kim and bridgerLiving Horsemanship


Considering the Horse - Diaries 05/2003




At last, we get to Vermont.  Our host has met us at a gas station and we'll follow him through the back roads of Vermont to their ranch.  We have two days off before we start this clinic, so we'll be able to do laundry and rest a little bit.  More importantly, our ponies will get a nice rest, as well.  It's around 11:30pm when we pull in to Far East Arabian Ranch in Brownsville, Vermont.  Another thing we are looking forward to is one of our hosts is Mark's distant cousin, a Rashid, and we are excited to meet him and his family. 

At this time we are really tired!  The ranch looks good although it's very dark.  We get Mark hooked up and my bag up to my room, the horses tended to.  The bed looks good!  GOOD NIGHT!  

It's morning and oh my gosh -- I look out the window and it's like a picture postcard.  I've never been to Vermont, but it's just like I imagined it to be.  Maple trees everywhere, trees everywhere and green, green grass with big pastures.  The farmhouse where we're staying is unbelievably gorgeous!  Everywhere you look is like a postcard.  I think the farmhouse was from the late 1800's.  Giant sunflowers, a little field of them, and Fox Glove, the gardens around the house were still in bloom which added to the picture postcard effect and their incredibly gorgeous Golden Retriever!

The clinic was very satisfying, full of hungry people to work on their horsemanship. For the most part these were all experienced riders.  Some of our riders came from as far as Canada to work with us.  A demo wasn't scheduled for this clinic, however, Mark and I found ourselves doing a little something the evening before.  Again, I think it's so important that we take the time out for people to understand where we're coming from and introduce ourselves and our riders to the tools, thoughts and philosophies that we're working with and working towards;  Feel, Timing, Blending, Balance, Breath, and the postural awareness to see it through.  Engaging our abdominals for support, working to let go of the other braces in our body.  Letting go of old muscle memory so we can build new memory, get back to the place where we feel good again.  As we keep saying, this is not easy, but the more we do the easier it gets.  So after our evening together we're ready to go to work.

This was a special clinic.  For starters, it was our first time here and the welcome was overwhelming.  Everyone was hungry for change.  That's what struck me about this clinic.  Everyone was open to try new ways.  There were very few, "Yeah, buts-", if any. 

We had two large round pens to work in lieu of an arena.  One round pen was by the first barn and was quite big.  Another round pen was up on the hill, and a little smaller and there was knee high grass there.  So Mark would mostly work in the larger round pen and I would take the one up on the hill.  Everyone was really interested in the bio-mechanics of their horse and the bio-mechanics of their body.  Everyone wanted to do ground work on themselves and take that to their horse, the woman riders as well as the men.  This was very gratifying for both Mark and myself.  One of the horses and rider that stands out to me was a young Morgan mare.  She was started by her owner, a woman who raises Morgan's.  She was very thoughtful and conscious of what she brought to her horse.   She was asking for softness and understanding that comes from us (the rider).  She was diligent about her body work, the understanding that the stiffness in her cervical spine went from her shoulders, right down her arms, her hands, and right into her reins.

 It takes so much, not just to recognize where our braces are, realizing the effect they have on our horse and work on making the changes or awareness that is needed.  We must leave our ego someplace else, again the more we get out of our way the more we see dramatic changes in the way our horses respond to directing energy rather than trying to control it.  As this gal continued to work on softening herself, softness came through her horse.  As softness came through her horse so did understanding of what the rider was asking.  It's always so exciting to see these changes, to see horse and rider accomplish these things together.  To see the rider be satisfied with small changes, they're so big to the horse and ultimately they're big changes in us but they start with recognizing the 'try', the 'try', in ourselves and in our horse. 

A lot of the riders in this clinic are long-distance riders, cross-country riders.  I noticed a lot of short stirrups.  Short stirrups have a tendency, in my opinion, to promote bracing in the feet, ankles, knees, ultimately the hip because we push in the stirrup.  This gives a false sense of security, a false sense of support, a false sense of balance.  Balance comes from our center.  Our feet should feel in our stirrups the way that we feel when we stand on earth.  There is no pushing when we stand on earth, there should be no pushing in our stirrups. 

One of our riders was convinced she needed short stirrups for her riding success.  She used a mounting block to mount and her horse seemed to travel a little inverted.  She was working with me up in the grassy round pen.  Before I knew it, there were quite a few auditors who had worked their way up to the round pen to watch us work.  I was riding "the Girl".  We started off with just this gal going around in a walk.  I was just trying to get a feel of how she was riding.  There seemed to be no give-and-take in her ride.  The rider offered what she had and just stayed with that, body in motion stays in motion, horse in motion, stays in motion, thoughts in motion stay in motion. 

It seemed to me we needed to let the stirrups down or take her feet out of the stirrups just so she could move with her horse.  There was so much push from her feet.  After we rode awhile, I asked her if it was Ok if I lengthened her stirrups.  She said, sure.  I got off 'the Girl' and walked over to her to lengthen the stirrup.  As I was lengthening the stirrup, out of my peripheral vision, I could see that 'the Girl' thought this might be an opportune time for a nibble of grass.  After all, she is standing knee-high in it.  I looked back to her and slapped the side of my chaps and immediately she gave her grass eating a second thought and stood quietly until I got back to her. 

One of the auditors asked me how did I do that?  How did I get her to stop in mid-movement for grass?  I told him, I asked her not to and reminded her that we were working.  But he said, how?  It was the intent behind my action.  But you didn't do anything but slap your leg, he said.  I know it seemed like that to him, but 'the Girl' knew exactly what I was saying to her.  The intent behind the slap on my leg told her, my timing told her. 

We got our rider's stirrup lengthened and off she went.  Now, we could start working with the 3 and 9.  The impulsion from our horse’s hindquarters into our hindquarters.  She could start to have influence on her horse's movement.  For one, she could now feel the movement and her horse could feel her soften, and in turn he wanted to soften.  I don't think any horse feels good traveling with braces.  Our rider started to develop more feel in her center, in turn more feel for her horse’s center.  Our rider started to breathe more, her horse started to breathe more.  With these things starting to work for us, work with Mark really falls into place.  One thing we noticed right off the bat, she didn't need her mounting block anymore.  Isn't that wild?  With awareness and abdominal support she got taller.

As our horse and rider started to work with Mark and started to direct the energy the horse was offering, understanding started to come through the rein and the horse started to travel in a less inverted manner.  It seems like as soon as the horse starts to feel this they want to feel more.  It feels better to the horse to travel in a less cramped manner when we can get the feet moving freely we can direct that freely.  Let's face it, it feels better in the human to travel in a less cramped manner.  We start to breathe and movement comes with ease in both human and equine.

Another rider that made dramatic changes is one of our gentleman riders.  He came with two horses and he was anxious to get things done with both horses.  His first horse had a lot of 'forward' on him -- a lot of 'go'.  Our rider stayed with the horse but he, too, was very bracey in his lower back, running down to his legs and the balls of his feet and it was almost like his horse was trying to run-out from beneath him.  Mark started working with him, directing the energy of his horse, when his horse started to get into an accelerated gait before he was asked, Mark would ask our rider to direct the energy into a circle.  The horse has to slow down and think about where his feet are.  When he starts to slow down we'll go straight again.  If he starts to accelerate we'll repeat that circle process.  Pretty soon the horse starts to realize that what we're asking.  We're asking him to think, to slow down and place his feet with purpose and thought.  Now we have something to work with, now we have energy that can be directed because we have thought and purpose. 

Again, after Mark was through, he suggested our rider should come and work with me, which he did willingly.  We worked on bringing awareness to where his braces were and then did some body work to try to release those braces.  Breathing is the key, breath is the life that begets movement, softness, feel, timing, blending, balance and abdominal awareness.  Each ride there was more awareness, more thought coming through our rider, more thought going to our horse.

When our rider brought in his second horse, he was anxious to get things going.  To bring what he had learned on his first horse to this horse, now.  However, he didn't know much about this horse.  I don't think he had ever ridden him before, or if he had, it wasn't a successful ride.  Because of him not knowing much about the horse, Mark asked him to just work with the horse a little on the ground.   We could see that the horse liked keeping his owner on one side of him, that the horse felt more comfortable positioning himself this way.  This behaviour warranted caution on our part.  We, as humans, don't want to assume anything.  Just because the horse was sold to him as a riding horse and "should" be Ok we don't know that.  The horse had sent up some red flags.  Mark felt that it was best to proceed with this horse as if he had never been ridden before.  Not to pressure the horse, but to take our time.  We would start with ground driving.  If things went well, we would move on. 

We were making a plan, we were presenting ourselves to the horse with purpose.  I give a lot of credit to our rider.  He stepped back, he wanted to do what was best for his horse, even though he was disappointed because he wanted to get on and get going.  Our rider put his anxiousness aside.  He redirected his own energy and did what was best for his horse.  Of course, as we all know, what's best for the horse, is usually what's best for us and I think that was true in this case.  Our rider came over to me and he said that he was using this opportunity to let these new ways seep into him as well as his horses.  Good for you, I say!  I know how hard it is to curb our enthusiasm.

This clinic and the experiences from this clinic was one of the highlights of the year for me and Mark said for him, too.  We had a day off and went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and then we crossed the bridge to Maine.  We went to Strawberry Banks.  It's a restored area of Portsmouth, from the 1700's.

We want to thank our hosts, Dixie and Bean, Stan and Mai for the extraordinary dinners making us feel like long-lost family members.  The care that you gave us and our four-legged beauties was much appreciated.  Thank you for allowing us to play our guitars and Stan for letting me borrow the camera.  We want to thank your four-legged beauties, floppy-eared and upright ear-ed.  We want to thank all the riders and their horses for making this one of our most successful clinics and times on the road this year.  Until next time -- breathe and be soft.  Don't forget your 3 and 9. 

We leave Vermont with gallons of maple syrup, new friends, and good feelings.  The tips of the maple leaves are starting to turn red, Mark is in good spirits, Smokey and 'the Girl' always making us look good, myself feeling satisfied and full of life and what it  has to offer.