Tag Archives: natural horsemanship

All Four Feet

Recently, I happened upon a quote in reference to horses and humans that states, “Two Feet Move our Body, Four Feet Move Our Soul.”

(Smartpakequine.com)

How true. I’ve always felt that working with and playing with horses feeds my soul. Learning to understand their individual “horsenalities” and how to communicate with them is helping me to be a better horsewoman and a better person.

Last summer I returned to the Parelli Campus in Pagosa Springs, CO, where I was fortunate enough to attend Linda’s “Secrets of Horse Psychology” course. I took my horse Chaco who had been to the campus two years earlier with me for the “Journey to Level Four” course. That course started the process of changing my relationship with Chaco, an RBE/LBE, (Right-Brain Extrovert/Left-Brained Extrovert cusp) who desperately needed a confident leader. The confidence came, but Chaco still presented me with interesting and sometimes frustrating challenges; and at that time last summer, challenges having to do with his insecurities about his feet.

Chaco and me watching a demo in the coverall.

The first day of the Horse Psychology course we listed our “problems” and our “goals” as a group. Many of the problems centered around our horses’ lack of confidence – around, over, inside or through objects, lack of confidence with other animals, other people, other horses, and lack of confident with their feet( i.e. jumping barrels, going over ground poles, trailer loading, crossing water).

I quickly learned that I was not alone in my challenges! The overarching “goals” for the class were: 1) to be confident for our horses in every situation, and 2) to learn how to make good decisions to achieve that confidence.

I decided that my goal for the course would be ALL FOUR FEET – All four feet over the ground poles, all four feet in the trailer, all four feet in the pond.

As the course progressed we learned about what is important to horses—safety, comfort, play—and how to tell if the horse’s needs in these areas were met. We learned techniques for reading our horses and how their behaviors presented either fear or dominance.  As we learned these behaviors and techniques for addressing our horse’s individual horsenalities, we were shown demos and given tasks to practice them. One of the most captivating demos of the course took place at Linda’s arena where we got to see Linda working with her own horses; Highland, Navi, Hot Jazz, and the amazing Dylano—all with different horsenalities.

Linda coaching me with Chaco at the pond.

I learned a lot from watching Linda work with and adjust to each of the horses’ needs in the moment. Those last three words are important because although sometimes skeptical, horses don’t live their lives dwelling in or thinking about the past, and they also don’t make plans for success or failure in the future. Horses live in the present and behave according to how they view what may or may not happen to them in the moment.

During the two-week course, Chaco and I made great improvements. I saw Chaco’s trust in my leadership grow. By the end of the course he soared through the cavalettis, made several trips through the pond, and stepped inside a scary pink trailer–with all four feet—twice!

Linda playing with Chaco at Liberty.

Tackling problems and learning about my horse through psychology has given my horse even more reason to trust me and it is also helping me to build a better relationship with him—as well as with my other equine friends with their own set of challenges. It is helping me to achieve my own personal development goals in my horsemanship and in other areas of my life.

Building communication and working in partnership through different and unique challenges is something I no longer fear or dread. It has become something that I am ever grateful for – and something that truly moves my soul.

 

 

 

Interesting Facts About “Black Beauty” – A Timeless Classic

My father traveled a lot for business when I was a child. This created a great deal of anxiety for me as I feared the plane would go down and I would never see him again. To ease my angst, he always told me he would bring me something from his trip. It worked because instead of worrying about my father, I had something else to think about. Of course I prayed every night he was gone that he would come home safe and sound, but I would go to sleep with positive thoughts on what he would bring me when he returned. To my delight, it was usually a book. One of my favorites was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This may have started my life-long passion and love of horses and writing, something that I am sure my father did not intend, but that he and my mother ended up wholly supporting during my youth and beyond.

First Edition Black Beauty (Wikipedia)
First Edition Black Beauty
(Wikipedia)

I was so young when I read the book that some of the lessons it provided were forgotten. We also moved several times during my growing up years and my copy of it must have gotten lost along the way. It wasn’t until I started researching books about horses that I happened upon Black Beauty again. I’ve just ordered a new copy and look forward to scouring it from cover to cover.

Here are some interesting facts about Anna Sewell and her book:

  • Anna Sewell spent six years writing the book. It was published in 1877 when she was 57 years old, 5 months before her death.
  • It was her first and last book.
  • It was an instant best-seller and has to date sold 50 million copies.
  • A signed first edition sold for $18,133 in 2015. The copy she signed for her mother sold in 2006 for $50,693.
  • Anna’s mother Mary Wright Sewell was a best-selling author.
  • Anna and her family were Quakers and believed in kindness to animals.
  • Black Beauty was the very first novel ever published written in an animal’s point of view.
  • It was based on her childhood horse, Bess. The Sewell’s considered Bess one of the family—not a very common philosophy in those days.
  • Anna’s ankles were injured in an accident at age 14 and she never regained full use of her legs again. She spent much of her time in a horse-drawn carriage where she thought about the plight of the working horse.
  • The book was never intended for children, but for adults to reconsider the treatment of horses.

    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
  • Sewell’s description of the “check rein” or “bearing rein” caused its demise in Victorian England. The “check” or “bearing” rein is a rein extending from the bridle to the harness of a driving cart that is used to pull the horse’s head up and back. In Victorian times it was fashionable to have this rein pulled tight, causing an unnatural backward bend in the horses’ neck, making it difficult to pull correctly and even to breathe. This caused detrimental effects to the horse and many had to be retired early or actually died from the effects. There are varying opinions on the use of “check reins” still today. Natural horsemanship adheres to the idea of a horse being able to move “naturally” without any bodily limiting devices.
  • The social practices regarding the use of horses in Black Beauty also inspired legislation in many states of the U.S. during the Victorian period that would condemn abusive practices towards animals.
  • The novel has been compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its influence on social outrage and protest action in society.
  • It has inspired many other books concerning animal cruelty.
Anna Sewell (Wikipedia)
Anna Sewell
(Wikipedia)

We live in a time when in order to be a successful author, one must be incredibly prolific. Anna Sewell never had the opportunity to be prolific, but Black Beauty, her one and only novel, did the job. More than just a story about a horse in Victorian England, the novel is about treating all of God’s creatures with kindness, empathy and respect. A theme we can all relate to and want to read about.

I rarely worry about my dad going down in a plane anymore. Time and age have added other, different concerns for both of us, but my dad still gives me books. And rarely a birthday or Christmas goes by without me giving him one in return. It is something we have always shared. If you haven’t come up with a new year’s resolution yet, maybe you should consider giving loved ones a good book on gift giving occasions or just because. Maybe one of the classics like Black Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parelli Savvy Summit: The Land of Milk and Honey for Equestrians

 

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of attending the 2016 Parelli Savvy Summit ( http://www.parelli.com/-2016parellisavvysummit.html), and celebrating their 20th anniversary of this amazing event at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado—the land of milk and honey. For some reason, I have always referred to the Parelli Ranch as “the land of milk and honey”, and I recently asked myself why? The first image that popped into my mind was A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh—a beautiful series of books my father read to me almost every night as a child— and the loveable bear’s search for “hunny” in the Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie the Pooh was never happier than when he was scooping honey out of a honey tree, or had his nose stuck in a pot of the sticky gooey stuff.

Parelli Instructors representing the 378 Parelli Professionals from over 20 countries. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016
Parelli Instructors representing the 378 Parelli Professionals in over 20 countries. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016.

Unable to fully reconcile my connection with the ranch to Winnie the Pooh, I decided to look up the phrase land of milk and honey on the Internet. My favorite definition that came up was from the website Culinary Lore (www.culinarylore.com/food-history). It explains: Land of milk and honey is a literary expression that comes from one of the greatest works of literature ever written, the Bible. In Exodus, when God instructs Moses to lead his people, the oppressed Hebrew slaves of Egypt, out of bondage and into freedom. He promises them their own land. He does not tell them exactly what land, but describes it as a land flowing with milk and honey.

Again, maybe a stretch on the connection with the ranch, but upon further introspection, perhaps not so much. The key word in this phrase to me is “freedom.” Pat Parelli often refers to the ranch as “The Eagle’s Nest.” The eagle represents freedom and liberty, doesn’t it?

As Linda Parelli often says, “How interesting!”

Now, it makes complete sense to me. In my mind and experience, the Parelli Ranch IS the land of milk and honey, because there, I have learned to break free of my previous “assumptions” about horses and how to work and play with them. Most importantly, I have learned to break free from the assumptions I have made about myself. Horses have the ability and power to transform lives. By studying them, so can we. If we tune into our “natural” selves, and appreciate the natural power of horses and working in natural partnership with them, we can free ourselves from our preconceived notions and beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us.

One of the most inspiring demonstrations at the Summit this year was the spotlight session with Caton Parelli, Pat’s son. Thirty-three years ago, Caton was born with hydrocephalus—fluid on the brain, and the condition left him with extremely limited body function. The doctors told Pat and his former wife, Caton’s mother, that it would be best if they institutionalized Caton. Pat refused. Not only did he refuse to sequester his child from the world, he decided to put him on a horse. Pat strapped Caton to the saddle with a seatbelt of sorts. While mounted and holding the lead rope of Caton’s horse (a term called pony-ing) Pat and Caton took to the fields and mountains, riding and herding cattle. Unfortunately, when Caton was 12 years old, he suffered a stroke caused by his condition. A blood clot had traveled from his lungs to his brain, rendering the left side of his body completely immobile. Again, Pat and Caton remained undeterred, and Caton continued to ride and play with horses, activities that eventually helped him to regain his mobility. Since then, he has competed in branding, reining, roping and cutting competitions.

14249697_1396149987081103_8762103147591241831_o
Caton Parelli. Photo by Matylda Smith 2016.

During the Summit Spotlight, Caton and his mount cut a cow from the herd. Pat challenged Caton to run alongside the cow and lean down and touch her between the ears. Sounds easy, right? As Caton and his horse sped around the arena chasing down the cow, the crowd cheered with abandon. After several adrenaline rushing laps, Caton was able to reach down and touch the cow on its hind quarters. He didn’t touch the cow’s head, but no one cared. In those moments, we all not only saw, but lived through, the difficulty of the challenge—a tough one even for a perfectly abled-bodied person. The moment Caton’s fingers finally touched that cow, the crowd roared and rose to its feet in thunderous applause. Once the ovation subsided, Pat said to the crowd, face beaming, something to the effect of, “I don’t have a handicapped child. He’s a horseman.”

Horses can heal, and this was one of the highlights of the event this year.

Caton is but one of the many examples of the healing power of horses you will find anywhere in the world. In the last two articles in my blog, “The True Measure of a Champion is What is in Her Heart”(https://karibovee.com/2016/09/07/the-true-measure-of-a-champion-is-what-is-in-her-heart/) and “Para-Equestrian Dressage Begins at the Paralympic Games” (https://karibovee.com/2016/09/10/usa-para-equestrian-dressage-team/) about Para-Equestrian Olympians, I highlighted five amazing athletes with major physical challenges who competed in the top equestrian sport in the world, the Para-Equestrian Dressage competition during the Paralympic Games. Each one of these athletes has had to overcome many incredible physical challenges, and they have done it with the partnership and love of their respective horses.

The Parelli Ranch. Photo by Kari Bovee

Come to think of it, perhaps Winnie the Pooh does have a connection to the land of milk and honey, or rather the Parelli Ranch. Pooh lived a pretty carefree and simple life in the Hundred Acre Wood, free from preconceived notions and assumptions about things. Through his characters, A.A. Milne approached common human problems in life with a philosophy built on nature, purity of heart, and simplicity. His characters were all animals that facilitated lessons and experiences for Christopher Robin, their human, just like the horse does for many who use equine therapy to learn and heal.

 

 

 

Para-Equestrian Dressage Begins at Paralympic Games

www.usefnetwork.org
www.usefnetwork.org

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are well under way having started with their opening ceremonies on Wednesday, September 7.  Starting tomorrow, Sunday, September 11, one of my favorite sports in the Paralympic Games will begin, the Para-Equestrian Dressage. Seventy-six Para Equestrian Dressage athletes from 29 countries will compete this year, 78% whom are women. The oldest competitor is 67 years old from Great Britain, and the youngest is just 18 years old from the U.S.

As I mentioned in my last article about Canadian Paralympic athlete, Lauren Barwick, “The True Measure of A Champion Is What Is In Her Heart”,(https://karibovee.com/2016/09/07/the-true-measure-of-a-champion-is-what-is-in-her-heart/) the Para-Equestrian champion is truly someone to be admired. While these competitors must contend with their physical limitations on a daily basis, they must also be safe and responsible for a 1,200 pound, living, breathing, moving mass of emotional horseflesh.

When I started researching these articles, I, like many people I’m sure, didn’t quite understand the definition of “Paralympic Athlete”. As Lauren and US Para-Equestrian Angela Peavy explain in the two videos I cite in this article below,  the term “para” does not mean “paralyzed athletes”, but rather it means “parallel” to the Olympics. The Paralympics are the Olympic games for people with physical disabilities to achieve the same elite status as able-bodied competitors. Para-Equestrian Dressage is the only Equestrian discipline in the Paralympics.

Para-Equestrian Dressage was first included in the Paralympic Games in 1996. The athletes are classified according the level of their impairment. From the inside.fei.org website: The competitor’s mobility, strength and coordination are assessed in order to establish their Classification Profile. People with similar functional ability profiles are grouped into competition grades. The Grades range from Grade IA for the most severely impaired, to Grade IV for the least impaired. The competition within each Grade can therefore be judged on the skill of the individual competitor on their horse, regardless of the competitor’s impairment.” (Source: https://inside.fei.org/fei/disc/dressage/about-para-equestrian .

Since equestrianism is a fairly dangerous sport for even able-bodied riders, the equipment has been designed to keep the para-equestrian as safe as possible. Much of the equipment uses Velcro and rubber bands for easier and faster breakaway if needed during a fall. Balance is also extremely important. Saddles are often made with extra padding to facilitate the rider’s equilibrium and communication with the horse. Class and disability profiles are used to classify the type of equipment a rider can use for competition.

This year, four very talented riders from the United States will be competing in the Para-Equestrian Dressage events at Rio:

edition.cnn.com
edition.cnn.com

Sydney Collier from Ann Arbor, MI, will be competing with Dusty Rose, a 2003 Oldenburg mare, owned by her trainer, Wesley Dunham. Sydney began riding at 7 years of age with aspirations of becoming an eventer. Diagnosed with Wyburn-Mason syndrome, a rare congenital birth defect, Collier underwent medical treatments, radiation treatments and three unplanned brain surgeries to combat the illness. As a result, Collier completely lost the vision in her right eye and suffered a stroke causing her to lose the use of the left side of her body. She had to relearn to walk and also to regain the muscle control on her left side again. Undeterred from training, Collier, as a Ib Grade competitor, has won many outstanding championships. At age 16 she made her first appearance as a part of a U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).

www.worlddressagenews.com
www.worlddressagenews.com

Rebecca Hart from Wellington, FL will be competing as a Grade II rider with her own 2002 Danish Warmblood mare, Schroeters Romani. Born with a rare genetic disease called hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), a progressive impairment that causes muscle wasting and paralysis from the middle of the back down, Hart also would not be steered away from her dreams. In 1998, she purchased her first horse and decided to compete internationally. Hart has represented the U.S. in several international events. In 2014, she purchased Schroeter’s Romani and won the USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Championships in both 2014 and 2015. Hart is a seven-time USEF Para-Equestrian Dressage National Champion.

2014 Para Dressage Festival of Champions, Para WEG Selection Trial. www.uspea.com
uspea.com

Margaret “Gigi” Macintosh from Reading, PA, will be competing with Rio Rio, her own 2006 Rheinland Pfalz-saar mare. Gigi broke her neck in 1999 during the cross-country phase of an eventing competition, resulting in incomplete quadriplegia. Her love of equestrian sport kept her going. After her  hard work to regain her mobility, Gigi now competes in para-equestrian dressage as a 1A competitor. She recently started riding without stirrups to counteract the effects of leg spasms that occur while riding with stirrups. She recently took team gold at the Wellington CPEDI3* and won the Grade Ia Freestyle
She was also the Individual Grade Ia Champion at the Wellington CPEDI3*with Rio Rio.

 

uspea.com
uspea.com

Angela Peavy, also known as Annie, from Avon, CT and Wellington, FL will be competing as a Grade III rider with Lancelot Warrior, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding owned by Heather Blitz and Rebecca Reno. In utero, Annie suffered a stroke, which affected the left side of her body. She began equine therapy as a 4-year-old and got her first horse at age 10. Smitten with dressage, Annie and her mother traveled to Portugal for “dressage vacations.” She couldn’t get enough of the sport and took three lessons a day while abroad. When she returned home, a friend introduced her to para-equestrian dressage and Annie began her journey toward representing her country in dressage all over the world. Annie’s hard work and dedication landed her a spot on the U.S. Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Annie is one of the few para-equestrian athletes who also competes in able-bodied dressage.

Like Lauren Barwick of Canada, these athletes have found meaning, purpose and healing through their horse partners and healthy competition. Enjoy this video with Annie Peavy and Rebecca Hart as they explain how dressage and competition has helped them to heal and work toward achieving their dreams.

Sources: (http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/USParaEquestrianTeam/, https://inside.fei.org/fei/disc/dressage/about-para-equestrian, Wikipedia, Parelli Success Stories, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feUNKXrWNPE

The True Measure of A Champion Is What Is In Her Heart

Champions are the type of people who have chosen a road less traveled. They have sacrificed their time, money, and sometimes their relationships, to achieve their championship dreams. There is a certain drive and force of will these people have that not everyone is fortunate enough, or strong enough, to foster.

As we are in the midst of the Olympic season, first with the Games in August, and now with the Paralympics starting this week, we get to see these champions doing what they do best, at the peak of their performance, competing for the elusive Holy Grail of all awards, the Olympic Gold Medal.

LONDON, ENGLAND 01/09/2012 - Lauren Barwick, riding Off to Paris, in the Dressage Individual Championship Test - Grade II Final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Greenwich Park. (Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Canadian Paralympic Committee)
LONDON, ENGLAND 01/09/2012 – Lauren Barwick, riding Off to Paris, in the Dressage Individual Championship Test – Grade II Final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Greenwich Park. (Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

Athletes of this caliber are indeed special, but one in particular stands out to me: Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. Lauren is a 4-time World Para-Equestrian athlete and 3-time Paralympic medalist, having earned gold and silver medals in the Paralympic Games in Beijing (2008). In 2008 and 2014 she was named
Canada’s Equestrian of the Year and in 2015, she was inducted into Canada’s Paralympic Hall of Fame. All amazing achievements, yes, and all from a person who has no feeling below her belly button and paralyzed legs. It seems mind boggling, but what draws me to Lauren is her devotion to and passion for natural horsemanship. In addition to all of her monumental achievements, Lauren is a Parelli 4-Star Senior Instructor and Horse Development Specialist.

Lauren was introduced to the Parelli Program before her tragic accident. As a jumper, she appreciated the methods and learned the hallmark Parelli Seven Games. But, like many of us, at first, she didn’t take it too seriously, and just had fun with it. At 22 years of age, while training to perform stunts with horses for the movie industry, Lauren climbed to the top of a pile of 100-pound stacked hay bales at feeding time. The stack was unstable so she jumped 10 feet to the ground and one of the top bales fell on her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Lauren thought she would never ride again. Three weeks later, she was allowed home for a visit, and wheeled herself down to the pasture to see her horses. Only one approached her, unafraid of the contraption she had to sit in for the rest of her life. Her horse, Peanut, had not forgotten her owner, and as horses are so apt to do once a bond is created. Peanut loved and missed Lauren unconditionally. After that, Lauren felt she might be able to ride again.

In 2002, just two years after her injury, Lauren hired a trainer and began competing internationally, representing her country. She was nominated for and began training for the Para-Equestrian 2004 Paralympics in Athens, where she came very close to achieving Top 3 in the dressage competition. In 2005, Lauren realized that she no longer wanted to train the way she had trained for Athens and wanted more of a partnership with her horses. It was then that she reached out to Pat and Linda Parelli and began her natural horsemanship journey once again. Still with no aspirations to continue on to Beijing in 2008, Lauren went to the Parelli Colorado campus for a two-week audition to become a part of Pat’s barn. Lauren says that after seven days of riding with Pat in the mountains, she was inspired again to see how far she could go with her horses. She moved to Florida to train at the Florida campus with the goal of competing in the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics. It was through Pat and Linda that she found her Paralympic horse, Maile, and realized her Olympic dreams. Lauren has another shot at the gold this year at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, September 7-18, with her horse Onyx.

Lauren inspires me in so many ways. She has overcome what seemed to be insurmountable odds to achieve her goals, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to be a better partner to her horses. She wanted to be completely involved in their training, both physically and emotionally. Although I have no aspirations to achieve what Lauren has in her equestrian career, I can relate to her desire to want more than the ribbon. She wanted those awards to really mean something, from her heart. She wanted to be able to foster a deep and meaningful relationship with more than just one “good” horse. She wanted to prove to herself that she had the heart and the desire to be the best partner she could be to a number of horses. Regardless of what she may do in Rio this summer, in that she truly has succeeded.

Sources: LaurenBarwick.com, Dressagetoday.com, Parelli Success Stories, Parelli Tube,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feUNKXrWNPE

Cowboys, Indians and Queens, Oh My!

Relationships between royals and commoners don’t happen very often. In 1936 England’s King Edward VIII’s affiliation with a commoner forced him to lose the crown when he wanted to marry the famously divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Since his time, things have loosened up a bit. Prince Charles married the late Diana Spencer and is now married to Camilla Parker Bowles. England’s beloved Prince William married Kate. All of these relationships, perhaps aside from Charles and Diana, sprung from shared passions. As I wrote in my last article about Queen Elizabeth, “The Queen’s Private Passion” (https://karibovee.com/2016/08/04/the-queens-private-passion/), we all know about QEII’s passion for all things equine, particularly the horse itself. This passion has led Her Majesty, too, to engage in an on-going, unlikely relationship with a commoner—who is also an American.

An avid thoroughbred racehorse breeder, the Queen wants only the best for her four-legged friends. In the late 1970’s, the longest reigning monarch of all time reached out to a cowboy from California who had fostered the reputation of being “the man who listens to horses.”

Like his fellow horseman Pat Parelli—also a cowboy from California whose had an audience with the Queen, Monty Roberts decided as a young man that violent means for training performance animals was not the answer. Roberts studied horses in the wild and learned how they communicated with one another. He noted their body language, how they set boundaries, showed fear and expressed annoyance, relaxation or affection, and then developed gestures to mimic those behaviors. Robert’s method came to be known as “Join Up.” Impressed with his philosophy and training methods, the Queen hired him to help train her racehorses.

Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of "The Man Who Listens to Horses". www.horsecollaborative.com (wikipedia)
Roberts Shows Her Majesty a copy of “The Man Who Listens to Horses”. www.horsecollaborative.com (wikipedia)

Robert’s relationship with the Queen has remained steadfast since the 1980’s. With the Queen’s encouragement, he wrote a book entitled, “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” Published in 1996, the book became a phenomenon. Documentaries were made and more books were published. In 1998 he became one of several natural horsemen who served as inspirations for the movie “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford.

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Roberts with an honorary Membership of the Royal Victorian Order—an order of people who have served Her Royal Majesty in a personal way—for his contributions to the racing establishment. He has served the Queen and her horses for a quarter of a century.

The relationship between the QEII and Roberts was much more widely accepted in the late twentieth century than the relationship held between her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and one of her Indian servants. In fact, Victoria’s friendship with 24-year-old Abdul Karim, who was 42 years her junior, was viewed as more akin to a scandal.

After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Victoria missed the companionship of a man. Albert provided support, ideas, and indispensable advice to the Queen from the time they courted, until his death. Queen Victoria later found solace in John Brown, a servant she also had a deep and lasting platonic relationship with after Albert’s death. In Karim, Queen Victoria was once again able to find the same comfort after John died.

Queen Victoria at her desk, assisted by her servant Abdul Karim, the 'Munshi'. Date: c. 1885 (www.dailymail.co.uk)
Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, the ‘Munshi’. Date: c. 1885 (www.dailymail.co.uk)

Brought to England in 1887 as a personal servant to Queen Victoria for the Golden Jubilee, Karim immediately endeared himself to Her Magesty with his gentle nature and advanced intellect. She gave him the title of “ Munshi”, the Urdu word for “clerk” or “teacher”.  Within one year, he had become one of her most trusted confidants and she promoted him to a status well beyond servant.

Although the Queen benefited intellectually and spiritually from Karim’s advice and companionship, the rest of the royal household did not see his value. Many of Victoria’s other staff and servants thought him well beneath them and resented the closeness between Karim and the Queen. The fact that she showered him with gifts, honors, and a large land grant in India didn’t help matters.

Wikipedia
Wikipedia

I found this relationship so interesting that I have infused it into my second Annie Oakley mystery novel. Like the unusual relationship between QEII and Monty Roberts and Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim respectively, Annie Oakley found herself in an unlikely friendship with royalty of another kind. Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux Chief and warrior, who was also a principal player in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, became smitten with Miss Oakley, when he first saw her perform in 1884. The great Sioux Chief felt that Annie was “gifted” by a supernatural force that enabled her to shootequally accurate with both hands. Because of this, and their close rapport, the Chief symbolically “adopted” her and named her Watanya Cecilia, the Sioux name for “Little Sure Shot” – a moniker that stuck with her throughout her career.

"Little Sure Shot" (www.ohiohistoryhost.org)
“Little Sure Shot” (www.ohiohistoryhost.org)

I think that unlikely relationships are always the most interesting to read and write about. The single factor in each one that bonds each of the people in them together is a profound respect that crosses social, racial, and religious boundaries. It is truly remarkable and heartwarming for Her Royal Majesty QEII to reach out to a cowboy fromCalifornia; for Queen Victoria to take in an Indian servant as a confidant, and a for a famed Indian warrior to be so touched by a young white girl’s special talent, that he wants to make her his daughter. It reminds us that no matter what a person’s title or status in society, we are all human beings who have a desire to share our passions and interests. I think it is a good lesson for all of us.

Building a Better Relationship – Annie Oakley Style

 

oakley-indians
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 have not 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, Dead Eye Dame, 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.

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!