Category Archives: Horses

Building a Better Relationship – Annie Oakley Style

 

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Annie Oakley doing what she did best!

Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting things done or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.

A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.

I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.

As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom-made glove and I was all in.

My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.

I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!

After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.

I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may not have felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.

What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.

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Chaco and me watching a demo at the Parelli campus. June 2016

Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they, in turn, are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.

In the first book of my historical mystery series, Girl with a Gun, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.

In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.

Famous Horse Partners in History – El Cid and Babieca

March 10 2016 - 1Welcome back to the Famous Horse Partners in History Series.

This post is about the famous Spanish Warrior and El Cid and his horse Babieca in the 11th Century.

Babieca, born of the noble Iberian breed of horse now called the Andalusian, started life as a weakling cast off, but soon became one of Spain’s most honored horses of history. Born in a Carthusian monastery, an order of monks who were reputed to breed and raise the finest horses in Europe, Babieca came into the world spindly and weak. Seen as worthless by the monks, the young colt seemed nothing but a liability.

One of the monks, Pedro El Grande, named for his largess, had a beloved nephew named Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, born of a noble Castillian family. When Rodrigo became of age, Pedro El Grande told him that he could choose any horse from his fine stables to raise as his own. Much to the monk’s surprise, Rodrigo picked the little weakling colt his uncle had named Babieca – fool or stupid.

As Rodrigo grew to become a fierce and well-respected soldier, Babieca grew to be a well trained and devoted war-horse, and a testament to the Carthusian reputation. Does this story sound familiar? Much like the story of Alexander the Great and his steed Bucephalus, the story of Rodrigo and Babieca has been told throughout history and perhaps both stories became infused with one another. Both horses, one mighty and black, and the other fierce and white, became great warhorses and outlived their human partners.

Rodrigo, who became known as El Cid Campeador, (Lord, Champion of Warriors) so named by his enemies, fought both the Christian kings and Muslim invaders throughout his lifetime. His greatest feat was retaking Valencia from the Moors, returning it to Spain, and then later saving it from siege in his most famous, and last, battle.

El Cid carried a legendary sword, almost as famous as his horse, said to be made of Damascus steel, called Tizona. During the siege of Valencia, El Cid fell in battle. The invaders, hearing of his death, gathered their soldiers and planned to take the city. Without their leader, El Cid’s men feared they would lose, so they strapped El Cid’s corpse to the saddle of Babieca, fixed Tizona into his hand and propped his arm toward the heavens. Babieca, well-trained in the art of war, led El Cid’s men into the battlefield. Dumbfounded by seeing their enemy risen from the dead, the Moors scattered in terror. Eventually, Spain was reclaimed.

After the death of El Cid, Babieca was never ridden again and died two years later at the age of 40, a remarkably long life for a horse who’d seen so many battles.

Strongly built, and compact yet elegant, Andalusians are know for their athleticism, intelligence, sensitivity and loyalty. Their coats are most commonly grey, but can be found in many other colors and they are quite regal with their long, thick manes and tails.

Please enjoy this video featuring the beautiful Andalusian Horse.

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Information gathered from “The Supreme War Horse of Spain” by John Reismiller and “The Legend of El Cid and Babieca – Andalusians in History and Mythology” published in Andalusian World.

Famous Horse Partners in History – Alexander and Bucephalus

Sometimes people are lucky enough to have that “once in a lifetime” horse. I am one of those fortunate people. I’ve had many horses over the years, and still have several, but one of them I hold especially dear, and our relationship has surpassed any other relationship I’ve ever had with my equine friends. He is an Arabian/Quarter Horse Palmomino named Handsome and he has forever changed my life.

Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus
Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus

This, as well as my love of history, has prompted me to research famous horses and their partners. For the first pair in this series, I will go way back to 433 BC to Alexander the Great and his mighty steed Bucephalus.

Alexander, a boy of 13 happened to be present when a horse dealer by the name of Philonicus the Thessalian, offered a horse of the finest Thessalian stock to King Phillip II of Greece for 13 talents. A talent is an ancient unit of mass, possibly in gold, roughly the mass of the amount of water required to fill an amphora–a unit for measuring liquids or bulk goods. In Greece at that time, that amount was 26 kilograms. Those attempting to handle the horse could not control him as he thrashed about, rearing, kicking and biting anyone who came near. Seeing the behavior of this wild animal, King Phillip would not make an offer. Alexander, seeing at once the potential greatness of this amazing horse, told his father that if he could not tame the horse, he would offer the sum himself.

Alexander’s keen eye and natural horse sense allowed him to immediately recognize the cause of the horse’s distress; the sight of his own shadow. Approaching the horse cautiously, Alexander spoke to him in soothing tones, stroked his neck, and grabbing onto the bridle, turned the horse’s face to the sun, thus obliterating the offending shadow. Sensing that no harm would come to him, the horse immediately bonded with the boy and allowed Alexander to mount. The two were inseparable for the next few decades leading men into legendary battles that would result in Alexander’s conquering of the western world.

Photo found on Wikipedia The Akhal Teke
Photo found on Wikipedia
The Akhal Teke

Bucephalus breeding was “of the best Thessalian strain’ and historians believe that his breed was Akhal Teke, still in existence today. The exotic desert breed is known for its elegance, power, and athleticism as well as hardiness and endurance. They are noted for their shimmering, metallic coats, long, narrow heads and necks, with most of the length from their eyes to their muzzle, long forward set ears and hooded eyes. They come in a variety of colors but the most coveted are the Palominos and Buckskins because their coats resemble spun gold. Bucephalus was gleaming black with a white mark on his forehead and one blue eye. I found the description of the Akhal Teke conformation interesting because it is also said that Alexander named his horse Bucephalus because he was monsterous in size with a forehead that was”wide as a bull’s.” Sometimes in history, things get lost in translation, or perhaps as breeding continued throughout the ages, characteristics of the breed adapted to new uses, environments, etc. and the breed became more refined.

The Alexander Romance legends that came about after his death, presented a different story of the relationship between Bucephalus and Alexander. It was said the two were born on the same day and that Bucephalus was a mythical creature more powerful than Pegasus. The Delphic Oracle told Phillip II that whoever could tame and ride the horse would be king. Furthermore, even in his lifetime, Alexander was seen as a god.

In Alexander’s last battle, the Battle of Hydaspes, now known as Pakistan, Bucephalus was mortally wounded. Shortly after, Alexander founded a city and named it Bucephala in honor of his beloved horse.

Have you heard of the story of Alexander and Bucephalus? Do you have a “once in a lifetime horse?” I’d love to hear your comments.

Stayed tuned for more Great Horse Partners in History!

Writing Your Passion

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

– Barbara Kingsolver
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I love this quote. As writers, we all want to sell our work. We all want our words to be cast into the world to make a difference. But, do we write to sell? Do we write to what sells? Sometimes we do, but what is more important is the passion within ourselves that, for some reason, we need to get out and share with anyone who will listen–er, read.

I’ve attended many writer’s conferences and seen and heard many successful, well-sold authors, and most of the time their main message is this: Write what you want to read. I think this is so powerful. Fiction has its trends. By the time you finish your masterpiece, it may not be sellable. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. Times change. Trends change. Write what you want to write. Your passion will lead you to success–whatever your definition of success entails.

This dovetails perfectly with a conversation we had this week in the  Level 4+ Riding Course I am attending at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, CO. As some of you know, Parelli Natural Horsemanship is a method, philosophy, and practice of partnering in harmony with horses by communicating in their language. Monday we talked about 7 Cardinal Rules for Life:

  1. Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb your present.
  2. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  3. Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
  4. No one is in charge of your happiness. Except you.
  5. Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  6. Stop thinking too much. It’s alright to not know all the answers, they will come to you when you least expect it.
  7. Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world.

I would add only two things: Be who you are. Love who you are.

See you next week!

Rebel Empress

While researching an idea for a new novel, (I was specifically looking for a famous horsewoman in history) I stumbled across the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  She was indeed an avid horsewoman and was actually known as “the finest horsewoman of her day.”  She excelled at the hunt, taught her horses tricks, and trained with famous circus riders at the riding school she built at Godollo in Hungary.

As I researched further, I became intrigued with the rest of her compelling, fascinating and tragic story.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Munich, Bavaria 1837, “Sisi” as she was known to her family, grew up far from court in the Bavarian countryside at Possenhofen Castle.

Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, raised their four children with little discipline and few rules.  The children spent much of their time riding and pursuing country sports rather than learning the protocols and etiquette of court life.  This fact probably led to Sisi’s later philosophy that to be an individual and non-conformist would be the greatest achievement of all.  Her quest of this individualism would be her biggest challenge and one that she never quite achieved.

As in most royal families, marriages were arranged.  When Sisi was fifteen, she accompanied her mother and her older sister Helene to Bad Ischl, Austria to meet Helene’s betrothed, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.  The arrangement was orchestrated by Franz Joseph’s domineering mother, ( also Helene and Sisi’s aunt) Princess Sophie of Bavaria.  Although Helene was considered the beauty of the family, Franz Joseph became instantly infatuated with Sisi.  He defied his mother and told her if he could not have his cousin Elisabeth he would have no one at all.  The betrothal was announced five days later.

Elisabeth’s married life was far different from her free-spirited childhood.  Hapsburg court life was rigid and strict.  Her Aunt, the Archduchess, was an overbearing and demanding mother-in-law who interfered in the new couple’s life at every turn.  Soon, Elisabeth began to display health problems.  She had difficulty with her lungs and would suffer from spasms of coughing, and also developed several phobias.

Ten months after the wedding, she gave birth to her first child, Sophie, named after her mother-in-law, by her mother-in-law.  This was to set the stage for next child born to Elisabeth, Gisela who was also immediately taken from her and put in the care of the Archduchess.  The Archduchess also made it abundantly clear her disappointment at Elisabeth’s inability to bear a son.  The Archduchess was to suffer several other disappointments when her son, Joseph Franz took Elisabeth and his two daughters to Hungary for a visit in 1857.  During the visit, Elisabeth fell in love with the Hungarian people, particularly the Magyars, an ethnic group associated with the Hungarians, (whom her mother-in-law despised) and urged her husband to show mercy to Hungarian political prisoners.  She was later chastised for her “political meddling.”  The trip also proved horribly tragic for Elisabeth as both her daughters became ill with diarrhea.  Gisela, the baby, recovered quickly, but two year old Sophie succumbed to the illness, which was later determined as Typhus.  The death of her first child sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

Elisabeth was painfully learning that most aspects of her life were not in her control.  She felt she had no identity as a mother or the wife of an emperor.  In her depression, she began to shun all responsibilities and spent much of her time riding.  Grieving her daughter, she would also stop eating for days at a time.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth realized her physical appearance was an attribute greatly valued by society.   Her looks became the primary source of her control and her self-esteem. She became obsessed with her face, hair and figure. Unusually slender, Elisabeth’s waist measured 19 inches.  At 5’8 inches tall, she weighed 110 lbs.  Living on a strict diet of beef broth, milk and eggs, she was able to reduce her waist to 16 inches in diameter. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110, the next few days would constitute a strict fast.

Elisabeth also emphasized her tiny waist through the practice of “tight lacing.”  She had corsets specially made of leather, to hold up under the strenuous lacing, and would only wear them for a few weeks at a time as they would eventually stretch.

The only “flaw” in her beauty was her teeth.  Due to either poor dental care in her youth, malnutrition from dieting, or from the possible effects of bulimia, her teeth deteriorated early.  In public, she would often hide her face behind a small leather fan.  After age 32 she refused to have her photo taken or sit for portraits.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided.  She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day.  She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Another of Elisabeth’s unusual beauty traits was her hair.  Thick and golden brown, her tresses reached somewhere between her knees and ankles.

Every two weeks, her hair was washed with special “essences” of eggs and cognac.  The process took hours, so activities and obligations for the day were cancelled.  Her hairdresser was forbidden to wear rings and was required to don white gloves while dressing the royal coif – an activity that took two to four hours a day.

In 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir.  This, coupled with her sympathy toward the Hungarians made her an ideal mediator between the Magyars and her husband, the Emperor.  Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics developed as she grew older. She firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side whenever there were difficult negotiations between the Hungarians and the court.  At one point, she demanded that Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman (and rumored to be her lover) be named Premier of Hungary or she would leave the Emperor.  He complied and Elisabeth stayed in the increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary and in turn, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were named King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there, where she built her riding school.  Elisabeth much preferred her Hungarian home to her Austrian one and rarely went back to Vienna.  In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  She was determined to raise this child herself and openly rebelled against her mother-in-law.  Soon after, the elder Archduchess Sophie died forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children.

With the oppression of her mother-in-law lifted, it would be assumed that Elisabeth would take control of her children and family, but instead, she drifted further away from them and began a life filled with travel.  She claimed that if she arrived at a place and knew she couldn’t leave, it would become a living hell.

In 1889, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph’s only son, and heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire died.  He was found with his 17 year old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera.  It was determined a murder/suicide committed by the 30 year old Rudolf.  The death would cause a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, and Hungary and Austria.  The line of succession would now be passed to Franz Joseph’s brother and his son, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

In perpetual mourning and never to wear anything but black again, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels.  When her health prevented her from riding, she took to making her servants endure miles long hikes and walks in the wilderness.  At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports.  She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse.  She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized.  Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

               In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux.  Wanting to avoid a “procession” or to be recognized as a person of significance, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train.  Since she was without protection, this gave Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, a perfect opportunity.  In town to kill the Duc D’Orleans, and failing to find him, the assassin learned from a Geneva newspaper that a woman traveling under the name of “Countess of Hohenembs” was the Empress Elisabeth.  Soon after she and her lady exited the hotel, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Lucheni stated after the murder, “I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…it did not matter to me who the sovereign was…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.”  Had he done his homework, he would have realized that Elisabeth was famous for preferring the common man to courtiers, was known for her charitable works and was a rebel within her own home and community and stood up for the underdog.

The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was in deep mourning.  On September 17, 1898, eighty-two sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral procession to the tomb in the Church of the Capuchins.  Her husband was devastated and quoted as saying, “That a man could be found to attack such a woman, whose whole life was spent in doing good and who never injured any person is to me incomprehensible.”

Although exceedingly eccentric, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became a historical icon.  Her limited though significant influence on Austro Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire.  She will always be known as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.  Ironically, she herself could not escape the gilded cage.