Breaking The Cycle

maxresdefaultI’ve really struggled with what to write for this week. I don’t have a ton in terms of updates and the bit that I have done, has left me feeling discouraged and unsure of where to go. I toyed with the idea of just saying fuck it and putting this blog on hiatus until I get thing further sorted out. But. What good would that do? I came here to write from my heart and document the journey. And not all journeys are consistently easy, and hearts aren’t made to be kept consistently whole right? I’d love to be able to say that things are always fantastic and that I’m doing great, Cowboy’s doing great and that everything is a completely splendid view of sunshine and rainbows…. but to be 100% honest right now, I’m kind of stuck in a dark, grey cloud and I’m not really positive what to do to shake free.

To cut to the chase, I haven’t had much time to work with Cowboy since my last post. With it being March break, the barn has been super busy between clinics, training during our normal lesson slots, time mix ups and my work schedule. And the couple times I have been able to get him out and working although there have been some positives, his buddy sour freak outs when ANYONE leaves the arena right now are getting worse and THAT is what’s got my head stuck in this cloud. Tuesday, I was supposed to have a lesson but we had to reschedule to Wednesday morning, so I got him out into the arena and doing some ground work. I’ve been working my way through a series of Buck Brannaman clinic DVD’s and have found, thus far, that I’ve actually been doing some of what he’s talking about just perhaps not in his words or exactly in his method. So this being said, I decided to work a bit on a couple things I’ve picked up from the dvds. We did our normal sort of transitions and work on the line, but I also put some more focus on disengaging the hindquarters and then moving onto united circles as well as space and pace while being led. This bit was going great. We were working in the ring with another person working with a young mare and when they weren’t right up in the back corners, I’d take Cowboy over to explore the changes in equipment so that hopefully come Wednesday morning we’d be able to navigate the back end without too much issue. I chatted with my arena mate and listened as they explained what they were working on and why and things were going well. Until they brought the mare to the front of the arena and Cowboy and I stayed in our back corner. They weren’t even leaving the arena – they were just going to get the shavings fork to clean up some manure – and Cowboy started with his high pitched sort of “don’t leave me!” squeak thing he does and he exploded. He tried to bolt on the line, mini rear when I’d attempt to put up and block and stop and send him in the other direction. I eventually got him calmed down and when my arena mate came back over I asked their opinion on what and how to handle it. Thankfully, they at least asked what his background was and I was able to explain all the facts I know. They agreed that some of it is most likely learned behavior, but also spoke a truth that, although presented in a manner intended to be helpful,  hurt. He’s behaving in such a manner because there is still distrust and disrespect between us that makes me less important than the company of another horse. They then suggested some ground exercises we can do to help school through it. Push the hindquarters over, drive him forward in a circle or two and then get him to disengage and halt. The idea they presented is that you gain control over the stop of motion rather than continuing to move the feet, at least in that sort of situation. It makes sense… I mean in the saddle in one of those moments my first instinct would be to first regain control by stopping and then putting the feet back into purposeful motion be it right back to work or something such as a “hip over” which is essentially disengaging the hindquarters. See….ground work really does have such a base in everything you do with the horse, which makes it so strange that people tend to overlook it as much as they do. After a bit more work with the mare, they left. Cowboy started to lose his marbles again, but I employed what was suggested and managed to get him to calm and begin to work “normally” again in a couple minutes.

Wednesday we did a ground work lesson, more or less because I threw my back out a bit the day before picking out Cowboy’s stall. I have this spot on my back that ALWAYS seems to be where I have issues if it decides to go out, located on my lower right quadrant, just above my butt. I think its got something to do with my sacrum and what not. None the less, although mild, I didn’t want to push it by riding. Our session started alright, although he was definitely edgy, most likely due to myself being off energy wise. Not only was the day before still fairly fresh in my mind and my emotions were still pretty raw, I had a long couple of days coming up and my lesson was fairly early in the morning (to try to get it done before the arena was booked up – again – from 10 am – 1pm) and I’m no longer as much of a morning person as I had been…. blame it on working midnights haha. We got him working decently, and problem solved through a couple “omg its scary!” issues. Then, Brooke needed to go an check on her feed for a second and the moment she started making her way towards the door, Cowboy again let out this short, high pitched “don’t leave me!!” squeak and exploded again. This is the first time he’s had this issue with just a human leaving. There wasn’t even another horse in the ring with us that left prior to her leaving. Once she was completely out of the arena he blew up even worse. Once Brooke was back we were able to get back down to business and working well, and even ended the session on a complete and total good note.

I know that right now its my focus on this one issue that is causing me to feel so discouraged and clouded, despite how positive and such I’ve been able to keep. Considering its been a consistent issue that has been increasing in severity it’s really starting to just wear me down (on top of all the other slew of personal baggage I’ve mentioned in the last few posts). Right now, I honestly feel like just tossing in the towel and giving up. I won’t, we all know that by now, but I’m hitting a point of frustration with it that’s not good for either of us.  The hardest part of it? I know that I’m only compounding the issue and right now we are on a bit of a vicious circle.

See, there is no doubt that we are completely bouncing off of each other in these moments. Not attempting to sound petty or anything, or even really placing blame, but Cowboy “started it” by suddenly cropping this behavior back up and doing it fairly consistently over the month (really, other than being just generally unfocused during our rides this has been the only REAL issue we’ve been having… yay for small wins!). Now, I’m expecting it every time the door opens which then spikes my energy. Then because he’s already anxious and LOOKING for my reaction when my energy spikes, he’s suddenly like “omg! my leader isn’t confident…. there’s something wrong… horsey friend COME BACK!!!!!!!”. Then it goes sideways. And then the cycle goes on. I’m also struggling with the fact that this behavior is also bringing up a lot of fear and anxiety in me again. I know I can ride it and handle it if it does come up, but again its something I would really rather not have to handle AND it brings up bad memories of before. So as much as he doesn’t fully trust me enough to put me before his friends, I don’t trust him enough. I’m getting there, yes, but this is one area that has caused some deep seeded issues with us before and thus he hasn’t fully gained my trust with it. Because of this fear and distrust, I’m also struggling with NOT getting angry at him when it does happen. I’ve came leaps and bounds in dealing with a lot of his behaviours in a very neutral manner, learning and realizing that a lot of them stem from insecurity and that by getting angry and disciplining in the moment, rather than working through things teaches him whatever he’s scared of is SCARIER. So, in taking steps to work towards breaking this cycle right now, I need to first work on not inwardly panicking when someone (be it horse or human) goes to leave the ring. I might have to go back to a step we had to take before where I dismount when someone leaves and either lunge him or just have him stand calmly. Again, all major confidence building starts on the ground and if I can’t calm my nerves from the saddle, I’m better off dealing with that moment on the ground. If I’m able to handle it in the saddle it might be actually halting and letting us both relax as its happening. Regardless, I need to tame my own fight or flight reaction the moment someone goes for that door. That in itself will help the situation. Secondly, I need to remind myself to remain neutral to the situation when it happens. Don’t spike angry energy or ride/handle him too harshly if he does have a moment. He’s reacting out of insecurity and resorting to behaviours that have worked in the past. If I react too strongly it only reinforces that bolting for the other horse/door is what he should be doing. And lastly, I need to keep “chipping away” at it. The only way to problem solve is to keep trying and working at it and eventually either the lessons sink you, you find a new method or tool that works, or the behavior just changes.

Part of what really kind of sent me reeling into feelings of discouragement and horrible rider/handler the last couple of days was the comments in relation to lack of trust and leadership/respect, mixed with hormones and stress. It all worked its way, just so, into my brain and through the positive, constructive barrier I’ve had set up for myself. My self loathing, negative mental health issues cropped up and saw those words as evidence that I’m not succeeding at the goals I’ve been working towards this year. Which really, not the case. We’ve still made huge leaps and bounds and again, in the grand scheme of things, it’s only the middle of March. Having a partnership that had gotten as muddled up as ours had, 2 and 1/2 months really is only a drop in the hat and what we’ve accomplished so far has been huge given that time line. I get frustrated at hearing comments such as “just keep chipping away at it” sometimes because often times I feel as if I AM constantly chipping away at things and sometimes feel like I’m not getting any closer to figuring it out. But, we are. The simple fact that I can now sit and look at the situation and figure out what *I* need to do in order to help solve it is testament to that. And besides, I think the quote goes something like this…. “Nothing good comes easy and what comes easy is never good”. Generally speaking when Cowboy and I hit a bit of a “head” like this, it is normally a spot where we decline a few steps and then launch forward again. So again, without struggle there is no progress. I have to keep faith in that cycle and know that it will pick up again. All negative cycles eventually break, it just depends on how or when you put the work into it. I’ll get through this one and make it through to the other side stronger than before.


Overstimulated From All Directions


Positivity and re-establishing my relationship with failure has really been integral to a lot of the successes and strides I’ve made so far this year and I am forever grateful that I’ve been able to, for the most part, keep up the habit. They say it takes 6-8 weeks to form a new habit and considering we’re now almost hallway into the third month, I’d say that overall, I’m well on my way. This shows up in almost every ride now, and through the lessons I’m learning and putting together in my posts. Today though, I’m allowing myself to feel down and disappointed over today’s session. I’m allowing myself to acknowledge just how frustrated I was and the feelings that went along with it. I’m not beating myself up over the tears that I shed in the heat of the moment (even if I did directly after my lesson in my apologies to Brooke). I’m admitting that today I feel like a crappy rider and a crappy horseperson, something I haven’t actually felt in full force for a while. I’m not, and I know it. But feelings are just that. Feelings. And sometimes they beg to be felt. Even the strongest warrior has their moments of weakness but then they pick themselves up and move on. I’m not going to allow myself to wallow and become swallowed up by this bump in the road. Acknowledging what I’m feeling and allowing myself to experience it is better than pushing it down and bottling it up. Bottling it up only eventually leads to an explosion.

Today’s lesson wasn’t without positive progress regardless. But between both him and I, we were both overstimulated and over reactive. The lesson took place after some cattle roping had taken place and started with a few horses leaving the arena as soon as we got in there and started to work. Trigger point #1. Cowboy still isn’t a fan of the cattle. He still watches them carefully and alertly as we walk up from the paddock. If we walk the track by them, he still jumps if they move too suddenly. So, the arena smelled of cow. Trigger point #2. Lastly, although small changes, the back end of the arena had changed when the gear got put back and now it was the “scary” end all over again. Trigger point #3. Then, because roping had just finished, people were still coming in and out of the arena, picking up the last few odds and ends. Trigger point #4. Basically, it started with Cowboy overstimulated and sensitive. I then reacted to him and became overwhelmed myself. I was over reactive and reading too much into his energy, which only caused his energy to spike and mine to climb even higher. I attempted to start off with ground work. He was overly focused on the door/window, he didn’t want to come down to a walk, didn’t want to halt, kept trying to walk off when I’d try to get positioned, and then for as much as he wanted his feet to be moving, didn’t want to move into a lope from the jog. This is where my anxiety and frustration started climbing. With Brooke’s coaching I was able to finally get his brain somewhat focused in the “safe” end, before moving down the ring. When we got to the back end, my horse, who had finally been working in the “scary” end in a calm and confident manner , was acting like everything down there was going to eat him again. Very little had changed, one of the pen panels was placed a little wider and there was a piece of wood in a different spot. There may have been a barrel in a slightly different position as well. None the less, it was different and with already amped up energy, these subtle changes blew his mind. As physical changes blew his mind, his behavioural changes then proceeded to blow mine. Trying to work him around that area, if he was walking he’d trot past any of the equipment, head cocked as he eyed it and nostrils flaring. If he was trotting past it, he’d blast by it. At the top of the circle, he’d pull against me, trying to go in the direction of the door. Occasionally he’d launch himself side ways and bolt off at some imaginary demon lurking from behind the chute. As hard as I tried to relax and remain neutral to the situation, everyone of his digressions peaked my frustration. I pushed him on when I shouldn’t (instead of backing off a bit and letting him pick his way past the concerning part I’d drive him forward) and we were just more or less clashing, until another side ways leap lead to a “for fuck sakes” yell from me. Then the tears.

In that moment, I was so frustrated with him and the fact that we had gone from working fantastically the day before to suddenly not able to even master our basic ground work – things that we do almost daily. I was frustrated that in the moment, it felt like we were back to square one yet again and that it feels like any time there is some change to our setting we always have to start from the bottom up. I was irritated that my lesson was going south because of the factors leading up to it. In this moment, its another instance of where I am so very grateful for Brooke and how she’s able to work with me in any of my moods. She came down to where we were working and talked me down enough where I could relax and get Cowboy remotely relaxed. From there we walked down to the mounting block, bridled and then (after a couple minutes of trying to get him to stand) got on. We had no real goal other to get back on the same page working together. We kept it fairly short, worked within our gaits and then more or less called it quits. The small wins from here were that I was able to ride down into the back end, even though I didn’t think I’d even attempt it and that I was able to get him to stand calmly after working out some of the energy. Overall, we finished on a good note and I took him for an in-hand walk down the paddock line to cool out.

In all reality, I felt completely fine and centered walking into that arena for the start of my lesson. But little things set me off, and I really think that it was partially due to the fact that even though I THOUGHT I was “fine”, I really wasn’t. I’ve had a lot going on the last while and have held it together quite well. I think in this moment, I hit a point where the little things were enough to finally bust a hole through my resolve and my resilience. Basically, I’ve been overstimulated with outside factors for the last month and a bit and today was a breaking point. Overall, the fact that I’ve lasted this long without crumbling is in itself progress. Previously, I’d hit this point of overstimulation and frustration in the blink of an eye. This time, I’ve gone through a month of dealing with tension between my parents and the added responsibility of getting my mom to and from work while my dad was in the process of getting a new vehicle, a month and a half of a blistering work schedule with a fair number of back to backs resulting in VERY little sleep, people poking their nose into business that doesn’t belong to them, family members in the hospital, changes around the barn spiking some of my anxiety and feeling pretty isolated from friends and such as a result of work. All the while I’ve still managed to go out, work, hang out with and ride Cowboy and maintain my positive focus and trajectory. The fact that I’m having this emotional blip right now is definitely okay when I break it down into pieces like this.

Take home lessons from today? I still need to be acutely aware of my outside baggage. For as good as I’ve gotten at keeping it out of my rides, it can still creep up and I need to remember to do an emotion check a bit more often when I’ve got lots of “life stuff” going on. In terms of doing “emotion checks”, I need to remember to do them more often when I’m having a tough time with Cowboy. When he’s amped up, its can be very possible that my energy is contributing to it – he’s that in tune with me. I also have to learn to NOT apologize if we end up having a lesson that needs to focus solely or mostly on ground work. Although I’m getting better with realizing that just because I go into a lesson with a goal in mind it doesn’t mean we’ll be able to stick to it, I still feel like I’m wasting Brooke’s time when it doesn’t go as planned or we need to do more ground work.  As she says, sometimes it’s what we need and not every ride is perfect and so therefore I’m not wasting her time. The fact is she is in there and she’s helping me through something be it in the saddle or on the ground, conceptually or emotionally.

Despite everything, I’m still really proud that I was able to turn around the session and make some positive gains. And I’m super impressed with the other two rides I got in this week. Both times he was a model citizen and worked wonderfully for me. So regardless of today’s bump in the road, we are still having far more good sessions than we do bad any more. That itself is testament of the hard work and dedication we both are putting into the process. I’m also happy with the fact that I can sit here, piece this out, talk candidly about how I’m feeling in this moment and then move on. Letting the negative swallow me up for days and rides on end just isn’t a thing any more. I will give myself an evening to mull it over, work it out and feel bad about it but I’ve gotten FAR better and looking at tomorrow as a new day – a clean slate if you will.

Questions Of The Day:

How do you overcome your bad days/rides?
How do you remain grounded and centered when things feel out of whack?


Trusting The Process

There comes a point in any p20180227_111115rocess of working towards change where at times, you feel like you might not be making any gains, or unsure of if something that you’re trying is actually going to work. I’ve been working really hard at changing the lens in which I look at my relationship with Cowboy and our training methods. Some of this has been remembering to be gentle on myself and on him, and realizing ,that as much as I used to resist the idea that we were like mirror images of each other,  we really are similar and both need work in the same areas. Lastly realizing that we actually need each other and as I’ve mentioned to bring out the best in him, I need to bring out the best in me. And, since I really started to manifest these ideals and implement these changes, I can really say that we have made huge strides since the start of the New Year. Have we totally met my resolutions? Probably not. But we are working steadily towards it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I can feel my resolve starting to waiver and feel like I want to throw my hands up and quit. But. I’m not a quitter.

For as many nicknames or terms of “sarcastic endearment” as he may have, I do love Cowboy, and for as guarded as I was keeping my heart around him, he really has worked his way into there, right next to a select couple horses that have left their hoof prints embedded there. It’s this, along with my stubborn nature that keeps me going when I am struggling. I’m learning that as we are on this journey together, we are both kind of like onions. As we peel off one layer, a new one is exposed. Some are thicker than others and each one comes with its own positive and/or negatives. Sometimes the layer we are on is just consistent, until we reveal the next. And let’s face it. We both have a lot of baggage and therefore we both have our fair share of layers to work through.

Our last few rides have actually been fairly successful. My days are pretty messed up right now, so where I usually have a time line with days of the week in my posts… this one I don’t. But I can say I managed to ride three times last week. Two sessions on my own and one in a lesson. And then Brooke worked him for me today to see if we could target a specific behavior issue (under saddle).

Any time I talk about falling off, I knock on wood. There was a time growing up, where I fell off ALL the time. As I’ve progressed through the years I’ve managed to develop a pretty decent seat and it takes more and more to unseat me. It had been a while since the last time I took a tumble and it appears that it was time for that spell to come to an end. The first ride of the week, I had originally intended to just do some ground work, but decided to bring in my helmet and bridle incase I decided to hop on bareback back. He was working really well on the line so I decided to pop on for a few minutes and just putter around. Of course, as I decided to get on the wind started playing with the door at the back of the ring. After a few circles of the front half I had, had him halted and the wind ripped through the tarp, causing it flap quite loudly and causing Cowboy to spook. He was pretty controlled about it and I felt the explosion start before it totally hit. I tried to hold on, but just the sideways motion caused me to be pitched off to the side he moved away from. Thankfully though, I knew the fall was coming and so I landed, didn’t hurt myself, got up and got back on. Finished the ride with a few more laps and walk and a jog and even rode through a couple more wind gusts and then called it quits. I’ve noticed that even my relationship with falling off has changed. I mean, maybe this is coming out this way because I didn’t hurt myself and it wasn’t from some bigger issue, but I’m better able to let them roll off of my shoulders. And, although I’m the furthest from a cocky rider as I can be, I can appreciate them humbling nature of them and how they help remind you that you aren’t invincible and that you need to appreciate every good ride you and your mount have.

I rode the next day, and had one of the best rides I’ve had in ages. Cowboy settled in very quickly on the line before I got on. He was a bit forward so I decided to work with it and use that energy and spent a good deal of the ride actually working on lead changes. Now I didn’t drill them constantly. We’d try them a few times, then come down to a walk/jog and work on something else and then come back to them. We haven’t done a lot of work in this area, so I only focused on simple changes. He goes from his left to his right lead far easier than right to left. I also need to work a bit more on my timing and getting enough bend to change our directions. The biggest thing about this ride though was that I could feel that he was actually trying his heart out for me, even if he didn’t get it. Yes, he was forward, but he was responsive and respectful and was just overall happy in his work. I was so happy with him, I decided to cool him out with an in hand walk down along the paddock line with lots of praise and pats in the process. Its rides like this that make my heart swell.

I had a lesson the following day. We spent a great deal of it riding a western dressage test we pulled from the Western Style Dressage Association of Canada site. It wasn’t our best ride ever. To me it felt sloppy and we weren’t working as well in sync as we could of. We weren’t clashing, but Cowboy was distracted and I was getting mildly frustrated by it. But, we made it through and by our third run we weren’t horrible at it. This ride to me, shows me an area of growth. I was so much more understanding and forgiving of Cowboy and his distraction during this ride (even through my frustration of how sloppy things felt). There was LOTS going on at the barn that day. Horses moving in, deliveries coming in, a horse was gelded, other people coming into the ring etc. Lots of stimulation for my easily distractible horse. So in hind sight, if he was a bit unfocused and wanting to rush within his jog, or push through the halt a bit I really can’t complain. He could have been a jumpy, rude brat, the Cowboy I used to see in similar situations. I also didn’t spend time beating myself up about our ride. I acknowledged that it felt gross and subpar, but that was that. I used to always ruminate over bad or subpar rides and really tear myself to shreds about it. Now, I am better realizing that you’ve gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelette,

Brooke’s session with him today, really wasn’t bad either. I did get some great feedback and compliments through her ride too! I really wanted her to get on him and school him, but I also wanted to see if we could trigger one of his buddy sour, wheel and bolt moments. We were going to use her halflinger Lindy and lead her in and out of the ring to see if it would get him going. And then have me open and close the door because sometimes the behavior comes up the next time the door opens after a horse leaves. Instead another boarder had their horse in the ring when we started and when they took their horse out, Cowboy attempted to wheel and bolt for the door on Brooke. He put up a decent argument but she got him back and working. From here, we eventually had me leave and come back in a couple times. Once about 5-10 minutes after the boarder left and once more near the end of the ride. The first time I left she could feel him get tense but he kept himself together and the second time he was perfectly fine and there we called it quits. I got some feedback in regards to how I’ve been handling the buddy sour bolting issue. I’m riding it exactly how Brooke would and that by riding it out, it’s one of the only ways to teach him that he’s not going to get away with it. We did discuss more where to keep my hands in relation to the specific bit I’m using to get the best engagement in that situation. With how it’s designed, if I try to pull out wide to turn him it’ll catch him and cause him to pop his head/front end up. I need to keep my hands a bit closer together and work more through my elbow to keep the front end from getting light in those situations. Other positive feedback included that his bending and straightness to the left (his weaker side) has improved and that I’m finally getting him to the point where he goes better for me than for her. Hard work is slowly paying off!

20180227_111202So, under saddle, things have been pretty decent! We are having an issue out of the tack though. Cowboy has never been the best horse to stay in a stall. He’s a horse that DOES prefer to be outdoors. However, sometimes staying in is a necessity. He wasn’t horrible with it, until I brought him to the Welland Fair for 3 days in September. We weren’t doing anything fancy, he was more or less just on display as a representative of the Canadian Breed (he looks Canadian minus the paint colouring). Ever since that experience he’s been far more antsy and anxious about being left in alone. It’s gotten a lot worse these last couple weeks as well. So, we are working on teaching him that it’s okay to be in alone. This, is a HUGE struggle for me and really where I need to remember to trust in the processes we’re working on and those with more experience in training then I have. The only way to get him to figure out that he’s fine alone is to leave him alone and not give into his temper tantrums. He needs to work through it on his own and learn to settle. It might take a good while before it becomes routine and he’s not overly phased by it, but he will get there. I have a hard time with the idea of just “closing the door and walking away”. He gets anxious the moment horses start leaving the barn. He’ll settle a bit if I’m around the stall or in the stall with him, but the moment I walk out of his sight, he loses it. He paces frantically, calls frantically, rears up, stretches up enough to see if he can see over the walls, sometimes he’ll tear his hay net off the wall. I worry that he’s not going to eat or drink and that he’s just going to keep going until he works himself up into a lather… amongst other things. I want him to just relax. So I want to hang around and keep an eye on him or panic about what to do if he’s having an especially explosive time of it. When in all reality, hanging around, keeping close by and such is really only catering to him and giving him attention, even if it’s just by my presence. Again, training this out of him needs consistency and requires me to gain some more mental strength and not be an overprotective, anxious mom. It’ll be a process and I need to trust that in time it will be effective. Changes don’t just happen over night.

These last couple of months, I’ve really learned that if you believe in something and yourself enough, you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned that changes and progress are constantly happening and are evident in the smallest of things. I’ve learned to cherish any positive steps greatly and to take the lessons from the negative. I’ve been learning to trust in what Team Cowboy is doing and that the relationship is starting to flourish again. The process is working, even if it’s not in a linear manner. But it’s working.

Things You Don’t Expect

20180225_110011It’s been another slower week in terms of saddle time for me. This week with work has been especially tough and left me pretty zapped for energy and lagging behind in personal tasks outside of the barn. There is a light at the end of the tunnel however and it will pick up (Tuesday just needs to hurry up and get here haha)! Although this post is just a bit more of an update, I really have to comment on my last ride, as there were some things about it that were hugely positive in the long run.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a ride or a lesson where I was truly off. This is partially due to the fact that overall I’ve been far more positive and feeling a lot better about myself. The other part of this is that I’ve gotten far better at realizing when it’s not a good idea for me to get into the tack or in some cases even do ground work with Cowboy. Some times I’m best just hanging out and brushing him.

Thursday was a lesson night and admittedly I was a little bit skeptical of how it would go as I had a lot of errands to run between work shifts on Wednesday and had gotten Brooke to look after Cowboy for me. Usually I like to try to get on him the day before a lesson just in order to see where we are and to also have a refresher on manners and the such in hopes of making the most out of my lesson time. Despite being mildly skeptical of what the ride would be like I did actually arrive to the barn in a fairly positive zone. I had also given Brooke a list of different areas of focus we could work on depending on Cowboy’s mood. However, as I began to get the lay of my land for the day a cloud began to settle over me. I had, had a bit of a long, testy shift at work prior to heading out and really just wanted to come in, do my lesson, work on my pre-planned activities and enjoy my horse.

We’re lucky at our barn. In the nice weather we have lots of riding space and there are rarely conflicts… this was actually one of the perks I saw when I made the decision for Cowboy and I to move. However, during the winter and wet months we only really have the indoor arena to work. The rules that have been established over the use of the indoor include that anyone can use it at any time and we all have to share. You can book time slots that you’ll be in there, but you cannot book it privately. Booking the time just gives people an idea of who will be in there and when. We normally give each other the courtesy of writing if the time is for a lesson, as we still share but the lesson does get the priority and right of way as ontop of paying to use the facility it is also paid coaching time. It’s also important to note the arena can only REALLY hold 4 to MAYBE 5 horses actively working at once. Anyways, I had my time slot booked from 5:30pm – 6:30pm and as I stated above I was mildly anti-social to begin with so finding the arena packed when I went in for my lesson got my mood to begin to simmer. Now, I have NO PROBLEM sharing my space on a regular day or in my lessons. However I usually only have to deal with one or two other people in there with me. Given my mood in general, my nerves with working around a lot of other people and the fact that I had, had game plans that we now couldn’t work on I was having a really hard time “getting out of my head” and pushing the cloud over me away at the start of my lesson. Then to top it off, the arena door wouldn’t close completely leaving a very tempting gap for Cowboy to want to take advantage of, and my ride started with a wheel and bolt type of spook away from a couple white barrels at the “scary end” of the arena despite working around them on the ground first.

I am very thankful for Brooke and how our friendship has developed to where she has also figured out how to coach me through my different moods and issues without ever getting truly upset with me and NEVER making me feel like I’m millimeters big because I’m struggling be it, physically, mentally or conceptually. She definitely played a large role in how this lesson ended up successful. When Cowboy bolted at away from the barrels I managed to get him back and under control in a matter of 5 or 6 strides even when he attempted to pop up to unseat me a bit. Brooke praised me on the good catch and then coached me through our next approach. We ended up working through it until we could get fairly close without any big issues and progressed forward. We really didn’t work on very much through out the lesson for multiple reasons. Firstly we both knew I was in a spot where in order to be successful I couldn’t have too much thrown at me. Secondly, no one was calling anything in the ring or paying much attention to what we were trying to work on. We only really worked on our flat work with lots of circles and the such. Although on the surface, this lesson may sound fairly lackluster and not worthy of an update, its not WHAT we did that I wanted to focus on. What made this such a positive thing, so much so that I really wanted to comment on it, was HOW we accomplished what we did in the lesson.


It’s a common theme and discussion that Cowboy and I are really in tune with each other. So much so that it’s almost a fault, to the point where normally if I’m off, he’s off and we do nothing but clash. And, as I stated above, during this ride I was very much in my head, nervous and ready for a fight. In all reality, the entire lesson had the makings to be a complete disaster. Where I take some positive stock in it though, is that despite how off I was, how well Cowboy kept it together and actually kind of built me up. Given how he would normally have acted in such a situation, he was a complete champ for me. The win on my part, too, was that although I was not in a great head space, I was able to keep it out of my ride. Normally, I would get overly critical of myself and of Cowboy and then begin to nit pick on him for each of his digressions. For perhaps one of the first times in months I was able to work with him without letting my internal issues over ride and egg a fight on. I look at this as evidence of the work we’ve been doing and the changes both him and I have made in how we handle each other. It’s something small but for me this is a HUGE win and a great positive to take from this ride. I really hope we see it continue in the future as well.

In other reflection, I really think despite being frustrated with getting cut off and not having things called out etc, I think my bigger issue with working around a bunch of others still includes my concern about being watched and criticized but it also includes my underlying fear of the “bolt”. I guess having a temper tantrum and bolting has been something that has worked for Cowboy for so long its a pretty deeply engrained behavior. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not scared while riding it, but I still fear it happening in general. Not because I can’t handle it but because I would really rather not ride it and also because it has suddenly been a huge struggle type thing again. It’s mostly happening only when horses leave, or the next time the door opens if he’s been great when a horse leaves. It’s like his anxiety and frustration just hits a breaking point. Now, in comparison to some of the other issues we used to have, if all I really have to deal with I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. But it is admittedly still a sticky point for me. I even mentioned to Brooke in my lesson when discussing the fact that I was having a hard time getting out of my mind, was that I wanted to stop and dismount if anyone decided to leave before our ride was over because I just couldn’t mentally handle the situation that may arise. So it’s something that still needs some work, but I’ll figure it out however I need to and one day it won’t be something that bothers me as much.

Another big take home point I got from that lesson actually came as words of wisdom from Brooke. In attempts to temper some of my frustrations over the situation, Brooke reminded me that although we weren’t tackling some of the things I had wanted to for that day, we were still building on skills and such that we needed to. The biggest thing we were working on was how Cowboy (and myself) handle ourselves when working with company. Considering the last time he REALLY worked with company in the ring was the Bertie and Port combined show and just overall wasn’t a great experience for either of us, it is something we do need to keep working on. The lesson I learned from this, kind of ties into my last post, and a post from a friend a few days prior. Something is always better than nothing and progress comes from all areas. Even though we weren’t working on what I wanted to we were still making progress and the fact that we were in there and working was still better than backing out and giving up just because the conditions weren’t my mood induced idea of favourable. Here’s to always pushing forward, changing and succeeding. #TeamCowboy is yet another few steps closer to our goals!


Progress Is Progress No Matter How You Get There

I’ve finally been starting to feel better, so it’s been nice to get back into the saddle and keep working forward. I’m not sure Cowboy is 100% on board with the idea of getting back to “work” though! I wrote just recently that I’m slowly building up my mental strength and when I look at the fact that we are a week away from being through February, I really am amazed with myself. My work schedule has had me on a fairly blistering pace (minus my unintended, doctor prescribed vacation), with not a single day off throughout the month. It was funny in a conversation with Brooke near the end of January, she mentioned that when I showed her my schedule she thought “well this is going to be a rough month…”. And to be honest, up until recently by this point in a month with a schedule as tightly packed as this, we would be having a rough go. But, I’ve been able to surprisingly keep myself together fairly well and rather than completely butting heads, Cowboy and I have actually been progressing. Personally, I think the fact that I’ve been setting some healthier limits on myself and better gauging my moods and feelings have really helped. I wish I was able to have accomplished more saddle time this month, but again, I’ve done my best this month and the rides we have had, have actually been pretty good, albeit generally on the shorter side. In all reality, this month has really been focusing on the less is more concept. Shorter quality rides. Much more ground work. Reading both of our moods more, etc. And really, it has only seemed to have helped.

So far, I’ve been able to get into the saddle three times since my last entry. I rode on Valentine’s day with a short 20 minute ride which I mentioned was great considering it had been a while since I rode.

Thursday, I just really wasn’t feeling like tacking up and decided I was mostly going to do ground work, but decided to bring my bridle and helmet into the ring anyways. There was still snow on the roof, so I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to do. At this point, we did our usual ground work and really, he was a champ. He was listening and respectful. After a little while I decided I would hop on him bareback. This might not seem like a huge thing, and in all honesty, I’ve ridden him bareback a ton since I’ve came to Montasola (at one point I spent almost a month mostly riding bareback). However, I haven’t ridden him bareback since before Christmas. We started butting heads and I started to feel too nervous for it. So the fact that I was willing to hop on and go, especially with snow on the roof still (I know I seem fixated on certain things… like the snow on the roof and the back end of the arena… but they are still sticky spots I’m working on getting past), shows that I’m starting to regain some of that confidence and trust in him. I puttered around walk/jog bareback staying mostly at the front end of the ring. He was actually really good for me, considering I still had some residual nerves simmering under the surface. It was actually really neat to feel just how responsive to my legs and seat he’s gotten since the last time I rode bareback. He seemed to be moving off of every little command and change of position I provided, which also made me far more aware of what I was doing and how I was sitting. But again, considering how things could have gone, I was very happy with him and came out of the ride pretty happy with myself.

20180215_110313Friday we had a lesson. My lessons recently have been a bit more just having a set of eyes on the ground. We’re working on small things here and there and Brooke is really helping me refine my equitation and accuracy of cues right now, rather than focusing on teaching Cowboy new things. This is working for me right now as I’m rebuilding my confidence and the relationship between him and I. I also generally find value in revisiting basics and strengthening my foundations, especially if we’ve been on a run where we’ve had a bunch of issues. As usual, I warmed him up with some ground work, especially since these new wooden crates had been added to the back of the arena for the eventual addition of cattle roping. I was actually really surprised to see that he barely even flinched at the new structures and really worked around them quite well on the line. Once mounted we worked through our paces and worked on getting a bit closer to the back end. We focused a bit on making him bend and use himself more on his left lead canter now that he’s balanced enough to get his lead almost every time. Now it’s more about getting him to use his haunches and bend around his corners while travelling. I’m still personally working on not picking up too much contact on my outside to the left. Again, this is my stronger side and I have a tendency to want to hold too much. I need to remember to soften, take up small feels on my inside and to use my inside leg to help him achieve his bend through the corners.  There were some jumps and such left up in the ring from previous riders which I opted to have stay up and even said that I might pop over one of them at some point. After working in our paces for a bit, I decided to get brave and take him over the caveletti. We took it from a trot at first and then as he cantered off, I kept the canter and jumped it again. As someone who been gun shy in regards to jumping for quite a while, it was really neat to feel just how confident I felt! Maybe it’s my western saddle that gives me that sense of security, or maybe I’m just learning to trust him over fences more. Regardless, Brooke mentioned that we took the jumps quite well and even jumped better then we had in the past. My release was better than it was when I was riding English and my position (again, given the saddle) was not bad at all. After doing that a few times, I decided to work on our lead changes as there was a pole set up down the centre line. We’ve been able to successfully get simple changes and I haven’t really tried to push flying changes yet, however after he did the one when working on a pole exercise I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try again. For our first time really trying, I can’t complain! At least switching from his left lead to his right lead he was swapping his front end consistently. We just need to figure out the back end. It’s a learning curve for both of us, as I’ve never really worked on flying changes before either. From what Brooke told me I need to almost half halt slightly to slow him and then really push the hind end with my outside leg (in the canter cue). He does struggle going from his right to his left lead, but his left is his weaker side so I’m anticipating it will take a bit more work to get. Regardless, for first attempts I’m thrilled and we’ll only get better over time! Eventually, Ben and another boarder came in with their horse and I HAD to show Ben our jump, as last summer I kept saying I was going to take Cowboy into the intro jumper classes at our jumper shows but bailed every time. Previously I wouldn’t of even thought of it. My nerves would have gotten the best out of me. But we did it! After this, I worked on some lateral as my lesson was wrapping up. The boarder took her horse out of the arena and Brooke stood with us as they left. He behaved himself well, but then Brooke had to go move her truck and as she went to leave the arena he had a melt down and managed to bolt for the door. THANKFULLY I actually had Brooke here this time so she could witness what he does and how I’ve been handling it. I managed to get him stopped and backed up and then put to work. Then I cooled him out and we ended it there. Post lesson I had some discussion with Brooke about how to handle this behavior. I know that I can handle it (in the arena anyways) but it’s more about if I should go back to hopping off and lunging him in spot when anyone goes to leave or if I should just ride it out. We’re thinking that it’s best to just keep riding it out. By dismounting and lunging it’s drawing more attention to the behavior and the people leaving. If I can keep riding out the behavior and putting him to work when it does happen, eventually he should learn that it’s something he doesn’t want to be doing.

The pattern here is that when he gets to a point where he’s either too anxious or frustrated he resorts to bolting (and rearing even if it’s just a pop up or a full out rear). And with the door and people/horses leaving it goes down to his confidence level and that he panics when he’s getting “left behind”.  Then I either make him stand or try to get him to work and he just has a total melt down because he escalates so much. It’s just a cycle that I don’t personally know how to stop other than by doing what Brooke and I talked about. I’m just hoping it is something that eventually stops. However, although I’m pondering it, I’m not fixating on it and letting myself get down in the dumps about it. We’ll get there eventually. I may get Brooke to school him one day and see if we can trigger it with her and let her try to school it out of him too.

Work screwed me around on Saturday and therefore didn’t make it out but did get out Sunday. Sunday was busy at the barn as usual and therefore I just brought him in, fed him and groomed him. It was nice to just hang out and he really seemed to enjoy it. If he wasn’t trying to play with the brushes he was half asleep as I brushed him and he appeared very relaxed as I left. It’s the little moments like these that help strengthen our bond.

I rode today (well I guess its officially Tuesday now…. but it was Monday when I started writing) as well. It ended up as another case of less is more. He had stayed in all Sunday and so he was pretty forward in general with some pent up energy. The other big thing about this ride was that he was VERY distracted. I’m not sure if it was just a mood, or the weather or another function of him being in the day before. But he seemed overly focused on what was going on outside the arena. He was constantly looking towards the front window. Even on the line with our ground work warm up he was just very unfocused. I mean he did everything I asked (with reminders) and was still generally respectful. Once in the saddle it was a struggle to maintain his attention even though he was still doing as I asked. He was just making me work a bit harder to get a response out of him. I don’t make excuses for him, but I do like to be realistic and look at the factors that can influence things during our ride. Firstly, I was physically tired so I probably wasn’t as “en pointe” as I could of been. There were tons of birds in the arena this morning and there was intermittent rain. All things to distract him on top of his energy level and focus on the window. We rode for about half an hour before I could feel that I was “losing him”. Usually when we start to “lose” Cowboy, he starts looking for excuses to “spook” or starts to get cranky with what you’re asking. I read him well enough to push him past it a bit without teaching him that switching into that mode gets him out of work. I brought him down to a walk, did lots of circles, direction changes and walking over some trot poles and worked on getting into our back corners. Once I was able to get him through the back end both directions with very little reaction we called it quits. I could have pushed for a longer ride, but it would have been nothing more than a fight. It was better to stop when we did and have a shorter ride with quality than a longer ride that ends with both of us frustrated with each other.

Reflecting on my couple rides I’m realizing I’m getting a lot better on changing my game plan to work with day at hand. I’m a planner. I like goals. I like to go into a ride with an idea of things I want to work on and accomplish and previously I’d get very stuck on doing just those things. It’s taken me a long time to really start to figure out that being flexible is okay and that if things don’t go exactly as I had planned it’s completely okay. Part of this is really learning to listen to Cowboy. Some days he can be completely in work mode and be a model citizen. Some days, such as today, he’s just not feeling it. By learning to listen to him in such a manner, it shows him respect which will eventually come back to me and help us work together better. When dealing with horses things are seldom linear and often involve curveballs and back tracks, and that’s okay! Change is the spice of life. 🙂


…But…It’s Just A Horse Right?


Cowboy says “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

So yesterday was Valentine’s Day and usually I’d be one to hop on the bah-humbug wagon. But this year, it was just another day. I did dress Cowboy up and took a couple cute photos to be “in the spirit” but the first time in nearly as long as I can remember I wasn’t heartbroken that once again, I’m single and “alone” on V Day. In fact, it was a super quiet day at the barn and I quite enjoyed the time I spent with Cowboy. I guess you could call him the only Valentine I need.

Valentine’s Day and the feeling of loyalty towards Cowboy really got me thinking about some of the challenges I’ve faced in regards to other people’s attitudes about the journey I’m on with him, as well as thinking about just the general mentality of people (both equestrian and non-equestrian) about horses. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I’ve heard the phrase “Why don’t you just sell Cowboy and find yourself something more reliable” or some other variation, countless times over the two years I’ve had him. I’ve heard people tell me (and others) “what does it matter… it’s just a horse”. In either case, I wish the response to either question could be an easy answer.

The simple answer to why I don’t sell Cowboy is that really, I love him and that’s that. People can and will wonder why I love an animal who is as unpredictable, moody and difficult as he is. The thing is through his quirks, I can really see that there is a GOOD horse in there and we are slowly cultivating it and bringing him along. Is it easy? Hell no. Do I often feel like giving up? Um yup. Why I don’t give up? It’s not in me. I’ve always been raised with a strong work ethic. You work hard. You do you best to finish what you started. You always give your best effort. Now this has been skewed into warped ideas of perfectionism at times (and a demon I’m still working on) but in terms of my equestrian world, these principles still apply. I know that if I keep sticking it out and working as hard as I do we will get there and ultimately be an unstoppable team. Its the horses that push us to be vulnerable, learn hard lessons and challenge us that are something truly special. The sad thing in today’s equestrian world though, is the age of instant gratification, especially amongst the younger riders entering into the sport. It seems like any more, all people want to do is come out, ride in their lessons, learn to jump (or barrel race, etc etc) as quick as they can, even if they are lacking true basics and understanding, and get to the show ring to win as many pretty ribbons as they can. And if they can’t jump the next height, hit that faster time, ride that more challenging horse or don’t win that awesome red ribbon, they’re either quick to move onto the next coach who will put them on something to auto pilot them around, or buy a new horse that can pack them around or just give up and pack up. The idea of having to work hard to achieve your goals just appears to be lost. This is also why right now you find so many horses that are “cowboy broke” or being sold as “green” or “problematic”. So many people are buying horses with the intent to train and sell or train and show but then when they hit a series of hick ups they don’t want to put in the work to really train and fix the issue and pass the poor animal along.

I hate to use the phrase “when I was a kid” as really at the age of 29, I’m not THAT old, but anyways…. when I was a kid I remember saturating myself in as much horse knowledge as I could. Once I was old enough to “work” off lessons I was. I spent a couple nights a week pitching stalls, turning out, feeding etc in order to afford a single lesson a week, and later, when my parents got me my first horse, pay off part of my board. I’d ask whatever question danced to mind, I’d watch lessons that weren’t mine just to gain further tips and knowledge. I’d volunteer to go along as a groom if I couldn’t show myself on a given weekend. I also rarely, if ever, had parents at my lessons watching on the sideline. Heck, even today as an adult I’ll watch other people’s lessons or ask to watch training sessions of Brooke’s. Why? Because you can always learn something new. It makes me sad to see that this just doesn’t happen any more. Kids go to their lessons, tack up, ride, untack and go home. I could be wrong, but it just looks as if the passion and dedication to our sport and animals just isn’t what it used to be.

In terms of being “just a horse”…. I honestly just believe people don’t understand what our horses do for us and that it can never be “just a horse” to us. I sit back and look at EVERYTHING I’ve been through with Cowboy and could never think of him as “just a horse”. A lot of the changes, improvements and strides I’ve made (especially in the last year), can partially go back to him whether directly or indirectly.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but perhaps the BIGGEST thing he’s helped me with, is getting better control of my anxiety disorder. It was through our working relationship and one specific ride where my anxiety spiraled out of control and then I could feel just how TERRIFIED Cowboy was in that moment that made me realize that I NEEDED to get it under control. Now I had been told by multiple people that maybe I should get it checked out, but ultimately it was realizing that for him and I to work, I needed to address it. But… He’s just a horse right?

Change isn’t something many people like. I, especially, never used to be a fan (and even now if too much changes too fast I tend to waiver). But having Cowboy and having to make big decisions, such as realizing that where we were boarding prior to moving to Montasola wasn’t working for us anymore, and constantly having to change up methods when training and riding has gotten me much more comfortable with the concept. Routine is good but if we don’t change up here and there we get into a rut. Change isn’t quite as scary any more. But…He’s just a horse right?

Although my self confidence and esteem still needs work, it has increased exponentially since Cowboy has been in my life. Where the words “I can’t do it” were a common statement to leave my lips when things got tough, they’re now very far and few between. Where I’ve been afraid to ride around new people, I’m slowly starting to be able to come out of my shell and succeed. I’ve taken a horse that was passed around and developed some quirks that I thought I would NEVER get passed, but am getting past them and figuring him out. That in itself, is testament to how far he’s brought me. I’ve accomplished goals with him that back when I first brought him home I didn’t think I’d be able to do. In the picture below, no one knows that within minutes of it being taken, he bolted, my saddle slipped, I hit the ground leaving the ring embarrassed and angry. But I picked myself back up, still brought him into my next class with the intent of blowing it just to get him in the ring again. This is something that previous to Cowboy I wouldn’t of even considered. After coming off I would have been out for rest of the day. Too ashamed to get back out there. For as many times as he’s torn my confidence down he’s also built it back up and added a new layer every time. But…He’s just a horse right?

These are just a few examples of what he’s done for me. I could probably write for most of the night on all the small things. I’m sure many others can attest to some of the things I mentioned. Our horses are far more than “just a horse”, no different then how a dog person is loyally devoted to the four pawed friend, etc. It’s a complicated, special bond that is unique to each horse and rider and shouldn’t be challenged by others.

I know this has been a bit more of a rant, but I suppose I still have a couple take home points….or I’ll try to make some anyways.

Next time you look at a rider struggling with their horse. Don’t just casually suggest that they could just sell it and get something else. If you’re a knowledgeable person, make suggestions (if the rider is open to them) as to what they could try to help solve the problem, if you’re not… ask what you could do to help. Sometimes a listening ear is invaluable. Encourage them to keep trying (unless of course, the situation is flat out dangerous), and remind them that hard work will eventually pay off and that they’ll be thankful in the long run that they pushed through. Remind them not to make decisions when emotional. Gently reiterate that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are strong, successful partnerships between horses and riders. Respect the journey that the rider is on with their particular horse and realize that that horse came into the riders life for a reason and that the path their on is intensely personal… they’re each learning whatever lessons they need to from each other. A wise person once told me that some horses are meant to be in our lives for the long haul. Some only for a short while before parting. With something so personal as the partnership between a rider and their horse, the rider will know if they’ve hit a point where that horse is meant to part with them or not. Help foster hard work and determination, instead of fostering this instant gratification culture.

Strive to set an example. Don’t close yourself off from others around the barn, especially younger children. Try to answer questions where you can or point in the direction of someone who can. If you’re an instructor, encourage riders to ask questions, to watch from the side lines and give opportunity outside of the saddle to help riders learn and grow. If you’re a parent of a young rider, life is busy, I get it! (boy do I ever), but TRY to encourage your child to hang behind, ask their coach if they can help them with anything, or get them to engage in conversation if they weren’t sure of something in the lesson (not everyone is comfortable speaking up in a group). Try to keep the desire and spark to learn alive. We’ll all be better horse people for it.

Lastly. Remember, our horses aren’t just a horse. They’re our friends, our confidents, our therapists, our healers, our sports partners, our safe space, our peace of mind.

Unexpected Downtime

I just want to apologize for the lack of updates this past week. We kind of took an unplanned vacation. Working in group home settings, and with the type of schedule I uphold, I tend to catch whatever nasty bugs circulate around. In January it was the flu. This month it was a chest infection from hell. I’m not one to go to the doctors for cold/flu symptoms, but when I couldn’t lay down without violently coughing every 2 minutes, I figured it was best to get checked out.

This being said, Cowboy has definitely had some time off. I spent 3 days away from the barn, getting Brooke to take care of him, had a ground work lesson where we played with some of the obstacles and did some on-line jumping, he had his teeth done, did some ground work yesterday and did some ground work today before being able to get on for a short 15-20 minute ride. Cowboy had a blast working around the obstacles last week (even if we may or may not have made the “cow” “jump” and “moo” at him…..) and as much as I would have liked to try to ride, I think it was something beneficial for the both of us to do. It’s always amazing to look at how settled he gets when we start throwing obstacles at him. That horse really does like to think. His teeth were done this past Sunday. We opted for a power float again, and again he really fought the sedation and seemed extremely spooked by the whole ordeal. I might just opt for manual floats from here on. Or keep working at it, with the hope that he’ll eventually not be as weirded out by it. I mean I can’t blame him. It’s loud and it vibrates… I’m not afraid of the dentist but I know that I’d rather not here and feel everything they are doing in my mouth. Today’s session though, I REALLY couldn’t be happier with. We got some ground work done and considering he hasn’t REALLY been worked in a week and a half now, I can’t complain. Cowboy was pretty forward, and did pull a couple “testing” spooks on me over little things, but settled fairly quickly in that manner. He remained forward for the duration of our ride, but again, he hasn’t been worked and it’s been snowy and gross out so it’s not like he’s been moving around a ton. But we managed ride with few incidents and he listened well. And I kept myself together with the arena having “snow monsters” on the roof again. Thankfully one didn’t let go while I was in the tack, but while doing ground work one slid down and he actually handled it very well and listened to my voice and came down from the ordeal very quickly. I’m really happy with him (and myself!) today!


Poor, stoned Cowboy after his powerfloat


Otherwise, I’m looking forward to getting back up and going, even if this unintended vacation was good for the both of us.


Gaining Strength

20180201_101429Building new habits takes time and effort and they say the first 6-12 weeks are the hardest. I’m on the 6th week of this resolution of mine and seems like this last week has had its share of challenges. My reactions to these challenges do show progress though and that, I am proud of.

In terms of updates, I left off on last week (Wednesday I think?) with the explosion between Cowboy and I and how I managed to end it on a good note. I won’t lie and be honest that I was in a bit of a funk until the next day. When I went to the barn, I barely felt like even handling him because I was just hurt and upset over what had happened the day before. But, stepping into the barn, I decided that I had to do something with him (beyond feeding, watering, picking his stall). If anything I had to do it for myself. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I used to hold grudges on Cowboy like there was no tomorrow. If he was a jerk the day before I would automatically go into the next day all guns loaded and ready to fire. This time though, the realization that it would be completely pointless to haul his butt into the arena and drill the snot out of him. He wouldn’t make the connection between what had happened the day before to the current day. Instead I brought him into the arena and decided to just “hang out”. I unclipped his lead and gave him a choice of what he wanted to do (other than hang out by the door/window. I would still usher him away from these areas given that they are still problematic… as we’ll discuss later). To my surprise, he actually stayed “connected” to me the majority of the time. He would walk over some poles set up on the ground and even walk/hop over a mini jump that had been left up. He would follow me, although tentatively, to the “scary end” and when he would pause and start to blow I’d just pet his shoulder and reassure him that he’d be okay and then he’d relax. This isn’t to say he didn’t take off and do his own thing for a few minutes, but he would quickly come back and just be with me. I even set up the “noodle box” obstacle and walked beside me, and through the obstacle at complete liberty. At one point he was wandering and I just sat down on the arena ground. After a few moments he came up behind me and was sniffing my hair before just standing calmly beside me. I decided to end it there and brought him in and fed him before turning him out. I really honestly feel like that session was fantastic for both of us and actually kind of built up some trust and faith in each other. It was also a sign of growth for me, remembering that sometimes you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

I didn’t make it out Friday, and Saturday the vet was supposed to be out to float his teeth. The vet didn’t show and has since re-booked for this coming weekend, but that meant I didn’t get the opportunity to ride. I did however get some simple lunging ground work in.

Sunday, I set out to ride. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a fantastic ride. Cowboy had been in overnight and although I went into the arena and did ground work prior to mounting he still had an overabundance of energy. This energy was coming out as nervous energy, which also did not help my confidence. There was also some ground work lessons going on just after we had warmed up so we spent some time standing as there was horses being lunged at the top and bottom of the ring. When Ashley had her students take the two horses out of the ring and Flex’s rider left, I had Ashley hold Cowboy as usually he gets pretty worked up about being left alone. He was surprisingly good when the horses left, but after that was just overly touchy and “go-y” off the leg and jumpy at random sounds. We worked well through it, and then Ashley and her students were leaving the arena to go back up to the main barn. At first Ashley stood by me while the majority of the students left, however as he focused on that open door and Ashley began to walk away, he melted down. He started to move forwards and when I tried to turn him to circle him, he popped up and bolted at a dead gallop for the door. I managed to call for Ashley and Brianna was able to get the door closed quickly. I was able to haul him around and shut him down. Ashley stayed back for a few minutes as I put him to work. We loped a bunch of circles each direction and re-iterated the “WHOA” command. Once he appeared to be calmed down, Ashley left. After the door was closed and she had probably walked about 10 feet from the door, he exploded once more, again popping up and then bolting for the door. This time I was able to get him turned a bit quicker than before. This time when I put him to work, I decided to work through all 3 gaits, but every time we passed the door and window he would have to work harder. So, if we were walking, we’d trot past the door and window. If we were trotting, we’d lope past them and if we were loping past them, I’d push him up into a hand gallop. We’d slow down just after we got out of the second corner. I continued this until he would maintain a steady pace without rushing towards the door and when he appeared to have lost focus on the door and what was going on outside the window. After this exercise, I cooled him out and then called it quits for the day.

Going out this morning, I was struggling with motivation and unsure of what I wanted to do for the day. In all reality I was struggling with the dilemma of not wanting to ride because of what happened the day before, and feeling like I HAD to ride because of what happened the day before. In some conversation with Ashley she reminded me that I had dealt with the negative behavior in the moment and he wouldn’t make that generalization from yesterday to today. She also reminded me that I ride/work with him a lot and that there is no shame in just saying “fuck it!” some days. Considering I was feeling wishy washy on the subject, I ended up tacking Cowboy up but starting with ground work. I decided to see how things went and how I felt once we got working. If everything was going well, I’d get on. This was a technique Brooke had me work on last winter that worked when things were REALLY rough between him and I. We did a fair bit of lunging today in all areas of the arena. I’ve even started pushing him into a canter down in the “scary” end and he’s seeming to respond well. He was a bit spookier at the back then he has been in the last bit, BUT I have to remember that they ran cattle sorting Sunday afternoon so it’s quite possible the extra bit of “jump” was coming from the scent of the cattle. Anyways, I worked him through all gaits and did lots of transitions and changes of direction. He was actually fantastic once he settled and got his jitters out of his system. At that point, I made a deal with him that if he could continue to be a good boy, we’d only work for about 10 minutes. I even set a timer. Really though, the 10 minutes thing was more for me. Although I’m getting WAY better and handling his ridiculous bolting behavior and not getting shaken up in the moment, there is some fear that lingers and creeps up after the fact. So getting on and going, for even a short period of time, when I had been resisting it because I was admittedly nervous, was my way of pushing through a mental block. If I don’t work past these blocks, the resilience won’t build up. I can say though, I am so glad that I did make the decision to ride. We worked all three gaits both directions and even getting pretty deep into the back end of the arena. We finished off with some lateral and then walking back to the scary end to dismount. He got tons of good boy scratches and praise, then got to go back, have his breakfast and go out with his friends.

In all these situations I’m really happy I was able to remember that every ride is a clean slate and to leave the baggage from past rides at the door. It also goes to show that sometimes its useful to dig old tools out from the tool box to be successful. Each time I’m able to pull out from the bad in such a manner, the mentally stronger I will get. The more mental strength I build, the better able I will be to bring out the best in me. Bringing out the best in me, will bring out the best in him. We’re still a long way off, but it’s better to make slow and consistent progress than to try to race to the finish line. Remember. The tortoise DID beat the hare.

It Takes A Village…

20170722_085812.jpgI was meaning to write this post last week, but just never got around to it. I do, however, feel that this post needs to be written… so here we are.

For those of you who also follow me on Instagram, or paid enough attention to my posts from this time last year, you may have noticed that I often use the hashtag #TeamCowboy in my posts. That is almost where the idea of this blog came from. Something to track our progress, something to be “ours” for this journey we’re on. It also means something so much deeper.

In the time I’ve had Cowboy I’ve been lucky to of had a wide variety of people lend me their ears, their shoulders, give me advice (some great, some good, some not so awesome), help me, and encourage me. Every single person has played an integral part to get us where we are now, and there are still key players in helping us progress and succeed. Through these experiences, I’ve learned that thinking outside the box and differing opinions can help spark new ways of thinking and help foster progress. I’ve also learned (the hard way) that too many hands in the cookie jar can also create more problems than it’s worth. I’ve learned how to better take some opinions and ideas with a grain of salt and how to take what you think you need and leave out what you know won’t work. Its encouraged me to be way more open minded and learn that in training you often do need to change “styles” as you go in order to continue to grow. I’ve also learned that sometimes you need to back track in order to push further. I’ve learned that even the people you don’t (or didn’t) get along with can still have valid views and can actually care about your and your horse. I’ve learned that sometimes there is support and admiration where you least expect it.

I’ve learned to not be afraid to ask for help and that sometimes being stubborn and wanting to be able to do everything yourself isn’t the best way to handle situations. I’ve learned that it’s okay to not be able to conquer something right off the bat and that if it takes multiple sessions to work through it, it’s okay. I’ve learned that sometimes short, QUALITY rides go a whole hell of a lot further than long, drawn out mediocre or less rides. I’ve learned the very valuable lesson of “less is more” and that sometimes drilling each other to meet some goal will only lead to disaster. I’ve learned that it’s okay to decide that you need to take a break and how to feel when it’s just not a day you should get in the irons. I’ve learned to face challenges and diversity head on and how to trust your gut and keep pushing for what you think is worth it when others are telling you to quit. I’ve learned that lessons don’t always have to be goal focused and if you need to have a lesson where it’s more riding with a set of eyes on the ground to build up your confidence, that’s okay.

I always had a good sense of this, but I REALLY learned the benefit of LOTS and CONSISTENT use of ground work. Not only does it help to build a solid foundation to build skills and relationships on, it can help ground and centre you. Sometimes on bad days (for your or your horse), you can accomplish more in this manner than you could ever accomplish in the saddle. I’m starting to learn that acknowledgement doesn’t always come from ribbons and show performance…. sometimes it comes from people simply realizing and mentioning how much time, effort and “hard work” you put in on a daily basis. I’ve learned that you don’t know until you try and that sometimes trying will put you out of your comfort zone. The catch to this is, that you need to work just outside of that comfort zone in order to grow.

My list could really go on for quite awhile. Over the last two years I’ve learned countless lessons from everyone around me and really… I can’t thank everyone who has taken the time to support me, encourage me, let me vent, let me cry, teach me, watch me, be a cheer leader for me, push me, criticize me, enough for all they have done. I could list everyone on here by name, but in all reality, if you’re reading this and you’ve helped me in some way, I’m sure you’ll know who you are. They say “It takes a village to raise a child” and I really do think that the sentiment really applies to this journey I’m on with that painted beast of mine. Even if you’re not currently still directly a part of the adventure, you are still part of #TeamCowboy.

I like to think I’m a pretty humble and gracious person and that in person I’ve thanked everyone who has helped me out in one way or another. However, in the event that I’ve missed someone or haven’t said it enough, I just want to extend a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who has helped us get this far and to those of you who continue to work in close contact with Cowboy and I. We’re a team and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I really do get by with a little help from my friends! Here’s to continuing progress and to the future of #TeamCowboy 🙂

Full Moons, #BellLetsTalk, What Else?

“There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the grey sky clean. Realize that every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, that whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light” – Shane Koyczan “Instructions For A Bad Day”
Instructions For A Bad Day – Shane Koyczan

I wish every time I sat down at the keyboard to write it would be a good day and I’d have nothing but sunshine and rainbows to write about. But, such is life and as Shane Koyczan so eloquently puts it… there will be bad days. Today is one of them and it’s not so much even in relation to Cowboy. It’s more or less a culmination of things right now that just kind of came to a head around the barn and Cowboy. Usually when I write I have a relatively clear sense of what I want to write and where I’m going with it, but today I just can’t seem to put things into logical order or even know where I’m going with this post. It might just end up being a rant. But, we all need a good vent session every once in a while right?

I just find it ironic that today has been as rough as it is, considering its the widely acknowledged #BellLetsTalk day. A day used to encourage open communication of the struggles surrounding mental health and a way to fundraise for such important initiatives across Canada and I’m finding it hard to keep on the winning side of my own struggles. I’ll be okay. I know I will be, and part of my self-care is admitting that right now I’m not feeling okay… but its okay to not be okay… as long as you don’t park there and set up camp for too long. I’m not dropping anchor but I will admit that I’ve been fighting back tears and frustration and feelings of wicked inadequacy. For the duration of January, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends between work, family, personal health and Cowboy. Sadly, February is only going to be worse due to increased demands at my part time job and right now I’m really not sure how I’m going to be able to handle it all. The hard part is there isn’t really anything I can “drop” without it having ripple effects further along down the line. So, I’m stuck…. so I guess its better that I’m getting this mini breakdown out of the way now in order to clear some mental space and build up for the next round.

One of the hardest parts about being in this mood is that I’m hyper sensitive to everything and it always leads to looking too far into things and attributing meaning to things that might really not have any real meaning. As example, yesterday when I went to bring Cowboy in from the field, another boarder was grabbing their horse. Cowboy came to the gate for her and hung around there for a few minutes. When I called to him, he looked at me, turned around and followed the other boarder. What does my brain begin to tell me? “He’s walking away from you because he hates you and wants nothing to do with you”. When he walked away from me (although not far) until he realized I had a carrot for him? “Yup. This just confirms that he hates you. You’re fucking up somewhere and he doesn’t want to be around you”. The reality of the situation (which Brooke so kindly (no sarcasm) pointed out to me in my lesson this morning)? Yesterday he was probably following the other boarder because most of them give them treats and scratches. Today he probably started walking away because he could feel that my energy was a bit off and we know that him and I really do vibe off of each others energy. Another frustrating bit about being in this state of “burn out” is that I have a hard time regulating my frustration and anger. I’ve gotten really good at mediating it over the last year but when my resources as a whole are exhausted, its something I have a harder time regulating. In all reality it was that deficit that kind of pushed me over my limits today.

Then to add to things. It’s a full moon and we’ve had yet more weather changes. Some people don’t believe in this sort of thing, but I’ve witnessed it often enough in humans and animals to know that full moons cause weird behavior. Weather changes often make horses wonky too. Soooo it just appears that I’ve got everything working against me today. My day started with being woken up at 6 am with sick calls from work and trying to get me to come in to work 7am-3pm at my part time job. I declined the shift as I had to make sure mom got to work, I had a lesson booked and I also had to work tonight. Throughout the course of the next 3 hours I got a total of 8 phone calls asking me to come in for various start times despite continuously declining the shift. The icing on the cake was when I had spoken to the manager on call (who had finally personally called me rather than just sending the call out through the system) and said I couldn’t help and then got yet ANOTHER system call not even 10 minutes after. I got to the barn late to get ready for my lesson because other things this morning were running behind and then Cowboy already had to be near the back of the paddock and walk away from me as I was heading out to catch him. Just was not a great start to the morning and at that point I could already feel the tears starting to simmer, enough that I almost wanted to cancel my ride. I pushed through it, and we ended up having a decent, confidence building (for me) lesson. However, bringing him back to the barn, untacking him and feeding him things just started to go sour. He just couldn’t seem to get over the fact that him and Buddha were the only horses in the barn. He wouldn’t eat his grain (which normally he does regardless… actually he normally inhales it) and would just call and pace. Brooke suggested that I just go sit in my car for a bit, wondering if it was just a ploy for attention. So as she left I went and sat in my car for half an hour. Only to go back into the barn and find that he had knocked my bridle hooks off his stall door for a second time today and hadn’t touched his grain. At this point I could feel my frustration building to a point where in the past I’d let it take over so I decided that he could spend some more time alone. I made sure to secure his stall door and left to for about an hour and a half to go to the gym and work some of the emotion out. I felt great leaving the gym, and went back to the barn. I had discussed if it would be a good idea to leave him in for the night so I was going to go back to stock his stall with hay and water so he could have the time to sit and figure out that he’d be okay. When I got back to the barn I found that he had again trashed my bridle hook and actually managed to pull some of my tack into his stall and he had some how managed to obliterate the hook on his one hay net and actually pulled the eyelet out of the wall. The hay net was trashed on the floor of his stall. At this point I was now absolutely livid. I’m guilty of yelling at him, multiple times “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!?!” and kicking the demolished hay net in his direction. In order to attempt to calm myself I went to brush him out. When I went to pick his feet he wouldn’t lift his front foot so I used a soft lead to encourage him to pick it up…. and when I did he took that opportunity to pull out of my grip, get past me and through the crack of a stall door and take himself for a trip around the property (and believe me he had a few choice words and threats of being shipped to Purina in the process).  And then wouldn’t let myself or the barn owners daughter catch him. When we finally did get him, neither of us gave him crap once he was caught but I did bring him into the round pen and drove him hard and fast. My logic was, that if he had that much pent up energy/anxiety he could work it out. It took him over half an hour to burn himself out enough that he was ready to join up and finish. In the round pen, my bark was definitely worse than my bite. I was literally shaking I was so livid at the whole situation and although raising my voice at him may still not have been the best choice, it made me feel good and vented that angry energy in an harmless way. Does that make me a horrible horse person? My brain tells me it does. Afterwards I brought him back to the barn, tied him to the trailer tie in his stall while we sifted through his bedding looking for the eyelet he popped out of the wall. I then tried to end on a positive note by brushing him out, putting a cooler on him and giving him a carrot before I left. When I originally brought him back to the barn though, that’s when the dams finally let go. I just bawled. Bawled from frustration. From feelings of failure and inadequacy. From being fed up. From once again having another day where it just seems like everything is going wrong. From having just too much going on right now. From being exhausted. From just wanting to give it all up. From just everything. Through everything though. I was able to leave him on a good note and he was calmly eating hay and licked whatever was left in his grain bucket right up.

I used to have a hard time with holding grudges against Cowboy when we had days like today. There’s no grudge to be had right now. But I’m definitely struggling to bring myself back to baseline. Hence why this blog post is here. I’m TRYING to get it out and into the air. To blow the steam so to say in hopes that I can regroup. I don’t know if there’s any truth to this or not. But in reflection of today’s “negative”… it almost feels like he’s so in tune with me that all this happened to bring on the blow up… to get it out of our systems. I don’t know… but regardless tomorrow will be a new day.

Now. To be true to myself though, I do need to talk about the positive in order to counter my want to focus just on the shit show that happened. Considering I was doubting myself and my ability to handle a lesson today, we actually had an amazing lesson! Cowboy was a bit more forward today, which as probably more because of the weather. Brooke was really encouraging today and reminded me that, even though I feel like I’m not doing anything right and that I’m not getting anywhere, despite everything I have on my plate right now and that my overall stress level has been a bit elevated I’ve been doing well with him and doing more than a lot of other people would be doing if in my shoes. So I need to be more gentle on myself when reflecting on what’s going on in the current situation.  Ride wise, we managed to get a bunch of solid walk/trot/canter work done. We barely flinched at the back end of the arena today (because I was better able to NOT focus on the fact that he’s been spooky down there) and we revisited a condensed version of the pole exercise from last week with far greater success. I even did some lateral schooling around the poles. We then called it quits. Overall, and extremely positive session!

So. He has days where he needs to explode. I have days where I need to explode. Today we collectively exploded. But a way to look at it, in order to keep a positive trajectory, is that an explosion is just an animated way to provide some light when there is some darkness. Tomorrow, we pick up and move on, remembering

“Beyond a wholesome discipline,
Be gentle with yourself
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy. ”
Max Ehrmann “Desiderata”