Saturday, November 8, 2014

In which we celebrate the short but good lives of Haiku Farm turkeys

After a week of monsoonic rain, the sun came out.

Fluffing out the feathers after a long rainy spell.
photo by M. Bretherton

Monica was out early, shooting photos of the turkeys as they wandered around the backyard nibbling on dandelion greens, lavender seeds, and overripe apples.  

It was a nicest "last day" for turkeys that I could think of.

They got so large that walking was difficult.   The big male had to sit and rest
several times during his walkabout.  Photo by M. Bretherton

They lived here long enough to learn where the trees would drop the best fruit.

On the way to the orchard.
Photo by M. Bretherton

They lived here long enough to teach the dogs how to behave properly in the presence of dinosaurs.

They taught me where food really comes from...not just in theory.

 They taught us all that even ugliness

contains beauty.

Preening.  Photo by M. Bretherton

And yes, we will eat them.  What a waste their lives would be if we didn't!

In honor of the things we learned, we will put apples in the stuffing, and lavender on the table.

Because, they taught us some stuff.

And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In which sometimes our mental calendars are a heavenly joke book

With one eye on the horizon, only one remains to watch the road beneath your feet. 
 -- Words of wisdom painted on the bathroom door of my old karate dojo

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  --Jewish proverb

I got a note from a Green Bean friend recently.

She's got a nice young mare as an endurance prospect, a trainer she likes, and a plan.

However, recently, she's been feeling like she's been moving backwards instead of forwards.  She feels unbalanced and frustrated while doing things she used to be able to do comfortably.

And then, last week, she hit the ground--hard.  Hard enough to require a ride to the ER, where they diagnosed a pretty impressive concussion, and recommended that she stay off the pony until her head stops bobbling (which it hasn't, yet)

"Even monkeys fall from trees." --Japanese proverb
Even non-green bean riders hit the ground sometimes!

"What am I doing wrong?"  she wanted to know.

I read through what she wrote, and I recognized a couple of issues:

  •  She is feeling unbalanced, insecure, and probably a little PTSD from the tumble.
  • The horse is green, and has so much to learn--a nice mare, but she isn't steady and trustworthy yet.  
  • Tack might or might not be an issue.
  • The concussion is not helping.
  • She has GOALS!  BIG GOALS!  And she is feeling like she's getting further away from the goals, rather than closer to them.

I think that the last bullet point is the core issue.  

Having a mental calendar with goals written on it in mental red ink gets in the way of paying attention to what is happening in the real world.

We've all been there and done that.  When I got Fiddle in December 2006, she was five years old and green broke.  She would turn six a few days after Home on the Range, the first ride of our 2007 endurance season.

"Perfect!" I thought, and mentally planned to do an LD ride at HOTR.

cue sound effect: >> divine laughter <<

2008:  still not ready for Prime Time
The problem with horses, even good horses, and even trained horses, is that they have "stuff" that moves them off-calendar sometimes.

Sometimes it's physical stuff--ulcers, or an abscess, tender soles or a saddle that pinches, or even something bigger but more subtle, like the painful ovaries that took us years to diagnose and treat. 

Sometimes it's mental or emotional stuff.

Trying to rush through the stuff generally doesn't work.  

Rushing through stuff doesn't resolve the stuff, it either squashes and masks the stuff so the stuff can grow mold and turn out even worse down the road, or ignites the stuff so that it blows up into a gigantic explosive ball of really troublesome stuff that gets stuck to everything else.

Now, how's THAT for an explanation?  >g<  

At last:  Fiddle's first LD event.
Home on the Range, 2010.

I want to suggest that having a mental calendar may be getting in the way of forward progress.  

Fiddle was physically old enough (by AERC rules) to do LD rides at age 4.  At age 6, she was still growing, still clumsy, and mentally still very green.  

I backed away from my mental calendar, and we spent 2007 walking on trails.  

Not even trotting.  It was, quite honestly, the only training my green mare was mentally mature enough to handle at that point. It was not incident-free, either.  

Until she could walk down a trail without falling over her feet, or fainting from fear, or freezing up when we got to a tricky bit of terrain, there was no point in pushing for faster gaits.

At age 7, she was still growing a little, but it was time to push her a little.  We started with dressage lessons (aka "couples therapy").  At first, Fee was very resistant.  We gradually worked through some of her issues, and began to glimpse her amazing potential.  

gaiting...but at least she could (sorta) keep track of all four feet
We weren't there yet.  

I could probably have successfully campaigned her in LD's in 2009...but that was the year we bought Haiku Farm, and I ran out of money for entry fees (not to mention time for training).  

That mental calendar got crumpled up and thrown out once again.

Instead, we spent that year learning other skills.

A different skill set for endurance horses
So, back to the Green Bean and her question about what she's "doing wrong."

My recommendation is for her to back up into her comfort zone and get rid of that mental calendar for a while. 

If that means riding a lesson horse in a saddle with a seat belt, do that.  

If it means lining the green horse up to a mounting block and flopping onto her back and just sitting there at a dead standstill, do that.  

If it means the green horse gets ridden by the trainer every Tuesday while the green bean rider does groundwork the rest of the week, do that.  

If it means going out to a friend's barn to trail ride on one of her experienced horses to regain balance and confidence, do that.

Bottom line of my advice for the green bean:  
Drop the mental calendar into the mental recycle bin.  Get back into your comfort zone, and rattle around in there until it is truly boring. 

When it's time to get out of the comfort zone, go slowly.  

"Stuff" will arise--it always does.  

Deal with the stuff, but take the pressure off by getting rid of that mental deadline. 

I'm not suggesting that this particular Bean and her horse will be delayed as long as Fiddle and I were.  But even if they do have to stand on the brakes for a while, it's not the worst possible thing.  

2011:  a regular competitor now, but still useful as a trail-building horse

Letting go of the mental calendar allowed me to reach for more immediate, more attainable challenges that turned out to be excellent background training for endurance events.

And the result: after eight (EIGHT!!! egad! it's been that long!) years, 

Skilled horse, happy rider.
Renegade Rendezvous 50-miler, 2014
I have an endurance horse who makes me very proud.   

READERS, please chime in:  

What events and situations move you and your horse off-calendar?  
Is it easy to re-form your goals?  
What helps you?

The comment box is open.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In which I ponder about how much our horses really understand

I know that we sometimes say our horses understand us,
but how much do they really understand?

The Dragon: a horse who understands

I was tacking up beside the trailer the other day while talking to Monica.  We were catching up on the news, and one of the things I said was that I'd gotten distressing news:  Jacqui, the lady who gave Fiddle to me back in 2006, was back in the hospital.  Her cancer has recurred.

Monica sympathized, of course, because she is a nice person, although she's never met Jacqui in person and it's certain that they will be friends when they ever do meet.

The effect on Fiddle was much more dramatic.  She went from barely awake to fully alert and tight as a banjo string.

Sure, you say.  I was distressed about my friend.  My horse has become a caretaking horse, and she was reacting to my distress.

But, wait.

I was distressed before I even walked down to the barn.  I'd gotten the news while eating my breakfast cereal.  Fiddle didn't react until I said out loud that Jacqui was sick.

Fiddle remembers Jacqui.  She recognizes her on every visit, as she recognizes most of my friends.  I've learned to let her greet new folks if we're going to be riding together--she seems to appreciate a proper introduction.  

I've often been told (though I don't entirely believe it) that animals recognize words, short phrases, and body language.  Certainly not a complex sentence like "My friend Jacqui is back in hospital because her old nemesis has returned."

Fee was instantly, obviously worried when she heard.  She has been dude ranch pony calm for months now, but at the trailhead, she suddenly started acting out. I worked her a bit, just to re-establish that the boundaries hadn't changed, and that reassured her.  

Then we took off down the trail, with four horses and five people, so Monica tailed for a while

And then I tailed for a while behind Hana...

And then I rode Hana and Duana tailed for a while

Monica was riding Fiddle, and she took the picture

And then we saw mushrooms, 

Duana spots our quarry

which was the excuse purpose for the excursion.

So, we stopped and picked a bunch.
A trick-or-treat bag full!
I can't believe I didn't take a photo of the horses tied along the road while we all scampered around in the woods looking for chanterelles.  Fiddle and Hana, recognizing "mushroom hunting" as a new variation on "trail work" immediately cocked a hip and fell asleep.  The other horses followed their example.

The work of hauling different riders up the hills calmed and reassured Fiddle, as work often does for so many of us.

But it got me wondering about how much she really understands when I'm talking.  I talk a lot.  Babble, really.  Couldn't blame her if she wanted to tune me out fairly often.  

And then she does something like this.  


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