Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Of Supplements, Confidence, Music & Meditation

Each of these three things has melded Q's attitude under saddle back into normalcy and extraordinary. 


In June, I started Q on SmartPak's SmartMare Harmony and Magnesium Oxide.  The SmartPak supplement is in a pelleted form, so I didn't imagine she would mind that much. The MgO though? A powder. In the past, when I have provided Q with powdered probiotics (through the first year I had her to help jump start better hoof, coat, and GI health), she would routinely turn her nose (and upper lip!) up at them. When I could trick her into eating it, she'd still bobble her head along with those first bites in protest of something being not quite to her liking. Thus, I expected the same with the MgO.

Imagine my surprise when, without any trickery, Q licked all of the supplement right up with her feed! She even goes so far as to lick the bottom of the pan when she's done! To me, this spoke volumes. She wouldn't go after something like that if it wasn't something her body needed a little bit more of!

Several months into these combined supplements now, I have a much calmer horse. In fact, it has been nigh impossible to even tell if/when she is in heat as a result! This is a miracle considering that when this mare was in heat in the past she was 150% MORE wiggy, distracted and alert than she typically is. I'll definitely take this change!

Her behavior and attitude is so consistent day-to-day as a result of these supplements. As a lady myself, I'm kind of jealous of that as my own hormones wreak havoc on my behavior during their cycling! (Difference being, I'm usually unduly aware of the fact that my hormones are playing a role and I am unable to completely control it (e.g. the tiniest of things like not being able to find a pen on my desk at work causes tears to appear before I even know what is going on - urgh).)

Consistent behavior on Q's part levels out one side of our female:female equation! This is good because it means I can buckle down on my issues more - an easier thing in the long run, though it is still difficult at times! Constant effort reaps rewards over time, however.


Shortly after I started Q on supplements, the herd dynamic changed. Now we have 5 geldings who are spread across the totem pole of control. The leader is one of the best gelding herd bosses I've ever been around. He is calm, but he doesn't take shit when it happens. He is possessive of his mares, but not overly so and never studdy.

Additionally, there are four mares. Q vies with Mayer for the boss mare role, and they seem to alternate it day-to-day. The new little mare who replaced the studdy gelding is Q's absolute favorite to boss around. Q is very hands-off with her bossy behaviors. She does a very sassy head flip at those she wants to back-the-hell-off, and no more. It's a big gesture, all things considered, but it is done from a distance and not followed up with physical contact as she is able to get her point across without touching.

The small herd (ranging in age from 19 to 4 with the largest contingent between the ages of 4-10 - there are only two > 10) is very happy; Q is very happy.

The absence of studdy geldings has made a HUGE difference for her. She doesn't go racing across the field after work to find that *one* horse as she once did, nor does *that* horse come RACING to the fence to meet her when she returns from work. Some of the horses will call when she returns from the trail, but nothing excessive. And she never calls back, merely gazes their direction in acknowledgement.

She wanders away from the herd often to graze on her own; some days, the head gelding will even follow Q's lead for grazing area selection!

The confidence she has gained in this herd dynamic seeps into her behavior when being handled. She's still alert and has the potential to really wig out over things. But gone is her hypersensitivity to being reprimanded. In fact, she's even going so far as to play games with me to demonstrate her High Opinion over certain things (primarily me washing her legs off). When I grow tired of her game and slap her on the chest (as I'm usually kneeling down and she's waving her leg about in the air so I can't easily do what I need to) she no longer wigs out like I committed the Worst Of All Evils. Instead, she ceases her behavior with floppy ears and a distant gaze that seems to say, "FINE. FINE. TOUCH my leg SEE if I care. Stupid human *muttering*," and acquiesces to letting me do whatever I need to do.

Additionally, on trail she is more confident about wanting to GO and DO in more situations than she had been before. And I'm even having to reprimand her pushy behavior toward horses (Griffin mostly)! An open-handed slap on her neck from me returns side eye and an irritated ear flick from her, a far better response than former crumbling from fear.

Sassy > scared. I'll take it!!

Her steady behavior due to supplements coupled with confidence from the herd dynamic change has resulted in a more confident mare on trail. Big, broad leaves (burdock) in the middle of the trail and dead leaves on branches that fell from storms still wig her out, but she's not spooking dirty like she did before. She's slowing down and stutter-stepping some, and sometimes she is very hesitant to go forward past the scary things, but overall SO IMPROVED!


I've begun listening to music and making it a routine in my time with the horses. The new earphones that enable me to both hear my surroundings and listen to music are AMAZING.

I took time last Sunday after Mike left to head to Oregon to fight wildland fire (he's still there) to make two playlists on my iPod. One is songs ranging from 130-180 bpm and the other are strictly songs in the 170-180 bpm range. Bumpin' songs that go perfectly with trotting and cantering, of which we do a lot on the trail!

Having music to listen to keeps my mind off worrying about tiny things that Q may wig out about on trail. I micromanage less, a huge plus. Additionally, I am calmer due to the music, another huge plus.

Music coupled with Q's steady attitude and gained confidence has led to trail rides on her for over a month now that have resulted in ZERO dirty spooks. My new mantra with her on trail when she becomes concerned about something is, "DOWN the trail! Move DOWN the trail! Keep going!" No dwelling on scary things. No looking at them forever. DOWN the trail is what we're out there to do. I don't care how fast she gets past the scary object, as long as she's moving in the direction I want and not spinning for home. So far, so good! Much praise and encouragement.

Two trail rides last week contained minimal spooking overall and zero dirty spooks. We even came upon ~2 dozen turkeys with minimal issue; in fact, we ended up chasing them down the trail! And we've flushed several grouse and a dove with Q's only response being, "HUH!?" *stutter step, move out again*

Now, to get her to realize that large-leaved plants and dead leaves are not monsters.....


Since Mike's time away (we're at 9 days now, but who's counting?) I've fallen back into some routines that have been absent from my life for about a year now, primarily meditation.

I did a lot of meditation and mindfulness exercises my first two years out of college. They were amazing. Falling back into it these past 9 days has been great.

I went to the barn last night in a total zen-state. My short flatting and jumping session with Q was a DREAM as a result. If I have my shit together - especially mentally - that mare can do ANYTHING. She was so absolutely incredible last night.

We wove in and out and around the little gymnastic line I had set up. We did figure 8s with a cavaletti as the central crossover point. And then we did the line in pieces at increasing speed until we connected the whole exercise.

I had a bad to mediocre night of riding, but it didn't matter to Q. She picked up my slack, hunkered down and focused on her job, and helped me get better where I was failing. Our last two times through the gymnastic line were so amazing. I wanted her to trot it once, land at the canter, canter around to the right and re-approach the line once more, slowing to a trot at the approach, and then bounce on through. PERFECT. FREAKING. EXECUTION.

Zen, baby, zen.

We ended on that good note (amidst much praise; there was much praise the whole time).

Zen-Liz isn't necessarily a perfect rider, but Zen-Liz doesn't fault the horse for it and praises the horse for putting up with far-from-perfect. Zen-Liz is okay with less than perfect moments on all fronts, happy to just be in the moment riding a horse. Zen-Liz cares little for anything more than that moment and being in it.

If I can keep Zen-Liz present all the time, (WHAT A CHALLENGE!) then my horses can do ANYTHING.


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