kim and bridgerLiving Horsemanship


Considering the Horse - Diaries 05/2003



Feel, timing, blending, balance, breath, the postural awareness to see this through.  It's always coming down to one of these things and all of them collectively.  I don't think you can have one without the other.  You can't have feel if you don't have timing.  You can't blend if you aren’t breathing.  You don't have timing unless you're balanced.  And you're not breathing correctly if you don't have postural awareness.  All of these things make up each one of these individually and collectively.

Timing -- We were working with a gal and her beautiful grey gelding and she wanted to do flying lead changes.  Flying lead changes aren't as complicated as I once thought they were.  In fact, when set up properly, like everything, I guess, it becomes easier.  However, timing is very important in getting these changes.  Feel is very important.  Sometimes, I think if we can't time it correctly, how could we feel it?  For me it's like playing my guitar or learning a new song.  You feel when the chord changes are going to happen - or when you're driving a stick shift, you feel when the truck needs to go to another gear.  If you're caught up looking at the speedometer to tell you, or looking at the piece of music, you could easily lose the feel.  It's a split second but the feel is gone.

Same when we make our lead changes.  It's a split second.  You need to change your focus and in the change of your focus you take your horse with you.  Horse and rider support each other through this change.  We support our horse by getting out of his way with our own body and allowing him to move freely through this change.  It all sounds so easy, and for some of us it is easier than for others. 

With this particular horse and rider, they were good partners and the owner was a good rider.  However, her timing was off.  She was also off in her alignment.  Her left shoulder was higher than her right, noticeably higher.  We worked on the Feldenkreiss roll and did some stick work.  This is with a three foot dowel that we've designed exercises for opening up the spine and bringing more abdominal awareness and breath.  We can get rid of some of the braces in the cervical spine and thoracic spine. With the abdominal awareness we bring support to the lower back. 

I admire this gal and all the riders at this clinic who took a look at what they were or weren't bringing to their ride.  After we got her a little more straight and supported she could take that to the saddle and she did.  She and her horse started to move out with more balance and confidence.  She could get her simple change but was still having a hard time with the flying lead change.  We set up some cones in the arena.  This is really

helpful if you're having a hard time with feel because you can focus on say, the third cone, and know at a particular spot in the arena you're focus must change from your center, not just from your head.  By the fourth cone, you've got your change. 

There are different ways this can be accomplished.  We've come across riders who've been told to use the fence to get your change, in other words you're riding into the fence and just before you're going to hit it you change you're focus.  We usually don't use that method.  We prefer to work in the center of the arena.  It's safer for one, and we feel the changes come with less stress on the horse this way.  If you miss the cone, it's no big deal, you just try again.  However, when you're riding into a fence, well, I guess you might get the picture...

Each day this gal and her horse made progress toward their goal and that's always so wonderful to see.  She took her time and kept working toward getting out of her own way which gave her and her horse freedom.  Horsemanship through life, that's what it's all about.  We're riding for the tomorrows.  Timing will come and when it gets into our muscle memory, the feel will be there.  The important thing is that we don't compare ourselves to each other.  We get it when we get it, no pressure. 

There were some talented riders in this clinic with talented horses committed to their own body work as well as their horses.  It's funny, the better the rider is the more they want to work on getting rid of their braces, even the smallest of braces.  Well, let's face it, a brace is a brace.  Knowing that a horse can feel a fly or gnat on his ear or back, he can certainly tell if we are holding our breath, pushing in our stirrups, clenching our jaw, gripping with our quads, wrapping our toes around the stirrups, or fingers around the reins, tightening our backs, tightening our ankles or knees.  The more that we work on getting rid of braces, the more extension and lift seems to come from our horse.  It just makes sense, the more we lift and extend the more freedom we bring to our ride.  We are only limited by our own thoughts -- keep breathing, keep centered, keep focused, the changes will come.

We want to thank our hosts, Kyya, Don and Coltor for letting us feel at home in the kitchen, allowing us to play our guitars and to practice our Aikido in their home Dojo.  Special thanks to Coltor for his wonderful imagination and sharing his stories with Mark and myself.  It's obvious we have a budding author in the family.  We had some wonderful dinners.  One night we picked fresh potatoes right out of the ground and made home made French Fries and baked potatoes that tasted great!!  I don't think people give much thought to where their food comes from.  This was beautiful farm land and a beautiful ranch, to boot.  We wish Kyya good luck on her black belt test.  Thanks to Dave and Nancy for making the trip out and to all of you riders that made this clinic one of our highlights of the year.  Happy trails.  We're off to Olympia, Washington near Seattle.

11:35am, we leave Othello, Washington.  Highway I-90.  Beautiful farmland- peaches and onions.  In fact, Mark and I stopped to get fuel and a big onion truck had just left.  As he turned the corner, there were onions everywhere, so Mark stopped our truck and I got out and picked us some fresh onions.  It was fun.  Also, when we left our hosts, they gave us fresh red onions, my favorite.  What a treat that was. 

Cattle are grazing on our way to Olympia, Washington.  The wheat color grass of fall against the forest green of the pines...  once again I feel blessed.  The Wenatchee Mountains.  We're looking for a rest stop that will also facilitate dumping our tank.  It's a beautiful day to travel.  The Soqualame Pass.  I've always heard of this Pass.  It's lovely, pine trees everywhere.  The Yakima River.  There are rivers everywhere.  I think this was an Indian tribe, the Yakima Indian Tribe, as well.  Now, some of the fall colors are coming into view along the highway, red, orange, gold and yellow.  We listen to "Song of the Prairie".  I know I keep saying it, and here I go again, I love this CD.  The CD is like a backdrop for this magnificent country.  Highway 18, southwest to Olympia, 3pm.  We see Mt. Rainier, unbelievably gorgeous, reaching its tall peaks into the heavens.  How blessed we are for this planet Earth and the freedom to travel the way we do.  Our spirits are good, our ponies are in good shape, what else can a cowgirl ask for?

We arrive at our destination, a beautiful horse farm and are greeted with open arms.  A wonderful turn-out for Smokey and 'the Girl' and a place for us to rest as well.  This was another great clinic, with good riders, good horses.  We had some young riders in this clinic.  That's always inspiring.

A couple of the riders in this clinic were first-time riders with us.  They were highly disciplined, strictly Dressage and were looking for new ways to work.  Everyone at this clinic was so open to finding a different journey to their horsemanship. 

This gal rode into the arena on her giant thoroughbred gelding.  He must have been about 17 or 18 hands high and, of course, she was very tiny.  This horse was, I think, 8 or 9, but he was atrophied in his development.  In fact, when she rode into the arena she was at her wits end.  As each rider comes into the arena, Mark always ask the rider or owner to tell us about their horse.  In this case, she told us that everyone she talked to about her horse - vets, trainers, acupuncturists, acupressurists, whoever and whatever, told her that her horse was retarded or possibly inbred. 

Time will tell and we reserve our opinion, or Mark's opinion, as time goes on.  Mark asked her specific questions.  Firstly, what made these folks think that about her horse, and what did she think of her horse?  Of course, she loved the horse and her instincts were to continue on their journey.  And that's what we did.  We took things very slow.  Each horse is individual, just like each of us is individual, and the way we learn is

unique unto ourselves.  To just label something or someone "retarded' in a way makes us not have to look for others ways of teaching.  We can just say, they're retarded, we can't help, they just don't understand.  Move on, get a different horse.  In this case our riders moving on brought her to us and what a thrill it was to see the changes in her animal.

The horse's brain works different than ours.  The two halves of the brain and the corpus collosum that connect them are not has highly developed as they are in the human brain (not that you'd ever know that the way human's behave sometimes).  With the horse, you must be very clear and only teach one side at a time.  We don't know the history of this horse before he came to us, i.e. how he was trained.  We do know he was off the race track and I always think that does the horse an injustice, so he probably didn't have much training, only to run, and maybe the training that he did have didn't help him feel confident or clear.  What I do think is that he didn't understand what his job was now or how to accomplish it for his rider. 

Mark started very slowly.  The first day we just worked on moving forward with some impulsion, going around in a circle one way, then another.  We'd ask for a halt and then asked for forward again.  Mark would reserve any judgment for a later date.  In other words, we'd see if the information we were teaching today stuck for tomorrow, or would the horse come in not being able to connect yesterday with today.  It was very interesting work.  Again, we were slow and clear, and as each day passed you could see the horse making connections with what he had learned the day before, which in Mark's mind, and mine, is not the case in a retarded horse.  You could see in the horse's eyes him connecting his response to a cue.  He started to back when asked and move forward when asked.  He started to move softly through transitions when asked.  This was exciting!  To see this brain development before our eyes!  Before the end of the clinic this horse and rider were working on lateral movement!  He was just a young horse in an older body, that’s was all!  Again, it's remarkable to me how we feel we can just label something because we don't want, or don't know how to look for other ways.  No one but his owner saw the 'try' in him, and I'm so glad she did.  This makes the goal to their journey even more rewarding.

Mark tells a story, about an eagle that was hatched to a chicken.  An eagle egg was found and put in the chicken coup and the chicken sat on the egg with her chicken eggs and they all hatched together.  The eagle behaved like a chicken, of course.  What did he know?  One day, he was looking up into the sky and saw another beautiful eagle, beautiful wings spread out over the blue sky and the chicken/eagle said, "Wow, that's magnificent!  What kind of bird is that?"  The mother chicken replied, "That's an eagle, king of the sky, but you don't have to worry about that, you're just a chicken.  Your job is to scratch and peck at the ground, because you are a chicken."   So all this eagle's life, he thought he was a chicken.  He never challenged himself, or had the encouragement to challenge himself, to soar and fly like the eagle he really was.  How sad that he never knew or reached his potential.  How sad that all the chickens around him never encouraged him to be anything more.  I think that's true sometimes with our horses and ourselves.  We are only limited by our lack of vision.  To me, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. 

This,  however, creates something else in the human, a search - the on-going… for me at least, trying to do better, to be better, what motivates or does not motivate, always trying to evolve for a higher self.  It's not easy, change is never easy, but that's how we know we're living.  In our chestnut gelding, up until this point he was always told what he couldn't do, or couldn't be... only his rider was looking for something else, for some way he could fly, that search brought them to us and new rewards for ongoing development.  We look forward to seeing these two next year and look for new ways that we can all soar together.

I wanted to touch on our young equestrians, wonderful riders.  These two young gals were riding Halflingers.  It's a small working horse, beautiful dark palomino coloring with a flaxen mane and tail.  These were Dressage riders as well and when asked in competition to transition to their two-point pushed into their transitions and pushed their two-point.  We worked hard on getting the girls to feel the impulsion from their horse’s hindquarters into their hindquarters and to go with the natural three and nine rhythm of their horse.  In other words, their hips would drop in rhythm to their horse's rhythm.  This was beautiful to watch, exciting really.  It's always a treat, again, to work with the young riders who just 'go for it' and get it.      

This was the first clinic where I did a demo on my horse. "The Girl" and I did examples in three and nine in motion versus the push of the six and the twelve.  I answered questions and was able to implement awareness from my saddle.  It was very exciting for me and 'the Girl', who continues to make me look good.  It gave Mark and I some new ideas for the upcoming year that we're looking forward to making.

We want to thank our hostess Charlie and her husband for making us feel right at home, giving me full range in the kitchen, you know how I love that.  Thank you to the Corgies, who in themselves are pure entertainment wherever they went.  It was a real treat to go out and gather our own eggs for breakfast and a pure delight the way you maintain the farm, making everyone feel so special, two legged and four legged.  Thank you for my wonderful bedroom and all of your lovely amenities.  Once again, we want to thank you for allowing us to play our guitars and share stories together.  Special thanks to

Cheryl and Kristie and all the girls who kept my marketing strategy working.  If you can turn down the rain a little bit next time, it will help.  Keep dry and know we're thinking of you.  Breathe, breathe, breathe.  See you out on the trail….  The singing cowgirl.

Central California

Around the Stockton area.  It's also where a lot of the "Big Valley" was filmed.  It's fine country, open space, cattle and chaparral.  It's a beautiful California, sunshiny day, quite a contrast from our drizzly days in Washington.  We arrived in good spirits, ponies feeling good and a huge turn-out for our four-legged beauties who were also happy to see the sun.  This was another clinic I was looking forward to.  I guess, when it comes right down to it, I look forward to all of them.  Once again, we were greeted with friendly smiles and hugs.  We got Mark set-up and myself as well.  This was a wonderful ranch house with a wrap-around porch and a big swinging seat from the rafters of the overhand.  The ranch itself is on about 75 acres, small by Texas standards, large by mine.

We started with our demo and this time we brought some of Dr. Dave's horse bones.  We're traveling with 'the bones', so it helps to have some of these props to really get an idea of how the horse moves.  We had the pelvis with us, the skull, occipitals, some of the ribs and thoracic spine, and how they attach.  It was a good demo.  It just seems the more we do them, the better they get.  There probably were about fifty participants and that's always a plus to see folks that weren't able to get to ride in the clinic still be interested in doing and getting more with their horsemanship.  This was a clinic where we saw some

folks that we had worked with earlier in the year, as well as first-timers.  Again, there were good riders and good horses and good weather.

What stood out to me in this clinic was communication.  It's so important to be clear, to be flexible, to make your ideas and awareness easily accessible to our students.  This is not always easy.  It requires, in my opinion, always searching inside yourself for patience and being able to articulate the same thing many different ways.  What one person may understand said one way, doesn't always translate to the next person.  It doesn't make them slow or stupid or 'retarded'… for the teacher, it makes us slow down and think and discover newness in ourselves, newness in our approach.  It's life, always changing, and I guess that's one of the challenges of being a teacher.  

We had two particular riders in this clinic, who happened to be husband and wife.  They also happened to be pilots.  The husband, in the service, flew fighter jets while his wife, being equally talented, is a commercial pilot.  He is a commercial pilot now as well. They are a very interesting, smart couple and they are good riders. They both ride big, gaited horses, geldings.   The husband was a bit 'bracey' in the saddle and pushed a lot from his seat.  She was a lovely rider with a little stiffness in her lower back.  None of these things are big problems, they just require some awareness, some feel, some timing, some blending, some breath, some balance and a lot of postural awareness to see it through.  Both of these folks, especially the husband, really wanted to work on sitting better in the saddle, being softer, feeling the rhythm of their horse, feeling the three and the nine, moving with and directing that energy.

Our gal rider really wanted to work on flying lead changes, as well as her seat, but she really wanted to get these lead changes down.  Her horse was up for it and could see it coming if we could see it coming if we could just get out of our way and let it happen. Timing.  Mark started working with her and the horse and things were moving forward at a wonderful pace with understanding in place, however, she was still going for the change late.  Her timing was off.  This is a gal who flies a commercial jet.  You've got to have timing!  How do we translate that to the horse.  This was so much fun.  All of a sudden, we found ourselves talking in aeronautic jargon.  It was a hoot!  Her husband would tell us what we should say -- in other words, you're coming up for your left turn, get your focus, start to bank, pick up on your right throttle, let your left wing drop.  Bingo!!  Landing!!  Change!!  That was what it took.  Translating the information into a language she understood. You're turn is coming at 11 o'clock, start to see it at 1 and make your maneuver.  It was so much fun!  The next day she was all over that arena.  She was doing flying lead changes every third stride.  There was an example of finding a new way to communicate, a way that resonated with our student.  She could make the changes if it resonated with her in a way that she could feel understanding coming through her and into her horse.

 If you can connect new information with something already understood and in your muscle memory your chances for success are good.  It's building on something that a person already understands.  We are looking to make things easy, to make success attainable.  This is not brain surgery but you must use your head.  This is why a lot of times we ask what it is we do in our life for work so we can relate things easily.  Success is only as difficult as we make it and we don't know how to do anything hard so we make it as easy as we can.

Her husband made wonderful discoveries himself.  He really hooked into the three and nine, moving in rhythm with his horse, bringing abdominal awareness to his seat which in turn helped the bracing that he had in his lower back.  He stopped pushing from his stirrups and going with directing the energy that was already there.  Mark said, it was the best that he had ever seen these two ride.  Both exclaimed the same.  They said it was the best they'd felt.  It's awareness.  Being aware of what we are and aren't doing.  These are things that Mark and I are finding so important.  The exciting part is that you're finding your own awareness and how important they are to your ride and your horse.  That is your success, yours alone.  

We want to thank our hosts, Kim and Steve (that's my brother's name. It's funny being around another Kim and Steve…) and Mike.  You guys outdid yourselves.  The chuck-wagon was never wanting, food was fantastic.  Thank you Steve for getting me up in the morning, early enough so I could practice my Aikido before we started our day.  Thank you Mike for keeping the arenas watered down, helping me load the trailer and for always being handy if and when we needed that extra hand.  Thank you for allowing us to play our guitars.  It was an extra special treat because we had another guitar player riding in the clinic, and he was a mighty fine picker as well as singer.  It was a fun evening.  This cowgirl and cowboy had a rockin' good time.  I want to thank Kim and Waddie Pilates, the wonder-dog and the only dog I've ever seen hold his neutral spine position prone.   What talent!  'Till we meet again, 'till we eat again, 'till we sing and play again --

Off to Alpine, California to pick up our new horse, Mouse, then home to

Colorado and one more clinic, Texas, yee haw!