Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back in the Saddle -- so to speak ...

Yes,I know it's been quite a while since I last posted anything, but trust me, it's not because there hasn't been anything going on. Of the positive events that have transpired, you should know I've released a new book (see sidebar). It took some time to complete. And yes, yes, yes, there's lots more horse stuff in that one -- and I know for a fact that's what a bunch of you Thea Campbell fans want!

But, back to the blog ....

My friend Kate Wyland nudged me into action by asking me to contribute to her wonderful blog "Conversations with Horses and Others". And, of course, when a friend asks what can you say but "when do you want it?"

So, without further ado, please, click on the link below to Kate's place and read "The Art of Breathing for Two" -- it's about how sport transcends the technical and become an expression of the heart. And say "hi" while you're there!



You're right. This is not a horse. It's a tiny, cute, kitten that will keep screaming until you click on the above link to Kate's blog!





Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Share the Fun

One thing I've learned from all my years of riding horses is that fun is more fun when shared. What's fun? Reading a mystery that will make you laugh, gasp, and lose track of your bedtime -- all for FREE! Starting today, Tuesday, July 10, 2012 through Thursday, July 12, BushWhacked, my new Thea Campbell Mystery is available in e-book format for FREE! Do I want you to snap it up? Darned right! Fun should be shared. It's more fun that way. Go on, go get it! You don't even have to have a Kindle, don't have to even buy one. Amazon lets you download Kindle for your PC for FREE. (Hey, you spend all that time on your computer anyway, why not enjoy yourself?)




Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Just Routine, Ma'am



I have a tendency to jump right into the middle of things with little preparation. My knee-jerk preference is to charge ahead and if I get stuck, stop and read the directions – if I can find them. I would do this when I ride, too, if it wasn’t so glaringly plain this is not a knee-jerk preference for the horses. They simply don’t operate that way, and they will not be persuaded otherwise. Therefore, if I want Eddie (for example) to do well, I have to make sure I spend time, each and every ride, devoted to obsessing over getting organized. I must allow him the time to go through the steps needed to warm up. He has not varied from this requirement in the entire eighteen-plus-years I’ve known him.

Yes, he’s a little one-way about the whole thing.

Eddie, doing his job without me interfering
... yay, for me!
He doesn’t like it if I try to do his job, or expect him to do mine. We have a very distinct division of labor in our relationship and if I forget what it is, he will remind me. He doesn’t do this in a mean way. He simply gives me what I’m “really” asking for, and the usual result is me feeling like an idiot.  

Here’s a relatively benign example: it’s not up to me to hold his posture together, despite the fact that I know what it should be. That’s his job, and he can’t do it if I skip steps getting there and try to put him in place before it’s time. He will lean on my hands and remind me how much more he weighs than what I’m capable of lifting. Sure, I can remind him if he quits doing his job, and I can show him how I want him to conduct himself, but I can’t do it for him. Simply stated: He will let me. Times ten.

Horses are creatures of habit and routine. They need the sameness of a familiar warm-up in order to be assured they are doing the right job, in order not to be over-faced with demands from the rider. Routine is knowledge and security. Routine keeps the stress at bay.

Come to think of it, we humans need routine, too. As much as I hate to admit it. A big job becomes manageable if I break it down into a progression of steps I’m familiar with. Even well-known tasks can be overwhelming, like writing a book. If I remember to take it a logical and progressive piece at a time I can conquer what had previously appeared daunting.

I should remember this, since my horse insists.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When You're In A Hole, Stop Digging


Success equals mental preparation -- that's what Henrik pointed out at the instructors' seminar I attended. I can't argue with that. All things being equal, I can achieve my future goal for my horse only if I am sufficiently mentally prepared for each day's lesson and have a route planned to my vision of the future.

It sounds simple enough. Know where I'm going, pull out the road map, and learn the route.

Simple. Right. Ha, ha.

How many times have I ridden my horse thinking I was doing all the right things only to realize progress toward my goal had not only stalled out, but was deteriorating by the minute?

It's kind of like driving down a road, full of confidence my destination is minutes away, and then, after a while (a really long while), wondering why the scenery hasn't changed. Come to find out, I've been stuck in the mud, spinning my wheels. How did I not notice? It sure explains all those people standing around, exchanging glances and whispering among themselves. I could tell them I meant to get buried up to my axels, but we'd all know better.

Sigh.

It's about that time I start to realize, yet again, part of mental preparation is becoming familiar with what should be happening all along the way -- not just at the end when I've reached my goal. The route includes my ability to recognize the boggy places when encountered or, better yet, beforehand so they can be avoided.

Having someone point those mucky spots out is invaluable. But that can't happen every time I ride. Part of this learning process is to recognize, more quickly, when I get stuck. With luck -- okay, with sufficient mental preparation and luck -- I'll remember the tools to help extract me from the bog. Then, at some time in the future when I've experienced my quota of muck, I'll be able to avoid digging myself in. I'll have learned to see it coming and plotted the route around. Better yet, I'll have found the road without the potholes.

Until then, I'll have to be vigilant: Keep my goal in mind without seeking out the problems. I'd really hate to find out I've been planning a route from one problem to the next instead of my goal.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Plan: Have A Plan


Late last month I had the opportunity to ride in a dressage clinic with Henrik Johansen. I love riding in clinics with him. He's a wonderful teacher. I always leave excited about riding and knowing where I need to improve. 

This time was no different. I rode my friend Fable because Eddie, although back to work again, is not far enough along in his rehab to endure the demands of a weekend clinic. I've ridden Fable in the past couple of clinics and it works well, since I bring the lessons I learn home to Eddie. I did this time too, of course.

As I was riding one of the exercises Henrik had coached me through at the clinic, I started thinking about something else he'd said. "Ride with a plan. Don't ride by reacting to the horse."

Was I doing that?

Well … sort of. I had a plan, but I was very intent on figuring out if Eddie was actually doing it. 

I changed my thinking. I took a deep breath, squared up my posture and let go of all that "gotta do it" tension.

"I am doing the exercise correctly myself," I said, not entirely believing it. "And when I do it right, it feels exactly like this." (insert active imagination here). 

Then the most amazing thing happened: Eddie improved in one step.

Go figure. Although I should have known. After all, it's not news to me -- I "talk" this stuff all the time.

Guess I don’t always "walk" it.

And that got me to thinking -- is that what I do in my daily life? Do I fret every minute to be sure everything is "just so," checking to see if all my ducks are lined up properly? Do I have a plan I focus on, or am I reacting to each moment, watching for things to go wrong?

Maybe I should just march forward and let all my ducks line up behind me while I lead the way. After all, not all of us can follow. Somebody has to get out in front. It's my life. It might as well be me.




Friday, November 18, 2011

The Importance of Nothing



Much of our attention when we ride is focused on What To Do to produce the desired result. It occurred to me the other day -- and it always seems like I get these revelations after riding in a clinic with Henrik Johansen -- that much of our time in the saddle should be spent doing nothing.

What? Slouch along like a sack of potatoes? Snooze in the saddle?

No, of course not. I don't mean you, the rider, shouldn't care about what the horse is or isn't doing. "Doing Nothing" means you let him do what he needs to do, give him the responsibility to carry out his part of the task without nagging -- or, as I sometimes think of it, "helping."

Henrik pointed out that when I used continual aids Fable (yes, that "Fable" -- Eddie isn't ready to go back to the work a clinic requires yet) became somewhat sullen and resistent. He also pointed out that when I simply rode in balance and with my plan in mind Fable relaxed and showed the true beauty of his gaits.

Now here's the important part.

At no time was I overtly, much less strongly, driving the horse forward. Of course I was trying to do the exercises Henrik was asking of us, and of course I wanted to be perfect. However, what I wasn't doing was the "Nothing" that not only gave Fable the opportunity to show me he could do his job, but also told him I approved of and trusted him.

I lacked the pure "Nothing" that allowed Fable to shine his brightest.

Think of it this way: Look at a painting of say, a horse. The horse is defined by the lines and brush strokes that depict its body, limbs, neck, etc. But it's also defined by the space around it -- the empty space. Empty space plays an important role, but it is space you don't notice because it doesn't intrude. If there's something wrong with the empty space, it muddies the painting.

Don't believe me? Take a look at some "camouflage" art. Bev Doolittle's paintings are a particular favorite of mine. She hides people and animals in the negative space of her paintings. I went to a talk she gave once, years and years ago, and remember clearly how impressed I was at the complex process, the layers and layers of planning she went through to create a single painting.

That "Empty Space" isn't ever as empty as it seems. It serves a purpose and takes training to get right.

I can't help but notice how much time I spend every day filling space with activity. Less frantic "doing" and more purposeful "quiet" to allow the important things to shine through might be a good life lesson. And likely as difficult to accomplish out of the saddle as in it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Can't Make Me


I've had "Fable," a dark bay Holsteiner gelding, in training for a number years. I adore him. He's a handsome fellow with more than a couple of interesting quirks.
Fable -  busy thinking

Let me be very clear that the very first time I met him he oozed attitude. It was a while ago, so I'd be lying if I said I saw something more noble under that sullen and disrespectful demeanor. However, I know myself well enough to say that I must have. I like a challenge, but I'm no fool. I want at least a flicker of hope that I'll succeed before I start a project. Otherwise, why bother? And frankly, with a horse, why put yourself at such physical risk?

Since that first meeting, Fable has taught me well.

He has taught me that cooperation requires respect from both parties.

His "you can't make me" attitude has shown me that "yes, I can" must not only be accompanied by firmness, but also a willingness to change an approach when no progress is noted, coupled with a dogged determination to focus on the clarity of the goal.

He has taught me not to let a moment of disagreement dissolve into a fight where the focus becomes the fight.

No one wins in that situation.

So, what has been the outcome? Has he abandoned his attitude, donned the mantle of submission? Transformed into a shining example of cooperation?

Well … not exactly.

He's lost the sullenness, but he's retained his opinionated personality. Sure, his first reaction is still to argue when he doesn't understand a request, but the arguments are brief (far less explosive) and simply a way of communicating that he is unclear. He knows I'm listening to him -- no need to wage a war.

And here's the really cool thing: Once he understands, he not only does what he's asked, but improves with each repetition. I call that, "generosity." I'd never have known he possessed that quality of spirit when we first met.