Lips zipped and turned up at the ends.

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Jay and Sangha enjoying a foxhunt. Notice no one is nitpicking Jay. This makes the happy part possible.

Once upon a time there was a young couple, very in love, who had three young boys.  Regina and Beuregard (‘Bo’ to his friends) led active, fulfilling lives during the day – she, raising her boys full time, except for one hour a day when they went to a sitter and she went riding; and he being a symphony maestro, and sometimes getting a golf game in.  They each were very happy; and evening meals were filled with lively conversations of the events of the day.

Christmas came, and the boys asked for fabulous, noisy boy stuff and Regina and Bo pretty much had everything they needed, so they decided to treat each other to lessons in each other’s respective passtimes.  She would take golf lessons and he would take riding lessons.

It was a splendid idea.  She met the golf instructor, learned about proper grip on a club, which clubs to use when, what clothes to wear, golf etiquette and more.  She started to understand why her husband enjoyed golf.  She couldn’t wait to golf with him.

Meanwhile, Bo’s riding instructor was introducing him to the world of horses.  He learned about leading and grooming and walk, trot and canter.  Somewhere in there he started to see the beauty that his wife saw in horses.  He couldn’t wait to go riding with her.

They went out to the links first, on a beautiful summer morning.  They walked out to the first tee and she set her ball on the tee, reviewed all the things her instructor had said, and teed off.  It was an ok shot, straight, but not far.  She was delighted.  From behind her, where he was placing his tee in the grass, he couldn’t see her happy reaction, and said, “You’ll get more distance on that if you slow your backswing.”  Her smile faded.

The day of their ride together came, another pretty summer morning.  As they were tacking up, he was congratulating himself for successfully identifying the correct horse from the herd of 40.  He had led him in, found the right tack, and after grooming (picked all four feet on the first try!), put the saddle on.  He was chuffed.  She had tacked up in the same time, and came over to take a look at how he was doing.  “Oh, you need to put these these leather ends in the keepers on the bridle.  And the elastic end of the girth should be connected to the left billets, not the right.”  His chuffness wilted.

As a result of their partners pointing out only the negative, riding and golfing together became unfun.

Human nature dictates that we notice things.  The cave men who noticed that the saber-toothed tiger lived in that round cave over there, influenced the group to build their houses in the square cave over here.  They lived, reproduced and created more little cave people who were taught and genetically-programmed to noticed things.  The tribe that didn’t notice things and tried to live in the round cave over there proved to be quite delicious and consequently did not reproduce.  Noticing things, sharing information and acting on it served cavemen well.  And we are descended from millions of years of observant survivors.

However, that survival approach – to notice and communicate about everything amiss – doesn’t fly well in all situations.  If you are the more experienced one, your job is to see all; and comment only on the positive or the imminently fatal.

Having witnessed and experienced the allegory of Regina and Bo, when my husband began to ride, I decided, nay committed, that I would learn from their fail – I would follow the ‘positive or imminently fatal’ rule.  In every situation where I wanted to say anything that wasn’t positive and encouraging, I put it to the test.  Is this situation imminently fatal?  Yes.  Then speak.  No?  Zip lip.  Seriously.  IMMINENTLY fatal.

Hubby leading the good schoolie from the right side?  Not fatal.  No comment.  (Important to note, no non-approving body language or facial expression either.)  Attaches cross ties to top rings rather than bottom rings of halter in cross ties?  Not fatal, no comment, carry on.  Picks up the hooves in the ‘wrong order’, horse sleeping in cross ties.  Doesn’t meet the fatal requirement.  No comment.  Girth not tight enough.  Possibly meets fatal requirement but does not meet the ‘imminently’ fatal requirement.  Here is where a question might be good, such as “how snug did your instructor suggest you tighten your girth?”

The trick to helping people you love learn a skill you know already is to notice all, comment about the positive and be gentle about the negative, in other words, fight the human tendency to comment on the negative, even under the tricky guise of “improvement”.  Never underestimate the possibility that the other person may be justifiably delighted with the result they achieved.  

Mostly, keep the lips zipped and turned up at the ends.

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Do the horse and rider in this picture look confident and happy? The riding in this picture is mostly a result of me keeping my mouth shut.

Now, a word about teaching men in particular.  I can’t tell you how many of my riding girlfriends have tried and failed to teach their husbands to ride.  Some failed because of the above nit-picking and others failed because they didn’t perceive the difference between how men and women (as a general rule) learn.

Men are not simply women with short hair.  They are the turf racing to your mud track, the arabian to your quarterhorse or whatever.  They’re different than us.  Deny it and suffer.Get it and be happy.

As an example, I present Exhibit A:

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What two men will do when they are each given a dressage whip.

Men have a very high play drive.  They want to just do.  They tend to throw away instruction manuals.  You know this, so here’s how to work with it.

When we talk theory or drone on and on about connection or “sending the energy” we lose them.  We have to teach them backwards compared to how we teach a group of women.  (Generalization alert)  Women want to understand the exercise before beginning.  They want to understand the why.  Men want to do and experiment.

So, for a group of men, I set up exercises that are relatively safe, but will show clear success or failure.  Cavaletti bounces are great (4 in a row set 10′ apart, 6 inches tall, or if true beginners, poles on the ground).  Looks easy, lots of potential for success or relatively safe failure.

Whatever the exercise, when men are successful, they tend to be happy and look for the next challenge, and if it is a group that knows each other, maybe they’ll talk a little smack.  Fun.  When they fail, they tend to look for the reason and how to improve.  Both are really good results.  A successful ride produces confidence.  An unsuccessful but not seriously scary attempt produces a desire to know how to do it better.  When that happens, you’ve got a laser-engaged student.  You didn’t have to chase him around, you didn’t have to shout, you just got it handed to you because you let him experiment.

Let the exercise do the teaching and it becomes easy to keep the lips zipped and turned up at the ends.

lesson log

Elliot and me, photo courtesy Barbare Hall

I encourage my students to write down their thoughts in a journal after a lesson.  This helps them remember what they learned and can be a nice resource to review when a roadblock pops up.  It can also be a good record of the progress of a rider and horse.  They can look back in the log and learn that they may have problems, but at least they are different problems.

Which brings up the mantra for any serious student of riding:.  “We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.”

So even that is something.  :-)

Today I drove to Elkhorn, NE and trained with USHJA showjumping Hall of Famer Ex-MFH Jim Urban, who also, importantly, makes a hellova good bloody mary and cuts a dashing figure in hunt ball scarlets.  At any rate, it was a 3 hour drive over, riding two horses for 2.5 hours total, cooling out, visiting with a friend at her farm, where I rode 2 more horses, then a 3 hour drive home, and I be a wee bit tired.  So the highlights of the day in bullet points:

*  All this time I’ve always been concerned with how long it takes the horse to warm up.  Today I learned that it takes ME about 40 minutes before I am useful in the tack.

*  Inside flexion, diagonal half halt, give.  Follow elastically when not doing that.

*  Straightness during and after the jump is as important as straightness before the fence.

*  Elliot can jump a small house from 2″ in front of it.

*  Elliot can make a 2′ jump feel like a house if his rider lets him canter down to it crooked and on his forehand.

*  The canter where he moves his feet and raises his withers is my new life.

Eddie and I have a picnic. I don't know why the other guests grabbed their beverages and ran...

*  Eddie will twist left over any jump if allowed to his own devices.

*  Eddie’s devices are best put back into his toybox rather than letting him play with them.  Quote of the day: “Bambi on ice.”

*  I sometimes take  my leg OFF at a fence.  Who knew?  Gah.

*  When I use my right leg to keep his ribcage left in the air, he is perfectly capable of staying straight and landing on the right lead.

*  When a horse is tracking straight and in the correct canter, 3’6″ looks and rides like 2’6″.

And that’s what I was reminded of today.  Eddie and Elliot are all settled in their beds and resting.  Seems like a good idea. ‘Night.

Sugar High

This picture has nothing to do with sugar, other than the fact that this was a really fun day, and I'd like a thousand more of them.

I’m still walking around in circles and figure 8s with the injured reserve horses (and will be for the next month at least) and it gives me some time to think.  Like almost everybody, I’ve had a few times in my life when I’ve been sick and therefore kept out of the barn for a while. So today I was thinking about our health and how prevention is a pretty smart plan, not only just generally, but as horsepeople, we know we can’t take care of our horses the way we would like (or get to ride!) if we are sick.

Some sickness is out of our control, but many more factors affecting health are in our hands than we used to believe possible.

A few weeks ago I wrote about giving up Coke (the drink not the powder, I’m so not giving up the powder!  JOKE, seriously, joke. If you ever met me, Miss Drug Ignorant, you’d be laughing.)  Anyhoo, I backslid a little bit on the giving up Coke thing.  Not badly, just one 12 oz. can to get the workday started, but even that was buggin’ me for how high it ranked on the stupid human scale.

Last Friday I got the kick in the butt that the Dr. ordered.  I was cleaning stalls listening to (nerd alert) NPR’s Science Friday, when Robert Lustig, a UCSF scientist came on the show.  He was advocating that sugar be taken much more seriously as a health threat, maybe even to the point of regulation or a tax on sugar.  He presented information from studies that indicated that sugar can do all the things you already know it can do: make you fat, help you develop Type II diabetes and give you a sugar crash an hour or two after you eat a bunch of it.  Then the doctor went on to explain how eating too much sugar affects your brain.  The stall-cleaners’ version is that it clogs up your wiring and can bring on early dementia.  Full audio version on the upper left corner of this page.

The idea of being a party to clogging up my own brain wiring seriously scared me.  I don’t know about you, but I really would like to have my brain continue to work really well for a long time.

So then I wondered about how many grams of sugar is the RDA.  Turns out it is 40 grams max, which is about 10 teaspoons, which sounds like a lot, but I looked at my yogurt today and it had 22 grams.  Half a day’s RDA!  Seriously, yogurt.  If you want to freak yourself out about how much sugar is in food  in beverages, visit Sugarstacks.com

So since hearing that Science Friday segment, I have been Coke-free again.  I have replaced it with hot green tea when working at the ‘U (partly because there is a superfast, hot water-for-tea heater there;  and I’m drinking unsweet iced tea otherwise.  I happen to like tea, so I can’t even earn hero points for the sacrifice.  Rats.  Sort of.

But what I can report is that water tastes better to me now.  I always liked water, but now that my taste buds aren’t daily bathing in the rock n’ roll amplification of high-fructose soda, they can better appreciate the subtle symphony that water offers.  Pretty sweet.  (oh  very punny, I know.)

So that was all horse-related because you have to take care of you in order to take care of your horse.  Sort of new take on “Love me, love my horse,” except now it is self-love in the most altruistic sense.

Other thought for the day, I love my new nathe snaffle bit, because my horses love my new nathe snaffle bit.  It is extremely flexible (you can easily bend it in half and put the rings together.  It is gum/plastic over a wire (wire so that it can not be bitten through, which would be unusual.)

Flexible.  Thin.  Two hooves up.

I work really hard on having correct hands, using my seat first, and having elastic connection.  But I still have one horse that hangs his tongue like a hound dog and another who grinds like a grist mill.  I’m happy to report that the hound dog is noticeable less houndy (the thinner bit seems to fit his mouth better) and the grist mill now mouths the bit in a relaxed manner.  The more I ride the less I bit.

I’m Camie and I’m a coke addict

Oooooh, icy cold deliciousness

Oh, how I loved the icy cold deliciousness of a coke in the morning.  The sweet release of carbon when the can is opened, the sound of it pouring over ice and the quiet fizz as it sat by my computer.  Sometimes I would buy a 32 0z. coke and sip it all morning.  It was great.  I wouldn’t get hungry at 10 a.m. if I had a 32 oz. coke there feeding sweet sugar into my veins all morning.  Have a coke and a smile.  I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  Coke is it!

I’d be driving in to work and thinking to myself, “I need a little treat.”  Stop in at my favorite fuel station, talk and laugh with the attendants since by now I’d developed a relationship with them, fill my cup with cubed ice (not crushed!) and fill the plastic cup with the nectar of the gods.  Enjoy all morning.

I never drank coke in the afternoon or evening.  It was a morning ritual for me.

And then one day I noticed how ridiculous it is for a college-educated extremely fortunate person to put high fructose corn syrup daily into my body.  It just finally made no sense.  I decided to quit.

I didn’t quit because continuing to drink soda would make me fat (though it would) or because my mom has Type II diabetes.  I quit because I finally realized just how stupid it is to drink soda on a regular basis.  There just is no redeeming quality in soda.  I simply fell out of love with it.

It has been 12 days.  Driving past my Quik Trip the first few times was really a challenge.  I drove a new route to work.  I also bought the kind of tea I like, even though it is more expensive than soda (which was my excuse for not buying it on a regular basis before.  Lame-o.)   I also had to start bringing a 10 a.m. snack, since I couldn’t rely on high fructose corn syrup to carry me to lunch.  So I brought apples or pears or nuts.  The first of the positive changes.

Then, since I had a healthy snack at 10 a.m. and didn’t have gut rot from all that soda, I felt like having a decent lunch.  With the lack of morning caffeine and the more frequent healthy lunches, slowly but surely the afternoon crash I used to be able to set my watch by at 2:30 has dissipated.  Another unanticipated bonus.

After a week off soda, I started to sleep through the night rather than having to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Maybe TMI, but also a bonus.

And other changes.  I don’t have to carry my cans home for recycling, my teeth are whiter and I drink more water, which tastes better to me now for some reason.

But the best, THE BEST, was today.  It was 78 degrees at our house today.  The forecast for tomorrow is for 40 degrees and a rain/snow mix.  Today I could wear a T-shirt and ride in the fields and woods near our house, tomorrow I will have to wear a sweatshirt and ride indoors (ok, that isn’t so bad either, but still, my point is that today was glorious weather for November 1st in the mid-latitudes).  So I wanted to ride all four horses TODAY.  I wasn’t tired.  I didn’t hit the afternoon nap wall.  I didn’t have to run in and go to the bathroom.  I just rode 4 fabulous horses.  I hacked all over southern Story county.  I worked on connection, lengthenings, galloping, leg yields, you-name-it.  They were all great.

Coke or this?

Charlie reminded me about the thrill of galloping.  Eddie aced the cavaletti.  Sammy is learning to let go in his poll and breathe.  And Elliot was the last to go.  Many is the time in the last year where I was too tired to ride the last horse.  Very disappointing and left a hangover of guilt along with the tiredness.  Not today.  Today I tacked up the last horse with ease, warmed up in the arena over the cavaletti and then out for a hack as the sun set.  Balanced canter and medium canter, joyful, springy goofy-warmblood trot.  Then a swinging walk the last quarter mile home.  I was the luckiest person on earth tonight.

All because of one change.  I gave up coke because I decided it was a ridiculously stupid habit.  I didn’t know how right I was until I stopped doing it.

Have you given up a bad habit and been pleasantly surprised by unanticipated horse-related repercussions?  Maybe you have changed your diet specifically for your horse.  I’d love to hear your experiences.


Soaking hooves

My wonderful farrier managed to come out yesterday and look at Elliot’s hoof.  Elliot has what my vet diagnosed as a “close nail”, not exactly a hot nail, but close enough.  In my farrier’s defense, the horse has shelly, thin hooves and is tough to shoe.  He’s been shoeing him a couple of years now and this is the first incident.  That’s pretty dang good.  So we took the nail out.  Elliot was improved, but not really right.  So last night my farrier came out again and dug around in the hoof.

I don’t know about you, but it always amazes me to watch someone really dig around in a hoof.  Hooves are so rugged and yet so fragile.  Such a delicate balance of strength and elasticity.  My farrier spent a good half an hour hoof testing and considering, digging a little, modifying and digging some more.

Lucky for me, a few weeks ago, I bought some of these hoof wraps.  They seemed like a really good alternative to the duct tape contraptions we all make.  So, just as my farrier was launching into the ‘soak, sugardine and duct tape boot’ spiel, I produced the hoof wrap to his nearly dumbfounded amazement.  I was lookin’ like a dang genius.  He put it on and it stayed on until this morning when I took it off during breakfast, for a soak.  See?  Money can buy happiness.

I held Elliot’s breakfast for him while he stood in the cross ties, left front leg dutifully parked in the bucket of warm water and epsom salt.  There is something really endearing about holding a feed pan for a horse while he eats his breakfast with single-minded zeal on a cool autumn morning, chasing the little bits around the pan, snuffling with pleasure.  After his breakfast, I still had 15 minutes left on the soak. Everyone else with hooves had left the building, headed back out to the pasture.  So it was just us.  I groomed Elliot, brushed his face, trimmed his bridle path, primped his mane and tail, fed him cookies and marveled in his horsie fabulousness.  I was invited to just spend time, rather than rush on to the next thing.  It was among the most thoroughly enjoyable 15 minutes of this week.

Reviewing and hooves

One of the better moments of the weekend. Eddie looking pretty. Photo courtesy Derith Vogt of D and G Photography

If you’re familiar with the Black Box and the Gold Box, then you know that one of the keys to using them is to examine the positive and the negative before letting experiences go into the boxes.  So today I edited the video that Jay shot of the dressage (not bad, but nice room to improve), xc (the fun of it is in the Equanimity post) and showjumping (there is one good jump of 5, irrrrrg).  I took the 8 seconds before and including the departure from Eddie on xc, and all of the showjumping, edited it together, saved it in slow mo, and watched it about 45 times.  The first few times through was like putting on a wet bathing suit.  There is no lying on videotape.  I enlisted the help of a glass of wine.  I learned a lot.

If you’d like to see the video, simply send me a request on a note attached to a new Berney Dublin Jumper saddle.

Sammy's hoof.

Meanwhile, since the Universe doesn’t intend us to wallow in self-judgement even with the intention of self-improvement, it gave me other things to do.  Sammy always had a pretty good crack in his left front hoof, but when I fed everybody and gave them the once-over upon arriving home yesterday, I saw that the crack that had gone about 3/4 way up his hoof now goes all the way to his coronary band.  Me no likey.  So I took a picture and emailed it to my farrier (have I mentioned I love technology and  my farrier who actually checks and responds to his email?)