Three chords and the truth

I shall list highlights here, then expound on them after the jump. That way, the six of you who read this don’t have to wade through the bulk of my personal journal to find the main points. [This post is about 2,000 words.]


  • Engaged the natural power of focus, steering with my bellybutton (amazing results!).
  • Adapted the freestyle pattern to our individual needs.
  • Experimented with saddle placement and just hoped for the best, rather than not try because I’m not already perfect.


  • Walked over the tarp in both directions (first time!), after only two maaaaaybe the feets.
  • Walked energetically during Follow the Rail and seemed to enjoy the adaptations I made to both the pattern and the saddle position.
  • Snorfled his nose in the dirt a lot while I rode, when he wasn’t walking energetically. And just now, writing that, I realize how I could have handled that a lot better.
  • Trotted for many consecutive minutes without breaking gait during “traveling circles” all around the arena.
  • Stood quietly for grooming and lifted each foot before I touched each leg.
  • Seemed to think that “I’m leaving you here with your halter and lead so you learn what to do when you step on the rope” actually meant “you’re ground-tied.”
  • Could not get enough of watching the mini donks gallop around and wrestle like puppies, which made that side of the arena a good “rest here as a reward” place.
  • Became curious quickly about the shiny tinsel “string” and was able to stand still, albeit interested, while I flicked and whirled it all round him (friendly game!). Then he tried to eat it and I had a heart-thudding moment trying to pull it out of his mouth before he swallowed.

Here he is with the silver tassels the first time they touched him. I don’t know why he looks so ewe-necked and lump-headed:

Now, on to the journal.

Traveling Circles, Not Breaking Gait

It’s taken many times of circling game for me to find a good “attitude of justice” – trusting that he’ll do his part and being ready to correct him, neither more than the other. Today I just started walking all around and changing my own directions, sometimes changing his, sometimes having him go around an obstacle and other times having him go between it and me, and still other times allowing him to choose which way he’d go. And I kept going, even when it seemed like he might be bored, or when I was unsure, or when I tangled my ropes and stick and feet. We passed a certain point of time though and it felt like it “came together” but I don’t trust my perceptions! I think he found more flow in his body, I think we both relaxed a notch, I think he tuned into me more, I think he was more interested because we were traveling all around. But I don’t know for sure. I can’t see his subtle facial expressions when I’m keeping my eyes soft and my body relaxed (“allow”). I don’t want him to feel nagged or stared at. In my memory he stopped swishing his tail and he lowered his head a little bit and stretched his back during the last several circles. He did start asking to come in and I said “thank you for asking, please continue” and so I think this time he got some physical exercise with me. For a change. Lesson: I’ve been giving up too soon out of worry that it’s too repetitive. I can keep it going and keep it interesting by modifying the game/pattern regularly.

Nose in the Dirt

I don’t know if he was searching for cookies, playing a game with me (“let’s see how long I can get her to pull on my head”), or looking for a place to roll as he’s been itchy lately. Probably all three. I handled it by asking him to walk on, in phases — smile with all four cheeks, hug with legs, cluck, driving game. Usually he goes at phase 1 or 2. This time he would lean his weight forward without really going and once I had to escalate to driving game. But I was also hauling on the rope to bring his head up! Which he was resisting. Now I realize I didn’t need to do that. I should just have asked for a walk on, without adding the pressure of the rope, because there’s no way I can win a competition of strength between my arm and his nose, and we both know it. But making it uncomfortable for him to snorf dirt and comfortable for him to walk, well, that’s a no-brainer. Oh well. I guess at least he got to play a game of his own. Lesson: I need to catch on more quickly and try a new tactic to change the game, while still allowing it to be a game.

Follow the Rail, with Extras

The passenger lessons have not gone so well, with Rocky going into his Evil Trot, and my knee doing its pain-collapse thing, and my fear rising up. At the same time, we don’t need a bunch more passenger at the walk — it bores him. He wants a purpose, and he wants leadership. Not dictatorship, but … a dance partner. Today’s experiment: I choose Follow the Rail, with a halt at the mounting block on each circuit. A couple of those and I added a change of direction after the halt. Then added a circle on the opposite side of the arena. OK it was a squashed circle, more like a narrow oval, but we went off the rail, around the cone, back onto the rail. A few circuits like that, consistent with the pattern, I added a circle at the east gate. Finally, added one at the west gate. So it became a rectangle rail with three circles and one halt/wait/change direction. I felt him step out more fluidly, “get” where we would circle, figure out that he’d be left alone on the straightaways if he stayed along the rail and he would get to come off and do something at the specific points. In retrospect I’m proud of us. We rode longer than I’ve gone in a long time (which still isn’t much), and I was able to surreptitiously check my balance point and fluidity because he was focused on the pattern and I didn’t have to keep asking him to go. Lesson: Rocky prefers pattern-passenger to aimless-passenger. I can practice fluidity motions while also subtly leading the dance pattern.

The Truth

I’ve noticed as I blog that given the time to process everything in my brain-blender, I am able to focus on the positives, what I learned, what I did well, what I’ll do better next time. I mention the mistakes in the context of how I learned from them. If I were to record every moment of doubt, every time I felt lost, useless, failed, worthless, ashamed … I’d fill up my WordPress quota in a month, I think. Yet I want this blog to be my personal record. Yes, I made it public, but I’m mainly writing for myself, to produce a categorized, semi-tagged, searchable, chronological record of my horsemanship journey. That means acknowledging the ugly stuff, from yesterday’s right-brain “my trot sucks – I’m fat/lazy/useless/horrible/undeserving” meltdown to the front arena session where I made him scared of me.

At least with the on-line savvy I feel like I have a good sense of what it should look like. I can see how it looks on the DVDs and when other people interact with their horses, for better and for worse. I suppose I didn’t see it in the beginning and I should remember that I’ve made huge progress in reading horses since I moved to this farm. Still, on-line has always been more obvious, starting with the simple act of being able to see your horse in front of you.

Riding, on the other hand, I have no frame of reference. I can’t see us. I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like, so I don’t know how or when to make what adjustments to get to the sweet spot. I never galloped around on a pony as a child. I didn’t grow up with or on horses and then have 15 years out. I had … at the very most, 60 lessons before I was 25. Maybe 30 other rides, half peruvian pasos in college, half trail rides on vacations. Then, at 35, in Los Angeles, starting lessons again. I’ll estimate another 60 of those before I got Rocky, and another 20 after. All normal, 98 percent hunter-jumper/English, all intense and asking for things like collection, bending, haunches in/out, two-point, etc.

I’ve never had more than a couple of strides of harmony and fluidity and by the time my brain recognizes it and goes yes! that’s it! I’m already two strides back into jarring, unbalanced, horribly unathletic stupid-ass fat sack of potatoes bruising her horse’s spine. I can’t tell if my saddle is pinching him now that I’ve slid it back; I thought I felt him stride out more with his front end this weekend when I pushed it back like that, and Seth said he thought he could see it too, but I don’t know. And I don’t know how to know. I don’t have a model.

I’m thinking now the best thing I’ve done for starting over on the riding — having to unlearn bad body positions that weren’t right for “normal” lessons either — was stop riding for six months. I sat on him, or on Raven, while they moved around, but for the most part, I stopped riding. At the time I felt awful about it, like I was not getting my ROI from the expense of the horse, like I was letting Jenni down. Not just as my instructor but as my friend. She wanted a riding buddy and here I was “not trying.”

I want to ride. A year ago I was too scared. Six months ago, I was too depressed and discouraged. Dis-couraged. Now there’s a word.

Now, I have no fear at the walk. I’ve also lost the sweaty-paralyzed-tense fear I first had when I went to one rein. I’ve got my Western saddle adjusted so I can reach my stirrups. I’ve swapped to the English saddle from time to time, because in some ways it’s more comfortable for me.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a lesson with a parelli person but I hesitate for two main reasons. One, I’m worried I would slip into the unhealthy relationship with Erin that I had with Jenni, suddenly feeling like I had to Please The Teacher or that I was inadequate because I was new and therefore none of my opinions, knowledge or guesses meant anything. (This wasn’t J’s fault, this was mine, but I never did manage to shake it off.)  Two, I am so quick to run toward “more information” when I feel insecure in my learning, when in this case I am certain what I need is “more experience.” This is a body thing, not an information thing — I already have all the information I need. Now I have to practice. I’m not going to be good at it right away.

And I have my Issues to contend with in riding that I don’t have on the ground, with both my physical fitness and my emotional fitness. Considering where I was six months ago — wistful because being dead sounded so peaceful and painless but lacking the ability to actually step through the Fourth Door — I suppose I should consider today not just a step on the journey but a milestone. And the fact that I’m too fat, too lazy, too stuck in a sedentary rut to get back in shape so Rocky and I both feel better about riding… compared to that dark place, this is a county fair.

There. That’s the journal entry I’d have done in my private logbook. Now it’s on the internet, and if you made it this far, you’ve had a peek into parts of myself I don’t normally show.

Categories: Freestyle, Leadership, On-Line | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Three chords and the truth

  1. You are so hard on yourself! I can relate to much of what you have written.. I’m trying like mad to get into better physical condition by hitting the gym (which also helps enormously with stress relief and serenity) and by trying to improve my balance before getting on a horse by sitting on a really large exercise ball and standing on one of those balance board-things ($15 at Wal-Mart). It is all getting better – even though I haven’t really ridden since October..

    I totally hear what you are saying about turning over your leadership to a “Parelli authority”. I’m sort of doing that now, in an effort to give myself more gumption, but at least being aware of the effect seems to negate it a bit.

    Hang in there and try taking some baby steps in the fitness department. You never know how much and how quickly it can improve your life (just ask arabhorselover)! 🙂

  2. horsegirlonajourney

    Clare, thank you for the encouragement! I’m going to keep trying. Maybe I’ll sit on my Parelli green ball, as I’m not using it to play with because Erin already has several horse balls in the toy shed.


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