As the start of each Winter season draws close, I try to check off a few things on my riding wish list before the wicked weather arrives. One of those items was riding Shiloh in a bit again. At https://thebackyardhorseblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/02/bitted-or-bitless/, I wrote about the reason I started riding him in a bitless bridle in 2018. I actually hadn’t ridden him in a bit yet in 2020. I was curious to see if his reaction to it would be any better.
While I don’t currently compete in anything, I would welcome the option to do some local stuff at some point. I used to enjoy taking my horses to fun shows, local shows and trail competitions like the now defunct ACTHA rides. Many breed and competitive organizations require a bit even at the lowest levels.
Of all the bits that Shiloh seemed unhappy about, he seemed the least unhappy in a loose ring 5 1/4 inch French link snaffle. So that is the bit I chose for a ride last week.
Shiloh had some dental work done earlier this year at the vet clinic. We’ve also made good progress in him accepting the contact in the bitless bridle this year (he used to not tolerate any rein contact between his face and my hands- bit or no bit- any pick up on the reins would result in head tossing). Seemed like a good time to go briefly back to the bit.
I’ll squash the suspense and say right off the bat that Shiloh DID ride better in the bit this year than previously. I was pleased to see that he reached for and experimented with some contact. He didn’t head toss or quickly snatch at the reins. Still, he was constantly chewing the bit and moving his jaw around in an exaggerated manner. Most notable was how loud his breathing became when we moved from walk to gait work.
I brought out a couple of ground poles to traverse periodically throughout the ride. I also put out my biggest tarp in a “table runner” type configuration. Shiloh did a nice job clearing the ground poles repeatedly and ran the tarp gauntlet multiple times. I love playing around with obstacles just for fun, but I also find that it helps me in helping him to lift and lengthen his back as well as helping him to think about articulating those leg joints. If he is flat, pacing or stumbling at any point, I know I need to ride differently to help him out.
Shiloh negotiated everything in the bit no differently than he does in the bitless getup. He even posed for what would turn out to be an antler photo, although neither of us realized at the time how the photo would appear 🙂
As the ride went on, he seemed to be experimenting more with the placement of his head and neck in a way that he doesn’t do in his bitless bridle. After about 20 minutes total riding time, I figured I had my answer about whether or not I should try to ride him more in the bit. I chose to end the ride there. Can you see in the shadow below that Shiloh is moving his jaw around?
Whatever it is about Shiloh’s natural anatomy or his injury (being kicked in the face as a foal), he remains uncomfortable carrying a bit IMO. Perhaps a different rider could help him along with this, but in the real world, I am the rider that he’s got. Also, I have been really pleased at the overall progress we have been making this year while riding exclusively in the bitless bridle. It is back to bitless riding for Mr. Shiloh and me.
Meanwhile, my other horse, Bear continues to do what any retired horse (or any horse) likes to do best. Eat, of course! I took this photo last week. The grass is still plentiful so the grazing muzzle stays on when he spends time outside of his paddock. Bear, now twenty-five years old, has EMS and PPID along with arthritis. Trying to maintain his health is an ongoing dance as we look towards Winter.
Horse Nation is one of my favorite websites. It is a nice mix of informative articles about horse care/riding and op-eds about happenings in the horse world. It also includes some “newspaper comics” material with its “Idea of Order” series and other light-hearted features. Here is a roundup of my recent article favorites:
Whenever I hear the word “horse” inside a song, it catches my attention. Of course often the horse mentioned in song is used to represent something else entirely. Even folks who have never touched a horse find powerful the imagery and emotion that horses conjure. It sometimes turns out the song isn’t really about a horse after all. While I do appreciate that type of artistry, I particularly like to listen to music written by horse people for horse people.
Enter the songwriter/singer, Templeton Thompson and her CD’s “Girls and Horses” and the “Songs From Seven Clinics”. Produced in 2006 and 2012 respectively, these CD’s are a well-worn part of my music collection. Coming from the country music genre, Templeton has composed songs for famous artists like Reba McEntire and Jo Dee Messina.
If you followed Julie Goodnight around 2010 or so, you might recognize Templeton’s song “Cowgirl Creed” as the theme song to Goodnight’s Horse Master TV series. Likewise, if you watched the DVD series “7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman”, you will have heard “Songs From Seven Clinics.”
Much of the music of “Girls and Horses” as well as “Songs From Seven Clinics” draws parallels between life in and out of the saddle. From thoughtful to upbeat to tear jerking, the songs and instrumentals strike at our relationship with the horse. Some of my favorites titles are “Ride Before It Rains”, “Follow You Anywhere” and “A Horse That Can Fly”. My favorite sad song is “She Remembers Riding” about an elderly woman who still recalls the horse of her past even while she no longer recognizes her family. If I live long enough, I suspect that will be me. You can find Templeton’s music at http://www.templetonthompson.com. If you sign up for her email list, she will send you a free song download.
Singer Mary Ann Kennedy at http://www.maryannkennedy.com is another artist with a bunch of songs specifically about riding and horses. Her jaunty tune “Gotta Go Feed” is something like the sound track to my life. My favorite of hers is “The Rhythm of The Ride.” It is a fun song if you like to country swing-dance or ride a posting trot.
“The rhythm of the ride. It’s a natural high. Two hearts beat and four feet fly. We are moving as one. Hoof beats are the perfect drum. To the rhythm. The rhythm of the ride.”
Mary Ann Kennedy
I went heavy on the American country music with this post. I am sure readers know that with the presence of horses across time, place and history, equines are by no means unique to this style of music. There are a ton of other artists singing about them across different music genres, languages and time periods.
No matter our diverse tastes and preferences, we can find common ground with the horse. You may not prefer my music. I may not agree with your politics. Maybe we have different religious faiths. Our backgrounds and world views could be like night and day. Despite all that, I bet we could go for a ride together and have a smashing good time. I love that about our four-legged steeds.
Horses are incredible creatures. It is a marvelous thing to be in the presence of a horse. They manage to inspire all kinds of dreams in us without even trying.
If you spend enough time around horses, though, you are likely to eventually meet up with a large dose of reality. Maybe you get your foot stepped on or you fall off while riding. Could be that you have an embarrassing experience at the show grounds. Maybe you allow things to creep into your groundwork or riding that result in your horse’s behavior deteriorating. Whatever the case, your horse dreams have now become more like nightmares.
Some folks can brush off these kinds of incidents and move forward swimmingly. Others of us get stymied by difficult experiences with our horses. We know that approaching our horses with dread is not likely to result in a good experience, but we have a hard time taking our thoughts off of the negative. All we can think about is everything that is going wrong in our relationship. All the pain/fear/disappointment. Then we think about how all that negativity comes across to our horses who are so sensitive to our moods, vibes and body language. No wonder we get stuck sometimes.
If you struggle with staying positive in the midst of difficulty, here is an idea for resetting your outlook. Notice “two good things” (or more!) that happen during every ride, every groundwork session, every interaction. Do this even when things are not going well. Maybe ESPECIALLY when things are not going well. It is simplistic, I know. But I have been surprised at how practicing this regularly has helped me.
I gleaned the idea for noticing “two good things” from Tonya Johnston’s book Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse Book. If you struggle with the mental aspects of riding, I highly recommend this book. It is packed with ideas and specific strategies for coping with the fear and negativity that unfortunately creeps into many of our relationships with our horses.
I would also recommend a September 2020 blog post from The Horse Redeemer Blog entitled “Our Own Worst Critic: Blocking Out Negative Thoughts When Riding” at https://thehorseredeemer.com/block-negative-thoughts/. This post is an excellent read with many straightforward ideas on how to look for the good.
I hold a Master’s degree in Social Work. With that background, I am keenly aware of how the way that people think about things affects their feelings and their behavior. It is a topic of high interest to me. I like to read different takes on the subject from a variety of perspectives. Currently, I am reading a Christian faith-based book titled All The Feels: Discover why emotions are (mostly) awesome and how to untangle them when they’re not by Elizabeth Laing Thompson. Within the book, the author quotes the psychiatrist, Dr. David Burns, “…you can learn to change the way you think about things… when you do, you will often experience profound and lasting changes in your mood, outlook and productivity …” This quote jumped out at me as perhaps being behind the genius of practicing “looking for the good” in our horse life. When we make choices about what we focus on, we have a better chance of being more productive with our horses.
It is an interesting balance with our horses and our riding, isn’t it? On the one hand, there is the need to be aware of and realistic about our riding level, our horse’s athletic ability and our limits. We can easily get into trouble with our horses when we inflate our abilities or push our horses too far or refuse to seek help. On the other hand, it is helpful to challenge ourselves by setting goals. To seek improvement. To accept “what is” without judgment while also holding in our minds “what could be” as we stretch ourselves.
I find that actively looking for those “two good things” helps me strike a better balance than I might without that positive focus. Without purposely looking for and thinking about what is GOING WELL between my horse and me, I can easily suck all the joy out of the relationship by dwelling on the “not so swell” aspects. Life is too short and horses are too much fun for that.
So, what “two good things” happened between you and your horse today?
I took the above photo when four horses graced my backyard. From left to right is Pumpkin Spice, Bear, Fate and Blue.
If you have been reading The Backyard Horse Blog, you may recognize that my twenty-five year old gelding, Bear, is the only current living-member of that group. I am one of the millions of horse-keepers who knows something about the heartache of losing a horse.
Due to my experiences, I was compelled to read Strands of Hope- How to grieve the loss of a horse by Susan Friedland. You may recognize Susan from her successful equestrian blog, Saddle Seeks Horse. The death of Susan’s long-time horse, DC, anchors this book.
The story of the author’s path through grief is echoed by the book’s stories of other equestrians who also experienced the death of a horse. Readers will see that while no two journeys are exactly alike, there are common themes weaved between the varied stories. Readers will feel less alone in their own despair after reading the accounts of others.
“To have the trust of a 1,200-pound animal is an incredible feeling, and the relationship that develops from this faith in one another is hard to describe. And once that partner is gone, it’s quite simply devastating. It’s okay to grieve for a horse the way that you’d grieve for a longtime best friend.” – From “Strands of Hope: How to grieve the loss of a horse”.
I appreciate that the author also included a chapter on the grief associated with early retirement of a horse from riding. The chapter “Death of A Dream” shares one rider’s experience with that issue. Having retired a couple of horse earlier than I expected, the material included in that chapter resonated with me.
Strands of Hope is an organized read, chock full of suggestions and resources to support readers through their own healing. The book is gentle and tender while also practical and useful. For example, one of the exercises Susan suggests is writing a eulogy for your horse. She guides you through the process step by step. Composing written dedications to my horses after their deaths is something I myself found cathartic.
I submitted a five star review of Strands of Hope to Amazon and recommend this book as reading for all equestrians. If you would like to purchase a copy, you can buy it from Amazon or directly from the author’s website at https://saddleseekshorse.com/shop/. While the subject matter is sad, the book is ultimately hopeful, just as its title implies. Strands of Hope reminded me that good things can come out of a painful situation. It affirmed for me the truly special place in our hearts that we hold for horses.
I took my horses, Bear and Shiloh, on a field-trip this week to a local barn. I asked the barn owner if I could back up my trailer directly to the opening of their indoor arena.
Based on recent visits, Bear was proving sensitive to the new drive-way rocks that were put down in their parking lot. I figured Bear would be more comfortable backing off my trailer directly onto the soft arena footing rather than the rocks. That required me to turn left into the barn driveway and then back up from the driveway entrance to the indoor.
Fortunately, I had a much better experience backing up the trailer than the first driver did on the above-referenced video. I only had to make one big adjustment in the backing up process where I stopped and pulled forward to recalibrate.
As you will soon read, Bear apparently approved of this “rock avoidance” plan. After unloading, I typically hand Bear over to the very capable barn owner while I briefly lung Shiloh in the indoor and then mount at the block. All four of us then walk out the indoor, between the barns and onto the outdoor riding tracks. I continue my ride while the barn owner kindly deposits Bear in the outdoor roundpen that sits at the center of the two oval riding/driving tracks.
Bear’s sensitive hooves were apparently feeling well-enough that he decided to cut loose in the roundpen. He had a good tear and romp. Normally, I love to see my old horse kick-up his heels. When I am on Shiloh’s back? Not so much.
As any rider can surmise, Bear’s excitement level was not lost on Shiloh. Shiloh began what I assume would have turned into his own tear and romp by shaking his head and bouncing into a stiff, high-headed halt. Lucky me, I quickly “put the lid back on the pot” by doing some tight serpentines and changes of direction. Shiloh soon relaxed and let go of the cavorting idea.
From there we went on to have a productive ride. That outdoor track is a great place to practice Shiloh’s gait work. I don’t have a large expanse of solid footing at home so it is quite a treat for me to ride on the track.
I did abandon my plan to take photos while I rode though. It was a windy Fall day, and after our little incident, I thought best to keep my focus on my horse rather than my phone. I missed some really cool shots of his mane dancing off the right side of his neck and folding beautifully over the top and left side as the wind whipped around us. Guess you will just have to take my word for it.
If you have not already, be sure to view the above video. I don’t care how many times I watch it. I still laugh.
Quote From A Poem by Antonio Machado ( In Spanish )
“… caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar…”
And English Translation (Wikipedia’s version)-
“… wayfarer, there is no path, you make the path as you walk. As you walk you make the path, and as you turn to glance behind you see the trail that you never shall return to tread again.”
Did I mention I used to speak Spanish and tutor Spanish? I have not had the opportunity to use my Spanish in many years. My current foreign-language abilities are rusty. Even so, I do enjoy sitting down on occasion and reading a book or magazine in Spanish. Catching a TV program in the language is fun too.
I am pretty sure I had read the above poem before in a literature class. It struck me with new meaning this time around. In my case, the poem got me to thinking that our relationships with our horses are paths that we forge one step at a time.
When we first meet a horse, there is no relationship. Over time, by walking together, we form the path. We shape the outlines and the contours with every interaction. When that relationship is over for whatever reason, there will never be another quite like it. An equally beautiful and bitter thought. All the more reason to tend to and appreciate the current paths we are on with our horses.
If you are looking for a step by step “how to” for working with horses, this book is not it. Getting Along With Horses is laced with some specific hints and tidbits, but it is mostly a philosophical book.
By sharing stories of her own experiences (repurposed in part from her blog), the author encourages the reader to think about their own horsemanship philosophy. In focusing the reader on learning to be aware of ones own body and mind, Mcdonald sensitizes us to how we might affect our horses. She notes that when we change ourselves, we will often see a transformation in the horse.
Crissi Mcdonald, an experienced horsewoman in her own right,is married to the well known horseman and author Mark Rashid with whom she gives clinics. As a long-time trainer, she more recently became a certified Masterson Method Bodyworker and instructor. She is also friends with Anna Blake, one of my favorite horse authors. While McDonald, Rashid and Blake all clearly share commonalities in their approach to horsemanship, each infuses their own flavor into their work.
The book may challenge your way of thinking and lead you to feel uncomfortable at some points. I think this is part of learning as a horseman. As we sit with varying points of view, we can expand our own understanding of different ways to work with horses, even if we ultimately decide not to agree with a particular notion.
As an example, many of us (me included) have talked about our horses resisting something during a ride. Maybe we think he resisted coming onto the bit. Perhaps we think she resisted a request to stand at the mounting block. In her chapter “Horse As A River”, Mcdonald offers another view on thinking about a horse refusing a request.
“…if we feel what we would call “resistance”, it is because we are bringing it to the horse . . . Either our bodies (the outside) or our emotions/thoughts/intent (the inside) close and create a sort of roadblock the horse now has to get around… What if we instead focused on being more open ourselves, and helping our horse through troublesome spots? . . . It is time to lay to rest the notion that it’s us against them.”- Sentences excerpted From the Chapter “Horse as A River”
I ordered Getting Along with Horses: An Evolution in Understanding directly from the author’s website. I unexpectedly received a signed copy of the book as well as a bookmark. Definitely a nice touch.
I give the book “Getting Along with Horses: An Evolution in Understanding” a five-star review. If would like to order your own signed copy, go to https://crissimcdonald.com/blog/ and click on the “Books” link. You can also access her materials on Amazon. While you are on her page, you can sign up to follow her blog.
I have to say that I am not much of a shopper. I mean, yes I shop. Having food, clothes, tools and accessories comes in handy for humans and critters alike after all. But I don’t usually find particular joy in accumulating stuff (the exception for me would be when shopping for items for a new horse- now THAT is fun). While I can’t say I am a minimalist, I certainly lean in that direction.
Even so, I have come to REALLY appreciate Cyber Monday for horse-related shopping. In my world, the price of everything keeps going up but income doesn’t. Cyber Monday is one of the few times in a year that I can make either a large purchase or a bunch of smaller purchases without stressing IF I do some pre-planning.
At the start of each year, I keep a list of the things that I feel I need to replace or buy for the first time. If I can do without something until Cyber Monday rolls around, I will do that. In the mean time, I put money aside specifically for Cyber Monday shopping.
There is something strangely satisfying about placing instant gratification aside and instead slowly watching my Cyber Monday money-pile grow. Even $5 or $10 at a time. It all adds up.
There are some seriously good deals to be had during Cyber Monday and the surrounding shopping days online. Steep discounts. BOGO offers. Free gifts with purchase. Handy gift cards offers like “buy $100 worth of product and get a free $25 gift card for future use”. It is fun to compare deals and see who has what sales/offers.
So if you have some room in your budget to save, you might want to join me in preparing for your own Cyber Monday shopping. Remember, the date is Monday, November 30th, 2020!
If you haven’t checked out the magazine “Horse Illustrated”, you might want to give it a look.
As a subscriber for many years, I have generally found it to be a meat and potatoes kind of magazine with solid, basic horse care and riding articles. If you are looking for hyper discipline-specific or detailed “how to” features, this might not be the magazine for you. For your average horse person, though, I find Horse Illustrated really hits the spot.
I especially like the more recent changes to the magazine. I notice increasing emphasis on features pertaining to horse rescue and adoption, drawing readers attention to people and programs that support horses in transition.
Another more recent addition is their monthly article “Vet Adventures” by veterinarian, Courtney S. Diehl. Her writing is always insightful and usually infused with a good dose of humor (on a related note, check out Dr. Diehl’s book “Horse Vet: Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian”. I really enjoy reading books written by vets about their work, but I sometimes cringe too, wondering if I will end up in someone’s book someday as the featured “bad/difficult/uninformed client” example that inevitably appears!).
Like most current magazines, Horse Illustrated hosts extra offerings online including more articles and videos. But unlike many current horse magazines that now only publish bimonthly/quarterly, they still print monthly.
The Horse Illustrated October 2020 issue is chock full of great articles that I found particularly relevant to my own interests. Highlights include:
Voice Recognition– What does your horse think when he hears your voice?
Shining A Light– Two young Black equestrians started a podcast to help create access to the horse industry.
The Road Less Traveled– Some equestrian authors are choosing the self-publishing option.
Good Grief– How it’s possible to move from pain to acceptance after losing a horse.
Second Career Recognition– The Thoroughbred Incentive Program seeks to celebrate racehorses- and their riders- in every way possible.
Special Book issue- What Horses Really Want- Is your horse “being bad” or acting like a partner?
The Retiree’s Workout Regimen– Advice from a vet on creating a gentle exercise program for the unrideable senior horse.
Plus English and Western riding exercise suggestions, an article about an equine-assisted program for female veterans, a breed feature and more!
As we head into Fall and later the holiday season, watch for subscription deals that are typically offered this time of year both for yourself and your horse-loving friends and family.
I know I am not the only person out there who likes to write about their horses, especially their senior horses. If you like writing, photography and entering contests, this opportunity might be for you.
The magazine Northwest Horse Source recently announced the guidelines for its 2020 Senior Horse Essay Contest. This is an annual contest, but each year’s parameters are a little different.
From the Northwest Horse Source website, “Share the story & photos of what it’s been like for you and your senior horse during the pandemic for a chance to win a gift basket from LMF Feeds worth $150! The winning story will also be featured in the December 2020 issue of Northwest Horse . . . During COVID, has your senior horse been there for you in a special way? Has this unusual season given you and your senior horse more time to connect or a change of perspective? Send us a short essay and two photos on “What the Pandemic Has Meant for Me and My Senior Horse”. Entries will be judged on both story and photos. Prizes will be awarded for Youth Category (ages 12-17) and Adult Category (age 18+).”
Fall is my favorite season. The cool, crisp air. The turning of leaves. Everything pumpkin spice.
Unfortunately, Fall also presents some challenges for me in riding my own backyard. My property is situated on flat ground without a lot of tree cover. Nothing blocks the strong winds that often pass through during the Fall season.
As any equestrian knows, wind can make your ride pretty interesting. Maybe your horse feels extra frisky. Maybe the wind keeps blowing dust in your eyes. Maybe it keeps blowing over your dressage cones. Maybe wind keeps re-arranging the obstacle course you hoped would stay standing.
Then there are the temperature fluctuations and eventual arrival of Winter like temperatures with lots of cloud cover. Makes for some cold rides. I rode in 45 degree weather without sun the other day. Burrr.
But for all the challenges of Fall riding, I hope to keep riding as much as I can. Winter isn’t far away. Without a covered outdoor arena or an indoor arena, I am pretty much done riding at home by the end of November if not sooner.
Generally, after stopping riding in November, I don’t start riding at home with any regularity again until around April. I feel sad about this every year. I think the related hashtag would be something like #begratefulforeveryride. I don’t want to take for granted any time I get in the saddle at home before Winter.
Here Shiloh and I ride at the end of September and during the start of Fall winds.
I had another kind of “online first” in 2020. I attended a virtual horse fair.
The Art of The Horseman online fair took place in late Summer at https://www.becauseofthehorse.net/. It offered access to dozens of online horse training and riding videos from a varied group of professionals- over seventy different presentations from some thirty plus professionals from different disciplines.
The Art of The Horseman offers free tickets to participate for a limited time (like 12 to 48 hours). If you want further access to the videos, they offer options at cost.
I chose the free option and did not pay for further access only due to budget issues. If money weren’t an object, I probably would purchase the lifetime access pass so I could take my time going through every video.
To give you some examples, here are three of my favorite fair presenters:
Noah Tillman-Young– Noah operates his training business out of Grace Ranch in Texas USA. I watched a great video of his about trailer loading. I REALLY liked how calm and methodical he was about helping a reluctant horse load. The particular horse in the video presented very much like my Shiloh at the trailer. Not jumping around but not initially getting in the trailer either. I liked Tillman-Young’s video so much that I spent the better part of an afternoon going over his Steady Horse website and Youtube videos. You can see more of Noah Tillman-Young’s material at http://www.steadyhorse.com.
Jec Aristotle Ballou– Located in California USA, Jec is the author of horse books including 101 Dressage Exercises and 55 Corrective Exercises For Horses. I have used some of her material in formulating how I work with Shiloh as a re-started horse. In her books, she presents a lot of varied, interesting exercises at the walk which are perfect for Shiloh and me. The video I saw during the fair was her presentation about the horse’s back. She noted the importance of building not only a strong back but a FLEXIBLE back. This was something I hadn’t really thought about before. Jec Aristotle Ballou’s website is http://www.jecballou.com.
Josh Nichol– Josh hails from Alberta, Canada. The video of his that I saw discussed the rider’s shoulders. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders. Any tension I am feeling results in my lifting my shoulders which lifts me out of the saddle. It is hard to use your seat when you are hovering over your horse. I also tend to drop my shoulders in turns/during lateral movements. So it is a problem for my riding in a lot of ways. Any time I see anything about shoulders and the use thereof in horsemanship, I am held in rapt attention. Visit Josh Nichol’s website at https://joshnichol.com/.
The next Art of The Horseman online horse fair is scheduled for December 7th and 8th, 2020.
Just like I did for the Summer fair, you can sign up at https://www.becauseofthehorse.net/ to receive a free ticket to the fair. The ticket will give you access to the training videos at certain times during the two days. You will then receive not only the free ticket but also email reminders about the start of the fair so you don’t miss it. You can later pay to have lifetime access to all the videos if you choose.
Definitely a great, free learning opportunity for any horse person with internet access!