Centered In the Now  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

I was in the observation room this past Tuesday evening watching the show prep lesson. It was a full house of eager riders training for success in the many upcoming competitions. This particular year we all impatiently await for winter to finally release its grip and I’m sure these riders are looking forward to experiencing that “perfect union” between themselves and their horse when cold indoor work switches to beautiful summer afternoons and evenings in the outdoor arena.

I was never a fan of winter. I spent my initial employment working in it and that completely cured me that it had any merit. Although I didn’t have to cut the grass or weed the garden in winter there was bitter cold, snow and the shortness of daylight to contend with. It’s a time of reflection and planning. I used to count off the days till spring but as I’ve gotten older I have begun to try to appreciate each day I get. Any day you wake up is a good day, right?

The same applies to my everyday endeavors. I try to savor the now. The little things that I would have overlooked when I was young are becoming more important to me now. Little things like when my grandchildren grasp my fingers as we cross the street or noticing a sunrise. The memory is still precious but the trick is to to savor the actual event as it unfolds. I’m not real good at it but I am trying.

Being in the “now” can be applied to riding as well. Being in the saddle is a great metaphor for cultivating your “center”. The Japanese call this the “hara”. It’s an all encompassing term which I don’t fully understand but it’s located two inches below your navel, honestly! Think of it as your center of gravity or if you prefer, center of energy. From that point everything is easier, more immediate and calm. The horse has one as well and whether they realize it or not both achieve maximum effort by utilizing that center. When you are in the saddle a new center of gravity or hara is formed between you and the horse and to fully cultivate that point it requires that you be in the “now”. Riding a trot or canter becomes much easier when you derive your movement from this common center as it happens.

Our interaction must eventually work without thinking about it. Thinking takes to long and you will no longer be in the “now”. This is called “mushin” or the “no mind”. If someone takes a punch at me and I have to think about how to respond and in that order to respond I will already be on the ground bleeding profusely (I may well be anyway). "Mushin" is achieved from devoted practice using breathing while cultivating your center in the now. Being in the “now” often makes the experience appear to slow down and become almost effortless. It’s the darnedest thing.

When I help out at clinics and I am asked, I often offer the suggestion to “breathe” and “center” yourself. I get some blank looks but not always. Deep, regular breathing brings the mind back to the "hara" and to center or settle yourself helps to expend your energy more from your “hara”. Often folks are taking quick shallow breaths or sometimes holding their breath while their mind races ahead of the “now” while envisioning countless possible problems. This affects the horses center as well as they lose the connection with their partner

We walk with our center, we speak from our center, we think with our center and yes we ride with our center. The opportunity to share a common center with a horse is unique. And that connection goes further. As I watch those riders picking up, for example, the correct diagonal they are not furtively guessing or thinking through the experience but are in the “now” and it simply happens. It takes real practice and they are to be commended. I struggle like everyone else but I come back to it because I need to seek that energy connection again.

~ Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Sensei  with permission from author Steve McClure, originally written July 30, 2012

The word Sensei is a Japanese word and simply means “teacher”. But to the Japanese, a teacher commands great respect. I remember listening to a famous Japanese Aikido (way of harmony) Master and his most important piece of advice to train successfully was to first find a good teacher. Jen Gaudes - Raemisch has been my sensei, in all things horse, for many years. Jen’s a wonderful teacher, funny, totally unflappable and a fantastic horse person. She continues to add to her knowledge by attending seminars and takes classes to improve her skills in multiple equine disciplines. I always kid her that she has the equivalent of a black belt in Horse Kwon Do.  She has forgotten more about horses then I will ever know.

She is also a stickler for safety. At her barn (Sun Fire Stables) the aisle floors are always kept clear and clean. The gates are kept secured and reins and lead ropes never touch the ground. Tack is kept in good condition as well as properly secured when in use and the health and well-being of both rider and horse is closely monitored.

She sees everything. She can tell you are missing a stirrup strap from 100 feet away in the dark and it’s on the side opposite of her view!  I once texted her a picture of me on a horse as I was trailing cattle in South Dakota. It was a beautiful day. The grass was green and the sky was a deep shade of blue. The picture showed the herd directly in front of me and my horse's head happened to be included in very bottom of the picture. She texted back that the picture was indeed beautiful but that the strap of my headstall was not in its keeper and I looked down and it wasn't. Busted from a thousand miles away! Don’t get me wrong. I agree with her approach. It’s her business and she has to keep it safe for all concerned.

   THE OFFENDING PHOTO:

Busted Horse Strap image

Riding a lot in the West I have noticed that people often do things differently out there. A working ranch can be a very busy place without the liberty or luxury to observe the strict safety concerns of a student barn. When I am working as a hand it is not up to me to critique the methods employed but it is safe to say that I will not do anything I consider dangerous. Eventually I do find myself cutting corners to get the job done but that “Jen alarm” goes off in my head whenever I do or see things that would not fly at my home barn.

When I’m on the ground I was taught early on to hold the reins so you don’t lose the horse. It’s embarrassing to chase your mount down or have someone get him for you and hand him back. We’ve all seen dropped reins and it can be dangerous for the horse, their mouth and any bystanders. Typically if I am on the range with my own rig I have a rope halter under my bridle with a lead rope attached to my saddle. If there is a need to stop and dismount for any length of time I can unbridle the horse and tie him with the lead rope to a tree or some other object.  I was also taught to tie high and tight to prevent the horse from stepping over the lead rope and causing a potential wreck and I've seen those as well. But out West I have been instructed to tie longer so the horse can graze. I do what I am told but my “Jen alarm” still goes off in my head.

Once out in the middle of nowhere the ranch boss stopped the herd to wait for the truck with our lunch to arrive. Naturally, after dismounting, I held on to the reins of my horse.  This time I was not equipped with my normal rope halter under the bridle setup and my horse’s pasture halter and lead rope were in a trailer some distance away. There was nothing to tie to anyway, just sagebrush and grass. The other riders just got off and dropped their reins. I didn’t know what would happen with my horse. It was my first day on him and I was told he had not been worked in some time. Nothing is more embarrassing than to lose your horse and watch him head back home. You never want to be caught afoot on the range after losing your mount. I was beginning to wonder how I would accomplish eating and holding on to this horse while still looking “cowboy”. Finally the boss walked over to me and said quietly, “Steve, I bet that horse would stay right there if you just tied your reins around one of his stirrups”.  I thought to myself “maybe in your world boss” but it was his show and sure enough I tied him, as instructed, and he stayed put.  But I kept an eye on him!

Back at home I sometimes find myself getting a little lazy. Reins may accidentally drop to the ground or I am guilty of inadequate grooming (not me personally but the horse I’m brushing). Jen calls this a “cowboy brush” and I get called on it. I tell her that I’m practicing in case the cattle get loose and I've got to get saddled quick. She just laughs and tells me that I am her job security. I know it’s important that I follow the rules of the barn since bad habits have a way of spreading so I do my best. In the arena I do work on ground tying and I employ the rope as a tool of trust and between myself and the horse. She is also very supportive of my training with Steve Lundean who is another very talented horseman and my mentor for all things “cowboy”. Some teachers would feel threatened to see a student train with someone else but Jen respects Steve’s knowledge and sees his style and approach as a valuable resource. She’s always looking for ways to add to her knowledge and bring fresh ideas to her training. It is the mark of a true teacher.

The more you learn the more you realize that you don’t know. Folks will now ask me questions concerning horsemanship and I feel woefully inadequate to offer an answer. If the question seems like a simple one I may offer my opinion but with the caveat that I’m a student just like them and I’m pretty much always wrong.

I have taught martial arts for many years and can tell you that if you want to find the way in any discipline you must do what that Aikido master told me so long ago. “Search for a truly gifted instructor and learn from them”. That’s what I did!

~Steve McClure

Support  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

This was a blog I wrote in 2014 and it is true now as it was then. Sun Fire Stables is a special place.  ~ Reno

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 We recently completed a Beginners Ranch Roping clinic this past Sunday at Sun Fire Stables in Waterford, WI.   It was a beautiful day at a great facility with a wonderful group of horse people. Everyone seemed to have a good, safe and enjoyable time.  Now I have to disclose that I am somewhat biased since Sun Fire is my home barn and I know all the riders who attended. Leading up to the clinic I had been approached by some nervous folks asking what would be expected of them during the clinic. They simply couldn't believe that they would not only learn to throw a rope but eventually do it from their horse! I tried to calm them best I could but they just didn't seem to think it was possible but, sure enough, by the time the clinic was winding down every rider roping and dallying and doing a fine job at it. Roping is a lot more than just throwing a loop and making a catch. It is about furthering the trust between you and your horse and you just don't know what you can do until you try.

Roping is really addictive. Once you start it is hard to put the rope down. You are always looking for a shot. My youngest granddaughter, Chloe, helped during the clinic and she did a great job. I encouraged her, as did Steve Lundean, to come on into the arena to give it a try. She deferred, feeling that her job was to help, as she had promised, and she is a real hand. As soon as the clinic was over she grabbed a rope, went into the arena, and asked me to show her how to make a loop. I took care of her that evening until her parents and brother got home and that little girl practiced her throw on a bucket in the backyard, until nightfall.

I was also struck by the number of folks who volunteered to help during the clinic. No matter what the job was, people would just pitch in. If the arena needed picking someone took care of it. If something was to be unloaded or returned to its proper place willing hands appeared to help. That is the true cowboy spirit. If a job needs doing you just pitch in and get it done. I took my obligatory spill during the riding portion of the clinic (it's expected of me by now) and at least two kind souls in the audience offered me an ice compress or some such as I remounted and rode past them.  Thanks to those folks as well.

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It also occurred to me that all the riders in that arena owed so much to so many. The kids relied on parents, extended family and friends to support and nurture their efforts. Transportation, fees, rescheduling family outings and cheering on the sidelines are only a few of the things that go on in the back round to get these youngsters into the arena. Adults spend their hard earned money and take time from chores and family obligations to pursue horsemanship. It really is a team effort and thanks to all those who sacrifice time and money to help the riders fulfill a dream.

Thanks to Jen and Dean (who won the timed team roping by the way) at Sun Fire Stables for hosting and Steve Lundean, Katryna and Bob for putting on another great clinic. Looking forward to the next time.

 ~Steve McClure (Reno)

To read more by Steve McClure--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now

Harmony  ~Steve McClure

I recently saw a post by our own Sara B. regarding her recent lesson riding Pal. She expesses her initial fear but eventually she breaks into that moment when she and Pal "blend" and become one. It is an exciting moment when energy, motion and timing become one and I firmly believe that it is those unique times that make us come back and saddle up whether it be a sunny afternoon or a miserable winter night. Sara knows that Jen would not assign a horse that she couldn't handle but what Sara perhaps doesn't realize is that Pal also experiences the same blending and learns (hopefully) that less is more and acting as a team, with trust, is much less work than resisting.

Anyone that knows me well is aware that I am a martial artist. I’ve studied and taught for over forty years. I have black belts in both Taekwondo and Aikido. I see everything through my martial "eye". I am constantly amazed at the similarities between martial arts and riding especially in relation to Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese martial art and literally means "the way of harmony". In this particular art the intent is to redirect, with as little energy as possible, an opposing force and thereby restoring harmony. This is especially important in regards to a one thousand pound horse where absorbing the energy is not a good idea. We use rythmn, timing and feel to blend with the horse's motion to hopefully create a "harmonious" outcome and so does the horse. We apply slight pressure until the hores moves and then we let off when they respond. Soon the animal moves with the slightest cue because they have learned to blend.

In Aikido we normally partner up for practice and the person attacking is called "nage" while the reciever is called "uke". It is uke's job to redirect nage's energy (attack) so it is render harmless. It is unfair of nage to "sucker punch" uke because sooner or later the roles are reversed and the new nage will avenge the sucker punch! The point is that both parties work to better each others skills, in other words both sides gain. It is likened to the "knife" and the "stone". The knife (nage) sharpens his skill on the stone (uke) and then the roles are reversed. Both must do their best so that the practice is successful.

I like to think of our horsemanship the same way. Both the horse and rider must gain for true success. If both horse and rider understand and trust each other then there is harmony. And harmony leads to enlightenment. I took a lot of poundings and bad falls in the martial arts but I would return just to experience that brief moment when less was more and I blended with the energy and simply flung it off.
Sara found that moment when Pal's head lowered and both became one but I think Pal felt it as well. In this, both gained.

 

To read more by Steve McClure--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Roping Practice  ~Steve McClure (Reno)

8/19/18

In my last post I mentioned a roping clinic that was put on at Sun Fire Stables back in 2014. A similar event was held in “16” and like the first I thought it was well received. 

A rope on a horse is as “Americana” as sliced bread. If truth be told a lot of cowboy culture, especially the rope is derived from the old Spanish “Vaquero” tradition. Whether you “dally” or “tie hard and fast” (and that argument still rages) the rope is an integral part of cowboying. 

Throwing a loop is fun off a horse or on the ground.  Find a roping dummy and have at it. There are so many types of throws depending on position and direction of the critter that you’ll never be bored. It’s gets to be habit forming.  

Lots of folks don’t realize that the rope is also a great tool for training as well as a device to communicate with your horse. Most folks that come to a clinic never intend to throw a loop over a steer and that’s just fine. But the trust and partnership developed with the rope creates a bond that will further enhance your horsemanship and increase the trust between you and your horse. 

I’d much rather work with the rope on the ground and in the saddle than most anything else.  All the horses I ride are soon familiar with my rope. I want them comfortable as well as respectful of the rope. I may catch them with it, log stuff with it or rub them all over with it. I have used the rope doing ground work many times. When you swing a loop while  in the saddle they hear it and at times see it. On the ground I will get it carefully around their legs and rear. All good sacking practice for everyday riding.  

The rope is a physical extension of the horse and rider. When you dally up (yes I dally) and ask for a pull you are one with your mount and the pull is a new sensation to you both as well as a change in your combined center of gravity. Eventually you and the horse learn to get short and long and to pop your dally. It’s an honorable job and I believe horses and people need that.

Now don’t get me wrong. The rope is an excellent training aid for you both. You need never have to interact with cattle to enjoy its benefits. Eventually, should you desire, it can be employed with cattle. Don’t forget that when you land that first head shot three brains are now involved and if you have not received proper instruction things can go south pretty quickly so seek knowledgeable instruction if you have a mind to try. You should be able to turn and maneuver your horse without thinking about it. Your horse should be familiar with cattle. I have roped cattle and sometimes they just stand there. Other times if they are alone or maybe on the prod they take off like a shot, bawling the whole way. Once in a great while they have been known to circle you and wrap the rope around your horses legs and under the tail. Cowboys call that a “rim fire” and as you can imagine it is no fun. Now you understand why knowing how to move your horse and ground work with the rope is so important. 

Whether it is made of poly, nylon, reata or maguey the rope is a solid training and confidence builder for both horse and rider. Find an experienced person or check online to know which rope is right for you. Ask someone how to “punch a hole in the rope” and throw a loop. Build a roping dummy and get to throwing. Of course there are a bunch of different throws but stick to the basic over the head throw and practice. We all know working with horses can be dangerous so take it slow and steady. Like all things worthwhile it takes work and practice but it’s really a lot of fun!

 

To read more by Steve McClure (Reno)--see below.

Insights By Steve -- Support

Insights By Steve -- Sensei

Insights by Steve - Harmony

Insights by Steve-Centered in the Now