we got sprung

When I moved to the Pacific North West everyone was like “you better get some good rain gear!” or “I hope you have good waterproof boots” or “if you don’t like the weather in Oregon, just wait five minutes!”

I was still unprepared.

In January, it was gorgeous. Cold, but gorgeous. We burned a lot of wood in the stove. We set our garden up. I was like “holy shit! I better get ready to plant my garden sooner rather than later and move up all my seed starting!” This resulted in me starting way too many seeds way too early, but it’s a good thing I did because then I killed a bunch of later starts by being a bit too casual with the water (whoops).

February started to get cool again. It snowed. I didn’t work in the garden much. But I still went for a couple of runs. I think.

March was psychotic. It snowed four or five times.

And then we got sprung.

In a matter of days the sun came out, the world dried up, and daffodils started bursting out of the ground all over my yard. Sunsets were gorgeous, the days started to get a lot longer, and the ponies blankets were thrown off!

nudist pony!

I started riding in tee shirts, and shedding layers like crazy. The ponies were enjoying themselves, lying flat out in the field and rocketing around like nutcases at bring-in time. It got dry super fast!

And then it started raining again.

Two days ago it was sunny most of the day, and then it absolutely poured for about half an hour around 5. Thirty minutes later? Sunshine again. The water was draining so quickly through my back field that I could literally hear the soil sucking it up. The sun came right back out after the rain.

When I peeked out¬† my back window around sunset, I could see the fog rising up from the ground. I’ve never literally watched fog coming up from the ground before. (This is called radiation fog and is caused by the cooling of the earth that rapidly cools the air and brings moisture close to the dew point, resulting in fog. I’ve always thought of it as Tule fog because I first learned about it in the Sacramento valley.)


scampered out to my back field to watch the fog

Today it’s raining off and on again. Last night I saw some lightening.

I am¬†pretty sure we got sprung in Oregon. But wait five minutes. I’ll update you then.

academic horse training

When I was in Australia in November, my friends instructed me that I¬†must pick up several copies of Andrew MacLean’s seminal text — Academic Horse Training. The book isn’t available in the US and isn’t exactly easy to get anywhere outside of Australia, or even in Australia. I had to order the book directly from Equestrian Sciences Institute, who delivered them to my godmother’s house, and my god-brother ferried them to Oregon for me on a family vacation.

It was complicated.

The book is pretty hefty though, and I dawdled on cracking it, other than to look at a few pictures, until this week. At this point, I’ve read Academic Horse Training for a half an hour or so each day (um, this new life plan with dedicated reading time is awesome!!) and it’s addictive. It dropped a large number of truth bombs in just the first two chapters. I’m far from done with the book, but there are a couple of these nuggets that really stood out.

On girthiness

Andrew MacLean hypothesized that in the past (like the way past) humans have selected horses for reduced girthiness, because we rely so much on the girth to hold our saddles on, and if you can’t get a saddle on a horse, you can’t perform on it. Some horses never get over their sensitivity to girthing.

Ahem.

freeeeeeeeee you can’t girth meeeeeeeeeee

And at the same time we expect horses to be intensely sensitive to little movements of our leg mere inches away from this place that we ask them to be not sensitive to significant pressure.

It doesn’t make a ton of sense, and it (along with inconsistent signalling) helps to explain why some horses become so dull to the leg aids so quickly. Because every single day before we say “hey, listen to this leg” we first say “hey, ignore what’s going on down here.”

On spooking

One of the theories on the origin of spooking is that by suddenly and unexpectedly changing track, a prey animal can trick a predator and throw it off course. By doing this, they gain a bigger lead over the preadator or scary thing, thus making themselves more likely to survive.

So the better a horse can hide his desire or intention to spook, the more likely he is to survive. Which means that for flighty horses, the ability to make a spook super unexpected is probably literally written into their DNA.

Thus why sometimes my horse (or any horse) will be trotting along and be just fine with something and then EXPLODE out of nowhere in fear of that thing. Because if that “predator” could tell that they were going to change course before they even got there, then the element of surprise and advantage of the sudden course change would be lost. If it’s something not so worrisome, then it might be worth just giving some major side-eye and neck craning to.

So literally the most frustrating, unpredictable, and hard-to-control-and-train spook is the one that is most deeply ingrained in a fearful animal. Great.

On the fear response

The fear response is literally one of the oldest, strongest, most easily reinforced pathways in the brain. And this is especially true for prey species. For horses, one instinctive reaction involving the fear response can undo many months of careful training, and can take many more months of careful, positive associations to smush back down.

This unlocked a ton of thoughts for me — why Murray could be¬†so great in one place, and in another place or after a big spook he just lost it. Why something like clipping was super hit or miss depending on the day, even after I had spent many hours working on it. This also underlined to me even more how important groundwork and developing a strong level of trust and understanding between rider/handler and horse is. Because sometimes I was the thing that stimulated the fear response in Murray, so he didn’t necessarily always know that something I was suggesting would be “okay”.

On bucking

It’s supposed to dislodge big cats. hahahahaha


not as effective as he hoped

I’m still only halfway through the book, but I’ve already recommended it wholeheartedly to several friends. Enough that I’m getting another shipment of books sent my way. I had a few extra copies thrown in there, so if you want your own copy, let me know (nicole g sharpe at gmail)! They should be here within a month, and I’d be happy to send one along to you. They aren’t cheap ($75 plus a little bit for shipping I think), but the book is WELL worth the money.

More nuggets from Academic Horse Training to come. I am absurdly excited to start working with my future horse using the paradigm and framework outlined in this book!!