Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Buck-et List

When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
John F. Kennedy

After another lovely evening at my hospitable friend Layla's house, I lay in bed that night processing the events of day 2.  Tuff and I's long serpentines without reins that day were great.  Flowing, fluid and on point (most of the time).  We then moved on to getting down to the feet with a soft feel and seeing how slow we could get the walk steps, could we hang a foot in the air? With softness? Almost and yes!  When I got to Tuff's feet we had some beautiful, slow, controlled movement.   We also revisited stopping with a soft feel, again I felt we were making good progress with this.  Just as I was floating around the arena with a big smile on my face, Buck encouraged those of us that were doing well with this to start to think about picking a hind foot to stop on.  Hmmm... easier said than done.  Well the choosing the foot was easy...stopping on it with softness less so.  So as I lay in bed that night, my brain was playing...

Right Hind, Right Front, Left Hind, Left Front... over and over, while visualising and remembering how my horse felt both in the walk and when asking for the stop.  Feel down to the feet.  Being particular is intense work for the brain!  So after a mini mental workout I gave in to sleep, ready for day 3.

Day 3 -I think you can see the change in me in the picture above.  Tuff and I came through those arena gates loud, proud, ready to learn and completely focused.  I seized the opportunity from Buck through the fog of my own crisis, and my boy gave me his all in return.

We revisited the exercises from the following two days.  During which it was interesting to witness the progression with each horse and within each partnership.  For me, what was evident was the change between Tuff and I.  Not a change in which we were different to each other, more of an organic growth, where my horse was almost relieved when I expected more from him, as the clarity in the task and inevitably in the release, gave him great comfort.   He felt like a winner, I felt like a semi-competent horseman and above all we felt like a team.  He got softer, and lighter.  I became more particular with my body, more considered in the feel that I was offering him.  I began to really train myself to guide with my legs and use my whole body to operate my horse.  My hands were less tools of necessity and more for refinement.

The exercise I'd like to talk about that is really a linchpin for all of this is the short serpentine.

This exercise predominantly is looking for the horse to use all four corners of itself while reaching even.  This is achieved by asking the horse to walk forward while being laterally bended at 90 degrees, with ears level, poll higher than the withers.  Imagine if you will, out on a trail, riding around a small bush.. (or sage brush if in USA).

So when taking the horse either right or left, you still need to consider where those feet are, and get in time with the front leg you are taking in that direction, so that it is not a random swinging of the horse around.  To do that would be the equivalent of tripping the horse up.  Knocking them off balance in that way would soon equal a horse that doesn't want to move.   You allow a straight step or two before taking the horse in the other direction.  This allows you to get timed up with the other front leg before asking for the movement.   Do not make the mistake of taking a lot of steps in between the change of direction and allowing your horse to travel 10 ft.  All you will achieve is taking the brace out, then putting it back in with too many steps, taking it out again, putting it back in again.... you see where I'm going with this.   It will equal a long time before you achieve what you've set out to, which is a horse without brace, moving all four corners even.  Now Buck talks about 'legs only' with the long serpentine, but the short serpentine should never be legs only.  Buck also recommends the short serpentine if you ever find yourself on a horse that feels like it's going to blow.  Get on that short serpentine until you feel a change.  Buck told us a lovely story about his daughter being sceptical about the need to teach the short serpentine when she was younger.  She now teaches the colt start classes at MSU and has all of her participants do this exercise!

Tuff felt initially stiffer with the short serpentine during the third day, but we soon worked out the brace and heaviness and took it to a good place.  The picture below shows us in full swing.

Again it comes back to timing, feel and feet.  Think all the way down to the ground when you ride your horse.

I am still digesting all of the information Buck shared with us in those three days.  They passed far too quickly and after the changes made in three days, I cannot imagine what we would all look like after a week under his tutelage.

I will be forever grateful to Tina Griffen, Buck and Mary Brannaman, and all the support team for making Aintree the wonderful event it was.   Also the support of my husband Matt who took care of our little family while I was galavanting.

Buck gave me something back that I was missing.  His gentleness of spirit and kindness is a gift.  Thank you Buck.

 Finally I have to thank the one and only Mr T.  Tuff gave me his huge heart and soul during those 3 days.  He is a wonderful partner, teacher and completely my soul mate, I will treasure the memories we made at Aintree forever.

So what's next in my horsemanship?  Well in the words of Coldplay, "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop".  I will continue my journey of improvement, not only for myself but for both my horses.  I will continue my blog (with more exercises from the clinic), teaching, riding and shooting for the moon.   This level of horsemanship, refinement, and connection is definitely worth chasing.

I will leave you with a song....  

Mr T and I will see you on the flip side xxxxx

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Amy, Amy, Amy..

When you write a song, you have to remember how you felt, you have to remember what the weather was like, how his neck smelt.... - Amy Winehouse

Now I was a sucker for Winehouse's talent.  Whatever her personal struggles were, she was a talented songwriter, and a voice from another time.  Although it is a simplistic description above, this quote can not only be applied to any encounter in life, but in a clinic environment it serves to remind us that learning it multi-faceted experience.

You have to remember the participation, the detail from your involvement.  What it evoked in you, not just how it made you feel at the time, but how it made you feel afterwards.  Did it galavanise something within you?  Or strip back what you thought you knew and set you on a different path?

When recollecting my time at Aintree I take a leaf from Amy's book; although I have no sense of smell so that one is lost on me!  I try to remember how my horse felt, how my emotions affected him and the situation,  what the environment was like, and what the clinician and other participants brought to the mix.   Now that's a whole load of information right there, and that's before any breakdown of what was actually being taught at the time...  It's a heady mix of information, feel, emotion, skill; topped off with a lashing of vulnerability as to maximise your learning you have to be open to what is being presented in front of you.

Doesn't that all sound exciting?  Well it was.  It was exhilarating, enthralling and somewhat exhausting!

Day 2 was an eye opener.  After a good meal and decent nights sleep at my friend Layla's house, we drove back to Aintree the following morning.  Throughout the journey, my brain was on a bitter diatribe loop.... I'd survived day 1, I could just go home now couldn't I?  Now, I know that's not actually what I wanted to do, but my old best friend 'doubt' had woken up bright and cheery.   This was further exacerbated by how Tuff was; slightly tucked up, and perceived by me to be stressed from being in all night.  I know this horse inside out, and as soon as he had his halter on he let down somewhat, but the wheel of perpetual self doubt was in full swing.  My emotional state fuelled his and he went down to the arena like Seabiscuit.  He was not actually doing anything dramatic, he was obedient and to anyone else he probably looked fine.  But I could feel every bit of insecurity course through him, straight back into me like a circuit.   By the time we were in the arena and warming up, it all felt too much for me.  I quietly got on with what we were doing and as we worked around the arena, I came across fellow participant Ann who took one look at me and said, "Are you ok?"  

There's that timing again.

I confessed to Ann that it was all feeling a bit too much this morning.  Ann reassured me we all felt the same, including that we've survived day 1, let's go home! feeling.   Wow, did that make me feel better....  Ann then encouraged me to go and tell Buck how I felt.  "WHAT??"  My brain was screaming "Go speak to Buck when I look like I'm emotionally unhinged!!!???!!!!  Are you SERIOUS??"  

Luckily poor Ann did not hear my mental outburst, I simply replied I couldn't possibly, I didn't want to embarrass myself, or look foolish in front of someone I respected.  Ann appreciated that my week had been unusual with what happened to Dad, and hugged me.  As she did, I started to cry.  

At that moment Buck walked into the arena, and I tried to pull myself together.  Ann turned to me and said,

"Go and speak to him, I'll come with you.  If Buck knew you were struggling, and you didn't ask him for help, he would be disappointed as that's what he's here for"  (I may be paraphrasing here, but I think I covered the main bits Ann?)

So Ann and I approached Buck just as he was sorting out his microphone, (which he turned off as we spoke).  He asked me if I was ok and I said, "I'm not a crier, but..... " (then I cried a little, slightly mortifying)
I told Buck I felt that I was unravelling emotionally, that my horse didn't feel connected, and I was unsure what I needed to do/or that if I could do this.

Buck was as calm and serene as usual and said, "Ok, let's see what you've got going on", to which Tuff and ran through our groundwork.  Buck then said, "Well, he looks alright to me.  Go and take your time, get him moving out some more and when you're ready, get on".  I thanked him, he gave me a smile and said, "You're welcome".

As I walked away, the floodgates opened a bit, and there was a passing of tissues between old and new friends.  I set about continuing my groundwork while everyone had mounted up and was listening to Buck, and it was not too long before I joined them.  The relief and release I felt was immense.  In a short interaction, Buck had simultaneously taken the immense pressure I'd put on myself from me, and redirected me in a positive way.  He hadn't given me sympathy or help me wallow and stay in a place of turmoil, he hadn't belittled me or been frustrated at me for being upset;  he simply redirected me to where I needed to be mentally, where I could find comfort and relief.  

Treat them how you want them to be, not how they are.  Doesn't just apply to horses.   
(It works very well with husbands too.)

It wasn't about my horse, it was an amplified version of what was going on within me.  But I think Buck knew that.

The second day saw two distinct things happen for me:

  • Firstly, I hands down had the best ride on my horse ever.  He was absolutely amazing, and gave me his all.  He was a DUDE!
  • Secondly, the wheel of doubt has been put out of commission.  Permanently.  There has been a seismic shift within me, my confidence is growing and I know I can do this.  It's reinforced the horseman I am, and the horseman I'm yet to become.  
  • Thirdly, (ok, I know I said two things but this is pretty important).  The people I met at the clinic were all awesome.  But to those who gave me support, or I experienced a shared kinship with,  I am so glad our paths crossed and I hope we will meet again. You are all like minded souls and special people.  Ann, thank you for your help that day.    

As for Buck, I'm sure he didn't give a second thought about our chat that day, as that is the level of respect and consistency he gives everyone and every horse.  But I am still very grateful.

The picture at the beginning of the blog is of our conversation that morning.

The Road to Buck will never be over for me, but it's one I am enjoying travelling on, and since the clinic has lead me to this... :)

See you on the flip side x

Saturday, 4 July 2015

What is your truth?

 "The truth is the most dramatic story you can tell."  

                                                                              Robert Redford

This quote really resonated with me when I read it.   We are all unique, with stories to tell, and to each our reality is our own.  We can both experience the same event, and have a completely different recollection of it, and feelings assigned to that reality.

Before I delve into the first day of Buck's clinic, I want to share with you a glimmer into my truth.  Why for me this was about more than horsemanship.   Apart from the loss of my father, this clinic was always going to be a turning point in my horsemanship career for me.  Eight years ago I had to walk away from life as I knew it.  My horse, my job, house, everything.  I was a well educated nurse, wife and mother who after several years of having her confidence and self esteem eroded, walked away from a toxic marriage.  No one knew that abuse had taken place, no one knew that I was repeatedly punished for having horses in my life, no one knew I had to make a choice, as I wasn't sure if I could survive it any longer.

I didn't know if I'd ever have horses in my life again.  It's who I am, so I felt bereft.

But when I did, what shocked me the most was this constant, the absolute comfort and certainty of my confidence and skill with them, was shaken.   I openly embraced having horses again (and I have a wonderful husband and another child, life moves on and as Buck says, you can't live in two places at once) but this was the area of my life that was stuck, this was the area that has taken 7 years to repair.  For the most part the horses have helped by being my friend, helping me see I can trust my own judgement, and by not judging me.  They are my therapists and confidants and I will be forever grateful.  But the Road to Buck has been a longer one for me, than even I imagined.

So you can see this, for me, was far more than if I could take my horse to a Buck clinic, this was more about me having the faith in myself that I could go and feel I belonged there as a horsewoman and be the partner I needed to be for Tuff.  I'm pleased to say I felt I did that.

The first morning understandably everyone was nervous.  I felt very focused (although a bit sick) and set about warming up in front of the crowd.  Music played, an party vibe buzz filled the morning air, it was a good atmosphere.  It was even better when I had a few familiar, and not so familiar faces, come up to me and say they were rooting for us, and they'd been reading this blog (gulp)!

Normally everyone would be mounted by the time Buck joined a H1 clinic, but due to the nerves, Buck allowed us some more online time before mounting.. well, I was first up in the saddle...

Here I am, first day, riding alongside Buck (whoop!) Photo courtesy of my friends Joy & Heather x

I have to say at this point, as soon as Buck entered the area, there was a collective figurative sigh from the participants.  I have never met someone with such a calming, solid energy as Buck.  He was a joy to be around.  We felt it, and so did the horses.  So that's what I believed helped my cowgirl spirit and we went on to have an absolutely fantastic first day.  Exercises will be covered in detail in future blog, I promise!

Buck made us all feel at home, told us we were among friends and not to be shy.  We set about various tasks, including long serpentines.  Now these, Mr T and I usually have down pat, but I think my hands and legs were possibly on a delay system from messages coming from the old noodle up top, so when it came to asking questions, I found myself asking one I thought I wouldn't need to.   Now the emphasis here isn't actually about what I asked Buck (or the fact I was the first person to ask him a question!  I felt so comfortable it was easy),  it is the manner in which he responded.   I asked Buck about what should I do as I felt completely out of time when helping Tuff with the hand on the reach across when performing the long serpentine.....

Buck rode right up to me, read my name badge, backed up (this was all fluid and seamless on a horse he'd been on less than a couple of hours) and said, "well Kate....there will be times when you have your timing in sync, and then times when you feel like you've dropped the anchor...."  (I'll cover that in more detail soon).  What I found so, humble, so HUMAN, is that he took the time and the effort to read my name badge and address me by my name.  Well what's so special about that I bet you're wondering?  It is that the simple act of respect, that acknowledgement of me (and indeed everyone Buck spoke to) as a person that spoke volumes about him.   I knew before we began I would be in the presence of an exceptional horseman, I knew right then that I was also in the presence of an exceptional human being.

So, in that nanosecond I remembered we all have a cross to bear, and our own baggage, be it hand luggage or cargo sized, but that I would be absolutely fine, I could be authentic, real, and that wouldn't be perceived as a weakness in this man's eyes.   It would simply be my truth.

As we all know, horses are nothing but authentic, and now, I appreciate what the comfort of being truly accepted feels like for them.

See you on the flip side x