Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Story of Ziggy Starman Part II: My Sorrel Finds a Name and Horse Training Begins

Ziggy goofing at Hernandez house, 2008

Pup Rooe and Zigs, "The Kiss"

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Ziggy and Me at Mark Rashid Clinic Trailer Loading in Corrales, NM, 2004
The first few months of my early days with Ziggy were magical.  I could not believe I owned a horse and felt such great responsibility towards this beautiful being.  It was summertime and I used to get up at 12 midnight and go out and talk and touch him because he was the most mysterious of creatures to me.  I did not have a name for my boy because I wanted to know him well before naming him.

During my "down to earth moments", I knew we had to proceed with a training schedule.  I perused a local horse publication and found a list of trainers in the area.  I called up a woman who lived nearby and she came over to assess my boy and give us some guidance.  The session was a bit of a disaster because I was so "green" and so was my horse.  I understood her frustration as I had little understanding of the basics of training and could not relate to her instructions.  I felt very intimidated.  My horse was too young to ride but I knew there was "ground work" to be done before riding. For a while my instincts told me to hang out in the corral with my boy so we could become acquainted and familiar with each other.  At 2 1/2 years old my horse was powerful, full of himself, and could easily hurt me if I was not watchful.

When my courage returned I called upon another trainer to help us.  She was strict but more flexible and gave me information and books to study.  I started to understand the concepts of "Natural Horsemanship" that many clinicians were teaching.  These concepts revolved around how a horse thinks and responds naturally as a prey animal.  Humans are scary predators and need to learn how a horse reasons and behaves for communication and learning to happen. Understanding a horse's "language"  allows the human to demonstrate leadership and gain trust as one moves toward the goal of becoming partners.

For the first few years I was very clumsy and awkward as I struggled to learn the skill and art of moving a powerful animal with the most perfect and smallest of signals during ground work.    The  communication, motion, and positioning is a beautiful dance when done well and usually takes years of work to perfect.   As I started riding we would travel with my trainer to various riding sites.  My favorite was  called "Mustang Mountain" situated up on a large mesa near the town of Vallecitos, in Northern New Mexico.  Mustang Mountain is the home of a band of wild mustangs.  During our first trip when Zigs was almost 4 we came upon 2 beautiful wild horses that followed us for a while from a wooded glade.  I was amazed that that my young horse stood still long enough to allow me to take pictures while on horseback.   He and I were both so excited to see the mustangs and watch them as they watched us. 

As I became more and more intrigued with the training I began to take Ziggy to clinics taught by well-known horsemen.  Mark Rashid was one of my favorite trainers and I appreciated his quiet and skillful handling of my horse.  Mark is also writer whose horse stories are learning experiences for his reader as well as terrific stories.  

The one issue I had with taking Zigs to clinics was his dislike of loading and riding in a trailer.  My first trailer was a small 2 horse orange vehicle that my horse disliked on site.  He was very unhappy in small enclosed spaces and this trailer fit that bill.  Every clinician I worked with demonstrated how to load my horse.  Sometimes Zigs would go in right away and other times it took awhile.  At the end of each session I would be told I should not have any more trouble with my horse.  I wish they had told my horse that important information.  Most of the time I was also instructed that the fault was mine for not being clear or resolute or consistent and that was correct.  I worked and worked with Zigs to change my bad habits and trailer loading soon became an obsession.   To add to the mix, my trip to Corrales for Mark's clinic was more of an adventure than I anticipated because I came very close to backing the trailer into an arroyo while turning around on a small dirt road. This did not endear my horse to trailer riding at all.  That evening Zigs was boarded at a ranch near the clinic. When I picked him up in the morning, someone suggested that I untie him in the trailer and allow him to find his "comfort zone".  Well as I pulled away from the ranch my horse found his "zone" just fine,  kicking the crap out of the trailer door very loudly and horse-screaming at the top of his lungs. As I pulled into the clinic grounds this was everyone's first view of my horse.  The next year I traded in the old orange "shed on wheels" for a nice open 2 horse stock trailer.  I cannot say with a straight face that this change solved all our problems, but it was easier to handle. I only backed into an arroyo once while I was practicing my backing skills ( Zigs was not inside).  I greatly changed the shape of my truck bumper pulling the trailer out but I never did tell my horse. 

As I became more comfortable with my training and riding skills, I began to ride my horse out to the mesa behind my house in Hernandez with my dog Onee for company.  The area is a wonderful mix of juniper, pinon, sand, rocks, arroyos, and steep climbs up to mesa land.  Through the years as my courage grew, Zigs, Onee and I explored various trails, bushwacked up and down steep hills, and enjoyed our time together.  We were alone on the land with quiet and views.

Though the years Zigs and I worked with many different trainers and horsemen and women. I learned from everyone. We took dressage lessons for a few years when my horse was young for discipline and focus.  In exchange for mucking-up and feeding, I took riding lessons with a cowboy nearby.   In later years I trailered Ziggy down the road every week for riding lessons with a horsewoman and watched her work with many horses.  One year I could not afford a new saddle and rode Ziggy bareback for that time.  For 10 years I soaked up every bit of information I could about horses and focused on our training and riding until I felt I had some degree of, not exactly comfort, but fortitude with my boy.       

It took me 2 years to name my horse because he was (and is) such a goofball.  I could not seem to find an appropriate name.  One day I was hanging around the barn while my horse was feeding.  David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" came into my head and I began to hum and sing to my horse.  He looked up and stared me in the eye and that was it, Ziggy Stardust!  But Stardust seemed too delicate for my guy and I changed it ever so slightly to  Ziggy Starman .  It was perfect. 

Mustangs are very smart, savvy, and can be (not to diminish the pig) pig-headed.  Other mustang owners have had the same experiences with their animals. Ziggy will take any opening or loophole to test a command.  He has taught me to be a vigilant and careful horse person.  He can still be obstinate and once in a while I will have to back him down a trail if he decides he does not want to continue forward.   I have learned to always finish what I start with  horses or they will never let you lead them.  Years ago I once spent 4 hours trying to load Ziggy into his new stock trailer.  I finally called my cowboy friend frantic, exhausted, and teary because I knew I could not give into my horse.  He came over and moved Zigs right into that trailer.  I have been "dumped" many a time when riding and always get right back on and ride through my fears.  Owning a horse is very humbling.  I have truly had the most amazing experiences with Ziggy Starman. He has changed my outlook on so many human qualities such as patience, forgiveness, the art of listening, and discovering what is really important about living ones life.   

Ziggy in Spring in Edgewood

White Ziggy, Acrylic, MM, 18"x24"  Mustang Ziggy, Acrylic, 36"x26"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Story of Ziggy Starman, Part I

Ziggy at 6 yrs with Doc by "the little house" in Hernandez, NM
Ziggy at 6 yrs, in Hernandez, NM

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I apologize for the long gap between postings.  My knee surgery delayed my ability to focus my brain after the anesthesia.  I was living in "wonderland" for a while. Anyway to "The Story of Ziggy Starman" Part I
Ziggy in Hernandez against the mesa, summer 2006

Photos by Bill Klienschmidt

Moving out in the round pen, Edgewood, NM, March 2012
Riding Ziggy, no saddle today, Edgewood, March 2012
One would think  accommodating a horse into one's life would take preparation and forethought.  My experience was  more "direct and immediate".   Ziggy Starman came into my life in a "flash" that would change the way I lived my life and thought about animals.   

13 years ago I was living in the historical Northern New Mexico town of Hernandez.  My property aligned to vast mesa land and was enclosed with various types of fence.  I had a small one room building called "the little house" and the rudiments of a barn on my back property. A friend needed a temporary living space and moved into my one room outbuilding.  He also brought along his 2 horses. I was enchanted to have these large creatures living on my property.  Feeding them, brushing them, spending time with them was a dream come true since I intended on having my own horse one day.  Little did I know how soon that adventure would be realized.                         
Standing around the corral one morning, my friend told me he had also recently bought another younger horse from one of the local Pueblos. Would I like to buy this horse?   My mind went into the stratosphere for a moment.  When I returned I said I would have to meet this horse to see if we would be a good team.  The next day I was staring at a 2 year old gelded red sorrel mustang, about 12 hands high, with rather small "dainty" feet standing in my yard.  We took a good look at each other and I offered him an apple. He sniffed and bit into the fruit. I was  enthralled!  My friend then explained that I had 5 minutes to decide if I wanted to buy the horse because he did not really want to sell him. Feeding 3 horses was expensive and on this particular day he was inclined to sell, but that could change.   My entire being pulled all my thoughts and energy together and I looked my friend straight in the eye and said, "YES".  At the same moment I was was thinking "do I have any understanding of what I'm doing?" The state of inner conflict was extremely intense but I could not pass up the opportunity to have such a creature live with me.  I ran to find my checkbook, wrote out the check and a bill of sale document and I had a horse.  We placed my horse on the back property with the other 2 equines and immediately the mare began to move and bite my youngster.  Eventually we moved him to a corral by himself so he could relax away from the mare.  When my friend departed with his 2 horses, I built more secure fencing, a walk-in shelter and a rudimentary tack room for my guy.  I now had a very "green" 2 year old horse who was living with a human being who hadn't a clue about horse training.  There was a very large learning curve ahead of me and if I been able to  glimpse the future in my  "magic globe" I would have "run for the hills".  The next 10 years of training myself to understand  horse "language", behavior,  bio mechanics, and the art of riding well were at times excruciating and very unrewarding.  I would work with some wonderful clinicians and some very strange horse folks.    At the time Ziggy came into my life, I was in ignorant bliss.    

Part II "My Sorrel Finds a Name and My Horse Training Begins" will appear next week.