Quiet, soft and still we leave Estes Park, 23 degrees, for Texas. First fuel
stop – Burlington, Colorado.
was a big night for all of us. We’re testing for our belts in Aikido. Mark is a
blue belt going for his purple. Tyler (Mark’s son) is orange going for blue. I’m
white going for yellow. The ranking for belts goes: white, yellow, orange, blue,
purple, green, three brown belts, and ten black.
Here we go
feel, timing, blending. Aikido lends itself so to our horse work, going with
directing the energy, timing, waiting for an opening to make your move, feeling
“it”. The kata is all the basic movements for Aikido. Fifteen or so different
Tyler and I have been practicing. They, of course, are farther along than me.
This testing will last three hours and our Shihan will weave in and out of our
moves watching us. I kept focusing on breath to keep my center. I wanted to have
the proper execution of the moves and I was a little nervous. I’d hear him say
when he came by “yes, that’s it”. I was so hopeful that I would get a belt.
me what I was to do if I did get a belt. I was to go to the front of the class
where the black belts were standing with the new belts for all of us, bow,
receive my belt, then kneel and change belts before my Shihan and the black
belts. Then, once all the people in my rank had received their belts, we would
get up together and bow to the higher ranks, then bow to my class, and finally
go back to my spot on the floor while the rest of the ranks all received their
what? I was the first name called. I was so excited that I almost forgot what I
was to do. I did my bows, changed my belt, and looked to Mark and Tyler who were
smiling at me. Then Tyler got his belt and Mark his. We had all advanced one
belt level. We were the new “rainbow coalition” – yellow, blue, purple –
12:45PM. We leave Colorful Colorado. And now we’re in
– flat and still with patches of snow and big round hay bales, scattered here
and there with long irrigation sprinklers, so long maybe ¼ long. I’ve never
seen so many, I think, because it’s so flat here they’re more visible. It’s the
high plains. It’s flat, flat, flat, to the horizon. 56 degrees. One side of the
highway – Black Angus cows, the other, sheep.
Look – a
sign ahead says “5 legged steer and the largest prairie dog in the world”. This
must be Kansas. I suppose there’s no time to stop and see that five legged
steer? “No we can’t” only the sound of the John Prine CD and the yellow wheat
colored grass sticking out of the snow along the highway.
changed times zones and lost and hour – 2:15PM. Time had already seemed like it
was draggin’ but we’ll “Fish and Whistle, or Whistle and Fish”. Hey this is it!
Prairie Dog town, this exit. 8,000 pound prairie dog! We should be able to see
it from the road. Heck, it seems like you could see it from California. Only,
wouldn’t you know, they have a giant ½ around pen fence obscuring the view. Oh
well. Now we’re on to a great Steve Goodman CD. He’ll see us through.
county of Kansas. Still pretty flat and there are no trees, so fence posts are
made from rock. Good thing this is cow country, cause the fences aren’t that
tall. 5:20PM Kansas has the best rest stops. They are very efficient. We rested
the horses and watered. Everyone is looking good – two and four legged holding
of Kansas is beginning to get a little hilly. It’s part of Custer Country.
Custer patrolled this area looking for the Cheyenne before he went north to meet
known fact is that right around here, Custer shot his wife’s horse out from
underneath him while hunting buffalo. He was riding his wife’s horse at the
time! Good shot, huh? I bet that went over big with her! And guess what, we just
saw a heard of buffalo.
River – we just went over. Mark’s horse is named Smokey. Beautiful sunset across
the plains – violet skies with orange and yellow sweeping through. 6:45 PM
Kansas Abilene where the cowboys drove the cattle in from
Texas. Wyatt Earp was sheriff here.
7:20 PM Headed for
Oklahoma City. We should be
there in about 2-1/2 hours. Classic rock & roll on the radio. It feels quit
normal, me being here. 8:00 Oklahoma and we feel OK. 9:40 pass Oklahoma City
southwest to Texas. Things always seem to take a little longer.
2:30 AM We stop at a friends ranch. They have a five acre pasture
just for our horses. Boy, are they happy. Me too. Sleep at last, and we get to
sleep in until 9:00 AM! Yeah!
with Jodi, our host. What a nice time. We had breakfast and some laughs. Shared
horse stories and then gathered up our horses and off to Bastrop. 12:00 noon –
five hours away. 6:00ish Bastrop – meet Amy and Dickie, our hosts. We got our
horses settled on their ranch, feed and watered. They had some rye grass
planted. Boy did Bridger love that! Then we had dinner and well deserved sleep
5:00 AM Up
and ready for our first day.
breakfast for us and Mark is never late. Our hosts are usually getting their
things ready. It’s a big responsibility for them. So I take care of breakfast.
We need to start the day off right and as you know “breakfast is the most
important meal of the day”.
Mark and I
really need to be at the arena about an hour early to get things ready. Our
ponies saddled, PA set up, Mark’s gear, my gear. I try to make sure everything
is right where we can get at it and make sure Mark has fresh water in his
bottle. It’s really important we drink a lot of water. And we need a little
something for lunch. We don’t eat too much because there’s a lot of work to do
after lunch and if you’re too full you‘re not as alert to the subtleness of the
horse and rider.
said before, it’s so difficult to recap everything every moment, even small
parts seem to mean so much and do. To see and be a part of it, is so “big”, and
again I feel so blessed to be here, to be alive. With all the craziness in the
world right now. My little world is starting to come together making sense or
parts of it anyway.
So here I
go with my observations.
group of people looking and wanting changes, getting them, supporting one
another and their horses. A gal with her six year old stallion, a Tennessee
Walker. Beautiful, sorrel with flaxen mane and tail so in the sunlight he
sparked golden. She wants to show him. Now I don’t know much about Tennessee
Walkers or gaited horses or stallions for that matter. What I do know is that
they’re still a horse and should be treated as such.
I love the
way this gal presented her horse to us. She said she wanted to be an example to
the Tennessee Walker “industry”. The problem was, (although it wasn’t a problem
for the horse) the gait that he seemed to live in was the pace. Not good for the
also very careful not to upset her horse, so she was very light with her contact
– problem - lightness versus softness, direction. With this light contact, the
horse seemed somewhat insecure. He had been ridden in a “bigger” bit, so at one
time there was too much pressure (before he came to her). She was now riding
with a snaffle bit. Now already there would be folks that would say this
couldn’t be done or shouldn’t be done “of course you can’t ride a gaited
stallion in a snaffle bit”, but she was. Things were going pretty well for her
and her horse.
she wanted to get the “running walk”. She wanted to change things up, offer
more to her horse and her, more tools to work with. Step by step, day by day,
things started to come together. It was so interesting to watch this puzzle
start to come together.
started by working with her and her horse on the ground, getting the horses
focus, maybe just an ear on him. That’s enough. People seem to think you need
the “nose” and “eye”, the whole face looking at you to show you that the
horse is paying attention…That he’s “hooked on”. I am starting to see and feel
that this is not the case. An ear is good, good enough. We can build on that.
And he is paying attention!
such a nice stallion, so giving and willing to please. He was originally trained
as a racking horse. A racking horse is trained to pace. What she wanted to add
to his education was, like I said, the running walk. To accomplish this, we had
to get him out of the pace, change things. The problem - the pace was so
ingrained in him that even when loose in the pasture, he’d pace.
started with circles one way, then the other, serpentines. During this process,
I kept watching Mark watch this horse. So attentively (of course he does so with
all the horses) but because this horse was a stallion, and it seems to me
they’re always given such a “bad wrap”, I couldn’t help but feel we were all
rooting for this horse and rider.
of this, the rider and I were working every day on breath, opening up her
shoulders, posture, her shared center with her horse, which is hard because of
where you sit on a gaited horse, it’s really behind center just a little. She
and I talked about this. Still the barrel of the horse moves left to right,
right to left. Sit neutral, present yourself to your horse, present yourself to
yourself “horsemanship – a way of life”. It was so much fun. And good hard work.
third day, Mark got some cavaletties (ground poles) and put them in such a way
as to break up the spacing. in other words, two poles at maybe four or five
feet apart, two at two feet, back to five and so on. Then at one point, a big
space in the middle. Sure enough, after going through the poles a few times,
that horse was getting his running walk through natural transitions. Everyone
cheered for her and her horse.
fourth day, they looked like they were riding into a show arena. It was
beautiful. Posture and seat were all happening. Her horse was right with her and
she was right there for her horse with softness and support and direction.
Again, everyone clapped after her session.
sticks out with this gal, she was in no hurry. The journey to their running
walk will take time, I feel, they’ll make. And she will be able to show everyone
that she did it with love, kindness, through timing, blending, feel and harmony
for her beloved partner.
horse that stood out to me was the “run-away” Palomino gelding. He was fifteen
years old and very cute with a lot of forward on him. He was used as a school
horse, so the fact that he ran away with students was not a “good” deal. His
trainer was at her wits end. This was the last chance for this horse. She really
liked him but felt he couldn’t be trusted and was a liability at her barn.
no doubt this horse could go. At the slightest hit of a cue, he would bolt like
nobody’s business. She would bring him back down after she got control again and
say “see, see I told you”. Now of course, we never doubted her. You could see it
all so clearly.
Mark took a look at the gear she was riding in. A curb bit and saddle that was
way too small. We put a saddle on him that we had with us that fit the horse
much better. Mark felt that the saddle might be pinching him and the horse
might be trying to escape the pain by running away from it. (I am learning so
much) this was not a bad horse. I really appreciate how Mark takes time to look
at the big picture, breaks it down like the puzzle I keep talking about.
always done that in my Pilates work with the human (break things down) because
our bodies are like a puzzle seeing how we work on the whole…Where our holes
are. What needs to be addressed, strengthened, where we need more awareness,
support and then bringing that to the rider.
watching Mark do this with the horse, of course, it makes so much sense. It’s a
body in motion. The how’s and whys…So getting back to our little runaway.
changing the saddle, the horse did seem to relax a bit. There was still more.
Redirecting the energy - the “go” in this case. Like I said, this was a nice
horse, but he just didn’t understand what he was supposed to do, what his new
job was, so old muscle memory took over. Somewhere down the line, what saved
him or kept him out of trouble was to go….
day, each time the horse went to take off, Mark would have her put him in a
circle, direct the energy. He would have to slow down to get the circle
accomplished, once he slowed, then she’d ride straight again. She had not yet
trusted the horse to ride in a lope. So the first two days we worked in the
trot. Even though the horse was brought in on the first day with a curb bit in
his mouth, Mark didn’t ask her to change it. Later, he would explain that
sometimes it’s too much for the rider to change everything that they are used to
doing all in one day. So he worked with her using the bit she was comfortable
using, but helping her find softness with that particular bit. Things worked
out so well that by the third day the rider asked if she could change her bit to
a snaffle, and if all went well, transition to the lope. She was already a good
rider (everyone in this clinic was).
on relaxing her upper body, sitting more neutral in the saddle because again
when the horse feels a brace, he’ll brace or in this case maybe even try to run
from it. She was sitting better, the horse was feeling better, and sure enough a
nice soft lope started to come about, if he started to rush (timing) she would
do a circle and direct the energy.
fourth day, he was doing flying lead changes, stopping on a dime, all with
softness, willingness and an understanding of what was expected of him.
kept saying to me “I wish you’d seen this horse before, you wouldn’t have
believed it. Why didn’t I think of this? It makes so much sense.” I said “it
does make sense and it really doesn’t matter why we didn’t think of it before or
sooner. What matters is that we always try, try to search for ways to make
always have these “new” ways, “new” tools, more tools to work with. That’s why
we do these clinics, to learn. She’ll be able to bring this awareness to other
horses and students. And if we’re all paying attention and learning with her,
and from her horse, then we too have them – the tools and awareness, the desire
to search, “finding the try”, understanding feel, timing, blending, balance and
that little runaway for making me better, making me think, making me try a
Day two we
had an equine dentist give a demo. Wow! What a rig she had. In Texas you must be
a vet in addition to being a dentist. Good idea! She drove a dully diesel vet
truck and pulled a trailer with a portable stock and dentist tools hanging from
the side, just like when we go to the dentist, though we have a chair obviously.
I’ve been a little concerned about Bridger. Although Bridger is a sturdy Prior
Mountain Mustang, I’ve been noticing him yawning a lot and tipping his head to
one side. So Bridger was the horse she did her exam on. She came highly
recommended and I read about her the night before. I had had some dentistry done
on a horse about five years or so ago and boy does it seem things have advanced.
showed us a horse’s skull and jaw and how the teeth should line up, what happens
to domestic horses verses horses in the wild that naturally forge. That’s why we
feed on the ground. It works their lower jaw the way nature designed it. And the
teeth ware more evenly.
lived in the wild the first three years of his life, so he’s had a pretty good
Bridger she has to give him a tranquilizer. It makes it easier for the horse and
the dentist. Although Bridger is very calm I felt this was best as well. I must
tell you, I was a little nervous. Breathe, Breathe, Breathe…
Bridger into the stock rig. We put on a different halter to hold his head better
in this stock rig. It holds it up, then she put in a big mouth piece and we
opened Bridger’s mouth to have a look. He has a very good mouth and teeth. It’s
funny how we are. I felt proud.
exam, we found one wolf tooth on his right side. She felt it should come out.
There used to be seven wolf teeth molars, with evolution, they’re not always to
be found. Like the chestnuts, Bridger has no chestnuts on his hind legs. I’d
never seen a horse without chestnuts before. My guess is that because Bridger
was born in the wild, the natural evolution that takes place, he is a part of.
his wolf tooth. We all think it should come out. I must tell you, I am still a
little nervous. I looked to Mark. OK, here we go. She numbs the gum and puts a
little clamp around the tooth, and out it comes clean as a whistle.
all these tools to wash and float his teeth. I keep waiting for the hose with
the mint apple wash. But it’s only water. Well why not! And Yes, I saved
Bridger’s tooth. I also asked about these teeth that looked odd to me. They’re
canine teeth. Stallions use them to fight with. I didn’t know that and again a
lot of domestic horses are not born with them or won’t get them. But Bridger has
his. Needless to say, Bridger had the rest of the day off. And lots of TLC.
brings me to another horse and rider. A gentleman rider, and I mean a gentle
man. With his loving companion a beautiful paint Tennessee Walker gelding. He
truly loved his horse and wanted to do right by him. It really struck me, his
concern and care for his four-legged friend. I don’t know why maybe because we
mostly see women in our clinics. I wish we’d see more guys.
is asked about getting “feel”. Mark says that in general, the guys that he has
seen at clinics get the “feel” faster than women. I never really gave it much
thought. He thinks it’s because of sports. There’s a “feel” to throwing a
basketball, a “feel” to an opening in football. And men just do it, go for it,
“feel” it. After giving this a lot of thought, I think he might be on to
something here. (By the way, he also said that women who have been involved in
some kind of sport also seem to pick up the “feel” faster).
general, women seem to question the “feel”. Do I have it? Did I “feel” it? I
better do it again, make sure I “felt” it. By the time we’re done thinking about
the “feel” it’s passed and we missed it. Feel, timing, blending…
this is very general. And I say good thing I’ve always been good in sports with
a laugh. Believe me, I will continue to give this a lot of thought. Anyway here
we go… back to our gentle man and his paint.
most part, I stay pretty quiet watching Mark and our riders when they begin. I
need to be still so I can see the subtleties…Sometimes not so subtle. I need to
see the way we sit, breathe, where we’re tight. Where and when we’re not
breathing, how our legs are hanging, does our pelvis move or are we locked up.
Shoulders - are they tight, hanging from our earlobes? Abdominals - are they
supporting us or just hanging there? Where can I help bring awareness and
support to the rider, in turn support his horse? Are there braces in his arms,
hands, elbows, fingers, ankles and toes? Tighten one finger and see what
was pretty soft in his hands. I’d say good hands. Not much grabbing or tightness
in his fingers. He did seem tight in his pelvis and hip flexors and postural
awareness as not quite there. We talked a bit before we started to work. He said
he had lower back pain, made sense to me from what I was observing and not much
breath. So we started stretching hip flexors, worked on breath, abdominal
told me he had never loped his horse. I asked him why? He stopped and there was
a silence for a moment or two. He said “to be honest, I didn’t feel confident
enough”. Well there is was. How touching is that, to hear this guy confront
himself to me this way. I’ll never forget that moment. I keep saying these
things are so “big” I’ll never forget these times. It gives me pause…
two days we worked in the walk and trot, having a clear picture of what he
wanted from his horse and himself. Mark is so aware of everything, he asked me
if I saw anything off in the hindquarters of the horse. I did and it’s hard to
see in gaited horses. It was the right side, it seemed to have a hitch in it,
and the left dropped though it did come up to a neutral position.
was so honest. What a lucky horse to have such an honest owner. He said he
couldn’t feel it. So Mark asked him to get off his horse and watch. It was still
difficult for him to see. I thought this was great. Mark led the horse and had
the rider match his gait with the gait of the horse’s hind legs. In other works
the rider walked parallel with the horse at his hindquarters and mirrored what
he saw. Suddenly the rider started to hesitate in his gait just like the horse
and then not only did he see it, he felt it too. How cool is that. Mark saw it
because of how the horse took off for his left lead and he had to push off with
his right hind and it caused difficulty for the horse.
Mark is so
good this way. So what do we do? We start to work the horse in ways that made it
easier for him. Such as: Not working on the left lead, only on the right. Riding
in mostly straight lines and large circles, no small circles. In addition, the
rider and I kept working on the physical side of his riding and talking about
“horsemanship - a way of life”. I helped him work on his breath, abdominal
awareness. Balance comes from there. “I know you can lope if you have the
desire”. He just thanked me and we worked a little more.
everything a lot of thought. Later it was his time to ride. From the moment he
threw a leg over his horse, things changed. Suddenly he was sitting on his horse
with such awareness, support and breath. Mark commented on his seat, how his
horse was coming through for him and he for his horse. He told Mark how I’d
helped him, how he thought our work together made a difference. Here this big
successful guy was giving me the credit when he truly did all the work.
the day before to give the horse some bute to help his soreness, which it did.
However, even though it was clear that the horse was feeling better, we still
didn’t push him. Using bute in such a way can mask the pain, which can lead the
owner into a false sense of security about the horse’s physical condition. Just
because the horse appears to be better doesn’t mean he is. Mark suggested
having the horse looked at by a chiropractor before working too much more.
However, not before he had taken his horse effortlessly up into that elusive
lope. On the fourth day they were cantering around the arena like they’d been
doing it forever. He said it was the first time he truly felt like he was
glorious feeling. A feeling he will never forget and be able to build on. That’s
what it’s all about…
such gratitude. Feel, timing, balance, blending, caring – Sounds like a pretty
good definition of love to me too…
most of this in the truck on the way home. We want to thank our hosts, Amy and
Dickie, for making us and our ponies feel so at home…For allowing us to play our
guitars at night…For the great venison sausage…For the big laughs…My fantastic
room and shower…Having fun trying to set alarm clocks. Their very big dogs who,
when the alarm clocks failed, a very big lick in the face did the trick.
something to Mark and I at breakfast the other day and I was so touched. She
said we treat each other like we treat our horses, good partners….. I started
thinking maybe if we all treated each other with as much care and thought as we
give our beloved animals (horses) this world would be a lot kinder. It’s not a
new thought for me. But I didn’t realize that we were doing it. How cool
is that, that someone else did.
is still up this morning, big and round. It should be nice driving home. We’ll
start tonight after the clinic.
Well here we leave Texas, North Austin. Nancy Griffith in the CD player -
writing my journal on the way home. I need time to reflect on all the changes I
see and what they mean to me. I might change this as time goes on, maybe try to
do it each night. Although we usually play the guitars after we take care of our
ponies and have dinner - gives us some time to unwind.
I saw some
beautiful changes –feel, timing, blending, harmony, action with purpose – the
difference between lightness and softness – energy direction.
through the night, stopping in Oklahoma to rest for an hour at 11:55pm. Stopped
in Kansas to let the horses out and clean the trailer 8:49am. Get to the barn at
1:05pm, unload the horses and are they happy! Us too… We do chores, and head
for the house. We have Aikido tonight so we’ll need to rest. It was a big week.
Good day to our ponies and we finally walk in the door at 3:50pm.
get ready for next month…