Iota McHippus and his big brother Muon enjoy an equine life perhaps among the more pleasurable for any equine anywhere any time in history. Indeed you can wonder how animal ethologists ever thought animals were incapable of play after joining us for a walk at DogTrot hill:
Category Archives: Lessons from Mu
One of the truly wonderful traits of horses is their ability to embrace the now-ness of any given moment. On this unusually clement afternoon in late January a young cellist sets up to practice for an equine audience. Iota McHippus, the mini in the yard with him has shown interest in music before so he was the natural choice to join Augustus Post, the musician that day. MuMu caught wind of the goings on and came cantering closer from his roll bale in the barnyard.
Do note how MuMu prefers to stand as close as he can to the music at the gate – having left his buckets of oats hanging on the fence. MuMu is a happy oat eater – this is so small thing for him and speaks volumes about his gifts of being a natural appreciator of the finer things of life.
My horse doesn’t:
- care what others think of him.
- try to call attention to his work.
- give a thought to anything but acting in the moment.
During the next six months to a year I shall endeavor to become more like him. Because he doesn’t make a whole lot of money, my horse, I imagine I won’t either. Yet he somehow always manages to have what he needs. I believe I will too.
My horse is:
- at ease in an uneasy world.
He’s also completely uncowed by modern lifestyles and choices. He doesn’t listen to news. He doesn’t watch television or go to movies. He meditates. He runs, kicks up his heels when the notion strikes him. He doesn’t compare himself to other horses.
The longer I’m on my walk with Mu the more I come to realize just what a crazy idea this was. I bought an undernourished yearling paint blithely out of a field. Why? I knew just enough about horses at the time to understand it was somewhat unusual for an unhandled youngster to walk right up to a stranger, lower his head and look you in the eye. There was no food involved. This was a purely emotional transaction that seemed to flow both ways.
Ignoring all sensible advice at the time (get a finished mature gelding was the common theme) I bought the wormy little guy with the slightly drunken looking face.
That was five years ago. I was 47 at the time. Did I forget to mention I’m pretty much a rank amateur horse rider too? Oh year, mix that into the equation too. So here we have a greenie starting a greenie. That’s why five years into the game all we really have so far is some:
- and several astoundingly inappropriate rides logged into our shared account.
What’s amazing here is we only have two accidents in which one of us got hurt. His was the time I had him running a circle at liberty in a small corral and accidentally applied pressure — no doubt too much too — at the wrong time and sent him scrambling over a four plank fence. He got some cuts and scrapes on his back legs as a result. Mine was the time last year when we were getting some walk-trot exercise done in our barn yard. Turns out I didn’t have the whoa I thought I did and after a series of bucks at a gallop he got me off — and how. I ‘came to’ folded up an a chair we keep in the barn. He was back in his stall and his tack was piled in a heap just outside the door. I walked weirdly back to the house where everything felt odd and foreign. An apparent concussion.
There were some rides we’ve shared that in hindsight went so well I now know were guided by nothing less than angels. I rode him out as a two year old along a horse trainer friend’s driveway about a half a mile. She has gone on to direct the re-schooling of off track thoroughbreds so we know she’s courageous and maybe more optimistic than most would be about my actual riding skills. Then there was the six hour trail ride we took with a group of gaited horses over hill and dale; none of whom had much of a whoa in them either. He was four then. He offered nothing up but cooperation.
The weird thing is it seemed the more I learned – the worse we got! I had continued on with riding lessons and borrowing a friend’s greenish horse for 10+ hour long rides on some pretty challenging Kentucky trails. My aids and seat were both improving. As was my courage. And then last summer, four years in – he bucks me off big time.
But that incident knocked some sense into me. I began seeking better help. Of course I should have looked for a psychiatrist to help me through my delusions as a horse trainer but instead I connected with an awesome equine specialist. Interestingly I made this choice about the time many horse hobbyists lose steam and give the practice and often the horse up and move on to safer activities. The typical length of time the ‘backyard’ horse enthusiast stays with their equine is about five years. I think I know why. I think that’s about how long it takes for the law of averages to catch up to us semi-skilled horse handlers and knock some sense into us.
Where We’ve Been
For some it means the hobby ends, the horse is sold or pastured. For others, maybe the more cussed, the more obtuse, or maybe just the more optimistic — we go forward but seek out better information. That’s me. That’s where I am in my walk with Mu. In so many ways he is absolutely the wrong horse for me but as I go forward with him I continue to weigh in why he is such the right horse for me.
Partnering with him has caused me to critically examine the advice I get even when it’s from far more experienced horsepeople. Here’s who
we’ve worked with so far (In order of appearance):
- traditionally minded saddlebred coaches serving as the equine studies team at the Kentucky Horse Park
- young but experienced natural horsemanship practitioner — a fellow student at the KHP
- exuberant, skilled, though somewhat reckless riding and training coach
- friends’ more finished horses I am privileged to borrow for rides
- job-roughened thoroughbred handlers, at the Keeneland sales
- a gifted though decidedly horse-centric clinician
- sort of a heavy handed, shopworn instructor
- a crazy ass intuitive (see other posts in this series)
- a three star Parelli Instructor (clinic)
- a somewhat hardened rider/instructor who believes in pushing through fear
- a centered, multi-faceted horse + human focused coach and instructor who believes in adjusting elements so fear doesn’t have to be a part of this experience
- dvds, books, articles, audited clinics throughout
Guess who’s my favorite? Uh huh – took some time to connect with her is all.
This entire journey so far has brought me in and out of learning situations of every standard and level of expertise. It’s sure not like we haven’t been trying. But we haven’t gotten to where I thought we would be after five years of hard work.
I wish we were riding the range by now, participating in some low level dressage shows and fine tuning all our knowledge. And maybe we are but in fact we’re only marginally under saddle and not cleared for trail riding because we don’t have a good enough whoa. On the plus side – neither of us has seriously hurt the other. We still love each other. And we’re not giving up. We’ve come into the orbit of the best trainer a person and horse could hope for and no one but me seems to be judging us to any great degree. Do I feel flummoxed when a pal attends a clinic with her new filly and surpasses our progress in the course of two days’ work? Good lord yes. That stings. But I can be happy for them and hopeful for us even so.
In some ways I might not have been using good judgment when I bought that wormy little guy out of a field five years ago and in other ways it was one of the smartest ways I could have come up with to learn as much about horses as someone like me could ever want! Besides, I love this horse. He is a most excellent mirror.
Mumu is an expert when it comes to being in the now. When he is walking, he walks. When he’s eating – believe me – he EATS! Whatever he focuses on he gives it his full attention. He’s not a multi-tasker like me, who might be answering email, texting, baking bread, doing laundry and watching television all at the same time. He is quite comfortable to do one thing at a time. Most horses, when they sleep, are quite ready to scramble up and run off should something alarm them. But there are times when Mu gets so comfortable he appears to let go of his prey nature and fall back completely into a zone of total relaxation. And this is out in the open! Not just in his stall where he has four walls to protect him.
I admire his natural ability to be in and of each moment of his life. Like the other day when he spectacularly danced a fifteen minute jog literally at the end of his rope in physical response to some of the cutest baby Holstein calves you ever did see who had moved in across the street as we made our way down our driveway for our evening constitutional. Man, he embodied his concern is a BIG way! And he was beautiful doing so. Ten minutes later when the threat of the mini cows wore off sufficiently, he ambled along without a care in the world at a pace a snail might find comfortable. That’s Mumu for you – in and of the moment.