Friday, September 28, 2012

Building Confidence in a Horse and A Building a Character in a Novel

Let's see if I can tie two emails that are worlds apart (are they really), together. One a horse question and one about writing. A facebook friend emailed and asked how I build confidence in a horse. Another facebook friend asked how I build a character in a story. Both emails used the word, build, and they came within 5 minutes of each other!

The writing question came first so … When I'm thinking of creating a character, at first of course I'll need to establish gender. Maybe. But I don't really care about any other physical characteristics, unless something jumps out and yells at me, "Hey I'm tall and very athletic." I might store that for future references. But mostly I'll address the physical characteristics as the story unfolds. I may set the stage with a brief hint such as, "With a delicate, quivering hand, she flipped open her phone, gazed at the tiny screen and carefully considered her next move."

I've never been real big on a horse's conformation, either. I see a horse from within. I believe every horse can perform at the highest level its body will allow. It's our job to make that possible. So I guess, as with my fictional characters, I don't really care about physical characteristics of horses either. We can address them as need be, as we go along. The first thing I might do with a horse who lacks confidence is ask for her to take a single step forward or back. I'll store how she took that step in mind for future reference.

After I establish in my mind my fictional character is tall, athletic and worried, I can paint a bigger picture. I look at the whole scene, like a painting on the wall. But I notice the little things in the picture. The big things will always take care of themselves, if you address the little things, such as how she enters a room boldly with long strides, but fidgets with her hands and dislikes eye contact during tense conversations. I can use these later when I need to add tension, or slow the reader down.

I notice the little things about a horse's confidence. How does she stand, walk, hold her head. How does she respond to requests? Does she focus on me, or look far away? Just as in creating a character, I'll keep them in mind as we move ahead into her story. I can use these foundations to build her confidence.

Now that I've laid the groundwork for my character, I can move ahead in the story and continue to add layer upon layer as I write the scenes in which she interacts with other characters or tackles situations, or thoughts, on her own. As I build the character I can always go back to the basics the reader already knows. She's tall, can be bold, but can be nervous, is athletic and thinks deeply. It's important, as I continue building the character, to keep the basics in mind to fall back on in times of impact or excitement. It's important to the reader to have characters they can rely on. Fundamentals matter.

When building a horse's confidence, after I've noticed her basic characteristics, thought process, what she's worried about, things she can tolerate and most importantly, things she really enjoys and looks forward to, I can begin building her confidence, one layer at a time. I do this by spending a lot of time asking her to do the things she already has a liking for, and the confidence to be able to handle. As we work together, adding layer upon layer of confidence by adding new challenges, I'll keep going back to those basics she understands and enjoys. Those basics are the foundation on which all else is built. They are the things the horse can rely on.

So there you have it, I guess … Whether I'm building a fictional character for a novel or building confidence in a horse, it's a matter of seeing the solid foundation and carefully adding layers until I have the picture I see in my mind established for the reader, or the horse. One little step at a time.

Cookies and Horses

Tom stared at the pack of cookies on the fold down tray as the train came out of the tunnel. Seemed like a good time to open the little bundle of black cookies with the creamy white filling that had been tempting him. Shifting in his seat, Tom was just about to reach for them when the gentleman beside him leaned forward, carefully opened the cellophane and pulled out a cookie.

"Who does he think he is eating my cookie?" Tom made a point of being noticed as he tore the top off the tiny packet and snared 2 cookies. Without hesitation he stuffed them both in his mouth, and licked his fingers. The other fellow seemed unruffled, smiled and took 2 cookies, slowly eating one at a time as he looked out the window. Leaving one lone cookie in the pack. Tom let out an exaggerated sigh, snatched the last cookie, held it so the stranger could see, then devoured it in one bite.

Satisfied he'd bested the cookie thief, Tom settled back in his seat prepared to silently gloat in his victory, and picked up the magazine on the tray in front of him. Then he saw it. Another pack of cookies laying on the fold down tray. He must have laid the magazine on top of them as he took his seat. Tom realized in that instant he had been the cookie thief, not the stranger beside him. He'd been eating the other fellow's cookies all along!

With a smile he moved the tiny pack of cookies to the center of the tray, gently tore the pack open and offered them to the stranger … This is what is known as a "Paradigm Shift."

I think this is a great little story to help us understand others better, family, friends, co-workers … and our horses.

There's lots of talk in the horse industry nowadays about seeing things from your horse's point of view. I love that it has become fashionable to think of what your horse might need to understand, and what kind of brain your horse has, left, right, introvert, extravert … But how do you slow down enough to really see things from your horse's point of view?

I've long held the thought that horses want to co-operate, not obey. Of course they will, and do obey, but if that is how a person sees their horse, as something that must, "obey" … I don't think they can totally see the situation from the horse's point of view ... Would you rather obey, or co-operate?

Our friend, Tom on the train suddenly saw things from the stranger's point of view when he found his own pack of cookies hidden beneath the magazine. What a feeling of revelation, and perhaps embarrassment Tom must have felt in that instant. But now he could also see the first pack of cookies as the polite stranger had seen them, as something he'd been sharing. Not swiping as Tom thought he was doing when he viewed the situation from his own point of view.

It is not always easy to understand your horse's, spouse's, child's or friend's, point of view, but if we slow down and listen with our whole brain, we just might hear a hint or two. It's called a Paradigm Shift, and it really works.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Much Does a Monarch Weigh?

 How much does a Monarch butterfly weigh? As we rode the mid-morning sun on our backs, our shadow detailing Kessy's every beautiful stride, I couldn't help but ponder that question.

We'd been going along alone, no birds or butterflies when we rode into a thick yellow patch of Goldenrod literally swarming with hummingbirds and butterflies. Far too many to count. I lost count at a dozen Monarchs, and simply sat Kessy to take in the show.

I did manage to count five hummingbirds buzzing about the tiny yellow blooms. Never knew hummers like Goldenrod.

We sat in the sun, amid knee high Goldenrod, listening to the buzzing of the hummingbirds. One swooped so near Kessy's knee she bowed her neck to look at it! I suppose they were trying to steal the show from the majestic Monarchs. It was then that noticed a lone Monarch on the outer edge of the Goldenrod patch drifting from bloom to bloom as if tasting appetizers in order to find the most preferable dish for his mid-morning meal. One tall single spike of brilliant yellow seemed to be to his liking and, as gently as a snowflake, he drifted down upon the tip of the flower ... It bowed beneath the Monarch's weight!

Walking around the flower, spreading its beautiful orange and black wings for balance, the Monarch checked each tiny flower in the tall bloom for nectar. The flower bobbed and swayed with each move the Monarch made! I glanced at the hummers, few of them ever bothered to light on a flower as they do the feeders on the porch, but one did finally settle atop a golden yellow spike, and for sure it sagged, straining under the weight of the massive hummer who thrust his beak high declaring this bloom's for me! … But a flower bending Monarch had come as a surprise to me.

I asked Kessy if she'd ever noticed that before. She had nothing to say. But I wonder now, how much does a Monarch butterfly weigh?

Have a great Wednesday, and Gitty Up! ~ Dutch

Kessy and Dutch demonstrating wrapping the head... Using an Ace bandage wrap a figure 8 starting behind the cheek and around the muzzle. This can have a calming effect much like swaddling. Kessy really enjoys it. .. Note you can also see the front half of her body wrap, which starts at the withers and goes down under the neck, back up over the withers and continues around the rump.