Another New Year

As the calendar shifts to a new year, I decided to revisit what I wrote on this blog last year and the year before, and reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same.  (You can read what I published on this night exactly one year ago here: http://www.threerivershorsetraining.com/3r-blog/2015/12/31/doing-things-well-part-3-a-new-year-question).  I write this entry today both for those of you who will read it, but also for my future self, who will hopefully read this again on this night in 2017.

I covered a lot of ground in 2016.  I started the year in Bozeman, MT, having recently closed the Three Forks facility and moved my husband to Eureka, MT.  I helped him move with two of our horses, turned the rest of the horses out elsewhere and hit the road. I took a quick trip to Portland, OR and the coast, but soon after that I rushed down to Arizona with a sick dog hoping for a medical miracle, but instead just got a month of sunshine and walks before she left this world on Valentine’s Day (http://www.threerivershorsetraining.com/3r-blog/2016/2/16/a-tribute-to-mollie).  From Hawaiian beaches to a Chicago trip full of babies to New York City conversation, I tried to soak up inspiration.  One final stop in Phoenix and my truck packed with dogs (some old friends, and some new to the journey), I headed back north.

Home in Montana I taught between Bozeman and Billings, and acclimated to Eureka, now our home.  My husband and I moved in June to our new property, selling the Whitehall home we thought we would be forever but turned out just to be a stop for my horses, and purchasing what is as close to a fantasy as I ever thought could come true for us.

In April I started working at a therapeutic boarding school, discovering a love for working with teenaged girls I could never have predicted.  Staggering was how comfortable and right the work felt—and so quickly.  Some of this work involves horses and dogs, some without, but finding new inspiration in these young women has been a surprise and a gift that cannot be overstated.

When I read my blog on this day last year, what strikes me is that my inner turmoil about the “right” way to occupy space in the horse industry is just as great now as it was a year ago.  I’m no less confused about how to work responsibly with animals that have to choice as to if they are in your life or not.  What I have experienced, though, is the gift of working with young humans in a similar predicament.  The girls I work with now are stuck at this school, without the autonomy to leave.  In fact, strangers, who then transported them to treatment, surprised many of the girls in the middle of the night.  The fear and trauma of this event preferable to the possibility that they run away or hurt themselves because they know they are being sent to treatment. 

There are so few of us that are not equines who know what it must feel like to have our kidnapping endorsed by our guardians, for our own good.  These girls know what it feels like to be a horse taken to training.  I may be a kind and helpful trainer or horse owner (or, in the case of the girls, therapist), but the horse still did not choose me, and that power inequity must never be forgotten.  I still do not know how to best manage and respect this dynamic, but now I have humans that can articulate an experience I never thought I would hear described in the English language, trying to help me understand how domesticated horses must feel every day.  While I do not have concrete answers, I do know that the power of this shared experience between the girls and the horses at school has been incredible to behold.

I also have not taken any horses into training in 2016.  I don’t yet know what my plans are for 2017 in that regard.  For now, I am without an indoor arena and under plenty of snow, so it is nonissue!  I have immersed myself working at the therapeutic school and plan to continue this learning as I wrap up my Masters degree and build what I am calling the Animal Centered Therapy program (a divergence from Animal Assisted Therapy that I will elaborate on in later blogs) at the school.  I will still teach private lessons and clinics throughout the state on a limited basis as I did this year. 

I have dog classes in the works in Eureka that should begin in the next month, and I am excited to try a new aspect of teaching (group lessons with dogs and puppies).  I am spending time at the animal shelter here, which I find really fun and rejuvenating, because I get to work with types of animals I don’t normally have access to and get creative (my most recent project is a ten month old, intact male purebred Plott Hound with minimal socialization…certainly not my normal “type” of dog and therefore really intriguing to work with and fall in love with!).

As always, I bring in the New Year thankful for all of your continued support and guidance.  I have learned more through this business than I ever thought possible, and even though the majority of my time lately has been spent working in a different setting, 3R proves to be a never-ending teacher.  I can easily say I have learned more from animals and my business than I have anywhere else in my life and I quote and use these lessons daily.  For this, I am endlessly grateful.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

Perfect

I think you could insert "horses" for "coding" here (link to Ted Talk below) and the impact would be the same. If there is one consistent challenge I've witnessed in my client base, which is largely women, it is the worry of doing the wrong thing. I will say "try something" and more often than not, a woman who hasn't worked with me for very long will stop, disengage from their horse, and look at me helplessly. Reactions are all different, some get mad at me, some cry, some just freeze...but consistently, they say they would rather I just tell them what to do so that they can do it...correctly. What I've learned from my own engagement with perfectionism is that if it doesn't come from inside of me (or you), a horse, dog, human..whomever...won't find it nearly as compelling. Trying to perfectly copy someone else is the least compelling communication there is.

In so many ways, I am the perfect example of a Type A perfectionist, born and socialized by the world to be perfect, not brave. But LUCKILY, I love horses. And there was no way to be perfect with them...so I had to be brave. Most people see my fancy website and forget the other stuff..... Try a lot, fail a lot, start a business during a recession at 21 so I could create a space to make these mistakes, lose clients, friends and money...and yah, literally hit the ground and get hurt. But that's how I know, it is way better to be brave than perfect, because I can't imagine any other life that could have taught me so much.

http://www.ted.com/talks/reshma_saujani_teach_girls_bravery_not_perfection?utm_campaign=social&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=talk&utm_term=education

Fair

Last night we went with my nephew and his parents to the Kalispell fair and rodeo. I'm hoping for instant horse love, but I think the tractors won for coolness in his book. 

I noticed while we watched the drill team line up with flags at the beginning of the rodeo that the two quietest horses, who appeared neither shut down now freaked out (some were downright losing it) were ridden by the only two riders who reached down and pet their horses when they came to a halt in the line up. I doubt this was a coincidence. 

I also noted that the horses in the best physical condition were the bucking stock, they had the best muscle and the least lameness and posture issues. Obviously, these horses are also ridden the least. 

I'll be at the Lincoln County fair next Friday and Saturday in Eureka judging the 4H Horse Show and the Open Show. Stop by and say hello if you are in the area, my high school students will be volunteering as well and we look forward to a fun couple days.

Peacocks

It has been a gift stumbling upon the world of therapeutic boarding schools and beginning to build a therapy program involving animals.  One of these days, things will be nailed down enough that I’ll introduce some of the new language I am using and the direction I am heading. But not quite yet.   In the mean time, I am surprised daily by my capacity to fall in love with these amazing young women I’m working with.  My gratitude is too big for words!

These young women are so wise and bring up the most incredible questions.  Recently, a girl (who is particularly talented with horses) told me she was struggling because while she really likes what I’m teaching and is learning so much, she has noticed that I am like a big peacock, and all the girls are little peacocks, following behind me.  And she just isn’t sure she wants to be a peacock.

There is no way I could have been prouder and more excited by a statement if she tried to impress me on purpose!  We had a nice long conversation about this phenomenon of people wanting a leader and being willing to follow, and I won’t go into all the details.  But, the end struck me as something worse sharing.  We noted that it was often the more horse experienced young women who were the most dedicated to being little peacocks.  I think that this is because we become so entrenched in our way of being that when something disrupts it, like I have for many of these girls, it becomes really uncomfortable.  The choices become: stay where I am, jump ship and adopt this new identity (little peacock). or live in the world of discomfort.

This student wisely pointed out that living in the discomfort just sucks.  She is so right.  That’s why most people resist, and stay where they are and where they know, or they jump ship, and follow the newcomer as a lovely little peacock.  Neither of these indicate you are good at what you are doing, just that you are committed and things have become black and white. 

I’m certainly very sure of many things that I believe.  However, these things are not static.  I hope that what comes across in my writing and in my teaching is that I am fully conflicted and uncomfortable in my relationships with animals.  I don’t take any of it for granted and while I am doing things in the most responsible way I know how, I am unsure if this is in fact the most responsible way there is.  There are moments with horses that the good way of doing something might not be best, and moments where the best might not be good.  It’s complicated.  It’s messy.  It’s always changing.  It’s relationship.

I know first hand how scary and isolating it is to live in the discomfort.  How much easier it is to pick a side…any side.  I started down a rabbit hole many years ago and it culminated into Three Rivers Horse Training, a rabbit hole that has only gotten bigger and harder to get out of.  The more I learn about horses and people, the more I have to live in the discomfort in order to feel I’m living responsibly. 

And yah, that sucks.

But it’s also really exciting, interesting and inspiring.  So far, the rabbit hole is where all the innovative stuff has happened for me, and where all the best moments with my horses have come from.  So I hope this student never becomes a peacock and I hope now that she is looking, she can see that I’m always trying not to be one, too.

Guilt

One of the most frequently expressed emotions I hear from my clients is guilt. It often involves guilt over not doing enough with their horses. So many times we hear that if you don't work X amount of times per week with your horse you won't make any progress. I take huge issue with that for a few reasons. 

The first, is that I think it assumes that goals are the reason to spend time with your horse. They are not. Relationship is a better reason. 

I also think that many people undervalue what they DO do with their horses in between "working" them. Simple interactions to feed, fly spray, clean a hoof, are still moments of relationship. Outside of that, we have so much power over a horse's routine, we can make HUGE changes thinking thoughtfully about how they socialize, when and what they eat, what their environment is. That is a huge part of what I am interested in in my horsemanship. What changes can I set up in between my scheduled riding time?

And lastly, I think it's totally ridiculous to think that we can't make changes working with our horse once every couple weeks, especially when we consider that other stuff I mentioned above and if they have a high quality of life on their own in between (and you, too!). Quality is so much more important than quantity. A horse is not dumb. They are perfectly capable of remembering something for a week... if you are! I don't ride my horses every day, but they certainly make progress. Of course, daily time spent makes relationship and progress build faster in calendar days, but the trajectory is the same. 

Most of us have horses only for fun and companionship. For those, there are no prizes...so who cares what you get done and how fast you do it? Maybe just pet your horse...they are so cute!

Below was my evening ride tonight. I hadn't touched pip in a "formal" way since the last time I posted a photo of her. And she was decidedly better than the last time I rode her. Neither of us had forgotten each other.

 

A New Program

I've been quiet on the page as I sort out my new surroundings and get to know the program I am stepping into here as the new "horse lady" (as the girls have named me) at this therapeutic boarding school. I'm really excited that the philosophies of this school line up so perfectly with my own approach to horse human relationships, and so I am really excited to bring my own twist to the equine therapy world, with such amazing support from a great institution. Almost too good to be true! Plus, with views like this, how can I complain?

It looks like I am going to start scheduling some July clinics and travel days so please watch your inbox if you are already on a regional mailing list and keep track of the facebook page and my website calendar for new date announcements.

Empathy & Paralysis

We spend a lot of time at my clinics discussing empathy, and the ability to understand that the horse (or any other being) has an experience that is different from your/our experience. However, often once eyes are open and people begin to see all that the horse is trying to say with their behavior, a sense of helplessness evolves because it is so overwhelming to see what has been missed for so long. Empathy goes from a good thing, to a paralyzing one, or as this article calls it, "the empathy trap". I think this is a really interesting not-horsey, but entirely horsey, article on the subject of developing the balance of empathy and self-care. Only when empathy can be felt, processed and then responded to, rather than overtaking us, can it be a skill of empowerment and not paralysis. http://www.mindful.org/how-to-avoid-the-empathy-trap/#

Announcements

After a couple years of HEAVY traveling we (the dogs and I) are all excited to become a bit more stationary for the next couple months. I head to Billings on Wednesday for a clinic and then am back in Eureka, MT taking on some new challenges!

I have accepted a position as the equine professional at a private therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 13-17. The school works under a very relationship based model similar to how I approach horsemanship, and I will be giving their horse program a new look. I am really excited to be working with such a wonderful school and working with horses and young people to develop empathy, compassion and horsemanship. I will also be spending time as a clinical intern in addition to the horsemanship program at this school so I will be wearing two hats, which should allow me to be very involved and progress in my graduate degree.

Additionally, I will be teaching private horsemanship lessons and working with dogs offering group and private instruction in Lincoln and Flathead counties, and teaming up with the awesome shelter up here to ensure their adopters and dogs get the support needed to ensure success!

With all this going on, I will not be booking clinics for May and June while I get settled in. Then I will evaluate my time availability and figure out how to best include clinics in my schedule. But I'm excited to see you all down the road!

As always, thank you so much for your continued support and enthusiasm!

A tribute to Mollie.

 The dog that let me take the greatest lessons I’ve learned from 3R and from my life, and put my money where my mouth is.

I got off the 3R train for this winter (it isn’t over yet, but it has been over a month since I wrote a blog post) and thought that I was headed towards something..easy.  Not necessarily simple, I knew I was on a journey for some clarity, maybe a little truth, but easy in the way of three meals a day, a good night’s rest, less physical exertion, beautiful scenery and long drives listening to music.

I was wrong.  My best friend, my love, Mollie, got sick.  She was diagnosed just at the start of the journey, which meant I drove as fast as I could to Arizona to a higher level of veterinary care than I could find in Montana, earlier than I expected.  The details of kidney disease, and our bad luck, aren’t really relevant to this process, other than to say we fought like hell and she did not make it.

But, in the last week of her life, I learned more about her, about animal behavior and about myself and the truth I was seeking than I ever thought possible.  

Mollie never behaved as sick as her numbers, from the very beginning.  Five days before she died, I looked at a vet (one of the many we saw) and asked if I should euthanize her right then.  I told them I still had fight in me, money was not a factor, but I didn’t want my emotions to cloud when she lost her fight.  That vet looked at Mollie and said, we must treat the dog, not the numbers, and I could not euthanize this dog right now if you asked me to.  It was obvious to this vet, who had only met Mollie twice, that Mollie was not done.  I asked two more vets in that same twenty four hour period, holistic, emergancy and internal medicine specialist, and all three had the same answer.  Look at this dog, we must treat the dog, not the numbers.  But no, we cannot explain why she isn’t done yet, because most dogs with half these numbers would not be able to walk.  Mollie was doing more than walk.  

We spent a few days in the hospital.  Thanks to the kindness of a specialist and his technician, I talked my way into a private room with her IV hooked up and internet access, so I spent 8-12 hours a day with her, only leaving at night to sleep a little bit (or as much as you can when your best friend is in the hospital and you call every three hours to check on her) while they did her major treatments.  I am totally “that” mom!

After the first night hospitalized when I was gone, when she came into the room to see me she wasn’t her.  She was checked out and despondent.  I assumed this was physical pain and it was time, so I just pet her for a bit.  All of a sudden she was back.  I realized she had just gone inside of herself to deal with the procedures and hospitalization, and of course she had no idea that I was coming back.  She didn’t do that again.  The technicians told me that once she knew I was coming back, she willingly got in and out of her kennel and always tried to go to where she knew I would be waiting if they had to take her out when I was not there.  I am grateful that she had this coping mechanism during our first and hardest night apart in this process, and even more grateful that our bond was strong enough that I could come back the next day and tell her she didn’t need to use that strategy anymore.  

When I teach, I talk a lot about how we cannot expect our animals not to have their own coping strategies and under enough pressure to use them, but that they should be able to hear us if we tell them they don’t have to.  I am humbled at how extremely true this proved between Mollie and me.  This wasn’t her asking me if that loud noise was okay, this was her asking me if the scariest part of her life was okay.  And then she trusted me implicitly.

Thursday night I took Mollie for her 10pm walk and she wanted to run.  I have video that I was taking for my husband to show her being perky, where instead of perking her ears up, she almost pulls me over because I wasn’t expecting any effort from this dog that was supposed to be dead.  I knew we were not done, even though to be honest, done would have been easier for me at that point because the waiting had me looking sicker than her.  But, this was her call, not mine.

On Saturday I took her home, because her numbers had stabilized as had her attitude, but the numbers had not improved.  In hand I had fluids and a million medications.  I told the vets that we would give it a go at home, in case the comfort of that environment would add the little boost we needed.  I told Mollie, she could do whatever she needed, but we were going home.

We drove around on Saturday because her truck was her favorite place and then relaxed in the yard.  Within a couple hours of being home, I knew she had started dying.  But every time I called a vet to ask an opinion, or a number for someone to euthanize her, she would do something nuts, like jump over me, off the bed, and guard the perimeter fencing like always.  Then she would return to labored breathing and increased heart rate.  Her eyes had still not changed.  I’ve never seen an animal fight so hard.  I told her to tell me when, that she could go if she wanted to and kept her comfortable.

That night was the longest night of my life, because she kept getting worse.  Half way through the night, for the first time, I saw fear in her eyes and though her body was not completely done yet, and she could still walk, jump up on the bed, follow me….that fear was enough for me to know.  I made an appointment for the next day to have some wonderful people come to our home to send her off while sitting in the truck.  We spent the morning having one last walk in the desert and driving.  She was still digging in the sand and ran a few times.  It was quite shocking, but she is Mollie, the toughest dog I know.

We returned home after the morning outing and for the first time ever, Mollie wouldn't leave the truck.  She had been off solid foods for a week, but always drinking water.  Now she wouldn’t take water in the desert heat either.  She was bright eyed as she looked at me from the truck, able to walk and clearly herself.  But not getting out.  I left all the doors open, went and got some subQ fluids and told her we could sit in the truck until the vet came.  She never got out of the truck.

I wanted Mollie to go with dignity.  I wanted to fight until she said she was done, because the vets were just as astounded by her will to live as I was (so I’m not just a crazy mom on this one!).  She was coherent, had some light in her eyes and was still somewhat physically able when she told me she was done.  I am eternally grateful for how clear this was.  She was dying in that truck whether I helped her or not.  Mollie and I were always partners, and we made the decision together, and I never had to see her lose her dignity, which is as much a blessing for me as it was for her.

I’ve never seen anybody, human or non human, fight and stay positive like Mollie did.  I’ve also never seen such a rational approach to death.  I have never made a decision about death with a non human animal that was quite so discussed and mutual.  But then again, I’ve never had a partnership like I had with Mollie.  She wasn’t my pet, wasn’t my kid, wasn’t my responsibility.  She was my choice and I was hers.  Someone commented that at times it was hard to tell the where she ended and I began.  That is sure how I felt.

I brought the rest of my dogs (Billie, Paislie and my mother’s dog who is a part of my crew during the winter, Jackson) to see her body in the truck.  Paislie wanted to avoid, though I did insist she processed Mollie’s body.  Jackson just kissed her face.  Billie, the number two dog who bonded the hardest with Mollie, put her front paws on the fender, sniffed Mollie’s face, wiggled as if to initiate play and revive her, looked back at me in panic, tried again and then stepped down and looked at me and cried vocally.  

Something I am good at, whether due to my temperament or my experience with horses, is being steady during crisis.  Leading up to all of this I was a wreck, but I was calm from the time we started with Mollie’s exit and until well after the dogs had processed her, because that was about them.  So, I’m certain Billie’s cry was for Mollie and not for me, because my insides were steady in that moment as the pack leader.  The rest of that day was primarily filled with relief, because her suffering from the night before (the only time I thought she was truly suffering) was over and the euthanasia had been easy for her.

I woke the next morning a wreck, of course, and had planned on spending all day in bed feeling sorry for myself, since I hadn’t eaten or slept in over a week really, and my heart was broken.  But, half way through the morning, I saw Jackson the German Shepherd.  He loves me.  He thinks I am the best thing to happen to the world because we go cool places and I’m always steady and I bring cool heeler dogs to play with.  And he looked at me like he was dying.  He wouldn’t come near me and when I called him, he dropped his head and came over, but he clearly was uncomfortable and didn’t want to.  He left quickly and stared at me again from a distance, head down, the posture of a sad, horrified dog.  He did not do this when he saw Mollie’s body.  He did not do this while I was still holding it together for the pack.  The only time I (or my mom, who saw all of this moment between him and I) have ever seen him do this was when he saw me so distraught.  There are few times in my life where I have been so distraught and I am sure he thought I was a completely different person and he couldn’t handle it.  I walked away and decided I wasn’t spending the day, the week, the year in this state.  That grieving is fine, but darkness that is that powerful is not good for the world, especially a world with German Shepherds.

So I walked into the light.  Broken and crying, but I’m in the light.  I reflected for the day (with a little ice cream) about Mollie, her life and her process towards death.  I have thought about how inspiring her way was with illness.  How dignified her request at the end was.  How incredibly strong she was and how all the time, money, missed meals and sleep and time on the vet floors I spent that week was worth it to stabilize her to get her home to make that decision herself.  I always hope that they can go after their ability to maintain their desired quality of life is gone, but before their dignity has left, and she clearly was fighting for that last walk in the desert and ride in the truck.

I also thought about how because of all of this, she died happy.  It was very clear she was completely content sitting with me in that truck.  I’m thankful I could speed up her process towards death to avoid pain, but even if I hadn’t, she was doing it on her terms. I have reflected on why she died happily, why she hung on so long with such great spirits when she could have gone or looked sad at any time and I would have listened, and I know it was because her love and life were simple.  She loved me, pure and only, and that love was the center of her life and the center of her death.  She was not anything but love, so why not die happy.

I think about what I wanted to learn this winter and I know this is it.  That to die happy one must center their lives around love.  I’ll still have to figure out exactly how to do that, how that changes my daily life, but I am so much more peaceful with Mollie’s passing than any other death I’ve encountered because I am so clear on her passing with love and dignity.  I hope that I am lucky enough to have the same, but I do think it was her choice, her fight for it, her insistence upon it that earned her it. So luck probably had little to do with it.

Something I have learned from horses is that you should not push against something and expect it to not push back.  Mollie and I pushed hard against illness and death. I have no regrets about fighting next to Mollie while she was alive.  That little dog almost pulled me over just a couple days before her death because of her enthusiasm when I pointed at the world as if there might be a cow to chase!  That was the time to fight, to sacrifice myself for her, as she had done for me so many times.  But now it is done, and there is nothing to push against. So if I keep pushing, I will only create hardship for myself, and those animals around me, by creating that fight that is no longer there. By spreading darkness. So I’m practicing surrender and now the time is to honor and learn, the time to fight is done.

I will grieve in the light.  I will keep loving, even though when these things happen it is easy to never want to create this situation for myself again.  To continually fall in love with things that live less time than we do is the ultimate price for the most incredible gift.  I love Mollie and to surrender to this is just an awful thing to have to do.  But the alternative would not honor the example she set.  So instead, I am going to tour a dog, horse and farm animal sanctuary today.  I can’t guarantee I don’t come home with something, but I can guarantee I will learn about a new model of rescue I’m unfamiliar with.  I will spread love as much as I can.  I will honor Mollie.  And her collar will hang from the rear view mirror, because anyone who saw me coming for the last five years, saw Mollie perched on my center console, eyes peering below the rear view mirror, helping me drive.


Broken, crying and in the light.

Love that is only.

Love that is center.

To die wanting nothing more

but sunlight and you.

Sunlight and me.

Nothing in between.

Nothing in the way.

You leave with everything

Because of your center.

I stand still and forward.

Broken, crying

but in the light.

Doing Things Well: Part 3, A New Year & Question

The New Year is my favorite holiday.  I rarely go out and celebrate at midnight, but instead find the changing of the calendar year to be a natural signal to reflect on the last 365 days and think about the next.  When I look back on 2015 I realize it was a watershed year for me, in accomplishments and realizations, changes and inspiration.  Of course, when I consider my life, it always comes back to horses.

In 2015 I began graduate school, following my interests in animal behavior to the next logical step: humans!  My husband and I bought a beautiful piece of land and spent the second half of the year restoring the crumbling house that called the property home. Horses took me further than I ever thought they would both personally, professionally and geographically, carrying me from the southern border of the United States to as far north as the Canadian Yukon, and so many places in between.  I spent time throughout the year minimizing my possessions, selling and giving away (or trashing when warranted!) at least two thirds of what my husband and I owned, making space in our world to hear our thoughts and desires, and to follow intuition instead of all of the things around us.  As the year came to a close, I left the barn and ranch that had been my world and home for all of my adult life with sadness, gratitude and excitement.  

All of these experiences combined with the many people and animals I have spent time with really have me thinking hard about what my life will look like in 2016.  After such a long run at the Three Forks barn I decided that the early part of 2016 will be dedicated to recharging, clearing my head and reflecting on where I would like to take 3R next.  It is hard to look thoughtfully at a business when I am right in the middle of it, and without getting off the amazing 3R wave I’ve been riding for so long there was no way that I could have any say in what direction it goes from here.  My experience as a small business owner is that it starts with an idea, then a lot of hard work, and before I knew it the business was a life of its own and I worked for it, not the other way around!  

This is fantastic and exactly what I wanted to happen when I started 3R.  In fact I think the business has exceeded all of my expectations and then some, but I think it is time for me to take the lead again to make sure that my life and the life of 3R can live together sustainably.  Now that I am lighter, with less stuff and no barn, I felt ready to jump off, take a minute, and get back on on my own terms.  I will spend a couple months this winter teaching on a limited basis and traveling a lot to see people that inspire me and recharge me, ride my own horse and write.  I think that by taking a moment to prioritize the parts of myself that have nothing to do with my business, I will end up knowing exactly what 3R needs to stay a true reflection of me and not just a calculated response to what is successful in the horse industry.

The biggest question that I am going to be considering over the next couple months is one that has burning inside me for a long time.  Many of you have heard me talk aloud about it because it is hugely important to me personally and professionally.  How can I make my money dependent on making riding horses, when I truly believe that horses have value beyond being ridden?  How can the starting and central point of my philosophy be that a horse is an individual that has her own experience that is as valuable as a person’s, when the whole point of my job is to make the horse fulfill human expectations of what horses are supposed to do and be?  The bottom line is, even though I train differently than most trainers and my clients feel differently about their horses than most owners, we are all still in a silent agreement that you are paying me to make riding animals.  We all like that we do this by building positive relationships so that the riding becomes an easy side effect of that relationship, but when it comes down to it, that side effect was always the goal.  I have written many other blogs on this subject throughout 2015 and if you haven’t read them yet, at this point I recommend going back a bit and then returning to this New Years Eve entry.

I love riding horses.  I have nothing against it.  But I’m endlessly troubled by my own involvement in the horse industry, which I find depressing beyond words.  This is a horrible world to be a horse in.  I can’t decide which is better: to fit into an industry by prioritizing “training” and just do it more responsibly and with more consideration for the horse than the average trainer, while perhaps compromising some of my own philosophy but also reaching more horses and people.  Or to embrace my belief that horses can and should be valued beyond being ridden, and riding should not be our starting or ending point when establishing a relationship with them.  The latter does not fit well in our horse industry and more than likely requires me to have another source of income because it means that ethically there will be certain horse and human issues that though I may be capable of “fixing” by creating new behavior, I will have to step away from, knowing that fixing is not always in the horse’s best interest.  In some instances, just because we can, does not mean we should.

I already walk this line daily.  Some of you work with me because of this line, some of you choose me despite it.  I have had remarkably candid conversations about this throughout 2015 with so many of you.  I’ve occupied both options equally.  Sometimes I prioritized training because I truly felt that making the horse’s experience of a bad situation even a little bit better was better than nothing.  Sometimes I did it because I knew I would lose a client otherwise.  Other times I was brutally honest that I’m not interested in being a horse trainer, only an advocate for the horse, and set the necessary boundaries.  To a variety of results.

As I look into 2016 I know for sure that as my business evolves I want to feel more settled into where I fall when answering this question.  I no longer want to waver back and forth between the lesser of two evils and a full rejection of the industry that feeds me.  I don’t know exactly where I belong, but I do know that to pursue a simpler and more peaceful life and mind, I had better figure that out and figure out how to live it completely.

I try really hard to stay honest and vulnerable when I write and talk to all of you, which is why I don’t produce a daily blog.  Some mornings I wake up with something to say, others I don’t.  I hope that you will all engage with this post because whether or not I end up agreeing with them, I am greatly influenced by the thoughts around me of people that are struggling with these questions alongside me.  What I know for sure going into 2016 is that I have some decisions to make and I am not willing to compromise being able to look at myself in the mirror and my horses in their eyes knowing that I am involved in this industry in a responsible way.  I just have to figure out exactly what not compromising looks like, and if it is possible to make a living doing it.

Moving Forward

The barn is empty and my horses are settling into our beautiful Whitehall property very well. A brief update as to my plans for the future, which are still very much evolving. I will be taking the winter to breathe, write and reflect on this amazing chapter of my life and 3R. I'm looking forward to rejuvenating my mind and soul after going pretty much non stop since I wrote the 3R business plan back in 2008! I hope to produce a lot of blogs along the way. My husband has accepted an amazing new position and I will be helping him move up north to Eureka, MT later this month. Then I will be traveling for the rest of the winter, some on personal adventures and some to teach. I plan to be in and out of Whitehall and in Arizona periodically from January to March and will publish my teaching availability on my schedule page once I have it nailed down, so I will be able to catch up with everyone interested in AZ and in southwest, MT and stop at your place for sessions. Come 2016 I will be focusing on teaching with limited ability to take training horses. I'm really excited about this shift in focus because I have really become interested in focusing on relationship and what is behind the surface between us humans and horses and it feels appropriate to focus on teaching and cultivating your relationships rather than my relationship...with your horse! I'll write another blog on this soon! Speaking of human relationships, I'm not sure yet if my home base for 2016 will be Whitehall, MT on our property there or up north where my husband is headed. The deciding factor will be where I am able to find an internship for the Masters in Social Work program I am working on right now. I will be shopping internships for the winter and this will make my decision for me as the availability for clinical social work internships is limited in this state...we need more graduate level mental health care providers in Montana so desperately! However, either way I will be available for clinics and teaching (and the occasional training horse) because my internship will only involve two days a week work, which will leave me available to travel as I did this year! Thanks again for an amazing time at the 3R barn on the Buffalo Jump Rd all these years. I can't express my gratitude enough...and I am looking forward to the future with all of you!

The big move

Apologies for the silent facebook and blog lately! I am slowly but surely getting the barn and my personal horses ready for our big move! Things are getting packed and I will have a busy Thanksgiving getting everything moved by December 1. As I mentioned before, I won't be opening up a new public facility at this point, but my horses are headed to a gorgeous spot in Whitehall. I can't wait to share photos and you can expect some blogs to mark the end of this 3R chapter and the beginning of the next one. I'm really excited.... stay tuned!

Doing Things Well: Part 2

When thinking about the value of horses it is impossible to not think about what we ask of them, how we train them and what the goals of our horsemanship are.

In Doing Things Well: Part 1 (http://www.threerivershorsetraining.com/3r-blog/2015/9/14/doing-things-well-part-1), and in so many other posts, I have mentioned how I do not believe that horses have value only relative to humans.  I don’t believe that their lives are meant for serving people and that their rich and complicated histories and entanglements with us are the only way they relate to the world.  Even if I am wrong about this and horses were in fact put on this earth only to serve as work animals for humans, I’m not sure anyone told the horse.  They seem to feel strongly that they are individuals with feelings, experiences and lives even once all of the humans go home for the day.

Over the last decade my horsemanship has moved through a number of stages and I’ve come to believe that there are three easily defined approaches to horsemanship (or horse training).  I’ll do my best to flesh them out here because I believe that to do something well you have to first decide what you care to do well. 

 1. Horsemanship as Product.

    Horse training that is based on producing particular abilities and maneuvers that the horse can and will perform quickly upon request.  I would also call this obedience training, which is a phrase more commonly found in the dog training world but I find very appropriate here.  Successful obedience training means that without question a horse will respond in a standardized way (the same way) to the same cue each time.  There is not a lot of feel involved and I see it more as a cause and effect sort of relationship.

    The success of this sort of training is judged by the results and you will hear terms such as a “finished” horse thrown around when a horse knows what is seen as an acceptable amount of cues and the appropriate responses and is very reliable in their presentation of them.  Horses used for work and for show are most successful when they are very obedient.  Obedient horses tend to have a high value in our society and this is one of the most typical and widely spread approaches to horsemanship in my experience.

2.  Horsemanship as Relationship

    In the last couple of decades horsemanship has been revolutionized in popular culture with the introduction of language and programs where the concept is shifted from one of obedience to one of relationship.  It is often discussed in this sort of horsemanship that the horse should feel better with the human than anywhere else.  That the person should be a great support for that horse and if the horse feels good enough with the person, the obedience mentioned above will just fall into place because of the horse’s willingness and the person’s meaning to that horse.

    This is a huge shift from more traditional obedience training because it began to consider the horse’s feelings rather than just their physical responses.  This concept spread in many directions depending on the horse person presenting it and just like in obedience training, some trainers are better than others at getting a horse to truly feel good when they are around.  Horses that feel safest with their humans tend to be quiet and easy to spend time around and though they may not bring the monetary amounts that a very obedient show or work horse will, their value in society to individual owners has really increased as this sort of horsemanship has become more mainstream.

3.  Horsemanship as Supporting

    If “horsemanship as relationship” is about making a horse feel better with a human than anywhere else, “horsemanship as supporting” is about making a horse feel better.  Period.  With no qualifications for who is around or what the situation is.  The bottom line is horses are prisoners who have to deal with our fences and our feeding schedules, but they still have an experience of the world that is only their own.  To approach horsemanship only as a support system is to prioritize making sure that that horse can get along in life confidently and happily, whether in dealing with their relationship with a person or with another horse or with their hay.

    To approach horsemanship as only a time to see how comfortable you can help a horse be in their own skin, is to forget about external goals such as riding and relationship with a person.  A lot of those things get better or act as a side effect to a horse that feels good in life (if you so choose to work on something like riding or handling) but it is not a prerequisite.  I would liken this horsemanship more to some sort of intense psychotherapy, that works to completely shift the horse from the inside out, without worrying too much if they can do a “job.”  Just assuming that any job they have to do will be easier if they find a more content state of being.

My life as a horse person has gone through each of these phases.  I really suck at the first one, Horsemanship as Product.  I spent years trying to work on it and got pretty good at it, good enough that people would pay me, but never good enough that I would have been able to make a sustainable career at it.  I always figured out a way to screw up any obedience I had instilled.  I spent a lot of years feeling bad about the fact that I will never be great at training a futurity horse or riding in a show, until one day I realized I didn’t want to be good at it, which really made it hard for me to practice and steadily improve at it without sabotaging myself

I don’t want to be good at all things, because there are things that I find inherently problematic to do at all.  

So why would I want to be good at it?

This was a hard conclusion to come to because most horsemanship is rated on #1 in this list and who doesn’t want to be good at everything? Especially the thing everyone thinks is the best to be good at when it comes to horses!

The second phase, which I called Horsemanship as Relationship, really captivated my interest.  There are a lot of ways people are going about building this and to be fair most people slip back into prioritizing product under the guise of relationship, using different words and tools to make the same old obedience training happen.  But there are people who are really excellent at making a horse feel better with them than anywhere else.  People who have so amazingly mastered this that it doesn’t take them long at all to get a horse with little ambition and lots of trouble working for them in a quiet way that many of us long for.

I spent a lot of years working at this.  I don’t mean playing around with it, I mean working at it all day, every day.  Going to sleep thinking about it and waking up thinking about it.  Those of you who know me personally know that when I decide I want to figure something out, get out of the way.  Sorry husband, I’ll see you in five years!  To be quite honest, it consumed my life and as a result I got really really good at it.  Maybe not as good as some other people out there, but really darn good at it.  I’ve taught a lot of people how to be pretty good at it, too, and I still teach it every day because it is something that I can charge for, which still results in a safe and rideable horse that has a degree of happiness with the human that is higher than the (better paying) obedience training techniques.

But I kept running into a problem.  The better I got at this, the harder it became to get that to transfer to my clients, or to the horse when no one was around.  I’ve witnessed this same phenomenon with the people that I know who are much better than I will ever be at this and their horses, too.  I discovered that if I showed a truly troubled horse how great it was to be with me, then their anxiety when life was not that great (they were on their own, tied somewhere, in the pasture or with their well intentioned owner) their anxiety was worse.  That troubles me.  It has troubled me from the moment I started pursuing this.  If I know I am going to spend limited time with a horse and that even if that horse is mine it will spend more time without me than with me, is it really right to teach them that my presence is so critical to their well being? Is it better to have love and lost, or never to have loved at all? 

So I’ve started thinking about this third sort of horsemanship, which I don’t hear about very often….well…ever.  How can we help a horse feel better.  Period.  With no expectations that they will serve humans, but only for the sake of supporting their lives.  If that means not riding them, so be it.  What if we completely centered the horse?  What if we looked at concepts dog trainers are looking at, such as socialization and resource management, to help the horse work out how it is feeling without the presence of a person (of course, the person is behind the scenes, but we are able to make it so that the horse is working through all of this on their own).  What if we changed the goal from “a quiet riding horse,” to “a horse that is happy?”  What if regardless of how great a horse feels with me around, we cared more about how they felt when no one was around?

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to make myself feel good when I don’t have to spend too much time in my head being mindful of my thoughts and feelings.  To really dig below the surface and be present is much harder.  The same goes with horsemanship.  To truly make a horse feel better, period, is much harder than building a positive relationship or an obedient one. We have to completely center the horse and go so deep into who they are that all of our agendas and notions of what horses are here for have to go out the window.  I have a lot less practice at this third sort of horsemanship, because all my clients hire me with a goal in mind.  No one brings me a horse just because they want it to feel better and says “I don’t care if I ever ride him and he can stay in training as long as you like.”  I only get horses in training that are destined to be riding horses.  The only horses I have truly been able to practice these concepts with are my own since no one is paying me and no one cares if I ever ride these horses.  Thus, I don’t teach these concepts as much because I have to eat and they aren’t as exciting to people as quickly getting a great (riding) relationship going, and I’m not as good at them as I am the concepts in #2.

But it is what I want to be good at.

Changes

It is with bittersweet feelings that I write to let all of you know that there are some major changes coming to Three Rivers Horse Training in 2016.  The lease on the Grey Cliffs Ranch barn is up and the ranch will be using the barn for other purposes.  I will be moving on from the barn I have called home for seven years— there could have been no better place to explore my horsemanship and I am so glad to have spent so many years here!

I have decided not to take on another facility lease as my clinic schedule has had me on the road so much and is gaining momentum every year.  I will share more specifics as they develop, but this change will not affect my teaching and clinics.   If anything I will be more available for these services.  I will be more able to travel to facilities and client homes within a reasonable radius of my home and expand my traveling clinic schedule according to demand.  I am undecided as to if and where I will accept training horses.  As these decisions are still a work in progress, I will investigate my options and announce further details later in the year.   

While I am sure saying goodbye to the barn will be a sad day for many of us, I am extremely excited about this next chapter.  I look forward to having more flexibility in my schedule so I can spend more time with all of you, who are every year becoming more and more spread out across the country!  There are only great things in store for Three Rivers Horse Training and I look forward to this next step.  I will keep you all updated as things evolve.

Thanks for these many years of amazing relationships, horses and business.  I’m excited to see where the next years take us!

Doing Things Well: Part 1

Over the last couple years I’ve had opportunity for so much travel, for both business and pleasure, that I’ve been thinking a lot about how to stay centered and whole as the world is moving around me.  Looking out into the Grand Canyon, the Chicago skyline, the Rocky Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean or the Yukon wilderness makes me feel such difference and such sameness.  All riding arenas look alike when looking to the inside, after all, but so different from the inside out.  This perspective from an arena is such a metaphor for my life, entangling my work with myself, my travel with my center and watching worlds move around without me. 

I’m always drawn to big spaces where I can feel small.  I’m inspired by big skies and rugged wilderness that keep me from feeling too busy and important, by cracks in the earth that seem deeper than any soul and an ocean that holds a world I’ll never feel.  Sitting on the docks of a small town on the Atlantic this last week watching the sunrise, I felt that quiet sense of calm I get when I let a space come inside me without the block of human energy coming first.  As the sun got higher and people started waking up it was amazing how fast I felt the energy change and my insides start fighting to not take on the other people, because that is not how I am best as a thinker, horse person or human.  

Last month when I was in the Yukon, one area I visited I felt so staggered by the beauty, but at the same time felt unwelcome.  The land didn’t seem to want me there and within a few minutes I knew I could never live there.  I asked a lot of questions about the soil, the glaciers, the trees, trying to give an explanation to my feeling because the contradiction I felt between being in awe of the great space, feeling so happily small and wondrous, and knowing I couldn’t stay, was something I had not felt so fully before.  By the end of the week I discovered so much about the land that made me feel confident it was not a place for us, even that historically the First Nation people never lived in this small spot and it was only settled after the Alaska Highway came through.  The spirits and the land didn’t want me there and that’s just that.  There were plenty of other amazing places I saw on that Yukon trip that made me feel like I could be there forever and feel only warmness from the trees around me. I wouldn’t have embraced that feeling from the land so easily ten, even five years ago.  Following the feel of something beyond the human experience is something I’m learning to do through working with horses day in and day out.

I think this is one of many reasons horses are so important to me.  If I really listen, they can be the bigness to make me small even just inside a round pen.  Not because they are magic, but because there is nothing about their value that they truly believe is relative to my experience.  They know that they are at our mercy, for sure.  They know that their lives are not completely theirs.  But I don’t think they believe their value as an individual is defined by their performance.  That is simply not their experience of themselves.  It is just their reality as domesticated animals.  

When I look inside each arena it is always full of wonderful people coming with open minds and amazing talents.  But for myself as a participant in these knowledge sharing relationships, and often the one in the center with the microphone, I struggle to maintain my practice of looking to the outside and staying small and reverent to these worlds around me.  No matter how far away from the Chicago skyline I am, a clinic always feels busy.  Not just with schedule, but with experiences, break throughs, learning and difficulty.  This is such a blessing to my business and my thankfulness cannot be expressed in words.  Yet at the same time I find myself so easily lost among the horses and humans my life is entangled with.  Just like in that moment on the ocean watching the sky and the town wake up, I easily become big when filled with the lives around me rather than filled with the world we share.

I don’t yet know how to redefine myself as someone not relative to others.  I also don’t know how to fully communicate that horses have value beyond their entanglements with humans, when the fact remains that a domesticated animal is only alive because a human made it so.  I definitely don’t know how to do that while being paid to train horses to perform for people, which puts both me and the horse in a position that fundamentally doesn’t jive with these ideas by defining us both by what sort of riding horse we can make.  I just want to keep doing it as responsibly as I possibly can until I can figure out a way to do it better.  

A Loss

I am sorry to share some sad news for my two-legged and four-legged family. My mom’s horse, Chloe, passed away last Thursday. Chloe was overcome by an unknown attack on her Central Nervous System, which caused sudden and severe flaccid paralysis that led to her death. We are awaiting tests that will hopefully give us some much-needed answers as we cope with this loss. Chloe was 9 years old.

Chloe was one of the most spectacular horses I have had the pleasure of meeting, working with, and having assist me in teaching horsemanship. Chloe was not only beautiful, but her mind was brilliant, soft, kind, tolerant and intelligent beyond the average horse. We worked together to teach beginners through experienced riders, a feat that not many horses can accomplish with so much grace and patience. Those of you lucky enough to have lessons with Chloe most likely heard me say that she was the perfect lesson horse, because she was not only well educated and safe, but she would perfectly mirror your own issues and behaviors. We all like to talk about how horses mirror our souls, but few can do this quite so effectively and transparently as Chloe could. It was a tribute to her sensitivity and intelligence that she could do this so well. On top of that great talent, when you got something right with Chloe you could hardly miss it. She was like riding every perfect horse you have ever ridden put into one. I am a professional trainer, all I do is ride horses, and for a horse to stand out from the crowd they must be really special.

Chloe came into my life because I was searching for the perfect horse for my mom, Carol, as she finally was able to have her life long dream of having a horse companion. We searched and searched and searched. I narrowed it down to a few horses to show my mom in person and Chloe was the first we visited. I knew as soon as I was handed Chloe’s lead that I wanted her. I could feel it through the lead rope without my eyes open if I had to. But I tried hard to cover my excitement and even tried to talk my mom out of buying such a smart, sensitive mare as her first horse. My mom saw through me right to Chloe, and bought her any ways. I was so happy she did.

Chloe spent a little over a year at my place until my mom could move and have a place in her backyard for horses. Chloe and I worked together, but she also helped me teach some valuable lessons to a variety of students. Many found Chloe frustrating at the beginning, and I kept saying, keep trying, you are only hitting yourself head on and I promise, Chloe is worth working through that. Every person who kept going eventually had a moment with Chloe that showed them what I saw in her immediately; that she was special and the only one standing in the way of a perfect ride was themselves because Chloe was ready. I have never had a horse so consistently teach that lesson with so little help from me.

Besides all this, I am so grateful that Chloe helped my mom live her dream. There were times in my childhood where my mom would drive over an hour in Chicago traffic to drop me off at the barn, turn around with my little sister in the car and go home, only to pack up my sister and pick me up in rush hour at the end of the day. She sometimes spent over five hours in the car in one day so that I could work all day with horses and learn the value of horses, money and hard work. She didn’t have to do that, she could have simply taken me to the barn for an hour once a week for a lesson, or not at all, like so many parents do. But she chose to sacrifice her own time and probably some sanity to make sure I learned something and followed a passion that is now the only way I have supported myself financially and emotionally in my adult life.

I cannot begin to explain the gratitude I have for her commitment to my horsemanship and helping her find, purchase and train Chloe was one small way of saying thank you. Beyond the loss of a horse I loved, I am heartbroken that this wonderful partnership was so short lived. I cannot dwell too much on what was lost without becoming so grateful that my mom was able to know a horse like Chloe. I truly believe that even a short time with a horse like that in your life, in your backyard and in your heart is the gift of a lifetime. Any future horses my mom, and anyone else who learned with Chloe, touches are going to be thankful for the life of Chloe.

All of us who love animals so completely know the pain that those who loved Chloe are in, particularly my mom who loved her more than everyone else combined. I am comforted by the knowledge that only a life full of love can bring such feelings of grief and thankful that this sort of life was a part of my family.

Learning

I love teaching and I spend a lot of time doing it and thinking about doing it better. I am in a unique position at this moment that I am teaching quite a bit, but have also gone back to school and so am in the position of student on most days, as well.  I have learned so much in the years between college and now, but all in my own rhythm and pace, approaching each goal the way that comes naturally to me and not thinking much of it.  Now, I’m put in a course where someone else dictates the style of learning and how they would like to present information, and I am graded accordingly.  I have been trying to take note of how I go about each assignment and not simply notice the grade at the end.  

I am really trying to figure out how I learn and the backdrop of a traditionally structured program is the perfect juxtaposition between how I’ve been structuring my learning outside of school.  I am really interested in figuring out where I don’t learn like this traditional system is asking me to, because I think this might help me figure out where most people are struggling with ME as a teacher.  Being a student in a formal educational program after many years away offers me a new perspective on who I am as a learner, and the side effect to that is I am really seeing where how I learn effects how I teach—for better or for worse!

It seems to me that our education system is structured for us to learn in a particular way.  We are given many small skills and tasks to accomplish and then it is assumed that we will understand the concept once we have mastered each part of the whole.  I teach exactly the opposite.  I teach concepts and philosophies, with small skills thrown in there to help someone start out, and then expect someone to fill in the application. 

What I am noticing about being a student within coursework that does the opposite of my teaching style, and gives us little pieces of the puzzle along the way in hopes of forming a philosophy at the end, is that I suck at that.  I am able to get As not because the course work is structured to how my brain learns, but because I reorganize the materials as I go.  It comes naturally to me, so I am positive this is how I’ve gotten through school so successfully for so long, but never realized I was doing it.  But now that I am examining it from the lens of a teacher, I am fairly certain the instructors would be appalled at how I am getting the assignment completed and surprised that they graded the finished product well.

I am noticing that I rarely read things in a linear fashion.  Even when reading a prompt or an article, I tend to go through it in almost a circular fashion, pulling out what I see to be important and disregarding what isn’t.  Sometimes I make notes, sometimes I don’t.  Then, if I feel like the details are important to my life or my assignment, I go back and fill in the individual parts that make up this whole concept that I have already sorted out.  Then when I go to write something, I write with a conceptual thread and then fill in the things that support me conceptually, or that I think the teacher would want to check off for an A.

Clearly, though, the readings and the prompts given are meant to be read linearly, because they are very step based and provide little clues along the way.  I know for a fact I can’t learn that way.  I tried to follow a very simply recipe the other day, with pictures and everything, and I was almost in tears at the end of it.  Give me the same ingredients and an idea about what to make with them and it would so much better!  When my husband intervened (he could tell that both dinner and my mental state were going south) and looked at what I was doing his question was “did you even read the recipe? Where are you in the steps?”  Honestly, I had no idea.  That’s what made the lightbulb go off for me, I had skimmed for the concept and now was trying to fill in the blanks.  And since I have some talents, but cooking is NOT one of them…well, it got ugly.

So the way I learn is already suited for a sort of horsemanship that requires flexibility and no concrete tasks or goals.  Not for more traditional horsemanship, which is why I have found my niche here. But this is where as a teacher I struggle, because most people expect the other sort of learning, either because that is what comes more naturally to them genetically, or simply because thats the structure we have all grown up accustomed to so regardless of predisposition we have LEARNED to be good at it.  Because of this, horsemanship has been structured around how people learn, and horses are taught small tasks piece by piece without any consideration to the bigger picture.

The point of this blog is both a mea culpa and to provide inspiration.  The mea culpa belongs to the part of me that is really challenging myself to investigate how exactly I learn and why that may shine through in problematic ways to my clients.  I understand it is difficult when I am teaching exactly the opposite of how we are all trained to think, because how coursework in other areas is presented does not come naturally to me and I have had to find my way through it.  I will do my best to help you bridge that gap in our own way.  However, I hope you read this and are inspired by the idea of trying to grasp something conceptually and then apply it YOUR WAY is exciting to you!  I am not grading you! And neither are your horses.  We just want everyone to feel better.  

If I can give you a suggestion through my own experience growing myself as a horsewoman, I would suggest that every time you are doing something and you feel stuck, step back and think about the bigger picture and philosophical goal.  Define that for yourself.  Ask yourself if you and your horse both are clear on this at each given moment.  Last weekend I asked a number of people “what am I teaching you to do?”  The answer isn’t a technical one and I wasn’t asking for the literal description of the task at hand.  It is a personal question.  For most, when they looked through a broad lens, it had something to do with partnership, relationship and their horse feeling good.  Then I said “okay, now relax, and go do that.”  It doesn’t matter how.

 

 

 

Expectations

My Thinking Differently series is not done, but I wanted to take a break to post about expectations.

One of the most common conversations I have with the horse people around me is about expectations.  The expectations they have of their horses, of their trainer, of themselves.  Should the be riding in shows by now? What has the trainer accomplished in thirty days?  Are they themselves good enough a horse person?  Should they be better?

Expectation gets even more complicated when we start to realize that what we are holding in ourselves actually has an impact on what happens.  Why is it that I can coach someone to duplicate exactly the physical motions that I am doing, and the person can be completely consistent in replicating their actions each attempt, but the horse has zero response.  Alternatively, why is there very little consistency in how I ask for things physically, but often so much more clarity than those people that are regimented in their repetition?

That’s only the beginning of the questions that whirl around when we start talking about expectations.  My own horsemanship (and dog work..and human work) is evolving in such a way that I am thinking about how powerful an expectation can be, and when it can be more powerful than the big-ness of attention seeking drama.

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating podcast on expectations that I wanted to share with you all.  It really resonated with me on so many levels and I would love to hear your thoughts. It dives into all of the above questions and I hope you find it as intriguing as I did.   The podcast is Invisibilia and the title of the show is How To Become Batman.  It is one of those not horsey but ENTIRELY horsey kind of things. http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/378577902/how-to-become-batman

I was playing with these concepts of expectations to see how little I could do to get this worried loose horse to line up to me at the fence.  Expectation meant so much more than the flag.

Thinking Differently: Part 2

I’m inspired to think about the concept of an Interspecies Relationship as the center of my work when I see how Jackson, the formerly worried German Shepherd I worked with over the winter, and Lyla, my sensitive and easily troubled filly, built a relationship based on nothing but mutual attraction.  I have no idea why these two find each other so interesting, but they do.  Lyla always wants to follow him around and groom him like a horse’s instincts tell her to do for a friend, and Jackson will play bow at her in hopes that she knows a bit of doggy play.  Sometimes one will become overwhelming to the other, and the differences in their size and species will cause one to retreat, but the separation never lasts long.

This sort of interspecies relationship is built without goals.  It centers the seemingly mutual attraction and interest between the two beings and doesn’t seem to be driven by any notions of hierarchy, survival or responsibility.  At least none that I can see.   

Now a horse human relationship could never be this innocent.  The inherent power dynamic between us is too deep, as I have discussed many times on this blog before.  Horses rely on humans for their basic needs and we as people should never forget that this great power comes with great responsibility.  Yet, I really believe that we can wield this power thoughtfully and that a more graceful approach is to center our interest in relationship rather than riding, not relationship for riding.

Riding is not inherently bad or good.  I have no ethical probably with riding horses and personally I find it hugely fun.  Beyond satisfaction, riding also provides insight into a relationship and into one’s self, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it leaves both parties vulnerable (the human atop a large animal, the horse beneath a predator).  But in this new way of thinking, riding could simply be a side effect of relationship.

Lyla the horse sometimes grooms Jackson the dog.  There is so much vulnerability in this moment, Jackson allowing an animal over ten times his size to stand above him and bare her teeth in this loving way, and Lyla putting her face so close to a German Shepherd whose ancestors would have eaten a prey animal like Lyla for dinner.  But neither Jackson or Lyla set out with the goal of grooming.  It is simply something that comes of a closeness between them.  It satisfies Lyla’s urge to be kind to her friends (horses will groom each other in a very reciprocal way).  While Jackson is not certain it is a safe idea, his attempt to allow her to demonstrate her affection in a horsey way seems a way to build relationship without forcing her to change into a dog.  Just as a horse could let a human demonstrate their affection in our odd ways (riding, grooming, etc) without becoming less of a horse, if we in turn do these things with a mind set of honoring the horse rather than the training.

 

Thinking Differently: Part 1

I’ve had some pretty big questions rolling around in my mind for a while and I thought I would start a series of blogs to try and discuss some of them.  I don’t know that I will provide much in the way of answers, but I would like to try and ask some questions and draw some connections that will challenge us all to really think beyond what horsemanship typically asks us to think about.

I’m thinking about why we have horses, why we love horses and what we see in horses.  Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m constantly questioning the notion that horses are important in direct relation to their ability to be ridden.  But instead of just questioning that today, I would like to propose an alternative structure of thought that really guides me as a horsewoman and as a human.

Typically, horsemanship is viewed as a way to prepare a horse to be ridden.  Some people do this with kinder methods than others, but no matter how long a person is willing to “give” a horse to be ready to ride, the goal is still the same.  This is a linear understanding of working with another being.  By this I mean, each step we take in the work with a horse is towards a common and concrete goal, which is always riding.

This challenges the general notion of natural horsemanship, new age horsemanship, thoughtful horsemanship or quality horsemanship (whatever you want to call this idea that horsemanship is about building relationship) because it suggests that this great and altruistic partnership we are all trying to build with a horse is really and completely selfish, and philosophically not that different than any other form of horsemanship.  Perhaps there is less physical pain experienced for everyone involved, but the end goal is still to have the horse do what the human wants, it just makes us all feel better that there is the illusion of choice.

I am really troubled by this idea of using relationship to create obedience.  I’ve spoken before about how it really is in the horse’s best interest to get along because they can’t survive without us and I still believe that.  But this is a different sort of blog today. This isn’t about what is best for the horse, this is about what is right for humans.  And by right, I mean what is ethically and philosophically correct beyond the limitations that this world provides.  I mean what is Right even if nobody is looking, nobody is trying to survive, nobody needs to eat and nobody wants to have fun.  I don’t think that this Right can always match up with what is Best, but I sure as heck think it’s worth thinking about and getting as close to as the world will let us.  And then maybe changing the world just enough to get a little closer.  (To read more about what is Best in my view, within the world we live in, go back and read this blog: http://www.threerivershorsetraining.com/3r-blog/2015/1/26/asking-the-tough-questions).

So when I think about this sort of rightness, what I see is a different starting point and a different way of thinking.  Instead of thinking with an end goal “riding” and the start goal of “horse,” I want to think in a way that looks a bit less linear. If I think like this, every idea has a starting point that produces many other ideas, all equally important.  Then each of those ideas are the starting point to a bunch of new ideas, and soon you have a web of thoughts.  If I translate the traditional way of thinking about horses into this format, the center is Riding.  I want to de-center riding and start thinking of Interspecies Relationship in the center.

To be continued….