New Year’s Eve- traditionally a time to make resolutions.  Strategic phrasing and thinking will foster resolutions that are kept, rather than broken.

A successful resolution can be transformational, but must be realistic.  Know who you are, where you are, and where you want to go.  Make a resolution with achievable goals.  Is it in harmony with your self image and beliefs?  Do you have the resources to follow your plan?  Resources include time and a support group.  Identify all your resources, and  modify your plan if it doesn’t seem realistic and achievable.

Approach your resolution with positive presumptions, so you will create the dispositions for success and confidence.  If difficulties arise in pursuing your resolution after a few weeks or months, motivate yourself through playful curiosity, rather than judgment.  Don’t ask “why,” or “what is wrong?”  Instead ask positive questions, such as “what if” or “how could I…”  As an alternative to persisting in a course that is not effective, experiment with a new path in pursuing your resolution.

Finally, distill your resolution to a single word or short phrase that is personally meaningful.  Courage comes from the French word, “coeur,” which means “heart.”  My New Year’s resolution, distilled into my unique phrase is “courage and trust.”  What is yours?


Violet’s Story, Part 5 “a horse of her own”

Early December…..the big day arrived.  This morning we would travel to Longmont to meet Susan and Santo.  Santo, a 25 year-young Lipizzan gelding, was offered for adoption from Corazones de Fuego Andalusians.  Susan, his caring owner, was seeking a suitable match in a forever home.  Maybe this would be the horse Violet could feel safe riding, learning with, and loving.

Kurt and I were up early to check the truck and trailer, pack, and see to last minute preparations.  Violet and her mom, Shantel arrived at 8am; it would be a long drive across the state.  We needed an early start to allow adequate time with Santo before the vet check early the following day.

We arrived at the farm around 2:30.  The weather was beautiful, unseasonably warm, a golden December day.  Santo showed interest when meeting us.  He was curious and friendly, with bright intelligent eyes.  We entered his stall, haltered him, and looked him over.  Santo was the living embodiment of a hardy breed that lives well into their 3rd and sometimes 4th decade.  He showed the good care that Susan had given him for many years.  His ground manners were polite, cooperating while his feet were lifted and cleaned, enjoying the grooming of brush and curry.  Santo continued to show us a well-behaved, respectful horse as we tacked him and led him to the arena.  The biggest areas of concern were missing teeth and the stiff angle of his left front pastern, revealing a past injury.  We would have to see what the vet would say…

In the arena, we became better acquainted with Santo through groundwork: leading on both sides, turning, halting, backing up, flexing, and bending.  He showed normal stiffness for an older horse, though movement seemed to smooth after the warm-up.  Though he worked well with each of us, (Violet, Shantel, and I), I was beginning to detect a fondness developing between Violet and Santo.

We longed him to better see how he moved.  The affected pastern joint didn’t seem to cause him pain or lameness, though his left lead canter was a bit reluctant.  Overall, he moved with grace and rhythm.  We felt he could be safely ridden without discomfort.

Upon mounting, I felt his 14 hand, 2″ stature immediately grow.  Though small in size, Lipizzans are not ponies.  Their round Baroque physique fills the leg in the saddle, and their athletic movement is anything but a pony stride.  His walk was quiet enough, and his trot surprised me.  It was huge with a great deal of suspension!  Without conditioning and farrier work, it would be unfair to ask Santo to carry me in the canter.  Santo hadn’t been ridden for a long time, (perhaps years).  Though he expressed spirit in the saddle, he was quite manageable.  I could feel stiffness in his neck and ribcage, but felt careful, regular work would give him sound movement.  After some farrier work, a build-up of cardio and muscle tone, and suppleness exercises, he could come back to his much of his former self.

The moment of truth came after I dismounted.  Could Violet mount and ride him?  Though she was quite comfortable working him from the ground, Violet became fearful when she approached the mounting block.  I knew she needed strong encouragement.  Though reluctant to mount, she really did want to ride Santo.  After patient coaxing and careful support, Violet was able to mount.  I promised not to leave her side.  I led her everywhere in Susan’s large arena.  I gave Violet the reins and walked beside her, as a bond between the frightened girl and the sensitive horse grew.  She was beginning to trust him.  Unlike her first ride with Monarch three months ago, Violet was not eager to dismount.  Maybe she was falling in love.  The visit with the vet tomorrow was keenly anticipated.

We arrived early on Saturday for my college-aged daughter to meet and ride Santo before the vet arrived.  We thought we would see what he would do in the round pen, which was a distance from the barn.  Once in the round pen, away from his barn and his herd, Santo was a different horse, nervous and spirited.  He gave Marissa quite a ride, spooking and showing off his Lipizzan talent.

Soon the vet arrived.  He watched as we untacked him and led him to the barn.  Santo was quite animated.  Twice, I had to remind him that I was leading him, and he must show respect.  This concerned both Shantel and the vet.  As the pre-purchase examination began, Santo continued to show high spirits.  Taking him away from his herd, which proved to be his comfort zone had agitated him. Despite his nervousness, he was manageable, if somewhat opinionated, throughout the inspection and probing of eyes, mouth, respiration, temperature, limbs, etc, etc.

It was time to bring him into the arena for assessment of movement and flexion tests.  By this time Santo had calmed, returning mostly to his gentlemanly self.  The examination revealed that although Santo would not be a show horse at this stage in his life, with care and management he could certainly be a schoolmaster.  Santo’s nervous behavior in the round pen and during the beginning of the exam concerned Shantel and the vet.  Shantel feared adopting a pushy and unmanageable horse.  I counseled her to reflect on all the information she had received.  We weren’t leaving until the next morning, so she had time to think it over.  Even after seeing Santo in his most skittish state, Violet wanted to adopt him.  She asked her mother to consider a trial of a few months.  If Santo didn’t adjust, she would agree to return him to Susan.  As we left the farm for the day, I could feel Shantel’s anxiety in making the best decision for her daughter.

We arrived early at the farm Sunday morning, anticipating an early start.  Weather was forming.  With or without a horse,  I didn’t want to drive my trailer over Monarch Pass in snow or in the dark.  Since Susan was late getting to the barn, the gate to the driveway was locked.  Consequently, we couldn’t get the truck in to hook up the trailer.  Though Violet wanted to bring Santo home, Shantel was still uncertain about an adoption.

Since we couldn’t get the trailer until Susan arrived, we decided to take Santo back to the arena.  Santo seemed to know the situation.  He would have to do his best to convince Shantel to bring him back to Montrose with her.  I showed Violet how to play with him by how I moved my body and arms.  It was like dancing the Tango, forward and back; side to side.  Santo responded with sensitivity to my lead, a willing partner. There were cavaletti set in the center of the arena, and we assimilated them into our dance.  Violet joined  the frolic.   I slipped to the side, giving them the space they needed.  By the time Susan joined us, Shantel had made her decision.  Santo would come home with us if Susan would allow a trial period to make sure that Santo and Violet would be a good match.

After exchanging paperwork, hooking up, and loading, we departed somewhat later than we anticipated.  With dark skies, no snow fell, but we didn’t return to Montrose until after 10 pm.  Santo unloaded quietly in the dark, walked calmly to his new paddock, and met his new pasture buddy across the fence.  No squealing, kicking, or biting; it seemed to be love at first sight between Shantel’s lonely gelding and Violet’s Lipizzan.  After a few days, both horses were turned out together without incident.  Santo is settling into life with Violet and her family.  I received this card from Violet just before Christmas:


She wrote me this message:

“I have been working alot with Santo and it seems like he is getting more and more used to his home.  He really trusts me and he listens to me well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂  I almost forgot- we got is feet trimed today. I LOVE MY HORSE SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!   I also have been journaling!  I am excited for you to come over.

Violet with her "Santo Claus"

Violet with her “Santo Claus”

The Christmas Horse

Every year Marissa makes me a Christmas video, starring my horse Monarch.  To get some action footage, we bundled up to caprice with our horses.  The snow sparkled with jeweled powder in the cold mountain air.  A stiff wind breezed their manes and tails.  The horses were fresh and curious.  Go out today and play with your horse in the snow.

Click YouTube in the menu bar to play the sound with the video.  The opening shots show Monarch’s gorgeous trot!  I know you will enjoy it.  To see more of Marissa’s videos, including Monarch’s other Christmas films, search for EventForLife within YouTube.

Happy holidays to all and best wishes for a New Year.  Wishing you fond memories, the warmth of shared moments with family, and the fellowship of cherished friends.

Violet’s Story, Part 4 “developing feel”

The next four lessons would take Violet from timid avoidance of riding to eager confidence in her lessons with Monarch.  The lessons continued to be scaffolded to build on Violet’s growing understanding of the biomechanics of rider and horse movement, her growing insight of what had happened to her, and her growing confidence in her ability to communicate and ride horses.  Violet began each lesson with ground training, (leading, grooming, tacking), to build confidence and readiness to ride.  We also monitored her fear number before and after the lesson, while discussing key learning for each lesson.  Both hands-on experience and reflective practices, including discussion and journaling, were beginning to pay dividends.  At the beginning of lesson four, her fear number was a 7; she ended that day on a 1 or 0.  Lesson Five she began on a 3, ending on a 1 or 0.  Lesson six she began on a 1, which I explained was actually wise.  Exercising healthy caution around big animals keeps us safe!  Many accidents happen because a lack of fear degenerates into carelessness.

My goal for these lessons was for Violet to connect her increasing feel of the horse to her increasing confidence.  After reviewing key skills, strategies, and insights, Violet showed more confidence in mounting.  In lesson four, I told her we would begin using the whole arena to identify what Monarch was doing with his feet.  I would continue to walk by her side, with Monarch on a lead.  She would concentrate on feel, breathing, and intention, so he could walk with a relaxed gait.  As we walked forward, I asked her to feel how the horse needs to swing his belly to the side in order for his hind leg to step forward.  By concentrating on the belly swing and the beat of the walk, she could tell which hind leg was on the ground.  We played games influencing a specific hind foot to move and calling out the hind feet as they made the beat.

It was time to develop the halt and to influence tempo and stride to nurture her growing confidence.  Violet needed to experience how much she could influence the horse she was riding.  She was beginning to believe that a well trained horse would not hurt her.

In learning halt, Violet was quite amazed that the halt came from her body and breath, not from touching or pulling back on the rein.  In the walk, I asked Violet to sit up very tall, take a deep breath, and release her breath into the horse while keeping her tall, elegant seat.  It was powerful to see how this lesson changed so much in her- how she felt about riding, her skills, her horse, her confidence.  A new game commenced: begin the walk from the requested leg, walk quietly, halt, and resume walking.  Walk-halt-walk-halt in quiet concentration.  Which foot is on the ground?  Which foot is taking a step?  Is he square?  Can you ask him to step into squareness?  Questions, feel, requests, response from horse and rider…

In lessons five and six, the focus would be influencing stride and tempo.  Violet had graduated to the longe line; I was no longer at her side, ready to rescue her.  She was ready to problem solve, to adjust her position, her breathing, her rhythm, and her balance to correct or change her horse.  After practicing walk, halt, and “where are the feet,” it was time for Violet to increase the stride in the walk.  Since she could feel the swing of the belly and when the hind leg was pushing off the ground, I asked her to play with those feelings to make Monarch’s stride longer by touching  his side with her leg, (not her heel), as his hind foot left the ground.  She felt him take a bigger step.  We played the big step-small step game.  Then, I asked her to see what would happen if she changed her rhythm.  As she began to tap her legs in a quicker rhythm, right leg-left leg- right leg, left leg, Monarch began to speed up.  To slow him down she stopped tapping and slowed her “walking seat.”  No rein, and she was able to slow his walk!

“This time use your leg to ask him to step over, to make the circle bigger.  Use your leg in the rhythm of the walk, now when he’s pushing off.  Good.”  We played the leg yield game to influence direction and increase her confidence in controlling her horse.

“How could you trot?  What would be different?”  I did not ask Violet if she could trot, because I did not want her to put her focus into what her skill and fear levels were.  I believed she had more skill than confidence, so I asked her to tap into her knowledge and to figure out how to influence Monarch to get him into the trot.  She had noticed that sometimes when she asked him to increase the speed of the walk, he would jig, so she said she would use her legs.

“How would you use your legs?”

“Kick him.”

“Do you want him to take off into a big trot?  When you kick, you use your heels.  Instead of kicking, tap him with both your legs.”

Violet gave Monarch a light tap; he ignored her.  “Think about how strong the tap should be to get him to listen to you.  Think about what you did in the walk to change it.”

This time the tap was stronger, and he want into a slow trot.  “Very good.  You changed your intention, and your aid became much clearer.  Now follow with your seat to keep him in trot.  Very good.”  After a circle in trot, I asked her to think about how her seat moves in the walk.  As Violet thought about the walk, her trotting seat slowed, and Monarch broke to a walk.

As they walked on the longe, I asked Violet to tell me what just happened.  “When I changed my seat, Monarch walked.”

“So how can you slow a horse?”  I asked.

“Slow my seat.”

“Okay, let’s try that…”  We played the walk-trot game, and Monarch made many transitions.

“Now let’s work on keeping the rhythm in the trot.”  Since Violet has loose, following hips, the sitting trot was beautiful.

“Let’s see what you need to do to slow the trot without having Monarch break to a walk.  Ask for trot.  Good, is this a slow or fast trot?”


“So if you slowed your seat, do you think he would trot slower or just walk?  What could you do to get a bigger trot?  Yes, tap with your legs…keep the rhythm…just one tap.  Good, now when you slow the rhythm, think slow trot- not walk….Good girl….and big trot…..and slow trot…..and walk…and halt…and walk….and halt….and walk…and trot…and slow trot….and big trot…and slow trot…and walk…”

After playing the transition game, we worked on rising trot.  The looseness Violet showed in sitting trot stiffened, making the rising trot behind the motion and forced.  We returned to the ideas of feel and follow.  This will take more time to develop, so later lessons will focus on Violet developing feel and fluency in rising trot.  The end of lessons five and six left her eager for the following week’s lesson.  This eagerness replaced the trepidation that used to begin her lessons and the relief that used to end them.

Violet was finally ready to pick up the reins and ride on her own.  Lesson seven began with our usual review: no high fear number, just a healthy 1 for safety.  Then we reviewed the mounting sequence, breathing to influence relaxation for her and movement for Monarch, rhythm and aids for walk and halt.   After walking beside her while reviewing everything she was learning, we discussed the reins.

“The reins are to improve the quality of the movement, not for turning and halting, except in emergencies.  To turn, slow down, change gaits, or halt, always ask with your seat.  Then you can refine the request with your rein.  Now you will increase your sense of feel by following the horse’s movement with your rein.  A horse balances in the walk and canter with his head, so when you feel his head rise and drop, follow the movement with your hand.  This way the rein will always be the same length.”

After three months, Violet was ready to pick up reins and ride on her own.  “Show me how you hold the reins.  Very good.  Now before he begins to walk, show me how you will follow with your hands.  Yes, keep the elbows soft, elastic, like you are rowing a boat.  Good, and ask with your legs for him to walk on.  Yes, keep following with your hands.  Look to where you want to go….breathe……elbows soft…..think of the rhythm with your arms and legs and push him back to the rail with your leg in the walk rhythm….very good…when you feel that he wants to fall in, push with your inside leg to keep him on the rail…’s easier to correct when you feel the quality changing, instead of waiting until the movement goes bad.  Good, get ready for the corner, and turn your seat.  Did you notice how he followed your seat in the turn?  Your body followed your seat too, so you didn’t need to pull on the inside rein to get him to turn.  Very good.  Same with this corner…good.  How will you stop?  Show me.  Yes, you stayed tall and slowed him with your breath. How will you start?  Yes, now keep the rhythm with your arms and legs….  Ready, and turn your seat in the corner…and again in the corner…good with your rhythm….now turn off the rail into the middle of the arena with your seat…go straight to the rail and turn the other way and change direction….”

That day Violet rode independently, with confidence.  As I stood in the center of the arena, Violet and Monarch became a team.  She was the leader, and he was her willing partner.  The following weekend, we would travel to Longmont to see if an older Lipizzan would be a suitable match for her.