the click

I felt it 16 years ago when I sat on Mimi for the first time.

The ‘click.’

That moment when you absolutely know that you and this horse are right for each other.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it, no rational explanation for it or anything you can do to make it happen. It either will or it won’t. I’ve ridden a number of horses that I’ve gotten along just fine with — but there was no special connection, no sense of mutual enjoyment. I was the rider, they were the horse. Either I know what I was doing enough to get them to perform, or they were well-trained enough to do the job, no matter who was on their back.

And then there’s been a handful of horses over the years that have given me that magic ‘click.’ Mimi, for one. Looking back, a rational person would claim our partnership never should have worked. A green 3-year-old with 60 days under saddle, and an 11-year-old who had ridden nothing but experienced lesson horses.

What happened instead was a first-ride experience that was nothing short of angels trumpeting a ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. Five minutes in the saddle, and we were cantering around an outdoor arena filled with dozens of other ponies and riders, weaving around those traveling slower than us. It was the first time I had ever been filled with such confidence on a horse.

1998-ish…this looks like my junior high-era; an afternoon
bumming around the barnyard after school.

16 years later, I still remember the feeling of that ride.

The feeling of that ride was what got me through the couple of years of young-horse-hell that followed the month-long honeymoon of First Pony ownership. That ride had showed us what we were capable of achieving.

2002 POA World Show, Spanish Fork, UT
Our last show; we got the last points needed
for her Supreme Champion Award.

I suppose I’m beyond spoiled, having gotten so lucky with my first horse. I don’t know how many people get their once-in-a-lifetime heart horse right from the start, but I did. And it’s set an extremely high bar for those that will follow.

But I’ve experienced that same click with several other horses over the years, so I know it is possible to achieve that same kind of relationship and level of connection. And my heart will always have room for more horses.

2006 Wickenburg Land of the Sun ride;
our 2nd LD ride.

But no one will ever take the place of my first, special Heart Horse.

This month marks 16 years together for me and Mimi. It’s been a whirlwind of highs and lows, and I wouldn’t trade our experiences together for anything. I’m proud of everything she has taught me — and still keeps teaching me.

So thank you, Mimi, for all of these years, and God willing, many more.

Top Ten List: Equine Books

Inspired by the idea of the ‘Top Ten’ in endurance, I’m presenting my Top Ten list of favorite equine-related, non-fiction books.

I’m a crazy bookworm who is an absolute research geek when it comes to topics I like.  (Pretty much anything relating to four hooves, a tail, and a whinnied greeting.  But my research shelves also contain tons of writing stuff, and a ton of cookbooks.  To further the eclecticism: An assortment containing everything from theatre to home decor books.  The only unifying theme among all of these is that they’re topics that are interesting to me.  Show me a math/chemistry/physics book and my eyes glaze over.)
My Top Ten Favorites
The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition, by Donna Synder-Smith
Though it was written quite a few years ago, much of the information is still relevant today and it’s my favorite go-to endurance guide.  I’ve been skimming through it as a refresher course with the thought in mind that one day, I am going to have to bring a new horse along in endurance.  I have several endurance-related books in my library, and I end up going through all of them, but this one ends up being the one most frequently grabbed.
Centered Riding, by Sally Swift
A timeless classic that should be on every bookshelf.  Even if you’re not interested in any kind of arena-based competition, this is a valuable resource as a book because it gets down to the functional basics of riding that are important no matter what your discipline.  I am constantly learning from it, even with close to 20 years spent in the saddle.
Conformation & Performance, by Nancy S. Loving, DVM, photos by Bob Langrish
This was actually one of my textbook (!) for an Equine Science class I took in college.  Best class ever…well, toss-up between that and a Theatre Movement class that involved stage combat…but the equine one turned out to be a little more relevant.  Warning: Once you read this book, you will never be able to look at a horse without finding fault in their conformation, and you start wondering if you’ll ever find a perfectly-conformed horse.  Hint: You won’t…it’s a matter of learning what conformation flaws you can live with and which are unacceptable.  The photography is a major part of the book, and makes it really easy to identify each conformation aspect that is being discussed.
Getting in TTouch, by Linda Tellington-Jones
This book fascinates me.  I absolutely love analyzing a horse based on their physical characteristics.  I’ve applied the principles in the book to enough horses that I’ve know to find it’s eerily accurate.  I love horse “psychology” for lack of a better word, knowing ‘how’ and ‘why’ a horse is going to react to something the way they do, and these kinds of books have gone a long way towards altering my perception of working with the horse and turning them into your partner, versus an automatronic sheep.
Arabian Legends, by Marian K. Carpenter
I am a lightweight, a complete novice, when it comes to bloodline research.  I know just enough to know what I like and what to avoid.  But bloodline history is fascinating to me.  Especially with Arabians.  They’re such an old breed, with so much history tied in to them, that just going through this book is an interesting read.

How Good Riders Get Good, Denny Emerson
A new addition to my bookshelf.  I started following Denny’s blog a few weeks ago, and very quickly ended up purchasing the book.  I’m only a little ways into it at this point, but already loving what I’m reading.  Not so much a technical manual as it is a mental strategy guide and examination of you as a person and how that translate into you as a rider.  He doesn’t pull punches, but lays out the facts, sometimes in ways that’ll make you cringe to yourself when you realize you’re guilty of doing exactly that thing.  But he also manages to do it in such a way that it never feels like a personal insult or attack, but rather a bald statement of fact and motivation to look for how to fix/change it.  Looking forward to finishing this book…and then re-reading it.
Ten Feet Tall, Still, by Julie Suhr
I must get Julie’s new book.  But until then…I love this book.  I love her writing style…she’s a fantastic storyteller and I love that she lets so much of who she is come through in this book.  It’s a memoir, not a technical manual…and yet, there is so much to learn from it.  It’s entertaining, and her description of riding Tevis has brought tears to my eyes on a number of occasions.
The Level Best for Your Horse, by Dale, Ron & Bob Myler
I am a certified bit geek.  I love collecting them…love figuring out whether they work or not…and this book really opened my eyes.  I learned things about bits that I either didn’t know, or had a pretty drastic misconception of.  I will never stop learning or trying to further my education, and this book is one of those really good examples of why.  I also just love reading about all of the different options for bits and how they all work.  I could go broke just buying bits.
Correct Movement in Horses, by Gabrieke Rachen-Schoneich and Klaus Schoneich
I was introduced to this book at the Dr. Kerry Ridgway seminar I attended a couple of months ago.  Many of Dr. Ridgway’s principles of training and balancing of horses comes from this book.  This is a really good, even further in-depth explanation of the problem of “the crooked horse” and training solutions for how to go about solving it.  I’ve not had a chance to put the theories into practice yet, but I’m enjoying adding this knowledge to my repertoire.
Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoof Care, by Jaime Jackson
My go-to resource when my original trimming mentor Kirt Lander is unavailable.  I like his approach to trimming and it’s written in such a way that I don’t feel too overwhelmed.  Most of my trimming is done by instinct or feel…which is why I can’t teach other people how to trim…but of late, I’ve been wanting to expand my technical knowledge of barefoot a lot more.  (I think I want to get my hands on the Pete Ramey DVDs at some point.)
It was actually kind of hard to narrow it down to even ten…I’ve got another half dozen or so that I really like.  Decisions, decisions.  And I think I might continue this Top Ten list trend, just moving around to various topics.

The ‘L’ Word

No, not ‘love.’  The other one.
Are horses loyal?
It took me quite a while and a lot of thinking out loud before I figured out my opinion, which is:

Yes, with some stipulations.

I don’t think it’s the same kind of loyalty as given by Man’s Best Friend.  Most dogs are unconditionally loyal and loving, or have allegiances that are easily won by the right bribe.  It’s usually food.  I think they have a pretty simple, “You did something for me, therefore I love you” outlook.
Food and bribery might work to get a horse’s attention, but I also think that it’s the food that they love, not whose hands are delivering it.
With horses, it’s something different.  It’s an allegiance won out of respect and trust.
My pony will come running to anyone that rattles the right feed can.  Doesn’t mean she likes them or will give them the time of day once the food is gone.  (And she usually doesn’t.)
But she willingly comes to me, no treats or bribes required, knowing that coming to me almost always means work.  And she does it.  Happily.
To me, that says, “Loyal.”
The things she’s done for me…I’ve asked her to do stuff I probably have no right to ask.  And she does it.  Because I believe she trusts me.  I’ve tried very hard not to ask her to do what she can’t do, or to put her in a situation that breaks that trust.
My reward is that I can trust her to do what I ask.
The end result of that sort of trusting partnership is a mutual respect.  I don’t let her get into bad situations, she does her best to take care of me.
That sounds pretty loyal.
Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing (Yes, I just used that work before 7 o’clock in the morning.  Never mind I had to look up how to spell it, and I have a hard time actually saying it…), but loyalty is one of those qualities I hold in very high regard, so maybe this is just my wishful thinking impressing that upon my beloved animals that are such a huge part of my life.
If that’s the case, there could be far worse things in this world to be delusional about.
Or maybe, to some degree, I’m right. 
(Mimi, please keep this in mind next time we part company and you’re deciding whether or not to leave my pathetic butt on the ground and head for the hills or not.)
Your thoughts?

More Arena Schooling

Today, we took a step back and worked on slow, quiet arena work.  With a bit.  “Horrors!” says Mimi.  I found one of my Myler bits that does fit her properly — a Western Dee Ring snaffle with Triple Mullen Barrel mouthpiece.  Of all the bits I own, she’s the least fussy in this one, so that’s what we’ll use.

Today, I spent the entire session with her at a walk and slow trot, and we put the emphasis on her carrying herself naturally collected and not leaning on the bit.  Today went much better than Friday.  I do know what I’m doing, at least to some degree.  All of the books and magazine articles have sunk it somewhat.  And it’s amazing what happens when you slow down and just work through one thing at a time.

Well, mostly one thing.  I’m a firm believer in the principle of “what the rider is doing has a direct correlation on what the horse does.”  So you can work all you want on one particular aspect of the horse, but if what they’re doing is as a result of something you’re doing, you might not get very far.

For example: Like I mentioned, today’s task was to get Mimi to stop leaning on the bit and work on her self-carriage.  That’s going going to happen unless I make sure that my hands are light, and I’m not leaning forward and clamping down on her.  I tend to be a very forward rider, so I consciously focused on using my core, keeping my shoulder back, and not clamping with my legs or grabbing at the reins, especialyl when she tried to speed up.

Equus had a great article this month on the use of snaffle bits, and it reiterated a few things I always manage to forget.  Use gentle pressure to hold the reins until the horse gives.  You’re not going to get a horse that’s soft in the face by pulling them into position — which was how I was always taught to “collect” a horse.  So now, I’m going back and attempting to re-teach Mimi the principle that it’s up to her to hold the bit and carry it, or she’s going to be less comfortable.

She is getting it.  Baby steps, but she’s getting there.  Today, there were times were I got half a loop around the arena where she was carrying herself well, wasn’t leaning on the bit, and had some semblance of self-collection going.  We’ll take it.  :)

I’m still going to stick with bit in the arena/s-hack on trail.  In the arena, she can soften and be light in the face because she’s focused on me and what needs doing.  Out on trail, she just wants to “get on with it” so much that she tunes out the light bit cues, and I have to get much stronger with it than I prefer.  Much more responsive to a hackamore out on trail.  My hope is I can get her in the habit of going along in a more self-collected manner in arena work, and once she figures out how much easier that is, it’ll be easier to get that from her consistently out on trail.

What I do like about arena schooling in the bit is that she is very light, and it forces me to concentrate of keeping soft hands and not pulling her around.  Soft, steady hands…tighten from the fingers to pick up the slack, then loosen when she relaxes.  Big change from “take up on the reins and hold her head in place…wrestle her nose to her chest if you have to.”

But…it was all I knew at the time. 

I’m just thankful that horses are creatures of immense forgiveness, and that I have a chance to do it right this time.  Horses are the truest example of second chances, and it not being too late to try to make something right. 

A few other random notes from the weekend:

– Lining the Grffin’s short boots with moleskin on the seam area made a huge difference — no rubbing or ruffled hairs at all.  Easy fix, and moleskin tends to stay on for a few weeks at a time.

– Knee socks or half chaps.  Don’t do both.  I figured this one out last fall after Man Against Horse…too many layers of fabric and too-short of stirrups caused a major pressure point on my shin.  Dropping the stirrups helped.  So did switching to ankle-high socks under half chaps.  But for this time of year, and for arena schooling, tall knee socks work very well in lieu of half chaps.  Cotton breathes.  Suede doesn’t.

– A cheap fix to inject new life into a pair of six- or seven-year-old Terrains: Insoles!  My beloved Terrains were making a slow migration to the trash can, but I wasn’t quite ready to resign myself to throwing away one of my favorite pairs of shoes.  A trip to Walgreens, and $9 later, I have my shoes back again.  :)  Tried them while riding this morning, and they felt great!  They’re still the most comfortable shoes I own for riding, even if they’re not the absolute best for hiking.  Tread’s a little worn. 

– Still fiddling with my saddle bag setup and finding the balance between “carrying everything I need” and the “streamlined, not-a-pack-pony” look.  At the moment, I’m favoring using the Snugpax cantle bag all the time.  Of the two rear bags, it bounces the least.  I love the clean lines of not having anything up front, especially for arena schooling, but I know from past experience that never works come ride-time.  If I have to reach around to the cantle bag for anything — water, snacks, electrolytes, chapstick — it won’t happen.  But the pommel pack is also very easy to take off/put back on, so I suspect that’s what I’ll end up doing for longer training rides/competitions.  (Plus side, using both packs meants I don’t have to carry my Camelbak.)