On March 1st, 2010, my friend Walter and I set off on an adventure with my Arabian horse, Sojourner. I rode Soj across America and Walter drove our little truck (with no trailer). The trip began in Los Angeles, California and successfully ended in Bath, New Hampshire 8 months and 14 days later. It was a 3,700 mile ride.
We rode in celebration of family and as an outreach to those dealing with divorce-related depression.
This ride tells a tale of love in many forms - through the people we meet along the way, our connection with the horse, with the land, and with each other.
As this blog goes on it gets more and more in depth with tons of photos and experiences. Snuggle in with a cup of tea and read this like a book. I have switched the blog around so it reads start to finish so you don't have to read backward (except the first entry).
Here is our story...
Leather and Learning.
That's what we're learning from two of the strongest, but gentlest teachers you will ever meet (don't be fooled by these rowdy looking animals).
I had a busy day yesterday and didn't get a chance to get on here and post something! I did finish one of my belts though. This is a custom latigo leather "New Mexico Wildflower" belt with a solid brass buckle from the 60's.
Walter and I went to ship this belt off yesterday and we couldn't believe the post office when we got to it. We'll get a picture on our way out. It is the littlest old post office you will ever see. I walked in with my belt and things and saw two women talking with each other, the Post Office lady and a costumer. The customer asked if I needed a box.
She insisted on getting one and ran out the door, across the street, behind the little volunteer fire department, and to her house to get some boxes for me to choose from.
People around here seem to have time for other people which is such a beautiful thing. In the city a person wouldn't typically leave the post office to run to their apartment around the corner and grab a box for someone who needs one. That's not to say it wouldn't or doesn't happen, but things are definitely slower here which makes it easier for people to take time for one another and help the other out.
Although, I've seen some pretty amazing things between people in cities, too, don't get me wrong.
The clinic has started here at the ranch and Soj and I are both learning so much. Soj catches on faster than I do. I get all tangled up with my long rope and the position of my hands and where he is and where I am and where his feet are and where mine are and this crop (or carrot stick as they call it) in the other hand and oh!
I think everyone with a horse should come spend some time with Larry and Jenny. They have endless amounts to teach. Not to sound cliche, but it's all just so natural. It's simple even. Even though it's tricky to get it all down because the slightest shift of your body, energy, and thoughts makes a difference, but really it's simply communicating with the horse in a way he understands...and he really does respond to it!
Sojourner and I are so loving and cuddly with each other so it doesn't feel like one is really ever all that dominant over the other. I always thought of us sort of as partners. I never have put him under me, really. Not out here especially. I need him as he needs me. We kind of just do things together, but Jenny pointed out that really he is the dominant one, even though he's subtle about it out on the trail.
Now that I am really trying to control exactly where his feet go, he is getting a little testy with me...testing how how far I will go to make him do what I'm asking. He often blocks me with his head. It's not even something you would necessarily know he was doing if you weren't taught because it's not aggressive. He just puts his head in the way and it interferes with what I'm trying to do with him.
He is smart though, that little Soj. He's learning fast. He is already incredibly trusting so we don't have a huge wall to break down there. It's not about trust or even so much fear with Soj now, it's just making him understand what I want, making him know that I am his leader, and figuring out myself how to correctly communicate all of this in a way he understands.
Yesterday we watched the horses play in the corral. There have been times where I have sat and watched Soj for hours back at Henry's ranch. I would sit on the fence post and watch every little flick of his hear and step he made. It's amazing. They are so very aware of their surroundings and what's going on. Every little motion is a communication of some sort.
In fact, now that I think about, he was protective of me around the horses. He would flick his little tail and pin his ears back so that he was closest to me. Sometimes he would come and stand directly in front of me so that I was blocked from any of them. I thought this was cool. Obviously he has connected with me as part of his herd BUT he was protecting me. Maybe it all was starting there. I was HIS. Maybe this is when he started to feel like I was his little one in the herd to care for. I don't know, maybe not. Like I said-everything has always been so subtle with me and Soj. I walk toward him and he walks toward me so we meet in the middle. Now I am asking him to come all the way to me and it's different. This was hard to get him to do yesterday.
When it's just me and him he would walk all the way, no problem, but there were new horses all around and they were all herding each other and figuring things out. Walking toward me to stick his head in a halter was not in his agenda.
It took some time, but Jenny would not quit until Soj came to me. I couldn't even put my hand out. I almost did the first time Soj started toward me and I was almost at his nose and I hear Larry from the round pen yell "don't you put that hand out!"
He's always watching.
He had to touch my hand first with his nose. We had him running around and eventually had to get him sort of in a corner using Jenny's horse (who did not have a halter on and actually backed herself to Jenny to come be with us), another horse in training, and our 3 bodies. Jenny and the other woman, Fran, were more aggressive with their bodies and I was calm. I was to be the "nice" one.
This was sort of working. He would sort of look at me every once in a while, but finally I had to get a little more aggressive and direct my energy towards his hind. I was asked by Jenny to sort of crouch and look as if I was going to bite his bottom. He would whip his rear end away from me and face me. When he did this I would quickly stand, smile, and offer a calm, comfortable place for him. Eventually he came. It was cool. :)
Larry makes halters that really work. I make halters as well, but both James and Larry prefer this other kind of halter. My halters are more for show, but they don't do a whole lot when trying to train. These other halter are more adjustable and have little knots so it can put a little more pressure on the horse if you need it.
When I was at James' place in Joshua Tree, he referred to it as a "creek halter". He said by that he meant that I could "throw it in a creek and leave it there". I told Larry this and we he saw Soj in the halter the next day he said "Linny! What are you doing with that thing?"
I said "what thing!?"
He said, "that creek thing on his face!"
I laughed and he pointed me in the direction of where he had one of his halters hanging and ready for Soj. I went over and put it on and I will definitely leave here with one as well. I like how they look too. They are daintier so you can really see Soj's pretty head.
That's the thing about Larry and Jenny. Just as the halter was there waiting for Soj, everything else has been too. They are always thinking ahead and everything is always for someone else or a horse. So much of what they do throughout their days is for another living creature. They work to teach us to better the horses lives and ours as well because it is true magic when you're able to communicate with your horse at that level. It's not just that the horse memorizes what it is they are supposed to do, you communicate it to them. It's different.
There is a lot of bonding that happens when you are down on the ground with the horse. It builds a whole foundation so you are already way ahead when you get up on the horse. They already understand so many commands, but it's not just that. When you are down there with them there is a closeness that is formed that I think would be missed if you just hopped on their backs and worked from up there.
I think we have another hour or so of work with them tonight so I should get out there. We took a nice long lunch break because Fran and I were tired and it's super windy outside. I see them walking around out there now though so I should run! Oh wait, actually we are going to play with ropes inside, out of the wind.
More tomorrow though....
Larry and Jenny, teachers of Natural Horsemanship at Horseman's Haven Retreat in Pie Town, NM
Little did we know, Jenny and Larry were observing us as we sat in this circle with our horses behind us to see how aware we were of where our horses were and what they were doing. Larry said we were all pretty good, but if our minds wandered, so did theirs.
Another reason for having us sit in a circle with our horses was to just hang with them comfortably. To them it was like they were out at pasture with their herd. We are their herd. Jenny said it's not that common that humans go to a horse just to hang. We never say "Hey, would like to go sit and sip on coffee with me?"
Usually we go and ask them to work while we sit on their back and then say "thanks" and put them up. It's nice to just get your horse and hang with him. She said they will often go grab their horses and sip on a Margarita in the evening or a coffee in the morning. This way you don't just mean "work" to your horse. You relax together, too. There's more dynamic to your relationship.
This is Luke on my lap. He's become my little buddy.
Larry told me I had to practice throwing my "carrot stick" down on the ground with the whippy part and flip it back at me and catch the handle.
Piece-a-cake, I say! Easy as pie from pie town!!!
The next task is to pick a rock and whip it with the end of the line so I get to where I'm able to send that string exactly where I want it to go no matter what.
Fran, her horse, FireCracker, me, and Soj getting our horses used to the "carrot stick"
On those snowy days we had at the beginning of the week, Walter and I kept leaving our shoes outside on accident. Finally the sun came out and there was no worry of wet shoes anymore, so we thought. Walter left his shoes in the exact perfect spot so they would get filled with the runoff from the melting snow on the side of the house. This is where his shoes were....