Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Anyone With Ears To Hear

I recently read an article written by Jessica Wright that really made me see my own learning experience put to words that could be shared with others.  Jessica is a certified Christian life coach who loves helping people and riding her horses.  She is also the wife of cutting and cowhorse trainer Don Wright from Oakdale, California.  Her article appeared in the November 2016 issue of West Coast Horsemen.  She can be reached at jessiehorsewoman@yahoo.com

I think of my own trainer and his abiding patience with my struggle and resistance during a learning process.  Thank you.  I will be try and be more mindful and open in future...

Anyone With Ears To Hear

Jesus said that when he was teaching the crowd:  "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9).   Was he stating the obvious?  Pretty much everyone has ears.  Jesus was simply pointing out that it isn't enough to have ears...we must have ears to hear.  Did you know that a lot of us are poor listeners?  When listening to others, we generally think about other things, or critically evaluate everything the other person is saying, running it through our filters and preconceived notions, or we keep busy formulating our comeback response.  Some of us are so eager to get our comeback response out that we will actually interrupt the other person mid sentence, as if to say, "what I have to say is so much more important than what you are saying that you must stop right now and let me have my say!"  Ooh.  Wow!

How does this relate to horse riding?  When was the last time you had a riding lesson?  If you are a person who takes lessons on a regular basis, when was the last time your trainer said something to which you answered, either out loud, or in your head, " I know that already." I got into this bad habit for a while.  My husband had made it his greatest personal challenge to teach me how to ride well, despite the sad fact that I had no natural horse talent, barely any coordination, and a super analytical mind that got in the way of learning any type of feel.
After years of him saying the same thing to me over and over,  (Sit!  I said sit!  Watch the cow.  Get your weight on your outside foot.  Sit in the center!  Stop leaning!  Soften your back!), the pattern recognition center in my brain told me over and over "you have already heard that and you understand it intellectually, therefore you know that."  Sometimes, because of this pattern recognition feature of our brains, we even fail to hear a command if it is repeated over and over.  Our brain files it under "already heard that" and so it doesn't register.  Trainers: any of you who have ever felt like a broken record, does this explain things?


I am ashamed to admit I even started to resent my husband for continuing to yell instructions at me even though  "I already knew that!"  I began to talk back.  I would say, "I know that," and proceed to tell him about some article I had just read in Horse and Rider magazine.  I would go to a clinic and hear the same thing said in a different way and feel like I learned something new.  I would come tell him all about my new "knowledge."  Bless him, he never gave up.  His treasure in heaven is probably huge after putting up with me for so long!


One day God began to deal with me about this.  He told me, in that still small inner voice, "Jessica, you think you know something because your brain recognizes the familiar words.  But if you really knew it, you would be doing it.  You don't know something unless you live it.  If you have ears, then hear the message."  Yeah...That was humbling!  I resolved that day to begin to listen better when my husband was teaching me dispensing with the "I know that" filter and approaching every situation as if I were a child hearing it for the first time. I got rid of the resentment and the pride and opened up my ears to hear what he said.  Something miraculous began to happen.  First, my lessons got shorter because I began to perform better quicker.  I'm sure my horse appreciated it as well.  Then I realized I was enjoying learning so much more than before.  This is the great thing about our brains.  The pattern recognition feature is necessary, otherwise we would need to re-learn everyday tasks, well...every day!  But, we are so fearfully and wonderfully made that we have a choice to override the pattern recognition feature and learn how to engage in active and attentive listening in any situation we choose.  Think of switching your automatic transmission car into manual to navigate some treacherous terrain.  Each one of us has so many interactions with other people on a daily basis that we have an abundance of opportunities to practice active listening.

When it comes down to it, a failure to listen because we think we already know something is prideful and self-defeating.  If you want to get the most out of your riding lessons, try approaching your next lesson with a beginner's mind.  No matter how many times your trainer has said something to you, listen and attempt to execute without placing a value judgement on what your trainer says or how you think you are doing.  Think of how Jesus said that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we had to come "as a child."  Little children have not learned how to be prideful yet.  They are too busy listening and learning!

God bless and happy riding!
~ Jessica Wright

The ultimate teacher who speaks without words.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Have you seen our lost dog Freddie?

This has nothing to do with horses, but it has been a learning experience I do not wish on any animal owner.  We have lost our family dog Freddie.  He went missing off his ranch home February 11th and we have been consumed with trying to find him.  No, he was not wearing his collars or id tags...they were removed while fixing fence so he, his brother and sister would not get tangled up.  His mom (my niece) turned around and only Freddie was gone.  It has been a nightmare since then and a painful learning experience in the process.  I had no idea the lost animal problem was so huge.

There are many great organizations that help with information on what to do and many Internet services we faithfully monitor daily in our search.  Where we once thought micro-chipping was a risk...we now feel it is another tool in the box to help bring a lost dog home.  Hindsight is painful; but hopefully, we can remind another pet owner to chip their pet and increase the chance of them coming home IF the finder follows the law and does the right thing by trying to reunite a found pet with it's owner.  I can't believe the mentality we have encountered by some who think a collarless dog is a stray dog with no one searching for them.  Finders keepers, and the pet is theirs to give away, sell ,or keep.  My own dog regularly loses his collar on our ranch going through brush.

Facebook is loaded with local lost and found pet groups who network to get lost dogs back home with much success.  Freddie has his own Facebook page that chronicles our search and helps others identify him or where he has been sighted last.  Please visit Finding Freddie to follow and help in the search.

video
We created a You tube video about our dog Freddie and hope you will watch it and remember him....who knows where the connection will be made that brings our dog home.  Will it be you?  Have you seen our dog Freddie?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Greetings

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Add caption

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Value of a Complete Training Foundation

Having friends in the just completed 2014 Single Horse World Driving Championship in Izsak, Hungary, I followed the United States Team members closely through the FEI  and DrivingNews USA Internet sites.  Facebook kept me in touch with the personal stories by the players and fans.  I spent some sleepless nights over the last 3 days so I could have up to the minute results as they unfolded 9 hours ahead of my time zone.  It was an exciting weekend for this (now retired) armchair competitor.

What I want to talk about is not the results so much, but of an incident that happened that could have been disastrous if the simple step of foundation training had not been put in place and reinforced throughout this horse's career.  Here is what happened.  Our top ranking USA team member, Leslie Berndl of Newcastle, California was in fine position after the first phase of Dressage.  She had the 12th best test out of 77 competitors from 18 different countries in the world.  Dressage is her strong suit and she delivered a good one for the USA team.

Our three team members (Jacob Arnold, Donna Crookston and Leslie) were looking forward to a great marathon.  As luck would have it, the bit in Leslie's horse Travis broke in the second hazard while they were at full speed.  The bit fell out of Travis's mouth and Leslie acted with a verbal command to halt.  That big, on the muscle horse, came to a dead stop for her and stood.  He had been asked, and even though he was in the "heat" of the moment, he stood and waited.  It was no accident (literally) he stood.  He was trained to halt on command no matter what.  Everyone should want that in their driving horse.

Since there was no way to repair, they had to retire from their competition at that point.  Here is the point of my post:  I wonder how many carriage drivers make sure that important part of the training of the carriage driving horse is in place? When things go wrong with a horse pulling a carriage, it is very dangerous with the weight and bulk of the carriage, putting people on board, and people all around at risk of injury or death (not to mention the horse).

Understandably, Leslie is sorely disappointed at what happened after so many months of hard work and training for this biennial world championship.  Because she and her horse Travis have this wonderful relationship and complete trust in one another, she will rise to compete again with this great horse...because he listened to her, stopped on her verbal command alone, and stood.  It could have been career ending for both or worse.  That is great horsemanship.
Leslie driving Travis through a water hazard

As a final note...failure of equipment can happen even in the most quality made equipment, so I think the best form of insurance to protect one's huge investment in this sport (or any equine endeavor) is to train the horse to have the kind of foundation that ensures trust between horse/rider/driver so when something goes wrong...the horse does not question, but does what is asked.

There is a public video of the incident and when I figure out how to link to it, I will add to this post.  I will also follow with a draft I have been working on for awhile that this incident is related to:  "The Risk of Do it Yourself Horse Training"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

JMF Anna Beam Gone to Glory!

JMF Anna Beam with Tom Simmons at Gilroy CDE



  Last week, one of my favorite mares crossed into glory aided by her lifetime owner and trainer Tom Simmons.  She was a rare and unique mare that gave me one of my most thrilling moments in driving horses in sport. 



  It was at the last Myopia Combined Driving Event in 2000; and as far as I know, it was the last 5 phase CDE ever done in America.  After a run of 25 years, Myopia Driving Event, held at Groton House Farm, Hamilton, MA. was host to the AHSA (now USEF) National Pony Championships.  My Morgan horse, Lance was entered but had cut his fetlock two weeks before the event and could not compete.  My trainer suggested I use his Morgan mare Anna Beam who was no stranger to Combined Driving under Tom's direction.  At the time, Anna had been retired and became one of Tom's best broodmares.  She may have been a broodmare but she kept condition by putting on what we called "The Anna Show".  Tom would open the farm gates regularly just to have her trot by us at full speed for her joy of life and our thrill to watch it.  



  Once a Morgan horse has been conditioned over the years, it does not take long to bring them back into peak performance mode, and she was no exception.   She always had that special something that Morgan mares have that make them so desirable for sport.  Anna had willingness and ambition enough to rise above and beyond what was asked of her.  One has to be careful in the initial training of ambitious mares so as not to wake up the "sleeping genie" of speed performance, or it will be a lifelong trial to try and put the genie back in the bottle.  It is always there...no need to make it a habit! 



   What had attracted Tom about her as a baby was her special quality of being able to trot like the Currier and Ives images of trotting horses.  The artists depicted what they saw with no exaggeration and it was real enough in Miss Anna Beam.  Tom couldn't resist allowing this mare to express her full brilliance and beauty of motion.  Her trot was so true that it had a special sound that still resonates in my head as I think of that day in the Fast Trot C Section of that event in 2000.  



Anna Beam being driven by Tom Simmons with daughter Renee Simmons navigating at Yellowframe Farm CDE in Southern Pines, North Carolina


  The total length of the marathon was just over 17 kilometers and the fast trot C section was 4.2 kilometers at 16KPH.  It felt exhilarating even as I was holding her back a bit until my husband/navigator told me we had met the minimum time allowed.  I let her go over that last stretch before the finish line and here came that memorable moment forever etched in my mind.  The sound she made with her hooves hitting the ground was unlike anything I have ever heard before.  It sounded like perfectly timed footfalls that struck the ground with a "phump" sound.  The crowds lining the course all stopped to watch this trotting machine fly by with their jaws dropped open.  I could barely see the finish through my watering eyes from the speed.  Tom has always said Anna is a Standardbred trapped in a Morgan body.  Tom never thought Anna was a great beauty but here he was wrong.  She had the great beauty of being a noble creature who was allowed to be who she was, and show what was in her to give.  At Myopia, more than one person came up to me to tell me she was the most beautiful horse they had seen.  Beauty is as beauty does!    



A year or so ago, I was talking with Jodi Cutler who was one of the judges.  She does not remember my dressage, done at a road trot, where I circled the arena prior to entering and almost took out the judges stand.  I remember seeing Jodi and Sydney Smith of Great Britain, standing up and stepping back as I flew by.  A seven minute test done in half the time.  Not very admirable in dressage, but awesome in marathon and cones.  Anna drove in those phases like a cat and snaked her way through the seven hazards at my mental direction.  She was thrilling to say the least.



We finished the event successfully even though we were just out of the ribbons.  The vets found her in good condition. I really want to thank Tom Simmons for giving me the opportunity to experience Anna in Combined Driving and in my life with horses.  


Me driving Anna Beam at Southern Pines



Anna Beam has gone back to where ever she came from; but her memory, along with her sons and daughters still grace this earth.  


I salute you Anna ... you will live forever in my mind and heart.  A grand old mare!

an additional note:
Looking at her pedigree, I see that back in 1918 there WAS a Standardbred, Pluto Watts, in Anna's lineage. He was a decendant of Hambletonian who was a decendant of the Thoroughbred, Messenger. So you see...speed was in her blood. What a mare!


Anna's son LH Harlan County 5 yr. old gelding

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders

Last week I read a great blog post written by Nancy Kotting entitled The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders.  I requested and got her permission to reprint here on my blog so I could share with you her wise words that apply to anyone wanting to be really good with their horses in whatever discipline they seek to do well.  Thank you Ms. Kotting...  N. Rojo

Ms. Kotting writes:

Over the years working a never-ending multitude of horses, great Dressage riders develop habits, ways of achieving consistently high performance and excellence in the daily work. These are not training how-tos but rather personal habits adopted by riders to set themselves up for success every day. While there are endless training pearls-of-wisdom the Masters kindly pass on, it is inevitably up to the student, through endless hours of practice, to confirm the path to success. There is no sport, nor art form more difficult than what we attempt every day as practitioners of Classical Horsemanship. None. It is up to us to support one another in this endeavor, giving and sharing what works and what doesn’t.
Below is my list of ten habits of highly effective Dressage riders. It is my hope that you find them helpful in your daily practice.
Good Luck and ride well-
Nancy Kotting


The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders

1: An effective Dressage rider looks upon each failure as a ladder rung: step on it and lift yourself up.

Great riders know that failure is a constant on the road to success and they train themselves to use it in their favor. Failure provides us with critical information which we then use to improve our work. Embrace it. Welcome it. Study it and learn its lesson. Each time you fail, be thankful for the information, put it behind you, raise yourself up to the next ladder rung and try again. Failure is not the end, it is the beginning.

Photo: Nancy Kotting
Photo: Nancy Kotting

2: An effective Dressage rider leaves their personal issues on the ground, approaching each ride emotionally neutral.

What is energetically in us, goes into the horse. If you carry your emotional refuse into the ride, ie; bad day at work, family problems, etc., it will inevitably effect performance. Be very careful what you put in as horses are like computers, if you write bad code, you will have to rewrite it at some point. Learn to neutralize your emotions BEFORE you get on the horse. This will give both of you an opportunity to begin the ride clean.

3: Effective Dressage riders make themselves the calm baseline that their equine partner can rely upon at all times.

The psychology of the horse requires a partner willing to assume a leadership position.  This assumption of the leadership position by the rider in the partnership translates to the horse via the language of the body in all circumstances, all scenarios. A rider who remains mentally AND physically steady when the horse experiences confusion, fear and perhaps resulting chaos, will very quickly gain trust, confidence and devotion to the work from their equine partner. A skilled rider quickly proves his or her leadership ability to a new horse, who then, greatly relieved in such capable hands, will confidently trust his rider and attempt to work with and not against. Trust is earned not given; work to deserve it from the horse.

4: An effective Dressage rider owns their personal space both on and off the horse.

Closely related yet different from habit #3, maintaining ones space communicates leadership. A dominant stallion does not mosey into a herd head down, tail low, back soft.  Oh no, he is up on his toes, tail flagged, every muscle pumped full announcing his arrival…his presence is known. His body language virtually screams ‘follow me!’ This type of presence must also subtly be in a riders body language when working both on the horse and off. Our equine partners rely on us to lead them and we communicate our worthiness of this responsibility with our body language, with the feeling of resolve within our bodies. Effective riders maintain exemplary posture both on and off a horse, we carry ourselves, we own our space with a steely intention, communicating our empathetic power and ability to lead to those who rely on us: our equine partner.

5: An effective  Dressage rider has trained their ‘inner voice’ to be either positive or constructively negative, never defeating.

An effective Dressage rider approaches the ride with a sense of wonder: what will the ride bring? What is the legacy of yesterday’s work? Will it be fair to push the horse just a bit more today?  Problems, resistances that arise are addressed constructively, not reacted to emotionally. It is the supportive ‘inner voice’ of the rider that keeps the ride ‘on the rails’ and productive, ending always on a positive in preparation for continued success in the next ride. It is the burden of the rider to maintain an emotional ‘thru-line’ that directs the ride steadily toward completion.

6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.

The work is a continuum, each ride building upon the last. There are no short cuts. You cannot buy it, you have to make it with consistent, correct work, realizing nobody can do it for you. The amount of success you have as a rider is directly related to the amount of effort you put into it. Rome was not built in a day and neither is a Grand Prix rider/trainer, nor a Grand Prix horse. Get up, dress up, show up and put in another day’s work. Then do it again, and again and…again.  The river of trying never stops flowing.

7: An effective Dressage rider has the courage to be creative in their problem solving, the courage to go beyond the text-book and think independently.

An effective Dressage rider innately understands that every horse is different. Every rider is different. Every moment is a new moment, a new opportunity to create quality.
                               The Training Scale

An effective Dressage rider has the courage to experiment and try something different in approaching the problem, all the while adhering to the core premise of the Training Scale, placing the mental and physical well-being of their equine partner first and foremost.

8: An effective Dressage rider knows they must be an athlete in their own right before they can expect their equine partner to be one.

The foundation of the Training Scale is the rider’s seat. Every rider strives to be in control and command of their physical being, able to independently apply the aids effectively in both calmness and chaos.  A Dressage rider uses every single muscle known to man, and then some!  It is imperative that we cross-train, building our own strength, endurance and dexterity away from the horse. Cross-training keeps the muscles ‘fresh’ ie; not locked into the sole muscle memory of the ride itself but rather neutral, able to break old ‘muscle memory’ response patterns easily if required. Poorly trained horses effect the muscle memory of the rider just as poor riding effects the muscle memory of the horse. Cross-training assists the rider in both developing athleticism and neutralizing undesirable muscle memory.

9: An effective Dressage rider knows there is only one direction to go: forward!

Horses are built to move, they are born to move and most love to move. Effective riders know how to use this base instinct in the horse as a key ingredient in the work each and every day, much like flour to a baker. As it is in life, so it is in Dressage: if all else fails, GO FORWARD! In this way, an effective rider creates a fresh moment, a fresh opportunity to try again toward understanding and success.

10: An effective Dressage rider works for their horse, not vice versa.

Great riders do what they do for the sake of the horse… and nothing else. ‘Dressage’ encompasses all that we do from the moment we rise in the morning and enter the stable aisle to the final night check at the end of the day. Highly effective riders know they must stay close to their horses each and every day in order to build the intimacy required for the Grand Prix. They know their partner’s moods, their idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes. The transition from the aisle to the school is best seamless: true partners from the stall to the aisle to the schooling arena to the show ring and home again.
Remember, Dressage is an art form in motion, therefore it only survives as such when practiced correctly on a daily basis by both Master and student, through the grace of correctly trained horses. Strive to develop good habits, for the sake of the sport, for the sake of the horse and for your own future as an accomplished rider.
Written with gratitude to ‘the trainer’s trainer’, Michael Poulin.


© 2013 Nancy Kotting   All Rights Reserved   Reproduction by Permission Only
http://watapama.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/the-ten-habits-of-highly-effective-dressage-riders/ 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

If the front door is closed, come through the back

We had a Tom Simmons horsemanship clinic at the ranch in June.  Being host caused me to miss most of the action.  I did get to see an excellent example of how horse training is "A thinking man's game".  Tom says that quote but it applies to anyone and every situation in life as well. A change in the horse's thinking has to be made and this is where thinking about how to go about it comes into play. 

A horse was brought to the clinic to get Tom's help changing the horse's mind about not wanting to go through water while being ridden.  This applies to driving as well as the concept is the same.  Yes, it is about establishing leadership and confidence in the horse's mind; but sometimes, you just need a horse trainer to get it done.

Previously, this horse had won many attempts to get it through the water to no avail.  The owner does trail riding primarily with this horse but also drives the horse as well.  Tom spent a short time in the round pen to gain the horse's respect as a leader, then took it out into the open arena on long lines to convince the horse to change it's opinion of going into water.

The water element in these photos is hard to see but it is 3 feet deep, 10 feet long and about 5 feet wide.  It is up against the granite wall but there is a 4 foot bank between the wall and the pool of water.  I'd like you to notice Tom's body language that shows how he allows the horse to make the decision to change himself with no forcing involved.  He guides direction with the long-lines and then allows the horse to make the decision.  It takes as long as the horse requires to give up previous resistance, affect a change of mind, and then comply with the request.  Tom persists and tries another tack to give the horse a new option by backing him into the water.  I'll let the photos and body language tell the story of giving up the resistance. 

asking to go right
keep it going forward

knocking on the front door

no answer

how about another option?

let's try going in the back door...

the battle is half won

well...what have you learned?

"ok...let me smell it"

here we go...

"ok...I can do this from now on"

 
Tom has to make haste or he'll go in the water too!



I recently came across the owner and asked how the horse was doing at crossing water after the clinic.  Great!  All it took was someone with a lot of experience reading how a horse thinks and having the judgement to present a situation in the right way to the horse to overcome a previous problem.

Sometimes you just need a great horse trainer...