Punks Kid Rock is the registered name of my American Quarter horse gelding, Rocky. This blog chronicles our adventures together,
as well as stories from my horse past and, occasionally, a tidbit from my non horse life.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Micro Esteem

I have a degree in psychology, and I am trying to get good at noticing micro expressions.  Sometimes. (A micro expression is a tiny flash of emotion that people unconsciously will do, and is referred to in as a non verbal means of communication.)  So yeah, micro expressions.  Learning to read them, meaning notice that someone made the expression, figure out what emotion was shown, and then use that information to better understand what the person is truly thinking versus what they are literally saying. It can be very helpful at my job.  I work with teenagers at a residential treatment facility, and sometimes catching a micro expression and commenting on the feeling behind it can get you into more honest conversations with people.

For example, I was talking to an 18 year old male client, and I told him that he seems to be a sensitive person.  He flashed the expression for scorn and then smoothed it away in a heartbeat, because as humans we tend to not want to insult others.  He tried to be polite and say something about how "that's possible."  But his face told me he not only didn't believe he is a sensitive person, but his initial gut reaction was to be scornful of the very idea of being sensitive.  I pointed this out to him, and explained what I meant by sensitive.  After my explanation, he admitted that he can be emotionally sensitive- which is why he puts up protective "walls" around his feelings.  But I digress.

The point is, learning to read and respond to micro expressions at my work place has been helpful.  Not so in my person life.  I.E., with my mom.  I often wish that I could just not notice what my mom thinks about things.  I want to take what she is verbally saying at face value, and ignore her body language.

This is where I explain why I mentioned my degree in psychology at the beginning of this post.  It's because I can make excuses for other people's behavior all day long.  I'm good at it, at explaining it, rationalizing why someone might be doing what they are doing, etc.   Having insight into others is a double edged sword.  I can rationalize that my mom has a lot of things going on in her life right now that are really stressful, so if she looks at me with that "you look fat" face, or "you need to stop gaining weight" look, it's only because her mom is floundering downhill with Alzheimer's.  

The thing is, right now I feel like my mom thinks I'm fat, she doesn't like or understand my husband (he doesn't like going outside very much! He plays video games- a lot. Eep!), and she doesn't like my dog (he's "aggressive" and "doesn't understand" the word "come." Uh, yeah, he does, sometimes he chooses to ignore you, or stare at you blankly.  He does get it, though. She is upset that he likes to come when you are using a high pitched, read: happy tone of voice.  She "doesn't play that game," meaning using a different tone of voice to call him.  Nope, she puts a shock collar on her dog so that if he doesn't come, she can shock him.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess).

The thinking I'm fat thing... to be fair, I am overweight. I finally got myself some new bras yesterday because they were half off, and I don't like to spend money on myself, but I found out I went up two bra sizes.  Thank God I don't have that horrible 4 boob thing going on anymore, but up two sizes? I was grateful she wasn't there with me, not because I feel that terrible about my new bra size, but because her presence would have made me feel ashamed.  Even though she is overweight, too.  Women are tough on each other.

It's why I almost didn't get my new coat, because nothing seemed to look good on me yesterday- at least to her.  She gave me the once over, a half hearted "that's nice, but isn't that just like the other coat you have?"  Her face screamed that she was not impressed.  Nope, not really. I confirmed this when I brought it home to show Justin, and asked him if he thought it was the same as my other jacket.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said no, the two coats were completely different. (By the way, I love my husband).  This coat has a tie around the waist, which actually gives me a waist.  I think I look good in it.

I tried on this dress, it was lacy, black, and sexy.  I put my new Spanx on under it, the first Spanx I have ever purchased, and went, "Wow! My butt looks smooth! My sides are nipped in! I've got some cleavage going- which, what is the point of having big boobs if you never show them off- and the skirt is a decent enough length that I don't look slutty!"  I came out of the dressing room, as my mom had told me she wanted to see. Haltingly, she told me, "Oh, cute. Yeah."  And nodded.  She looked at me a few seconds longer, then asked, "Did you see yourself in a full length mirror?"  Who wants to be cute in a dress designed to be sexy, with a v neckline and black lace?  Um, yeah, I saw myself in a full length mirror.  I thought that my husband would love this dress, and want to get me out of it at his earliest opportunity.

I couldn't buy it then, not with the way she looked at me in it.  Her micro expressions were all negative, all condemning my cleavage and curvy (but now smoothly curvy- thanks Spanx!) torso. I did buy some boots that she wasn't overly impressed with either, but dammit, I can wear these every day.  And I like them. The dress would be a date-night dress, and we can only afford so many of those.  I suggested wearing the boots with skinny jeans, and she quickly told me, "Or just like that," meaning with pants over them.  Apparently I look bad in skinny jeans, too.

When I told my husband about it, wanting his honest opinion, he told me that the boots look good this morning (with skinny jeans, thankyouverymuch) and that he thinks I'm sexy anyway.  But that dress sounded good.

I did get $75 in Kohl's cash so I think I am going back to buy that dress on Monday.  Sexy date night, here I come! Negative micro expressions be damned.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holiday Love

With the Holidays fast approaching, many of us are trying to figure out how to stretch our paychecks into gifts for our loved ones.  I am always so tempted to spend more than every cent I have making sure I got something good enough for those I care about, and I know it's a habit for a lot of people.  Credit card companies just love Black Friday, and pretty much the entire month of December.

Here's the thing: money spent does not equal love felt.  As Josh Turner says, "Time is love."    Y'know those coupons you gave your parents when you were little, for hugs or doing the dishes?  Or those coupons you give to your significant other for things like doing the dishes for a week... or having whatever kind of sex they want that night?

As an adult, those coupons feel like cheating.  They don't cost you anything but the ink and paper they come on, the credit card company sees no benefit, and it is so easy to never fulfill them.  The coupons get shuffled off somewhere, never to be used.  However, if Time = Love, and you really want to give someone something they need... those coupons are great.  Who needs scented candles that may or may not smell good to you? Or someone else to buy you lotion- which may or may not smell good to you, if it doesn't give you a rash.

Fulfilling those coupons takes real commitment. Effort, even.  The giftee may blow them off at first, thinking that you don't mean it and didn't want to spend money on them.  It's easy to let that happen, but don't.  Call, Facebook, email, whatever, and ask them when you can fulfill that coupon.  The best gifts are the ones where you spend time with them while doing them a favor.

  • Plant their garden- buy the plants, plan how they are going to be placed, and put them in.
  • Go out to lunch or dinner, restaurant and time of their choice
  • Watch their kids for an evening, or take them and the kids out bowling, swimming, etc. and help supervise
  • Change the oil on their car, and if they don't know how, teach them how to do it
  • Mow the lawn/rake the leaves/shovel the snow
  • Clean their house- vacuum, dust, sweep, mop.  Help with spring cleaning, tackling that one room in everyone's house that is usually called the "storage room," but is basically a giant junk drawer
  • Massages, hair cuts, manicure/pedicure, or another special talent you have- treat them with it
  •  A night out on the town, whether that's bar hopping, going to a movie, taking a spin in the boat, etc
  • Baked goods delivered once a month for the next year- everyone loves homemade bread, brownies, and baklava
Several of the ones I have listed involve doing something at the person's house.  Hand them a glass of their favorite beverage, tell them to take a seat and then chat while you work.   Just remember, time is love. Not money.

Lets not kill anyone this Black Friday, okay? I know getting $300 off a TV is a great deal, but seriously, this is crazy!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arena vs. Trails

The last two times I rode Rocky in the arena, he was sluggish.  The first of those two times, he seemed tired and I figured that he was because he had been switched to a different pasture the day before.  Getting acquainted with his new pasture mates, figuring out the pecking order and exploring the new area probably didn't lend itself to a "full nights sleep."

When I squeezed with my legs, he would pin his ears before reluctantly following my cue.  His steps lacked energy and his canter felt all wrong.  When I let him stop and rest, he seemed sleepy.  So I figured he was tired, crabby, and didn't want to be pushed.  I gave a mental shrug and let it go.

The next time I went up to ride, a few days after this last incident, I took him out on the trails first.  I rode along the outside of the arena, and when he was given the opportunity to head down the trail, he went with no real cue from me.  Rocky seemed happy to head out on the trails with renewed energy.  I soon discovered he had too much of the wrong type of energy.   He was hesitant to go unless Bear took the lead, but Bear was more interested in guarding our rear.  When I asked him to trot he sprang forward, head up and ears perked alertly.  He huffed as we went, and scanned the area with his head higher than normal.

Rocky tends to keep his head fairly level with his withers, through no training of mine but as his natural, comfortable head set.  When his head stays up with his ears sharply perked forward, he's on high alert. I took note and let him trot for a minute, hoping to burn off at least of little of his nerves.  At one point, he stopped in his tracks and stared into the woods.  I asked him to flex his head around and he did, then spooked a few seconds later.  We turned in a circle until he stopped himself, his nose still near my toes.  Flexing is truly a wonderful thing, and I am never more grateful for learning it than at the times when it keeps me from being on a horse running for the hills in terror.

I flexed his nose to my toes in both directions until he seemed more settled, then asked him to continue.  He was hesitant still, and seemed to be nervous.  I think it may be the changing seasons, plus my lack of desensitizing lately that has brought us back to this point. I ended up getting off where there were two boards over a weird hole in the ground.  I sent Rocky around this obstacle in both directions, and once he tried to scoot away from the hole in fear.  I was glad my feet were firmly planted on the ground!

After a few minutes he relaxed with the hole and let me mount up. I decided to turn around, not wanting to keep pushing him when he wasn't settling properly.  I rode him through brush on the way back, trying to keep him occupied as he still was on his toes.  He huffed his way through it no problem, but at any moment it felt like he was going to spook, bolt, or slam on the brakes.  When we got back to the barn yard, his nerves dropped.  When we entered the arena, the ear pinning and shuffling gait took over again.

He lacked enthusiasm and his canter still felt off, even though he had seemed fine on the trails.  I finally asked Silver to watch us go, just in case he was lame somewhere that I wasn't noticing.  He hadn't been tender when I groomed him, and I checked his spine and ribs to make sure nothing was out of place there.  He was fine, no "ouchy" spots.

I got him to canter while Silver observed, and she confirmed what I had suspected: he was fine, just arena sour. Now, I had only ridden him in the arena the last two or three times I had been out, before that it was a decently long stretch of trail rides.   In all of her wisdom, Silver pointed out, "Let's be honest, we work our horses harder in the arena than we ever do on the trails."

It rang true, and I figured out that I needed to do a few things differently.  First, do several sessions in a row that consist for the most part of desensitizing.  Not the half hearted, short lived concessions I had been making, but genuinely working on it.  Second, do as much work with Rocky as I could outside of the arena.  If we did need to work inside the fence, I would not tolerate his nasty attitude.  Everybody is allowed to have a bad day but his behavior would surely escalate if I allowed him to dictate what we do by him being nasty.  That's a good way to teach a good horse to be mean.

It made me wonder about horses that are worked exclusively in an arena.  A horse that Silver bought had been in training to be a reiner, and was terribly arena sour.  She hated being in it.   The mare doesn't mind now, but she had been worked only in an arena for almost a year.  The naturally sweet mare had become nasty with it, until given the opportunity to get out of the arena and to do more than stops and spins.

There is a dressage horse at my barn that doesn't seem to mind working in the arena all the time.  His owner has taken him out on the trails once or twice a year, but he spends most of his time learning to be graceful within the arena.   He puffs his way around with enthusiasm, and seems to enjoy the work he is given.

I think it comes down to having the right horse for the job you want to do.  Silver's mare could have been a great reiner, she has the bloodlines and the conformation for it.  She doesn't love that job, though.  The dressage gelding had become known at his last home as "dangerous," and would dump riders.  He never got turned out, though, and now that he is turned out 24/7 and not a lesson horse, he's an absolute snuggle bunny.  (And by bunny, I mean huge Warmblood).

Rocky likes going for trail rides, and I feel lucky that I have a horse that enjoys the same things I do. 
Rocky says hi :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ella Update

Alright, I have made my decision: I am going to email Ella's owner to ask about working with her.  My plan is to ask to be paid something, but likely not very much.  If the owner doesn't want to pay me anything, I will still work with her if he allows it.  I talked to Silver about it, and she told me her experiences in working with Ella when she takes her out for trims.

The last time, Ella reared once and then was fine.   For a mostly untouched yearling, I'd say she's doing really well.  Silver said that Ella was very easy to teach how to lead when bringing her up from the pasture.  Essentially, she is a golden opportunity just sitting around waiting for someone to take notice.  I'm taking notice!

I haven't ever worked with a horse this young before, so if I do I am excited about all of the things I'm going to learn. I hope I can do her justice, and not "screw her up." That was one of my hesitations before, doubting myself and being realistic that I am in no way a professional trainer.  However, as I told someone the other day, I have been working with horses for 18 years, and that's almost 75% of my life. (Yes, I did the math.)  I will make mistakes, ask for help, and do some things wrong. 

I anticipate getting frustrated, not knowing the next step, and possibly getting hurt- either physically, emotionally, or both.  I also think that each of those experiences will teach me a lot, and I don't think I can continue to grow as a horseman without stretching myself.  Most days, I can handle Rocky just fine.  I still have more to learn with him, but we have gotten to the point where he doesn't *have* to have more training.  He could maintain exactly where he is most of the time and be totally fine.

Ella doesn't have that luxury.  She gets older every day, and I don't see anything about her situation changing any time soon.  This is one of those times that a horse is not in danger, neglected, or otherwise treated badly.  She simply isn't worked with, has no knowledge of how to work with people or worthwhile skills.  I have thought about getting involved in rescuing horses to lend a hand teaching basic manners, and this is a great opportunity for me to test my skills.  Hopefully this can be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

If anyone has suggestions for things I should say in my email to Ella's owner, I'm all ears.  I don't want to mislead her owner into thinking that I am 1. incompetent or 2. a professional.  I'm somewhere in the middle, and I also want to be sensitive to his feelings so that I don't sound like I look down on him for not coming to the barn more often or learning the skills to train his horses himself.  My goal is to be honest, tactful, and helpful.

Monday, November 5, 2012


When she first arrived at my barn, the 3 month old filly had never been outside before, except for her trip from her stall to the trailer.  She was an "oops" baby, and a young man purchased her dam plus one out of the kindness of his heart.  He saw the chestnut mare locked in a stall and decided that he could afford to buy her, releasing her and her foal from their stalled prison.

My barn owner, Silver, decided to keep them in a stall with a run for a while, allowing both mare and foal to acclimate to the outdoors before placing them in a pasture.  The filly was so excited, she ran straight through the stall and out the end of the run, bucking and leaping with joy.  She was caught without much trouble and returned to the run, where she learned what a fence means.  Her dam was cautious about being friendly, having learned that humans can lock her away without a thought.

Ella, however, was not so reserved.  When she saw people, she came right over to say hello.   She sniffed my hand delicately, then let me run my fingers through her soft, fluffy coat.  Her eyes were warm and interested, not at all afraid to have a stranger rub her neck.   Ella stuck her nose up to smell my face, and we exchanged breaths until she was satisfied.

When she was freshly at the barn, I remember admiring her markings.  She was a soft sorrel color, and I figured she would deepen into her dam's coppery hue.  She has four white socks, the hind ones rising above her hocks in the front, and the front ones coming to her knees.  With her wide blaze, I could see what she would look like as an adult, her white legs and face would be quite striking to see.

I was wrong.  Ella did not shed out her baby coat to match her mother's chestnut one. Instead, she turned butter yellow with a thick white mane and tail.  This little angel I was falling for turned out to be palomino, the color of my first beloved mare.  If I could afford it, I would have bought her months ago, when I still thought she would be chestnut and her mane was only wispy curls above her neck.

Her owner doesn't do anything with her.   Ella just turned a year old this fall- more evidence of her being an oops baby.  The owner doesn't drive, so he relies on friends to bring him to the barn.  Silver says she usually only sees him when he drops off board checks once a month.  He did put Ella's dam into training with Silver, to get her riding.  I've seen him out a few times to tool around on her, but the last time he was out he planned to get on her after not seeing her for a few months.  He didn't know how to put the saddle on, and when my mom went to help, cautioned her that "the mare has already bucked today."

He isn't a bad person, he simply isn't able to or doesn't put time into his horses, into learning to be a horseman. They are now out in a pasture with other horses, where they receive all of the vet and farrier care they need.  I itch to take Ella out, teach her to be a good young horse that leads, stands quietly for Silver to trim her, and start ground work that will make teaching her to carry a rider someday so much easier.  I could even pony her behind Rocky, a good exercise for him and for her, getting her out on the trails to explore more of the world.

Right now, she's a mostly unhandled yearling.  Every other month, Silver takes her out for a trim but otherwise, she's a pasture puff.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think she should be in any sort of intense training.   However, it's much easier to put manners into a young horse than into a large, adult horse who has had plenty of time to decide how things should be on their own.

I debate what I should do about this situation.  For several months, I avoided Ella's pasture because I was becoming increasingly attached to her, and again, I simply can't afford another horse.  I don't know what the owner's plans for her are, or if he has even considered her future.  Right now, my guess is that she is going to be a fairly tall palomino Quarter horse mare, not registered (to my knowledge, anyway), with decent conformation and a good temperament.  I think she could really be worth something, if she had even basic training to fall back on.  She's going to look flashy once all of her growing is said and done, and she seems to have a laid back, calm attitude.

I wonder if he would have any interest in paying me to work with Ella, but I suspect he may not.  Like I said before, he did put her dam into training but hasn't done anything with either of them since.  I keep telling myself that I should stay out of their business and mind my own, but now Rocky has been put in her pasture. I can't avoid seeing her anymore, and it tugs at my heartstrings to think of all the potential being wasted with this filly right now.

I read Fugly Horse of the Day, I know what happens to unregistered, untrained yearlings if their owners' financial situation changes.  My other worry is falling in love with her, only to have her disappear after I've worked with her and spent a good deal of time with her.  I think I may ask if he would be interested in paying me almost anything to put some training on her, and if he ever decides to sell her, that I would "help" him find someone appropriate for her.  I have no problem with Ella going to someone who is going to love and care for her, so I think that may be my best bet.

Thoughts?  Have you ever been in a similar situation, and what did you do?