Immersion

im·​mer·​sion | \ i-ˈmər-zhən : the act of immersing or the state of being immersed such as:

a: absorbing involvement: immersion in horsemanship

b: instruction based on extensive exposure to surroundings or conditions that are native or pertinent to the object of study especially foreign language instruction (such as Natural Horsemanship) in which only the language being taught is used.

Our guest blogger, Tina Patterson, who wrote for our newsletter last week, was our student for 2 weeks in July. We call that kind of a time investment a Horsemanship Immersion. Horsemanship is so much more than riding. It’s feeding, caring for, cleaning-up after, and working with horses and the facilities and equipment that support them. Tina was all in. She got up early to take care of her horse, Journey, and stayed busy and involved until all the work was done. She was interested in all aspects of our operation and the industry in which we work. And, she asked questions that made us consider what we do and how we do it.

Immersion may not be for everyone. Some of us like taking smaller bites and chewing slowly. Learning styles, prior experiences, and stage of life can all be factors in whether or not we want to immerse ourselves in any subject. I think back to when I was twenty-something and wanted to become a ranch hand. I took what jobs I could to immerse myself in ranching. Luckily, I found people that were willing to let me fumble through some things and took the time to teach me the other things that would one day make me valuable. Now, I’m a smaller bites kind of guy. If I understand the big picture, details, like puzzle pieces, put together in the puzzle one at a time, make more sense to me.

Tina didn’t want to fail. We reassured her that there was no pass/fail. There was only Try or No Try. Throughout her 2 weeks with us, Tina was nothing but Try. She impressed us with how thoughtfully she digested what we offered her and how diligently she practiced the things important to her and Journey. In the end, both she and Journey came out winners. Tina understood more about what was important and Journey began to truly develop a relationship with Tina. Something he had not done up to that point with anyone.

We don’t offer Horsemanship Immersions very often. Many things have to come together to make it a valuable experience for the student and us. We’re glad that Tina made the investment. I think she came away with invaluable information and we really enjoyed our time together. Thanks, Tina!

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bridlebit | August 1, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Categories: horsemanship | URL: https://wp.me/pbl8l-js
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Learning To Learn

An interesting number puzzle was going around the internet the other day. It was a simple little equation, but it brought out all the different ways that people thought about solving it. Some folks my age went back to their elementary education putting one number on top of the other, adding the right column, carrying the extra to the left column, and then adding the left column to find the solution. Others took the numbers and changed them to round numbers that their mind could see better and then added and subtracted based on whether they rounded up or down. Still, others went through some mental gymnastics that still have me confused. But everyone came up with the correct answer! And, that was with a puzzle that had a finite answer!

Imagine what we and our horses go through in trying to solve the puzzles we encounter every day in our rides together. Even when we and our horse agree on what we’d like to get done, we may be trying to get to the answer in different ways. Take working a gate horseback for an example. I’ve ridden horses that prefer to open and close a gate differently than I do. When I’m trying to get a job done and I don’t have time right then and there to work things out with my horse, I’ll go along with them and get the gate worked. If I’m riding a horse to see what he is and what we might be able to accomplish together, I’ll take the time to see if he will accept my leadership and open and shut a gate like I want to. My goal is to get him to see the gate puzzle as I do. I want him to learn to learn the things that are important to me so we can be partners in solving the puzzles we will encounter in our job.

Often the human puts a lot of faith in another human to tell them how to get along with their horse. I’ve done that. What I came to realize later on is that the humans that made the biggest difference in my horsemanship were the ones that didn’t tell me what to do, they showed me how to work things out with my horse. I learned how to learn from my horse. I paid lots of attention to what happened just before what I wanted to have happen happened. I learned how to experiment safely. I learned how to appreciate my horse trying to learn what I wanted. Just like in the number puzzle, there is no one correct way to arrive at the solution to any problem. And, where the answer isn’t finite, there can be more than one correct answer to any puzzle put before us.

We all need mentors. People we respect and are honored to learn from. Amy and I have had several over the years. Sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. A good mentor can show you those things and then nudge you in the right direction to find answers that work for you. Working with livestock is as much an art form as a science. Each person’s personality and work style factor into the solutions they find for themselves and the stock they work with. Cattle and horses get used to and comfortable with the style they are consistently exposed to. When Amy and I would do day-work for other ranches, we would spend some time early in the process watching the crew more than the cattle. How the crew went about their work was something we needed to match to get along with the crew and the cattle. If we were riding their horses, we needed to do the best we could to match their riding style in order to get our job done without a lot of drama.

So, as the weather warms and you get ready to ride more and more, think about how you might present things to your horse in a way that causes him to want to learn from you. It won’t be the way that Steve or Amy or Joe or Brian or Buck does it and that’s good. You and your horse will work together to find the solution to the puzzle that makes the most sense to you as partners. We are always honored to be the people that help you on your horsemanship journey. We can offer you tools to build your confidence and a format that will help you learn to experiment safely with your horse to learn how to learn from each other.

We Don’t Have to Get On!

The winter months with cold temperatures and windy conditions make riding one of the things we may want to put on the back burner. But, getting on and riding isn’t the only way to keep your horse and yourself in riding shape, at least mentally. We can all think back to some things that weren’t working as well as we’d like between our horse and ourselves in the saddle this past riding season. This time of year is a great time to check some things out on the end of the halter rope. We can still see what we have for connection and communication with our horse without having to saddle up and brave the cold.

If our groundwork has focused on the mechanical, we can use the winter months to establish or re-establish more of a “feel” with our horse. Seeing how little we can do to cause our horse to do what we’re thinking of him doing is a fun way to spend 20 or 30 minutes on a less than stellar weather day. Amy and I like to see how much we can influence our horse with our bodies and feet by doing as little as we can with our hands. If our horse will follow the feel of our bodies, like a dance partner, we have a better chance of them following the feel of our seat when we are in the saddle. Imagine yourself riding your horse in a circle around a cone or barrel. You become the cone or barrel, the center of the circle. If you are upright and balanced and your horse is upright and balanced, you should feel a float in the lead rope, an arc in the horses’ body, and the horse flowing from hind feet to nose. It will feel good to you and the horse!

We like to feel of the whole horse. It’s good to know what the parts of the horse are doing but, it’s better if we can take-in the whole horse. Focusing on the hind end or the front end or the head causes us to lose sight of what the sum of the parts are. That’s often the result of being mechanical and trying to “make” the horse do what we want rather than focusing on setting things up the best way we know how and letting the horse find the feel we are offering. If a feel following a feel is our goal, we will connect with our horse better by offering a feel and allowing the horse as much time as it takes to find and follow that feel. Each offer our horse finds causes him to search for other offers in a way that he won’t if a more mechanical means is employed.

A good example of our horse following our feel is in the simple exercise we’ve all done many times. Our horse is leading past us in a circle. We ask his hindquarter to reach bigger until he disengages to a stop. Then, we ask the front end to move past us and get back on our circle going the other way. How much we use the lead rope to get the hindquarters to reach can be in direct correlation to how much we’d have to use the rein to get the hindquarters to reach from the saddle. Paying attention to how the hindquarters disengage and noticing if the disengagement starts with the mind or if it’s just an escape from pressure will help us to recognize how our horse is reacting to cues from our seat, legs, and reins when riding. Watching for our horses’ mind to move through from one direction to the other and how his balance and feet follow that thought as the front end comes through to get back on the circle can make the difference between his rushing mechanically and stepping through thoughtfully.

Connecting with our horse and communicating our intentions without unnecessary pressure will encourage our horses to get with us and follow our feel. If we get it on the ground, we increase our chances of getting it from the saddle. We get better so our horse can get better. And, we never had to get on!

The Little Things

I’m not one for big gestures or big presents. I was raised to be practical and frugal. I haven’t been able to shake that raising yet. I believe that doing little things on a consistent basis is my way of giving to those I love.

This time of year we give gifts to those we love. Sometimes it’s big gifts, sometimes small gifts. We attempt to show those in our lives that they are important to us and to our lives. Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of Christ. For we Christians, it’s a celebration not only of the birth of the Savior of the world but, a celebration of the biggest and best gift ever given. It’s Gods gift to all mankind. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. Christ went on to give us an example of how we could live our lives in service to those around us. He showed us how to love one another, to be kind to each other, and to have respect for those placed in our lives.

Amy and I pray that in this Christmas season and in the coming new year, your life is filled with lots of the little things that let you know your loved and show your love. We can never match the grand gift God gave us but, we can spend what time we have here on earth giving a little to each other each day.

Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!!

Good Ones!

We made a quick trip to the Cañon City, Colorado area yesterday to pick up some horses that had been getting an education with J & A Horsemanship. The J and the A are Jimmy Cantwell and Autumn Ehler and let me just say that they are horsemen! Amy and I have raised many horses over the years and started most of them ourselves. Age and injuries have caused us to assess the viability of starting young horses. No matter how well prepared they are and we are, sometimes it just takes some grit and athleticism to stay with one that gets bothered during those first rides. Coming off doesn’t do the colt any good and we just don’t bounce like we used to!

We’ve sent 3 fillies to Jimmy and Autumn. All three are nice fillies but, in the wrong hands could have turned out to be distrustful and too touchy. We’d had that experience before; sending some nice but feely horses to a young colt starter who got them ridden but didn’t get them quiet. I’m at the point where my favorite color of horse is gentle. I still like some life and a horse that will feel of me. I’m just not at the place, and really never have been, where I want one that jumps out of his skin when I ask him for something. All of our fillies, and another one we raised and sold to a dear friend, have come back just the way Amy and I would want them. They want to be with the human and they look forward to going to work. Jimmy and Autumn did that!

Amy and I get to deal with lots of people. We see really good and we’ve dealt with our share of bad. Those “bad” experiences have made us wary of being overly trusting in the beginning of any new encounters with folks. People have to show us that they are what they are. We don’t listen to the words much anymore. We watch for actions. We look at results. Jimmy and Autumn are good people. Their two faces could be in Webster’s Dictionary next to the words, honest, trustworthy, and integrity. You would have trouble finding two people more passionate about getting things right with the horses they work with. They have learned early that this journey they are on happens one horse at a time and they are willing to take the time it takes to make the journey.

It’s overwhelming for horse people to sort through all of the advice they run into. You can ask 5 horse people the same question and come away with 10 different answers none of which are the same. Jimmy and Autumn do a great job of translating what the horses are telling them into easily understood actions that make sense to horse owners. Ego doesn’t cloud what they see and say so, you will hear what they honestly believe to be what you need to hear from your horse to get along and be safe.

The bottom line is; if you’re looking for a really nice young couple to work with your horses, Amy and I would highly recommend you get in touch with Jimmy and Autumn. You can find them on Facebook under J&A Horsemanship where they’ve posted some short video clips. Those clips should give you an idea of how they work.

They are some good ones!

Practice Makes Perfect

The verb practice means to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. Ray Hunt would tell us that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. My questions are, how do I get to the point that I can practice perfectly and if I have achieved perfection in a skill or activity, do I really need the practice?

To be perfect is to have all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics in my activity; getting it as good as it can possibly be. So, recognizing what perfection is will help me to achieve it. In horsemanship, perfection requires both the horse and the rider to be in perfect harmony. Minds and bodies come together to perform a maneuver in complete symphony. It’s beautiful to watch, exhilarating to experience.

What would make perfect practice with my horse? For me, it’s first having a picture in my mind of what I want my horse and I to look like and second, understanding the elements of what I want to achieve. My mentors have done a good job of placing short videos of how I want to ride in my brain. It’s been years of riding and making mistakes that has helped me to better understand the pieces that have to come together to create that video picture. For a long time, I thought that I could “make” my horses look the way I thought they should look. I could hear the words, “set it up and let it happen”, playing in my head but, I didn’t truly understand what that could be. As a consequence, I was still making things happen and putting braces in the horses I was riding. I’m still searching for how good it will one day be but, I’m discovering smaller, more minute elements of some simple things that I didn’t realize made such a big difference to the horse. For example, all of the things that have to come together between the horse and rider to make a perfect circle with no resistance.

Is it possible that Ray was trying to get us to search for perfection in our practice not to actually achieve perfection but to discover more about how our horses are? When we bury our ego and give ourselves to our horses, we get closer to feeling what our horses can give back to us. When we “turn loose” and allow things to happen between ourselves and our horses, we get one step closer to the symphony of movement in our practice. We feel more about how our horses move and are better able to get in rhythm with that movement and then influence that movement in a way that makes complete sense to our horse. It becomes more natural for the horse to come with us and for us to go with them. It’s perfection! For a moment.

In answer to the second question I asked about needing to continue to practice; the answer for me is YES! Just because I become better with my horse doesn’t mean that I’ve achieved perfection. I never will. The wonderfully frustrating part of having and riding horses is that they will always keep us searching for something better. It’s just a part of the journey. Isn’t that just perfect!?

Good Years, Bad Days

We lost a horse a few days ago. She was a mare that we had raised and spent some good times with so, it was hard. Her death got me to thinking about this crazy life we lead and love and just how things fit together. One of my thoughts was that our life in agriculture is made up of good years with bad days that cause us to reflect and be grateful for the good ones.

A calendar year is made up of 365 days. We would have to have more than 183 bad days in a year for it to be a bad year. While I know there are people who have had years like that, fortunately, we have not. We’ve lived through years where things just didn’t go our way. We’d get hurt more than normal or have more sickness in ourselves or our livestock or not have the business run as smoothly or profitably as we’d like. But, in the final accounting of that year, we still had each other and we still had the ability to move forward and do our best to make the next year better.

Amy’s Dad would say that with horses, dogs, cats, and cattle, “If you’re going to have them, you’re going to lose them”. He was good at taking a bad situation and putting it in perspective! He chose to focus on the good days he had on the ranch and took the bad days in stride.

As we work with people and their horses we see that the people who choose to see the good things in their horse and pay less attention to the bad things, tend to get along better with their horse. The folks that think about their horse by remembering the time, five years ago, when a duck flew out of the ditch, spooked the horse, and he dumped them; have more trouble focusing on the good in their horse and he feels it.

We have the power to make things better. That’s one of the really miraculous traits we humans have. We’ve worked with many horses over the years that, for one reason or the other, just weren’t getting along with the humans in their world. By focusing on what good there was in that horse, believing that he could find the good in humans, and taking the time to let things come together, we were able to make positive changes in that horse and that horse inevitably would make positive changes in us.

It’s our choice! We can choose to let the troubles that this world will always throw at us define our years or we can choose to focus on the love and laughter that is always around us if we look for it. Hard days and hard times will find all of us. If we choose to call those days “bad days” and begin to look for the next “good day”, I believe we will have more good days that will make good years.

The next time you spend time with your horse, look for the good within him. I think that the more I look for the good in my horses, the more my horses look for the good in me. They probably have a harder time finding it in me than I do in them. Nevertheless, by searching for the good, we are likely to make more good days and many good years together!

Keeping It Real

There are days when I wonder if anything in the rest of the world is real.  We are bombarded with marketing hype promising to make our life better, faster, cheaper, and easier.  It sounds so good we’re tempted to take advantage of the offers.  We’d be crazy to not want things to be a little easier.  But, the little voice inside us reminds us that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  We are constantly challenged to judge what is real and what is smoke and mirrors.

Amy and I are blessed to live in a place and do a job that keeps us grounded in reality.  There is a popular talk show host that likes to say he’s the Mayor of Realsville.  Amy and I must sit on the Town Council of Realsville.  Every day we have the opportunity to work with each other and with our pets and livestock in the great outdoors.   After more than 35 years of marriage, we’ve come to know and trust each other.  There’s not anything anyone could do or say to shake our confidence in each other.

Many of us that have a desire to differentiate ourselves from others around us.  It’s not that we need to be thought of as better, just different.  Maybe that’s what drives the marketers.  Do this or buy that because that’s what will make you look or act a little differently than the neighbors.  But, what about all of those people that want to be just like their favorite celebrity?  They are being sold on the things that their favorite person wears or does.  Combined with our seemingly insatiable appetite for more and better stuff, it’s not hard to understand why the marketers present things the way they do.

We in the horse world are not exempt from the better, faster, cheaper, easier mentality.  There are more gimmicks and devices offered to horse owners than I care to think about.  Some are offered by folks that really believe they’ve found a better way to help others get along with their horses.  Some are offered by people attempting to take advantage of others.  They often will play on the emotions of people that have just discovered horses.  If we were to just step back and ask how the horse would feel about an offer, we’d get a little closer to what our horse really needs.

Horsemanship is not about the people or the stuff.  It’s about meeting the horse where he lives and doing our best to understand that.  It’s about finding the feel that creates the euphoria when things get really right between our horse and us.  The reality is that the horse is the King of Realsville.  We need to forget about the newest horse whisperer to break onto the scene with the latest training methods that will revolutionize the way people work on their horses. We need to focus on building trust and confidence with our horse to get a little closer to the reality the horse lives. That’s keeping it real!

I Like To Sing

Not long ago, Amy and I travelled to Durango for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Really great singers, poets, and artists were there regaling us with their works. I’ve always been amazed at people that can pick up a guitar, fiddle, or mandolin and make their right hand and left hand work together to make that instrument tell a beautiful story in notes. People that had not played together for a long time could sit down, talk about what “key” they wanted to play in, know what notes and words to put together and then just sit there and make nearly perfect harmonies. Somehow, they all spoke a similar language with music so what they produced always sounded great to me!

Now, I like to sing. You can ask my dogs, cats, horses, Amy, and Ben about that. I don’t know what “key” I’m singing in, I don’t always know the words, sometimes I make up the tune but, I enjoy it. It makes me feel good inside. If I start to have trouble with a project and find myself getting uptight, humming a little tune can get things calmed down and on the right track. I don’t have to be as good as the folks that sing and play for a living. Music can be an important part of my daily life without having to be perfect. I can enjoy using music in my own way for my own purpose!

Today, with most of us using horses for recreation, we don’t all have to be fantastic riders to enjoy our horses. Most of us just want to be comfortable in the saddle and feel like we have enough of a connection with our horse that we feel safe. If we’re smart, we’ve found a horse that will put up with our imperfections. One that’s more gentle than handy. Given that, our responsibility is to ride with balance, softness, and respect. Understanding how our horse operates and then using that understanding to feel our horse and create harmony in our going together.

A rider who “finds” their perfect seat can be a confident, secure rider who can relax on their horse. They will feel balanced and will allow their horse to find its balance. A balanced rider and horse will always operate more softly than those out of balance. A horse and rider that have found a mutual respect for one another will have enough confidence in one another to travel many miles enjoying each other’s company.

Don’t feel that you have to become the worlds greatest rider. Become the very best rider you can become. How it feels between you and your horse is more important than how it looks to the outside world. Enjoy each moment you have with your horse so your horse can enjoy the moments you have to share with them. You don’t have to be in the right “key”. You don’t have to know all the words to the song. And, you don’t always have to sing in tune. You and your horse can go down the trail making a joyful noise enjoying the harmony of just being together. There can be no more beautiful music than that!

Riding

I’ve been riding horses for about 40 years now. Most of that time I don’t think my horses were too impressed. As I go back over the riding I’ve done, most of it was an attempt to “control” my horse through mechanical means. I didn’t spend enough time trying to go with my horses so that they would want to go with me. Ray Hunt was phenomenal in his ability to go with his horses. He didn’t appear to have any fear. In my memory I hear him talk about how the horse couldn’t do anything wrong in the first few rides and that we needed to get with them, so the riding felt good to the horse. Most of us don’t have what Ray had so, how do we take what he taught and make it work for us?

Learn what your horse feels like when it moves out. I think most humans need to know that they can protect themselves. Just like the horse, we operate with a degree of self-preservation. To ignore that or try to push it aside is not allowing ourselves to be human. Having a plan for what we would do if our horse activates our sense of self-preservation is good. That’s why the one rein stop is a good tool to have in our tool belt. But, if all we think about is how to shut our horse down, we begin to obstruct our horse’s ability to move out without being worried. Taking the time to learn what our horse feels like just before he moves out may help us to be less concerned and go with him. We gain our horses trust and our horse gains our trust as we learn to move together.

Learn how to ride your horse with feel. One of the things we’ve utilized over the years that really seems to help people “feel” their horse is to teach them how to feel their horses’ feet rise and fall. When we know when the foot is leaving the ground, we can place it in a way that makes a lot of sense to the horse. The more we operate our horse in a way that helps him help us, the more together we get and the less defensive we both become. It’s hard to believe but, a horse feels your seat through the leather and wood that make up your saddle. They really are that sensitive to what we’re doing. It just stands to reason that an animal that sensitive doesn’t need to be pushed, pulled, or drug to get a job done. If we’re working to help them understand what we need, we’re more likely to have a partner that helps us get our job done.

Ride with balance. The more upright and balanced the rider is, the more upright and balanced the horse is. If I’m not leaning forward, backward, or side-to-side my horse doesn’t have to work to stay underneath me. If you’ve ever carried a child on your shoulders, you understand how just a little lean from them can cause you to adjust how you’re travelling. There have been folks that have focused on helping riders understand how to stay balanced horseback. Learning what they have discovered and incorporating that into our riding will really help us communicate effectively with our horse. If we learn what our horse feels like beneath us and allow our bodies to blend into theirs naturally, riding with balance can be achieved most of the time by getting rid of some old, bad habits and replacing them with habits that cause us to feel more secure in the saddle.

These things and more are what Amy and I cover in our clinics and private lessons. We’ve found that as riders take what we offer and make it their own, they become more confident and secure in the saddle. As a rider becomes more confident, their horses get better at following their leadership. A true partnership can be formed because each party is allowing the other to do what they do best. After all, the best we can get is our horse doing our thing their way. If we don’t have that, maybe we’d be better off walking.