Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Start Again

The other day I was rummaging around through a drawer and ran across my audio copy of “Healing Shine” by Michael Johnson. I picked it up and looked at the picture for a while and clearly remembered how this story, in his words, told to me with his own voice had made me feel. Warm and fuzzy, sad and hurt, elated and hopeful. I took the case out of the drawer and put it in my car. I have been listening to it all week.

 This makes round 3 or 4 that I have listened to it. I'll admit that this time I have fast forward through a couple of part, because like Allie said, sometimes he gets a little wordy and spends a full 5 minutes repeating the same thing in several ways. But then I also admit to rewinding certain sections to listen again and again in order to have those certain words stick with me.

 I had recommended this book as a great resource for dealing with a horse who carries a deep seated fear. As I listened this time I around I have begun wonder if I had been clear about what I had heard. For me this story does give some great insight into (for me) dealing with Trax and his fear and mistrust of humans in general, but the info is really nothing more than a foundation to build on.

 The biggest message being (again, for me), that if we force a horse to go into a place that he cannot mentally handle, we will lose every time. When I say lose, I mean lose the horse, not the battle. It isn't supposed to be a battle. It is supposed to be a partnership. The other message I really keep hanging on to is that it is the most difficult horses in our lives that have the most to offer.

 So what does that mean exactly?

 Does it mean that the most difficult horses will win the most ribbons, or buckles, or saddles?

 Probably not.

 To me it means that the difficult horse, my difficult horse, will take me on a journey I didn't even know I needed to go down. It means that my difficult horse will open my eyes, and hopefully my ears, as to what it really means to connect with one of these complex and amazing beasts.

 I have done a little riding lately, but not any “real training”. Mostly we just amble down the desert trails. It doesn't mean that I don't use the trail to work on a few things, such as bending at the jaw, moving off of my leg around trees and gopher holes, or backing out of impassable situations (that I intentionally put us in).

 I need to be working on brakes, and I do try, but he always seems to win out and we end up doing a one rein stop each time. I try so hard to convey my thought of “stop” with the slightest of 'ask” but he either doesn't hear me, or doesn't care. I'm not 100% sure which it is. I struggle with him “winning” all the time, as it is our issue. I struggle with letting go of that, “Thou shall not let the horse win” mentality. What I mean by this is that I keep wanting to fall back on forcing him to stop (ie. Pulling on his face) when I am trying to teach him that my butt in the saddle and legs off of his side means stop. Granted there are times when I have no choice but to make him stop for safety reasons, but my point is that I am really trying hard to teach him a softer easier way. I just don't know how.

 When I rode with Charlie Hill and he was trying to give me direction, I wanted so badly to understand and mostly to feel what he was talking about. But I never did. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will. I want to ride with him again, and hopefully next week I can, but what I really want is to see him ride my horse. I think it helps me to actually see how an experienced communicator, would convey the word “stop” to the horse that only hears “go”. I'm working on making that happen, but it is going to take time and money...2 things I am short of these days.

 So back to my thoughts when listening to Healing Shine, this morning. There was one section where Shine was making progress with not being afraid of cows, not just a little progress but good progress, and Michael was encouraged and decided it was time to turn things up a notch. So he started working Shine on a bunch of fast cows and in a few days Shine had a melt down because it was too much too soon.

 As I listened to his words here I found myself thinking of Trax, and the one thing I can not get him to do...stop.

 I remembered the days where, at a walk, I was able to just sit down and he would stop. Or at a trot I could sit down and he would walk.

 Do you remember me writing about that?

 So what happened?

 Where did I/we lose that?

 I don't have the answer to that question yet...or do I?

 Perhaps I lost it the day I said to Mark Keil, “Can we get him ready to compete in a month?”

 Maybe its time to go back to a walk, or even back to the round pen. As the voice in Micheal’s head said to him, “Start again”.   Perhaps that is where we need to go.

 Back to the beginning.


  1. Sometimes we have to stop and back up before we can move forward.

    With driving it means doing a lot of work in the long lines. It can be beneficial to riding as well. Don't ever be afraid to start over and fix the little things before they become big issues.

    My red mare had iffy brakes at best a lot of times. It didn't scare me, but I always wondered if they were about to go out every time I asked for a stop. I was told to close my eyes a few strides and picture the stop in my mind. Sit down, stop riding and ask for it. Instant improvement. Start again at the walk, breathe, relax and sit down. One person said they imagined zipping up their pants zipper to stop all of their lower body movement. Pick something that works for you and stick with it. When Trax gets it right, don't forget to praise him and make a great big deal out of it. He'll get the idea and it will happen more often, first try, every time.

    1. Thanks that sounds like a good place for me start...closing my eyes and envisioning the stop.

  2. I know what you mean about brakes. . .sometimes with Shy they are spot on and other times. . .not so much. I find myself going back a lot. . .but I am now able to recognize more when Shy is ready to move on and what is too much for her. You will get there, probably not as quick as you want to, but you will do it.

    1. Thanks Alli, you are right, it will not be as fast as I want but I hope to never put a time limit on him again.

  3. Going back to basics is always a good idea. Also- but you probably know this- when he does stop, the best release is to just let him stand still and do nothing, which after all is what a stop is for. In training for reining, we always ask for a little back up step at the end of the stop, which does two things: it gets him stopping on his hind end because he has to engage his hind quarters to be able to back up and begins to associate that with the stop, and it gets them to not lean on the bit during the stop, again because they are thinking ahead to backing so they don't get all heavy on the forehand, which is what they do when they lean on the bit.
    I loved the story Healing Shine.

  4. sounds like a great read, and I like the advice you have already gotten