Due to some rather inconvenient circumstances happening around the state, work has afforded more time with Jean-Luc. I am making the most of that time by heading to the barn at least every other day.
Until today, the weather has been absolutely abysmal. I never knew I how much I hated mud and rain until I owned a horse. As you may have read in the last post, one of my ultimate goals with Jean-Luc is to help him become a balanced critter. His natural pace really has him all over the place. Just look at this photo!
Here, he is just walking to me from the field and he's leaning all over the place. His lateral movement can be pretty wild to sit sometimes. When working at a pace, it is impossible to make sharp turns and causes the horse to constantly trip. It isn't good for his back either, and that is why I am spending so much time on all these tiny, micro-movements / efforts.
More saddle time has really helped us out, too. Though I do not wish to encourage his pace, he is pretty high strung, so at least for now, we pace until he is relaxed enough to fall into a gait. That isn't ideal. Normally, you would work up from the walk into a gait, rather than down into a gait from the pace. However, it is what is working for us.
The other day, though, the weather and conditions just weren't going to allow for us to be outside at that time. Thus, I started working in the barn on a lesson I had reviewed from Gaited Horse Trainer, Larry Whitesell. I found his site on Facebook nearly six months ago, but this is the first real lesson I have tried. Below is the link to the original video lesson.
After reviewing, and knowing there wasn't much I could do with Jean-Luc outside, I decided to give this video a try.
Below is the link to our first attempt. You will see that Larry emphasizes several practical ideas, but primarily that the bridle is to be used to talk to the horse's feet. Also, none of these exercises require more than feather light touches.
The goal was to get Jean-Luc to back using a feather-light touch on his bridle. The direction from Larry is not to push is not straight back into the horse's chest because that will pinch their tongue. You are to move towards their ears. Also, this motion is to come from your core, not your arms.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the first attempt's results. I know we have a long way to go, but this should help Jean-Luc learn to hind end rather than his front legs when stopping - something he is notorious for. Truly riding any sort of downhill slope on this guy feels like you are descending atop a jackhammer!
Building balance and strength has always been my goal for Jean-Luc. This Spring we are beginning get very serious about it. I just pray I have the patience and dedication to watch it happen.
If you’ve been following this journey of ours for any amount of time, you likely already have noticed “goal setting” and “simple wins” are how I live my life. This particular post hearkens back to a post I wrote earlier on goal setting (https://horsebackwriting.weebly.com/blog/goal-setting-the-method-to-my-madness) but from a different angle. You see, Jean-Luc and me, we fail. We fail often. However, if we just focused on those failures, instead of our “wins” then our failure could easily eat us alive.
I, like many riders I’ve met, struggle with feeling like we may never accomplish our goals. The only way I’ve been able to keep those feelings of being overwhelmed at bay is to concentrate on a simple thought process, “What can we do today that we couldn’t do yesterday?” In other words, how can we get 1% better today? Personally, I try to keep this philosophy in mind every day when working with Jean-Luc.
To be clear, I did not make up this philosophy or pull it from the sky. It is based on the Japanese Business Philosophy known as kaizen (改善) – a philosophy pertaining to continuously small improvements over time; this idea was developed after the Second World War and borrows from American business and quality management teachers. Because of its practical and easily applicable nature, many outside of business realms have also adopted this way of thinking.
Jean-Luc and I have been together two months shy of a year. In many ways, I believe we’ve made great strides. However, In other areas, I feel like we haven’t made any improvement, got started. When writing this post I was excited to review our riding footage. After reviewing that riding footage, I can say that I felt 1%, maybe even 5% more comfortable, but I don't know that I looked any better. In fact, in some ways, Jean-Luc's body positions may have regressed. Regardless, after the last post, I knew it was time for the two of us to buckle down and focus.
This is so wrong it makes me laugh. Heads are all kinds of high, I'm leaning forward so tense I could likely clinch a penny betwixt my cheeks. Also, just an aside, I'm 30 lbs heavier here than in recent months. That said, Jean-Luc is so nice and clean. I am longing for summer months because I'm over the mud, rain, and snow!
This post is dedicated to trying to see if we’ve really made progress, or if I’ve willed progress for us. Specifically, I’ve pulled clips and images that focus on my time in the saddle with Jean-Luc (not so much groundwork or other areas).
Thanks to some much-needed coaching and encouragement from Liz, I believe I’ve found the courage I was looking for buried deep within. One area I know counts as a win would be the fact that yesterday, Jean-Luc and I managed to get across the creek and actually walk several laps around the field calmly (after quickly trotting all over the place first).
Jean-Luc has a habit, like many horses, of catching me and my mind up in “his game.” For example, I was never able to even get Jean-Luc to cross the small creek into the “big field” you’ve heard so much about because of his utter refusal to go there. Well, the big goal is to be able to conduct workouts over in the “big field” regularly. Before we can even do that and start working under saddle, we just needed to be able to get there regularly. Before we could start “getting there regularly,” we needed to just GET THERE. This video below is us meeting the first part of the aforementioned “getting there."
We did it! And not only did we do it. We made it to the “big field” after crossing a creek that basically had turned in to a small river. It took so much coaxing, but I told myself and said aloud to Jean-Luc, “I’m not playing your game today! Today, we play my game. And that game is CROSS THE RIVER!” So we did! The video is us coming back from the big field!
So when it comes to the things that I believe we have achieved in nearly a year, I believe this 9 things we accomplished in 99 days still hold true
1. Load Successfully on a Trailer
2. Trail Ride
3. Ride in a Parade
4. Make New Horseback Riding Friends
5. Learn to "Gait"
6. Take The Best Care Possible of My Horse
7. Volunteer for the Endurance Ride
8. Secret Goal
9. Find Me & Regain Some Confidence
But when I look back at the things we’ve “accomplished” since these goals were achieved, I’m not too sure what they are? These were huge deals! Now, the fine-tuning begins, I guess, and that is harder, for sure.
For example goal #2 Trail ride – We completed a massive trail ride together and this season I can think of 90, logged miles and at least three pretty large group or overnight rides Jean-Luc and I did together in since we’ve been together. That is a big deal, but the reality is also that endurance riders (which are not) can complete 100 miles in 48 hours or less. I don’t say that to be down on our accomplishments, but to keep us humble and put things into perspective for where we could go.
#3 Ride in a Parade – I would like to have ridden through another town this year, but we only rode through one parade. Truth be told Jean-Luc and I avoided the main chaos of the event, too. We could ride in the very front, rather than at the end. We also missed the Mountain State Forest Festival Parade (mainly because I didn’t have anyone to ride in it with and it wasn’t all that practical to get there and load in and out since I don’t have my own trailer). Also, Jean-Luc and I missed the Christmas ride, too. So, again, while I see several missed opportunities, I also see room for improvement.
#4 Make New Horseback Riding Friends – I’m officially a “bitty in training” so I feel like this is going well, but one can ALWAYS make new horsey friends.
#5 Learn to Gait – we still have a LONG way to go here. While Jean-Luc knows what gaiting is, we’ve had to regress some here to encourage overall movement. Like any horse, gaining control of a horse that doesn’t want to play YOUR game can often still involve making the horse move their feet.
#6 Take the Best Possible Care of My Horse – This is a never-ending lesson. Exhibit A we, together, survived one really bad choke this year. We will continue to experience things as they come, but my goal is to think, “What proactive measures can I take to ensure Jean Luc’s health?”
#7 Volunteer for the Endurance Ride – Well, that Jean-Luc and I did complete with flying colors. The evolution would be to volunteer more time to horse causes. I believe we will exceed this by more than 1% in the coming months because I have been voted secretary of the local riding club that I am a part of and that puts on the Endurance Ride. It feels like a real honor (or perhaps I lost a bet)? Regardless, I’ve very excited to contribute.
# 8 Secret Goal – is still a secret.
#9 Find and Regain My Confidence
In keeping with the theme of Kaizen, the natural progression of goals is often for them to devolve into several other smaller goals that work towards progression as a whole. The following are the paths I see for us to be able to get there:
LEARN TO GAIT - to do this right, I believe there are a few things that really need to come together prior to seeing actual progress here.
#5 A – Build a Balanced Body . . . Honestly, I don’t actually know how we’re going to do this. I believe more time in the saddle with help both of us? I have chosen to ride more and do a little less ground work. The groundwork we will be focusing on will likely involve cantering. Help is welcome here. Keeping it completely real, I am nervous to do too much here without someone that knows what they’re doing. I know some basics and acknowledge his body is all over the place. Building proper balance will lead to muscle, and I just don’t want to build the wrong muscles if that makes sense?
#5 B – Build Muscle in the Hind End – Riding more will help this no matter what. Am I crazy to think that if we just keep riding anywhere and everywhere as much as possible together that we’ll get better? Honestly, that is kind of my plan here. I hear many people preach, “Time and Miles.” It is hard to me to not have a specific plan, that’s just my personality, but perhaps too specific would result in the feeling of failure over and over again. There’s something to be said for flexibility.
#5 C – Become more comfortable riding the trot
#5 D – Become more comfortable riding the canter
#5 E – Work on transitioning from walk to trot
#5 F – Work on transitioning into and out of cantering
*After completing the CRITICAL GOAL found below, my plan is to create a very specific CRITICAL GOAL for those above.
TRAIL RIDE – What I really want to accomplish is being able to head out for a trail ride, alone, and calmly with Jean-Luc. I really would like to simply walk around and explore. This is when I am most at peace. It is why I purchased a horse in the first place. Me. Horse. Nature. Therefore, I have created a “Critical Focus” around this idea to hopefully get there, all the while keeping the principle of Kaizen in mind while working to do so.
#2 A – Learn to Be Comfortable Away from the Herd – Before we can even walk on trails alone comfortably, we have to be able to walk away from the barn comfortably. The more time we can get in the saddle away from the herd the better.
# 2 B – Get to the “Big Field” Without Fussing
#2 C – Work Comfortably in the “Big Field” – this goal really needs better defined for measurement purposes.
CRITICAL FOCUS GOAL:
By April 30, Jean-Luc and I will make it into the Big Field without the aid of another horse to lead us there 8 times and complete 6 laps (3 in each direction) with 10 or fewer attempts to bolt back to the barn.
This is a lot to say, I’m not sure how far we’ve come? I know we have miles to go. I hope to celebrate our successes, and look forward to that which is yet to come.
If you wish and have time, here are few videos of us from the summer and the last is the most recent one of us riding together. As I said above, watching them, I'm not sure we've really made that much progress, which is sad, but it does show there's plenty of work to do!
Ugh, did I mention I am tired of the mud! Forgive my dirty horse. Can you say, "BATH!" Next time it is warm, this critter is of course getting one.
"Maybe I'm in over my head?”
“I don’t know if I’m the right person for you?”
“I’m not sure we’re meant to have each other?”
“I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew?”
“I am not a good enough equestrian/horseman/trainer to work with you. . .”
Doubts. Doubts are the only thing that went through my head with Jean-Luc yesterday. After a rather successful day on Saturday, our most recent training session, Monday, started like a flaming meteor crashing from the sky.
Doubts. Doubts are the only thing that went through my head with Jean-Luc yesterday. After a rather successful day on Saturday, our most recent training session, Monday, started like a flaming meteor crashing from the sky.
Let’s start with Saturday, though. I had found some new confidence thanks to my recent romp in the field earlier that week with Liz. Saturday, after a short warm-up that involved some cantering, we made it across the creek into the big field without a meltdown and training overall had been only rolling along.
Unlike my time with Liz though, Jean-Luc never managed to relax in the big field on Saturday. I know he gets bored easily, so while in the field I moved all over the place, trying to never just go in circles. We had a good time, but when I went to make for home, he was ready to bolt. I could not let him do this, so I would take a few steps and make him circle. Then we would take a few more steps and circle again.
After approximately 100 yards and taking the longest way home possible, I began to get frustrated. Coming out of the circle he wasn’t even slowing down, rather speeding up. I was making things worse, somehow. Though I remained in enough control to basically get what I was asking for, I could tell I was fighting a losing battle. We zigged. We zagged. I did all I could to make our walk back to the barn as slow as possible – it was miserable.
I could not end on that note, so I worked in more circles behind the barn that day. He responded quite well in that space, I can only assume because he was near the other horses. Eventually, I felt we’d done enough that ending our time together didn’t appear like I was allowing him to have the upper hand.
On Monday, my plan was to repeat our work in the exact same spaces - start in the outdoor round pen, warm up, and make it to the field where we could go over a few poles and things. Per usual, I snapped on my helmet and together, we walked calmly into the round pen. After getting into the center of the ring, I went to send Jean-Luc and begin our warm up, like always, at a walk around the pen. This is when everything shattered to pieces. Jean-Luc, uncharacteristically, exploded into a canter/gallop around the round pen.
My perception was that he was angry to even be in the pen and wanted out. He ran like mad, eventually even tossing in a buck as well. He has done this one other time and trust me I kept him running. I couldn’t let him stop. Despite the fact that I was nervous, letting him stop would mean I lost. So we just kept running, even though the footing conditions were not ideal.
As soon as I felt like I could slow/stop Jean-Luc with the cue being seen as my idea and not his, I did so. The rest of this time in the warm-up area went pretty smoothly, however, it was admittedly difficult to get my wits back. You’ll see in the video, he was pretty chill by the time we ended.
This was about five min. after he calmed down. Notice how far up under himself he is bringing his back inside leg. His back outside leg is a little stiffer. However, it's quite the improvement and one I did not notice until this post. Later, his head lowered more, but I am awful at filming and focusing to work JL at the same time. Hopefully more videos to come, though. They are very beneficial in evaluating progress, for sure.
After debating the pros and cons, I told myself I would stick to the plan and try to get into the big field.
“I can fake enough confidence to get my bum in this saddle, and I’ll be all the more proud of myself for it,” I told myself.
So I did just that ... or, well some of that. I walked back to the barn to get Jean-Luc’s bridle and put up the lunge equipment. He stood just fine while I mounted. He acted like a proper gentleman. Sitting in the barn nestled between my fuzzy saddle and winter riding pants I swallowed all the fear I could find.
Mentally, I did my best to visualize that fear in the pit of stomach and breath it out through my nose. We were off and heading for the big field. Unlike previous days, Jean-Luc tried to turn around multiple times before we even got close to the small creek we need to cross to get into the field. I knew I mentally screwed up when I saw the creek.
“That’s one high creek,” I thought. "Jean-Luc's going to hate that."
No sooner had I had that thought did Jean-Luc bulk at the idea of going down the hill into the water. Try as I might, he was not going down the hill across the creek. I lost. But, I wasn’t okay with completely failing, so I chose a different path down along the creek beside some trees. He was very excited, but he went. Upon turning back up the road toward the barn he became even more excited. I picked any number of paths to go that were not directly back to the barn. I made him walk forward a few steps and stop, over and over. We walked through a small grassy area off to the side of a road cone. We stopped and started over and over. When we decided to head back to the barn it was absolutely my choice.
I could not end the lesson with this though, so I went to the backfield again. He settled and we completed some circle/speed work. When I felt like I was in control I dismounted, practiced some ground tie work, remounted and guided him back to the barn.
Honestly, when I left I did not feel all that great. The phrases from earlier were the only things running through my head the entire way home. “Am I a good enough person for this horse?”, “Should someone else have this horse?”, “What am I thinking, thinking I know what I’m doing here?”
Needless to say, they were pretty negative. Today, I have had time to process. I am not typically a glass half empty person.
I will not let this be any sort of exception. While I may need help, the things that happened happen to everyone. Doubts come and go just like the tide. Multiple times per day the ocean will have highs and lows.
Not to make excuses, but some facts are: Jean-Luc actually never has relaxed much working away from the herd. To have him do anything, and not be beside them is actually, frustratingly slow, progress - but progress all the same. Also, Jean-Luc is not a fan of the cold. I have learned he has a crap attitude when the temperature is cold. I was recently also able to discern that his crap attitude is a weird manifestation of what I can only describe as “Food Worry” – when the grass is gone and only hay/grain are available this horse is terrified he won’t have enough to eat. There’s plenty for all, but I am not sure what else can be done to reassure him that when I take him out of the field, away from his hay bales, the other horses won’t eat it all while he’s gone?
Another observation I’ve made over the year is unlike other horses I have ridden, I don’t know that Jean-Luc associates time with me as “fun.” In fact, I definitely think he sees time with me as “work.” Perhaps this is a misfortune of my own doing? Perhaps Jean-Luc’s perception can only be my perception? While I often have a feeling of accomplishment that leads to fun, in general, I don’t cut loose very often (both with Jean-Luc and in life). I tend to take things pretty seriously most of the time.
Regardless, only on rare occasions have I felt like we’re enjoying one another’s presence – sad, maybe? Nevertheless, true. Unlike other horses I have experienced I find that my work with Jean-Luc requires a hyper-focus. I really have not had a ride with Jean-Luc where I could just “be” or relax. With Jean-Luc, I'm "always on." I have found he will test me every time we are together. He is always trying to see if I will ever relent and allow him to be the leader – my firm answer is, “No.” Am I to assume this is the definition of a “Headstrong horse?” Or did I hit something more profound? We need more “fun” in our times together. What does that even mean? How do I balance discipline and fun with this horse?
I visited the critter today and did nothing other than hanging out for about 30 minutes. He was still pretty excited and concerned about the others eating all the hay while he was gone, however, my hope was that not asking anything of him today could put us back on track? I mean I do this once or twice a week anyway, but it felt like today might actually be a good day to just not ask anything. I don’t know?
Clearly, I am questioning a lot today. For whatever reason, my confidence feels shaken? I believe in putting my head down and being persistent. I believe just spending more and more time together will remedy some of this. I have faith in the fact that I am not the only person to ever go through “horse doubts”. I look forward to the weeks to come.
I consider myself eternally blessed to have friends and family that are beyond loving and supportive. Ever have one of those moments when you can't see the forest for the trees? (Meaning, you focus too much on that which is in front of you, rather than that which is beyond).
Recently, life's granted me with a sucker punch and it's been hard to (metaphorically) see too far ahead. All I can say is that I am beyond thankful for those who are there to pull me back from a seemingly endless "black-hole-of-suck."
One mind-numbing task I do with Jean-Luc when feeling a bit out of sorts is grooming. Ridding something of dirt brings me extreme calm. I believe this is a zen thing, however, others have dubbed it "OCD".
Over the weekend, to find my center, I pulled out the winter dreads from my critter's hair. He loves it and the repeated swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the comb through his mane is surprisingly satisfying.
Yesterday, I went out to the barn to repeat that exercises and basically just scream at the universe. Before I knew it, Liz showed up. In all the time I'd been visiting the barn after work, she'd literally never been there that early. I'd been banking on being alone, but on this day, as if the universe knew it was about to get it, she arrived just as I began a meltdown.
I wasn't planning on riding. I was being a wimp. I "didn't have it in me," I repeatedly said.
"Toss your saddle on and come with me to the field," Liz said. "You'll feel better just sitting on your horse."
Dubiously, I did as she requested.
Before I knew it, I was tacked up and in the saddle. My head was everywhere, but just as we crossed the threshold between the main paddock and the road to the field Liz told me to look up.
There, in the sky were not one, not two, but three red-tailed hawks. "They're good luck!" Liz said. "Two are for you, and one is for me," she continued.
Everyone can use a little luck. I'd never seen that many hawks in one place, but clearly something was in the air. In my head, I hoped the hawks would bring us both blessings, and that we could have the wherewithal to recognize them when they came.
We rode on, and the focus it took to get Jean-Luc to listen to me pulled my mind back from the edge. He likes to test me every time we head out. We have PLENTY to work on. With direction from Liz, Jean-Luc and I performed simple tasks, weaving in and out of poles, going the opposite direction as Liz, and moving away from other horses. With each pole we popped over, I felt the relief wash over me. The simplicity surprisingly helped guide both Jean-Luc and me to a place of calm.
Tomorrow is Friday. Regardless of what the day brings, I know now more than ever, time with the critter (Jean-Luc) is always good. What do you focus on when you have a rough go or a bad day? Can your horse tell? What do you do with them?
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.
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