Posts Tagged With: relationships

Simple horses

There is this strange “sophistication”, a consistent “polished” look and way about the horses these days. I was looking through old photographs and papers, smiling at the memories of old competition days and the work we did preparing. Old boots shined up and well-worn… bridles that were both “at home school tack” and “show tack”… saddles polished well the night before and that one fancy saddle pad kept clean and spiffy just for the shows.

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I know riders these days whose Spanish top, zippered, posh black boots cost more than the horses I rode in my youth. And that’s okay. Times change. People have different priorities. People have more money (or so it seems).

Now, I grew up in wealth, actually! Yet, my absolute adoration of all things equine left the rest of my family cold. It wasn’t until I fell through a window (beside the entry door at my grandfather’s estate here), severed most of my hand from my arm and died in surgery, then was resuscitated that my parents decided they might ought to get a horse for me… it was worth it 😉

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My father chose a shiny, fancy young gelding over the older, plain, “bomb-proof” gelding I really should have had and the adventure began. Even with my new horse, in 1968, his presence was nowhere near the impression made by the modern mount these days!

mink and chili

I look at old photos and feel that deep pang of loss… a loss of the simplicity of just loving and bonding and struggling with horses. While I left the competitive world years ago, I watch the “horse world” around me now and wonder about what satisfaction there could be in the purchase of a made show horse, the repetition of drilled coaching, the need for extravagant clothing and equipment just to able to ride into the ring in the first place.

Do the current horse persons find that same tingle of butterflies in the tummy at midnight before leaving for the horse show while they clean tack on the living room floor? Do they laugh out loud with friends at the in gate, nervous laughter to make it easier to face the strangely complex course of fences painted in colors their horses have never seen before?

Do parents sit in the bleachers, as mine did, beaming smiles and offering words of encouragement? Or was it just that my parents were so very glad that I was even alive?

horse van at show

I feel particularly blessed to have known the “old days” of simple horsemanship; of wanting a horse so badly that I “cantered” all over the place on my two legs with such abandon that I slid across the slate entryway and through a plate glass wall… hand first, thank goodness, not head first!

I love that my Mum and Dad came on board with the whole horse thing and got us a horse van, built a barn (with their own hands) and helped me establish my own stable yard.

snookie jump

Horses. They healed me (and there was so very much to be healed). They made a life for me. And now I make their lives better, hopefully, as best I can. Since that dynamic childhood, I’ve been homeless. I have lived as a caretaker for a friend’s farm as she died of cancer. I have found a way to buy my own place in 2010, after driving home to New Mexico with everything I owned stuffed into my Jeep. And that home has now become a Sanctuary for horses in need and the people who who love them.

My favorite definition of love is:

“Love is the active promotion of the well-being of the love object” ~ E. Fromm

I love horses.

 

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Categories: healing, joy, Saving Horses, vision | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Without Pain…

“The whole idea of struggle brings you to a point of conflict, the antithesis of horsemanship.”  If things seem to be going wrong in your training, first look to the possibility of confusion.  The horse wants to please.  It is his nature to yield and to avoid conflict.  If he seems unwilling to comply with your wishes/requests/demands, consider the possibility that he is confused and does not understand your aids.  First look to fixing yourself.  Make your language clearer, your communication more basic.  Go to a simpler task, a slower gait, a smaller jump, use a milder bit, remove force, and concentrate upon influence.  If your hose is acting out of character, consider that he feels poorly or that something is hurting him.  Check your equipment, his body, his hooves.  Give your horse a chance to tell you why he is not cooperating before you decide to attack him.

My beautiful picture

Consider how often he is ridden.  If you work him hard every day, be sure to vary your routine.  Drilling him over and over with the same patterns of schooling will either bore him into quiet, dull submission or drive him to rebellion.  Neither is appealing.  If you can only get to him once a week, the excitement and newness of your contact with him many be overly stimulating.  He may have trouble concentrating for the first hour you are together, so do not make any demands upon him in the beginning of your time together beyond simple safety.  After the freshness has worn off, begin a schooling session that takes into account the time that has passed since your last contact.  Much improvement can be had with a review of old skills, a lesson on new, logical movements, finishing with a session of easy, well-honed skills that allows the horse to feel successful.

 

This building of successes for both of you can eliminate the use of pain as a training tool.  Equipment that inflicts pain is unnecessary if you take the time to school every small detail consistently from the most basic to the most complex.  It is important that your horse feels successful and be rewarded for his cooperation.  His desire to repeat the experience will be increased.  If he feels that he can never please you or that he is never quite food enough, he will lose all desire to participate with you either under saddle or in the stable.

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Wind Horse (Lung Ta) Appreciation and Gratitude

They are not quite the same thing: Appreciation and Gratitude. I appreciate someone or something by seeing the goodness in them. I am grateful, generally, for a quality or act or gift that is offered or expressed by someone.

I appreciate horses. I am grateful to horses.

There are so many ways that horses have served humans and so many ways in which we can now repay them, on all levels.

The concept of “Wind Horse” is ancient and Tibetan. This being carries our dreams to the stars and connects “Earth and Sky”.

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Wind Horses are on prayer flags; dancing in the wind, releasing prayers of Peace and becoming threadbare then merely threads atop the highest mountains of our Earth. It is not simply by chance that horses are chosen to represent our dreams and the best parts of us. Horses have made our dreams possible.

The little horses of Mongolia, Tibet, China – past and present – were the “technology” and transport that built civilizations and cultures. Even choosing to stay as herds in the company of their humans without fences or ropes, they shared and share a rich and difficult way of life. Mares’ milk sustained the nomads and remains their only source of Vitamin C! And respect, appreciation and gratitude require that the mares’ foals get the milk first.

The horses of Europe fought great battles. The horse in the Americas built roads, hauled logs, tilled fields and also fought bloody battles. Miniature horses and ponies went into mines to pull carts of coal or minerals and lived their lives in the dark depths for our benefit.

Donkeys remain “beasts of burden” throughout the planet and mules pack, ride and pull for humanity.

I appreciate equines. I am grateful to equines.
All of humanity is indebted to the horse and his cousins.

My beautiful picture

So, I have some specific horses that I am honored to love and, just like having a human soul mate, having these equine soul mates gives me focus, purpose and contentment. The very act of allowing me (and my students) to ride and direct them is a testimonial to the generous equine nature.

There can be days when nothing seems to go right – hooves are tender, ears are itching, backs are sore or mares are in season… these are the times of the greatest lessons!

It is never the horse that lets us down (although we can let our horses down by not honoring their needs or by forgetting that they are just as vulnerable as we are); we only fail in our horsemanship if we fail to learn. Every situation within an encounter with horses is an opportunity for growth and healing… for the human and for the horse. If it is a lesson situation and things are not going according to my plan – I quickly open to the lesson the horse has to teach!

Children who are scattered, squealing and oblivious to the horse will be taught to be focused, quiet and aware by the wise equine who will ignore them until some sense of composure is achieved. I, as the instructor, am simply the “translator” of facts and dialog between the rider and the horse, hopefully helping each attain rapport with the other.

Adults who are pushy or aggressive quickly learn that they frighten horses and become better able to exercise self mastery and calmness to find communication skills that honor the relationship. This can extrapolate to other relationships in their lives.

My beautiful picture

All this points simply to the need that exists for human beings to value the past gifts bestowed upon our species by horses and celebrate the new relationships we are forming with them based upon mutual respect, Appreciation and Gratitude!

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And the winner is…

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

snookie jump

So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the other’s feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!

 

I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?
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Yes and No

When you run a Sanctuary for horses, every day is unique… sometimes every hour! When you live in harmony with Nature (especially in the high desert), you have to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it comes to weather, finances, social interactions, relationships and goal setting.

My beautiful picture

We are up with sun, we are online into the night, we are juggling bits of money to be spread across payments that grow exponentially. We see the shining stars every night with barn checks and we fall into bed having missed a bath or a shower 4 days in a row…

Then we wake to gentle rain and the scent of suppressed dust in the paddocks, soft nickers wanting breakfast and a stillness on the stable yard that gifts us a day of introspection and rest.

My beautiful picture

New volunteers often say they don’t know how we do it, day in, day out… old students remark about the changes in the past couple of years that leave us all spellbound. Visitors ask if this was what I had always wanted to do…

Yes… and no.

I had wanted to live in Australia when I was young. I had wanted to raise half Thoroughbred show ponies when I was a teenager. I had wanted to operate a school of gentle, classical horsemanship paired with dance when I was in my twenties. In my thirties, I wanted to write novels. All my life I wanted to grow my own medicines for my family… all my life I wanted to be cherished, just as all beings do.

This Sanctuary, here in the New Mexico high desert, in the middle of a winter rain, warm and drenching; this is a huge YES. The “no” part is that I did not realize in my youth how important this life would be.

A mentor of mine when I was young, Mr. Charles deKunffy, wrote a note to me decades ago. It said, “Kathy, out of great dedication grow fine things. YOU will contribute to the equestrian arts”. No kidding!! THAT motivated me to push on when I was exhausted or discouraged. THAT made me push on when my hand(s) couldn’t even lift a coffee cup. THAT made me push past the mental whiplash inflicted by an alcoholic father and the degradation of molestation. A simple declaration of one’s worth by an admired teacher can be the difference between life and not living.

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So, I contribute; in ways I hadn’t realized would be my destiny. I have my connection to Australia that I now realize was a deep song in my heart. I have taught thousands of students, owned hundreds of horses, schooled hundreds more and stood by another hundred as they passed over… knowing that someone loved them, even though it was only me. I have healed and nourished and held more horses than I can count. Charles was correct… I was and am dedicated. I care.

And the horses here, a jumbled up group of almost every breed and age and background that one can imagine, these horses are the story to be told. Their stories. Colliding with humans, dancing with humans, fearing and respecting and loving humans they know us on levels we don’t know ourselves. I hope they know that I love them. Totally.

Am I pleased with direction this life of mine has taken? Yes. Just yes.

 

 

Categories: healing, Horse Training, Relax, Saving Horses | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Falling…

We “fall” in love, we fall off of horses, we can “fall” into a situation, we are often falling for something that isn’t as it appears.

We are falling. (Tom Petty & “Free Falling” is now in my head!)

So falling has really good and really not so good implications. I recently had a student, who is a friend I care very much about, take a fall from one of the horses. It was no one’s fault. It was a series of circumstances that set the situation into motion too quickly. She was not harmed, but it hurt! And I know her confidence was shaken. It happens to each of us who ride horses. Sometimes we fall. But we hope fervently that those we instruct can be spared the experience. They cannot. And it isn’t fair to believe that not falling will build their confidence. Sometimes, it needs to happen to allow the student to move forward and let go of the dread – the wondering what it will be like. With helmets, safety stirrups and constant attention to the footing (soft place to land), I hope to set my students up for a protected ride and even a protected fall should it happen. That is common sense.

I know of horsemen and horsewomen who choose not to wear helmets when riding – I even used to be one! In the old days the “standard” was: riders under 18 years of age had to wear helmets, anyone jumping had to wear a helmet. I adhered to it in my schools. Now, no one rides at all at Dharmahorse without a proper helmet (all ages, all types of riding). Still there are gurus of horsemanship who even jump horses sans head protection and encourage others to choose that “freedom”. I don’t get it. When I see a precious student come off of a horse, I can at least know their brain is safe! There may be “road rash”, bruises, aches and pains – but a protected head means they will still be thinking and functioning – to be blunt.

Now, falling in love can be just as startling as falling off a horse! Loving another human is its own world – loving an animal, well, that is a gift and an honor that can expand into deep love for an entire species. I feel such love and admiration for each of these horses! They work so hard to help people and try so hard to understand the students who do not yet have control of their bodies and the signals they give! It is all a journey we take together. We just want to find rapport and be cherished – no matter our species.

Falling into a situation denotes something good has happened without effort or focus. I often find that, when people say “she just fell into that good fortune”, no one is aware of the work and attention that it took to “fall”! I firmly believe that the good stuff is attracted to us when we put our attention on it. It is a disciplined way of thinking and acting in life that creates the energy of the situation that manifests. Falling into it may happen, but the landing pad was likely being prepared well ahead of time.

And falling for something holds the image of being deceived or manipulated. “I can’t believe he fell for that!” is often the judgment leveled. We’ve all believed something we later found to be false or misrepresented – the best way to look at these experiences is as learning opportunities. And for me, a negative outcome strengthens my resolve – I hate the feeling of “I knew better” than to do something! No one ever gets me to agree to anything over the phone. I no longer give my power away to others to make them feel better.

So, falling asleep is good! Falling all over someone probably isn’t good. Falling through the cracks could go either way. Tonight, I’m thinking about all the beings I’ve fallen in love with so far in my life and I do not regret a single one. I’m thinking about all the falls I’ve had from horses… those I do regret to a degree, but I learned so much each time. And to all who read this, I strongly suggest that, if you ride horses, you wear a helmet. If you fall in love, I salute you! Love holds the world together, love heals us. My life is now more filled with love than it has ever been!

wedding7

At Dharmahorse tonight we are getting ready for sleep with little solar lights that look like stars sprinkled about the stable yard. Our weather has been odd, but this day was pleasant and I had the honor of bringing people and horses together to love and delight in each other. This is a good life. The love of my lives sits nearby, sharing this simple, joy filled time. I think I’m falling in love with this new, good life! “Free falling……….”

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In the presence of horses…

Time spent with horses is always time well spent. I remember my own childhood with horses and even when things went “wrong” for me and I was frustrated or angry – the horses taught me how totally nonproductive that was! As I work with new and young students in Horsemanship, I see how it takes them a while after first arriving, to settle and connect deeply not only with the horses, but with their own feelings and needs.

There is a great deal more to our Horsemanship than just riding. Being in the presence of horses helps us see our own issues in a new light. We can process problems while cleaning hooves and the horse will tell us if we are congruent or not – if he feels safe lifting a hoof for us; if he feels that we are clear and assertive; if he feels that we care or just do not!

Darj and Katharine

Our relationship with a horse is like a dance. It is based upon communication and mutual concern for the other. “Love is the active promotion of the well being of the love object” (E. Fromm) When we learn how to love a horse, we learn how to love. When we learn how to communicate with a horse, we are more clear in our communications with other people.

Horses need to know when they are successful and are pleasing us. We often let them know when they are “wrong”, but forget to tell them when they are “right”…

Categories: healing, Horse Training, Saving Horses | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Well of Experiences….

The Well of Our Experiences

AWARENESS

The first step in awareness is to examine the external world. We learn to cherish all that surrounds us. We learn to observe without judgment. We strive to not only preserve life, but to honor and enhance life. Horses do these things effortlessly when they live a natural life. We can learn from their example and we can support their natural awareness.

Horses need to feel that they are participating in life.

“The way horses live their lives is a metaphor for life’s priorities. It’s not always about winning or losing, it’s also about the quality of the experience, the journey itself, and putting your heart into what you do.” -Diane Lane actress, Secretariat

equine eye

Horses start their lives in one of three ways:

  1. Born into the wild with no initial contact with humans
  2. Born into a farm situation with human contact & other horses
  3. Orphaned early or at birth & raised by humans

Each situation creates unique perspectives and expectations in the horse. His language will be formed by the horses that raise him (#1), the horses & people that raise him (#2) or the humans that raise him (#3). This “language” becomes the first series of “drops” in the Well of Experiences for each horse.

We can add positive “drops”/experiences or negative ones to the lives of those around us.

As he matures, the horse’s experiences are positive and negative in nature and begin to fill that “Well”. According to the predominant type of experiences he has, he will learn to expect something positive or something negative with every new situation – if we wish to change this for him in some way, we must provide consistency in the things we bring to his awareness… we must flood a well of negativity with so many clear and compassionate positive experiences that the well no longer holds anything else.

The whole idea of struggle brings you

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The View From Above

Your horse is a prey animal. His eyes are set on the sides of his head to allow peripheral vision and depth perception – in front vision. This is how his ancestors detected the movement of predators even while grazing with heads down at ground level. To focus his eyes, the horse raises his head for distance and lowers his head for near objects. This explains why a Jumper needs to look straight at an obstacle with both eyes (depth perception) and without the head held high (looking past the jump). Because it takes time to focus (and that could turn him into a meal), the horse reacts to movement and checks out what was moving from a “safe” distance.

This pattern applies to most large prey animals – cattle, llamas, goats, sheep, etc. They may be totally safe in your barn, field or paddock, but their genetically coded responses can override their own life experiences. There is a common goal to NOT become a meal, even if it is totally not a possibility in this lifetime for that horse. Nature holds a power over all animals.

My beautiful picture

Your horse is a total herbivore. He should not be fed products that contain ingredients from animal sources. I am a vegetarian. I have total understanding of how ingestion of an unfamiliar animal flesh product can upset the digestive tract from one end to the other. Because I am a mammal and so is your horse, we can ingest things like yogurt without ill effect (of course, yogurt is very nourishing and health enhancing!) as long as it is free of things like artificial sweeteners, colors and the like.

Your horse cannot vomit, so everything he eats has to make it through a long and winding series of tubes that comprise the digestive tract. It really pays to be careful with everything that is fed to your horse.

The horse’s perspective is quite different than ours. We have eyes set at the front of our heads like predators and we do tend to move like predators. It can be unnerving to horses. To help him understand your intentions, move with steady, relaxed grace around your horse. Do not come up on him suddenly, unannounced (especially from behind!). Do not move crouched, slowly, stiffly as if you are “sneaking” up on him! Approach him as you do an old friend and talk to him.

The safest place for you to be positioned around a horse is at his shoulder (for your safety and his). He can see you (he has a blind spot directly in front of and below his nose and right behind his bottom) and he cannot strike, bite or kick you. Now, horses do not want to strike, bite or kick us unless they feel defensive and vulnerable (like when surprised from behind – for all they know, a tiger is about to leap onto them).

A horse can feel defensive because of past experiences (they have amazing memories) and you might trigger a response without realizing it. If you are having problems with your horse, try to figure out his perspective: does he feel confident that you are a kind and consistent leader? Horses look for a herd leader (or try to become one). Provide that leadership for him by CLEAR, CONSISTENT schooling. Make it easy for him to do the “right” things and difficult for him to do the “wrong” things. And be sure to consistently consider the same things “right” or “wrong”. You can drive a horse insane by rewarding him for doing something one day and punishing him for it the next.

You can develop your schooling program for your horse with a reward based system or a punishment based system. Either one will work. If you base your system on punishing each infraction, your horse will work to avoid punishment. He will only participate with you to keep from being corrected. If you use the reward based system, encouraging and praising and marking every “good” behavior, your horse will strive to find MORE good things to do for you and a RELATIONSHIP will form! It’s your choice.

Horses are mirrors for us. They truly do reflect our attitudes and emotions back to us. This is why they are such great teachers of patience, courage, compassion and self discipline. Horses excel in psychotherapy programs because of their pure, honest reactions to us. We cannot lie to horse, he will see right through us. A horse perceives much more than just the surface.

And horses are at our mercy. In the wild, without fences, a horse can find food and water. In the back paddock, he is totally dependent upon a human being for every life sustaining need. If you have the honor and responsibility of caring for a horse, always consider his viewpoint. His life is in your hands.

Your horse only knows what he is allowed or not allowed to do. He has no perception of Right or Wrong. If he comes from a life with other humans, he will have the imprint of their values in his data base. If you need to change him, do it GRADUALLY. You have to do things the way he knows at first, and then slowly teach him YOUR ways. I met a lady who came to this stable where I was training a stallion. She was to turn out and bring in the mares and foals. The horses were used to having their gates opened and they just ran out to the pasture! (This was not my barn, just a client’s) The lady, on her first day, decided she would catch each mare and lead her out. She nearly got killed … NOT because these were bad mares! It was because she tried to change their routine dramatically without any prior conditioning or interaction with the horses.

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Win – Win

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

Image

So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the others’ feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!

I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?

Categories: Horse Training | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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