Me on sweet Pie, February 2011. I am trying to smile, but it was a chilly 18 degrees. You gotta love the refined equestrian attire - Carhartt coveralls, Sorel boots and a full balaclava that goes under my helmet. I think I am pulling my arms up shivering. At least it was sunny! 

This style of riding is light and airy and asks the question "What's in this for you?" not just of the rider, but of the horse too. Riding this way is free of any established codes about attire, tack, and equitation. It is important to me to be authentic - to the horse. Nothing is for show. There is no metal in my horse's mouth or on his feet. There isn't a clock timing how fast we cover a certain distance and there are no measuring tools to check the height of fences or distance between barrels. The only rule is that horse and rider both have a safe, enjoyable ride. It's funny that when I think of a phrase to describe this style "light and airy" always comes to mind, even with a photograph like that one, above! My seven layers of clothes and heavy boots are hardly light or airy, but I do think of our rides as carefree and cheerful no matter what the weather. Our January rides are just as easygoing and fun for me and my horse as a June ride. 

Yet this style of riding relies heavily on preparation - both philosophical and practical. On my blog I avoid making any sweeping proclamations about training philosophies and sometimes it appears like I am just flitting around, having a grand time riding and playing with my three horses without a thought in my head. So many successful endeavors in life are a mirage and this is one. My rides are casual and easy, but the preparation used and the philosophy behind it is carefully planned and always followed. The preparation is not difficult, but it is mandatory in order to ensure the breezy, relaxed, safe atmosphere my horses and I work and ride in each day.

Pie's ear and foretop, taken by me on a dewy morning ride, June 2011.

If a person decides to learn to fly a plane or take up skydiving as a new hobby, they never skimp on the time it takes to be prepared because these are life and death propositions. Riding a horse is dangerous too. It probably isn't life threatening every time we get on a horse or work with a horse on the ground, but the risks involved deserve complete attention to be prepared. For me, most of this thought and preparation begins at home before I am anywhere near a barn. These steps are easy to dismiss or glaze over as not actually having anything to do with horses and riding. Can the clothes you wear or the lunch you left at home really effect the outcome of a good ride or fun time at the barn? The answer is yes. It may not be as sexy as talking about the work you and your horse are doing with a high profile trainer, but the mundane, simple steps I use in preparation before going to the barn, pave the way for me to be successful with horses. 

So much of what we do in our life is taken for granted and rushed through as not important. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. We might not be so blase about it if it really were a life and death pursuit. We might wake up and pay attention to the smallest detail when we pack our parachute or pre-flight check our plane. I decided when I was 40 years old and got back into horses to pay attention to what I am doing. I savor every moment, including the ones before I leave the house. If I am present in my brain when I am preparing to be with horses, and perform each task deliberately, no matter how seemingly simple, then I have huge success. Why I am choosing to wear this sweater if it itches me and will make me pissy later when I am tacking up Foggy? Being aware of fleeting thoughts and emotions helps me realize that lunging doesn't make me feel good philosophically, even if every trainer under the sun believes in it. If I am perceptive I might notice the depth of the arena and get my horse out of there if it is too deep. Maybe I can get away with chilly boots if I am just going to the grocery store, but I need to be comfortable at the barn. I don't need to be so philosophical and deliberate if I am spending the afternoon gardening, but if I am going to ride, I like to think about everything I am asking a horse to do before I ask. My horses deserve the best of me because they give me good rides. Of course, the real question is, do they give me good rides because I am prepared and give them the best of me?

Sweet little Foggy, OTTB Found in the Fog, with me aboard, 
riding out on a country lane, June 2011. His ears are bigger than he is.

Getting Prepared Philosophically
My daughter, Maizie, was a toddler when my 32 year old mare, Penny Lane, passed away. I decided not to buy another horse, but the next seven years without horses were hard on me. I missed the smell of their breath. I remembered what it was like to groom and ride and how good those activities used to make me feel. I started to appreciate the horse filled existence I had known from birth and now was absent. Still, I knew horses require tons of time and it was important to me to spend quality time with Maizie as she grew up. 

I noticed that the patience and focus necessary to teach a toddler might be perfect for horses too. I used my calmest, sweetest voice with Maizie. In the past I had always been kind to horses, but a tad bit rushed and scattered. With Maizie, I taught myself to really pay attention. I did not think of other things when I was with her. I wasn't diverted. I took my time. I gave her my best. Of course, the results were astounding. My daughter was patient and sweet and intelligent right back at me. Duh. This isn't rocket science - that is how it works! I tucked that information away and decided to use it with horses if I ever was around them again. 

A page from Afraid to Ride by C. W. Anderson

Since I couldn't be with horses, I spent a lot of time reading my childhood horse books while Maizie slept. One book that really made me think was Afraid to Ride by C. W. Anderson. I bought this book in elementary school from the Scholastic book order because I was afraid to ride. Ha, that is an understatement - I bought the book because I was petrified to ride and prayed that my classmates didn't see that I had ordered it! I don't remember reading it back then. As an horseless adult, though, the words jumped off the page at me. I had never read such great ground training information. What C. W. Anderson said, through his fictional trainer, Mr. Jeffers, made perfect sense to me. 

Recently, I have recommended this book to other adults involved with riding and/or training horses and I sense a slight rebuff. This is a children's book so I suppose some of the dismissal stems from that, but it is the title, I think, that is most off-putting. Don't avoid this book - no matter how super-duper confident and NOT afraid to ride you are! This book confirmed what I thought would work with horses on the ground and gave me the courage to try it.  Again, there is no need for egos here, we are all friends in pursuit of being better horse people.  If you are embarrassed about the title, just put a pretty book cover on it. Actually, this is one of the best ground training books I have ever read.  Please understand, the horse in this book is afraid to ride just as much as the rider.

A page from Afraid to Ride by C. W. Anderson.

The story is of Judy, an advanced, gentle rider who suffers a bad injury at a poorly organized camp.  She realizes that she is experiencing a new, yet acute fear of riding and horses.  Her instructor and mentor, Mr. Jeffers, is the closest thing to a perfect trainer that I have ever witnessed.  His (C. W. Anderson's) wisdom about horses is throughout the book, on every page. Jeffers asks Judy to retrain a Thoroughbred mare, who has been stupidly abused, in order to help Judy overcome her own fear.

Drawing of hand grazing from Afraid to Ride by C. W. Anderson.

Jeffers says things like, "Stroke a horse as gently as if you were stroking a hummingbird." He also tells Judy that she doesn't have to ride at all.  Instead he encourages her to take long walks with the mare, talking and grazing her. This made a ton of sense to me. Both the rider and horse in this book were afraid to ride. The hand walking and grazing bought them both time and helped them learn to trust each other without rushing. What horse isn't "afraid to ride" at different periods in their life? When you buy a new horse or meet a horse for the first time, they are nervous about you. They don't know what you are like as a person. They have no idea about what to expect. They are afraid to ride. Walking without rushing and hand grazing and grooming gently sounded like excellent ways to help scared horses learn to trust me. There were other brilliant ideas in this book. I filed them away for the day I would return to horses.

Another book that influences my daily successes with equine friends is Horses in the Green Valley by Vian Smith. Some of the book is too harsh for sensitive types like me. Vian Smith chronicles the history of the horse in his family and in his country, England.  He is unbelievably kind to horses, no worry there, but in history, man's use of the horse is not often a pretty story, so I avoid those parts. I think there are amazing nuggets of training tips hidden throughout this book, and I re-learned my riding craft by reading and rereading these parts for the seven years I was spending uninterrupted time with Maizie and didn't have a horse.

A page from Horses in the Green Valley by Vian Smith.

Back in middle school when my mare, Penny Lane, was feisty on a ride I'd sing to her. I never told anyone I did this for fear of laughter and rolling eyes, but it seemed to work. I now know that singing probably calmed my own energy and that was conveyed to her. Vian Smith describes two accounts of how his son's singing helped relax nervous horses. Now, I sing to my Thoroughbreds all the time (out of human earshot because I am an horrid singer) and I proudly chronicle this practice on my retraining blog.

Me with my sweet OTTB, Found in the Fog, on November 17, 2010, the first day we met.

Both books convey empathy for the horse. I think that is why these books mean so much to me. Empathy is the capacity to recognize, and to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. To further clarify this definition it is important to understand that a sentient or semi-sentient being is a being, like a horse, that has the ability to feel, perceive, and be conscious.

When I work with a horse on the ground or riding, I try to be cognizant of what the horse is experiencing - from his point of view. This sounds simple, but it requires a bit of guess work since horses can't speak! Anthropomorphism, or assigning human qualities to animals, is a pejorative buzzword right now. Much is said and written about being objective and not assuming your horse feels a certain emotion just because we do. Empathy isn't about making my horse human. It is about trying to observe and alter obviously uncomfortable requests from me.  Something as mindless to me as haltering, can be extremely confusing to a horse. There are millions of "asks" by me in a one hour session of grooming or riding. To be empathetic, is to keep both of our desires in mind at all times. It also requires me to think deeper, and sometimes ignore accepted practices of working with horses. For example, just because man has lunged horses for decades or recently fell in love with "desensitizing" horses with leaf blowers and tarps does not mean these are correct for the horse in front of me or for any horse, for that matter. I have to use my brain at all times when working empathetically with a horse.

True empathy is no easy task and it is never mastered. It is an on-going, forever state of being. I can describe how to wash a car in finite steps. The steps necessary to groom a horse will always be incomplete because they have an infinite array of variables depending on the horse's needs each particular day. Anything I do with a horse, from haltering, to leading, grooming and riding is like that. It is a dance that requires concentration and attentiveness. 

Me on Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, deep in the woods, July 2011.

A subset of empathy is philoxenia. Philoxenia is a Greek word that can be translated as the relationship between a guest and a friend or a guest and host. It is the act of offering shelter and taking care of a foreigner/stranger/guest at one's own home. It encompasses the notions of caring, kindness, thoughtfulness, and benevolence which a host should show towards strangers who are visiting. 

Horses are guests in my life. Actually, it seems to me that all domesticated animals are "guests" in our human, civilized world and we are their hosts. If dogs, cats, and horses had to do it again, I am not sure they would choose to hang out with us, but now that they are here, it seems like it is our job to make them feel welcome. I imagine, although this may be completely wrong, that my horses would like to live in the wild on acres of land with other horses and not be ridden by me. But, they don't live in the wild. They were domesticated and trained to be raced. I didn't do the domestication or the racing, but it was done. Now, they are my guests. Man "invited" them to come in from the wild when they were domesticated, and I "invited" them to our farm to live. 

If I have a human guest to my home, I do my best to make them comfortable for their stay. I do not take advantage of them and I don't let them take advantage of me. I use congenial speech and accepted hostess practices to introduce my guests to local destinations just as I did when I introduced my horses to my style of riding. And, if I had a guest who did not speak my language, I would be extra careful to anticipate their needs because of the language barrier, just as I am extra careful with my horses' needs. Again, the pejorative use of anthropomorphism is irrelevant. I am not talking about sewing a Halloween costume for my horse. I am talking about being kind. Kindness is kindness. It is not species specific.

Me on Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, and my friend Kathy Savory on Sovereign, OTTB Suave Lord, in November, 2010. My daughter, Maizie, took this photo and says I look ridiculous, but I like how giddy I look. I think all women my age who love horses should be able to ride this way on a brisk autumn day!  

Empathy is easy to understand in theory, but requires tenacity to use as a training technique with horses when another person or my own ego is present. I have to be honest with myself. Am I asking for this because this is what my horse needs now or because it makes me look good to other people or to my own ego? It took me 40 years to have the patience and courage to use empathy with philoxenia every single minute that I work with horses. Every single interaction. Every single day. 

Clothing and Other Practical Preparations
I wear comfortable clothes to ride and groom. Over the years, I realized that designated "equestrian" clothing is not always comfortable or flexible enough for me. The goal is to be safe and not hurry my horse, and improper clothing and boots that are too hot or cold for the conditions or is uncomfortable in some way is certain to make me irritable or rushed. I wear layers because working on the ground makes me hot and riding sometimes makes me cold (because my horse is carting me around and doing all the work). I add and subtract as necessary. A huge consideration in the clothes I wear to the barn is that they allow me to be flexible and able to move. Everything I do with a horse requires my full range of motion. On the ground or riding, I need to be as free as if I am in a yoga class or running or rock climbing. I can't be restricted in anyway. I try to look attractive, but I don't always accomplish that! Sometimes I look like an equestrian and sometimes I look like the Michelin Man depending on the time of year. Running clothes and hiking clothes work best for me, although I've been known to ride in flowing skirts and Wellies when I only had a few hours to ride between classes as a Humanities professor.

Typical riding apparel on a warm spring day in Pennsylvania. Shorts, tank top and Wellies. Me on Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, April 2011. My hands are too high and goofy. As soon as the camera comes out, Pie paws the ground to be cute and my hands go up too high. What a pair we are! Photographer mom was laughing at us so we are in a watercolor.

Rest and Overall Health
I try to ride every single day of the year. I don't always accomplish this, but I come close. Grooming, grazing, tacking up and riding all require my complete mental focus and a ton of physical energy. It is no good for me or my horse if I was out late the night before or suffering with a cold or headache. If my energy is low or I feel just plain sick, I try not to ask much from my horse. Sometimes that translates into a zero riding day and that is awful for me. Therefore, staying well-rested and healthy is the only way I know to be able to ride everyday.

Running to Stay Calm
In the last chapter I outlined how running knowledge makes me a better horse person by keeping my horses sound, sane and injury free. The actual act of running, though, makes me a calm horse person. In real life, away from the barn, I am enthusiastic, talkative, and probably a little hyper. Once, when I was getting carried away describing the history of Street Photography, a student joked, "We have you at an 11, we need you at a 2." This type of verve works well to keep a college class of twenty-somethings awake, but it would be disaster in a horse barn. 

Long, slow distance running in a pleasant atmosphere like on a trail releases endorphins and relaxes me. This is the same release of endorphins my horses get when they are nervous and I walk with them. Running fast in a race or on a track in competition is like being lunged with a whip. Instead of endorphins there is an adrenaline rush. Spirited people like me don't need adrenaline! Slow running makes me balanced and calm and prepares me for my time at the barn.

When I was growing up, my family was fairly loud and boisterous. I remember heated conversations and many screaming matches between family members at the barn around the horses. Our horses at that time were pretty high strung and nutty. The entire atmosphere was often charged and high pitched. We had "drama" long before that term was popular and reality TV existed. It is no wonder our horses acted the way they did.

I rode in the truck of our large animal vet, Dr. Weber, for many years. He and I could instantly tell the type of people we were going to encounter by the behavior and injuries of their animals. Calm, quiet, reserved people had sweet horses that only needed yearly shots. The worst injuries invariably were at the loudest barns. Dogs barked, and owners screamed to greet us as soon as we turned in the driveway. Freak accidents always happened to poorly behaved horses. Hardly the fault of the animal, these horses lived in constant turmoil, and chaos was all they knew.

Horses' hearing is particularly sensitive to the high pitched inflection of the human voice. They know and feel our heightened energy. A simple barn radio, blasting out music at a high volume can cause problems. When I returned to horses, I made a promise to myself that I would not let our barn be electric with loud human interactions anymore. It isn't easy because I am not always alone in the barn with my horses, but I try to keep it quiet and respect their need for serenity. My Pie is highly sensitive to any type of hyper, high strung talking or arm waving. His consistently good behavior tells me that I should win an Academy Award in this category and in my acceptance speech I have Running to thank for my portrayal of a calm person.

Me on Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, shadow shot, July 2010.

Places to Go, People to See 
Riding isn't just about the ride to my horse. It is an entire process to him that begins when I halter him and proceeds on through grooming and tacking up and riding and grazing and re-grooming. This takes time! I think my horses enjoy this routine and have come to expect the whole process. I would never want to ride them and then just stick them back in a stall or pasture because I had to be somewhere else. I always make sure I have more than enough time to do whatever it is that I am going to do with my horse that day. On the days when I had to fit in a ride between classes, I made sure that I had enough time for our entire routine. If I don't have enough time, then I don't go to the barn. 

Hunger and the Ubiquitous Blue Jug
Riding doesn't just take time - it takes energy too. Sometimes I am starving by the end of the ride. Again, I would never rush my horse or the routine he has come to count on from me. I would hate it if my horse just dumped me off mid-ride and said, "See ya - I gotta go get some hay - stat!" This sounds juvenile, but I see riders stick their horses in a stall as soon as they dismount because they themselves are starving or because they have to be somewhere. These riders often have horses with less than happy dispositions under saddle. I eat before I go to the barn and I bring an extra sandwich in case of emergency. Often my horse is happily munching in our post-ride hand grazing session while I am munching on my own sandwich. Post-ride grazing is payback time for a great ride and ensures another one next time. I don't cut it short because of my hunger or thirst.

I am always thirsty. This isn't a new problem, I was born this way. My one Thoroughbred, Found in the Fog (Foggy) was too. He is a big drinker like me. I joke that we are both Aquarians so as "water bearers" we are obsessed with liquids. My family gets annoyed with me as I check the water level of horse buckets or our kitty, Noodlebug's, water bowl every few minutes. I think everyone should always have access to liquids! I rarely go anywhere without a jug of unsweetened blueberry iced tea. It gets me through my time at the barn and helps me not rush my horse.

Foggy's brother Sovereign, OTTB Suave Lord, loves my blueberry iced tea too. Here is his adorable nose, slurping it up from the lid of my jug on a chilly January day.

Smart Phones, Texting, Photography and Other Attention Grabbers
Horses and technology don't mix. I have a friend whom I've known since kindergarten. Long before hand held devices of any sort had made their way into our lives, this friend had a terrible habit of looking around while in conversation. He does this to everyone. He never maintains eye contact and appears diverted, like there could be someone better to talk to over my shoulder, where he is gazing. This is rude and a poor social skill. Now that the world has been inundated with smart phones and other technological attention getters, my friend has tons of company. Everyone is texting, and looking away, or answering their phone or checking messages and avoiding eye contact. The message is clear - I am boring to you. 

Horses are intuitively aware of who is paying attention to them and who isn't. I pay attention to my horses when I am with them. They are not boring to me. I have an iPhone and I keep it turned off if I am working with a horse in any way - leading, grooming in cross-ties, hand grazing or riding. If I use the GPS feature, I set it before I get to the barn and turn it off when I am home. If I pop into the tack room for a minute to grab a brush, I don't look at my phone. I do not "keep it on vibrate in case of emergencies" because I am honest with myself. All that really means is that if it vibrates I will need to check it to see if it was an emergency. And, of course, it usually isn't but just as usually, my own curiosity forces me to see who it was or hear/read the whole message. This is human nature so I don't tempt myself. To do so would be to take my attention away from my horse, just like my rude friend who looks over my shoulder for something or someone more interesting. People spend so much time checking and re-checking their phone under the guise of the atypical emergency. If my husband or daughter are in any sort of situation that requires that they might need to get in touch with me quickly, then I don't go to the barn. I need to be available for them and I am not available if I am working with a horse. If I am at the barn and an actual emergency does come up, my phone has a message machine and I check it when I am no longer in charge of a horse. Two hours may pass until I can check the messages. I can live with that and still be a conscientious mom. Again, if I decided to take up skydiving, I probably wouldn't be able to answer the phone every single minute. There might be whole hours where I would be unavailable because paying full attention while skydiving is imperative. Well, to me, paying attention to my horse is also imperative. If I can't be away from a phone for two hours then I guess horses aren't really for me. 

This past January, on a sunny, gorgeous Florida day, I was in a boarding barn quietly grooming Max, the Thoroughbred I was leasing. Max was in the aisle cross ties, standing statue still enjoying all the attention from me. A few yards away, a friend of mine, Barbara, was grooming Titan, a sweet little horse she was leasing. She too was quietly working and oblivious to the outside world. Her attention was completely on Titan. We both were taking our time in the grooming phase and then we were going to tack up and go out for a trail ride. 

Out on a trail ride with Max, OTTB Maximiliano, and other friends in Florida, November 2011.

Opposite Barbara in another set of cross-ties, stood Lollipop. His owner, Robin, was walking back and forth hurriedly between her tack box at the other end of the barn and her horse. She was talking loudly on a cell phone to an employee. Her attention was clearly not on her horse at all and Lollipop knew it. He started reacting to her rough and rushed brushing. Robin's voice was escalating in pitch, getting more angry at the employee and at Lollipop. She shouted, "Oh, my horse is acting like an ass. I am going to have to go." But, she didn't end the conversation. She kept right on talking in a high pitched voice and marching around and quickly brushing her horse. Lollipop was pulling at the cross-ties and threatening to kick her and nipping her as she walked past. 

I admit, I wished Lollipop had connected and actually kicked some sense into her. Was her horse acting like an ass, or was she? Neither the employee at the other end of the phone or the horse were getting full attention from Robin. The act of grooming a horse and the act of talking to an employee were both a failure. I looked at calm, quiet Max and then at equally relaxed Titan and then at poor, nervous, Lollipop. He was feeling all her loud, unhappy energy and knew that she wasn't paying one shred of attention to him. What could he do but stand on his head to make her see him? Robin was always wanting to go on morning trail rides at the barn, but it never worked out because Lollipop was forever "acting bad" and in need of some "tune up" from the trainer. Not all people act this horridly when they are using a phone, but even a kind, "I love you" conversation to your children is diverting. I tell Maizie and Brian that I love them when I can focus on saying it. And, I believe that I have the most success with horses when I choose to keep my phone off. Phones are nice to have on rides in case I have an emergency and would need to call someone for help, but I keep it off.

I feel the same way about any type of technology used in a barn setting for "immediate research" like looking up the address of a local tack shop. I use a computer for research just like anyone else. But, I use it away from my loving, warm, living, sometimes dangerous, sweet, deserving-of-my-undivided-attention-horse.  

Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, in the wagonshed before a ride, May 2010.

Obviously, from all these photos, I do carry a camera on rides. This is equally diverting, in my opinion, and certainly not good for the horse. I love the photos and videos that have documented my experiences with these horses, but it has come at a cost. Here is a post from my retraining blog that illustrates how the camera cheats my boys out of my whole attention.

Sarcastic mister know it all

Sovereign and I had a tough ride yesterday morning, but it all worked out very well in the end. I learned an awful lot as a rider. I chose my post title today because Red Hot Chili Peppers were singing this when I got in the car to go home from my ride and it suited Sovey perfectly, BUT, in his defense, he only becomes a Sarcastic-Mr.-Know-It-All when I don't give him any direction. In other words, when I as a rider stop paying attention and leading, Sovereign (and probably every other horse in the world) has no alternative but to lead himself.

Everything started out fine. We rode all around the pastures and over to my mom's house for carrots. Sovey was listening perfectly. We headed out through the fields and he was wonderful - calm and quiet. After about 20 minutes, I pulled out my camera. I had cut new grass paths in the hayfield and I was eager to ride on them with Sovey. I also was eager to take photos of the paths, but I should have taken pictures on foot or in the golf cart. Instead, I tried to ride and take pictures and I ended up with a horse under me who was acting badly because he was looking for direction and his rider was fiddling around with a camera. He needed me to be with him and I wasn't really there. So he left. He didn't dump me, but he was gone. He wasn't present anymore. He was back at the barn with Pie.

This is my last photo, blurry because he was rushing and circling with worry, and I put the camera on the ground and attempted to start again. Ha. Very funny. Just because I knew I had made a mistake, didn't mean that Sovey was back with me. He was gone - done listening - done riding - let's get this over and get back to the barn. I circled him in figure eights. He did them rushed and nervous. I dismounted and walked around with him. Still nervous. I remounted and walked in the woods and around. Nothing - Sovey was jigging and chomping his teeth and hurrying. No amount of anything was going to get him back. What should I do? I didn't want to quit like this, but I couldn't get him to realize that I was still riding and we were together and we were a team. Pie was screaming at us from the paddock. When Sovereign is with me, he ignores Pie. When Sovey is not present mentally, he hears Pie and reacts like a volt of electricity is going through him. That is what he was doing at this point in our ride. I rode him back to the pastures and dismounted and opened the gate and remounted inside the pasture. I started thinking about connecting with him by giving him small little cues that he would be able to hear now that we were back in his pasture safety zone. Quiet circles, slight leg yields, and alternating between a collected walk and an extended walk. It took a few minutes (18 to be exact because I timed it) but he suddenly heard me again! I knew he was with me and it felt amazing! I walked him back out the gate and around the paths. What a quiet good boy! No amount of Pie's yelling would alter Sovereign's attention. He was with me and I was with him! Oh happy day! We then had a fabulous ride around the farm.

What an idiot I was in the beginning of this ride. I feel terrible for not paying attention to him. Of course there are horses who are fine with camera fiddling, and of course, some day Pie and Sovey will be too, but they are too young now to "be left alone" on our rides. They need my attention. The whole episode reminded me so much of my motto for life: quality. I believe that you can do anything in life two ways - with quality or without. It is possible to run, drive, clean the house, read, talk, write, cook, teach, do homework, ride horses all on auto-pilot and not really be there. The activity is "completed" but it was done without quality, without focus, and without true meaning and true success. Or, you can be present. It is tough to hold focus for a long time and it takes practice keeping your attention in our hurried, cellphone interrupted society, but if you can do it, the payback is great. I know that my rides are so much better when I am present because my horse is present too. Poor Sovey. I hope he forgives me!

My mare, Penny Lane, did not have to contend with the camera at all. The downside of that is that I have very few photos of her and none of our rides. I have vivid memories of that time, but no blog entry detailing our outings, no photos and no videos. The upside is that she got the very best of me and my complete attention. This balance of enjoying real life in the moment versus capturing it on film for all time is a constant struggle. I plan to stop taking the camera on my rides when this essay is complete.

Adorable Sovereign in his stall after the equine dentist visited. Sovey says, "My teefies are all done, Julie, and I was a very good boy!" July, 2012.

I was never a Girl Scout but "Be Prepared" is an excellent slogan for working with horses. I am not advocating being anal about it though. You can't remember to plan out every last detail before you get to the barn and sometimes horses love a change in their routine as long as they are still involved. My horses are sweet and sincerely interested in what I am doing. If we head out for a ride and I forget my gloves I often pop back into the tack room with my equine buddy in tow. Sometimes I have to get something out of my car and I bring my horse with me. They absolutely love being included in new and exciting "adventures" like this that occur because I wasn't perfectly prepared. This isn't a problem at all because they are involved in what I am doing. 

Pie and Foggy stand unattended in cross ties for a minute or two occasionally and they are wonderful. I leave Sovereign ground tied under the forebay briefly. I am glad that they can pacify themselves and not worry or fret. In these instances, my horses are not being ignored. They are still in the fore of my mind and have my attention and I don't get sidetracked into tangential activities. I wouldn't want someone to do that to me when we were spending time together.  

Me on Pie, OTTB Sly Pioneer, in woods, October 2010

Preparing to ride, practically, philosophically, it is all connected. Preparation makes this style of riding easy, light and airy and real. When I come to the barn comfortable and focused about what I am doing and why I am doing it, I am able to treat horses in a respectful manner. They, in turn, treat me with respect too. 

I figured this out in the seven years I was without horses. Prior to that, in the 30 or so years I was around horses all the time, I concentrated on learning to ride. Horse joy does not require riding. But, if you ever plan to ride, then taking riding lessons, above all else, is the most essential, respectful thing you can do for your horse. Learning to ride has nothing to do with cleaning a stall, or emptying a water bucket or being a kind, loving horse owner. But trying to ride a horse in a considerate, joyful way without truly learning how to ride is like putting the cart before the horse.