Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Message

Through the daily pace of our hectic lives it is easy to lose perspective on our blessings. A water line breaks requiring immediate repair; working a horse in the arena being cut short even before you get started because a neighbor has a sick horse he wants you to look at; your wife calls from town with a dead battery in her truck;....I could give many examples. But it's important to stop for a minute or two and actually reflect on our blessings. I have many, much more than I deserve, even though I'm found of half jokingly saying "I'm thankful that nobody has killed me yet."

I'm grateful for being born an American. When I was an Army Range Rider, I would go to Middle and High Schools for career day. Why I kept getting invitations to do so is beyond me as I'm sure my job didn't appeal to most people,...maybe it was my horse who always generated interest. Anyway, I would tell those kid's, particularly the high school kids, to be grateful that they too were born or residing in the United States. My travel all over the Middle East and Africa taught me that there is no other country with as many opportunities as the U.S. I also told those kid's not to squander those opportunities....honor your blessings by maximizing those gifts.

I'm thankful for that morning cup of coffee in a quiet house. I'm grateful for every morning that I find the horses hungry, curious and looking for me. I'm thankful that every day my dogs act like they haven't seen me in months and run up to me hoping to get petted. While I am still sad I lost my first wife 19 years ago, I am grateful each and everyday that she left me with a daughter who has become a beautiful, talented and healthy adult. I am thankful for having a second chance with a new wife who is amazingly resilient at besting cancer despite all the poking, prodding, surgeries and radiation.

And even though it may pale in comparison to the family blessings, I am grateful for being physical able (maybe not so mentally able) to continue a journey in developing my horsemanship as best as I can. I am conflicted living in a complicated age with technology seemingly changing every day, but without some of the modern communications tools, many of us would miss out on hearing or seeing what the best horseman have to say or do. So I'm grateful for all those top hands who willingly share their hard earned knowledge. That knowledge was hard to come by a short 30 years ago.

So I guess my message is for people to think about letting themselves be thankful for their blessings, large and small. Let yourself be amazed at all the little miracles we experience each day. I'm thankful that I still find great joy in a horse making the smallest improvement. And like a friend of mine said to me years ago, "be thankful that the horse doesn't hold a grudge!"

Happy Thanksgiving and a hope for continued blessings.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Riding is Riding: Observations from a Dressage Clinic

I was asked by a local Dressage Organization to film riders working with a Freestyle Consultant in developing individual dressage routines to music. I thought it would interesting so I said I'd do it, setting up early on a Sunday morning at one end of the Dressage Court - by the way, don't call it an arena - and started filming riders as the consultant matched up dressage maneuvers with the music. Right off the bat it was pretty neat as I had a lady rider coming towards me at a long trot to the music of Cherokee Nation by Paul Revere and the Raiders. This lady rider actually does this routine wearing a Indian feather bonnet and buckskins. 

Even though the riders, both english and western dressage, rode in contact with their horses - meaning the reins were taunt as opposed to riding on a loose rein as many of us try to achieve - the horses I saw were all in a vertical head position, broke at the poll and nose perpendicular to the ground and the riding I saw exhibited was pretty precise. The riders all demonstrated that they had achieved a good level of communication between themselves and their horses as they went through their leg yields or forward momentum with lateral movement (what I know as two tracking), counter cantering which is riding a circle at a lope on the wrong lead (yes, on purpose), doing turns on the front end and then on hocks, simple and flying lead changes, and showing straightness in riding diagonally from one end of the court to the other. All what anybody would recognize as excellent riding. 

So at some level, riding is riding, be it English/Western dressage or trail riding, or even working cows in a sorting pen. Many of us trying to develop communication with our horses where we can move the front end over independently of the back end and vice versa, or getting a lateral side pass (again, two tracking) and are all doing pretty much the same things with our horses.

In the annual Arena Obstacles Challenges I put on, I always have tasks that require much of the same. Many rider and horses who compete in equitation type events do well when asked to demonstrate a 360 degree on the hocks but maybe not so well when asked to retrieve a slicker off a fence and put it on. The reverse is true for the trail riders having not so much difficulty in riding their horses through a rope curtain but are challenged when asking to two track a short distance.

I think what hampers some of us is that we practice what we can do okay on horseback, but neglect the things we don't do well because we have difficulty in making progress on those things and it's natural to avoid frustration or the ever present reminder that we just ain't having success. But it's important to keep at it as it makes us and our horse's more handier.

I was reading in Eclectic Horseman magazine that a some readers stopped their subscriptions as they don't find value in some of the articles that are outside what they perceive as their riding discipline. Actually, it's pretty challenging to try and understand some of the concepts of dressage and other theories. And while I'm not about to wear a set of tight pants, I enjoy not only those written articles on dressage, technical riding and even bio-mechanics, but also the videos of Jim Hicks, Wendy Murdoch and others in the Eclectic Horseman's Horseman's Gazette DVD quarterly series.

Rider's tend to be cliquish,...ropers only roping, barrel racers only running barrels, dressage riders only in the lettered court, and if we stay that way we're risking missing out if we don't explore other riding concepts and lessons. The lady, Martha Diaz, on the buckskin in the photo at left is a well respected dressage trainer and competitor. I've contracted her before to come in and watch me ride to correct what I can't see. Not only worth it, but kinds of frees up your mind to understand that if you are open to it, you can learn from other disciplines, after all riding is pretty much riding.