Summer Goals and Adventures

Summer is for tackling projects and dedicating time to making progress with ourselves and our horses. (Okay, winter is good for that, also.) As you may have heard on the Best Horse Practices podcast, we’re curious to hear how your summer is going, what you’re getting done, and if you’re checking things off a To Do list.

Send us your thoughts!

This spring, I wrote some goals on a big dry erase board screwed to my bedroom wall:

  • Gain more confidence and skill with horses.
  • Do more ranch work.
  • Write a book.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It’s nice to dream and scheme; how we convert dreams and schemes to action and accomplishments is where we get lost, hung up, or lose momentum. This summer, several hacks and initiatives helped me solidify progress:

  • I wrote down (on aforementioned dry erase board) and talked with friends about my goals. This helped make me more accountable and made it more fun.
  • I asked for help and got it. I have been consulting with Jec Ballou and taking virtual lessons with Amy Skinner. I’ve met new friends and learned from them.

Based on conversations and emails with many riders, I’d say my projects involve some pretty common goals. How we tackle them varies as much as what’s for dinner.  Here’s a synopsis of my mini-journey:

Doing more ranch work

For years, I’ve been trying to learn more about stockmanship. I lived in Mancos for five years and through persistent word-or-mouth, I picked up volunteer work with ranchers. Late last year, I moved 40 miles west. Now what?

Picture me, driving home after a trip to the gym. It was winter and along the stretch of road near my home, two riders were moving about a hundred head towards National Forest. In sweats, I hopped out of my little car, jogged up to one of the cowboys, and handed him my card. “I want to help,” I said with a smile before name-dropping a few Mancos ranchers I’d ridden with.

Remarkably, he called. For several months, I’ve helped out. Sometimes, it’s a few hours. Sometimes, it’s all day. I rarely get paid, but I am getting handier with each outing. I’ve learned more about how cows move in thick country, full of aspen, scrub oak, and juniper. I’ve learned more about how cows behave in the heat and cold.

Thanks to a new friend, I’ve gotten consistent help with my dogs (two border collies) in working stock. It has amounted to dozens of hours of hard, patient, painstaking work. In turn, we (rider, horse, dogs) have become more helpful and reliable.

It hasn’t come without tribulation. I’ve been yelled at any number of times for unwittingly doing things wrong. I’ve been scared for my horse and dogs. I’ve been hurt, cold and hungry, hot and thirsty. But, oh, the wet saddle pads. Most days, we cover 20-30 miles.

Gaining more confidence and skill with horses

My animals and I gained confidence almost by accident. It came with the wet saddle pads. It came with putting myself in new predicaments and having to work through them. It came while I was busy doing something else. I realized this when I was riding home one night in the rain with my saddle horse and a pack horse. I couldn’t find my headlamp, but realized all would be fine. I could do everything in the dark – unsaddle my horses, load them in the trailer, unload them, along with all the nitty-gritty stuff that comes with wrapping up a long day’s ride.

In the case of working with my nervous horse, Barry, it came with circling back to basics. It came with help from Amy in identifying where we had gone wrong in the past and working to create a better foundation with more relaxation. Progress and the accompanying confidence came by humbling myself to beginner status and going slowly.

Writing a book

Since the publication of Horse Head, I’ve gathered material and worked on the manuscript for my forthcoming book, Beasts of Being.

Last month, I sent the forty-thousand word manuscript to my copy editor in Toronto, Canada. After more editing and revisions, I will be working with a graphic designer to complete the book design. Review copies will be sent in September and I hope to have it ready for readers by October.

Unexpected Education

Wary Barry rocks a salt-packing trip in the high country. A proud day!

Through my work with coaches, acquaintances, and friends, I’ve gained perspective on how some behaviors serve neither me, my animals, nor my fellow riders.

  • Brace

While explaining my challenges with nervous Barry to life coach Trish Lemke, I mentioned that he was braced and always seemingly waiting for the next bad thing to happen. She said, “that sounds just like you!”

I thought “resilience” was being ready for the other shoe to drop. But that attitude just cultivates a sense of trepidation and makes even the happiest days laden with an expectation that eventually things will go south.

Instead, I am trying to think of resilience as part of carpe diem. Seizing the day, working with what’s in front of me, enjoying the present, and knowing that I can handle whatever comes next. That’s helped with the brace.

  • Emotions

More than a few times this summer, I’ve been frightened by an unfolding scenario: my dog being kicked in the head, my horse and I getting in a fix. I didn’t react calmly. Afterwards, I was scolded for it because negative energy isn’t just harsh language and rough hands. It’s also panicked responses and letting emotions take over. That kind of reaction never helps a situation. It hinders the well-being of everyone around me. In moments of crisis, I’m learning to breathe and own my emotions rather than let my emotions own me.

  • Feel over Intellect 

Research has my back. Our neuroplasticity stiffens as we age. Learning comes haltingly. It can be hard for a 56-year old to learn new stuff: riding a fresh horse, building a loop, throwing a rope, tying new knots, hauling over Wolf Creek Pass, packing salt into the high country, riding across the Rio Grande. Being extra-attentive has been my strategy as I try to acquire new skills. I try to puzzle things out, solve problems, and commit solutions to memory. But I can be guilty of over-focus and over-analysis. As an old beginner, it can be hard to just be. But I’m learning that just being is part of the solution. I try to remember to find relaxation in my trials.

Posted in Dogs and Horses, Horsemen & Women, Not Too Old to Learn, Training.


  1. In response to your request for summer adventures, my 19 yr old Arabian mare and I (a 72 yr old amateur rider) have begun Working Equitation training! We have participated in a clinic and schooled some obstacles at home. My mare is very intelligent but also very alert and reactive. The obstacles seem to be a great and fun challenge for her, once she gets over her initial suspicion! In the clinic she made great improvement in just the two lessons and handled the required rhythm and bend changes like a champ. I am finding that the dressage training and obstacles are a fun combination of skills.
    Thanks for your podcast. I always enjoy listening and found the book on corrective exercises very helpful when we needed it as she recovered from a stifle soreness.

  2. This was excellent Maddy! Good writing and good content. So glad to hear you are doing well and being. In the moment. Always a good thing!

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