Sunday, May 31, 2009

the view from the porch and a few thoughts on dressage

It's been a hot day and a lazy one. I've not done much of anything and yet the day has slipped by, hour by hour, until now it's evening and dusk is turning the sun to shadow outside. The cats are lazing on the front porch, and horses are grazing in various spots until later when they'll all go out to the field for the evening.

Last night my daughter and I went to the annual dressage competition that attracts a lot of upper level riders and horses. I hoped as we drove over that I wouldn't see anything that caused me to regret supporting the show. Unfortunately the very first ride we saw was a young rider doing an FEI pony class, and between her rigid hands, the tight noseband, flash, and her quite agitated rotating leg jabs, the pony was straining to open his mouth, showing the whites of his eyes, and threatening to spook and/or bolt about every 5 strides. He was the very image of a horse pushed to explosion, but he didn't. She held him in from every angle and as far as I'm concerned, he was being a saint not to spontaneously combust out from under her.

This was not my idea of dressage, and it was difficult to watch, but we stayed on and were happy to see more harmonious riding later in the afternoon and evening.

My eyes roamed from the horses' mouths to the riders' legs and then up to the hands again. It was no surprise that quiet, kind hands and legs plus a relaxed mouth/jaw/poll yielded elegant, fluid rides.

I found this quote earlier in the week, and it was appropriate last night as I watched many horses and riders, most at the upper levels of the sport. Only a few had what Albrecht is talking about.

The “aids” that have become a technical term in horsemanship are no real help for the horse, as long as he perceives them clearly as interference from the outside. They only deserve to be called “aids” when they blend into the horse’s movement so seamlessly that the horse’s desired response becomes “instinctual” and that the rider’s “orders” direct the horse without him perceiving it this way. The observer on the outside will therefore always have to get the impression that “the rider thinks and the horse carries out on his own.

-Kurt Albrecht (1996; translation: T. Ritter)

There were many illustrations of collected work, including the piaffe, the pirouette, and tempi changes. Some were truly beautiful and others looked forced and almost mechanical, and it isn't hard to imagine those mechanical renderings of what should be freely flowing movement creating, over the longer term, joint issues.

Ritter's quote reminded me of the conversation my daughter and I had on our way home last night, having to do with which of our horses would be good at what higher level movements. In my mind that's as it should be - the work should come out of what comes naturally and beautifully to the individual horse. Our pony does levades in the field and I'm sure he could easily be taught to do them in hand. Cody has a natural piaffe that is quite beautiful. Keil Bay floats when he does an extended trot. Salina has the style and elegance to do flying changes that even an amateur rider can sit with ease.

I've experienced some mistaken upper level movements on Keil Bay, and for all I know, that may be the closest he and I come to a canter pirouette. But when it happened, it was fluid and graceful and I sat it well because I had no idea it was coming and it was over before I could start trying to control it. On some level, I love the concept of "accidental dressage" and now that I think of it, it's the sort of sport Keil Bay and I can manage quite nicely. :)

In the course of his education a horse will sooner or later offer most dressage movements on his own, either out of a misunderstanding or as an evasion - travers, counter canter, flying changes, piaffe, passage, even airs above the ground. So, in order to "train" the horse to do them, the rider merely has to seize the right moment and polish what the horse is offering. Before the right time has come, however, the thinking rider will not punish the horse for the premature execution of a movement he wants him to perform at some point in the future. Rather, he will observe and remember the circumstances that made the horse volunteer the movement, so he can use them to his advantage when the time has come.

-Thomas Ritter

I watched the faces of the riders, and the ones who impressed me were the ones who kept the same focused expression no matter what the horse did. It was nice to see the smiles when things went well, but better still seeing the measured faces of patience and acceptance, because you know when you see that in a competition, the horse has experienced it at home.

The biggest enemy to the partnership of dressage is impatience and the human nature to dominate other creatures.

-Walter Zettl

There were a few idiot people walking around, as usual. One supposed trainer and competitor sat behind us during the Grand Prix musical freestyles and did loud, piercing catcall whistles when the winning horses rode their victory lap, in an effort to make the horses spook. I felt like spooking myself, and in the process accidentally belting her one.

There were several musical freestyles that were good, but only one that revealed a horse and rider in their element with the music and the movement. The crowd responded with spontaneous applause a number of times during the ride, and a huge ovation afterward. The judges rewarded the pair with winning scores, and that was good enough to overpower the noise of the banshee behind us.

Today the only horse movement going on here is tail swishing and the occasional snort and shake of the head. We're pondering dressage from the porch while the temperatures fall. As far I'm concerned every equine here gets a blue ribbon.

For true equestrian art there are no recipes and no tricks, regardless of what saddle we ride in. One has to learn that the greatest attention must be paid to the seemingly easiest things and that that is often the most difficult thing. One of the most important principles for a rider is always to put the horse first, in other words, to look out for his wellbeing in his stabling, care, and training. The moment the human starts working with the horse determines whether he will become a great athlete and artist who will be able to look back on a long, healthy life, or whether his path ends all too soon due to poor handling and incorrect work. With knowledge, time, discipline, and body control it is possible to bring the horse almost without training aids into a relaxed position by honest work. You don't have to reach the highest level, but you must always have the feeling that whatever you have accomplished was accomplished well and with honest work. Then you and your horse will always be content.

- Dorothee Baumann-Pellny (Im Damensattel: Eine Reitlehre f�r die Frau, Olms Press - 1997; translation: T. Ritter)

Monday, May 25, 2009

addendum from billie

If you enjoy reading about the donkeys and seeing their photos, you will LOVE Sheaffer's blog.

You may also visit Primrose Donkey Sanctuary online and can send donations to:

PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary
1296 Bowmanton Road - RR 4
Roseneath, ON

Sunday, May 24, 2009

happy birthday to our dear friend sheaffer!

Dear Sheaffer,

We tried our best to come but they said it was too far.

So we decided to have our own little party in your honor.

First I had some hay.

Then Redford tried to play Pin The Tail on Rafer Johnson.

Then (Redford here!) we ate some grass. See how good we are at dodging the buttercups?

And then I went over to say my own special Happy Birthday to my favorite uncle!

I (Rafer Johnson back again) send you a tip of the ear

and a roll in the dust, and my very best donkey wishes for your birthday!

Then she made us pose for a birthday portrait in your honor.

Happy Birthday, Sheaffer!! We wish we were ALL there to celebrate with you!

Rafer Johnson, Redford, and the whole November Hill Menagerie

Friday, May 22, 2009

we have a chimney swallow!

For the past few days I've been hearing noises in our woodstove's chimney, which rises through the air to the ceiling right in the middle of our living room/kitchen area.

At first the sounds seemed like pieces of debris falling, and I figured some of the stuff on the inside of the chimney had loosened and was tumbling down the pipe. Yesterday, the noises became a bit more intense, and it began to sound more purposeful.

This morning I asked my husband to check it out. He opened the lid to the woodstove, stuck his hand into the chimney hole, and then jerked back with a start. I thought he had been bitten, but he had been startled by the feel of something soft.

Initially we thought it might be a mouse. Then a squirrel. Then we got serious and my son aimed the big flashlight into the chimney hole. It was a bird!

My husband gently took the bird and released it off the back deck. Probably 15 minutes or so later, the noises resumed.

I'm not sure why any bird would want to live inside a sooty chimney, but apparently this one (these? we think there were two) do. They are busily cleaning out my chimney every time they go in and out, as evidenced by the growing pile of cinders in the stovetop.

The funny thing is that they seem quite comfortable with the noises WE make. The chimney is a metal tube, not enclosed with brick or stone, and yesterday they were scrabbling away as my children, my mom, and I played a roaringly loud game of Apples to Apples, and then, even more funny, my mom started teaching us to play Rook.

For now, we are co-habitating quite nicely.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

missed photo ops

My husband asked this week why I wasn't taking pictures lately for the blog. I have no good answer. The camera is sitting right here on my desk, easy to grab as I head out the back door. I think I've just been so focused on other things I've gotten out of the habit.

But of course with all the goings-on here there are hundreds of photo ops each day. I missed getting the donkeys and Salina getting trims this week. There was one particular span of time when Salina was getting hind feet done in the grass paddock, Redford was facing B. and you could just see in his eyes he was thinking about taking B's cowboy hat off and running with it, and Rafer Johnson was looking over B's shoulder, pondering the trimming tools and now and then resting his head on B's shoulder.

There is no photo of Redford getting a little antsy during his trim and Rafer Johnson marching over to stick his nose in Redford's face as if to say: just stand still and it will be over soon! No image of Rafer Johnson standing with his head low, making happy donkey snorts while B. trimmed his feet. (for that one we'd need audio as well!)

I also missed Keil Bay and Cody taking turns lying down to sleep while awaiting their trims. That is just how relaxed they are about the hoof stuff. I am probably GLAD I missed Keil Bay taking B's empty shirt pocket in his teeth and pulling when he found it empty of the alfalfa cookies B. gives them after their feet are done.

There have been at least two memorable sunsets this week that I enjoyed but did not photograph. A number of our rose bushes are laden with flowers, and we are lucky again this year of plentiful rain to have the wildflower meadow stretching out alongside the driveway.

Today I missed shots of the pony helping me put out the fly predators (something about the way he was using his muzzle to check out the package made me think of him inside the house with a dust cloth, cleaning away), and I missed the two redtails who went shrieking over the barn as though on a mission.

It's probably not necessary to say that in fact I missed none of these images - but it would have been fun to also share them here! Maybe tomorrow I'll remember to take it out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

share your favorite quote

I just opened Jane Savoie's little book, A Winning Attitude, to a random page for one of her tips on jump-starting attitude.

It said, "seek sources of inspiration."

So that's what I'm doing. Looking for quotes that inspire.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

Of the five elements, none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some short, and the moon waxes and wanes.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Saturday, May 16, 2009

my new secret to riding every day

I discovered this week that if I get up and dress in riding clothes, with the intention to do the morning chores and then ride, by the time I'm done with the chores I'm a sweaty mess. My image of being graceful and in harmony in the saddle has pretty much melted.

So I decided to take a different approach. I get up and dress in jeans and T-shirt, then do the morning chores at a leisurely pace b/c I'm not trying to get a ride in. Since the horses are on night-time turn-out now, they get their breakfast, a quick grooming, and can nap in the shady barn with their fans.

I get as sweaty as possible and come in to take a shower. THEN I put on the breeches and clean shirt and in the late afternoon/early evening (depending on the heat factor), I walk out and ride, with at least a shot at mounting without dripping with sweat.

This plan won't work once we hit the real summer heat, and I'll either have to get up REALLY early and ride before chores, or else postpone the ride until near dark, when the bugs have gone away and the heat has lessened. But for now, this is working well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

two ladies "of a certain age" and the very hormonal week

A few days ago I was doing Salina's morning grooming, which includes applying a warm sponge to any tick bites she might have, as she reacts intensely to the nasty little things, and can develop big oozy lumps that heal quickly if allowed to drain. The warm water and calendula solution facilitate that nicely.

Most of the time Salina stands perfectly and without being haltered or tied while I do this, as I am gentle, and she knows it ends up feeling much better. Some days it even seems to feel good to her, and she will stretch her head out and close her eyes while I sponge away.

I'd sponged the bite twice and she'd been fine, but then suddenly she whipped her head around and said STOP. I didn't listen, and when I did it yet again, she swung her hind end in my direction and kicked out. It was a slow-motion swing of the hind end, and she kicked out in such a way that it was clear she wasn't aiming to make contact, but I felt she'd been unnecessarily rude and I threw the wet sponge at her hind end as she kicked out, and said NO!

She trotted out of the barn into the shade of the big oak tree and then stopped and looked back at me. Her eyes were worried, and I was already sorry for our snappishness back and forth, so I walked out and took her head and we just stood together for a moment.

The prelude to this was my own little fit an hour earlier, provoked by my husband putting a load of hay where I had asked him not to put it, and seeing it there caused me to burst into tears and complain that he hadn't listened to me.

Just like I hadn't listened to Salina.

As usual, Salina and I are on the same wavelength.

Yesterday, she allowed all the grooming, all the tick checking, even under her tail and in the more private areas of her body with no complaint. But then I checked one last place and she squealed and kicked the stall door behind her. This time there was no swinging in my direction, and she was clearly aiming completely away from ME but that hoof kicked the stall door HARD.

The prelude to yesterday is that Salina is in the full throes of her second heat cycle in a month, and suddenly everything seems to be touch and go with her. One moment something is fine, the next she is pitching a fit. Does this sound familiar? It certainly does to me!

Today I took one look at her, tail lifted and ready to squeal at the slightest provocation, and decided that even though I could clearly see a newly-attached tick in a very delicate place on her body, and even though I know full well that tick needs to be removed and that she indeed WANTS it removed, this is just not the day I'm prepared to go there.

Maybe she'll let the girl in the house do it. Maybe it will fall off on its own. Maybe the hormone levels around here will suddenly shift and we can get through it in our normal calm way.

This is one time I'm glad the rest of them are geldings!

Added note: she allowed my husband to remove the evil tick. Granted, he put on her halter and tied her to do it, but she behaved nicely and the dueling hormones did not have to come into play. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

balancing the days

Yesterday was one of those wonderful days when everything seemed to fall into the perfect balance: I started the morning editing, spent several hours in the barn feeding and setting up horses for the day, came in to do some chores in the house, took a shower and got on my riding clothes, did more editing, and a few more chores, and then mid-afternoon went out to ride the Big Bay and do groundwork with Cody. I wasn't rushed, and got back inside just in time to go to the grocery store with my husband.

Some days this combination just doesn't happen, or if it does, it feels like I have pushed hard to get all the things I want to do into one day.

I realized as it was happening yesterday morning that part of the charm was my being centered. Now, I normally do feel fairly centered, but there is definitely a level of centeredness that goes beyond that, and that's where I was yesterday. Everything flowed.

The peak of my day was getting ready to ride. It was quiet in the barn, the fans were going and the horses were rested and happy. I switched out reins on Keil's bridle, cleaned the new set, reviewed some notes on the outside rein, and then tacked him up in his stall. I haven't done that in a long time - but Salina and the donkeys were in and out of the barn aisle, so I didn't want to spend time moving them. I assembled everything on his stall door and then Salina hung her head over the saddle and watched, which made me wonder if she misses being ridden. She eagerly smelled the white dressage pad when I offered it to her, but turned when I started to place it on her back, so we agreed that perhaps reminiscing about riding is plenty. While tacking up the Big Bay I talked to Salina about my wish that I'd known her when she was younger, and that she would have taught me so many good things about being a quiet, balanced rider. Even the past few years she taught me a lot about that, but I would dearly love to have ridden her when she had her healthy knees and full power.

By the time I got to the arena, the donkeys were out at the gate watching. Keil Bay and I spent about 10 minutes at the mounting block, back to the work of taking one step at a time, making sure that one step was solid before I moved on. I tried to take out any moments of hesitation on my part. And of course it worked perfectly, and he stood like his old soldier self when I finally did the complete process and mounted.

We had an easy ride, as I wanted to focus more on the outside rein than anything else, and we enjoyed walking and some trotting.

After the ride I sponged Keil in his stall and left him eating his hay. Cody and I did some free longing and then I decided to put him on the line. We worked mostly on getting a nice rhythm at the trot instead of rushing, and ended with some cool down work on the lead line. My daughter continued that in the barn yard and did some trailer loading practice, and we ended the "work" loading Redford. (effortless job, since he saw the trailer doors open, came out, and hopped right in!) I am thinking that Redford might end up being the traveling companion for the geldings, as Rafer is much more happy staying with Salina, and Redford seems eager to hang with the "big boys" in the field. He most definitely seems interested in travel.

I woke up this morning with the instant happy feeling: today can be just like yesterday. There is nothing on the schedule to chop up the day. And now, sitting here, I am hoping it unfolds in just the same balanced manner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

you can email the USEA here

I just did, after reading from what I consider a reliable source that Mark Phillips, in response to a barn worker's distress over Bailey Wick's death this past weekend, said:

"Toughen up, Cupcake."

USEA contact page

And while you're at it, email the USEF too.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

another horse dies on x-country

I couldn't bring myself to write about this after Rolex last month, and I'm not going to write much now after Jersey Fresh, except to say that I am APPALLED at what is happening in eventing. I have been appalled for several years now, and I'm not seeing anything change for the better. And if I hear one more person say "the horse died doing what he/she loved to do" I think I will scream.

The day I see a horse die while free-jumping an advanced course with no bit, no rider, no spurs, and no whip, I'll concede that point.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

oh, dear, I forgot the best part!!

I was so caught up in replaying the vet visit I forgot what happened BEFORE.

We were out in the barn trying to get everything straightened up and ready so that horses could relax after their shot, etc.

We're fortunate in that our barn is set up so that on one side the geldings can go in and out of stalls to shelter to paddock, and on the other, the donkeys and Salina can go in and out of one stall to another paddock. There's one stall that doesn't have a back door, and we use that one as a dental stall for floating, and today it was a great place for the pony to "wake up" from his sedation.

We close the gates to the field and the horses are close but still able to move around, munch on hay, etc. while awaiting their turn with the vet.

So, I had asked my daughter to put halters on so it would be quick and easy to get them one by one when the vet arrived. She had that done in short order.

A little bit later I was heading out to the round bale to get a barrow full of hay, and I saw Redford running out the back door of the stall, bare-headed, with Rafer Johnson's halter in his mouth, chasing Rafer Johnson, also bare-headed!

Those donkeys managed to get both their halters off and then Redford was trying to put Rafer's back on!

That got me laughing and I feel sure was a big step in my not having anxiety today.

Thank you, donkey boys!

vet day

I successfully managed to keep my negative medical procedure energy out of the way for today's vet visit, which I think is pretty good considering I have my own dental cleaning with valium set for tomorrow morning!

The pony had to be sedated to get his ear cleaned out and checked. He was a little booger, but when she got the last bit of gunk out, he lowered his head and leaned into her hand, which seemed to mean it felt good to get that stuff out of there! He got his Coggins' pulled and we didn't do the spring shot, but will do it later in the month. We also discussed the possibility of doing titers on him instead of vaccinating, given his sensitivity to the shots.

Our female vet now has a tech assistant who travels with her, and she was wonderful. She uses tapping to distract the horses from the needles, and although the pony was sedated, he still needed the tapping, which was a wonderful tool to keep him quiet.

His teeth are thankfully fine!

Everyone else got Coggins' pulled, the E/WEE/West Nile/Tetanus combo, which I had originally opted not to do, but the vet didn't have just EEE - so on we went, and had teeth checked. And they all got their homeopathic remedy to help with reactions to the shots.

Salina went next so she wouldn't work up any intensity fretting over the donkeys' getting their stuff done. She was a goddess of composure and it was REALLY good for me to hold her and realize that the two of us together can be calm. (for readers who haven't been here long, we had a sort of debacle with Salina last spring after Rafer's gelding, involving triple sedation, a twitch, knee injections, and me getting bowled over, which we hope never to experience again - and after all that, it was an abscess in her hoof, not her knee at all!)

Vet said Salina looks marvelous and the best she's ever seen her, and her teeth are great. We went over her new diet and discussed Equioxx as a possibility for later years if she becomes less comfortable. For now I use Bute the night before trims and that's it. For now, that is enough.

The donkeys were quite amazing, although Redford decided the clippers were directly from Hell Itself and we decided to pull blood without them. He and Rafer handled everything perfectly and were quite happy when all was done and they were able to rejoin Salina, who of course had watched every moment of the process over the stall door.

Cody needs to gain a little weight, which I'm sure I can facilitate, and we're going to get his teeth floated sometime soon just to keep on top of some ramping on his back teeth. Updated about his PSSM genetic test and the treatment protocol I'm using. Vet said she would NOT do the muscle biopsy if the protocol is so clearly working, so we're on the same page with that.

Keil Bay was his usual kingly self, arching his neck to strike his most handsome pose, but being incredibly easy and quiet about his needles and his teeth. His teeth look great as well, so that was that for today's visit!

The vet and I discussed de-worming protocol and some new info, plus some NC specific info, and we came up with a good plan. I mentioned wanting to learn to do our own fecal counts and she was overjoyed - so starting this month, I'll be doing fecals before and after the de-worming. This will allow me to only worm horses that actually need it, as well as test to see what drugs are working well on our farm and which, if any, are not working due to parasite resistance.

I'm excited, if you can believe it, about the prospect of putting horse manure in baggies, labeling with their names, and using the cool McMasters chambered slides with grids for counting worm eggs.

All I can say is this: I need never worry about running out of things to do and learn when it comes to horsekeeping!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Over the weekend, I watched an episode of MacLeod's Daughters, an Australian TV show I've been getting on Netflix. When one of the horses foundered, Stevie, one of the main characters, refused to take the vet's advice to put the horse down. She set up a forge and made a set of shoes to take the pressure off. In the middle of the night, during a terrible wind storm, she stood in a barn and shaped white hot metal. It worked, and the horse lived.

I loved that episode. I wish I were that skilled and innovative, although my method would likely be hoof boots with foam pads instead of metal.

We thankfully haven't had founder here, but lately it's been an alphabet soup of littler things: tick bites, an odd ear full of wax on the pony, thunderstorms and tornado watches, and slightly muggy, jungle-like weather that makes it necessary to take showers between each round of barn chores.

Thus far my standby, calendula tincture and warm water, has been the remedy of choice for almost everything.

On the good side, Keil Bay is losing the tan-colored hair on the backs of his front legs, the pony is no longer in need of the grazing muzzle, Salina's annual rain rot during shedding seems to be resolved, and Cody's flaxen mane and tail are shifting to a deep copper color. Donkeys are healthy but not overweight, Keil Bay's hooves are looking good, and my sense is all of this has to do with balancing the diets of these equines.

I've completed Eleanor Kellon's NRC Plus class and received my certificate, which I hung proudly in the feed room, where it serves as a reminder that I am constantly learning new things and new ways to keep the equines healthy and fit. Next week I start the next course, Nutrition As A Therapy. A bunch of us from this last NRC Plus class are taking it, so it will be fun to have familiar names on the discussion list.

Tomorrow we have the vet over for EEE shots, Coggins' tests, and teeth checks. She'll also be taking a peek inside a pony's ear just to make sure we're on the right track with that.

Otherwise, there are cicada shells everywhere, the sun is shining for the moment, and Keil Bay just blasted one of his hyena sounds through the neighborhood. Which likely means the pony is annoying him, and what that means is this: we're having a normal spring afternoon at November Hill.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

finding the joyful moments with Keil Bay

The Big Bay and I got back to work on Thursday, after another few week hiatus from riding. Fortunately for me, Keil tends to come back quickly after a break and more often than not, we've built on what went before, even with the time in between.

We're having a bit of a puzzle with the mounting block. Keil Bay has never had an issue with it, until I forgot to tighten the girth that one day and slid underneath when I tried to mount. Interestingly, he didn't move during that debacle, but since then about half the time he will take a step back when I get on the block.

I realized yesterday that part of what happens when he does move is that I've expected him to step back, and I hesitate. The moment I hesitate he starts to step back. So I slide the block to where he's stepped and start again, but if I hesitate, he takes yet another step back. I can work through the issue pretty quickly by breaking it down into pieces, but what I'd like to do is stop my own moment of hesitation. Which gets back to my middle-aged obsession with the mounting block being at the exact right spot for mounting, something that never used to matter when I rode as a girl/young woman.

Yesterday, we did the mounting block thing two times and the third time I just visualized EASE and vaulted myself up without allowing myself to think about it. That worked well.

I have become slightly obsessed with reins lately. I think it's mostly because that's the part of my riding I'm working on most diligently right now. I feel secure in the saddle, my legs mostly do what I want w/o my having to hyper-focus on them, and Keil Bay is in front of my leg and moving with light aids. So the hands/reins are the primary focus.

I've adjusted my wrist position enough that it's happening naturally now, and that alone has made a big positive change. I'm on to two things: connecting my "hand" all the way up to my shoulder, so that there's a continuous line of "energy" that doesn't get blocked at the wrists, and practicing being able to constantly adjust rein length without it being clumsy - which is, I guess, learning to maintain a soft but steady contact with Keil Bay's mouth.

It's one of those things that is immediately gratifying - when I get all the pieces to happen at the same time, he gets very round and soft and that "circular" energy of a horse moving completely through is obvious.

The hard part, as always, is not giving up when any of those pieces fall apart, which they do, regularly at this point.

I've been thinking for awhile that the beautiful web reins that are on Keil's bridle are too wide for my small hands. They are also a bit stiff, and taking them up and loosening them is awkward. When I ride Cody, whose reins are leather and much thinner and more supple, I find the motion of gathering up/loosening reins a more organic process.

So Thursday I switched an extra set of rubber reins from the pony's spare bridle onto Keil's bridle. Although really long on the pony, they were a bit too short for the Big Bay, but even so, they had a different feel, and my hands were more comfortable. I've been attached to Keil Bay's "gear" - all of which belonged to him when I got him, but it's time to make some changes. I'm hoping on my next trip to S. Pines I can find a pair of used leather reins in the right color that are already broken in. Meanwhile, I'm going to try another spare set we have that are longer.

I've also realized recently as I go through Jane Savoie's Happy Horse DVDs, and continue studying Walter Zettl's Dressage in Harmony, that I'm not utilizing the outside rein as effectively as I should be. I am using the inside rein for too many things, the outside not enough, and I've got to focus in on this for a few rides to try and balance the two.

Otherwise, we had a good ride. We did mostly walking, a bit of trot work, and ended with some really soft and beautiful walk/trot/walk transitions around the arena in both directions. I became completely attuned to the feel of the transition moment itself, and how wonderful it feels when the two of us are in sync and the transition comes from that deep place where our positions are good, and there's almost no need for the actual aids. It's more like I think the aid and he does it.

These pure, single moments when things are so finely tuned and working perfectly are what bring me the greatest joy in riding. That I'm getting tuned in enough to feel them makes me as happy as winning blue ribbons would.

I was reading a blog the other day where a group of posters keep a sort of journal of their riding and work with horses. There are a few posters who continually refer to their horses as idiots, and talk about them "being stupid." There's almost a derisive tone to their descriptions of every ride, and it makes me wonder what brings them back to the saddle.

I can't imagine ever calling any of our horses idiots. I can't imagine blaming my horse for things that don't work. For the most part, I figure everything that happens under saddle is ultimately my responsibility, since the horse wasn't born with a human being sitting on its back, and since I know without question that even though my horses are trained to carry a rider, I am far from perfect at being in balance, giving clear and consistent cues, and rewarding them properly when they do the exact right thing I've asked.

Each time I get on my horses, I do the same thing I do when I open a new book. I allow myself to be willing to be amazed. I never get out of the saddle without expressing gratitude for the ride.

Just as in day to day life, where looking for the joyous moments brings grace and satisfaction and fulfillment, seeking the same when riding can be a path to transformation with a horse. If we seek the pitch-perfect places, however fleeting they may be, and build on them, we find softness and willingness and connection.