Nov 12, 2012

Little By Little

 So I wrote about how we taught B to stand, in the arena, first facing the barn but waiting; next facing somewhat away from the barn and waiting; and lastly facing totally away from the barn, and waiting. We would often would get off in the ring, stand there, do some in hand work, and then take a walk. Anything to break his response patterns. This was so hard for him. He would first shake his head, then stamp, then it would escalate in to a spin or two or a zipping backwards or what have you. We didn’t particularly punish, we just went back to Point A. And waited. He had to stay absolutely in place. He could not take one step out of where we put him. If he did, he was put back. It took a long time, but he got it. I liked the Myler combination bit for these months; it gave us some control if we needed it, but it was so mild when we didn’t. I think the loose ring aspect is good for horses who have been ridden badly, and the little bit of nose pressure if needed helps take away the defensiveness of a wrecked mouth. Bryan, like many OTTBs I have had, had a very low palate and sharp bars. I think the shape of the Myler, with its little protective roller thing in the middle, is much more comfortable for a mouth like that. Regular snaffles can really poke the soft palate; I never use them any more. 

Nov 11, 2012

Back to Work


Some moms, when they find out their kid is about to get married, call the florists and the caterers. Me being me, I called the bobcat and the excavator. What I was thinking when I volunteered to have the reception at our house, knowing that we had neither yard nor patio, no place to sit, and that we lived virtually in a dog toy graveyard, I have no idea. Be that as it may, the wedding came off splendidly. We *do* now have a yard, a patio, and the dog toy graveyard is no longer a main feature. The heavy equipment left three days before the Big Day, and I was still planting trees and hanging lights till literally 45 minutes before I was supposed to be at the church. It was a perfect SoCal evening, with an almost full moon and a gentle temperature. It was relaxed, sweet, lovely, and wonderful, and man, am I glad its over.

I miss writing two or three times a week. Heck, I miss riding, too, and the boys have been totally neglected while I ran around with concrete and bricks and potted plants. But things are settled now, and I am catching up on body clipping and feet trimming and will ride again today, hooray!

Let’s go back to how we addressed Brian’s cross tie issues. This approach, of small therapeutic doses endlelessly repeated, worked well with him. It works well with all horses, and is a big part of why my horses, no matter their pasts or backgrounds, are well behaved and trusting and obedient. And so with Bryan, this was the basis of all of the work that we did whether mounted, on the ground, or during free work.

The consistency of The Rules goes across the board. Every time we handled him it was the same; no slinging your head around (thereby cracking the human in the face) no stepping past the human; no dragging behind the human; no screaming when attached to the human; no jumping on top of the human…I think you get the drift. As usual, every horse we would take in would grasp The Rules quickly; horses aren’t dumb and they crave and honor leadership. Natch, B, not being the sharpest marble in the drawer, took a longer time than the others.

Oct 8, 2012

Changes in Attitudes

Back to the blog! Fate has me; a wedding coming up, some travel, some eye issues, and a catastrophic horse injury (think T-post) and there has been no blog time for the Abster. I cant believe its been six weeks since I was able to post. But I am sitting here now, with dilated eyes after an opthomologist appointment; I cant go outside, so will catch up on HorsesDontCry. I miss writing here every few days and will be glad when things settle down.

I have been a horse girl for a long time and have been lucky enough to be able to do both the show thing (competitor, instructor, trainer, groom, braider, volunteer), *and* the gallop around bareback jumping picnic tables as a kid thing. I love both parts of my riding life.I don’t like when one group, like trail riders, feels superior to show riders, and vice versa. I have friends in pretty much every discipline and every part of the various registries; Freisian friends, AQHA friends, TWH friends, ApHA friends, Paint friends, dressage friends, Arabian friends, mustang friends….The tie that binds us is our love of horses and our disgust with the problems within our own disciplines. My TWH friends are all flat shod, my AQHA friends don’t like the abuse inherent in WP, etc etc. Every one of them has worked within their industry to improve the conditions of their show horses. When some abuses were too entrenched to be changed, they quit the organizations and started new ones. In that spirit, and since I don’t believe that one should complain about things if one is not willing to work to change them, I applied to become a licensed FEI level 1 dressage steward. This does not give me a lot of authority at shows, but it puts me in a position to call for those that *are* in authority, and it puts me on the front line of bit and spur inspections. I was accepted, attended, and passed. I learned so much. I was the only one there who had never shown dressage and many of the things my co-participants already knew were new to me. But the officials were so friendly and supportive and my classmates so accepting I did not stay intimidated for long.

Aug 30, 2012

Small Therapeutic Doses

This is how we taught Bryan The Rules.

At the time all the boys lived in stalls. So first thing they would all go out. But usually before they went out they would go in to the cross ties for a quick groom, check, what have you. I don’t boot so they are always bare legged but they would get fly sprayed or whatever.

B had a total thing about the cross ties. Well, B had total things about a lot of things but he had a *big* total thing about the cross ties. My cross ties at the time faced the row of stalls. But behind them was a large lawn, with a lake, and ducks, and birds, and frogs, and a driveway. All of these things periodically made NOISES. In Bryanville, NOISE was bad. And noise *behind* you was DEATH. Of course, I am making that up as I have no way of actually knowing that. But that was sure how he acted. Or over reacted, as the case may be.

He would always walk *in* to the cross ties, but halfway around would leap *out* of the cross ties. Of course, since the human leading him in was right there, said human would go flying. Sure, you could muscle him around and push him back in, smacking him on the shoulder and telling him to get over himself. I certainly did that lots and lots of times. But I wanted to fix him, not just bully him. So we had frequent cross tie training sessions that went as follows.

Bryan faces the cross ties. His head is up and he is searching the horizon. He knows the ducks, frogs, birds, and cars are behind the cross ties, waiting for their moment for DEATH. I have a chain over his nose. I do not shank him or anything, but I softly pull down on it; I ask him to bring his head down. That’s all. Just to bring his head down. He gets, in a week or two, that a soft chain pressure means put your head down. Of course, like a shot, the head is instantly back up. So we work, for a long time, on put your head down, and keep it down. For one second. For two seconds. For 30 seconds.

When he would put his head down and keep it down for a second or two or ten, we would take a step toward the cross ties. Up would go the head again, since now he was One Step Closer to DEATH. Self-Preservation Perusal Process Re-Activated SIR! And so we would ask, again, for the head to go down. And we would do this over, and over, and over. One step at a time, head down. Until we were half way in, or part way in, but before we turned around.

Aug 28, 2012

Rules Are Good

Back to Bryan!

As you’ve seen, he was a festival of issues. He was not lame per se, as in he did not limp, but he moved so weird, like a gaited camel hybrid. He was not aggressive, but he sure was shut down and overreactive. He wasn’t ‘naughty’ but his issues sure made him a challenge on the ground; he rushed through openings, he crushed you in the cross ties, he leapt forward or back at a bird or lizard in the brush and woe to you or your foot if you were in the way.

People always notice and comment that my horses are well behaved and relaxed. One client nicknamed me Tranquilla after her horse came to me and became so mellow and nice. I can give any one of them a shot or wormer or whatever, loose in the stall. I can free lunge them, silently, with hand signals and body language. Trust me, they did not come this way. But they all learned, their first day with me, that no matter how badly they behaved, how spoiled they were, or how aggressive they were, that Tall Girl (me) had Rules, and it didn’t matter how long it took, or how much they fought them, the Rules were Immutable.

Aug 22, 2012

When We Were Young


Well, things have been busy here. I had my birthday, my dads 88th birthday, a house full of daughters and nieces, and two of my dearest and oldest friends came for visits. I ordered new products that decry Rollkur for the itsnotforsissies store. I have not ridden in a month. Its been hot! But now the guests are gone (waah!), the nieces and daughters are all back in school (waah!), the weather has changed for the better (yay!), the Olympics are over (more on that later), and things are getting back to as normal as they ever get here at Kogler Haus.

There are always a ton of things to write about; I want to get back to Bryan; I want to start to share the stories of some of the other boys; I want to talk about therapies and riding position and attitudes and all of the things that horse girls can talk about at length, but I think today I will talk about my friends.

I have lots of really wonderful friends. I have been very blessed that way. I have friends across lots of groups; school friends, camp friends, piano friends (I played and taught for many years), garden friends, history friends, work friends. I love and appreciate them all. But maybe since so much of my life has been horse based, my horse friends just seem to be the ones I see the most, and treasure the deepest.

Aug 5, 2012

FEI, you suck.

Heres Patrick Kittel, of the blue tongue fame, showing us how its done at the Olympics. The FEI assured us on its FB page that the stewards were ON it. No rollkur here!

Feh. Seriously. Feh. A pox on them all.

Rollkur is harmful. Rollkur is unnecessary. Rollkur is cruel. FEI, you suck.

Seriously. This is why, on Dr. Heuschmanns recommendation, I made my hats that say 'DRESSAGE-Ist Nicht fur Rabauken' and the back of the hats say 'Pferde Nein Ensklaven'. This translates as 'DRESSAGE-its Not for Bullies' and the backs say 'Horses Arent Slaves'. Its my own way of putting it out there.

We need to put these people out of business. We need to tell the FEI that we care. We need to tell show managers that we know which judges reward this. It will not stop until people make it very clear, with their pocketbooks and their voices, that it *must* stop. If we love our horses, and we love our sport and our industry, we have to speak up.

Jul 25, 2012


People ask me “But, what did you *do*?” to bring about the changes in Bryan and the others. Well, I did Mary’s work. I did Jack Meagher’s work. I put Bryan on MSM. I changed his shoeing and his feet. I treated his tummy. We rode him straight and forward, on the buckle. We did ground work and some clicker training. We gave him a life that had clear and consistent cause and effect while we worked to reduce his physical pain/s.

But it’s at least as instructive to write about what I didn’t do, as what I did.  

There are two things I did not do with Bryan. Both are common, accepted, and in my view, very misunderstood and often poorly executed. The first one I will write about today.

I never lunged him. Not once. Not ever.

That's right. I never lunge horses. Sure, I used to, all the time. It was SOP in every barn and in every book and with every trainer I knew. I had draw reins, I had side reins; I knew how to use them correctly, knew the various theories about the outside one tighter or the inside one or which was better, the ones with rubber donuts or stretchy ones or plain leather. I had Vienna reins and German martingales. I knew how to lunge in bits and bridles and lunging cavessons and halters. I could tell you the various benefits of the lunge line over the head, over the nose, under the bit, attached to the bit, what have you. I knew how and when and why to lunge; where to attach the side reins at which buckle of the surcingle and when and why. I saw and participated in the LTD (LungeTillDead) techniques at the hunter/jumper shows. I know it all, and I did it all.

But through the years, and  all that study and work: the Jack Meagher book, the insights and issues I learned from the Tellington-Jones work and the Mary Debono work, and the *constant* soundness issues and soft tissue injuries and joint problems I saw in performance horses, the ‘benefits’ of lunging just started to become more and more questionable. I know it’s heretical. I know the old dead guys did it and the SRS does it and blah blah blah. I know.

But we all used the think the world was flat, that the sun went around the earth, and that thunder came from the Gods bowling, or whatever. And we learned different and now we know better. I think it’s going to be the same thing regarding horse people and lunging and side reins. In however many years, people will look at the practice and say ‘How could we have been so blind?’

The more I studied, the less sense it made. Just looking at horses, their structure and way of going, it is so apparent that they are not built to go in circles for any length of time. Look at feral or wild horses. They go straight. They developed, as a species, going straight. They don’t go in circles. Putting a horse on a lunge line as a way to work it, train it, build it up, what have you, is physiologically pointless and yes, harmful. And just to make sure I *really* put my foot in it, I am going to go even farther and say that if you *really* want to start a horse on a path to cripplehood, tie its head down while you lunge it. (I think that Gaitmaster thing is an instrument of the devil. I love the Pessoas, but that thing should be outlawed) Yes. I said it, and I know it is true. I read the endless discussions on the fora, the justifications, the explanations. I don’t care any more. Lunging in general and side reins in particular is not just unnecessary, but can be and often is harmful. Dr. Heuschmann knows it. Others know it. Others are figuring it out.

I see how people feel about lunging and side reins on the fora  I am not interested in discussing the pros and cons or hearing why its ok if only blah, or because blah. The point of this blog is to show what is possible, and what was achieved, and how we achieved it. That’s all. We have had some pretty interesting results over the years, with many different horses.  I didn't lunge any of them. 

Suffice to say, I also no longer use side reins or draw reins, or any kind of martingale for training. Aside from the harm they can do, they *mask*  what the horse needs to do with its body. Why would I want that?!  I want to see *how* my horse is responding to the work I am asking him to do. That helps me know what is going on his body. I want to *see* when he cranes his neck, or leans to the outside, or falls to the inside. I want to *see* when he stretches his head down, how long he holds it there, and whether he does it with his nose out, or in, or to the side in an upward or downward transition. All of this will tell me what is going on in his body. If I can’t see it, how am I going to improve it? Correct it? Influence it?

 Let me also clarify, and thank you to my friend Christine who rightfully asked..'huh?! what if you have a green bean at a horse show, or a horse that is wild at the new sights and sounds'? Well, in that situation, I would probably whip out the lunge line. But even still, I would certainly do in hand and ground work first, to try to get them to focus and relax. They are so habituated to that work at home that it usually serves to focus them when away or distracted. And yes, I would lunge a horse for a vet exam. And yes, lunging is an excellent way to teach the *rider*;  you just have to be careful not to do it at the expense of the horse. But for training, and fitness, and developing a horse, no. Not ever. 

So, other than riding them, what do I do?

I work them free. Sometimes for months without ever riding them. It all depends on how lame they are and what their issues are and how they respond to the body work, the hoof balance corrections, etc. 

I work them loose, with no tack. But they aren’t just loose and galloping around. No. They are working. They learn extensions, lateral work, transitions, spirals. They halt, back, reverse, turn on the haunch and forehand. Any horse can be taught to do it easily. It’s not hard. I think horses really like it actually. They certainly become very engaged and interested. Free lunging allows the horse to respond to the work *in the way that he can*, NOT the way he is forced to. Transitions and reverses and lateral work can all be done in free work, and this lets the horse figure it out on his own, and as I said, lets me see how he is functioning and using his body. 

Most importantly, I do this in a square or rectangle. NOT a circle or a round corral. It can be a space as small as 36 by 36, or as big as you like. As long as it has corners, it’s good.

Why? Think about it. A circle never gives the horse a break. Round and round, the same muscles over and over and over. Any human athlete knows that endless stressful motion is a prescription for a breakdown. But we never think twice about setting our horses up for these physical stresses. And not only do we force the horse to work in this way that is totally not natural, we *tie his head down* while we do it. Gack.

Working with corners gives the horse's muscles a change. It doesn't matter if its brief, its a change. He is straight, *then* he hits the corner and steps under *on his own*. Then he is straight again. *This* can build correct musculature. This is gymnastic training.

Jul 19, 2012

In Process

So this is how Bryan looked when we got him. There are several things to be noticed, eh? 

The most outstanding conformational anomalies were, to me, his neck and shoulder. I see his sloping croup, his 'poverty line' (an old term for that line of muscle that leads from flank to belly; look at his flank and see the line that points up to the left toward Terri's knee. I think of it more as a 'tummy distress line' as I have seen it on horses that were not particularly weight compromised as well). I don't really care about his puffy ankles. But the upright front pasterns and the killer straight shoulder and totally weird tied in neck are freaky. The muscle bulge on the underside of neck and the dip behind his saddle pad are also big 'wrong' nesses. I also dont really mind the over at the knees thing; its way preferable to being behind at the knees, and its actually somewhat associated with a nice low hunter movement. Not that it is desirable, but in the grand scheme of things its not a big deal to me. Same day below; he carried his tail up and to the right most of the time, a sure sign of issues (unless you're an Arab!)

Here's another one just a few weeks after we got him. He's a little fatter and smoother looking, but pretty scary; hind legs forward, front legs back. Hunters bump and pointy croup. Bulgy underside of neck, and neck ending way below the wither. Big muscle at the third vertebrae. All wrong.

This a couple of months later. You can see that the muscles on the underside of his neck are not so prominent and that the dip is front of his withers is a little less sharp. The crest is also a little straighter and not quite so dipped and the bulge at the third vertebrae is smoothing out.

I think you can see how his neck is changing over time...another couple of months later. His neck is getting longer and the bulge underneath is gone. The area behind his poll has lengthened and the muscles along the crest are starting to develop. His shoulder is still very straight but getting less so. There is a hint of more muscling in his loin and his croup is not quite so pointy. His front pasterns are not quite so straight nor does he stand with his hind legs so far under him. His flank and hip are also getting bigger.

From this:

to this:

You can see his neck is very different and it no longer ties in in front of his wither. He is getting a nice big shoulder and his hip is much bigger. He is filled in behind the saddle and though his croup is still sloping it still looks like a powerful rear end. He is a TB, after all so will not have a flat croup. His front pasterns are much less straight. I think what I love the best though is the expression on his face. He was 'there' by this time. Still over at the knees. In his size 3 shoes by now.

I loved this horse. Can you see why? He just blossomed.

More tomorrow!

Jul 18, 2012


It took a long time to bring Bryan around. Longer than any other horse I had had till that time. But bring him around we did.

As with any horse that comes in to the program, we looked at everything. Diet, feet, tack, teeth. In SoCal boarding situations we don’t always have a lot of hay options. The barn I boarded at fed bermuda hay and/or alfalfa. You could special order timothy but it was pretty expensive. They did feed hay three times a day so he had food in front of him 24/7. I like grass hays but think it’s important for horses to have a variety of grasses so I supplement their regular hay ration with straight grass hay pellets, like oat or bermuda or timothy or orchard hay pellets, depending on price, availability, and the horse’s weight and work load. He was thinnish so the first thing we did was put him on lots of timothy pellets and Purina Ultium. I love to study NRC info and product details of various feeds. I have gone back and forth between the various senior feeds and Purina Ultium. Now I am able to access a local CA made pelleted feed that I am really happy with (King feed 11% pelleted enriched feed) but at the time I was using Ultium. I think Ultium is great and have always been happy with it. It is expensive though, and it is molasses based, which now I like to avoid, though its not as high sugar as some.

I also put him on Ranitidine. Ranitidine is an antacid and until Omeprazole became available it was all vets had really to treat equine gastric ulcers. I purchase it in bulk at Costco or Walmart; generic, it is way cheap. The drawback is that it doesn’t heal ulcers, and it needs to be fed at least twice and preferably three times a day. But it is therapeutic, and soothing, and any new horse I got at the time went right on it.

Jul 13, 2012

Loose Ends and New Beginnings

So now you have The Background. Over ten years I had had one conception shattering experience after another. The Centered Riding work started the process by showing me that the rider forms the horse, whether they know it or admit it or can feel it or not.  The Linda Tellington-Jones work was the first to reveal the connection between physical pain, emotion, and and personality and training behaviors. The Jack Meagher sports massage therapy proved what I had always suspected; that clinical soundness, or the lack thereof, might have nothing to do with xrays or scans or what have you. And then the Mary Debono/SENSE work showed that addressing the neurological system with work based on Feldenkrais principles could transform the entire system.

And so with this gigantic and wonderful toolbox we worked with Cody, and Petey, and Austen, and Shadow, and Philip, and Bonnie, and Wonder, and Leisle. They all went from …er…challenged in some way, to sound and rideable and quiet and happy in their work.

Jul 8, 2012

Questions and Answers

I wrote that there were four things that happened that day. The other two were smaller but equally conception shattering. Here is what happened.

After the ‘We are Not Worthy’ demonstration, I had a renewed interest (putting it mildly) so really tried to pay attention to what Mary was showing us. I was trying to do rib work, rib lifts I think she calls them, but had no idea if I was doing it right. Mary came up behind me and put *her* hands on *my* ribs. ‘Lift when I lift’ she said. So I did. Suddenly, I felt like I was being hurled through space, electrified, up over the horse’s back. I jumped sideways, staring at Mary. ‘We created some energy, didn’t we!’ she said and smiled. HOLY CRAP. I really felt like my head had exploded. Keee-rraa-zzyy!!

The last one was when I was working on one of the old guys' tail. Tails and docks are just extensions of spines, you know. So there I was, hands on the tail, doing a soft squeeze/lift movement, slow, slow, slow. The horse started lifting and relaxing his head and neck, slowly, and in time with my hands. I got below the dock, and *kept going*. I was doing the soft squeeze/lift on his *hair*. And he was still reacting. I got to the bottom and I kept going *in the air*. And he kept reacting. Whoa.

So when I went and worked on Cody’s ribs that day, I had seen and felt things that fascinated and intrigued me. Remember I said that Cody had big knots behind his poll, at that classic ‘broken’ 3rd vertebrae. They actually would snap when he put his head down or stretched his neck. After my attempts at rib work, and his changed stride in the equicisor, when I was putting him away I felt his neck. The knots were two thirds the size they had been. They were markedly smaller. Yoik.

Jul 6, 2012


Resisting an urge to fall to my knees, hug her about the ankles and sob ‘We are not worthy’, which is what I *felt* like doing, I just babbled out…’ I’m impressed!’ Typical humble, sweet Mary, she smiled and said ‘Really?’ and looked surprised.

And I was. This was amazing stuff. Man, who coulda thought that horse could be reached by *any* means. And here he was, with what looked like just nothing almost, with no weird names and no agenda and no talking trees. No hammers, no injections, no magnets or lasers. Just Mary and her hands. Better. So much better. Humbled, I now was determined to learn it and apply it. That day, after the clinic, I went to my barn and took a horse I had at the time, Cody, out of his stall. Cody was a big Holsteinor that I had acquired in North Carolina. He was wonderfully bred, a Condino son, who had been well broke and well ridden, until he wasn’t. Then he had developed all kinds of issues and behaviors that had made him pretty unmarketable. Natch, that made me want him. Maryanne, my wonderful Jack Meagher trained massage therapist had done great things with him in NC, and we were doing ok together. But I knew his neck, like many big dressage horses, had issues. He had the big knots behind his poll that so many of them have and the massage work had never made them go fully away.

So I put Cody in the cross ties and tried to do the work I had been not trying very hard to learn from Mary. I was serious, though, this time, and tried to do what she had taught us to do, and to feel what she was trying to teach us to feel. It felt awkward and pointless but I kept at it. True to the Feldenkrais principles, I did not work on the knots in his neck. I worked on Cody’s ribs and tummy. I had already recognized the work as Linda Tellington Jones type stuff with out the dumb names, so I had my LTJ clinic notes with me as well, and tried to consolidate the two approaches. After maybe twenty minutes I gave up, frustrated with myself and wishing I had paid better attention the previous four days. Disappointed, I groomed Cody and put him in the equicisor for a session.

Kicking and Screaming

Mary Debono ( is a lifelong horse person. Years ago, she discovered the work of Moshe Feldenkrais (  I will leave her journey to her own website and links. But this is how Mary and her work affected *my* journey, and ultimately, Bryan’s, and the rest of my horses, as well.

So I go to the clinic. It was held at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. HW has a wonderful Therapeutic Riding program: we were to use the program’s lesson horses as our SENSE clinic horses. Typical of many TR horses, these were saints. Quiet, calm, non reactive, yes. Sound? Er..not so much. When Mary had us watch and discuss what we saw in their movement patterns, my brain just saw ‘lame. Yep, lame. Yep. Old. Stiff. Lame.’ Of course, I could see *where*, and naturally felt smug at my great abilities to diagnose where the issues were. And of course, I wanted to find the spasms and work them out. Poor Mary. She was always so kind and so tactful with me. By the hundredth time that she had to tell me ‘Softer, Ab, softer’ as I dug and poked and pushed she must have wanted to about literally kick me out of the clinic. But no. Mary is an angel. Clearly though, I was just not getting it, and worse, I didn’t really care.

Like I’ve said, I suspect I’m a slow learner. (Ya think?) But on the fourth day of the clinic four things happened.

The impact of the first event caused the other events that followed, so that’s the one I’ll describe first.

Jun 29, 2012

Why I Do What I Do, and How I Get the Horses I get. Watch, Weep, Change It.

Interrupting the story to post this. THIS is why I titled my blog the way I did. THIS is what breaks my heart. These horses are crying, we just don't hear them. Why not? Why don't we hear them? These riders and trainers 'love' their horses. Why is this accepted practice? What can we do as an industry?

We can start by not supporting these trainers and riders financially. We can start by not supporting judges who reward this. We can start by supporting stewards who penalize this. We can start by showing horses that aren't ridden this way.

Jun 26, 2012

Pearls Before Swine

Barb finished working on the horse. Interestingly, he was very wound up and appeared tense and reactive. Looking back at the situation, things make sense to me now (more on that later). But at the time I was just mystified by the whole episode. The horse was *so* up that Barb was reluctant to turn him back out. The owner did so; the horse pranced and reared all the way to the paddock.

That horse had deep and troubling physical issues that the owners were not addressing. They wanted me to work with the horse anyway and attributed his behaviors to attitude. I could not do so in good conscience and we parted ways. The horse never did regain soundness. This was the only time Barb was able to work on the horse.

And so that was my initial exposure to Mary Debono’s work. I was intrigued, but did not see it as anything I particularly needed to pursue.

Since Fate/Kismet/God has a sense of humor, of course Mary was placed in my path again. And again. And again.

Jun 18, 2012

My Learning Curve Goes Vertical

‘That’s great! Hoorah! But we don’t care! We want to read about Bryan! And what happened to Dixie?’

I know, I know. And I want to write about them all. But there is a context that must be framed before I write about specific horses any more. And here is the last corner of the frame. I promise. It might take me a couple of posts to write about it but bear with me.

I wrote before how I look back at my life sometimes and think what the heck. It does seem a little strange that these ‘coincidences’ just seemed to follow, one after the other, through the years. But rather than pursue that perhaps interesting but ultimately irrelevant metaphysical road, suffice to say that there was one more gigantic confluence of fate that put me irretrievably on the horse path that I had been placed on.

In 1994 we moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina. We bought an old barn and started a nice little teaching/training business. In time I met Barbara Stender, a dressage rider, trainer, and judge and we became good friends. Barbara is a wonderful mix of credibility, with a lifetime of USDF involvement and judging and education, and woowoo, with the highest TTouch and Centered Riding ratings that you could achieve. She is smart and funny and a super solid horse girl.

In the course of our friendship she frequently talked about this Mary person. This Mary person had developed a type of equine body work based on Feldenkrais principles. Just like Linda. Every year, Barbara traveled to Calilfornia where Mary lived and practiced, to learn more about Mary’s approach. In fact, Barbara had been Mary’s very first instructor, all those years ago when Mary was a little girl. They went way back.

But I was working with Maryann Olsen, a massage therapist trained by Joanne Wilson herself.  My horses loved her and I could always measure their improvement after one of her visits. I was still doing the LTJ stuff but you know me, Miss It’s Best When It Can Be Measured, and having a Jack Meagher/Joanne Wilson trained protogee come to my house was great. I had my labyrinth and my Wand/Whip and incorporated lots of Tellington-Jones ground work in to my day to day. My various rejects and rehabs and clients were doing great. We were winning at the shows.  I was happy and satisfied with what I was doing and the results we were having were solid and cool and measurable. So I didn’t listen all that closely when Barbara talked about Mary’s work

Jun 15, 2012

Clarity from the Murk

So here I was, after my Centered Riding experiences and my LTJones experiences, having to totally rethink the way I had looked at riding in particular and horses in general. I wouldn’t say I had been particularly cocky in my riding but I’d had no fear; now I was fearful. I’d been sympathetic to horses, but now I was *really* intrigued by the relationship of the ‘physical’ to the ‘mental’ to the 'training'. I kept riding at the Smith campus and was lucky enough to audit lots of cool clinics (Todd Flettrich, Jane Savoie, Judy Richter, Ronnie Mutch, The George); schlepped the kids even as babies to Indoors and whatever events and horse shows we could get to. I was riding the Smith horses and Tucker; they were proving the efficacy of what I was learning, time and time again. It was pretty heady.

And in that same theme of kismet or serendipity or fate, I heard about Jack Meagher.

Jun 13, 2012

Further Study

Ill briefly relate the other two experiments I did with the LIJ work that made me comfortable that it worked, though I certainly did not really get how. I had a semi retired hunter, Max, who had been plagued with blocked tear ducts for the several years I had owned him. Treatment entailed a vet call and a flush. Max had been on the track and had suffered a mouth injury as a young horse. He was really phobic about his face and would fly backward if he felt threatened there in any way. The tear duct flush was always an ordeal that necessitated lots of ace or rompum, a twitch, a chain. I hated it for him. One of Linda’s touch things was supposed to clear blocked tear ducts. So I figure, what the heck. Max was drippy again and I knew I would have to have Doc out soon for the dreaded flush. I didn’t have anything to lose.

Jun 10, 2012

The Pudding is the Proof

There were three events that turned my interested skepticism about Linda TJ’s work into committed acceptance.

The first was with little Dix. Man, was she wild. March Hare wild. Frantic wild. Not disconnected, like Bryan, but wild. She was afraid of everything; noises, shadows, rocks. The first time I hand walked her she reared and spun at the dark blacktop patches on our old farm road. She jumped on me, over me, away from me. She didn’t cross tie well, and fidgeted and stomped and if corrected would bite or strike. I had a feeling that she was just totally green, but also smart, angry, and confused. And yes, I do think horses can have those emotions. I am the least anthropomorphic person I know, but horses feel these things, in a horsie version.

I had just ended one of my LTJ auditing episodes, and the work was fresh in my mind. Trying not to get too fixated on whether my touch was a 1 or a 3, and if I started at 12, or was it 3? I started trying to do the little circles on Dix. Granted, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and she did not have any kind of break through moment or anything. But she didn’t get *worse*, so I kept fiddling around.

Jun 9, 2012

In Which I Practice What Was Preached

Its funny sometimes, when you look back at your life, how there seems to be a confluence of events that just catches you up and carries you along in its wake, often without you even realizing it. That’s how I feel when I look back at those years in Western Mass. What a series of interesting coincidences occurred, time after time. If I were more of a WooWoo, I would call it Fate, or Kismet, or Serendipity, or God's Will. And maybe it was all those things. Regardless, events transpired in such a way as to set me on a path of discovery that I am still on. And for that I am grateful.

I wrote that I had met a family that knew Sally Swift. They were horse people, the best kind. They had a neighbor. This neighbor also had horses. They too were horse people, but the worst kind. They had a pony, a pretty grey Welsh mare,that their kids rode. She offended them in some way one day, so they put her on the hot walker. And left her. To go to a horse show. For the weekend. In August ‘To think about things’.

May 30, 2012

That Forest, Tree Thang

So I go to a LTJ clinic. I actually went to more than one. They were all interesting, entertaining in ways Linda perhaps had not intended, and I always came away with lots to think about.

There were always some serious horse people (i.e. me), some clueless newbies (‘I have a two yr old unbroke stallion! He loves me! I can tell cause he bites my neck!’), some sycophants (‘Linda is GOD! See the WAND! Worship the WAND!’), and a couple of bored boyfriends of various attendees. I learned to bring my own coffee and donuts; these were tea, hummus, and granola events. I always wore jeans and paddock boots. There were always lots of pink and purple Kerrit tights, even though we weren’t riding. There was a LOT of talk about feelings.

I did grow up in California in the the 60’s and 70’s, so its not like I hadn’t been around the horse psychic amulet wearing crowd, but this was the east coast in the 90’s, and the Linda clinics were kinda like the Land That Time Forgot. Think beads, batik, and feathers. But be that as it may, they were fascinating.

May 29, 2012

The Fig Tree Speaks

The horse world sometimes has a lemming like quality. Every couple of years a new Horsie Guru comes on the scene with a ‘new’ way to do ‘whatever’, and since many people have horses, and many people have problems with their horses, the Gurus can quickly get a bunch of press, which leads to clinics, which leads to followers, which leads to sycophants who may or may not have any idea what the Guru is really talking about and whether the information will help their respective problems, or not.

Sad to say, this lemming like response to the various HGs doesn’t always reflect the actual quality or even sense of whatever each HG is espousing at the time. And I have to admit that the (may I call it?) religious fervor of some of the devotees is so off-putting to me that I am wont to dismiss the work of the HG in question.

Linda Tellington-Jones is an HG that comes to mind.

My first exposure to the Team work was at Smith. There was a woman at the barn, about my age, that had never had horses before. She had (of *course* she had!) bought a virtually unbroke three yr old stallion, some stout fugly cross of some kind or another, that periodically dumped her, squished her, stomped her, and bit her. I’d see her in its stall, very serious, doing weird stuff with her hands as the horse stood there looking bored. She was full of explanations about why he was always trying to kill her.  Uh-huh.

May 24, 2012

Click. Treat. Hmmm.

I had always been interested in clicker training. I grew up in San Diego and had seen the marine mammals at the San Diego Zoo, and at Sea World, and had met Shawna Karrisch and her wonderful Rottweiller. Horse people I admired, like Beezie Madden, used CT to good ends. Bryan seemed like the perfect candidate for me to expand from interest  to execution. I bought some CT videos, studied them, bought a little clicker at Petsmart, and off to the barn I went.

I tried it first on a couple of the more…er…normal horses. I called my friend Linda who was quite good at CT and she came and gave me a lesson It was interesting and very fun to watch the boys figure out the click treat connection and then to teach them to seek the reward. I loved it. Wonder and Zachy, the two boys we worked  with, got the idea in about two and a half minutes. Cool! I thought. This is it! CT will be The Breakthrough Bryan has been waiting for!

Well, not exactly.

I had already learned to break things in to not just small but infinitesimal steps with B, so I decided to start with the most basic thing. Click, treat. That was it. No target, no trick, just click, treat, respond.

I started in the cross ties, where he felt safe. Right in front of his stall, no Barn In The Distance issue to distress him. Well within his potentially reachable comfort zone. Right?

May 21, 2012

Kinda Slow Going

I was teaching quite a bit at the time we got Bryan and had a great group of sensitive and sensible teenage girls in the barn. They all loved the B and they all understood that he was…er…challenged. They had learned, or were learning, to ride well, so I let them all be involved in Bryan's day to day. They were perfectly happy to ride him at the walk and were patient with his…er…idiosyncrasies. We kept his work load light and only rode him once or twice a week, tops. We did not ask anything of him ( in the traditional Bryan Land we were drastically moving his furniture around) and we strictly followed the routine he showed us was necessary; mounting in the ring, staying in the ring, staying on the rail. 

So I started with halting and standing. He really didn’t get that. It wasn’t so bad if you halted him facing the barn (yes, The BARN! Remember, Bryan’s Holy Grail and Reason for Being was to STARE AT THE BARN) as long as you didn’t make him stand for long. But if you halted facing away from the barn he got very upset. So we started by halting, facing the barn. With any other horse I would have done a lot of treating, as in stop, stand, ‘good boy!’ and give a little peppermint or something. Naturally, this didn’t work with Bryan. He was well beyond anything so straightforward. He not only didn’t get or care that a treat was being offered, he would not bite it or chew it even when  I stuck it in the side of his mouth. After a minute or two he would realize something had apparently magically appeared and would crunch it up, absently. I didn’t have to worry about him mugging for sweets. Every event was new, and separated in his mind. Halt, stand, stick treat in mouth, stare at barn, crunch absently. Over and over. And over.

He wasn’t just not treat oriented, he was treat *unaware*. Wow.

May 17, 2012


Bryan truly lived in his own world. He wasn’t remotely aggressive. He wasn’t even particularly ill-mannered. He just ‘wasn’t there’. I had never seen a horse like that and of course took it as a personal challenge. I wanted to get him to realize that things had cause and effect. This meant doing things in new ways. I felt like Annie Sullivan, spelling meaningless shapes in to Helen's hand. Would any of it connect?

I can’t separate a horse's mind from his body. We do lots of physical therapies with the boys; more on these later. But since Horses Are The Sum of Their Parts™ , and we want to reclaim them as riding/performance horses, we ride them.

I started Bryan's New Life with a different bit. There are two bits I like for this sort of reclamation. The Myler Comfort Snaffle Combination bit is my favorite. The Myler mouthpiece protects the palate and the tongue and the bars. I like that it’s loose ringed and the horse can lift it comfortably with his tongue. I also like the combination hackamore aspect, as a horse that has given up on his mouth, through unskilled and inconsiderate riding, can gain confidence again when ridden well with this bit. The nose pressure can reduce the defensiveness/dullness/pain associated with bad riding and regain the horse’s  understanding. It can help teach a horse to give, rather than pull. You can adjust the reins to have some leverage effect, you can use two reins, what have you. There is a lot of versatility, and it is very gentle.

May 11, 2012

Bryan Starts His New Life

My projects are horses that have been ridden and treated badly. Note: I do not say ‘abused’. Because though they have been, it has not been in the typical way that people consider ‘abuse’. They’ve not been starved, or whipped, or bled, or tied in chains. They’ve often been dearly loved, well fed, and groomed and shown with pride. But they have been deeply harmed indeed, and it’s been under the guise of ‘training’. They are sore and lame. But worse, since many soreness and lameness problems are fixable with time and the right therapies, is how out of touch with their bodies they are, and how meaningless the ‘aids’ have become to them. They are either over reactive, like Bryan, or non reactive, like Philip, a Selle-Francais gelding that we got at the same time we got The B. And so the rehab process starts with making them aware that their lives with humans now will have cause and effect. They will have choices now that are clear and that will make sense to them.

May 9, 2012

Back to Bryan

And so, back to Crips R Us Farms, and to Bryan.

Remember the tale of the three blind men and the elephant? Blind man number one feels the trunk and says ‘The elephant is like a snake!’ Blind man number two feels the legs and says ‘The elephant is like a tree!’ Blind man number three feels the tail and says ‘No! The elephant is like a rope!’ In the meantime, Mr. Elephant is rolling his eyes and thinking ‘Morons!’

Some people love feet. Some people love the chiropractor. Some people think its all muscular. Some people buy endless saddles. But a horse can only be the *sum of its parts*. Rehabbing has to include fixing the things that are ‘wrong’, i.e. skeletal and muscular and foot and tack issues, and doing what is ‘right’, as in ridden and ground work. You can’t just change the shoeing, the hoof balance, the tack, the skeleton, the muscle system. You have to address each system in turn and return it to its default setting, which in the horse is ‘sound’ and ‘benign’. But you can do all of those things and still have only limited success.

May 3, 2012

In Which I Find My Calling

One more post about my Centered riding clinic experience. I want to make the point that the work didn’t just make sense in my own body and as a rider. What I had not anticipated at the time was that riding in a physiologically correct manner could change, permanently, the *horse’s* body. So bear with me.

I had been a piano teacher and an English teacher, a kindergarten teacher, and a tutor. I had never been interested in teaching riding or being a trainer. How many years can you tell someone to get their heels down? Bleah. I had followed the universal assumption that a rider was either talented or they weren’t, that a horse was either willing or he wasn’t, and there wasn’t a whole lot you could do except keep working at it and hope for the best. But Susan taught me otherwise.

The CR certification clinic was intense. Four (five?) days in the spring, the summer off for teaching, then four (five?) days in the fall to discuss and refresh. Again we rode twice a day and then studied Susan’s great illustrations, our little plastic human skeletons,  and each other. I got it, I felt it, I knew it was life changing, but I didn’t know how to apply it to a student.  We had to demonstrate practice teaching  and I was dreading it. I just couldn’t see, in a new person, what exactly was out of place. Nor did I know how to fix it.

Apr 20, 2012

Leaps, Bounds, and Stumbles

And so my new life of riding began. I took several CR clinics with Susan and ended up getting my basic instructors certification. I audited some clinics at Southmowing Stables where Sally worked. I experimented with my own body on Tucker and on the Smith school horses. It was quite a learning time.

But don’t think it was like Ta-Da! Im a great rider! No. It was hard and at times extremely frustrating. I got back on Tucker after flying off the back of him that day. I could only get that trot about every third try. It didn’t *feel* like I did anything different those efforts, but clearly I *was*, and he could certainly tell. Hmmm.

But when I did get it right, it worked. It was crazy. I learned through time that I was hugely right dominant. All of my life I had been more comfortable on the left lead, the left diagonal, and tracking left in general. I had even only ever fallen off to the left. And yet it never had occurred to me that it had anything to do with *my* body. Well, horses were always just stiffer to the right. I usually rode OTTBs and they ran to the left. Ha! Perfect explanation. Duh.

Apr 18, 2012

Theory. Understanding. Practice.

And so, I went home. The next day, I got out the Tuck.

Everything was like it normally was, except me. I got on, went to the field that served as my ring, and rode him around with no stirrups, then both directions without my left, and both directions without my right. All I concentrated on was feeling my legs be long, my knee soft and open, my ribs up, and my pelvis following the movement. I’d always been taught to have my knee *in*, my thigh *on*. I gave that up and pretended Susan was there, stretching my leg down. I rolled my thigh back throughout, and could feel how that opened my hip and allowed my leg to be even longer.

It was all so antithetical to how I had always ridden in tack. But since I had spent so much of my riding life bareback, I just tried to feel that same sense of drapey hanging leg, but with a saddle. I practiced picking up my stirrups, one at a time, then both, then dropping them again, and trying not to let anything else in my body change in any way. It was funny how hard that was to do, when I broke it down like that. I could also tell that Tucker could feel my shifts, no matter how slight. So I kept at it till I could drop both or either stirrup, and pick them up again, with him on the buckle, in either direction, and not changing in any way.

It took about a half an hour, maybe. I felt pretty good, and Tucker was cruising and soft. 

Apr 17, 2012

I was Blind, But Now I See

In that CR clinic, with Susan Harris and all the others watching and critiquing each other and ourselves, we had ridden two hours in the mornings and two hours in the afternoons. We had done lots of work over cavaletti, low jumps, and grids. We rode with our arms crossed over our chests, we rode with only one stirrup, we rode in two-point, over and over. We rode with only one hand, the other arm stretched in various positions. We did the Three Seats exercise, wherein you post ten strides, sit ten strides, and two-point ten strides, the goal being to be able to do these position changes without any change in your horse’s way of going. We also spent a lot of time riding with a soft/loose leg, seeking a connection from the rider hip to the foot/stirrup. Susan would come up to us while standing and run her hand from the inside top of our thigh down to the lower calf, then softly pull/allow our leg to be longer and more draped. Then she would tap the bottom of our feet. It was really crazy how different this made my legs feel.

All of these exercises were extraordinarily revealing. It was particularly helpful to watch the other riders and to see how their horses responded to the work and the position changes. Remember, I was watching people riding horses I had ridden and taught on for several weeks. I saw the horses respond, change, get softer, rounder, more forward. I admit, sitting and watching and listening to the riders exclaiming this and that would never have done it for me. In fact, some of the Navel Gazers were embarrassing. "Yes! Yes!" they'd cry, as they experienced some sort of real or perceived breakthrough. Oy. There was always a lot of  'Me! Me! I am SO CENTERED' hoopla going on. I had to give Susan credit.  She kept everybody focused on their positions and while encouraging to all the Gazers you could tell she wanted them to keep the focus on *riding*. No, it was watching the *horses* respond to the position changes that was the shocker. Horses don’t lie. Ever. Nor do they have agendas or placebo effects or Things to Prove. They just are. And I could see, over and over, how they changed when the rider body changed. And it’s not like half the time you could even really see anybody do anything. But you saw the horse change, and then you realized that the rider body had changed. Wow.

Apr 11, 2012

Sing It, Sistah!

This Miracle Light Bulb was in and of itself pretty transforming. But it was brought home to me in such a clear and I Will Never Look Back way by a horse I had  started riding only three weeks before the CR clinic. His name was Tucker.

He was a very handsome Canadian TB/Trakhener cross, about 16.2, truly black. Very typey and such a mover! He belonged to a girl I’d met at Smith who was busy with college and  really couldn’t keep him. She gave him to me; we brought him to my house in Ashfield where I had a little barn and ring and miles and miles of gorgeous trails. Woohoo!

Well. I had seen this horse at shows and clinics and I knew he was a steady, willing, quiet horse who looked effortless to ride. Not to mention really handsome with an appealing friendly personality. I was so excited!

Apr 9, 2012

Epiphanies Are Us

It was an interesting three days. We started every day with lectures, followed by riding and demonstrations. We rode, we watched each other ride, we talked saddle fit and position, we asked lots of questions and Susan had all the excellent answers. Some of my preconceptions about the attendees proved true, and others were immediately blown out of the water. One of the goofiest dressed amulet wearing beaded hippie Kerrit clad CR heads ended up my best friend in the clinic. She was also named Abby and we laughed that we were opposite sides of the same coin. She was smart and funny and took it all seriously. But there were also those who could find their Centers, had Very Soft Eyes, could talk Building Blocks and Rooting Trees and blah blah blah till I keeled over, but man, ask them  to steer and it was ‘AAEEII!! <crash>'. There was a sense it was, to some people, Centered Navel Gazing, rather than Centered  *Riding*. But as the hours went on and I watched Susan teaching, and was taught by her, and as I watched the good riders Riding, and the not so great riders Centering Their Navel Gazing, I saw what I could neither deny nor dismiss.

I had been riding the Smith school horses for several weeks and I knew most of them pretty well. I knew that yes, I could ‘get them’ to do what I wanted, but I also knew that ‘they’ ‘always wanted’ to do such and such.

In that three days, I saw that those horses didn’t ‘want’ to do those things any more than I ‘wanted’ to fly to the moon.

I saw that we, as riders, ‘made’ those horses do those things. We made them lean, we made them drop a shoulder, we made them pull, we made them go on the forehand. WE did it. OUR bodies did it. When they were not carting our bodies around, they did not do those things. Sometimes it was really obvious. But sometimes it was so subtle I could hardly believe it. I would experiment with the slightest, the tiniest adjustments in my tummy or hip, and yowza, the horse would straighten, lift, what have you. Even the old half cripped schoolies. OMG. Who knew.

I saw that all of the corrections that riders have been taught to do, historically, *work*, but that if *we* didnt make the horses do those various things *to begin with*, those corrections would not be necessary. OMG. Who knew.

The most mind boggling  exercise for me at the time was what Susan called Comparable Parts. We have a dropped right shoulder, the horse has a dropped right shoulder. We lean left, the horse leans left. Lather rinse repeat. Now it seems such a given, so obvious, but to me, then, it was a Jesus and the Lepers moment. Wow. Wow!

It’s not them. It’s us. Who knew, indeed.

Pride and Prejudice

I was living in a small town in Western Massachusetts at the time. I had met, in a neighboring small town, a wonderful horsie kid and her mom and grandmother. The mom’s name was Sally. She was named after Sally Swift, who had been the grandmother's counselor at a childhood horse camp, long ago, and who had clearly, even then and as a very young person,  been able to make a pretty big impression.  I knew that Sally Swift’s influence was deep and real and seemed well deserved. I found the book, CENTERED RIDING, to be interesting and thought provoking but also weird and somewhat confusing. . I knew also that Sally had influenced some excellent horsemen and riders, including Denny Emerson, who I consider a real stylist.

But I wasn’t sure what to expect at the clinic. I got there early and had a muffin and coffee while waiting for things to start. This was a three day CR jumping clinic, with Susan Harris, who I also admired as the author of GROOMING TO WIN, as the clinician. As I waited, I looked around at the people congregating.

It was a mixed bunch.

Apr 3, 2012

It Sucks To Be Me

My riding had been sporadic between 1987 and 1992. Marriage, moving, and motherhood had kept me hopping. I had sold my jumper and putzed around periodically on my semi-retired hunter, but life was in the way of much serious pursuit. But when the girls were two and four I felt pretty able to commit to riding again. I took a couple of lessons at a dressage/eventing barn but I wasn’t thrilled about their horse care or their level of proficiency. On a whim I drove by the Smith College campus and signed up for a lesson.

Apr 2, 2012

On the Road to Find Out

I have so enjoyed sharing these stories about Bryan and I hope you have appreciated them as well. But I can hear people wondering ‘Who are you and what makes *you* think *you* could reach that horse, anyway?’ It’s a fair question and I will answer it now.

I confessed that I am attracted to pathology. Even as a kid  I never wanted the ready made horse. How boring was that! I got my first backyard horse when I was 9. I started riding at a local hunter barn when I was 12. I was in awe of the grooms, college age women who also showed. When I heard a vet describe one of them as being able to ‘put a busted leg back together’ I knew I wanted to be her. Perfectly wrapped legs in clean cottons with flannels and pins were objects of reverence and beauty. I hung out at barns and watched vets work and do PPEs and learned poultices and blisters and etc etc. At 15 I groomed at my first A show for a BN jumper trainer. My hero was Jimmy Williams, my Gods were Bill Steinkraus and The George. I was a hard core horse girl.

Mar 26, 2012

A Horse is Like an Onion

I’m working on the post/s about the therapeutic work we started to do on Bryan, with links to the sources and webpages per the salient info. But until I get there, here is another episode of Our Life With Bryan. As per his usual, it was educational.

Nicole and I had been so entertained and intrigued by Bryan’s first outing that morning that we decided, oh what the heck, let’s get him out again. I was curious to find out if there were any connections in his responses, or if *everything* provoked that blind nervous reaction, so, like my turnout experiment, I wanted to see if different ways of approaching riding made any difference. Comparing Bryan’s current situation with what I knew about Lisa’s riding school situation. I knew that her riders always mounted on a mounting block *at the ring*. *Not*, like we did, in the barn aisle. So, a couple of hours after our first riding attempt, we got him out again. He was the same; quiet, but pooping and head high, uninterested in cookies and not connecting with us at all.

This time we led him out to the ring. There were a couple of people riding at the far end (the ring at that barn was gigantic). He could see other horses but again, it didn’t seem like he noticed or cared. He stood the same, head high but obedient. This time he stood quietly as she swung her leg over. This time, he stood still when she sat down. This time, he walked off quietly. And so, with a look and a nod from me, off they went, around the ring.

Mar 21, 2012

Aaand They're Off!

I promise I will get to the work we did that actually helped Bryan.  And we did help him, a lot. But you might not grasp just how far he came unless I share just how complex he was, emotionally and physically (which I hope to show you through time is *the same thing* to a horse). So bear with me for another couple of days of Bryan Tales.

Since I had committed to peeling the Onion of Bryan, the next Data Gathering Point was The First Ride.  

It was inauspicious.

His back was funky with a giant narrow wither and hollows behind, but I had a medium tree wool stuffed County eventer and with a Mattes sheepskin half pad and a Thinline I felt we had him comfortable. I used a hunter bridle with a regular full cheek snaffle, no martingale. I had an assistant at the time and since I wanted to watch him I had suckered…er…delegated her to do the first ride.

Mar 18, 2012

Notebook, check. Pencil, check. Subject, Equus Erratus, check.

It was so strange watching him that day. He didn’t seem upset or hysterical. He actually looked quite businesslike as he went back and forth, never changing his rhythm or his posture. He clearly didn’t want the company of the other horses; his neighbors had come over to give a horsie hello and he didn’t seem to see them or respond in any way. ‘Places to go! Things to do! No time for chitchat!’ he might have said. He didn’t care to eat and roll on the grass. You really couldn’t tell *what* he wanted, if anything. But it was clear that none of the usual management nostrums were going to work with Bryan.  I had a feeling that I was in uncharted territory.

But for the first time since he had arrived I felt calm, interested, and intrigued. That near death experience, my unexpected and happy survival, and my acceptance of the task in front of me had utterly dismissed my previous discouraged feeling of God Help Us! Knowing that I would help him, either by rehabilitation or mercy killing, gave me a goal.

So, there he was. I remembered from Lisa that he was also…er…unnerved when she first got him but that he had eventually (note to self: ask Lisa how long 'eventually' was...) settled in to her routine. I would work him, ride him, clip him, and deal with him like any of the other boys, and get to the bottom of him, or that would be that. I would now consider all of our interactions Data Gathering, and go from there.

Mar 16, 2012

And So

I caught my breath. I wasn’t hurt, just scraped up and dirty. No one had seen what had happened. The barn was quiet. Horses nearby were grazing calmly. I could hear the ducks on the lake and a tractor in the distance. The giant eucalyptus surrounding the paddock whispered their tree noises. I stood there, watching Bryan.

The paddock was maybe a quarter mile from the barn. There were horses turned out on two sides. He could see them. He didnt care. He was on grass. He didn’t want it.  He had no interest in either. He was trotting the fence line, head raised, back and forth, back and forth. He wasn’t calling, or racing around. He had that same staring in to space look he always had. He would get to the end, turn, go back, turn. A metronome of stress. There was such a strange, helpless, inward repetition to it. It was sick and mindless. It was heartbreaking, and I hated it for him.

And so standing there watching him do his horsey version of head banging, I  knew I could never send him back.  Lisa had loved him and had done what she could for him, and trusted me enough to sell him to me, but his previous people, and the practices of the performance world, had done this to him. Either I could reach him, and help him, or I would put him down. No horse should have to live in such a closed off world. I would do what I could to alter the course that his humans had put him on, or I would set him free from it.

Mar 10, 2012

Recipero Vestri Fortuna

As fate would have it, I didn’t reach Lisa that morning. I didnt leave a voicemail. I left Bryan to his world and started my regular work. Horse chores have always provided me with quiet thinking time and that day was no exception. As I did my turnouts, fed and groomed and worked with the other boys, I thought about B.

My tears had not only been about Bryan, but *for* Bryan. He was so helpless and so lost! I know what horses can go through, having seen plenty of abuse, overt and covert, in my forty five years in the industry. I also knew Bryan had been dearly loved by his humans at least at some points in his life. So what had happened to him that had made him so wrecked physically and so checked out mentally?

And more important, what, if anything could I do about it? Could I even reach him, much less fix him?

Mar 6, 2012

The Lost Boy

I got to the barn earlier than usual the next day, a little afraid of what I might find. Troubling visions had disturbed my sleep. Had he screamed his brains out and kept the whole neighborhood awake? Had he continued to try to climb over the stall door? Had he succeeded and run wild through the property all night? Worse, had he gotten *half way* over, and hung there, half in, half out?

I brushed these unproductive visions from my mind and hurried to the barn aisle. It was early, no one was around. All was quiet; he had either given up or the barn help had shot him. As I walked toward his stall my horses whickered the usual good morning hello. I saw ten horsey heads hanging out over ten stall doors. Hmmm. 10? But I now had 11 horses. No new chestnut head hanging over the door. Ruh-roh.

I stopped outside his door, peeked around quietly, and whew! There he was, standing, head low and in the corner. Relief!!  Upright and apparently in one piece! I watched him for a moment. He had a hind leg cocked, relaxed, breathing slowly and quietly.  He had survived!

Mar 2, 2012

Queen of the Wind

Bryan and I stood there, panting. The ducks circled but they didn’t land. The horses in the paddocks were still WTF!  Lisa gave me another hug and was gone.  I could have sworn I heard “a fool and his money…” as the truck pulled out of the driveway, but it might have been my imagination.

Well, I figured it would be nice to take The B for a graze and a walk. So off we went. I walked. Bryan passaged. But he wasn’t pawing and he wasn’t screaming.  Things were looking up! I kept a soft but definite hold on the chain. I started feeling a little better.

I looked at him. Man, he was a walking equine disaster. I had to admit he was pretty funny looking. Being March, he hadnt shed out. Being a school horse, his mane was kinda long and shaggy.

 My friends are used to me. “Hey! Another project! Cool!” they say, to my face. “Hey! Another reject! Gawd!”  Im sure they’re thinking, behind my back. I knew that Bryan would *really* get their eyebrows up. I got a little insecure, lost my nerve about taking him for a walk and decided to get him in a stall before anyone noticed us. So to his new stall we went. It was all ready, with deep drifts of fresh shavings, a nice pile of timothy in the corner, and carrots and apples in his feed tub. A stall any horse would love to call home!

Well, I guess he hadn’t seen shavings in a while. He stopped, backed, and squatted slightly, clearly sensing a trap. I carefully undid the chain and unclipped the leadrope, (but left the halter on in case I lost him!) clucked encouragingly, and in he jumped. Literally.  He spun as soon as he landed, bent on escape, and I shut the bottom stall door in the nick of time. Then he seemed to get it, bless his heart, and after a few spins and sniffs, dropped and rolled. He was so happy!  Over and over he dropped, got up and shook, dropped, got up and shook. Aww!

But then his nerves checked back in and that was that. He started pawing. And screaming. It quickly escalated to kicking the walls. It then transmogrified to trying to climb said walls. Of course this started a chain reaction in the adjoining stalls as the equine version of “Save Yourselves!” ricocheted down the aisle. So much for anonymity. Mortified, I ducked into the feed room. He’ll settle down, I said to myself. Any minute now. Soon.

I reflected, sitting there on the grain bins in the dim, sweet smelling room. So, here was Bryan. My New Horse. Actually, a new School Horse. I knew Lisa had taught on him and she would have told me if anyone had been killed, but at this point, the only thing I could envision him teaching anyone was to pursue another sport.  (Something quiet!). But I tried not to worry.  Let’s give him a chance. He will be just fine once he settles down. Some horses just don’t transition well.

After a few hours of alternately screaming, climbing, and kicking, he did settle somewhat and  picked fitfully at his hay. He would stop to take a carrot if I held one out but he’d crunch it on the fly.  He called  regularly, though the best he could do after so many hours was an embarrassingly breathy heehheeeheeee!.  The rest of the barn had long since quit answering, but he didn’t notice or care. He was confident that something  was out there, was on its way, and if he just kept calling, whatever it was would come.

I soon learned that that stick-to-it-ive-ness was characteristic of him. He wasn’t one to let reality, hunger, or fatigue get in *his* way, no sirree. Giving up was for sissies. No, Bryan was nothing if not…fixed in his outlooks. 

I gave him another carrot and a pat, which he didn’t notice as he pushed his head past me and bellowed to his invisible friends. Feeling discouraged, I left, and drove home.

Feb 27, 2012

Bryan Lands

It was cold and damp, like a March morning should be, as I waited for Lisa to arrive. Dew dripped off the leaves of the trees, cozy horse noises snuffled softly from the paddocks that edged the driveway to the barn. The swallows were catching breakfast and the ducks were starting their morning swim as the mist rose on the little lake at the front of the property.  I have always loved mornings in a barn, and this one was exceptionally pretty and peaceful.  And today was exciting! Bryan was coming in and I was there early to oversee the arrival. I was in a happy, sleepy state, and just finishing a coffee. I shivered as the sun started to peek through the clouds. I checked my watch. She should be here any minute.

I became aware of a rhythmic crashing. That could only be the sound of a horse kicking in a trailer.  Holy cow, I thought first. What the heck?  Oh, great, I thought second. You don’t think that’s them?

Indeed, it was. The crashing increased; the trailer pulled into sight around the corner. The trailer rocked and shook with each kick. The birds fled in an instant, the ducks on the lake scattered with an outraged quack. The horses in the paddocks along the barn lane stood frozen, electrified. My friend Lisa, driving the truck, waved cheerfully, apparently unconcerned about the noise and the iminent destruction of her trailer.

She pulled in, expertly turning the rig around, unfazed by the commotion they were creating.   She stopped, got out of her truck, and gave me her usual affectionate hug. The horse inside the trailer, *my new horse*, was now "whinnying". Read "screaming".  Loudly. She tried to talk over the din but after a few futile attempts we reverted to hand signals and decided to immediately unload him from the trailer. I opened the escape door and was promptly knocked backward by Bryan's head snaking back and forth. He was trying to climb out over the manger. Good grief, I thought as I tried to push his head back inside so I could unsnap the trailer tie. Good grief! again, as he screamed in my face and resisted my efforts. I pushed as hard as I could, got him unsnapped, Lisa dropped the ramp, undid the butt bar, and with a final last crash, scramble, and scream, he unloaded himself in a heap in the driveway.

He scrambled up, all 17 awkward fungusy hands of him. I grabbed the leadrope just as he righted himself and started to leave. I knew he didn’t know where he was going but he was going somewhere, and he was going NOW, and was going to levitate himself there, by the looks of it.  He had no idea I was there, was absolutely shaking with nerves, his eyes white rimmed and spinning in his head. Did I mention the screaming?

My presence at the end of the leadrope meant little to him, and as I tried to keep him from dragging me off I panted to Lisa "Get a chain! Did you bring a chain?!" Lisa looked surprised. "A chain? Why?!"

I yelled over my shoulder as I tried to keep from being trampled  by *my new horse*,  who was prancing in circles, tail over his back, head in the air, and did I mention screaming? "LISA! Do you HAVE A CHAIN?!"

"Of course I do, you don’t have to yell!"  Lisa sniffed, as she started leisurely looking about her trailer dressing room for a chain. "Here", she said, about a year later.

Pleased with my adroitness in getting the chain over the nose of a horse that was alternately plunging, rearing, spinning, trying to kick, and passing watery poop like mad, but sensing that no congratulations were forthcoming, I  pulled quite smartly on the leadrope, engaging the chain hard on what really was a classic TB nose. He had no idea I was even there.  Lisa looked shocked, and spoke to the horse in a soothing tone which was totally lost in the din. "You don’t have to shank him!" she cried in horror, in a voice that may as well have been saying "You don’t have to eviscerate him!". I pretended not to hear, which wasn’t hard to do, and ignoring her appalled face I shanked him again, good and hard. He shook his head, snorted, struck out at me with a foreleg and reared in my face. I shanked him again and backed him up good and smart. For the first time he quit spinning around me.  He semi-stopped that ear shattering screaming and stood still, pawing madly. He didn’t look at me and still didn't seem to know I was there. Head a mile high, nostrils flaring, tail up, he looked like he was going to leave the planet any moment. But at least he stood still...ish. And he quit the God awful screaming.

Oh great, I thought to myself again as I looked at his quivering body. I could see his heart pumping out of his chest. He looked ready to absolutely explode.

Bryan had arrived!