Hello! It has been a long time since I have written to this blog. MANY things have happened and I hope to have the journey chronicled at a new blog site shortly. If you are interested, I hope you will stay tune as I will have the link posted here when it is ready!
Thanks for caring!
The following is an email dialog I have been having on an email list with Shea Stewart. Shea is a trainer that was recommended to me by Gail Ivey when I was looking for someone to work with Harley and me. She lives pretty far, however. She recommended Melissa Pelletier (as did others as well).
I asked Shea for permission to quote her here, along with my responses. She graciously said yes.
The clinic we refer to is a Ross Jacobs clinic which I mentioned in my previous entry. I am learning things so fast, I don't have time to ruminate on them before I go out and learn some more!
Hi, Shea. It was great to meet you on Saturday.
You put into words some things that really set off a series of
thoughts in my mind...a processing of everything I have been taking in is
going on...and so this post is more my ruminating on all of it...or a "brain
barfing" as I have been known to call it.
It is more for my personal benefit than anything else, of course.
Thanks for taking the time to give me some insight about what I missed on
Saturday. Melissa also helped me with that today when I was at her place. I
sure had a blast today debriefing about Saturday and playing with Harley
> It seems that this is a very common concern for people who are
> trying to uunderstand a certain concept. First thing I tell people
> is that when my life comes up like that to help a horse find a
> change, there are no emotions behind it. So in other words, pressure
> does not mean that I am angry, or braced. I think sometimes people
> have a hard time separating pressure with anger.
Intellectually, I can separate out the anger from the pressure. But you
mentioned brace...now *that* I do have a hard time separating from upping my
life. When I upped my life with Harley today, I was playing with this quite
a bit and found that he read my life best, it seemed, when I stiffend my
body. Now I didn't have a brace mentally at all (that I know of). But I did
feel that my body was rigid and almost tense. I don't know if this is what
you mean or not and maybe Melissa and I can play with it on Friday when I go
back to Ione. I would certainly like to understand this.
I also asked Melissa about anger today. I do know that if I go out to play
with the horses at all without resolving things internally that are in my
life elsewhere, anger will slop over into my horsemanship when the life
comes up. But if I have reconciled issues in my life and am comfortable in
my own skin (this is especially true with Harley--he showed me that our
first year together), then I can up the life without feeding it with anger.
But it is something I want to be vigilant about, as it seems so easy for
unresolved conflict to come with me to my horses--to use them as therapists
or something. That just doesn't work. I can hug on them and sniff their
manes and it can be soothing to me, but if I want to accomplish something
productive, I know that I have to be right in my world first independent of
them. Otherwise there is a mess to sort out when the life needs to come up.
As I look back now, too, I know that the times when I have gotten fearful
when working with Harley, it has "morphed" into anger. I have heard that
anger is a secondary emotion for a lot of other emotions and in my life that
has certainly been true. I understand now more than ever that Harley getting
big with me was likely him shouting a question "WHAT DO YOU WANT????"
because I didn't provide clarity. Kathleen Lindley once challenged me to
select a "global goal" with Harley. I chose "calm" and that was my focus for
everything. I see better than ever now that sometimes with Harley, "calm"
*doesn't* offer clarity. He has to have clarity or he will provide it for
the both of us :-/. I wonder now if in my way of thinking about it, having a
"global goal" that will affect all I do with my horses, isn't getting me a
bit stuck...probably because I don't understand the ever-changing nature of
it...but that is another story.
Thank you for the reminder about anger and life and even more for the
thought about bracing and bringing up life. I do need to play with this to
understand it practically.
> Now, when to bring up your life is a total *feel* type thing that is
> learned from experience. And I think even the best horseman out
> there change as they learn and grow.
Boy, do I hear you with the "feel" aspect to it. Today I noticed that using
my life needs to be *dynamic*. It can be needed (increased) in one moment,
and then bringing it down may be critical in the next. I never realized just
HOW dynamic it needs to be. I have a mental concept (and some successful
experience) of releasing for a try...that is an instantaneous sort of thing
that is all about timing...and I aspire to improve my timing there,
certainly. Today, though, as Melissa was instructing me on circling Harley
at liberty in the round pen (he was saddled), he became troubled a number of
times and for various reasons. Melissa saw it coming. I realized I was so
focused on Harley's shoulder, I wasn't reading *him*...so I missed it until
it was upon us. More life was needed at times to help him through *some* of
the troubles. A decrease in life was needed to help him through *other*
troubles. And as he adjusted to what was offered, the life needed to change
again. And *I* thought that learning to release at the right moment was
hard! LOL! Boy...I am really getting an education now. (But I am loving it,
> As far as my thoughts on it...For example, if I am asking a horse to
> step their shoulder over and the horse moves their feet around and
> is braced but I feel like the horse is trying to figure out what I
> am asking, I keep offering without bringing up life and play
> the "your getting warmer (with a little release), your getting
> colder (with keeping the same pressure)" until the horse finds
> softness and steps over. Ross had a good example of this with the
> little bay Arab he was working on. The horse was braced, but not too
> troubled and he just needed to find some softness.
Thanks for mentioning this horse. I found myself totally misreading this
horse. He seemed fearful to me when he came into the round pen, but no one
else seemed to feel that. I assume now that I was wrong about it. I blew off
my own observations and questions about this horse because I interpreted
everything through my assumption the horse was *afraid*...not just a little
I think I need to learn to look again when I draw conclusions so quickly.
Arrogance has no business being in my horsemanship--especially at this
>But, if I begin
> to ask the horse's shoulder over and I feel the horse push back, I
> may increase my life a little to tell them that pushing into my
> space isn't really one of the options that I was looking for (and I
> will release the moment they let go of the idea of pushing, even if
> they are braced).
The last horse of the day, the big gray that had her nose along the ground
some and was sort of leaving and sort of blowing off her human...is this a
horse that you might do this with? I noticed Michelle came right in there
and wasted no time upping her life in a HUGE way and I know I had to have
missed a whole truckload of what was going on there! But, as I was reminded
today, did the mare get clarity? Yes. Did she do that any more? One more
time with the same response from Michelle and then no more after that if I
recall correctly. As hard as it is for me to fathom (for some reason), the
mare *was* helped. Melissa showed me today that when I did get bigger than
Harley is accustomed to and he braced in his response, the next time, he
didn't brace, but did what I asked. These pieces are critical for me to put
I have to understand, I guess, that life can bring the clarity. I think
Harley NEEDS that almost more than anything else. I used to put CALM as our
global goal since anything outside of calm seemed to get us into a bunch of
hurt. But I was equating calm with "good"--placing a value judgment on it.
And that meant "intensity" or "life" was NOT good. With Harley, I see now,
as I mentioned previously that this was committing our way to a lack of
clarity...This troubled him...a LOT. I feel relatively confident that this
is a huge part of why we have had so much difficulty.
>Another time I may increase my life is if I go to
> ask for the shoulder, and I feel the horse go inside or shut down to
> my request. Shutting down, going inside, or pushing back, are
> instances when I *might* increase my life, maybe, and it depends on
> the horse. Going inside or shutting down can be hard to read
> sometimes. I let them know in the way that I know how, and the way
> that I think that particular horse can understand, that those option
> won't work.
Shea, thank you for saying this, too. You wrote some of the ideas that
Melissa was trying to convey to me today. Neither of you knew the mental
block I have been facing with regard to a horse shutting down. I just
realized it upon reading your words that I have something going on that
isn't productive... I tend to assume that a horse that "shuts down"
needs....get this... *coddling*. I don't know where I got this idea unless
it was from my mustang. When I realized he was shut down about a lot of
things (and maybe from abusive humans), I felt like I needed to back off to
bring him out. That did work--with *him*, I must say, but he was a very
different horse than any of my others. Dodger literally thought he was going
to die, or so it appeared. I think I tend to assume that any horse that
shuts down in any given moment is doing so for the same reasons that Dodger
used to--that something in what I am doing is being presented in a way that
they are reminded of some harsh handling or something like that and that
they fear for their life! Wow...to type this out makes me realize just how
off the wall it is! It is a false belief! Glad it was exposed! My tendency
has been to back waaaaay off of the pressure...the very opposite of what
you, Melissa and others have said. Even today, when Harley's eyes glassed
over--it reminded me so much of Dodger's way of almost "disassociating" that
I wanted to back off!!! This just feeds the shutting down it seems and, in
effect, trains me to release pressure! Ya think?
>The amount of pressure used is determined on the
> individual horse and there are a lot of variables to consider. But
> if there is a try, then I keep it steady until I see the horse
> finding it. If the horse is the type who pushes, or shuts down, or
> is really troubled or struggling with anything a human asks, I may
> release when they try, even if they seem braced still, just to give
> them the idea that they are starting on the right path....because
> softness may take a while for a horse who has learned to push in
> order to survive their day with a person.
This makes sense to me.
> Some of the more mellow breeds have a tendency to go inside or shut
> down, and that can become dangerous.That one horse from the clinic
> was a very mellow horse who had a lot of trouble inside.
The big guy? Wow...he was wound up tighter than a drum and when it came out,
it was like a runaway train!
>I think the
> pressure used was matching his own pressure he had inside of him. So
> it wasn't the external pressure that caused his reaction, but how he
> felt inside and his own internal struggle where he feels like he is
> hitting his own wall. The flag was just a tool to help him search
> for a different way of feeling, and he ran into his own pressure
> that he was all ready feeling.
I was unsettled about the flag as I was taught never to use a flag until I
was much farther down this road. Gail Ivey pointed out to me that a lot of
dangerous things can happen when people least expect it and they don't "get
it" and try using a flag without having a certain understanding of the horse
and what is really needed. I was surprised about the flag with that big
gelding as I thought the horse might need a chance to know it was not a
boogie first. I thought the owner had said the horse had never been worked
with with a flag, but then her friend corrected me about that when I asked
again about that...
"Ran into his own pressure that he was already feeling." Gosh, of course
this is where I want to know how does someone know when to push things like
was done with that gelding and when you shouldn't? I guess that comes with
time and a lot of experience...
>I am not sure if that horse could
> open up and soften to a person in just one session, and I suspect
> that he could become agressive if the person tip toed around his
> pressure that he had inside of him. I don't know if I am making
> sense, it's hard to write about these things and this is not to give
> advice on what to do when, but just my thoughts on how I think about
It makes a lot of sense. I just want to have it stick in my head complete
with the practical wisdom to know when to do what relative to all of it.
>I think it is one of those things where you learn to read what
> is going on inside the horse, and each year it becomes more and more
> clear with what you are reading and seeing. But like Harry says, if
> you don't think you can get to the other side of their trouble, then
> don't go there. Sometimes it can look big and not so pretty when a
> horse is struggling, and the lack of clarity that they have had in
> their life can show when someone is helping find a better way of
> feeling about things.
I wonder if this is why Harley got so explosive there for a bit today in the
round pen. For the first time since he went to Melissa's, *I* was handling
him in there. I have not been clear about much for the past four years. Some
things were clearly unsettling to him--things that Melissa doesn't
experience with him. It was hard for me to see him unsettled and bucking
when "all I was trying to do" was circle him in the round pen with the
saddle on. The lack of clarity (from our past? or was it there now, too?)
sure DID seem to show up...and it wasn't pretty. You nailed that one on the
head. He has had two wonderful weeks of the human in his life providing him
clarity and consistency. Today, he likely felt his lifeline was gone. We did
ok with some things, but when he became troubled, I didn't see it coming or
know what to do, though Melissa patiently helped me to figure it out. I feel
badly that it happened at all with him that way today.
One thing, though...I didn't feel emotional about what was happening to him
in terms of fear. Though, I did feel relief that I wasn't on his back!
> Good luck with Harley, you couldn't be in better hands with him!
Thanks to you and a few others, I couldn't be happier...Melissa is a
Godsend. I thought Gail would be an impossible act to follow, but Melissa
has proven me wrong . Today, I found something I haven't really had in a
concrete way in over two years...*hope*.
One friend, named Jennifer, posted me something on a Yahoo group we are in together. It is a group for people who appreciate Mark Rashid's way of doing horsemanship. She gave me permisson to quote her here. Thank you, dear, Jennifer! You are the best!
Jennifer expressed some concern that I might let my worry affect me (which would affect Harley), so she wanted to be sure I considered some things. I love how she worded this.
"What you think is what
you get. You know, when I rode Tasia the first couple of times, I
was very nervous. My thoughts the whole way to the barn were
something along the lines of, "Should I be riding her since I'm not a
trainer? What if I mess her up? What if I get hurt? Should I NOT
ride her since I'm worried and I'll make her worried?" Blah blah
blah. I was nervous to get on her and just ride. "
I couldn't believe that my friend, Jennifer, felt this way with her young mare Tasia. It just floored me! I thought Jennifer would be the picture of confidence. It encouraged me to read that it isn't just *me* that has these doubts!
"The third time, I decided to change my thought process. I wrote a
list of basics I wanted to focus on to ride her correctly on her
first rides (things like my position, my mind-set, how to get her
focus back on me if she did her giraffe imitation at something on the
horizon, and other proactive thoughts on doing it right). I also
reminded myself that I have been her trainer since she arrived here
as a 2 year old. Michael guides me by coming out for a lesson twice
a month (thank Heaven for good guidance), but I spend every day with
her, and I've been her trainer every day. I told myself that I would
ride her like a trainer, because that's what I am, and that's what
she needs. Hah! I felt arrogant calling myself a trainer, but it
was something I had to do to move forward and ride her effectively.
*I am her trainer.* And the amazing thing was that I wasn't nervous
any more. I felt prepared."
This is huge. I think that what Jennifer has shared here really can revolutionize my thinking. I *have* been Harley's primary trainer for the past 4 years. While that has its good points and not-so-good points, NOW, with all the things I have learned through reading, watching, experience and so on, I offer him the best..a new improved "trainer." One who knows him pretty well and one who isn't content with staying put in her own horsemanship. I also am better positioned to make a list like Jennifer suggests. I will do that today so that when I go on Friday to my lesson with a ranch horse, perhaps I can make headway on some goals that I know will affect me a lot in what I bring to Harley.
"After Michael [her trainer who has been helping her]
starts to lay the foundation, I will continue in his footsteps and do
my best to ride correctly, listen to Tasia, feel her, enjoy each ride
the same way I enjoy every minute with her when I'm not riding, and
build the partnership."
Right...it isn't supposed to be a big hairy deal. Granted, Tasia is a youngster with no negative experiences in her life! Harley is 17 or older with a truckload of baggage, BUT...none of that matters when push comes to shove. Horses seem to live in the moment. Mark Rashid says a lot about being with the horse you have today or riding the horse you have today and I think horses tend to be with the human they have today. I will view moving to riding as part of the relationship...not as some big hairy scary thing to conquer. I will do MY best to ride correctly, to listen to Harley, to feel him, to enjoy each ride the same way I enjoy every minute with him when I am not riding..and build the partnership! Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your wisdom!
" I know my shortcomings, and
I know that focusing on them makes me incapable of rising to the
This too is a subtle shift, but profound as well. Rather than focusing on "I have been bucked off and I deserved it and this is why blabbity blah..." I can know that I have learned a truckload through those experiences and now I CHOOSE to rise to this occasion. I will because I have chosen to. There is not an option. Like Yoda says, "Do or not do; there is no try." Obviously, with horses and ourselves there is a place to recognize the try, but in this case, rising to the occasion is just simply a "will happen" kind of thing! Focusing on my shortcomings will hinder that. I will toss of what hinders....
"Better to acknowledge them, let them go, and focus on the
correct way instead."
This is what I choose to do!
"That doesn't mean I'll throw caution to the
wind and jump on my green horse and go crazy because I've convinced
myself that my shortcomings don't exist anymore. But it does
mean I'll consider everything I've learned, keep on learning and
listening, and move forward with the calm confidence that the
trainers I admire possess because that's what Fantasia needs."
ME TOO! ME TOO!
great trainers don't have ALL the answers, but they work to find the
right answer/motivation for each horse while staying calm &
THANK YOU, Jennifer! I needed your pep talk!
Yesterday was a glorious spring day. Perfect for my second private lesson with J at RHRanch. I got a call, however, and she couldn't make it and invited me to come to the group lesson at 3pm. Well, ok...so I couldn't argue with the fact that the adjusted time would be *better* for me (I homeschool my kids), so I cleaned up my saddle and planned to head over to RHRanch for the group lesson.
In doing so, I actually added some things to my list of those things to move past: 1.) Riding in the very saddle I associate with my accidents 2.) Self-consciousness in riding in front of others.
The actual experience wasn't too bad, though I found myself on overload much of the time--a product I think of my ADD. In any event, I enjoyed riding in my own saddle. That was easy enough...much more so than I thought. Ricki (who has now been sold) was wonderful for me again, though I can't help feeling badly for him that he has checked out so much. I guess being a lesson horse can do that to a horse.
I actually got more than two hours of riding in this situation. It was fun, but I have scheduled the next three private lessons for this week and next. I think that is the best use of my time.
When I got home and after dinner and the kids were in bed, I called Melissa to find out how Harley has been doing. When she first responded, she sounded sort of tentative. I think now, she was trying to figure out how to tell me the GOOD news. I assumed there was *bad* news when I heard her voice! Boy..when will I learn!
She told me that she actually RODE Harley today! WHOO HOO! He has only been there a week and she is riding him!!!! She said that she worked him in the saddle and found a bit of a buck in there when he felt the rear girth. She continued to work with him on that and he finally seemed to realize he didn't need to "go there." YAY! After a bit, she climbed up on her fence rail in her round pen and Harley sided on up over to her without even being asked. It sounds like he invited her aboard. YAY!
She said that he did just fine. There was a bit of worry--especially when they left the round pen, but he did just fine. In the round pen, they even trotted! She said he definitely has some training in him...there were some nice little moves, I guess that he does. I don't know what it is called...it is like a piaffe, but not in place or something. Anyhow, I am just so pleased. Yesterday felt like a hyperdrive day for me and for Harley, too, I am sure!
I get to see him tomorrow and I can't wait. I am so thankful to the Lord for these HUGE strides forward! YAY!
Last Friday, the kids and I ventured to Ione for me to have my lesson with Melissa and Harley. We got some video footage. I really can't explain in words what went on...or words wouldn't be adequate. But one of the things that struck me is that Harley is very focused on Melissa. The time they spent in the round pen, Harley asked questions...a lot of them. Even after just 4 days, he wasn't assuming nearly so much as he did previously. Before it was a mentally braced (and physically, too) "What will it take for you to go away, human?" He loves interactions with humans, but not in a training situation.
I noticed that Harley was asking questions of Melissa...with a softness and willingness...that I hadn't seen before. Additionally, his ears were always indicating he was paying attention to her. This is a huge change as well. Before his attention would be everywhere else. Humans asking him to do things in a round pen were like the flies landing on his chest...there to deal with.
I am extremely optimistic about the changes that I have seen already in Harley. I hope you will visit his video that just shows one tiny snippet of what is going on. http://www.dropshots.com/wolfwacky When you click on the link it is under today's date, April 23. It is a video just under 5 minutes long and I had to compress it quite a bit, so the quality isn't the best.