Sunday, April 22, 2012

I'm not over this yet!

     So it's been a while since my last entry but it's also been a long time since my last real brush with FEAR around horses.

     Anyway, we have been transferred to another state and prior to this a dear friend offered to care for my horses while I dismantled all my corrals so that they could be shipped with all my household goods. So at the beginning of February, I took all 3 horses to my friend's house. I loaded Shazaam, then Phantom and then a rising 3 year old mustang filly I now have named Fable into my 3 horse slant load trailer and we drove to the hour to my friend's house. I am frankly nervous loading and unloading horses but I got there and unloaded my filly and Phantom just fine and then I went to unload Shazaam. He has been trying to hurry out of the trailer so I took a deep breath and let it out before even going back in there to get him.
     My slip knot wouldn't slip and I couldn't reach it with the divider closed so I opened the divider forst and went in to undo the knot. Poor Shazaam could not wait for me and despite me telling him to stand with one hand gently signaling on the rope to come off the pressure, he reached the end of the rope, got upset and set back on it. Well initially I was facing the inside of the trailer in the direction I wanted to my horse to be. I didn't push him out of the trailer with my body but as he was setting back there and rearing inside the trailer, I stood and faced him and watched my life flash before my eyes.

     He gave up the fight after a few seconds and bolted forward off the pressure to stand, a quivering mess right next to me. Now I know and imagined quite vividly, this horse creaming me against the front wall of the horse trailer, while he was on 2 legs and all I could really notice was the whites of his eyes way above me. I got him untied and backed him out of the trailer.

     I was furious but I didn't act on it. If I'd had access to a gun, I might have actually shot him and put him down right there.  The thoughts that went through my head were lightning fast "I've had this animal for 7 years" "He knows to come off pressure, I can lead him by a single foot or even his tail or mane" "When he started with being a nervous unloader, I went back to remedial training- loading and unloading, controlling each foot with him calm and easy"  A couple of trainer friends of mine told me I was not off by euthanizing Shazaam- they felt he was improving over the years but was ultimately unpredictable.

     So after nearly 3 months of reflection I have come up with this:  All the training in the world will not fill in where there is any fear for Shazaam to feed off of. Period. Even if I don't show it. And sadly, I feel this horse LOVES me which is why he purposely didn't kill me in the trailer-and he tends to treat me like a foal he has to nurture. I know a lot of women who want that from their horses and years ago, I might have been one of them but I'm here to tell you that LOVE is the most useless basis for a  relationship to have with any horse when there is not 100% trust. So I find myself in this place where I seriously do not want his love and never really have.  My filly and I have a great relationship, she trusts me, I trust her-there is mutual respect and while she is interested in having me come out and work at different things with her and she likes being fed and looked after in general, I think I could be interchangeable with any person who would offer her that.  Phantom and I have a similar relationship except he is a pushy gelding with a sense of humor and an over all draft-pony personality so I have to demand respect from him where my filly offers it but the trust is the same.

     So how to fix things with Shazaam? I don't know. He is overly sensitive and seems to need the connection.  I've tried to give him less attention and he gets depressed and stops eating.  I can't stop feeling fear but I have stopped acting on it. I have learned to function through it. I have ridden through it enough that I don't feel nearly it as much as I used to.

     I can only guess that time with this horse will eventually show me how to get along with him. I actually think I trust him more than he trusts me at this point but only because I have gotten so much better at predicting his behavior.  That may be the only thing that keeps me marginally safe at this point.

     I can only get better.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poor Baby Toe

We have had pretty windy and cold weather over the last 2 days so the horses have reason to feel rather cooped up in their 24' X 24' corrals.

Yesterday Fable was standing on the pipe of her gate. Now it's not like she hasn't been fooled with- we go on walks even in bad weather because the only way she will get really great at leading and learning her ground work is to do it- regularly. She was a bored baby anyway after 2 days off so I took her out to work her and walk her.

What happened to me would have been comical if it wasn't so painful. While working on my leading exercises ( a mix of go forward, whoa, back, hip over from standing, soften face to pressure, move shoulders over while going forward) I started forward and took my eyes off her for a second to scan the ground around us for holes or possible danger and she popped her shoulder into me and walked forward stepping on my right pinky toe.

I wear fairly hard capped boots for this reason but I HATE steel toe boots so I don't usually wear them. I sucked in my breath at the sharp pain and that spooked her so she JUMPED off my foot and executed a perfect capriole.

Now I have no interest in ever teaching her to do that in hand, under saddle, or frankly anywhere around human beings so I gave her a pop on the nose (regular halter) along with a firm "no". That was enough to get her to try to get away from me. My correction was just to make sure I had both her eyes on me until she settled which probably took less than 3 seconds.

I continued to work her and walk her around, gradually expanding her comfort zone around the property and after another 15 or 20 minutes, I turned her and the 2 geldings out together.

After all that, my toe is black, and I'm not sure if it's broken but it's 4 times it's normal size. I guess I have to go buy steel toed boots until I get this girl bitted and can really teach her shoulder control and she has it ingrained in her mind.

This is the first time I've actually had the thought of "Oh do I really want to deal with babies at my advanced (almost 41) age?

My 9 and 6 year olds are sooo easy by comparison even if my 9 year old can be hard to handle at times because he has had his mind blown once upon a time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cha Cha Cha Cha Changes!

Well we've rented our own ranch here in So Cal! And while I'm excited, it really has been a huge pain in the butt. The pasture fences are are hard to keep up here in the desert especially when they are made of wood. The solar fencer is also hard to keep working.

The general picture I'm trying to paint is that I'm lucky to have time to work with my horses at all and there is now no extra money for lessons since I've basically lost my job in this economy.

My New Years resolution is to spend more time riding and either get back to school or try to get a job on base with MCCS. I'd very likely start at minimum wage but after working for them for a year I qualify to apply for GS jobs. We are not hurting for groceries around here but we also have no savings left and that just makes me too nervous.

Back to the horses though- I'm so fed up with the failing wood fence that I'm more determined than ever to have a pipe corral arena and round pen in the future. (HA reason enough to work for ANY wage at this point!)

Other changes would be that I sold Maximus. Not because he is too safe (smile) but because our characters are not compatible. He is perfect for my husband - but my husband really isn't interested in riding. So Moose is living a posh life with someone who rides him at least 3 days a week for lessons with her dressage instructor and then whatever her homework is.

Before I moved here I was riding 3 days a week. Mostly training compulsories in an arena but I really try to keep things fresh so I don't bore my horses too badly. My aim is to get Phantom going for trail riding soon. I will be losing a riding buddy in a few months and arrainging a ride out with other buddies will be something like pulling teeth-wisdom teeth. Meanwhile, I'm ground driving phantom all over.

Wondering about my fear? Well it's still there but that is really OK. I now know how to proceed with my fear and realize that I can always step off the horse and that I SHOULD step off when I feel fear. Being fearful atop my horse does my horse no favors and stopping in the middle of a lesson doesn't really hurt my horse so there is no reason not to stop and regroup and then come back to finish.

I've got a new project- an oops baby that my friend had. She is half mustang and half Missouri Fox Trotter (OOPS!) and 20 months old now. But she has a great mind, a lovely relaxed walk and is really just over all nicely conformed to be an all around horse. She could easily be mistaken for a lippet morgan. She won't be started under saddle until she is 3 years old. I'd love to push that back until 4 years old but I'm not getting any younger with time and she is a very busy minded girl living in the desert instead of being pastured where it's ideal for baby horses to grow up. I need to get some pictures up so here is a phone pic:

Saturday, November 28, 2009


The weather outside is frightful! For the desert anyway. It's windy, overcast, and cold. Too windy and cold to ride anyway. So I have time to catch the blog up on what's been going on.

I moved my horses from the only commercial self care boarding facility in 29 Palms to the base stables. Not a bad facility but it's further from my off-base home. Why did I move further away from home? Oh the usual, the neighbors taught my super gregarious thoroughbred how to rear AT PEOPLE for food and the BO sprayed my horses with water when it was hot (but just a sprinkle- enough to make them water phobic but not enough to actually cool them off). Hello! Call ME if you think my horse is having problems with heat!

So the TB went to live with his other mom in a herd of 5 on 5 acres. I still get to see him and ride him but not like having him with me. I never thought I'd miss him as much as I do. But he's sane again and is in the best living situation for him. The two mustangs went through 10 days of quarrantine in the busiest environment I could imagine for them. Helicopters flying low, a paintball field, gaggles of running shouting men, big trucks driving by and garbage dumpsters emptied not 15 feet from their corrals. By the end of it, Phantom didn't bother to even get up when the dumpster was emptied.

So I pretty much let my horses sit until October. With turn out of course but I had this stupid problem with overheating everytime I tried to do anything outside.

So I decide to get on Shazaam in the roundpen and all the work I've put in on Moose is paying off- NO FEAR! Just walk-trot but more for his lack of muscle than my fear. I need to recondition my poor horses now. Then the following week, I got on Phantom in the arena and I don't know why I expected him to act like a butthead but he was a perfect gentleman! Walk-trot and no taking off even though I gave him the room to do so if he really wanted to.

So what changed about the horses? Nothing. I'm the change.

I still feel more confident riding full seat in a western saddle BUT Jessica helped me with half seat from another perspective (with my body) and it feels better. Skill increases confidence which leads to improved skill and then greater confidence. Sounds stupid I guess but positive cycles that feed themselves are things we should actively seek. We find negative self-feeding cycles all the time.

Part of the problem with feeling confident in half seat is that I'm (ahem) pushing maximum density... I couldn't snow-ski in my current condition either. I'd likely tear an ACL trying. So the extra 10 lbs I gained over the summer because I've been sitting on the sofa HAS to go.

Of course new public stable = new drama. It's enough to make me physically ill though. There are people there that have to be stirring crap all the time. I'm seriously looking for horse property to rent. I'm ready to handle my horses on my own without fear- even when Shazaam is exploding and even when Phantom is being belligerant- I'm good.

There are still firsts I have to go though. I have to ride my horses on the trail and I have to be able to take them places and ride them before I feel like I'm closer to 100% rehabbed of my fear but I KNOW how to go about it now. I have a safe path to get there.

I'll be taking Phantom to a local show n go in January. I'll update our progress here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There are fundamental changes happening within me. Still. As my confidence slowly builds my horses change. There is virtually no spook left in Shazaam, no mischief left in Phantom (unless he sits without work too long) and Maximus still tests me every time I handle him and ride him but his tantrums under saddle are humorous: kicking out when asked to go forward. He gives up soon enough. I have him walking out and trotting out nicely and with life in his body.

I owe this to 2 people. A wonderful woman who rides 4th level dressage and has been kind enough to put me on her schoolmaster bareback and help me with some centered riding techniques. It's helped me understand the balance point of my older and very different body as well as how my body relates to the horse and how my individual muscles affect each other. This has been huge for me and I think that with this I can go on to tackle the next hurdle-whatever that may be. All I had was 4 rides with her. I pray that someday there can be more.

Then there is Jessica my regular riding instructor. She has been riding Maximus for me so that he gets the experience he needs. Of my 3 horses, he has the least amount of experience working under saddle so this time with Jessica is crucial for him. He has never been as coordinated or athletic as the mustangs are so I'm grateful that she is putting time on him. He will be SUCH a nice horse by the time he is 8 years old.

So they know. The horses know if there is one drop of fear or insecurity in you and this has no place in human/horse interactions. Of course not that we should not seek to preserve ourselves but that we should accept that there is risk but much less risk if we practice safety and feel confident.

How easy is that, right? One thing is to know it in your mind and another to know it and live it in your body. I'm getting there. Slowly but surely.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Leaps & Bounds

The day before yesterday, I rode Shazaam in the round pen like I do every Sunday while my husband rides Maximus. I have been trotting him around and feeling very balanced and confident so I asked him for a canter and...we did it!! It wasn't very pretty at first but as I forced myself to relax it got much, much better. So I decided that I needed mileage at the canter and rode again yesterday. My transitions were smooth and my butt didn't come out of the saddle even a single inch.

Shazaam may be my horsey soul mate and while I believe my little fugly pony is as perfect as they come I'd be lying if I said he didn't feel like riding a jack hammer. To me this is a plus! My lower back has to be super elastic and that actually eliminates my back pain.

I've also started riding him around the ranch which really brings his energy up. I'm starting to be comfortable with this being his "normal" state of mind and have much less trouble keeping him thinking and staying relaxed myself. I don't kid myself, he is still the kind of horse who will invent reasons to explode and bolt but I'm becoming confident in my ability to manage him and I'm sticking to my plan gradually increasing the area where I ride him. This whole journey from mind numbing fear to confident competance is now 3 1/2 years in the making.

I know the entire thing is my fault for owning a horse I couldn't even get near with a brush or he'd mentally unravel instead of a steady old trail horse but to be honest, I'm getting an invaluable education through this and I would not trade what horses have taught me for all the peaceful trail walkie rides in the world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alright so this is laughable...

This week I rode Danielle's horse "Busta Move" AKA Buster. He was a very good boy for me.

Today I went on a trail ride on a 2 1/2 year old mustang filly who is not exactly balanced yet and trips quite a bit. We crossed a major ROAD!!! She did green baby stuff like not know how to get off the road by going up and over a berm. I helped her along with her balance and with the berm thing.

I need to just ride my own darned horses and learn to trust them.