kim and bridgerLiving Horsemanship


Considering the Horse - Diaries 01/2003




 Rancho Doblado, California


We leave Estes Park, beautiful morning, clear skies. The moon was still up with a wisp of a cloud through it. Yesterday we worked hard getting the turn out behind the house ready and brought the horses home. It’s going to be nice to be able to hit the road directly from the house. The fence out back is “hot” so you have to be sure nothing from the ground is touching it, because that’s what it does, it grounds it and stops the fence from working.  Boy is it nice having the horses home with us, the trailer hooked up and we’re ready to roll. My bed room window looks right out to the horses, how cool is that!

We come through the canyon, gorgeous as ever. Everything is so green. You can really see spring is here. The white has been replaced with green sage and the St. Vrain river once crusted with ice and snow runs freely through the canyon. Big horn sheep along the highway, climbing the shear rock walls. David Wilcox, on the CD, snow here and there hanging on to the trees and rocks while the mountains are covered in the white stuff.

11:46.A.M, we stop for lunch, fuel, check the horses, they look good, weather’s good. Spirits good as well. Headed for Moab, Utah.

12:30 P.M leaving colorful Colorado. We are now listening to the two new songs Mark has written. We put them on the rough CD he made, the new songs are beautiful and I’m not just saying that… well I guess I did just say that. I look out across the high desert overcome once again by the beauty of this land, my heart is full as we bounce down the highway with Smokey and Bridger in tow. 66% degrees, heading south west. “Here’s to the dreamers, may our open hearts find rest” – Nanci Griffith.

Moab, Utah, I’ve never seen anything like it. The rocks are mind expanding while the sky makes the bluest of back drops.

Dead Horse Point, this is where the cowboys would run wild horses… they would push them to the top of the mesa where they would than run a makeshift fence across the narrow opening. That would keep the horses in. Then the cowboys would pick the horses they thought would be best suited to their needs and break’em. They then would turn the others loose and come back the following year to gather them up again. One year however - so the story goes - someone forgot to open the gate and the horses that got left behind died from no water.

We just passed an old broke down car stuck into the earth with huge arrows jutting out of it. Good sense of humor out here in the desert.

You just can’t believe the beauty we just went through, Bryce Canyon, this land is such a gift .We just saw some wild horses. We’re going to come home this way. I hope we’ll be able to stop.

We’ll stop in Flagstaff, Arizona, tonight, rest ourselves and our beloved ponies. We also have a clinic here on the way home. This ranch is right in the middle of the forest, A 1 Ranch. This is a full four weeks of clinics, out on the road.

We‘re thinking that this demo we’ll start with my work first.  Mark thinks it might set the students up better, and that’s what we’re looking for. We want our riders to feel success right off the bat. So we’ll start with breath work, neutral spine positing, body awareness, how we present ourselves to our horses and our life work, go right into our Aikidio based exercises, Balance, Breath, Feel, Timing and Blending. Sounds good to me!

Flagstaff  4:20A.M. We leave Arizona for Alpine, California. Mark had the horses loaded   and we’re off by 4:30A.M. Full moon this morning, clear skies, clear roads ahead. This will be a two week clinic.   Rancho Doblado, here we come.

It’s always a pleasure doing a clinic here at Rancho Doblado, where our hosts, Beth Anne, and Shawn maintain an atmosphere conducive for learning.  They’re serious about their horse work and have fun doing it. Their always looking for better ways and allow the folks around them to find their own way, with softness and understanding  That means so much to all of us. This was a two week clinic. Again we start the week with a demo. As you know, its interactive so if you want, you participate. Mark always says if you don’t,” it will be a very short demo” ( .He’s a funny guy.)  Feel, Timing Blending, Breath, Balance, Postural awareness, you can’t really have one without the other.

We never experienced a rider in the clinic not participating in the demo until now. It was interesting to me that for the rest of the week she was the rider that struggled the most in the clinic. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of understanding from her to her horse. Feel, Timing, Blending, Balance, Breath. I can’t help but feel that her lack of participation contributed to this. Now I know this work makes a difference. I saw it first hand with my own eyes. It seems odd to me that one would spend so much money to experience and perhaps learn new ways, and not utilize all your options. “You get out what you put in” That’s another thing Mark says.

Another observation was a gal with her Arab gelding. She rode into the arena, stiff and white as a ghost, in a very small voice she says “Can you help me?” What would you like help with Mark says. “Everything” she says back. Mark, having patience and kindness,  goes about helping her try to sort things out for her self and her horse. This was not easy. After a while he sends her over to me. 

I ask, “what is wrong?”  She just looks at me… I’m learning patience as well… so I wait. At last she says I get nervous in front of people. “Yes”, I say, “we all do”, I understand that it’s very nerve-racking riding in front of people. Especially when it’s a group of your peers. I couldn’t help feeling that there was more, so I wait. We’re starting to work on the mat, just focus on breath, she is so tight, all of a sudden she says, I got thrown from my horse a few weeks ago, and hurt my neck, now am scared… Bingo!

I say, did you tell Mark? No, she says. I say, you must tell him. When we’re done, the first chance you get you must say something to him. That way he will know how to help you.

Human behavior is always interesting to me. How we get in our own way, and how that gets in the way of our horses. It becomes more clear every day to me that these horses are looking to us for support.  We must offer them something positive. We owe it to them. It is a privilege to own a horse. With that comes great  responsibilities. If you’re not up for it, move on. If you are, great rewards await you and your four legged partner. Ride the horse you have today - this moment, not yesterday, last week or last month. If you don’t pull yourself together you have nothing to offer. What’s worse is your offering negative energy and disaster is sure to follow. Replace that with a plan of positive energy. A horse doesn’t think in negatives, so if you’re constantly thinking “I hope he doesn’t buck” over and over and over again, guess what? These things are not easy for me to say, it has been a long road for me as well, to get to the place where I feel good again, not remembering the last spill, broken ribs or broken head every time I got on my horse, or any horse for that matter. If I can do it, so can you. It takes work, though. But eventually the fear memory will subside, and in it’s place, confidence, Feel, Timing, Breath, Blending, directing the energy, going with. It’s there, we just need to relax, breathe and use the tools we are given until that becomes our new muscle memory.

In this case our rider gets it, her horse gets it, and they are on their way. Our rider is more relaxed and by the end of the week they are loping around the arena. Breathing and picking up the correct leads.

Speaking of directing energy, this was something to see. As I have said before special things take place at Rancho Doblado, and this day was no exception. I have seen a lot of round pen work, good work. Work with ropes, flags, kicking dirt, tossing halters, you name it. For the most part all very effective, however, we’re after a little more, maybe even a lot more. But we’ll use less to get much more. I know we always hear, “less is more”.  It’s true in acting and it’s true in horse work. Horsemanship through life, you  and your horse - one word. Youandyourhorse.

Today we start with this rider in the round pen. She wants to start with some ground work, lunging, turns and halts. She is working a beautiful black quarter horse mare. This is a reining horse, and seemed to have had a lot of pressure put on her to perform without much understanding of her tasks. It seemed to me that the mare was not very happy to perform. She went through the motions, ears pinned back, sort of snarling at her owner as she went round and round in the round pen, and that’s what the owner said “look at her snarl, I don’t thinks she likes me”. Now I don’t think horses think in those kind of terms. That’s a little too human for me.  I do think there are horses that are better suited to us personality wise or energy wise. I don’t think that was the case with these two. What I do think, is the mare felt forced to do her work. That it was routine for her, with not much understanding or fun involved. More like she was just going through the motions of something she had done hundreds of times.

Mark asked if he could work the horse. Of course, she says. And to me this is where the fun starts.  Mark takes the lead line and with a flick of his wrist energy goes down the line and that horse looks up at him and her whole look changed.  I know what you all are thinking. Well of course it did, he’s a horse trainer-guy.  What am learning is this… it’s not magic, yes it takes practice, and lots of it, and ok, he’s done it once or twice before. What it is, is INTENT -  the purpose, aim, design, the energy behind what you’re doing  or looking for that gets things done. With a turn of the wrist, up or down that horse was responding with purpose like you can’t believe. Ears up and alert, I mean this mare was in to it. Mark got to where he was just thinking trot, and she would move right up, same with the lope and her halt. This was so much fun and it was so exciting to see, what is possible.

This, to me, is what horse work is about .  It’s about asking for more and seeing what you’ll get, seeing where you and your horse are, seeing where we can go. It’s about intent. If we don’t ask, we’ll never grow to where it is we want to be. It’s about a feel - it’s about thinking things through. It’s about having something to offer. If it doesn’t feel right we can change it. You bet, and no harm done.  I believe horses are very forgiving when honest mistakes are made. One thing I do know is, it is never boring, or it shouldn’t be. If you’re bored you can bet that your horse is not too interested. Can you blame them?                                                                                                  

We spent our day off with Shawn and Beth Anne at their ranch. They also work cattle there. So that’s what we’re going to do. Both Mark and I wanted to work Smokey and Bridger with the cows. When we get home to Colorado during the first part of summer, there is a cattle drive from the McGregor Ranch to their summer pasture in Piper Meadows, about fifteen miles. It’s a semi-annual trip and I am really looking forward to it. So the thought of being able to work the cows… Shawn and Beth Anne being able to take the day off… It was just too good to pass up. We’re going to work in the arena. We will start with sorting the cattle. This is how it goes……………

We get a small heard of cows in the arena with us. The biggest thing I can see with working cows is staying soft. Again, Feel, Timing, Blending, Breath and Balance. The softer you stay, the more the cows and your horse seem to work with you. With this particular exercise you cut a cow out of the herd, and take it to the other end of the arena.  Some ground polls split the arena in half and we leave an opening as if it were a gate, and move one cow at a time through that opening until the entire herd is at the other end. Then you move the whole herd back and start over. It’s so much fun. You take turns doing this one rider and horse at a time.

Smokey had an unpleasant experience the last time he and Mark were moving cattle, so Mark wanted to work through some of that. They did, and Smokey did great! This was Bridger’s first time, so of course I wanted things to go well for him… And they did! He was just like I dreamed he’d be.

The next game was so interesting to me. Shawn took his rope and made a half circle in the ground. I guess it’s actually a little more than a half circle, with the opening about the size of a gate. The idea is to move the cattle into the circle, through the opening (the gate, if you will). You just sort of inch the entire herd in and keep them there. You don’t want to spill the herd so you can’t push too hard or to little. So you see, again, it’s Feel, Timing, Blending, Breath and Balance. What is so cool to me is how the herd will keep together. Of course you must stay soft with yourself and your horse. Then it seems like everything just sort falls into place. Shawn went first to show us how it’s done. Our job, Mark, Beth Anne and me, is to keep the cows from getting away if they should happen to scatter. It’s so funny that just the out line of the rope will act as a fence. The cows just huddle together. You must be soft for all of this to work. You must have Timing, you must have Breath, you must not push too hard or too little, or it will all fall apart! “Feel, Timing, Blending, Breath, and Balance.” Horsemanship through life…

It was a wonderful day off, spent with good friends. We ended the day with a quiet ride around the ranch… something that we had not had the opportunity to do before. It was a beautiful day full of softness for our horses, and each other.

We want to thank our hosts Beth Anne and Shawn their two young cowboys Wyatt and Tyler, their little four legged friends Legolas and Aragora. Shawn for the great BBQ and for allowing us to entertain the troops. It means so much to us to be able to play our guitars and have some good laughs with a nice big fire going in the fireplace. Beth Anne for letting me once again feel at home in the kitchen. You know how to make this “cowgirl” feel good.

Morning comes too soon, and once again we load our beloved ponies, feeling grateful for the support that they continue to give us. They’re seemingly never too tired to make us look good and be able to do our work. Smokey and Bridger you’re the best!

Vaya Con Dios to our wonderful friends. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Shadow Hills Or Bust (“ Peacock Hills” to those in the know).

This clinic - or shall I say venue - held special meaning for me because this was where I first rode with Mark. This is where I feel my horsemanship found new meaning and understanding. I guess it’s more about all of the work I’d been doing up to that point. It found a safe place to come alive, a fertile ground so-to speak Things have not been the same for me or my horses since.

This was to be a four day clinic. We had a day of rain, so we stayed an extra day to make-up worked we’d missed. Once again there were some good riders, good horses, looking for different ways of doing things. Looking for softness, Feel, Timing, Blending, Breath, and Balance.

I wanted to write about this particular horse and rider because we worked with them earlier in the year. In fact, I wrote about them then and I will write about them now .

The changes that took place over the few months since we last met were inspiring. To see rider and horse work together, become better partners, support each other in ways where both grow through their fears and are better for it. It just goes to show you what one can do when we find confidence in ourselves and helpful tools to work with.

When we last rode together a few months back, everything seemed to frighten this rider. Of course, then those same things seemed to frighten her horse. Today, they rode right into the arena and went right to work… No fooling around. There was no leading the horse into the arena, then lunging, then maybe if the stars were lined up we would ride. No, not today. They rode right on in with their new found confidence, trust and understanding.

Today we got to work on softness through transitions from the walk to trot. Finding some softness through the top line of her beautiful little Arab.  Over the days we had together we got to build on all of this, and with each day, more confidence was there. That’s what we built on. It is amazing what happens when we free ourselves up!

We also got to focus on more postural awareness from the rider, and how that translates to the horse - how breathing together with postural awareness supports our center. When we lift ourselves, how that can lift our horses and how we can share centers. Of course this is just the beginning.  Our rider was creating new muscle memory for herself and her horse. It just goes to show me once again, what we can do when we ask more from ourselves… We get more from our horses.

What was so cool was that she and her horse are taking the time they need to get things done. They are not measuring themselves by any standards other than what feels right to them, and building on that.

On the day it rained, she was the one that showed up to work her horse…And so we did. She and Mark worked on leading and standing still. There are always things to work on “rain or shine.” You get out what you put in.

There were a lot of nice things that happened at this clinic. One rider working with her young mare. This mare is about three years old. Her owner had started her with such softness and understanding. What a joy it is to see these kind of relationships develop between horse and rider. The owner never pushed beyond what was comfortable for her four legged- partner. When I say “what’s comfortable”… That will always be individual to each horse and rider. Sometimes it will be necessary to push a little harder to help our ourselves and our horse growing.  Together with Mark’s help they made the transition to the bit with no problem. That’s the deal. None of this stuff should be a big deal… It doesn’t have to be, if we think things through for ourselves and for our horses. Common sense is always a good thing to tap into. Being still, being soft. Feel, Timing, Blending, Breath, and balance.

She was a good rider. Together we worked on Breath, Feel, Timing, Blending, better postural awareness. All of this translate to your horse, translates to your ride, ultimately to your relationship with your horse. Most of us intend to have our horses throughout their life, so why do we get in such a hurry? I just don’t know. Well I guess I do. It comes down to human behavior. So when I see riders taking their time, it always stands out as being so right!

We want to thank our hosts Chris and Barbara, Royanne and Mark. The arena was wonderful and it even held up during the worst rain storm in 5000 years (or something like that). Thank you for my wonderful bedroom with my very own king size bed and that giant stuffed animal pony flopped across it. Thank you Royanne and Mark for the nice B.B.Q, a good time was had by all! Thank you to the beautiful Peacocks, that adorn the ranch, hence giving it it’s name: “ Peacock Hills Ranch”. Happy  Home building to Chris and Barbara, and Happy Trails to all………

Flagstaff Arizona, here we come!