For those of you who know Liz, her Blog is currently on a hiatus. She has every intention of writing again soon, but in the meantime, I'm happy to share a little part of what she's been up to recently - helping me. Liz and I have been in each other's lives since we were five years old, (maybe before). She is amazing and her dedication to a lifestyle of horsemanship is something I respect. Since purchasing Jean-Luc I have been blessed to have her friendship and guidance.
She is also insanely busy, so when she offered up some informal lessons in the very little free-time that she has, I jumped at the chance! Her training philosophy makes the most sense to me because it is based on classic and natural techniques that when done correctly, result in a healthier horse and rider.
Because the techniques I'm learning are not unique, I was able to "study up" on concepts prior to my lesson. The video below from www.EquitopiaCenter.com, "Art 2 Ride" features trainer Karen Loshbaugh and Equine Veterinarians Dr. Joanna Robson, Dr. Sarah le Jeune and Dr. Sue Dyson. I believe, is a great detailed explanation of what Liz often discusses when teaching me. The video demonstrates what incorrect riding can do to your horse. It also explains why a person would want to use these gymnastic-like techniques to build their horse's back, as well as what happens when a rider/trainer gets this process right or wrong.
This process is not something that happens overnight. Jean-Luc and I have at least a two-year road ahead of us before he will be able to sustain his core and back muscles while riding and that's more than okay by me.
When I arrived at the barn the other night for our lesson, Liz had kindly caught Jean-Luc and tied him for me (#spoiled). It saved both of us time, and we learned he will follow behind a 4-wheeler (quad for those of you up north), with no issues.
While she worked one of her horses in the field, I quickly cleaned and tacked Jean-Luc up. I was excited to toss on his new girth that I'd found a the Galloping Grape Labor Day weekend. It's nothing special, but it was the correct size and made the entire process of saddling up go faster. It's amazing what having the right tools for the job can do.
To start, Liz asked me to work Jean-Luc in the arena with his side reins. She showed me that I had been using them backward (sorry buddy, momma's learning too). Then we worked on getting Jean-Luc used to the feel and encouraging that forward motion, through the bit, and tucking his rump. He could only hold the correct body position for fleeting seconds, but thanks to the video from above, I knew this was to be expected.
We worked at the walk for about 10 min on each side. Then Liz asked me to take him to the outdoor round pen to work on speed changes under saddle. The outdoor round pen is slightly larger and allows for you to canter.
This is where things get ... #fun. You see, I can be kind of a wimp. Once upon a time, I had a knack for hitting the dirt. Now that I have few years on me, the dirt seems so much further away, and it really does take more time to recover. When Liz asked what I wanted to work on, I knew it had to be something that would build my confidence.
Again, rather than tossing me to the wolves, she's kindly suggested working on "speed changes". This made me happy because it is also something that Jean-Luc and I can practice without anyone around. It's quite simple. The goal is to start out at one speed, ask for another speed, and keep changing it up in an effort to have you and your horse go the speed you tell him at the exact moment you say.
Last week I clued her in on something that surprises even me though - I haven't worked at the canter... at all. Yes, I know, every girl's dream is to run through a field of wildflowers as the sun sets over the mountains. How have I not done this yet!? The short answer - I am a chicken.
Liz and I both knew it was time begin whatever steps necessary to make this happen. I mean Jean-Luc is smart and likes to move. Only working his lower gears has a purpose (discourage the pace), but he enjoys moving. So, we started moving around the arena slowly, then a little faster, then changing his speed up and down throughout his different gears. Finally, I got to a point where I believed both we were ready to canter.
The short celebratory version of this story is ... he was ready to canter. I was ready to canter. So we did. The best part of this being a story told in the 21 century is that Liz had her phone on her and was able to take some pretty memorable photos. Remember that old phrase, "A picture's worth a thousand words." This is no exception.
Photo Credit: Liz Stout
As difficult as these are to share, I can actually laugh with you at them. I thought for sure I'd swallowed my terror and I was hiding it well. Liz's camera proves otherwise. It also helped prove something else, though. My fear is somewhat irrational. Look at that happy little critter just moving around in circles! Sure, I can make all the excuses I want, "he isn't balanced", "he moves weird", etc. But the truth is, I am the one re-learning what I once knew. I am the one who needs to just chill.
Thankfully, even if my head doesn't seem to remember, my body hasn't forgotten everything. These photos do show a relatively balanced rider. For the most part, I'm happy with my hands the placement of my feet. My shoulders need to be relaxed and squared up a bit, but I think that will happen more as I remember to BREATHE! After all, it's been 10 years since I've really done this.
By the end, Liz and I both agreed to "fake it till you make it." I practiced cantering on both sides a few more times with a giant fake smile (note the photo at the top of this post and the one below).
I am so thankful to have someone willing to take the time to point out things I, myself, could live in denial about forever. Having a friend to push me through, but still let me do it at my own pace is truly priceless. I am looking forward to working on the things I learned the other night with Jean-Luc. These photos a valuable, because no matter what, I believe in the progress we will soon see after them.
Friendly blog advice from fellow horse blogger and professional author Anna Blake
Anna Blake is a blogger that I really enjoy reading. There's just something about her style that makes seem like that horse crazy aunt you can't get enough of. In her blog Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog, she describes herself by saying,
"I’m a horse advocate, equine professional, award-winning author, and proud member of the herd at Infinity Farm, on the Colorado prairie. I train horses and riders equine communication skills and dressage, and I write parables about horses and life."
Clearly, she is someone to with life-lessons to give. A few days ago she wrote a post titled, How to Relieve Your Horse’s Anxiety. I was hooked from the title considering this past weekend had been one of the worst for Jean-Luc and me. He actually had a mini-bucking fit in the round pen! I was hoping I would find some sort of solace in the time I'd spent with my exceptionally rude equine.
Jean-Luc has his temper, but he has never gone full-on bronco in the pen like that. I was confused and also hurt that my horse wanted to be away from me that bad. Is spending time with me really so awful that rodeo shenanigans are called for? Perhaps.
It is no secret Jean-Luc desperately wants his horsey friends with him at all times. After reading Anne Blake's post though, I felt much better. While do believe Jean-Luc has some things he is working through, I am also painfully aware that I need to take a look in the mirror occasionally.
In her post, Anna sets up something for the reader to try and find, “Tell me why my horse is a spazz bucket!?” The answer isn't always your horse, though. She lays it out there, pretty harshly, that the problem is often times your understanding of their discomfort.
Jean-Luc my escape from the real world. In many ways, this means he could actually take on more than some riders who have their mental issues locked and loaded. That said, the reason I believe we work so well is that he honestly doesn’t care diddly about what happened to me, “out there.” I know our best days are the days when I can unload everything at the barn gate, and as guru/yogi as it sounds, “just be”.
That said, this past weekend showed me the importance of the "collected" mindset. Up until this point, we always worked in places that I knew he could see his horsey friends. While under some stress, so long as he can see them Jean-Luc usually remains calm.
This weekend our work out did not accommodate for his need to see the rest of his herd because they were on the top of a hill grazing far away. Also, I felt it was time to start tilting his head back towards me with the lunge line when he would look away. I was determined to get more focus on me. I am quite sure this is what lead to his stress and he just needed to let it out. He dropped his head low, and sped up around the pen. I was so in shock that he was actually going to buck, the first time I let it happen just to ensure I wasn't crazy and that was the action he was going for. To be honest it was intimidating.
I chose to accept his outburst, though, and like a parent working through any child who throws a temper tantrum, I let it happen. Afterwards, I carried on with the rest of our work mostly ignoring the fuss bucket. To the best of my ability, I tried to remember that he was upset. Something in his world was getting rocked, and he was not presently capable of dealing with it.
Let me back up for just a second . . .to be clear, I was not this self-aware while in the pen working with him. The level headed thinking I feel that I have now has only come after days of retrospect.
The only thoughts I had at the time were, "This is scary!", "I know why your last owner sold your pouty butt," and "It looks like we're going to be here a while."
I’m not entirely sure I handled it as well as I could have, but two solid hours of work later I had gained enough confidence to hop on and see what else we could accomplish. While under saddle I worked on leg cues. Turns out Jean-Luc picked up circling with leg pressure really quick. He honestly does have a great brain!
I believe one of the reasons we found success that day was because, like Anna Blake's post suggests, I began the day with only one expectation or goal, “Pay more attention to me than where your horse-buddies are.” I wasn't trying to bite off more than I could chew, just enough that we were able to end on good, progressive notes.
I truly feel that while the day started a little rocky it ended well because I kept a cool head despite the tantrum. Throwing a fit back would have ended in disaster, for sure.
Yesterday I repeated the same lesson almost exactly. This time - no bucks! Though I'm not sure we're finished with these little outbursts, I believe we are at a tipping point in our journey.
Today, I saw that I received a little shout out and vote of confidence from Anna B. Here's to hoping her reassurance carries us into our time together this afternoon while on our regular Tuesday trail ride!
Days Since Jean-Luc Came Into My Life
Jean-Luc forever changed my life May 7, 2017. Today makes 99 days that we have been in each other's lives. Since getting together, I have made sure to go out to the barn and spend time with him at least 3 days per week, and usually closer to 5. Yesterday I also turned 28, so it seems like a fantastic time for goals and reflections.
So, what exactly have Jean-Luc and I achieved in less than 100 days? Actually, it's quite a bit.
4. Make New Horseback Riding Friends - This goes without saying that since I joined the Randolph County Riding Club I have made several dozen new friends, many of whom are down to ride just about any time. I even have made two friends, Allen and Dolly that I can call up just about any time and they're up for an adventure. I am so thankful to know these people and have them help me along the way.
5. Learn to "Gait" - This clearly is going to be an ongoing process, but thanks to some help from friends, dozens of youtube videos, and determination, I'm really proud to say that I took my pacey TWH and taught him how to properly move his body. The next steps are to work on holding the gait, and speeds, but looking at where we started and how far we've come, I'm impressed with our progress.
6. Take The Best Care Possible of My Horse - This is on going for all horse owners for sure. I believe we are constantly learning new things and better ways to take care of our animals. Since owning Jean-Luc I have learned so much and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
7. Volunteer for the Endurance Ride - This is one event I have wanted to help with for years. The level of learning that takes place anytime I volunteer for events like this is outstanding. Just hanging around and listening to the way people work with their horses and their perspectives is worth the time. So glad I helped this year and can't wait to do it again in 2018.
8. Secret Goal - No details her, but someday I'll share.
9. Find Myself & Regain Some Confidence - Since Jean-Luc has come into my life I have been forced to become a more confident person and find myself again. I'm happier than ever, and I attribute that to my "therapy sessions" with Jean-Luc. Prior to Jean-Luc, some things in life had really done a number on me and my ability to be a leader. With Jean-Luc in my life, I have regained some of that back only to discover a new ability to focus more on smaller goals that lead to larger pictures. My confidence returns a little more every time I ride or just spend time at the barn, though if this were a scale of 1-10, I'd say I'm hovering between a 4 and 5 right about now.
As for what we'll accomplish in the 100 days, well those goals still need to be written. They absolutely involve working on our herd bound issues and working with feeling secure while it's just the two of us. That issue alone is my biggest annoyance at this point. In the coming days I also hope to do more trail rides away from the barn (maybe three more before winter), and if at all possible I hope to be able to audit either a gaited horse class or one on competition trail riding.
In the words of our beloved Capt. Picard, "Things are only impossible until they're not!"
Fridays are great days for reflections. This week Jean-Luc and I accomplished a few really great things:
Three simple goals that really had a lot going on behind them, most notably - confidence. That simple little word has been the spur in my heel for our success to date. I know this. I ride often ride alone, and I never wish to do anything that would put me in a bad situation. My personality tends to keep me overly cautious, and that is a good thing.
However, the other day I was listening to an interview with Monty Roberts on the Horses In the Morning Radio Show. Monty shared a story about a woman who knew her horse hated dogs. He could not stand dogs. He was terrified of dogs.
This woman came to his clinic and Monty had one of his trainers inspect the horse, then hop on the horse in a round pen. Because he's Monty, he just so happened to have friends with herding dogs available to run around the horse controlled via whistles. The horse did nothing.
Monty then asked the woman to get on her horse. As you might guess, the horse started fidgeting, moving around, and fussing. Monty asked the woman to get off and then asked her about her own fear of dogs. SHE was terrified of them, and thus so was her horse.
I have heard it over and over that horse are psychic, they can read your thoughts, they can feel your emotions. So, as a solution for the issues I was having with Jean-Luc I did something I hadn't actually tried yet, I tried riding Jean-Luc as if I were the trainer, showing my inner-self how silly I was being. If you think this sounds like a head trip, you would be correct.
When I got out of my car all I did was pretend that Jean-Luc was not my horse. Instead, I imagined I was a trainer that came to the barn to help "some poor lady" who had clearly bit off more than she could chew. This "Lady" was fearful. I knew better. I would anticipate antics and pay them no mind. I would push this horse to do as it was told because, as a trainer, I wanted to prove to "this lady" that her horse could do exactly what she asked.
Like I said - total head trip, but it worked. That weird little thought in the back of my mind, switching from "poor little lady" to "bad ass trainer" has really helped. Also, there's something in the fact that I don't look at Jean-Luc as "mine." I think, in some ways, the delicate nature lifestyle by which is the previous owner allotted him made me timid when working with him. Until last week, I saw him a little bit of a wimp (sorry bud) but isn't at all. In fact, he has a lot to give. Until this week, however, I hadn't really asked for it.
So, yay for strange trippy head tricks. Now, to put some actual training and structure behind it. I learned this lesson from Mary Kitzmiller. She takes the idea of "move your horse's feet" to another level and really breaks it down. According to Kitzmiller, if you work out these 5 parts of your horse, every time you are with them, then issues like fussing while tied up, herd bound issues, and more all seem to dissipate.
Kitzmiller's 5 Sections You Should Train Every Day / Breakdown of Control Your Horses Feet Are:
So she asks herself each day, "What have I done today to work the horses ____." Of course, each exercise depends on where the horse is in their training. This to me makes total sense, because the exercises can all be different. It's a simple checklist and guideline to follow as you work with your horse. It isn't complex, and you shouldn't ever need to write it down unless you build out specifics. I am excited to see what comes from it with Jean-Luc.
This whole post is a very long way to acknowledge something that has been on my mind. The I still don't think we're "there" yet. Truth is, I haven't had a moment yet when I think he's enjoying our time together as much as time with the herd. But . . . now that I actually calculate things, I may be getting ahead of myself. Jean-Luc and I have officially been in each other's lives for 96 days. (Wednesday, August 15 will make 100!) I do, however, think we are close, and that fills me with hope.
The video at the beginning of this post is a terrible filming of the first day I thought Jean-Luc might actually be having fun gaiting around the round pen. It was the first glimpse I saw of his personality, outside of "please put me back on the field with my friends so I can eat things." Seeing that has made me hungry for more.
Rather than disparage that we aren't "there yet," I'll simply choose to be thankful that we have come this far in less than 100 days. It also means I will definitely do a write up next week about how both my life and Jean-Luc's has really changed in the past 100 days. Wow.
(Bonus Goal: I have begun negotiations with my horse husband, and opened up discussion about planning for a new truck!)
I notice bloggers in the equestrian blog-o-sphere post goals left and right. I love it. I'm a huge goal setter and believe wholeheartedly in the power of goal setting. Even Albert Einstein said, "If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or things."
Truth is, I am sort of a nerd about goal setting. I enjoy doing it both with my career and in my personal life. If done right, it means you're constantly pushing yourself to become a better person, and usually celebrating wins. Over the years I've come to value the skill of goal-setting, and realize it is a skill that many individuals struggle with because let's be real - it isn't easy.
The method that helps me find success in goal setting is one I learned while working at Snowshoe Mountain, known as the SMART Method. This method is decades old, but hey, "If it's not broke, don't fix it," right?
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
If the goal you set has these 5 characteristics, then it's likely a well-set goal that will yield positive results, no matter what. In other words, if your goal is specific enough to be able to measure an action that is relevant to getting you where you want to go, within a given amount of time, you'll gain valuable insight even if you fall short of the actual goal set. I enjoy setting goals in this way because it is designed to boost your confidence through a process that ensures you take the time to really experience how far you've come. You are able to celebrate what I call the "small wins," as you work your way to bigger ones.
Just like training a horse to go in a trailer, you can't do things all at once. The SMART version to teach a horse to load would be something like:
Over the course of one month I will:
A.) ... spend five days allowing my horse to stand near the trailer with the doors open for loading for at least twenty minutes.
B.) I commit to observing my horse's reactions, attitude, and other outside factors that attributed to my horse's fear of the trailer by writing them in a journal for each session. I will take special note of:
C.) I will then stand inside the trailer with a lead-rope attached to my horse for an additional five days, allowing my horse to consider walking into the trailer. (repeat part "B").
D.) I will ask my horse to step his front two feet into the trailer and back off the trailer for successfully 15 times for 3 days. (repeat part "B")
E.) I will then ask my horse to step all four feet into the trailer and back off the trailer 20 times for five days. (repeat part "B".)
F.) I will then stand with my horse tied in the trailer for 10-minute intervals 5 times, for three days. (repeat part "B")
G.) I will then stand with my horse tied in the trailer with the door shut for 10-minute intervals, 5 times, for 3 days (repeat part "B".)
Now, I am in no way a certified horse trainer. I am just slightly more insightful than some when working through processes. While not perfect, I believe this is a pretty solid set of goals that will generate a positive outcome if followed. The key is in celebrating the measurable success when it comes to the amount of time it takes for the horse to stand within 5 feet of the trailer or closer. As you may imagine, journaling in this way becomes real-time data shows you how long it's taking every day to get your horse closer to the trailer. If the time it takes is getting longer, then you know you need to adjust something.
Goals provide specific actions to strive for that are relevant to the purpose in a time-bound manner. The great thing about SMART goals is that they are flexible enough to allow for room to fail, meanwhile keeping the bigger picture in perspective.
As I said, I see tons of horse-related-goals set all across the blog-o-sphere, hopefully, this post can become a new skill in some of your tack boxes, and help you all get to where you want to go. My birthday is just around the corner and it seems like a great time to set a few SMART goals of my own! Because I'm curious, how do you decide what goals to set for your equestrian futures? Do you have a method to your madness, or is it all simply madness?
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.