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Considering the Horse - Diaries 01/2003

 

KIM LANKFORD MARCH 2003 MONTHLY DIARY

3/6/03

We leave Estes Park 36 degrees snow flurries on and off, wind gusts of 60-80 miles an hour. Can you believe it! This will be the longest trip I’ve done thus far. We’ll be out 3 ½ weeks clinic-ing. First to Reno, Nevada, then Atascadero, Calif. And finally down to Anaheim, Calif.

1:00PM We leave the house to the barn to pack up horses, gear and trailer.

I jump into the back of the truck to hook up the trailer (that’s one of my jobs). Anyway, as soon as my boot hits the bed of the truck, my leg slid right into the big tool box. One leg underneath, one knee into the side. Be careful “slippery when icy”. I got the trailer hooked up. You bet! Then water in the tank of the trailer, you also have to be sure you get all the water out of the hose because it will freeze in there, then it’s like a giant snake ice cube, sort of makes it difficult for the water to make it’s way out…

Feed Buck and Cyrano (Buck’s book comes out this week). Gather up Smokey and Bridger, get ‘em in the trailer. Bridger’s getting so good he’s almost jumpin’ in the trailer without a lead.

2:55PM “Don’t fence me in” Steve Goodman/ Cole Porter.

Weather is odd. We’re driving down the canyon. 46 degrees sunshine. The road is good. Snow over the mountain. Beautiful big blue sky. They call Montana Big Sky Country. I tell you coming through the canyon here, I don’t think I’ve seen much prettier country. The snow on the shear rock walls opening up to the bluest sky I’ve ever seen – breathtaking. Once again my heart is full of gratitude.

3:40 We stop for feed and shavings.

Mark’s working on a new CD. It’s a “concept” CD sung from a ranch’s point of view, in the 1800’s. He made a rough CD we listen to on our way.

I’ve never left Colorado this way North through Wyoming, northwest actually. Snow covered plains. The trees seem to stop as we leave Colorado. I guess they knew just where to put the border. Virginia Dale, Colorado, 35 degrees 4:50 PM. Snowing coming into Wyoming. Medicine Bowl Mts. on our left, Butes Iron Mts. on right, Laramie, Wyoming.

5:30PM I-80 west of Laramie all roads closed out of Laramie due to high winds, ice and an accident.  You can’t believe it, all of a sudden we start seeing trucks stop along the highway.  We stop “Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men” and pull between two huge trucks. Put on the radio, yes roads closed!

Well, we’ll get fuel and feed horses and ourselves. I’ve never seen so many trucks. You would think every truck in the world was on highway I-80.  3 hours later, highway is open.  8:34PM It’s a convoy of trucks - a solid mile of trucks. It’s wild, windy and blowing snow.  9:52PM Sinclair, Wyoming, smallest fuel refinery in the country right out in the middle of no where!

10:08PM Just went over continental divide.  11:55PM Fuel stop. Rock Springs, Wyoming. Mark bought an 1800’s bear skin coat here years ago.

We’re looking for a book light now so I can write in my journal while we drive at night. You’d be amazed what kind of odds and ends you find in truck stops. However no little light here, or not the one that will work for me. I know we’ll find it though.  Horses look good. 35 degrees still windy.

12:49AM We just passed Fort Bridger, Bridger’s name sake, Jim Bridger, the famous mountain man/explorer, because Bridger the mustang is from the Prior Mts. around Bridger Pass. “J. Bridger Scout” for Jim.

3:45AM Stop to rest, feed horses and water, clean trailer, fresh shavings. We’re in Utah now. Boy, were Bridger and Smokey happy to get out of the trailer. They don’t drink much water when we’re on the road. They just kind of splash around a bit. We put up a hay bag. I rubbed ‘em down then took a nap.

6:12AM Back on the road. Reno or Bust.  6:57AM, Wendover, Nevada. World War II they would practice with B52 bombers, the Flying fortress.  Elko, Nevada, Cowboy poetry.

I’ll drive for a while. We’re on Pacific time so now it’s 8:06AM.

We just had breakfast in Elko, Nevada. Got fuel, checked horses.

Mark’s driving now. He was able to get a little shut eye. I got us into Nevada. Am really looking forward to these clinics. 12:30AM driving into Reno, Nevada to meet our hosts Rebecca and Mark. 62 degrees sunny and beautiful.

“If a horse asks a question and there’s no answer, the answer is yes” This was a very interesting clinic for me. We did a demo Friday night. As I’ve said before the demos are so important. It really gives us a chance to meet everyone.

I try to pick 2 or 3 situations that make me think, or that I hope you’ll find interesting.

When you do these clinics, I first off, feel so moved to see and find people who want to make changes, to look for better ways to live “Horsemanship, a way of life or even better Horsemanship through life – learning is a powerful tool”. Being in that mindset is inspiring and it strikes me that one first off must feel they want to learn… For me anyway or the way I see it ,you must be vulnerable - so open to our own not knowing, for that learning to take place, so I may help my horse and my myself - “horsemanship through life”. That being said, I choose my teachers very carefully because I must trust them with vulnerability and soul…

At this time I find myself with you, Mark, Smokey and Bridger and once again my gratitude is endless…to Mark for his patience believing in me and what I have to offer, to you for keeping me honest, Bridger and Smokey for the same, to myself,  for  staying  open… for wanting to learn and seeing the world as a wonderful place .

We had eight riders in this clinic, most were there all four days, a few did two days so in the middle of the week you got new riders. Usually they were there auditing the days they didn’t ride, so they came in on somewhat the same page which was good. But it’s hard to get a lot done in two days. Don’t get me wrong you can make changes, however with the four day riders you really see and feel that change. You feel that you’ve left the horse and rider with more and I guess you have. It’s very exciting to see something start one way and on to a solid change.

This gal had a four year old quarter horse gelding. He had 4-6 rides on him maybe, and not by her. This horse seemed very troubled. There was something not quite right. His owner was very patient. We went to the round pen to start. She had worked at home a couple of times ground driving him and wanted to do more of it with Mark’s supervision. Maybe if things went well she’d ride within the four days.

First day we started round pen work.

Now, ground driving is how Mark starts all his horses. I haven’t done much of it myself. Although am doing more these days with people in the clinic who need help. The only horse I’ve started has been Bridger, and with him, of course, I’ve taken my time, but a wise cowboy said to me once “if you act as if they’ve already been started you might be surprised what you get”. And that’s what I did, I just acted as if…  Of course Bridger is a very unique horse soul.

Mark feels that ground driving gets a lot of things done before you get in the saddle. So when you do ride, the horse is more focused, for the most part, on the ride itself rather than all the other things that go with it – reins, bit, saddle, stirrups, etc. Makes sense to me!

When you ground drive you have two long lines 35 feet each. Mark’s are cotton (that he braided by the way) with snaps on the end.

In this case we snapped them on as reins to the snaffle bit, ran them through the stirrups as not to trouble the horse farther with loose floppy stirrups banging on him. Things were going pretty well while he was on the move, but as soon as we worked on the stop, his anxiety level went on overdrive. A foot here, a foot there, sweating, weaving back and forth 2 or 3 inches here and there.  He also had a hard time bending left while turning? And although he was moving while in the walk he just wasn’t with his owner. 

So on the second day to help the horse and owner focus, we set up cones in the arena. They were spread out in various configurations.  Then we have the owner take the horse to each cone. It gives both the human and horse a job, a sense of accomplishment, so the

Horse can feel good about himself, owner too. This is very important. We must be very clear with our intentions. Mark asked her to weave in and out of the cones as well.

You must be very careful when you ground drive. Ground driving means the rider is on the ground behind the horse like a buggy. With all that rope, it’s your job to keep track of it. You must be careful the horse doesn’t get tangled around his feet, and have some kind of wreck, furthering his already troubled mind. I kept having the feeling that this horse had been pushed pretty hard, Mark too.

More and more that happens I’m thinking or feeling something, then Mark says it. I must be learning…....Mark was saying what’s hard for us and what’s hard for the horse can be very different. In other words the horse didn’t necessarily have to have been beaten. You can mentally push too hard. Either way it’s a bad deal for the horse. Each horse is an individual and must be treated as such. The owner insisted that the guy who started the horse was slow and soft. What he called slow and soft still may have been too much for this particular horse. This horse kept looking like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Mark was very careful and clear with this horse, so the horse had something to feel proud of. These tasks such as weaving in and out of cones, touching them with your horses’ nose means so much to the horse.

It’s important for the horse to feel positive a rewarded for his hard work. On day three the long lines were not in the stirrups.  The horse was better, but again he seemed very nervous.  Mark moved into the horse with his own body.  This is Aikido, when asked to stop, the horse got very worried. Mark entered in, blending with, directing and coming to a quiet solution. Each time the horse moved, Mark went with him, touching him very softly on his neck and shoulders feeling the horse’s tension with his body, but continuing to offer him softness. It was easy for Mark to feel when the horse was making a decision to stop his feet and then Mark quit moving, so they quit moving together. 

That was when the horse started to visibly get soft, his eyes started to change from a worried white-eyed look to round and doe like softness. This was amazing, the horse started to let out heavy sighs and a huge breath. Suddenly he put his nose in the crook of Marks arm, all his anxiety seemed to melt away. Mark just kept moving with him always in circle motions, Mark’s hands and arms touching the horse’s neck and shoulders circles upon circle, like our Aikido… Center of balance, circle of energy.

All of this happened at the end of his session. It all came together in about five minutes.  Softness… what a beautiful way to reward this horse who was trying so hard to do what his owner wants.   Day four, our horse seemed a lot calmer the decision was made to go to the round pen and start to ground drive, see how he would do.  Well he was turning both ways softly, stopping and standing quietly, that was impossible for him to do during the previous days. After just a few minutes the decision was made to ride. The horse continued to turn and stop quietly and by the end of the session the owner and horse had walked, trotted and stopped on a dime. Turns got softer and precise, backing was soft, and he continued to stand quietly. If that’s not the start to a good trail horse I don’t know what is………………………….. Happy Trails to you both……………

Another situation that comes to mind was the beautiful Thoroughbred, bay horse. Horse and rider were two-dayers, and this is one of those times I really wish we had the four days. This horse was really struggling. I felt for both of them, horse and rider. His owner was a good rider (lucky for both of them) she was very soft and supportive, while on the horses back. Although this horse really took over on the ground, to be honest I guess he took over in the saddle too. I find that so interesting, what we’ll accept on the ground, and of course it all translates to the big picture.         

I felt this horse had been run on the track, Mark said that we couldn’t be sure, but he did have a tattoo. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that he had raced. He reminds me of my Thoroughbred, Cyrano.  He had been raced, I traced his tattoo. This gal had not. Not that it really matters. The horse needs a foundation so you start there…No matter what.

Anyway this gal rode into the arena , Mark was answering a question from one of the auditors. Mind you, Mark never misses anything when you come into the arena. I don’t know how he does it, he could be picking out hoofs and still see if a horse has picked up his correct lead, or what rein you’re using. He says my eye will get better too, it just takes time, learning how to be soft with myself helps.

Back to our thoroughbred…The rider has ridden in the arena, Mark is finishing up his question. I ride over to her, as I often do, right off the bat she tells me how nervous she is.  I say breathe and relax. She said ‘I’ve never done a clinic before’. I know that Mark is watching us and I want to help her through this, so when we get to the other end of the arena she is ready to talk to Mark.

We’ve almost made it around the arena when several pigeons scuffle under the cover of the arena. The horse spooks to one side, I say breathe and go with it…. She stays seated and offers her horse support and on we go.  It takes a horse two to four seconds to spook and recover. Just as the horse is recovering, our spook usually is just getting started, so we add that little extra bit of excitement to an already scary moment particularly if we don’t stay calm, breathe and direct the energy. So you see, if we go with our horse, he has  a better chance of  staying soft and so do we. Then it doesn’t turn into a big deal. We just move on and get back to the work at hand. It doesn’t become a major thing. 

We make it over to Mark who has seen everything and is so calm that any tension or brace that may have been there in the rider has melted away. This rider was such a good example of softness that I had to write about her. Every time she stopped her horse, he wanted to rear - and did.  She stayed soft she never gripped in the saddle with her legs or on the reins with her hands… it was inspiring.

Mark kept working with her and the horse, little by little. Obviously, this horse just didn’t seem very happy. Mark and this gal kept working, being soft and giving her horse support. Trying to move the horse before he got upset. That was difficult, because the horse seemed to live in a very tense unsure place. 

Day two they worked in the round pen on the ground. There was progress made, however it just seems like you begin to get a handle on things and the day is done.

She did ride her horse home, and things went well for the both of them. This horse is very lucky to have an owner who is in no hurry, who wants to stay soft and does, and continues to look for better ways. Horsemanship through life……………………..

I worked with a lot of riders in this clinic on everything from riders relaxing with their round pen work, to exercises in the saddle, getting riders to feel the rhythm of the horse, within them, feeling the impulsion from our horse through us...A shared center. To one of our male riders, relax into a lope, which he had never done before. This was very exciting. What we can do when we Breath it’s all in the breath, life impulsion, shared center.

One of our other riders was quite rigid in the saddle due to kyyphosis of the spine, (narrow rounded shoulders, convex thoracic region, which makes a dramatic curve in her spine). Right arm had extreme tendonitis. Through some reinforced neutral spine exercises, there was some wonderful progress made. And it then translated to the saddle, to her 6 year old black Missouri Fox Trotter gelding. She became softer, more balanced in the saddle. It’s all in the breath; integrate for the spine and soul. It’s there for all of us.

The response to the work we’re doing has been very rewarding to me. Of course it’s the rider doing all the work, and the real work begins after we leave because it’s up to each of us ‘Horsemanship through life’. It’s not enough to just be aware while we’re on our horse. To work it must become part of our muscle memory throughout our day…all day, always, and then it might make it to our horse.

We want to thank our hosts Mark and Rebekka, Carol and Kevin, for your warm hospitality, not only for us, but also for our beloved Smokey and Bridger. The wonderful dinners, my bath rug so my toes did not have to touch the cold tile in the morning, and I

loved my “mattress warmer”. (Also my very special magnets.)

Off  to Atascadero Calif.

Demo. In the barn - rain and wind, however we have a beautiful barn to work in.                                                                 

Again we start the week, one on one with each rider. I see more and more how being together as a group, watching together, can be so helpful, supporting one another.

Mark told a story about the power of suggestion. For the most part we know these things, somewhere along the way we forget, forget to think, how words make us feel, and when your dealing with things as sensitive as our horses and our horse work its best not to forget, words are powerful, and that’s a good thing to keep in mind. The story goes something like this.

You’re riding with a few friends this day, and your horse may be acting-up or not and casually one of your friends says something like “oh, that horse is such a slug”, from that moment a seed is planted. Maybe you start, to think, ‘Wow my horse is a slug, I just can’t seem to get him to go, he has no forward on him.’ Now all you can think about is, they’re right, he has no forward, you keep thinking this, of course your horse doesn’t want to let you down... I think you get the picture.

Lets be gentle with one another, the fact of the matter is anyone taking part in a clinic is looking for better ways, and we’ll find them together. Each one of us has a journey, with our horse that’s our very own. We can either move it along softly with kind words of encouragement or we can stop the flow and make it more of a struggle. The truth is we all started with a first horse and the things we did then are not necessarily what we would do now. Feel, Timing, Blending, Balance and Breath.

This clinic was exciting (they’re all exciting really). What made this different was in Jan. we rode with many of the same riders, so there was a dynamic there, a continuation… An aspect that I am just starting to experience. You leave a rider with tools and you see how it goes, in this case it goes well.

I spoke of this gal in Jan., how prepared she was for her work with her horse, this was the horse she was getting ready to work in a sulkey (buggie). This was another horse she has, A very big Morgan gelding. This horse has had a lot of pressure put on him to perform dressage, not by her, before he came to her. She would like to continue dressage work and does, however she wants to accomplish this with softness, rather than with a lot of pressure, and again she is in no hurry. That is the key in horse work, actually, I think it’s the key in life work. Don’t push to hard on life and it won’t push to hard on you. I really admire this gal, she’s a good rider, and is always getting better. She always wants to work on improving, both on and off her horse.

When we last left her she and her horse were struggling a bit on canter departs, more on the right than left.  Every time she went to go for right lead the horse would buck, not big.

However when you’re riding a big horse… Well I think you get it. She always stayed seated but the transition was to say the least, not smooth.

Mark felt the horse had been pressured in to lead changes rather than the horse understanding what was being asked of him, and than the horse responding to the cue willingly. As a result, the canter depart began to fall apart.  So this is what we worked on. As we watched her ride, we focused on her body positioning, mind you, this is very subtle work. As we watched, we started to see her right shoulder was just a hair forwarded. We followed that down and you could see her right hip, too, was just a bit hiked. When  I say these are subtle I mean it. It’s amazing what awareness does, how it opens up a whole new world. In this case a whole new horse bringing this awareness to the rider, the horse was even able to reach more forward in his stride, and his right pectoral muscle just opened right up, when before it seemed frozen.

This was so much fun, fine tuning. How often do we even get to this? Most of us are just trying to go in a straight line, maybe a circle if were lucky, and these things are difficult enough. Riding with passion… that’s where it’s at. Any day were on our horse, it’s a good day, and everything is possible .

Timing, Blending, Breath, Shared Center. Softness is the journey. Start straight, end straight… the learning takes place in the middle.

Another horse that stands out to me is the horse whose saddle did not fit correctly. This horse was trying so hard to get with his owner. He was just having such a struggle. Mark asked her to take the saddle off and oh my-gosh, you could see where the horse’s muscles actually had atrophied in such a way that there were dents in the horses back. No wonder this horse could not focus. We had a saddle with us that fit the horse better, and it was startling the difference in the horse’s mind set. Suddenly the horse could get with his owner. The horse started to relax into himself. It must be like putting on a boot that doesn’t fit, day after day, all you can think about is how bad you hurt, and when can you get these shoes off.  And here this horse kept trying to do right by his owner.

We must be so mindful of what our horses are trying to tell us. If we can just get out of the way, so many of the answers are right there. If we can get still for even a moment little by little we’ll see things we never dreamed we’d see.   ‘Horsemanship through life.’

We want to thank our hosts Cindy and Steve and of course Ellen for the wonderful BBQ, Steves fun music room, the killer cat who shared my room and turned out to be not such a killer after all. We also thank you for the never ending supply of Mountain Dew and water, and the cool digs for our ponies

We leave Atascadero 101 south to Anaheim Calif.

Fields of purple lupine and cattle over the green rolling hills of central California.  The pacific ocean peeking in and out of view.

Anaheim California. Again we started the week with a Demo.  Again the demos seem to make such a difference. This was another clinic where riders are making big changes, in turn, horses start to come around, and life continues to get better for both rider and horse. What stands out to me most in this clinic was how, when it came down to it, riders were able to let go of thier egos to get things done with their  horses… .                                                                                                               

One of our riders was just having a heck of a time sitting on her horse and when it came to a trot.  Well, it was very hard for her and her horse. Mark stopped everything and asked her to come and work with me before they continued. We worked together on and off her horse and improvements were made. She went back to Mark and they picked up where they left off.

I am never sure how to say these things because I really don’t feel like I do much. It’s you, the ride, who does the work. I just try to bring awareness to what’s there or not there. We work to stay in the saddle, of course. Balance, Breath, Feel, Timing, Pelvic Clock work, going with the horse - with the energy, blending all these things. And once again when the try is there, so is the horse. Mark sees the difference, the horse feels the difference, and the work moves forward just as we knew it would. And again I feel such gratitude to be a part of anything that makes things better for our horses and us.

Another gal was just having a hard time getting with her horse, they were both working so hard, it was a beautiful gray Arab gelding. Maybe sometime we can overwork…  Any way she had been dumped a couple of times and that takes a toll, all the way around. She and her horse learned all kind of tricks in the mean time, good things like retrieving  objects, finding targets and pushing them with his nose, all things that would help build their partnership and confidence together, but she felt the horse just wasn’t happy. She was working with another horse when she came into the clinic, and we talked about this during our work together. What she really wanted????? 

She was a good rider, and really wanted to help her gray horse and their relationship. So she decided to bring out her gray horse and she and Mark would have a look. First off they started working in a bigger space, out of the round pen and in the arena. She got to where, with her body movement and positioning, she could ask that horse to do a large figure-eight at liberty in the arena, and he would. He did seem happier in the bigger space more room and less pressure. However he still didn’t seem happy. By the end of our four days together the decision was made to give the horse some time off, find a nice pasture and let him just be for a while, not ask anything of him. How moving it is to see people leave their agenda behind, not that she had one outside of the well-being for her horse… but we do have horses because we like/love to be with them, ride them and all that goes with it.  Sometimes because of that, it’s really hard to just leave them alone.

We want to thank our hosts Jane and Bob for the great camp-fires in the middle of all those old covered wagons, allowing us to play our guitars ,and my wheels - a flat bed  truck… Happy Trails ……..

We leave Anaheim at 6:15 P.M.… lots of traffic. We’re trying to beat a storm that’s coming into the Rockies tomorrow night, so we plan to drive straight through to Estes Park and get there sometime tomorrow afternoon.

9:00 P.M., buffet dinner at a truck stop, we rest horses, find a little light that plugs into the lighter in the truck so I can write at night while driving or read or look at maps or whatever.

12:30 A.M. we stop in Las Vegas to rest ourselves and the horses. 1:15 A.M., back on road. We just hit Mountain time and it’s 3:45A.M. We drive on…  Sometimes I don’t know how we do it.

6:18A.M. beautiful sunrise. 9:45A.M. we stop, clean the trailer, let the horses move their feet and I day dream (or is it hallucinate), that I swing on to Bridger’s, back and we lope across the high desert of Utah where this rest area is…  Back to reality… Maybe sometime we can really do that, when we aren’t trying to beat a storm home…

2:29 P.M., still working our way home through Georgetown, CO. We see where there have been 2 avalanches that went over the highway while we were gone. Quite a bit of snow and I wonder how we’re going to get our gear from the truck to the house…

It’s a little after 5:00 P.M. and we’re pulling into Estes Park.  We make it to the barn, unload our ponies, get them settled for a well-deserved rest and make our way to the house.  We’re able to drive the truck halfway down the driveway (there’s been over 4 feet of snow here since we’ve been gone). We get ourselves settled for a well deserved rest.

10:30 A.M. (next day) Mark is on the bobcat clearing the driveway.  He and Tyler, his 12 year old son take turns moving snow… Today is the day Tyler learns how to operate the machine for the first time and he does very well. Before the day is over he’s an expert and shows me how to run it, too. It takes 5 hours but they get the driveway (over a ¼ mile’s worth) cleared and we can finally get in and out without having to use the 4 wheel drive on any of the vehicles.

Next stop…. Aspen.