Friday, May 27, 2011

Doing the best we can with what we have.

The ever serious Winfield

Ever since it was suggested to me that I need a new horse, I have been thinking why we have the horses we do and what is our motivation to use and keep them when they are not the best choice for what we do.

A few months ago I decided to close the circle on a driving career of one of our Morgan horses by entering him in an upcoming pleasure show where he began his driving career 16 years ago.  LH Winfield Scott made his debut at the driving classes at the Motherlode circuit show held at the Nevada County fairgrounds where the famous annual Draft Horse Classic is held.  Due to poor scheduling that year, the driving classes didn't start until 10 p.m. and so it was "stand around and wait" until the wee hours in the morning.  For a young Morgan gelding, it was a testament to his good start that he patiently awaited his classes, under full lights and loud metal grandstands to show.  From that show, Winfield went on to provide good driving experience to inexperienced owners...(that would be us) while we embarked on our driving journey that took us to undreamed of heights. 

Winfield, although obedient and steadfast, never achieved the success that our other Morgan climbed to in sport, but that does not mean he didn't deliver what was asked.  He was bred for performance but didn't quite have the conformation or mind set to make him a more than willing outstanding athlete.  Just how many horses have what it takes to reach the top of sport?  Not many I think.  I think one can breed for the necessary traits, but life or circumstances can derail the best candidates and they may never get the chance.  It is about being at the right place, at the right time, with the right horse, with the right guidance. 

 The Marlboro Man on his working horse Win
Winfield would have excelled in another area involving western working.  He showed a real aptitude to move cattle and would rather hang with the bulls than his own kind.  A sort of rugged individual with a serious demeanor. A working man's horse.  He did work well at that job, but now at age 19, and our advancing age, we don't do that work any longer.  Winfield has been relegated to occasional trail riding and trail driving with an occasional odd request from myself like the upcoming show next month. 

I realize he is not the best choice for the Gig type carriage horse I will try and present, but I am going to do the best I can with what I have. 

LH Winfield Scott being a road horse at a Traditional Day of Driving

We have been fortunate to have had Winfield in our lives and hope to have him for many more years before he sleeps the big sleep. 

Here is to the people who keep on with their trusty, yet not totally perfect horses.  And here is to the longevity of the nicely bred Morgan horse who continues to give safe service albeit not totally willing.

working for the upcoming last show

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sick and tired of basics

I read this exchange from Jessica Jahiel's Horse Sense newsletter and it gave me opportunity to pass on to my readers some advice that I have discovered from another source.  No matter where it comes is good advice.  Here is my new favorite quote:
“We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves.”
—  Marcel Proust

Question to Jessica:
From: Veronica
Subject: Sick and tired of basics

Dear Jessica, I hope you can help me think of
some way to get my instructor to back off me a
little. She is a total bug on basics. Basics,
basics, basics! That's all I hear about, every
single lesson, all of the time. She is a good
rider and her horses go great and she's a good
teacher when she isn't going "Basics basics
basics yadda yadda yadda" all the time. I
understand how it is for her because she teaches
a lot of beginner riders (adult beginners) but
I'm seventeen and I have been riding horses for
more than ten years. I'm no beginner, and I
would like to know some way to get her to snap
out of her "teaching beginners the basics"
routine when she works with me. I stay with her
because I have had good results for the last two
years and my horse and I have both improved a
lot, but this "basics" stuff is getting so old
with me! I'm probably her most advanced rider
now because so many of her other students are
people who are like 50 and older. I like them
mostly, I don't have anything against them and
they are mostly nice people but we're so
different. They're riding for fun and a hobby or
to get some exercise, some have been riding like
forever and they're still not all that good, so
basically they aren't serious riders. I can
totally see why they need basics all the time,
but I want to get places with my riding I work
hard and I am ready to move on. How can I get my
instructor to understand that I'm not that
little fifteen-year-old kid anymore and I'm ready to do some real riding?


Hi Veronica! Come on, you didn't really expect me
to contradict your instructor on this subject,
did you? If you came here to ride with me you
could certainly expect to hear "Basics basics
basics yadda yadda yadda" all the time, for
years... in fact, for as long as you rode with
me. One of my students has been with me for at
least 25 years now, and I'm sure that if you
asked her when I stopped talking about basics she
would just laugh, because I haven't stopped yet.
I will stop talking about basics when I'm dead. Probably.

You shouldn't feel picked on or singled out, and
you shouldn't feel bad about your instructor's
VERY CORRECT emphasis on basics for both horse
and rider. I'll say it again: NEVER feel bad
about spending time on the basics. Lots of time.
ALL the time. At EVERY lesson and during - in
fact, all the way through - every ride between
lessons. There is no such thing as too much
emphasis on basics or too much time spent on
basics. On the contrary, wherever I go, the more
horses and riders I see and work with, the more I
appreciate the ones that have a good solid
foundation... and there aren't all that many!
Those are the lucky ones because they can make
progress right now; they don't have to start over
again, learning things they had never learned or
- sadder - having to re-learn things that they
thought they knew and could do, but actually
didn't know and couldn't do at all.

The more time you spend on the basics - not just
doing them, but doing them WELL and understanding
how and why to do them well - the better. Here's
a thought for you to ponder: At my clinics, I
have never yet seen a single problem that didn't
go back to a flaw in the horse's or the rider's basics.

EVERYTHING is basics.

Think of the most basic concepts in classical
dressage: CALM, FORWARD, STRAIGHT. If you can
keep your horse calm, ride him forward, and make
him straight, you can do anything. ANYTHING. And
when something - anything - goes wrong, it's
always because one or more of those qualities is
missing. Riding doesn't get any more basic than that.

Why not ask your instructor to suggest some
interesting and challenging books for you to
read? You've had years of riding experience, I'm
sure you could assimilate some riding theory as
well, and it's the combination of the two -
practical, physical time in the saddle AND time
spent in thoughtful reading and discussion - that
will help you make the most and best progress.
This may also be the single best (non-riding) way
to show your instructor just how serious you are.
Most instructors are delighted to assign and then
discuss books and articles; in fact, we're
typically over the moon when we discover that
we've got a student who wants to ride AND read
about riding AND discuss her readings.

My main advice to you, though, is that you please
not confuse "beginner" with "basics." Basics are
for beginners, yes, but they're also for
intermediate riders, and for advanced riders, and
for expert instructors and trainers and
clinicians... and for highly-successful
international competitors as well. Basics are
what help riders get to the top; a lack of basics
is what holds riders back. It doesn't sound to me
as if your instructor is holding you back - after
all, didn't you just tell me that after two
years, you and your horse have both improved a
lot? It sounds to me as though you're working
with a good instructor and are making excellent
progress. Keep up the good work, learn to regard

Oh, and one more thing. Do me a favour, please,
and go a little easier on those of us who are
over 50, okay? We know that we aren't as flexible
as you are, and most of us are dealing with some
physical issues, but we really do work hard at
our lessons, our riding is important to us, and
we care about making progress even if we make
progress much more slowly than you do. Please
don't write us off entirely. I know it's hard to
believe now, but in a mere 33 years, if you're
still riding then (and I hope that you will be),
YOU will be one of US! When that day comes, you
might feel a little bit sad if there's a
flexible, coordinated, talented
seventeen-year-old rider at your barn who holds
you in contempt just because you're 50 and still
haven't managed to achieve perfection as a rider.
Here's a tip from someone who's been there, done
that, and is still and forever doing that: I
don't think that anyone ever actually achieves
that much-desired state of perfection as a rider
- I know I never will! But I'm never going to
stop trying... and even at my age, the keys to
success and progress are, yes, you guessed it: Basics.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the message

How do you like to hear the message about what is true with horses?  Do you like to hear from the famous?  The one who wins the most?  The cutest?  The one with the foreign accent?  The one who charges the most?  The one who charges the least?  The one who compliments and strokes your ego?...OK, you get the picture. 

 I have come to the conclusion that the great horse men and women all arrive at horse truths from different roads, but are basically the same truths.  There is really nothing new in horse training only new human language.  Equipment may be new with a different little twist, but someone, somewhere in time, figured out a similar thing that makes it all basically the same.   Methods were used that suited the time and place, but only the real horsemen and women crossed into the rare zone where understanding is real between the two species.  All horse people want to be knowledgeable and expert about the animals they care for, compete, and use for work; but, there comes a time when they realize they have only scratched the surface when they see what true horsemen and women can do with the horse. 

The movie"The Horse Whisperer" was based on one of the modern true horsemen, Buck Brannaman.  He also consulted with the movie team.  Whatever you may think of the movie and it's storyline, it showed a glimpse of what can be accomplished with communication between the two species.  

Cindy Meehl's 2011 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary film "Buck" is due out next month.  It follows Buck  through the eyes of the Sundance Institue filmaker who just happened to be a horse person and attend one of Buck's clinics eight years ago.  It took her two years, 300 hours of film, and working with talented people to cut to documentary length of 84 minutes.   

Here is the link to the story of how the movie came about and a video of the trailer to see a bit of Buck and his horse logic. 

I see so much similarity in philosophy to my true horseman and friend, Tom Simmons, that it confirms my conclusion that the great horse men and women are rare but come to know the horse as it truly is.  

Buck says two things in the movie trailer that I have heard before but makes powerful sense.
"A lot of the time, rather than helping people with horse problems, I am helping horses with people problems."
"All your horses are a mirror to your soul; and sometimes, you might not like what you see in the mirror.  You can't hold it against him for how his life has been.  Maybe there are some things for you to learn about you; and, maybe the horse is going to be the only damn way you're gonna learn it."