Horse Lessons – Part I

NOTE:  The end of the year wrap-up and the new year beginning has been loaded!  And I have had my challenges getting this published, and as such my mind has been running wild in expansion of concepts and relativity as a result of all of the synchronicity of the concepts and my reality now…therefore, one post has become two, perhaps three…we shall see!  Jes sayin’. Alrighty then, on with the story…

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A long time ago a very experienced horseman friend of ours said that he, as a younger man, had been given the opportunity to have a conversation with a renowned horsewoman that was at the time approaching 100 yrs. old.  He asked her this question, “How long did it take you to learn everything about horses?”  She replied with a belly laugh and tears, “Oh my, that is the lesson!  You never know everything about horses!  Each moment is a new learning experience when you spend your time with horses.”  Well, this also applies to life: when do we finally ‘get it’?  We don’t – it is an ongoing process that is totally relative to your perspectives and your belief systems, ever evolving.  It’s more like, ‘I’m getting it already!’ Or not.

Horses have always been an inspiration and essential ingredient in my own spiritual journey, and I have studied and applied many amazing philosophies from exceptional horseman and women to my experiences with horses, but just going out and BEING with the horses as a part of my life has always been and still is incredibly rewarding in the lessons that I have learned from them.  Living with horses is an absolute to my well-being, and because horses are important for Mate as well, we have always sought a living environment that is conducive to keeping horses with access to trail riding, ‘cause that is totally our joy with horses.

Already this month we have attended one cabalgata, and it was a poor representation of one, but the riding there and back was fun, if you don’t mind riding on the road with a ton of traffic-in the rain…:/ but then a couple of weeks later we decided to ride to one of the local waterfalls, which just happens to be in our ‘back yard’, more or less. We all were looking forward to it, it was a matter of us all being at the same place at the same time.  Chica Pancho was going with and would be riding Juan (they really click) with a borrowed Billy saddle that rides like a couch; Billy would be riding his three year old stud colt (totally full of himself); la espousa de Billy(aka La Mujera) would join us and ride Chuck, the ‘now not-so-new guy’; and me of course on Kinto.  We all had snacks and Chica had a homemade cantle bag with a bottle of chilled Zinfandel (this is what she won at the cabalgata), and because it was the day after Christmas, Billy had some nice home made brew of some kind that would warm your toes, should they get cold               (? Guess it should be available in the States about now…) ho ho ho.  Mate really wanted to go but Max was not yet ride able – he had no shoes yet as his buddy Juan had pushed him into a ditch in a very tight spot and it was a bit of a wreck.  We were scoping out the trail for future rides…he he he.

After the cabalgata we had brought Max and Juan down to the road below our house so they could graze for a couple of weeks – or so.  The gate is across the road with a huge ditch on one side and jungle on the other.  This has created a ‘tight spot’ for the horses, and one thing to understand about horses to be safe with them is that there is a pecking order in the horse world that is imbedded instinctively for self-preservation – i.e. somebody is gonna be the boss, the ‘jefe or jefa’ over somebody else, unless you are at the bottom…poor dude.  This is the way it works with horses and us humans are just members of the herd.  If you don’t understand that then being around horses can be dangerous, no matter how much you think you know about horses.  If you start out a relationship with a young colt and you both have that understanding from the get-go that is awesome.  But sometimes we end up with horses that someone else has had for a while that may not adhere to the above understanding, therefore they have been the herd boss over their human and can be especially pushy and dangerous in a human ‘herd’ situation as well as the horse herd.

Back to Juan and Max, tight corner at the gate…Juan is the jefe and both of the horses were not happy about being there in the first place, so they kept hanging around the gate.  They also began to eat the jungle all around the other side and started to expose a week spot in the ‘jungle w/some fence’ border – between the road pasture and the road back to be with their buddies.  They were being obnoxious and pushy and in the night Juan pushed Max into the ditch and lamed him up pretty good, but he is okay – coming out of it.  (We did tow them back not long after that, they wanted back and were going to eat their way out!)  Which brings to mind here, who’s the boss of this kind of thing? Are they telling us what to do (give me what I want ‘or else’), or giving us a clue about something else?  I believe that they are definitely messengers, and we must listen to learn…I don’t have the answers to all of the questions by a long shot, but it was an interesting next few days, as we geared up for the ride to the falls.

Day after Christmas and we are heading to the falls, we were slow getting on the trail and it was starting to get pretty warm, it was a beautiful sunny day.  The ‘plan’ was to bring bathing suits to swim in the big pool at the bottom of the falls, but I think I was the only one prepared for that, whatever.  We stepped out on the road for a quick ride to the road turnoff that leads to the falls, which is a long steep dirt road – no traffic, except for the van that takes guests to the river where there is a local tourist horseback ride to the falls.  Kinto did not want to pass the van, he was being really stubborn.  And he also had been goosy along the road, looking for snakes in the grass I guess, yet nervous with traffic (?) hmmm;  Billy’s colt was wanting to be all over the place so Billy had a nice quirt to remind the colt (aka The Punk) who was boss…from plenty of experience I will say that when it comes to stud colts, there is no doubt about how important it is to make it clear who is running the show, they are really tough and very adamant about claiming their upper position in the herd and of course each horse is different, but Billy didn’t hesitate to remind the colt that there would be no foolin’ around, he needed to get lined out and pay attention.  Young and dumb colts can be, but that day ended up being a great opportunity for lessons for those two, and it wrapped up very well.  So we headed down the steep windy road – The Punk (Billy’s colt) and Kinto wanted to trot all the way down the hill; and when we got to the bridge that crosses the river, a one-car-width-not-quite-a-suspension bridge way up over the water…well the horses said, “We don’t think so…”, especially The Punk who would have to see somebody else go first.  Me and Billy thought maybe we would take the trail to the river and see if that would work, and Kinto didn’t want to step down off the road onto the trail, not a tough thing, and I had to totally ‘push’ him into stepping there, Juan took it easy and Billy with Punk had no prob and Chuck waited.  The river was a bit wide and a bit deep and a bit fast yet (we are only just now stepping out of rainy season) so we opted to give the bridge another try.  Again Kinto was stubborn, so we goaded Juan and Chuck into going and then we followed – and miraculously to them (phew) – survived it.  Geez.

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Now we are on the other side of the big river below the falls, the same river where we went fishing at the junction of our river with it, just about a month ago…another story, for sure.  I wanted to pay close attention to see if I could see that junction from the other side for future hikes (this is wild country jungle that is difficult to traverse); I had brought my camera, but thus far Kinto and Juan were more interested in going for a ‘run’.  Kinto was being stubborn and ‘pushy’ and anxious to go; these two boys are highly competitive and Chica says, shall we let ‘em run?  It was a nice dirt road, long and pretty flat and winding around.  Billy and La Mujera were behind us riding together, and Mate had followed in the truck for as far as he could go.  Kinto was ‘chomping on the bit’ so I let him go.  Those two horses took off and were running full out, Juan just a few steps behind (always) Kinto (El Jefe de los Jefes) and I let him run.  He had so wanted to run and be antsy-dancy all the way down the hill…fine, run then!  It has been a really long time since I let a horse run like that.  Coming from big ranch country a nice lope through the pastures and sometimes a good strong lope on one of our trails, but an all-out run is something that I normally don’t do, and these horses were only just beginning the season.  Finally Chica hails me from behind and we pull them up – it took a lot to pull him up, he would have run until he crashed.  Why would a horse want to do that?

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A horse in the wild lives solely on survival instincts.  As the horse was domesticated further and further with different lifestyle situations and environments, their survival instincts have mutated, just like ours.  Horses (and also dogs) live totally in the ‘now’ moment, not in the future or the past, but certainly they relate to experiences from the past. It is hard to pin-point the ‘line’ in a horse’s head about running to be running; running with fear (something that will eat me is on my heels); or competition.  Of course there is always competition in studs, and mares for the ‘head mare’ position in the pecking order, but does it go to a competition level of winning, much like the humans that knock themselves out all of the time on the fields and in the rings in sports?  Incentive there is money and ego-stroking, is the incentive in a horse ‘to win’ and therefore maintain that ‘jefe’ rank in the herd?  A fight to the death in the animal world? thJN3LZKRD Sometimes. Well, consider horse racing…they are all studs.  Enter a filly on the track and politics change altogether!!  Talk about a mirror!  Horses learn from past experience which then influences the now, just like humans.  A message, for however your spirit hears it.  When we took off running, Billy with The Punk and La Mujera on Chuck were behind us and I never got to look back at them, but I bet both of them probably had a little ‘clutch popping’ going on and the riders had to get a hold of the horses!  When one horse runs, instinct is for the herd to run with them to safety and ask questions later – this is automatic.  (And yes, people as sheeple do the same stuff…we are working hard as a civilization to break some of those ‘habits’ of behaving ‘herd-like’).   thMHETKXT6

We pulled those horses up and they were huffin’ and puffin’ yet still dancing, and finally fell into a walk.  Phew!  That was exhilarating, like wow!  We were all four of us a bit winded, Mate said we took off in a blur!  Just ahead of us the road narrowed to a trail and the mud began as we started climbing up above the river, DSC_0600we went through so much mud and it was really sloshy and well plowed by a whole bunch of horses ahead of us, and the horses had to work hard to get through it.  When the trail cleaned up and became somewhat of a road again, we saw all of the tourist rental horses ahead of us, half of them parked along the road and the others had been mounted, there was a fuss and stir ahead and it looked like they were getting ready to ride again…we were thinking that perhaps we should get ahead of them…but Billy reminded us that the falls were accessible through private property and we should check with the owner there first to find out if there was a charge, and indeed there was.  The falls themselves are not private, all waterways are public property here, but you might have to cross private property to access them, and this was the case.  Mucho respecto, no problema.  However, we fell in with the group, and got to ride between two large groups of tourists headed for the falls. DSC_0602 As we proceeded we passed quite a few hikers on their way, as well – we knew it would be busy because of the holidays and all, but I was amazed how many people were on this trail!  There were competitive runners and hikers of all kinds and about thirty plus horses for the trail ride, and The Punk was in his glory – all ego and dance, laughs and smiles – ha ha!

There was a little bit of visiting between us all and the other riders, but for me watching the entire thing was amazing – plus the fact that here we were riding in a very different kind of ‘cabalgata’, quite different from the last one!  I am glad that Kinto got his yah-yahs out already because he was being pretty good for being sandwiched in between all of those horses (he insists on being in front of a group of horses, el esta muy macho).  And The Punk did great too, considering.  Up ahead was the turnoff to the falls, but to the right the road continued on up the hill…uh-huh, that’s what I’m talkin’ about…another ride for sure, as that road leads into the territory of our potential future destination, which is another story.  For now we were headed to the falls with a lot of other folks, whoopee!

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Up ahead was the parking corral for the horses and we found a spot as out of the way as we could get, and tried not to interfere with ‘all y’all’, but we were muy mixto and that was what it was.  The horses were still huffin’ and happy to be stopped, and we made our way to the trail.

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The trail was a lot of rock and pretty slick and damp still, in the shade and near the falls it’s wet most of the time.  There were bamboo handrails to help and some steep steps, but I was being careful as my riding shoes were slipping, and my thighs were wasted from the run (really? Wow).  We went up above first and marveled at the sheer beauty that Gaia gifts us.  DSC_0612 DSC_0614Then we headed down to the lower part of the falls which is huge and all of the tourists and hikers were swimming and playing and climbing up the falls to jump off the top into the big pool below.  Despite the fact that I had my bathing suit on, there was no way in hades that I was going to jump into that big pond with all of those tourists!  (Not that I have anything against tourists…LOL!)  DSC_0615 DSC_0621 DSC_0624 We parked our booties on some rocks out of the way and watched the show while munching on our snacks and sipping our zinfandel and ‘other stuff’.

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Totally enjoyable, however we knew when it was time to leave in order to be ‘ahead of the crowd’.  After tightening our cinches and heading out, as we started descending I noticed a ‘catch’ in Kinto’s step.  He was fine on the flats, but going downhill he was moving with a halt, so I asked the others to watch and see if they could tell where he was sore.  I checked his shoes to look for rocks – none, and as we continued it became more noticeable in the mud and going downhill; he was undoubtedly sore.  By the time we got home we all had our theories on what was sore where.

Hmmm, we all have lessons.  I thought about all of this for a couple of days to put the puzzle pieces together with as much clarity as possible, and my first ‘reaction’, which was totally my previous-programming-modus-operandi was to climb down my own back for letting him run like that.  We try to provide a safe environment for our kids/family and our pets/horses, i.e. when we build for horses we keep in mind instinctual horse behavior, but we can’t be in control all of the time…if you want a horse or a kid to learn a good lesson, sometimes it pays to allow them to make the mistake so they have the opportunity to learn.  As hard as we may try to tell our kids that doing this or that is dangerous, if they must experience the lesson the hard way they will, despite our best intentions.  Another great horseman teacher of mine told me once about young dogs, you have to let them find their own way to learn (like if they missed the hole in the fence to get to the other side).  If you show them, or do it for them, they will always depend on you to help them, and they miss the lesson.  Kinto was being a stubborn antsy guy that wanted to run and I let him, and he was sore after that.  I know when I work extra hard some days I, too, am sore afterwards.  Do I learn?  Sometimes.  Will Kinto want to run so hard next time? Maybe, if he ‘thinks’ he must – for whatever reason, yeah?  Ha ha – don’t we all!  It begs the question: what are we running to? Or for? Why are we in such a hurry?

We climbed the hill towards home in slow gear (no limping on the uphill), the horses got a great bath afterwards, we enjoyed a cold cerveza and claimed a very good ride, indeed.  We let the hose pound the water on Kinto and saw that it was his right shoulder that was paining him, but only slightly.

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I hung all of the gear out to dry and the next day we went to put it away and Kinto was still slow, so I gave him some extra lovin’ giving him a shoulder rub with some liniment and some grain.  Max was occupied in another stall eating his grain and Chuck was being a real a-hole (push, push, push) because he wanted some, too.  Juan was getting as close to the source as possible but staying out of the way of Chuck (his jefe), as Mate tried to share some grain between the two of them.  He put some nibbles on the ground and Chuck put his head down and spun his butt around, pinched his tail down and Mate was seeing two hinds coming down the pike – what the hay!!!!!!!  Chuck was telling Mate that he would be in charge now…perhaps because Juan was behind Mate who was caught in the middle or because Mate wouldn’t give Chuck the bucket of grain – who knows?  It was a dangerous situation of ‘I am the boss’ and Mate was heading the other direction muy pronto and plowed into Juan who got both hands in his face (message: get out of my way!).  Mate grabbed a ‘tool’ and went after Chuck so fast to ‘inform’ him that he was out of line and NOT the boss.  Whack!  Sideways across the ribs.  Whack! Sideways across the buttocks, Chuck was paying attention now and Juan was way out of range of getting into trouble while he watched; now Chuck was staying way out of range of Mate and really paying attention – like geez, what’s up with you?  I AM THE BOSS, THAT’S WHAT IS UP WITH ME.

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As I mentioned before, in the herd somebody is at the top and somebody is at the bottom and everybody in between has to work it out for the middle ground.  In nature a horse gives warnings, steps – before going after another horse with teeth and/or hooves.  Sometimes, however, like Juan with Max at the gate, and Chuck with Juan and Mate, they just get down and dirty to make their point.  That is how it is with horses, and of course we wonder about that ruthlessness and where it shows up (hmmm, kinda reminds me of some other ‘animals’ I know…).  I will continue this discussion another time, but let’s just say that there were a lot of lessons going on in a few days between the lot of us.  Before we left for the day Chuck was inching up to Mate in apology (major sucking up), as did Juan.  They had lessons in ‘respect’ and they were given hugs of forgiveness (however not without full attention).  I don’t know if Kinto learned much, other than he ran hard and got sore, we shall see.  I have watched a stud chase a mare around the pasture on his hind legs ready to breed her for most of a day (she wasn’t interested) and let me tell you what, he was sore the next day – he did learn that maybe being overzealous was not so fun and did not always get the ‘goodies’ after all.  Some horses/dogs/kids/people insist on learning the hard way, and some don’t learn some things at all!  Hopefully our stubbornness doesn’t kill us and as I said, we do our best to provide a safe environment but there are no guarantees.

With horses it is especially important to establish the ground rules first.  Then you can apply them from on their backs.  If they don’t respect you on the ground, you are vulnerable to their rules.  Horses have so much to teach us, but we also must respect them as the big and powerful and potentially dangerous animals that they are!  Billy insisted that under no uncertain terms would The Punk be the boss over him, even though Punk challenged him plenty (stallions can be that way, sigh.)  They have mutual respect for one another, and the flow is good…that is most likely until he meets his first ‘lady’ horse for that purpose!  (Another lesson altogether: Communicating with a Potential Beloved 101.)  One thing for sure, when you allow a horse/dog/person to learn a ‘bad habit’, maybe just getting away with something one time (usually it takes more), it is REALLY hard to un-learn that ‘lesson’ – better not to allow it to ‘settle in’ to begin with.  However…there are the times that we/you don’t realize what you are ‘teaching’ until it jumps up on you at the worst possible moment, yeah?

Always we have learning experiences, with horses or whom or whatever.  I love my horses, they are angels, but they are also dum-dums when they want to be, just like the rest of Gaia’s creatures, and all we can do is deal with it to the best of our conscious ability, as we learn more of life’s ongoing lessons.

And so it is.

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Author: Elena in the Jungle

Living a very simple reclusive and self sustaining life way out in the jungle with my husband, growing as much food and medicinal plants as possible, I find my freedom and sanctuary in the amazing and spectacular array of life that surrounds me, gifts of Gaia, most especially while traveling around on my horse.

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