Thursday, July 7, 2016

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE GATE

     Tuesday afternoon, Day 4 of the Horsemanship Clinic, I watched Peter Campbell work a feisty black colt, rearing up and pawing the air, dallied to his saddle horn from my horse, whose expression was blasé, 'whatever, I've got this' as he moved his feet, used his hindquarters and strength to do a job he has NEVER done before in his eleven years of life.
     From the back of a friend's horse, offered up to me as a 'seat to watch your horse from inside the arena', I watched my horse spin on his hocks, calmly lope, move to allow the opening and closing of gates, transition from inside the arena to trotting down the path toward the pond, move like a cutting horse...all like it was no big deal.
     Just the afternoon before and earlier that morning, I had watched Peter Campbell as he rode my horse, who was lost and bothered, sweated pink skinned with the mental stress of trying to understand what was being offered.

     How did this change happen?

     In the beginning...
          Four years ago I began my journey with Peter Campbell Horsemanship, bringing my then nearly eight year old Paint gelding to a Colt Starting Clinic. Since then, Snickers, a.k.a. 'Owen' in the PCH crowd, and I have been in many four day clinics and a few ten day ranch clinics in Wyoming. Discovering PCH has shined new light upon my entire life-work, family, writing, horses...it's all based on the same principles.
          My horse and I have made many good changes; however, underneath the surface there has remained a tightness. Snickers is a big boy, 16.1 hands, stocky, strongly built and when he gets bothered it's all (sometimes more) than I can do to give him direction. He's also quite creative in how he chooses to dissuade me from getting him to move his feet (the basic necessity)...there's been bucking both uphill and down, spinning away from my leg, pushing on my hands, rearing, kicking, you name it.
          This past winter was hard on us (me and Snicks). My daughter deployed to Qatar with the USAF, ramping up my anxiety and reactivating PTSD in an unexpected way. It threw me. Hard. It's been six years since my son's death, but 2016 has been an ass kicker. I was a mess, but I did my best to push through, keep moving forward, and put on a good face. My horse is pretty sensitive, because all my inner stress showed up in his behavior. I thought I was doing all right, but he mirrored my insides with new pushiness, rushing gates, and bother bother bother. It got a bit better the last month, but that tightness rested below the surface, waiting. I could feel it in him, probably because he could feel it in me.
     Which brings me to this recent clinic...    
          Day One I could feel Snicks tighten up around the arena panels. When I asked him to move closer, neared the round pen gate, walked on the back open field side, the knot of 'no thank you' was quivering. We got through, but it wasn't 'right'.
          Day Two, all I'd asked of Snicks was to stand at the gate, move his hind feet a step. I'd been working with him here at home, asking for patience standing at panels, moving his hindquarters, etc. But, it's not about the gate. It's about his feet. It's about connecting his feet and his mind to the reins. Peter gave me direction, which I tried to follow. Yet, it all fell apart in that sunny arena. Snickers ran through my legs, tossed his head, pranced around. Old habits are hard to quit, and I didn't do enough, allowed my horse to spin away (reliable in my inability to do what was required).
          Day Three Peter had us riding out of the arena, down a woodsy path, working on our feel and their feet. Snicks' bothered behaviors rose to the surface. By the end of the morning, he was sweated through as he finally relaxed, standing and breathing out deeply as each of the H1 participants walked past us to head back into the arena; but, from inside, that bubble lurked. After ending class, as I walked toward Snicks' pen, Peter asked to ride my horse in the afternoon.
          Hours later, Peter was still working. Watching my horse working so hard at the wrong thing, so uncertain, so sure that what Peter was offering couldn't be the real deal...Knowing that I'd put that into his guts...It's a tough thing to see.
          Peter talked as he worked (though there were long stretches of silence as there was simply too much going on), explaining that it didn't matter WHY the horse had those inner feelings but rather that the human directed the horse to the proper path.
          Still, as time after time my horse fought the offerings of the Master (and Peter will argue that term, but he truly is the real deal, the master of horsemanship, the one person who will never quit the horses' needs) I watched with teary eyes, feeling the angst. It mirrored my own turmoil. All of my pain, frustration, fear was being reflected in my horse. My brain went back to the afternoon of my Robbie's death, Snickers locked in the back stall of the trailer for hours as I sat on the concrete driveway howling, as sirens screamed and police and rescue vehicles arrived, as dozens of people arrived to try and help...so much pain and roiling emotions and my horse locked in, feeling all of it.
          At one point, Peter released the class and spectators. He was going to be awhile. Owen wasn't in a spot he could be left at, and it might be midnight, or the morning, before Peter would be okay leaving off. Nobody left. The work continued. At least another hour or so later, Peter rode out of the arena to his trailer and the weight of the silence was powerful.
          That night at the potluck, I was spent, quiet, grateful, overwhelmed. My husband was worried. I understood, but couldn't explain. My PCH family, because truly these amazing friends are family, would walk by and place a hand on my shoulder or give a brief hug. Palpable support, understanding, and a sense of awe of the day's happenings.
         Day Four, Peter again rode Snicks. Yesterday's change shows up the next day. The morning proved to be better, but the bother was still there. It was after lunch, during the afternoon class when the clouds seemed to dissipate and Owen finally had his 'big day at the ranch.' His feet suddenly (not suddenly at all) moved. His mind was calm. Anyone watching would never have known this horse had ever had trouble.
          Owen was a horse with a job. Dally a colt? No problem. Move a colt from one end of the big sandy arena to the next? Easy. Spin around in tight circles like a reining horse? Pfft, watch this! Open and close gates? Of course, Peter!
          I watched it all from back of a nice little Haflinger. Peace settled into me. When Peter asked if I wanted to ride my horse I trotted over, mounted up (had my horse gotten even taller somehow?), and sat on a cloud. Gently grasping the reins, I was afraid to move, to undo what was happening. "Ride it like you own it!" Peter yelled, and I moved, floating on this brand new horse. Peter moved to sit outside the arena on the hill, giving directions. Beneath me, liquid gold flowed. No pushiness. A willing partner.
          "Back him an 1/8th and bring his front end around." Smooth. Easy. I rubbed my horse's neck and dropped my head down to his mane. Tears of joy and love and release threatened as I smiled into my horse's neck. Priceless. I will never be able to repay Peter for what he has given me and 'Owen'.

     Since returning home, my horse is different. He walks to his feeder, instead of running. Loading him to haul to Brighton yesterday morning to ride, he was quiet. Waiting in the trailer while I fueled up at a crowded Speedway, quietly standing, and I heard him sigh, relaxed, a couple times. During our ride, despite vicious deer flies and nearly 100% humidity, calm, fluid movement and willingness. When reloading to leave, Snicks stepped so big he brought his final foot under the trailer floor and he thumped it just above his hoof line. He lifted it, and I could almost hear him, "Dang! That hurt!" No running backward or freaking out. I asked him to move back and he responded, and then slow and quiet moved back into the trailer when asked. And he waited. No big deal, his expression said to me.
   
    This morning I'm heading out to ride in my pasture. I'm not anticipating problems, though riding here in the past has been quite a rodeo event. I know my horse can do it. I know it was never about the gate.
     I can't wait to see what I can do for my horse, as we continue our journey, as I count my blessings to be a part of the PCH Family, supported and encouraged by beautiful people who understand without explanation what this is all about.
     "Thank you" isn't enough, but I humbly and gratefully offer my thanks to all of you. Thank you for sticking by me. Thank you for 'getting it' and allowing me to work at the wrong thing in order to get my mind and feet aligned. My life would be so very different without you all in it.
     And now, I'm off to ride my willing partner and offer him my best, to give something I've never given to get something I've never had, and to learn from every opportunity.




***"Peter-ism's" are the sole property of PCH.  :)

***Photos are property of Ferguson Photography, Christine Ferguson photographer extraordinaire!

***Special thanks to Peter & Trina, Gail, Katie L., Diane, Tina, Sylvia, Paula, Beth, Dee, Cindy, Faye, Matilda, Christine, Brian and Paula, and everyone else I'm surely leaving out here because my brain is a colander these days! I didn't cry at the clinic, but writing this? You betcha! See, we live life twice, once in the doing, and again in the writing of it. In the writing, I am free to let it all out.