Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Monday, September 28, 2009

A New Dawn, A New Day

It's a new dawn
It's a new day,
It's a new life for me,
And I'm feeling good.

Over the last two weeks I've ridden Cricket four times. Twice in my saddle, twice bareback. Once with a bit and three times in her hackamore. About two thirds of our time was in the arena and the rest outside, mostly grazing. I can count on one hand the number of times she shook her head.

I am happy. The Quiessence and the Spirulina seem to be helping her manage her response to stress. I am happy.

So, our ride yesterday . . . Cricket is such a complicated girl. She's been very introverted during groundwork. She turns from me and just doesn't feel into it. Maybe that's just too much "make it happen" and "get it done" from me. We're spending LOTS of time dwelling and finding itchy spots. Of which Cricket has hundreds.

She was great for saddling. It has been ages since she's tried to bite me during saddling.

Mounting is another issue. She's become increasingly snarky and I'm not sure why. I decided to take all the time we needed. I started by just sitting on the block and letting her dwell. She licked and chewed and relaxed. Nex, I stood on the mounting block and just opened my energy to allow her to come and get me. Cricket knows how to pick me up from anything. I decided just to invite her and let her come on her time. She started with her neck and I rubbed and scratched her. Before long, she just siddled up to me. Pretty cool. She was still snarky so we just did friendly game and approach and retreat. Hmm, this is all interesting to me.

The actual ride was interesting. Cricket has shed her under-impulsive self and becoming much more forward. That used to scare me. A LOT. Not so much any more. The strategies from the Impulsion Mastery Manual are fantastic. We did indirect rein downward transitions. That worked okay - it's been better. So I tried "trot as fast as you want on tiny circles." That was cool! I've never had the confidence to do that with her. We must have circled every cone on the track around the arena. Never once did she get angry or upset. Not once did she shake her head. When she sped up, we found another cone and did tiny circles. Finally, she offered the walk and we stopped and she licked and chewed. Good stopping point, good day.

I find it interesting that Cricket is becoming a little defensive about being ridden. I know it's not the saddle - she'd be biting at me during saddling if that were the case. I've changed several things lately. My seat is a little more forward in a more classical position. I like it and it gives me better balance and better control of my body on my horse. My confidence is increasing and I am beginning to challenge Cricket's under-saddle dominance. She's always had the upper hand when we ride. Not so much any more. I think she likes it but it confuses her a little.

Now comes the rush to get everthing wrapped up and ready for camp. I still have her saddle and some ropes to clean. Then I just need to start putting everything together. I'm so excited, I can hardly wait!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Good Day

This picture was taken down at the ISC in 2005. Cricket and I were there for the very first Freestyle course, taught by Linda Parelli. I took Cricket out on the 45' and we played all over the place. It was one of my best days with her.

I decided to throw the bareback pad on Cricket last night. It was a beautiful evening and this was one of my last chances to put a leg over my horse before the hustle and bustle of camp preparation. I put the bareback pad on her and started a little ground warm-up. I've let her get very lazy about her HQ disengage so after a quick tune-up she was much more responsive. We did a little circle game and a little porcupine, driving and friendly. At the mounting block she pinned her ears quite a bit. More friendly game and good scratches. I think she's in heat and she doesn't always like being ridden when she's in season. I don't blame her.

Instead of "working on something" I decided just to go out and wander around the farm. The barn owner was doing some fencing so we wandered down the field to watch. Then we moseyed. I let her go and let her graze. With few exceptions, she was in charge. It was lovely. She was very relaxed, very responsive and we were just happy.

After we were done, I let her stand tied while I prepared feed for the boarding barn. Even when I had to remind a few horses how to have manners while I prep feed, Cricket stood with a leg cocked and total relaxation. I was very proud of her emotional fitness at feeding time.

When she was done eating, we turned the horses out but she stayed with me so I gave her some of her "special hay" and she hung out at the barn munching her hay.

It wasn't anything spectacular. And I think that's what I liked best. It was just two friends hanging out together, enjoying each other's company.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Shoes

What can I say, my girl likes her shoes.

The farrier came yesterday and reset all of Cricket's shoes. One more thing checked off my list of things to accomplish before camp.

Hoof care is vitally important to the physical and thus the mental and emotional well-being of a horse. One of my instructors once said, "A horse will do anything to compensate for an imbalance in his mouth or his feet." I think there are too many horse owners who's understanding of their horse stops at the coronary band.

I have no interest in trimming my own horse. First, Cricket is shod on all four feet. Before you get your "Barefoot is Best" panties in a twist, I tried barefoot for two years. Cricket is just uncomfortable barefoot. It's nothing to do with hoof quality or lack of a good trimmer. My horse doesn't like being barefoot. Second, after I broke my left arm I lost some of my mobility in that wrist. It would be two awkward to trim her feet. At least the right side and unless I want continual left hand circles I just don't think it's a good idea.

So I have found, to the best of my ability, a good farrier. He's a Natural Balance farrier and both my horse and I like him. The first time he shod Cricket she dropped her head and just licked and chewed through the entire shoeing. He makes mistakes, like anyone but he's great to talk to and he doesn't think I'm an idiot when I ask him questions about Cricket's feet.

Just because I don't trim Cricket doesn't mean it's not my responsibility to understand how her feet should look and how they should function. It is EVERY horse owner's responsibility.

Funny thing about wanting to talk hoof care, my friend Michelle posted on her blog about the exact same thing! She posted some great links to education material - check out her post at Natural Horse Lover: Have You Rasped Any Hoofs Today?

I take exception to two of her links.

Personally, I do not care for Jim Crew and his Healthy Stride approach. I've had Jim Crew work on my horse (before he was famous) and I'm not impressed. I don't agree with the radical shifts he seems to make in a short time. I wonder how that affects the overall horse to have his back legs rebalanced over a couple of hours. What does that do to the muscle tissue and the immediate comfort of the horse? I don't know. I just wonder.

I think Strasser helped introduce the idea that a barefoot horse was more than just a horse with no shoes. It's about an entire lifestyle that supports the horse in the most natural way possible. I believe, however, elements of her approach are too radical and are unnecessary for normal barefoot horses.

Whatever you do, know what you are doing. There are tons of good resources and the more you know, the better you can do for your horse.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I am doing the happy dance. Well I would be except I believe that is generally frowned upon in professional office settings. Not only is Cricket happy with her new feed routine but I ACTUALLY RODE MY HORSE!!!

I have Cricket on her new supplements - magnesium and spirulina. She gets her magnesium from Quiessence - a product which delivers both chelated magnesium and inorganic magnesium in the form of magnesium oxide. The spirulina I bought in bulk from Herbalcom.com, a supplier I've used for the chastetree berry that Cricket receives.

Cricket turned her nose up at the first Mg supplement I offered her. I tried Dynamite's Easy Balance - a blend of magnesium, chromium, cinnamon and maybe a few other things. I thought it smelled yummy. Cricket didn't agree. I had to cajole her at every feeding to finish her dinner.

I was a bit worried about the spirulina. It has a strong and non-to-pleasing smell. At least as far as I was concerned. I was prepared with a little extra alfalfa and some organic molasses. I mixed in all her supplements, offered her the bowl and stood back to see what might happen. Of course she blows my assumptions, sticks her head in the bowl and proceeds to lick it clean.

So I am beyond THRILLED that she is happy with the new supplements. I'm planning on keeping this protocol for the next three months. I'm just going to observe and see if I can detect any changes in her headshaking behavior.

Now the important part - I RODE MY HORSE! When I arrived at the barn last night, the rain had abated and the weather was quite pretty. I decided to get Cricket out and play with her a little in the hopes of a short ride. Lots of interesting moments . . .

Cricket was very introverted yesterday. Upward transitions on the circle elicited tail swishing. I stayed soft and repeated my request until she complied. I opted not to "raise the phase" as I figured all that would do was sour her attitude further. She was very light on her shoulder yields and very heavy on her HQ disengagement. I set up a porcupine and waited. If she leaned into me the pressure increased. I released for the best try I could read. I know I missed some key releases. But I gave myself permission not to be perfect. When she finally disengaged her HQ, I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And then I waited some more. It took her a very long time to lick and chew over that event. Hmm, I don't think I've been patient enough with my porcupine game.

I already had her bareback pad on so I went to switch to the hackamore. She pinned her ears so we played "evil thought = good scratches." It really disrupts her pattern when I "make" her think good thoughts about me when she's hell-bent on hating what I want her to do. Mounting caused a return of "evil thoughts" so we spend some good time at the mounting block with good scratches. By the time I hopped on, she was happy as a clam.

I played with freestyle walking on the rail. I took up just a bit of contact to trot and we played with indirect rein downward transitions (per the latest Mastery Manual on Impulsion). I got some of the best bareback trotting from her. We finished with opening the gate and going out to the field to graze.

All in all she twitched her head once or twice. Nothing sustained. I'm so thrilled with EVERYTHING!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Decisions and Acceptance

I have made a decision and I must accept the consequences of my choice. I may not complain about the decision I have made. I am free, at any time, to change my decision. I may not complain about that choice either.

Sometimes I have a hard time accepting the decisions I have made. While I won't budge on my choice, I feel perfectly entitled to complain and whine about "poor pitiful me." No more!

When I bought Cricket I didn't know enough to know that I should have walked away. Actually, I should never have gone to look in the first place. In the six years since then, I've learned a lot about my mare and even more about myself. I know enough to make a decision.

I know that horses teach humans and humans teach horses. I know Cricket and I end up at points where neither of us knows what to do.

I know Cricket has introverted tendencies. I know that she is dominant, left-brained, supremely self-confident. I know all of this mixed together makes for slower progress.

I know she is wicked sensitive. This coupled with her introversion only intensifies the challenge.

I know she is a headshaker. This is something I cannot cure. I can manage it by the way I care for her and I can try to teach her how to be more tolerant.

I know I have confidence issues and Cricket needs a confident rider.

I know I should have a nice steady been there, done that horse.

I know all of this and my decision is to keep Cricket. I love her too much. Because this is the decision I have made, I will accept the consequences of that decision. I will accept that the needs of my horse come before the goals I have for my horsemanship. I will accept that our progress through Level 3 will be slow. I will accept that my friends will accomplish things ahead of me. I will accept that I cannot have a second horse. I will accept this is my "harness" and I will endeavor to find freedom by becoming easy within these boundaries.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away!

I know I should be grateful for the rain. We've had drought conditions for the past several years and I think we're finally breaking even this year. But this is seriously getting in the way of my plans! And since everything is about me . . . Hey, I didn't get the title "Center of the Universe Barbie" because I'm altruistic! Two weeks from tomorrow I leave for camp. The constant downpour is hampering my efforts to get everything ready.

The logistics of going to camp has become half the fun. All of Cricket's gear gets a thorough cleaning - saddle and girth, bridles, bits, pads, bareback pad and girth, ropes and halters. I go through all my grooming stuff and combine half empty bottles, get rid of stuff I'm not using or don't like, clean all her brushes and take stock of what is running low. Cricket gets a bath. Since this is usually the last of the season, she gets a good scrubbing in a tea tree oil shampoo which is followed up by her regular shampoo. Since I like to be prepared, we pull together a basic first aid kit with enough to handle most minor incidents. Getting her feed together is an event unto itself - timothy pellets, alfalfa pellets, supplements, probiotic and electrolytes. The only thing of mine that gets cleaned is my riding boots. And that often doesn't happen until the car ride up there!

Once everything is cleaned, the list-making begins. What do I need for Cricket? What do I need for me? Do we have all our tools for groundwork? What about riding? What do I need in the trailer? Do I have all her feed? Hay? Breeches or jeans (the never ending dilemma)? Did I forget anything? Is it minor enough that I can get it at Target?

I'm getting excited just thinking about it! I love my Parelli camps. I've been going to four day camps at Carol Coppinger's farm since 2005 and I never get tired of it!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Sunshiny Day

I love sunflowers. On my way to work, there is a field wher a farmer has planted sunflowers. The view of the field is blocked by trees and then you come around a little curve and spilling out before you is a field of growing sunshine.

I have had some rough times lately. I can hardly express how dark everything became. I have never felt so lost and desperately frustrated with my horsemanship journey. I seriously contemplated getting out of it all.

The other day as I drove home from work, I began contemplating it all. As I approached the field of sunflowers, all the flowers were bowed under the grayness of the day. I looked at the flowers and said, "Wake up little sunflowers!" I wanted so much to see their bright hopeful faces.

I've been think a lot about Cricket and the time we've spent together. I've been thinking about her headshaking and everything I'm doing to try and help her. Like the little sunflowers, I'm stooped by the clouds. But just as the reemergence of the sun will lift the flowers, I will reawaken and stand up.

Two of my dearest friends came over on Saturday and we played and rode. I was more particular in my groundwork and I was determined to be more accepting during our ride. We played with some rider/horse biomechanics for a warm-up. I incorporated some of the techniques on impulsion from the latest Mastery Manual and I just endeavored to enjoy my horse.

Cricket twitched her head a few times but it was mild and not sustained. I'm not sure what caused her recent episodes of headshaking. I may never know. I may need to come to terms with the fact that she is a headshaker and this will, at times, affect what we can do. I need to develop the emotional fitness to realize I cannot cure her but I can help her.

I'm super-excited about camp, now. Carol has offered to help me in any way she can and I just feel better about the whole adventure

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Do You Do?

What do you do when you feel like giving up?

What do you do when it just feels like too much?

What do you do when it's just not fun anymore?

What do you do when you come to that place where you say, "I just cannot do this any longer"?

Because I'm there and I don't know what to do.

I am so overwhelmed by the responsibility of Cricket that I feel paralyzed.

It struck me hard the other day how tired I am. I'm tired of trying to figure out what is going on with her. I'm tired of researching answers for her headshaking. I'm tired of hitting the same wall over and over and over. I'm tired.

Emotionally she is draining me. I know her headshaking is not behavioral and I know she's trying as hard as she can. But sometimes that's not enough. Financially she's bleeding me dry. The cost of boarding coupled with everything I'm trying to alleviate her headshaking is taking all my available resources.

I need help and there is no one here to help me.

I have camp in a few weeks. Maybe there will be some answers there. I don't know. I'm a little tired of waiting to see if something is around the corner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Enough Already!

My last two rides on Cricket have been frustrating, to say the least.

I love that mare and I know she loves me. But when is that just not enough any more?

After a few good rides in which there was no hint of headshaking, the twitchies are back with a vengence. They started creeping back last Thursday. In my lesson on Sunday they were pretty vigorous and last night they were in full force.

I am almost at my wits end. This is the most intense detective game I've every played. If only the answer were as simple as "Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the study."

In the midst of the frustration, there are some good things. In my lesson on Sunday I started riding with a more foward seat. Not so far that I was perching on the pommel, but a little forward of the Parelli Balance Point so I was more evenly weighted from front to back. As soon as I came a little forward, Cricket reached and stretched her back. She relaxed into the walk and then offered the sweetest upward transition into a relaxed trot. Rising to her rhythm was absolutely effortless. When she did shake her head, I felt more confident and balanced on her.

The funny thing about her increased headshaking is that she's blowing more. I don't fully understand the opposition between the stress response of her headshaking and the adrenaline release of her blowing.

We've had an unexpected change in her feed routine. Due to a bad bag of hay pellets, she's been getting straight alfalfa hay pellets and not just her timothy hay pellets. I wonder if there is any relation between the recurrance of the headshaking and the abrupt change in her feed routine.

Well, we are about to adjust her feed routine once again. I'm going to try a new supplement that increases her intake of magnesium. I am hopeful this will help the stress response.