t work out.
Now I worry that she’s gained so much weight that her frail little legs can’t carry it. She has a freight train of a bray that gets a little stronger every day. Her shyness is gone; now when I take strangers into her pen, she strides up for a scratch but the second your hand comes close, she flings her head wildly to the side, ears akimbo, and demands you be cautious with your affection. She’s prickly.
Last fall my Grandfather Horse was failing. He was thirty, with a stack of terminal conditions, and the light gone from his eyes. She rallied and it didn’t feel fair. Because she was older. Because I just wanted him.
Now on her anniversary, she is pretending to graze. She nibbles dandelions, chews with fierce concentration, and then spits them out. There are no coyotes in her pen but she stays in shape goat wrestling. It’s a slow-motion event that involves more ear flinging.
Just yesterday, I was using a hair brush to thin out the steel wool covering her back. She’s itchy so she’ll stand for a minute. Then her butt teeters toward me, as her back feet bounce off the ground as a warning, followed by a kick with her knife-like hooves. Then both of us tiptoe quickly in opposite directions. She doesn’t love me. I respect that.
Lilith is a failed foster, too. She’s alive but she has no place to go. She needs a few bowls of mush a day and between that, and the biting and kicking, she’s pretty inconvenient.
Maybe that word is the problem.
One hundred dollars; no questions asked. Colorado Horse Rescue Network is having an Open Door Event next month with our buyout program; we pay you for your unwanted horses. Then we do the very best we can for them. We’re pairing it with a free castration clinic. Spread the word!
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Just to be clear, calming signals are not something humans do to calm horses. It’s the language horses use to calm us. Because we are an unpredictable war-like species.
This week I’m answering a question: A rider, who was really enjoying her calming signals work, emailed a question about what to do about an aggressive horse. The rider said that a fancy show mare had come to her barn temporarily and boarders had been told that the mare was fine with horses but not humans; they were warned to not “get in her face.”
Our rider was leading her horse in around suppertime and that mare was guarding the alley to the gate. The mare tried to get between them, the rider reached out for her horse, and after a couple of warnings from the mare, and the she grabbed the rider’s wrist in her teeth and pinned her ears. She could have done much worse.
Our rider, demonstrating un-common sense, dropped the rope, retreated, and took her horse out another gate. The right answer because she was in close quarters and it wasn’t her horse. She said that several other boarders offered to help bring her mare next time, and show her how to handle this type of situation. (She wasn’t comfortable with their advice… smart decision.)
She added that a few days later, while being led into the barn, the mare attacked a barn-worker who escaped by locking herself in a stall, until the mare eventually sauntered into her own stall. (Vindicated, the rider would still like to know how to handle this kind of horse, in this type of situation.)
Disclaimer: I would be foolish to give advice when I can’t literally see the horse; I never substitute someone else’s eyes for mine because I usually see the situation differently. And I think that’s what people want from me. That said, I’m thrilled that no one got hurt… and here goes…
Foremost, is the mare sound? Her health must be the first question. Being a show horse is a stressful life and she’s moved to a new barn. Does she have ulcers? Change is harder on them than we understand. If she is acting like a stallion, could she have reproductive issues? Are her hormones out of control? Ovarian cysts are common and under-diagnosed. It could be her teeth or a million other things. My first stop would be with the vet, and in the meantime, rather than warning the boarders, the barn owner shouldn’t turn the mare out with other horses, for everyone’s safety.
I’d bet my truck this mare’s in pain, but let’s pretend the vet clears her and said her issues aren’t physically based. Now what?
Of course, you’ll get advice from Railbirds and testosterone-junkies of both sexes, but do not take it. Too many times, a self-appointed horse expert thinks all the horse needs is to be shown who’s boss. And about the time two or three “experts” have had a shot at her and failed, she is worse than when she started. Sounds like this mare may have had a dose of that already.
Aggressive trainers and riders count on getting to a place where their dominating aids and loud emotions intimidate a horse into playing dead. The other term for that is shut-down. The horse looks like teacher’s pet but with flat black eyes. Stoic horses pull inside themselves for a long as they can.
But not all horses are stoic. Some are more expressive, with a bold self-confidence and a fearless heart. The kind of horse who will not be bowed. She proudly looks you in the eye, refuses to submit, and holds her ground. Partnering with a horse who requires a human to be their equal is an amazing opportunity, but most humans take the low road and start a brutal physical battle. Just one reason that horses could think that we’re an unpredictable war-like species.
I don’t know this mare; I do know that horses reflect our emotions sometimes, and I know that a horse trained with fear is not dependable. I also know that some horses were never meant to belong to amateur owners –through no one’s fault.
Our rider said the mare gave her a couple of hints but she didn’t take them. My guess is that it wasn’t the first time. But that’s all history. What about now?
This is where I remind you that positive training isn’t just a lily-livered game for geriatric geldings on sunny afternoons. It isn’t just for decrepit rescue horses or mild-mannered kind souls. Reactive horses who get in trouble need it more than all the “good” horses combined.
Now, hope the owner hires a competent trainer; someone who understands behavior, human and horse, and sees the big picture. Then, grab a beer. The mare didn’t get this way in a day. We know this isn’t normal behavior. And we know that she gave calming signals that were not understood. We know that even if she’s an alpha mare, she deserved better.
If she came here, I’d take her back to the beginning. Listening to her calming signals, I might ask quietly for just one step. If she looks away, a calming signal, I’ll take a breath. Then I’ll ask quieter. If I can tell she considers doing it, I’ll exhale and step back. In the process of successive approximation, I’ll gradually ask for more, but I’ll be slow because she’s lost trust. I’ll look past her anger and talk to her anxiety.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t baby talk and coo. I will use strong body language, I will control my emotions. I won’t attack her space, just as I will be very clear about my own. I will not let my guard down for a moment, but I’ll have a cool exterior. It will require perception, impeccable timing, and precise response. I won’t be perfect; it’ll be a work in progress because she will require my very best work and I’ll thank her for that. I’ll train her “respect” by showing her consistency and focus. I’ll let her know that I heard her loud and clear. Then I’ll encourage her to quietly continue the conversation.
I will always believe that it’s humans, (a war-like species,) who do not understand what respect means. When I see humans teach “respect” by demonstrating brutality, to animals or other humans, respect is the last word that comes to my mind. It might be the only thing that this mare and I agree on in the beginning.
What should the rider have done in this situation? Get you and your horse out safely. Good. Don’t encourage people to try to dominate her; it hasn’t worked in the past and she doesn’t belong to you. Good again, you did the right thing. Then hope that her owner doesn’t hire a bully with a grudge. Because this is a smart mare with a long memory, and she doesn’t suffer fools.
This is our mantra. Repeat after me: I’m only human. I’ll try to do better.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Start here: There is no rule that says when a horse’s age goes up, his weight needs to come down. Age is no excuse for thin horses.
It’s my Grandfather Horse on the right in the photo. You can tell he’s three-times the age of the other horse because he’s sway-backed. He was thirty when he passed, with a list of maladies a mile long: nearly toothless, blown tendons, arthritis, heart murmur, cancer, and near the end, some sort of stroke… but his weight was just dandy. #ageisnoexcuse.
I have a filthy habit. I attend horse abuse cases in court. On sunny days, when I could be giving lessons or working with my horses, I sit in rooms with no windows to listen to lies. This week, two of us from Colorado Horse Rescue Network drove to the next county to sit in court. If I was guaranteed convictions with real penalties, I’d call it a guilty pleasure…
The hard part of this dark hobby is listening to the evidence. Testimony on behalf of the horses includes the state of the facility; the quantity of manure, along with usual empty water tanks, and lack of feed. There are usually statements about the condition of the horse’s feet and their teeth, but their weight is the most visible symptom. We use a BCS (body condition score) rating system to describe the physical state of the horse on a scale from one to nine.
The most common excuse that lousy horse owners use to justify neglecting their horses is claiming that older horses are just naturally skinny. And yes, there are a million other flimsy excuses for how horses get to this sad state, but it’s ridiculous how often you hear the “old horse” excuse. Ridiculous how many elders that end up at auctions look like the walking dead. Ridiculous how little it takes for these same elders (without health issues) to regain a healthy weight.
Disclaimer: Sometimes good horse-people get into trouble. There could be a death in the family or a job loss. Law enforcement doesn’t want to seize horses; it’s actually a complicated process. They would rather help the owner find a solution. By the time charges get filed, it generally means that the owner has refused a few ideas.
How to tell the difference between an owner who’s trying and actual neglect? My personal rule is that if the water tanks are empty, it’s a bad sign. Water is free, after all. Even if it is inconvenient to walk out to the pen.
Horses who lose weight with feed available probably have a dental problem. Equine teeth “erupt” through horse’s lives; they continue to grow. Daily grazing wears the teeth down but as time passes, sometimes the teeth don’t wear evenly, leaving sharp hooks and edges that result in painful ulcers inside the mouth and less effective mastication (chewing) means less of the nutrition in the hay is available to the horse and he loses weight… not because of his age.
Good horse-people get dental care for their horses; “floating” is the process of filing the teeth level to improve the tooth surface for effective chewing.
Confession: Growing up, I don’t remember seeing floats done. We were poor farmers and my father dispatched “useless” animals that were thin or old. Times change and when we know better, we can do better. Ignorance is no excuse. Checking teeth is part of a routine vet check. Unless, of course, a horse doesn’t get consistent veterinary care, either.
Sometimes in a pen of horses, a few will be an okay weight but others will be too thin. They are being under-fed. The more assertive horses are eating the hay while the more submissive ones are starving. It’s still neglect; don’t wait until they are all emaciated.
So, there you are in court, listening to a cloud of evidence: some combination of no hay, or no vet care, or just lies and excuses. The defendant always has friends in the court, ready to testify on behalf of the abuser. I always wonder if they are such good friends, why didn’t they step in and offer help before things got so bad?
Last year in court, at the end of a full week of expert testimony about the horrific neglect that had resulted in the death of over half of her herd, I listened to a life-long horse-owner explain to the jury, in a perfectly reasonable way, that her horses weren’t show horses and they just didn’t need that level of care. I looked to the jury and no one’s chin was on their chest. It sounded almost rational. Almost believable.
Don’t be fooled. Neglect is failing to provide adequate care to any animal you possess and it’s against the law.
Now for the rant: I know caring for animals is inconvenient. It’s just true–endless time and endless money. And as time passes, you might have to soak mush or buy bags of senior feed. But still, the crime isn’t getting old– it’s lacking the compassion to inconvenience yourself.
I want to ask a favor. Remembering every chubby old sway-backed horse you’ve known, please consider posting a photo of them on your Facebook page and copy/paste the hashtag #AgeIsNoExcuse to the Colorado Horse Rescue Network page. Then “like” the other photos there. Help us debunk the “skinny old horse” myth.
If you feel you owe a debt to horses in your life, please participate in our legal system. Bear witness in court; let them know the community cares about animal welfare. Too many times people put their personal convenience above the needs of others, when it’s our character at stake.
And if you see a thin horse, kindly ask the owner about floating. Make it easy; say that you didn’t always know about it, either. Give them the chance to do the right thing.
Here’s our foster, Lilith. She arrived in May, extremely elderly, rail thin, and with, in the equine dentist’s words, “expired teeth.” This fall, I cut back on her feed, worried that too much weight would make her move a little stiffer than she does already…
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
February 2nd, 10 pm, 12 degrees. There was dense fog all day. We didn’t see the sun and the temperature stayed in the teens. My barn is full now, with three fosters visiting, on top of the usual herd of boarded horses and my family horses.
It’s time for the night feeding; double socks in my muck boots, sweats over my pajama bottoms, coat zipped to the very top, and two layers of hats and gloves. The dogs come with me as I carry two buckets of warm mush. One is for the elderly toothless donkey who can’t stay warm by chewing hay all night like the others. There’s some of her supper frozen in her feed-pan; she’s a slow eater. The other bucket is for two of the fosters who could use just a bit extra on such a bitter night. Everyone else gets extra hay, a flake of alfalfa, and a visual once-over.
I’ve fallen hard enough on icy ground that I’ve had to catch my breath and then crawl to a safe place to stand again; I swear, icy nights are more dangerous than horses. So, it’s small steps, testing my boot cleats as I go around the barn to throw hay in the back pen. I want to put eyes on everyone, but now my headlamp is flickering. A bit of whacking and head-shaking works and when I’m finally satisfied everyone is okay, I head back to the house and un-peel. My boots and coat are off when I remember the water. There’s one tank that I should have topped off. The layers come back on and I waddle out the back door again, with fewer dogs this time.
My barn hydrant has been frozen all week, so I’ve rolled out hose from the far side of the house. I can’t stand the thought of hose-wrangling on this night, when the frost is as thick as snow, so I walk a pair of five-gallon buckets instead.
Here’s why you should particularly not feel sorry for me. Right about now, I set the buckets down, pull my phone out, and take my gloves off. It’s so beautiful that, even in the dark, I take a few shots. It all looks night-vision green in my view finder and my eyes are too cold to focus. Then as I deliver the water, Edgar Rice Burro exhales a staccato series of heavy breaths, his precursor to braying, and I give him an extra scratch before going in for the night.
Thursday is blog night, these last seven years, so the dogs and I go to my studio to start writing. If there’s anything less romantic than below-freezing trips to the barn, it’s pounding out a blog past bed-time. Feel no sympathy for me; I’m hooked.
I’ve been thinking about an email I received from a stranger. The subject line asked, “Do I Want a Horse?” What a silly question, of course, you do.
The email was from a woman of a certain age, who has taken riding lessons every week for a couple of years but dreams of having horses at her home. Her husband and family think she shouldn’t; she thinks I might be impartial since I don’t know her. Really? I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask. Even now, I’m haunted every day by the desire to have a horse.
It was a serious question and I gave her a serious answer. Keeping a horse at home is ugly work, not just for the weather. It’s constant fence repair and mucking and less time to ride than you imagine. I reeled off the numbers; cost of care, feed, vets, farriers, and all the rest. But the money is the easiest part.
Horses are somehow both accident prone and dangerous. They get hurt or sick and it isn’t always obvious until it’s bad. It takes years to gain the required knowledge and methods to keep them well. Then, she’ll need two; it’s cruel to own one horse. And she’ll need a truck and trailer and a safe place to ride. Or if she hauls to ride or have lessons, the horse left home might have anxiety, so maybe three horses are a better number. It gets complicated fast.
The heartfelt wish to have a horse is the selfish and easy part. I tell her it isn’t so simple to just get rid of them if it doesn’t work out. I give her the commitment talk. And of course, she must include them in her will to avoid them landing in rescue or on a truck to Mexico, if they outlive her. Then I urge her to make a list of what she’d be willing to give up if push comes to shove.
Sometimes parents ask me about a horse for their kid (and none of us are much more mature than that) and I always say no, don’t do it. Instead, lease a horse at a barn. When we get it wrong, it’s the horse that suffers.
But if the kid (you) can’t eat, or sleep, and begs relentlessly for at least a year, then consider getting a horse. But only do this thing if you think you’ll die without one. Know that you will see ugly things that will haunt you forever and you’ll be terrified a good part of the time. It’s a lot to go through for the view of a horse outside your window. Then, take the leap, if you must.
I never candy-coat horse ownership, but what I don’t say (and what I really believe) is that there’s too much cheap talk about loving horses. I never think it’s about owning one. I think we need to own all of them–each one of us literally owning each one of them.
I wish it was all more absolute. Not just the conditional love of a personal horse, or loving a breed of horses, but accepting the old crippled ones, the babies that need care and training, and the ones destroyed by abuse and neglect. It’s about track horses and plow horses and horses past any kind of work. It’s volunteering at a local rescue or therapeutic program when you’re done at home. It’s taking in an elder in the name of a heart-horse you’ve lost. And when your barn is full, then get out the checkbook and spend whatever’s left there to support local riding programs and rescues. Show up and witness abuse cases in court; call your elected officials on horses’ behalf. Then hope to encourage others by your example.
Do I think you should you get a horse? No. You should get all of them.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
I’m doing something different today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. When I started my blog, almost eight years ago now, I had a nebulous thought. It was inane, and simplistic, and lacked any kind of forward-thinking plan. And it was personal.
I wanted to help horses, simply because they have helped me.
You have to love a plan so huge and formless that there seems no way to start it, but that one-step-at-a-time method works, if pursued with a mule-like tenacity. At the same time, it occurred to me that I was a forced reader (a trainer’s responsibility to stay informed) of horse articles and books. They were textbook-dry sometimes. To get my word out meant that my writing had to improve, in order for readers to want to read. So that just made my nebulous plan larger and more complicated, and of course, those two condiments–time rich and income poor. Can I just affirm that even now I have no idea what I’m doing?
Then this started to happen:
I wanted to reach out to you and thank you profoundly for your insight. I just finished reading your book, “Relaxed and Forward” and it has transformed my ride. Like most of us DQs I was bitten by ambition and desire to get the perfect dressage horse, push through the levels, impress the judges and my dressagy friends with the beauty of our team work. Well that didn’t work. I internalized the persistent cry from trainers and friends for “more, more, more” as push, push, push, kick, kick, kick, pull, pull, pull, grunt, grunt, grunt. I manhandled and worked way too hard. I knew I was the one who needed to change but I didn’t know how. Now with a fresh perspective I have decided to get over myself and listen to my horse, to reward the smallest try with lavish praise and avoid the resistence by refusing to pull or manhandle. After 3 rides with this intention my horse has relaxed, opened up with forward flowing energy and his eye is happy and sweet at the end of the ride. Instead of pulling I have re-trained myself to release unabashedly no matter what my brain tells me and he is thoroughly appreciative of this new woman on his back! I have bookmarked many pages and will refer to them often for fortitude and inspiration to continue this path. I believe Winter, my lovely horse would like to say thanks to you as well. I think we can go as far as we want if we continue on this path. Like most of us I’ve read a jillion equestrian books, magazine articles, and watched countless videos. The only one to transform my ride was your work. So thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the lovely, strong amazing horse I am privileged to love and ride.
PS Just had to share one more thing! A barn mate gave me a totally unsolicited comment on my ride today and said, “wow, your horse looked really relaxed and forward today!” Omg! Have not had any conversation with her about reading your book or making changes in my ride. Pure joy!
This note came from a reader recently; to say it sent me sailing would be an understatement. I end up writing thank-you notes for thank-you notes.
It’s the thing I never expected, that overwhelms me on my tiny farm, and I’m dwarfed by your hearts. I struggle with how to say this… it isn’t about me at all. It’s all about you and your horses. I get more messages like this than I deserve, and each time, they lift me up.
Reading the blog comments every week has kept me writing. I don’t struggle with writer’s block because of your encouragement. So yes, it’s really you, Reader, who is responsible for my writing. And it’s me who is grateful for this extended barn family we’ve created here. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, but coming together here with horse friends has been a sweet balm. At times like this, words do fail me.
Thank you kindly.
I try to avoid any photos of abuse. I don’t share them because they titillate perpetrators. Besides, I’ve seen enough cruelty for a thousand lifetimes. Continue reading “Defending Horses with Words and Money”