Monday, February 2, 2015

Face Plant, and a Message from the Universe

Saturday morning, when I went to get Dawn in the pasture, I managed to do a face plant - it takes skill . . .  I haltered her, and as I turned to lead her back to the barn, I managed to catch my right foot in something - probably frozen hay by the bale, and down I went.  My left knee and nose took most of the impact, but darn, things were frozen hard.  No serious damage done, other than a sore nose and knee.  As I was figuring out how to get up - wait a minute for the pain to abate, knees and hands under and back up - Dawn was looking down at me: "why are you down there and what are you doing?"

I'm inclined to take things like this as messages from the universe.  Even if they aren't, they're good opportunities for reflection. Why did I do a face plant?  Because I was more focussed on achieving the task - getting Dawn to the barn - than I was on my surroundings - I was in my head instead of being present and aware.  For me, times when things don't quite work smoothy or well have this as a common theme.

What I want to do: be with, and work together with, each of my horses in a way that allows us to be soft together and learn together.

What I often do instead: mechanically march through the tasks of grooming, tacking and riding in order to get it "done" - not because I don't want to ride, but because I need to check off the box, and with four riding horses, there are a lot of boxes to check if you're inclined that way, which I often am.  This can result in mechanical rides, where the horse may get exercised but the softness and learning may be compromised.

I sometimes worry with my four that each horse won't get the attention he or she needs or the exercise and training.  But my horses are in all day turnout, and their pastures have hills, so they get plenty of horse social time and exercise.  If I never rode them, they'd probably be happy - well, everybody but Red, who tends to sulk if he doesn't get enough attention (particularly if someone else is getting attention) and enough ring time - he loves to be out there doing something and seeing everything that's going on.

It's a good time to go back and look at my goals for the year after last spring's Mark Rashid clinic.  Here they are (taken from the sidebar post):
1.  Direct rather than react, and do it clearly but with softness and not abruptly - don't wait to see what happens or leave gaps in the connection with the horse. 
2.  Keep your focus only on what you want the horse to do, not on what the horse may be doing that may be unwanted behavior or on what the horse may be distracted by.  Focusing on what the horse shouldn't do doesn't tell the horse what to do, and focusing on a distraction confirms for the horse that  the distraction is worth paying attention to. Both take your eye off the ball - what you do want the horse to do. 
3.  While directing, get the timing of releases right to reward moments of softness.  When using secondary cues (to avoid upping the primary cue), the timing must be instantaneous - don't leave a timing gap. 
4.  Leave only the opening(s) you want the horse to use - make sure you're giving adequate direction and are clear and precise.  It's a good thing to be soft, but don't try so hard to be soft that the horse can't understand what you want. 
5.  If the horse keeps repeating a behavior you don't want or doesn't seem to be able to do what you do want (assuming that there's no physical problem for the horse), do a whole-body inventory (of you) to find the cause - the horse is very likely doing exactly what you've been asking the horse to do.  And be sure that you're doing what you want the horse to do on the inside of you before, not after, asking the horse to do it. 
6.  And the big one, which underlies everything - softness isn't just about horsemanship, it's about life, and you have to build it into your whole life for it to be available in your horsemanship - it's not something you can just turn on and off.
All of those goals require my complete and continuous attention to the horse, and to my body position and timing relating to the horse, in the moment.  If I'm to offer my horses direction, with softness and timing, I have to be present with them - really present - physically, mentally, and in fact spiritually.  I can't be just going through the motions, or doing one thing so I can get on to the next thing (or the next horse).

My conclusion, after face plant, is that I need to be more present, in my life in general, and with my horses when we work together.  No mechanical riding or just checking off boxes or rides.  Instead, although I should have a specific plan for each ride, I also need to be really there for my horse - that specific horse at that moment.  The horse can't take up connection if I'm too distracted or rushed or goal-oriented to consistently offer it.  I need to also take the pressure off myself - I'm the source of my own troubles - isn't that always the case?  If I do fewer rides each week, or each day, but that allows the quality of our rides to be better and therefore more helpful to the horse, then that's what I need to do.  Because I had three, and now have four, horses to ride with on a regular basis, and I love riding, I've allowed myself to fall into the "just get it done" trap, which puts pressure on me and them.  Plans aren't a bad thing, but flow, intention and softness have to always come first.  I can't make progress on my horse goals if I'm not mentally and spiritually there to do it . . .


  1. Hi, Kate: I am a long time reader of your blog but have never commented before. Your post today about being truly present is so true, not only with horses, but with our whole lives. We miss so much when we are thinking about something else. One of my favorite sayings is "Life is not a dress rehearsal". Thank you for the reminder and for sharing your journey with us.

    1. Sharon - thank you for your comment.

  2. Reflection and reminding ourselves of what we want to achieve are very important. Glad you weren't hurt...I know those "looks" well. :)

  3. I'd have to say I'm guilty of being mechanical sometimes and not thinking or feeling what's going on around me just trying to "get it done." I do have to remind myself to pay attention at times and be aware of everything around me. This is a good reminder.

    Glad you weren't hurt badly. I thought when I read face plant that you fell off a horse. Happy to hear that wasn't the case.

  4. Another excellent post- though I'm sorry to hear the reason for the post, hope you aren't sore for long! This reflects on something Shayla and I were discussing the other day, about horses at training barns not getting the best from their rider because they just become a commodity, a job, and there's no real connection to the rider. It becomes mechanical- so many horses to ride in one day, and like you said, elements of the ride just become boxes to check off.

  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one who lives in my head and does things in a mechanical, rather than fully present, way. I'm impressed that you took a lesson from the face plant -- and that you shared the moment with us. It is something I could easily do but I'm not sure I'd admit to it on my blog.

  6. yup I "hear ya" just wish the reminders didn't hurt

  7. Thanks for the reminder. Sorry that I am benefiting from your fall....feel better soon.

  8. Ouch! Hope you aren't too sore!

    I'm totally guilty of this. We get so caught up in other things that we just go through the motions...without thought or emotion. A good reminder to be present.

  9. I get it! But you are so good at seeing yourself and realizing what you are doing! Riding these four beautiful creatures is supposed to be a pleasure, not a job. You are more ambitious than the vast majority and need to enjoy the pleasure of their company while reaching your many goals. I hate it when I fall because I was not paying attention. Hope you are feeling less sore now.

  10. Somehow I missed this until today - so glad you are not hurt and really happy to read that you are taking it as a reminder to be more fully present and to enjoy the moments with the horses. Just read your renewed goals in the newer post and it sounds like a terrific plan - for you AND for them. I don't think it's possible to have true connection when we aren't fully present. They know it and they mirror the mechanical "self" we present. Enjoy!

  11. I catch myself getting into "work mode" at the barn sometimes too and later I'm like "why was I rushing?!"


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