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To A Great Year In 2012!

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Mas and Me wishing You a Happy New Year!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Twas The Night Before Christmas at The Center for America’s First Horse

Ho, ho, ho!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the pasture
Not a creature was stirring, not even a horse.
The stockings were hung by the run-in shed with care,
In hopes that Stephanie soon would be there.

Oscar and Little Creek were nestled all snug in the barn,
While visions of grain danced in their heads.
And Pako in his thick fur, and I in my Muck boots,
Had just settled our bottoms for a bit of some food.

When out in the far pasture there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bench to see what was the matter.
Away to the gate I flew like a flash
Stepped up on the rung and threw up the hand.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the Vermont hills below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight Spanish mustangs all dressed up in gear.

With a sturdy female driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Stephanie in the guise of St. Nick.
More rapid than draft horses her coursers they came,
And she whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Destiny! now, Turtle! now, Morado and Adelentado!
On, Mas! On, Minko! on Maya and Montego!
To the top of the arena! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As white snow that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the arena roof the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of grain and hay, and Stephanie too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the arena roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the side of the wall Stephanie did fall.

She was dressed all in red winter clothes, from her head to her boots,
And her clothes were all dirty with horse shit and looked kind of cute.
A bundle of tack she had flung on her back,
And she looked like a peddler, just opening her pack.

Her eyes-how they twinkled! her dimples how merry!
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry!
Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the look on her face was as pretty as snow.

The stump of a piece of straw she held tight in her teeth,
And the smell of fresh hay it floated around her like a wreath.
She had a broad face and a lean little belly,
That was tight when she laughed, like a hock of ham at the deli!

She was fit and full of life, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw her, in spite of myself!
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying her finger aside of her nose,
And giving a nod, out the arena she goes!

She sprang to her sleigh, to her team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, ‘ere she drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Merry Christmas Mas!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Bit More Confidence, Please!

Today I took an online test to measure my self-confidence.  In the past 10 years I have come a long way with building my self-confidence, but in the last year, with the help of a counselor, I realized that I am more self-critical or hard on myself than I thought.

I have been working on becoming more confident and having a stronger positive self-image, and rather than reinforcing thoughts that are self-destructive, or critical of the self, I am building a new self-image that is a bit easier on me!  Often times, we are not consciously aware of how many times we criticize ourselves in a day, or beat ourselves up over insignificant things.  Instead, though, we should be praising our little steps forward and our mini successes; we should be excited about our journey through the magnificent maze of life.

My goal this year has been to be easier on myself and to acknowledge that I will make mistakes and it will be okay.  To realize that I can’t do it all and that I am not perfect.  To be able to say “no” and take control of my time and the way that I spend my days.  Over-committing is a self-destructive behavior because of the lack of personal time, or time to nurture the self.   The interesting thing is that often times over-committing to things is to benefit something other than the self, which seems like a noble thing to do, but the problem is that it is at the expense of the person who is over-committing, at the expense of the self.

Being overly regretful can be another form of self-destructive behavior.  Regret can be positive for our decision-making abilities, but can also be used to beat ourselves over the head again and again for something that we wished we hadn’t done.  A way that I have learned to deal with regret is to see the situation for what it was and to figure out if I was at fault.  If I was not at fault I need to allow myself to accept what happened, considering the circumstances, and if I am at fault, I need to come up with a plan so that the situation does not happen again or if it does happen again, I am better prepared to deal with it and achieve a more favorable outcome.

Building self-confidence is about preparation for positive results!  Having a plan, taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally, working on our positive self-development, and letting others help us along the way.  Knowing that we will stumble and most likely fall, but we will also get back up and brush the dirt from our backsides.

Remember that online quiz that I was talking about earlier?  Well, I did pretty well.  My score said the following:

“You are doing a fabulous job of learning from every experience, and not allowing obstacles to affect the way you see yourself. But you need to nurture self-confidence . . . .”

Here are the recommended steps for building self-confidence:

Building Self-Confidence

No matter what your self-confidence level is right now, you can probably improve it. But you need to believe in yourself and your capabilities before anyone else will.

Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy is a great place to start looking for ways to improve the way you see your abilities. According to the theory, there are four sources of self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences – things you have succeeded at in the past. Develop new mastery experiences.
  2. Vicarious experiences – seeing people who are similar to you succeed. Observe others.
  3. Social persuasion – hearing from others that you’re capable.
  4. Emotional status – staying positive, and managing stress. Don’t let stress take over your life.

Three of these sources (the first, second, and fourth) are within your control. However, while we can’t force people to say good things about us (the third source), we can increase the likelihood of receiving positive feedback by being more confident in general.

Focus on the experiences in your life where you were successful. This can give you the ability to see the positive side of your mistakes and setbacks. Choose to believe in yourself, and surround yourself with other positive and confident people. The more you see the success of others whose skills and abilities are similar to yours, the more likely you are to believe that you can also achieve that success. Combine all of this positive energy with great stress management strategies, and you’ll soon improve your levels of personal confidence.

If we could all be a little better at caring for ourselves and giving ourselves a pat on the back more often, we would live healthier lives and enjoy spending more time with me, myself, and I.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Horse Farm That Makes Me Happy

I received the following email from The Center for America’s First Horse and wanted to share it with you.  Click on this link to access the email. For me, The Center has been the catalyst for new thinking and has allowed me to learn in a comfortable, accepting environment with a herd of unique horses, and one very special horse indeed (yes, I’m talking about you Mas!).

Rainbow

P.S. That’s Mas in the photo above, the white dot on the upper left.  He is grazing with Shy Anne.  Hi Mas!

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Big Thoroughbred Named Bravo

This past weekend was filled with horse fun.  On Friday I spent the day job shadowing farrier Jen Swartz.  Saturday was a day of natural horsemanship with Stephanie Lockhart, and Sunday I went on a trail ride with my new friend, Nicky.

Friday I met Jen at the Cambridge Park & Ride and we were off on our Rt 15 trimming tour.  We stopped at 5 barns and trimmed 7 horses, 6 of them were returning customers and 1 was a new customer.  The new customer was at a barn near Jericho Center; the customer was leasing a big Thoroughbred named Bravo.

The word bravo has a couple of meanings, the first being to shout an approval for an excellent performance; the other meaning is that a bravo is a villian, or a hired killer.

I wish this horse, Bravo, was appreciated by the people at the barn, and that they saw him for the horse that he was, a dark, tall animal of prey that would give you his trust and confidence if you allowed him to do so, if you respected his dignity.  Would offer you gifts that make your heart swell with pride and your eyes fill with tears of joy.

But, alas, the people at this barn were the opposite kind of horse owners who did not appreciate the horse for the magnificent creature that he is, who would rather use force and intimidation to “discipline” the horse (even though prey animals don’t understand discipline–they may respond to the pressure of discipline but what you get from your horse after “discipline”, especially harsh discipline, is a horse without a soul).  It was kind of ironic that Bravo’s trainers were true to the opposite definition of his name, they were the villains and he was the one we were cheering for, hoping that he would come through in the end and conquer the villains.  I’m not sure that this story ends well for dear old Bravo, though, and I do feel like I let the horse down by standing on the sidelines and averting my gaze.

It is strange to me that many horse people prefer restraint to patience and passive persistence.  It’s almost like getting the job done by force, because it may be faster, is more important than respecting the horse and taking a bit of extra time to work through the kinks.  Getting the job done by restraint will not be effective in the long run, and will only make things worse next time, whereas patience and proper techniques (such as approach and retreat–acting as a horse would act) will help the horse to understand that we can be trusted, that we are not trying to kill him, and it will build the horse’s confidence rather than breaking it down.

It is disheartening to me that many horse people and even higher education institutes advocate “authoritative tones” (yelling), lip chains, and twitching to restrain a horse and get the job done.  It seems a bit backwards in these times to still revert to such outdated and harsh methods of horse training.

Instead we can use our understanding of horse behavior (how would a horse act with another horse?). We can understand that horses are prey animals and we are predators; hence, we DO NOT think alike. We can use approach and retreat and slowly get more of what we want through building the horse’s trust and confidence. And we can learn about phases of pressure. We can start thinking and behaving more like a horse to get the results that we want rather than acting like predators and forcing the horse to do what we say.

For example, what would we do if we wanted a horse that is comfortable with being touched on the leg to pick up his foot?  It’s better to start with Phase 1 pressure, a suggestion of picking up the foot, rather than going to Phase 4 pressure and applying a lot of force to pick up the foot.  It seems almost silly to have to say, first suggest and then work your way up the phases, but our direct line thinking (we think of the outcome and getting from A to B as fast as possible) causes us to apply more pressure than necessary; however, if we are aware of the phases of pressure, and if we remind ourselves to slow down and take a few seconds with each phase, we will have a horse that will eventually be able to lift his leg by knowing our intent, and we may never have to touch that leg to pick it up again!  That is the magic of horses.  Once they understand what we want and respect us for respecting them, they will offer amazing things.

Bravo was a brave boy who got the short end of the stick, who was stuck with people who treated him more like a slave that a magical creature that deserves much love.  I hope that the future shines for him, that life looks up, and that he finds a human who knows how to love him, and in time maybe he will forget.

When his halter was removed and he was returned to the pasture, Bravo ran uphill to his pasture mates, shook off the dirt and grime of human interaction, and rolled.  That is the memory that I try to keep in mind when I think of this brave horse.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Stacy Westfall and Roxy, Bareback and Bridleless

Stacy Westfall (photo from her website: http://www.westfallhorsemanship.com)

A number of years ago, while I was living in Missouri and before I met Stephanie or even knew about natural horsemanship I saw a video that featured a woman riding her horse bareback and bridleless in an arena filled with people.  The horse walked, trotted, cantered, and galloped!  She did spins and backed, stopped and went sideways.  The rider, Stacy Westfall, gave the horse subtle queues and as a team Stacy and Roxy won the championship. I sent the video to friends and family and wished that I could figure out the secret to that amazing connection between horse and rider. Thanks to Stephanie Lockhart and natural horsemanship I feel that I am well on my way.

After watching the video of Stacy and Roxy and their inspirational ride, check out Stacy’s appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show (click here for part I which you can watch from a link on Stacy’s blog).  Their are two parts to the show.  Ellen is pretty funny in part II, the portion of the show when she has the opportunity to ride Roxy.

If you feel inspired by Stacy and Roxy or by anything else in your life, find a way to pursue that inspiration and make it a reality.  Your life will become rich and your passion will bring experiences that you had hoped and dreamed about.  Soon your dream will become a reality.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Natural Horsemanship Classes – Class I

Today was my first day participating in the natural horsemanship classes at The Center for Americas First Horse in Johnson.  The class is held every Saturday for 6 weeks, 2 hours per session, starting at 10 am.  It’s called “Fall” classes but come December we may be leaning more toward “Winter-Freeze Your Butt Off Cold!” classes.  This morning wasn’t too bad though, especially since I was well-prepared.  I wore thick fleece long underwear under my jeans and had on three tops along with a down vest and a windproof shell.  I also had a toque and gloves.  I was determined to stay warm.

Partipants have arrived

Once all 15 participants (3 were children who came with their parents and participated as a group, sharing one horse) arrived we picked up our folders, grabbed a name tag, and got prepared to meet the horses.  Stephanie, Jo, and I brought the horses in from the back of the arena and pulled the door down so they would stay inside the arena with us.  They were still chomping on hay and were a bit more interested in breakfast than in coming inside the arena, but once they were in Augustine promptly began meeting people.

Augustine saying Hello!

The others horses wandered around a bit, checking people out, before settling down in a little group and having a nap.  We all introduced ourselves and talked a bit about what we hoped to get out of the 6-week program. Karen had moved to Johnson recently and found the ad for the program in the newspaper.  She was hoping to gain some skills to deal with her somewhat flighty Thoroughbred filly.  Christy had miniature donkeys and was attending Equine Science classes at UVM; she wanted to learn as much as she could about everything horse.  Elizabeth felt connected to the breed and wanted to reignite her relationship with the horses.  Jo also felt that the breed was unique and their spirit brought out self-development in people.  She wanted to share in the experience and joy of spending time with the horses.  Heidi hadn’t spent time with horses for 10 years and wanted to bring them back into her life again.  Katie loved all things horse and was very interested in natural horsemanship–she also had a miniature horse and looked forward to practicing her new skills. Cher was intrigued by natural horsemanship and wanted to work on her coordination and also bring horses back into her life.  The final group was a family of five who had recently got a horse and they wanted to learn how to be with him safely and effectively.  And then there was me . . .

Nap time for the horses while we talked

As you know, I am new to natural horsemanship and am always keen on learning, learning, learning!  Out of this course I hoped to gain a better awareness of the horse’s body language, to be able to read what they offer and why and how my actions create or inhibit the behavior.  To communicate with the horse.  To be the leader.  To have a reciprocal relationship.  This is a tall order that won’t be filled in a 6-week course, but the course is a great place to build from.

What do we want to get out of the classes?

Stephanie talked to us about natural horsemanship, how the ground skills transfer to being in the saddle, and how before we get in the saddle we need to be safe.  We also talked about horsenalities and how some horses are more extroverted while others are introverted; how those behaviors can shift from minute to minute or day to day and how we need to be ready to adjust to what the horse presents.  Stephanie said that the course would offer us a few tools for our toolbox so that when we go home to our horses and are faced with a situation we should be better able to respond effectively.  And even if we don’t find the answer right away at least we have a few options to choose from.

A lot of carrot sticks for a lot of people

After introductions and the course outline we let Maya out of her stall and watched the herd dynamics, which changed quite dramatically once she was added to the mix!

Maya joins the herd

Morado started protecting his buddy, Adelentado, and Maya started driving Turtle around.  There was a lot of running, movement, and some subtle queues from the horses asking each other to get out of the way; and if that didn’t work, then a kick or bite was in order!

Stephanie becomes the herd leader

We watched the herd dynamics before Stephanie joined the horses and became their herd leader.  It was interesting to watch her drive the horses until they were ready to accept her leadership, and at that point they all turned into the circle and faced her. It was kind of like magic!

Facing the herd leader

Eventually, we were assigned our horses and went about the techniques of catching them.  Karen and I walked up to the barn to get Midas.  She was assigned Midas because he seemed most similar to her horse that she was hoping to help become less flighty.

Karen catching Midas

While Karen and I caught Midas the rest of the class watched as Stephanie helped Heidi and Elsie catch Coyote and Destiny, who were running around the pasture, trying to avoid getting caught.  A great teaching moment!  When a horse doesn’t want to be caught (really we should think of the horses catching us), it’s time to make the experience not about being caught.  Time to take the time it takes to get the job done.  A bit of driving and approach and retreat will make a non-responsive horse ready to catch the human.

Heidi catching Coyote, or rather Coyote catching Heidi!

Once we had our horses haltered we watched as the family of 5 caught their horse, Thunder.  The children used the same approach and retreat and driving techniques that Heidi used.

Learning to catch Thunder

Once we had our horses haltered we walked around the arena and talked about not pulling our horses along when leading them, but giving them about 4 feet of roping and letting them be responsible for following the leader.  Pulling the horse behind you does not create a draw for the horse, and the horse, a flight animal, is not safe for us if we hold him by the halter snap–he could run right over us if he gets scared–and does not feel safe being held so tight, but rather can feel claustrophobic.

Give your horse plenty of lead rope for safety

Give your horse plenty of lead rope for safety

We talked about moving the hindquarters and asked our horse to move their hineys away from us.

Move the hindquarters away

Learning about zones

We also previewed the zones (as you have read about previously on my blog) and talked about being able to rub the horse in all zones, and knowing which zones need more work before the horse becomes comfortable.  If the horse is uncomfortable with touch in a certain zone, we would use approach and retreat rubbing to get them accustomed to our touch.

Let the horse come to you. Elsie is a good example of this!

And with that it was time to quit for the day.  We talked about putting the horses away properly, removing the halter but waiting to let the horse go until we are ready to walk away.  As leaders we need to be the ones to walk away.  I removed Adelentado’s halter and said a little thank-you to him.  I could tell we weren’t connected yet, after only a short time spent together, but if I continue to spend these classes with him I bet we’ll get to know each other, and maybe next time he will be more glued to me when I take the halter off.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Uncategorized