Props & Bits

I admit to a certain snobbishness that comes with going bitless, at least for me. I like showing up to a group trail ride and talking about it when asked. I really do! But…

I cannot communicate with my hands how I would like to. I want to pursue more than just trail riding. I want to work towards a nice headset, with my horse utilizing his back and stepping up-and-under. I want balance and a truly engaged hind end. I think the only way for me to reach this is with a bit. After the concept is taught, then I can progress back to bitless. I’m also not talking every ride, either! Just the training rides where I want to see some improvement in form. I’ll still trail ride bitless and shoot for doing every third ride bitless.

I contacted Elisa Wallace, who anyone reading this blog should know. She is an amazing up-and-coming eventer who competes regularly on her mustangs (and her Australian thoroughbred Johnny/Simple Priceless among others.) She is riding in her second Rolex this year!

Anyways, I had an idea of what bit I wanted to try and Elisa suggested the Myler Level 1 Dee. Here’s the SmartPak video on the bit:

Of course I ordered it, though I felt bad about going back to a bit. However, it should be noted that bitless options can be detrimental to communication as well. There are well-made arguments for each side. To me, it’s the hands on the reins that make the tools rough or not. If the horse is soft, I think he should be able to go bitless or with a bit with the same amount of trust and respect.

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I put this bit on Cello’s hunter bridle and he took it without question. I let him hang with it for about 10 minutes, then took it out for a while, then put it back in for about 15 minutes. I then rode him bitless, put the bit back on, and rode for a few minutes. He was SOFT; he was RESPONSIVE; I actually felt him ENGAGE HIS BACK. At a walk, for a few steps. He did everything I asked and I hopped off after about 5 minutes.

It almost felt like he was a bit relieved, like the dots connected and he understood what I was asking. I am soft with my hands, very conscious of not pulling on his face or balancing at all with my hands. We seemed to communicate well from the start!

We have worked through a lot of our communication issues bitless, which has been great, but it’s time to ask for more refinement as he matures. I am not moving from a walk to a trot with a bit until the walk is correct and engaged; I am not moving from a trot to a canter until my trot is balanced. If we get super bored with the slow pace, we will go bitless and blow off some steam. The point is to teach and to learn, to move forward and avoid bracing. So far, I am a fan of the Myler!

Eric and my brother, Derek, painted some props for my freestyle this weekend. I love how the colors came out!

I also put together a poster for our stall! I can’t believe Cello leaves tomorrow, with my friend Dani, for the show! I will follow in the evening…

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February Horsemanship Challenge

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My February horsemanship challenge was a fail and a win at the same time. I think I ended with 16 rides instead of 20, so I did not meet my time-in-the-saddle goal. I did, however, meet a more positive goal.

If you follow this blog, you know that Cello & I have had our ups and downs. During this month, after the trampling incident, I decided to keep track of how I felt after our training sessions. I read a very interesting article about riding the wrong horse and how a rider sometimes just needs to recognize when a partnership isn’t 100%. You can read that here. I love Cello, but there was uncertainty between us. The uncertainty mostly came from me to him, over his reticence and general lack of emotion.

For most of my rides, my feelings after were positive- we are really making strides together, finally, and I can say that this relationship is a keeper. It takes a lot of honesty for me to note that Cello is not my heart-horse. He has taught me so much and I love him very much, but he just won’t be that horse that greets me at the gate. It’s an accomplishment when he doesn’t literally run away… but we are bonding, slowly and surely, over the years. I really could feel a change this winter.

Under saddle we communicate better now and I can see our relationship growing in a positive direction. He relaxes where once he wouldn’t. He tries where once he would have put up an argument. That’s really all I wanted- for Cello to try, to trust me enough to want to try. It’s really huge.

I feel much more positive than I did in the past. I feel like there’s nothing we can’t accomplish over time, though it may take longer than I’d like. That’s fine; this is a patience lesson, a communication lesson.

So where are we at on a technical note?

Our right lead canter is consistently picked up now; if we cross a pole that he decides he needs to jump, and if he lands on the left lead, he does a flying change when asked for the right lead! Our basics are becoming more and more solid, though still not showing great form.

I think a lot of this has to do with the jumping hackamore I am riding him in, but that is another post.

We actually put together a freestyle for Colorado Mustang Days at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo! My song is weird, but I love it… and I think it fits our routine, if we execute our routine. We were doing great run-throughs until this past week, when all of a sudden Cello decided he did not want to trot on tempo or straight. He also decided that hand-galloping was better than cantering. He also decided that it’s unnecessary to be concerned with head sets or listening to my leg at the hand-gallop. It’s been fun, though- instead of pushing him forward I’m holding him back. It’s quite a change for a horse that wouldn’t move! When¬† my husband first saw Cello at the makeover he asked out loud “Can that horse even canter??”

We are also shooting arrows from horseback, and I even shot an arrow or two off of him bridle-less. We will see if he is relaxed enough to do that at the show! I will have all day Thursday to finish the freestyle for Saturday night.

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xoxo

Cello & Dani

 

Getting Ready for Expo & Trampling!

Cello & I have had a lot of fun since starting training for the expo. We’ve also had a few incidents, but overall I’m pretty proud of this little guy. Let’s get into the details!

We started trailering down to the county arena, even though we have a great home arena. We’ve met up with some friends and worked on being brave in new spaces. Remarkably, Cello is calmer at the Eagle Fairgrounds than at home- less spooky. I think part of this has to do with the company in the arena, and part of it has to do with the trailering.

Trailering this year has been… interesting so far, due to ice and snow. The road down to the arena from the ranch is pretty icy in a few spots, I really have had to learn to trust engine braking. My foot still flexes for the brakes, it’s seriously so hard not to touch them! ūüôā

The first time or two we went down to the arena, it took two of us to load Cello. Now, he walks right in with just me! I can tie him, close the center divider and leave without him panicking. I think he enjoys seeing new things and going new places.

Our arena work has been going okay. When we don’t add speed, and are just working on walk and trot, he gives at the poll and moves off my leg. We don’t have true collection yet on any level, but his headset is lower and he will give for a few steps at a time. Each ride is softer and softer at the trot… until we canter!

Our left lead canter is becoming more rhythmic and he is moving out more. Our right lead canter is hit and miss- sometimes he just goes into a huge Friesian trot and I have to get really loud with my aids to get him to lift his shoulder and move. The last session was pretty rough, after two decent sessions. I will be utilizing the dressage whip on our next ride!

I should mention how EASILY this horse pops lead changes- one tempes at time, and so smoothly, though of course this isn’t when asked.

I started thinking about a freestyle routine, considering bow and arrow shooting. We worked on that some, and Cello is pretty chill about the bow and arrow from the ground. I don’t think we will get to mounted shooting before the expo, so I might just target shoot from the ground at the very end. If we do a freestyle, maybe we will gear it more towards exercises you would see in working equitation. I’m still not 100% convinced that we will actually have a freestyle put together for the show! I really want to focus on softening in our rides and addressing foundation issues.

This all sounds positive, but I have to discuss the negative. Cello is SO GOOD… until he’s not. There’s a photo in that block of Cello standing in knee-deep snow. That was the day he trampled me.¬† We walked towards the arena like normal, went to pass the tractor like normal. Martin pulled the tractor over and shut everything off to let us pass, as Cello had perked ears and a lifted head. Cello has walked past tractors many times, but he was very interested and tense this time. I circled Cello once, pushed out his shoulder, reminded him I was there and to respect my space… then proceeded forward. He exploded, sideways, into me. I was in the right spot and COULD have pushed myself off his shoulder, had the snowbank not taken out the back of my knees.

I fell into the snow bank, which was easily 4 feet deep with the plowing, and Cello came with me. There were no hoofprints around me when I went back and looked. He stepped on me at least once, on my left shoulder, probably more than once. It happened really quick, but he went over me, all 4 hooves. I realized I needed to further explain this, as at first some people just thought he bumped me or knocked me down. He didn’t knock me down and scare me, he did brush up against me- he went literally over me. The powder and my puffy coat helped me avoid injury, aside from deep bruising.

Well, he took off down the road and I struggled to get up as quick as I could. The ranch manager was running over and I didn’t want him to think I was hurt. Cello was just genuinely scared; he bolted around the corner, then ground tied. I think he tried not to step on me too much… I don’t know. I walked right up to him and picked up the leadline without him moving a muscle. Afterwards, we moved off the road a ways and let the tractor pass. He held it together, but then was super spooky in the arena that whole week.

We worked on desensitizing that whole week, which paid off. On our last ride, crazy snow slides came off the roof. It spooked Cello (and scared me even!) but he just scooted to the side, thought about panicking, and then calmed immediately. I was pretty proud and made sure he knew it.

So right now, that’s where we are at! I’m trying to get 20 rides in the month of February (29 days.) I think I will fall short of my target but hit at least 15 rides, and I’ve worked harder on each ride because of my personal challenge. I’m also recording “vibes” or how I feel at the end of each ride. I want to make sure we are in the right partnership. I absolutely love Cello, but there are some holes in our relationship. I want to make sure we both can be happy together.

xoxo

Cello & Dani

Aussie Love & Lightening Grays

(Medical post still to come)

Cello went for his first real ride since being laid up yesterday. His ground work was impeccable, and we started playing with cavaletti from the ground; for some reason, new objects really get him lately. We introduce things regularly but new things seem to be scarier and scarier instead of him becoming more accepting… if you recall, we were even jumping a little bit the summer I first brought him home!

Anyways, the new cavaletti set that Eric built me was super scary at first. It’s a great introduction to our routine as it really makes Cello focus on where his feet are, pay attention mentally and engage his hind end.

When I first hopped on him, he was really resistant with flexing to the right, had a ton of attitude and didn’t want to move forward. I put an Australian saddle on him (that I thought was still for sale but my friend beat me to it!) and was really strong with him. There’s no way he would be able to buck me out of that thing (and it’s not all that easy to buck me off anyways when I’m really riding and paying attention.) When he realized I meant business yesterday, he really changed his tone. It turned out to be a great ride! So naturally, I am now in search of an Aussie saddle. I think it will be great for his testy days, and then I’ll have my Stubben for jumping days! When we get to that point…

I thought it would be fun to compare how he has changed since I brought him home. Gray horses have a gene that makes them lighten as they age; not all gray horses go white, however, which I frequently have to remind people. It seems like most people either assume all gray horses go white or they aren’t aware that they change at all! Some stop lightening as rapidly and remain dappled, but the majority continue to lighten. You can really see this with looking at Andalusians and Lippis.

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Cello 2012

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Cello 2012

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Cello 2012

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Early 2013

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Late 2013

Winter 2014/2015

Summer & Fall 2015

xoxo

Cello & Dani

Winter 2015

Cello is on the mend! I detail the outline of what happened at the end of the post and will follow up with a photo post of his progress and treatments. The worst part about all this was the timing- the round pen is snowed in and trails aren’t rideable, so we are coming back in the arena, his least favorite (and spookiest) place. C’est la vie!

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Today was exciting, for me anyways- I filled out the registration form for Colorado Mustang Days! I bailed on the freestyle, the more I thought about it the more anxiety I had. I am confident that he will behave well in a pleasure class. The in-hand portion should be easy for him, and going into the ring with a group makes him more confident. The cow work class I entered purely out of curiosity. We ran into cows on a trail ride this summer, up McKenzie Gulch, and Cello was super interested. His ears perked up, he paid attention but wasn’t about to explode. He was willing to approach them and didn’t panic when the cows moved off down the mountain. Now a lone cow, in an arena, at a show? That might get him, but I’m willing to just ride into the ring and see what he does! We might have 2 minutes of flat-out refusal to move around the cow, or I will have a maniac who WANTS to chase the cows. Based on how he reacted to the cows in the back country, I think I will have one of those two outcomes. Also, sorry to the cows innocently grazing- I couldn’t help it, I wanted to play with them!

 

If you actually read the registration form, you’ll see that I finally landed on a show name for Cello (not that this really matters as we haven’t shown since the year I adopted him!) I guess, being an English girl, his “formal name” is something I’ve thought about a lot, for almost no reason. I kicked around more western sounding names¬† (Little Mellow Cello) and asked around on forums. I had some good feedback and some weird feedback… I landed on Silver Cello DMN.

Maybe it’s a remnant of my Game of Thrones obsession, but in the books, he refers to Daenerys as Daeny (pronounced like my name) and she has a horse referred to as Daeny’s Silver. Cello is going through a brilliant silver phase this past year, and I began to refer to him as my silver. Just one of those things I croon into his ear when he’s getting his fair share of lovin’. Adding my initials at the end of his name is a little arrogant, but we are working so hard to cement a bond and showing is part of that. Plus, when I worked with Andalusians, I liked how their formal names designated where they came from/their first owners. For instance, we had Favorito KG (for Kay Greenbury) and Favorito De La Parra (from the De La Parra’s.)

Just for fun, here are two pictures of me playing with Favorito De La Parra (called Senior) on a photoshoot day! I was 18 then and working my DREAM job. More blasts from the past, including Friesians, found here.

Time to wrap this up, but my last post was about Cello being our of commission, so I wanted to address that real quick.

I definitely need to do a picture post to discuss Cello’s wounds and care- I can hardly believe it, but he is almost 100% healed up AND without scarring. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • A herd of geldings (detailed below) pummeled him when they were moved as a herd into his pasture, where he was the only horse after the removal of his previous herd mates. Multiple scrapes with a few laceration and tissue inflammation (pictured below.) Treated with a turmeric cream, aloe vera & occassionally Dermagel (when the organic, fresh stuff ran out.)
  • Moved into a new group, with his previous (calm) herd mates. All was well, healing began. The new herd was moved to a smaller pen, where new scrapes on his withers and hindquarters appeared.
  • At first, this round seemed like it was definitely inflicted by other horses. New spots continued to pop up, so Cello was moved to a pen by himself to heal.
  • In the new pen, where he was rolling solo, spots that looked like raw scrapes continued to pop up. Wormed with Zimectrin Gold, utilized tea tree oil sprays and Dermagel. Healed up!

xoxo

Dani & Cello

One Beat Up Horse – Wound Care & Herd Dynamics

I debated posting about this because I didn’t want anyone to take it the wrong way.  So I will start with this:

With horses, you can plan for everything, but what you don’t plan for will happen.

I board where I board because of the extreme attention they give to the horses and the amount of care they provide. I have boarded there for years without incident, and none of the other boarders have ever had an incident. In hind sight, this situation could have been avoided, but like I just said: things happen to the best of us. I was pretty mad and upset and sad all at once, but understanding as well.

I decided to share this because I’ve blogged about my journey with Cello and it wouldn’t be worth anything without honesty, and so that maybe someone could learn from it.

Anyways- Cello has 15 abrasion/laceration combinations on his body from two horses with back shoes beating up on him when pastures were moved. Most of the wounds are scrapes without broken skin, but many of them do have a laceration component, and he did have straight up lacerations on his neck, hind right and hind left coronary band. His right shoulder was very inflamed on day two, and now, on day5, the swelling is down quite a bit.

I was pretty devastated to go out to the pasture and find him in that condition. This summer has been amazing- there has been a snap in our relationship, in a good way. I finally feel like we bonded and ended up in a good place mutually; he perks his ears to see me, doesn’t run from haltering and is a willing partner under saddle. We had an awesome night playing with obstacles the night before, and I couldn’t wait to ride him on Thursday. So my super good mood was crushed when I saw his state. I just love him so much and he means so much to me.

Cello was in a pasture with a mare and a mini horse for the last month and a half. They got along great. In the pasture shuffling the mare and mini were moved to another field, leaving Cello solo. Then, one by one, 4 geldings were moved into the pen Cello was in, from the extra-super-large pasture they had been in (together) the last 4 months at least, if not longer. Cello had been with all of these boys before, but this introduction did not go well. The person who moved the horses said they were quiet when watched at first, so they were left to their own devices. The person renting the house that overlooks the pasture said it wasn’t long and two of the biggest geldings, who have back shoes, cornered Cello and pummeled him. She’s not a horse person and didn’t know what to do, so she just watched with sadness.

I showed up not too long after it all ended. Cello was by himself in the far corner, but I didn’t think anything of it at first. When a new horse is introduced to the herd, there’s always infighting to some degree and shuffling. A kick, a bite, a few or combination of each is completely normal. 15 is not.

I highlighted the word introduced for a reason. Here is where I think this all went wrong. If one horse is introduced to a settled herd in that herds’ familiar space, it’s a matter of finding a place on the pecking order, which is figured out with body language. It’s how they communicate.

In this case, a settled herd was moved from their familiar space to a smaller, new space. They ran as a herd to scope it out and there was one lone outsider horse in the pasture. They were excited, they were overstimulated, they were bonded (I use that loosely as herd dynamic shifts frequently.) Bottom line, they beat the crap out of the loner in the pasture.

Cello had been with all these boys before for extended periods. One of them was his best buddy for two years (who stayed out of the fray with the oldest gelding.) Back then, there wasn’t so much as a mark on Cello. The difference was in how the introduction was made- before he was one new horse entering an occupied space; in this case he was the loner with 4 bonded horses claiming a new territory. If he had been introduced to them in the extra-super-large pasture where they were comfortable, the herd dynamic could have been established in a quiet and more confident way. Then it would possibly have gone smoother when they were moved as a group to a new space.

The point of this is hindsight is 50-50. It’s easy to look back and say “well, this is what went wrong and how it could have been avoided.” However, the incident you don’t plan for is the one that will happen, guaranteed. The person who moved him (I’m being vague to avoid blame.. they felt bad and did everything they could to compensate… has a huge heart) didn’t think much of it as the same horses have been there for years and they had all gotten along so well in the recent past.

Regardless, it happened, and I am very sad and heartbroken that my horse looks how he looks (and must be sore though he isn’t showing it.) He isn’t rideable at the moment, either, as many of the abrasions are where the saddle goes, his shoulder is swollen and I want his coronary band 100% healed before working.

The second reason I’m posting this is so I can share before and after pictures and share what care I’m giving him. I want to do everything I can to help him clean up as best he can, avoid scarring and promote hair re-growth. I’ll list below what’s been done so far:

  • Immediate cleaning with very weak Betadine, which is a providone-iodine surgical scrub.
  • Application of Finish Line to all wounds, which is nitrofurazone free. Nitrofurazone is found in many barns but can actually be caustic on wounds, so I would always recommend consulting a vet before using. One of the biggest ways to help minimize scars is to focus on cleanliness and moisturizing. Finish Line was applied the first three days as it was immediately on hand.
  • Daily rinsing of wounds with very weak Betadine solution, careful not to remove scabs that are healing. (All days)
  • Conservative dosage of an anti-inflammatory. This can be done twice a day but it’s only be administered once a day.
  • From day 4 on, after the rinsing with Betadine, I allow the wounds to air out and dry naturally. Then I cut open fresh aloe leaves and apply two coatings of aloe to each wound. This is being done twice a day with help from the awesome owner of the facility.
  • Lavender essential oil rub (all  natural) on his muzzle and chest. The deep sighs and the way he reaches for it is endearing- lavender is clinically proven to relax horses.

I talked to my vet and consulted some other horses people and ordered Derma Gel from Amazon (we live in the mountains, stores are far away.) I also have an all-natural salve coming from my friend Sierra Hawksley, who has an online store selling herbal remedies. You might remember her from the Loveland Extreme Makeover, where she trained Yarrow. She has great before and after pics from an injury her horse suffered (it happens to the best of us) and her remedy actually has many of the same ingredients found in Derma Gel, but fresher! So I will do another post on the Derma Gel & Sierra Concotion very soon.

Pictures below. The tarp photo was just an adorable moment from the night before the incident.

To end on a positive note, we had an arena obstacle day the night before. Cello was super sweet and fun, this was just a cute moment when I became a “tarp monster.” He looked at me like “I knew the tarp was evil! It ate mom!”

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What Cello Has Taught Me

Cello, so regal!

Edit: This post feels so shallow after re-reading it; it is more of a surface sketch, not touching the deeper things and intense emotions. This will be revisited by the end of 2015, in a more poetic and soulful manner!

I’m sitting here watching rainclouds pile up in the mountains outside my dining room window. I’m pretty sure “my silver,” as I’ve taken to calling Cello, is standing in a cool mist- which is probably nice, considering the warm few days we’ve had.¬†While I was sitting here waiting for a better window of opportunity to go see him after being sick a few days, I found myself thinking about all the ways in which he has enhanced (and changed) my life. Even if some days are still more frustrating than others, I feel that he has had a huge part in how I’ve grown over the last few years. I’ve changed in many ways, but these are some of the things owning a mustang taught me.

  • Your feelings are read by your horse. Cello, and mustangs in general, are incredibly sensitive to the mood of their humans. There is no hiding an anxious moment from him, or a sad one. He reacts accordingly. If I am anxious, he draws it out of me and makes me work through it. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, or ignore it and then talk behind my back. He brings it to the surface, makes any emotion bubble over and forces you to deal with it. This especially came out in the round pen with the groundwork I’ve learned. I remember standing in Justin Dunn’s round pen and being so anxious and keyed up that I couldn’t handle holding a lunge whip and lunge line at the same time- something that is second nature at this point! Cello wasn’t giving me any leeway until I got my crap together. Which was fine, I respect that. Let’s be clear here, too- there is the flip side. When my dog died, Cello didn’t play any games with me. He came up to me in the pasture and let me sob into his mane. When I have a truly awful day, or when I just give up, he is there. I was told by a respected trainer that he would probably never join up with me, that he was too independent and self-assured, and that he was a candidate for treats. More on treats later.. but the minute I agreed with her, which happened when she wasn’t around and I wasn’t getting anywhere with Cello, I turned to leave the roundpen and felt very sad and disconnected. Until I heard hoofbeats… right behind me.. and felt a muzzle on my back.
  • He made me deal with myself first, him second. It’s unfair to ask an animal to give you their attention and time when you cannot put in the equivalent effort. I thought, when I adopted him, that we would continue right where the initial trainer left off. Wrong. Instead, we started at square one (almost.) I had stopped learning for years, due to my anxiety, and hadn’t truly ridden since I left Michigan- which was also years in the past at that point. “Ha!” the little mustang said to me. “You think you can just start back up like that? Get over yourself, and when you’ve dealt with that, we can talk.” Things quickly went downhill when I just expected him to do what I asked. I was used to riding horses raised in a barn, where human things were beyond natural, and where we worked with them and trailered them many times before the first ride… we had built in steering from a year of ground driving, sometimes, when the first ride came around! I hardly ever hit the trail. I had no idea how to talk to Cello, how to teach him things. He clearly found this unacceptable- as he should. Anxiety and clamming up wouldn’t work, I had to drop any sense of ego (and I had very little ego to start with) and strive¬†to keep learning. Which I wanted to do all along- I just couldn’t break out of my self-created mold and get there. He got me there. I remember when he first started his “I don’t want to” phase, and how quickly that progressed. We didn’t have a roundpen or arena, so there I was on a green mustang on a mountainside having “conversations” about what we weren’t and were going to do. I had already scheduled time with Jessica, months and months out, and called Justin Dunn in desperation. Justin later told me the he took Cello in, despite his busy schedule, because of how desperate I sounded! Relieved, I thought there would be NO PROBLEM loading Cello in my little trailer and taking him to Justin. I had trailered him before, after all- in stock trailers. Cello would NOT get in, which triggered a major meltdown for me that night that led to some really cathartic conversations with my husband. I think it’s from that meltdown on that I began to become myself again. Justin later told me that Cello’s reaction to the small trailer hinted at some sort of trauma, that he had never seen a horse act like that once he got him INTO the trailer. So it was situational, but made me deal with my crap. We do work as a team, too, like when we ran into the mountain lion on the trail solo.. I gave him his head, I twisted and kept eyes behind us and he safely got us back to the barn in a very sensible way without direction from me.
  • Set yourself up properly for success or don’t expect success.¬†When I first brought Cello home 3 years ago, I didn’t have a round pen or an arena. I had watched some Monty Roberts videos and reflected on what I knew from starting sporthorses or working with my OTTB. I loved up on Cello, I spent time grooming and coddling him, we went on leisurely trail rides. It was beautiful- but I did not initially work on our relationship or gain his respect. He went with it for a while, until a wildfire threatened the ranch not long after I brought him home. That night, he didn’t trust me enough to let me catch him in the field; the horse I used to just walk up to and halter took off, panicked, the scent of smoke heavy in the air and flames visible from a ridge not far off. Helicopters flew back and forth and stress was in the air. He took one look at me, his new human who hadn’t properly worked with him, and said “I don’t really think you should be my leader at a time like this. In fact, I’m not sure you should be at all.” I couldn’t catch him easily for days, until my friend taught me every trick in the book she knew for rounding up a wilder horse (she ran a rescue for years.) We had residual issues from that for years- literally. Once we were a team, catching became a game, something we are just now resolving to be honest. I sought the help of mustang-specific trainers who gave me the basic tools I needed; I moved him to a ranch with an indoor arena, outdoor arena and roundpen. Ground work became routine, round pen work was routine, trail rides longer than 15 minutes were routine. We are much better off for it.
  • The importance of clear, consistent communication that goes beyond the surfce. Intention, and chi, matters here. This is so obviously essential to working with any animal long term, but sometimes Cello did the “I can’t hear what you’re saying” thing back in the early days. Really making me pay attention to so many things I hadn’t before. Cues that would work with an “easier” horse didn’t fly. I had to be on top of my tone of voice; I had to be tuned in; I had to pay extreme attention to body language; I had to ask for things at *exactly* the right time. It was all about making things… more fluid, more honest. With myself and with him. I had to tune out other people, animals, expectations.
  • Shaking it off.¬†The Taylor Swift song… I hated it… until one day it came on right after a round of people bashing mustangs. Then… I loved it. I listen to it almost daily. I learned I had to shake off others judgements of me and my horse, do away with other people’s expectations and work with what I had¬†towards what¬†I wanted¬†without letting the haters have their say. I took this to heart with my horse and with my life, it really shifted a perspective for me. I hated telling people about my horse past, as it sounds impressive but was a long time ago and not incredibly relevant to the relationship Cello and I have. It laid a great foundation for me to be a horsewoman, but the management side of things didn’t come with a ton of riding, and my abilities as a rider really stagnated after I left the Friesan barn (I was 18!) and improved some with my OTTB (which I trained, without a second set of eyes that would have been helpful.) Teaching beginner-intermediate lessons and managing dressage and breeding facilities taught me a lot of medical and a lot of technical skills… but people out here expected something different, I suppose. It really shook my confidence, and I had injuries to come back from (bum knee, weird hand.) But once I stopped worrying about everyone else, and focused on me and Cello, and just shook it off- I felt better.
  • Determination.¬†Sometimes things don’t just happen- again, obvious, but this ties into the breaking through those walls I put up in my own chest. I am a pretty stubborn go-getter, but for a while there I forgot that part of myself. I had no ambition, since I was so lost on my life direction, other than keeping my family happy. That is all well and good, but sometimes you need to set a goal and meet it. Whether it’s standing quietly in the wash rack, loading and standing in a trailer or sticking something out at a job.
  • Compassion.¬†Some days it’s easy to leave the pasture feeling like Cello didn’t give me what I wanted. Wait… back up… what is wrong with that statement? Literally everything. He is an animal! If he is bringing up an emotion, it’s coming from me, not him. So I learned to be a little more compassionate to outside circumstances and myself, as well. To handle emotions with a little more validity, a little more grace.

Trail Ride, July 2015

Anyways, this little horse pretty much brought a mental breakdown to the surface before it could destroy my life. He made me deal with emotions I thought long dead from the loss of friends, certain situations and lack of confidence. I am a better rider today because of it and I am a better horseperson because of it. I am more assertive and confident in daily life and have a better sense of self.

Are things perfect? No way. He just went to Daniel Harris because we were butting heads, becoming spooky and being very herd bound. Does he come to me when I enter his pasture? Most of the time, now. I confess that I started using treats- but not to reward pushy behavior. We started playing a come-to-me game, setting up a pattern that will develop into a habit. (I will take a moment to defend this: I don’t have the luxury of feeding my horse twice a day or even daily, and I can’t provide his daily care. Those who can definitely bond with their mustangs MUCH quicker. If you own a dog, it’s like this: even if¬†you don’t use dog treats, you tend to feed yourself, twice a day typically…¬†and that is part of a primal bond. So I give him treats, inconsistently and as an additional positive reward for responding.)

So no, things aren’t perfect, and I suspect Cello will continue to just tell me how it is, but I look forward to our time together and am grateful for all the he has helped me with. It hurts still when he won’t let me just approach him in the pasture, and I get frustrated at least once a month, but it’s all a journey.

So why did I post all this? Mostly as background information for this next tidbit: I want a tattoo of Cello, despite our ups and downs (or because of them) on my inner left forearm. Nothing generic, at all, but a really artistic piece that gets to the heart of what this horse has done for me as a person.

Here is the inspiration tattoo, and you already know what Cello looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 2.38.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 2.37.32 PM

And here is the artist I want to work with on our vacation to Vancouver:

http://liquidambertattoo.squarespace.com/shannons-tattoos/

I think it is a fitting way to honor how the mountains, nature, and one wild mustang helped me figure out who I am and where I need to go in life.

xoxo

Dani & Cello