Sunday, November 29, 2020

What Is The Connection Between Music and Becoming An Effective Horse Trainer /Rider?

Learning music, especially learning to play multiple instruments, builds confidence. Overcoming stage fright makes it easier to over come riding anxiety. Learning how to use presence, focus, and body language to effectively communicate with an audience makes it easier to use presence, focus, and body language to effectively communicate with horses.

Here are two of my most talented musicians out on their own busking (and becoming quite financially successful at it). They are about thirteen years old. This is also a picture of two of my most talented young horse trainers and riders.

The over lap is not a coincidence. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

How Long Must This Horrible War Go On?

How many times has that cry been uttered throughout history?

 Our war with the virus is a different kind of war but it creates some of the same problems. The neutron bomb was a nuclear bomb that was designed to kill people while leaving most buildings and infrastructure in place. The virus is like that. It only takes people away and leaves their homes and possessions intact.

I have hung with this virus right well until fairly recently. I did not expect this kind of rebound from the virus. It has thrown me greatly off course. It is one of the main reasons that I have not turned on facebook in over a month. (I can post things without having to turn it on and have made occasional posts). I have rarely checked emails and the best thing about my phone is that it rarely works.

I have not hunted in nearly twenty years. It used to be all that I lived for. The seven week long gun season, the month long bow season, and the two week long muzzle loader seasons were the only times of the year that I was fully alive. 

And I was careful, more careful than one can imagine. 

I do not exaggerate when I say that there were at least 200 times that I let a deer go past me because I was not absolutely certain that no human could be down range of where I was shooting. 

I had control over whether or not I accidently shot someone.

I do not have control over whether or not I might have the virus and be spreading it to others. My mind, when left to its own devices used to naturally drift to ways to expand and improve our program. Now my mind only drifts to whether or not our program could lead to a spread of the virus.

But we cannot stay like this forever. The vaccines will come, the virus will fade, and we cannot allow ourselves to loose the taste for living before that happens.

The kids who are skinning the ash and gum poles above are my grand children. They came out Wednesday to help me prepare the poles for drying and curing so that they can be used this summer in the construction of various native structures that symbolize the Indians who were associated with the different strains of Colonial Spanish horses that we seek to preserve and promote.

The poles are for future projects. 

Regardless of the difficulty and uncertainty of the times we can still decide to make sure that our program has a future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Horses and Healing: Articulating an Inarticulable Hell

The virus. The isolation. The constant frustration of not being able to do what must be done. The constant awareness of the finiteness of life. 

The two minute warning. 

I am taking an intense forty hour session on forensic interviews of children who have been molested. It is all being done on the computer. Yesterday we all introduced ourselves and told how long that we have been involved in the investigation or prosecution of these cases.

Many of the participants looked to be about the ages of my two oldest daughters. I explained that I had been doing these cases for twenty two years and that up until the virus hit had been conducting weekly sessions, (weather permitting) for those in the in patient PTSD program at the local Veterans Hospital for over seven years.

As the words came out of my mouth I remembered a training that I conducted in 2005 for the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney's Conference on effective communication with children and adults with mental retardation who had been sexually assaulted. During that session, over fifteen years ago, I explained that in no office should anyone prosecute these cases for more than a year and a half without taking a significant break from them.

I have now spent over a third of my life working to understand and help heal kids who need someone to help them learn how to claw their way out of Hell. It has  destroyed any shot at a normal life, yet at the same time it has given the life that I have meaning and purpose.

So understand, I am not complaining. I am trying to explain. I said "trying" to explain. I normally can put concepts and feelings into words that can be understood by my audience be it made up of second graders or adult experts in their fields. But I cannot even explain to my wife why my hands are shaking so badly right now. I cannot explain in a way that even she can understand the rage that I felt setting in front of that computer yesterday as the lectures brought back intensely clear memories of the kids whose lives have been put in my hands as a result of the abuse they received.

"Lives in my hands" is not a figure of speech. For many of these kids their futures, if they are to have one at all,  will be greatly shaped by their interaction with me.

And it hurts so  much to know how easy it is to give kids new lives when one exposes them to natural horsemanship. It hurts to know how cheap it is to make natural horsemanship part of the recovery from PTSD while knowing that as a nation we make no investment in these programs. I hope that we can use social media and videography to reach more people in the future. 

But it is a hard row to hoe. 

Programs like ours would be simple to run but for the conflicts among adults in the program. I have never considered leaving the program because the amount of emotional energy that goes into shining light into dark worlds. Every time that I have given serious thought to stepping aside and letting others run the program it has been because of adult conflicts.

I am worn out right now and I have only had one day of this class. I am not sure exactly who I will be by the time the classes end on Friday.

There are four principle virtues --generosity, courage, honesty and resilience. Of these resilience is the most important. Resilience allows one to extend the time that the world has to benefit from  one's generosity, courage, courage and honesty.

Resilience is exhausting.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Crisis Of Conscience

Young riders have their own measures of success. As soon as they are comfortable cantering they want to try jumping. If jumping is possible then they want to try riding bare back. Then they want to move on to what is  the ultimate measure of success in our program in their minds.

They want to lead the rides. 

Few of them have any idea what that actually entails. They see only the status that being the lead rider seems to confer. They do not see the awesome responsibility that it carries.

I lead the rides more than 95% of the time. It is exhausting to do so. One must remain focused at every moment to make sure that all the riders behind are learning to become better riders and that their horsemanship is helping their horse to become a more confident mount. The ride leader must be alert to every sound, sight, and even smell that could cause a problem for any of the horses.

Advanced young riders who truly have the skill to lead rides recognize this are willing to lead a ride if needed, but have no desire to do so to demonstrate their power or status. 

I long ago gave up any interest in controlling the behavior of others. The pursuit of power and status is evidence of a serious character flaw. It took me years to realize it, but it is every bit as serious a character flaw as is materialism or conformism. 

Our program can only succeed if we refuse to accept the shallow values of not only the established horse world, but also of our culture as a whole. That means that the starting point of the program must be a radical rejection of self interest. 

Many years ago my uncle sold the timber from his land adjoining the horse lot. He asked Daddy to ask me if I would mind if the lumber trucks went across a section of my land. Daddy told him that he would not ask me because I was not the kind of person who would even think of saying that the trucks could not enter simply because my name was on a deed.

When the girls at the Little House have needed a truck they have always known that they never had to ask for permission to use my truck. They simply had to make sure that I would not be needing it at the time that they would need it. To do otherwise would be to suggest that I was the kind of person who would say that they could not use the truck because it was "mine".

And now for the first time in decades I find myself wanting to own something for myself. I want an all metal resonating guitar. Worst of all, if I did purchase one I could not imagine myself giving it away to some kid down the road who might want to learn to play one but whose family could not afford to make such a purchase.

This does not bode well for the future of our program. 

Whether I purchase such a guitar myself is irrelevant. The harm of wanting to own a thing is already done. What other weaknesses might follow? Might I start thinking that we need to do things to improve the appearance of the horse lot instead of putting all of my energy into improving the reality of our program? Might I start thinking of whether a horse is "mine" instead of thinking whether or not a given rider would have a good experience riding "my" horse?  

During the pandemic I allowed my physical health to slip. When the blood work numbers came in from my last physical I began making radical changes to improve my health. I had a problem and I caught it in time.

It seems that during the pandemic I allowed my ethical health to slip. I need to make radical changes to improve my ethical health. I hope that I have caught it in time. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

I Guess I'm Back

Have been going through the most labor intensive time since I studied for the Bar Exam in 1985. Something had to give and what I gave up was checking my emails, checking facebook posts, and working on this blog.  I went a few weeks without doing any of that.

 Gave me an additional 1.5 to 3 hours a day to get other things done. All of my life I have hated a telephone. I fell in love with email because it gave me a way to communicate with people without  talking to them. 

Now I will reacquaint myself with emails. I generally review and respond to emails as soon as I wake up (generally around 3:00 am). Tomorrow morning I will resume checking emails, but I hope to stay away from facebook messages until January.

Keeping Fear Out of Your Saddle

Certain forms of equine assisted therapy use the horse and the person's reaction to the horse as a diagnostic tool with the primary goal being self understanding. For example, the person enters the round pen, seeks to interact with the horse and then discusses the feelings that resulted from the contact with the horse. If the horse evades the person it is important to understand why the horse was doing so and to examine how that evasion made the person feel.

A similar process can be applied to riding anxiety. All too often the answer to the question of "what are you afraid of when riding?" is the shallow response of "I'm afraid that I am going to fall off."

Of course, the issue is much more complex than that. No one wants to fall off but most experienced riders are not controlled by the fear of falling. Instead they have adapted strategies to control that fear.
Often, the first step in dealing with riding anxiety is to change one's priorities in a manner that can be very surprising. Riders whose top priority is to stay on the horse are much more likely to be injured than are those
whose top priority is to control the horse's speed and direction.

One of the most frightening experiences that one will ever encounter on a horse is to sit astride an uncontrolled horse who has bolted. Riders often make the situation much worse by giving up on controlling the speed and direction of the horse and resorting to simply trying to stay on. In many such cases the rider squeezes with the legs and takes the saddle in hand in a death grip. 

Such a rider is merely holding on and hoping for the best instead of focusing on bringing the animal to a safe stop. The rider who focuses on control of the horse will make sure that he is not squeezing the horse with his legs. If the rider has practiced one rein stops, using the left rein to bring the horse under control by keeping its head down and pulling its nose toward its hip, the horse can generally be brought back under control.

But there is a catch to this simple advice. When we feel an immediate physical threat our instincts prompt us to draw our bodies into a fetal position. When on horseback doing so will often result in feet being pulled from the stirrups at the same time that the head and shoulders  are pulled downward and forward. When in such a position one is at much more risk of falling off and one is in a position that makes it impossible to use the reins to control the horse.

Overcoming learned behavior that is dangerous is hard enough, but learning to overcome instinctual behavior is quite a daunting task. The only way that I have been able to do so is to be perfectly consistent in how I handle the reins and where I place my legs. Every time that I stop a horse I use a left hand, one rein stop.  After doing so for a few decades habit overcomes instinct.

If my horse bolts I do not have to decide what to do. My body instantly works to take control of the horse because each time I get on a horse my top priority is to control the horse's speed and direction.

Knowing that I can control the horse allows me to ride with less fear. Few things scare horses more than exposure to terrified people. the calmer one is around the horse the more likely the horse is to remain calm. One must also understand that being controlled in a perfectly consistent manner provides the horse with the same feeling of security that he feels in a small band of horses with the lead horse present. 

Learn to control your horse. Learn to control your anxiety in the saddle. When it comes to horse/human relation sips fear is contagious. 

So is peacefulness.