The Highline Blog
The Final Countdown
We are officially in the final countdown to Spring time around here. We’ve spent the last week shifting horses around to get them organized for the intern tryouts. Des has been busy getting many legged up so they are tuned up and fit for these two weeks of interns at the ranch. Shayne’s been busy riding and teaching in the arena challenging each of us in our refinement in the saddle. We have finished up cleaning all of our equipment so it is fresh for this upcoming guest season. Every piece of equipment was carefully gone through, cleaned, and conditioned. New parts were ordered from Frecker’s Saddlery for anything that was worn out. The vet has been here twice for joint injections and lameness re check exams to make sure everyone is in top condition for riding season. Randy is finalizing cattle purchases for the ranch. Cattle should arrive sometime within the next few weeks. Dori has done a full turnover of our cabins, buildings, and staff housing. We’ve ordered and pulled out mountains of beautiful new linens, rugs, and accessories to freshen up all of the guest lodging. Holly has been busy at work refining her menus and ideas for the upcoming guest weeks, so you can be sure there will be some new things on the menu this year! CJ, Zach, & Nolan have been busy getting every single piece of equipment on the ranch serviced, repaired, and in tip top shape. The shop has been a revolving door of tractors, trucks, vans, trailers, and other equipment being rotated through for inspection.
The snow is officially melting, blue skies are abundant, and we can see the road for the first time since November. The horses are in full shedding mode where every piece of hair is coming off in huge floofs. We hit a lovely 50 degrees today and boy did it feel like weather for shorts after the winter we’ve had! Our 7 interns arrived today and are here for two weeks for our first ever tryouts. They will be riding and working with us for two weeks as Shayne and Des teach and evaluate them to see how may be a good fit to join our team! The chosen intern(s) will be taken on for the guest season and get to learn the ins and outs of the ranch and horsemanship in every area. I’m sure we will have some big updates for next weeks Highline after the first week of tryouts. We’re excited and officially rolling into tryouts, finishing projects, shoeing horses, branding, and into our first guest week April 30th! We are almost completely full for guest season so on my end the office has slowed down a little. We do have some availability in August, October and November! So if you’re still wanting to book, its not too late, but space is limited. We are excited for this year and there’s lots of learning and adventure in store. Jenna and I will be starting our own colts with Des! That may in fact be the EXTRA added on in learning and adventure. Anyway, we’re excited to be rolling right on into guest season even if we are a little nervous our ‘list’ of to-dos will never get finished. But isn’t that always the case with anything horses? Anyway happy Spring ya’ll!
Power of Presence
We often wonder why when we walk into a room, building, or conversation we can feel the air of what is going on before we actually know what’s going on. People carry presence, we carry intention with every breath, and we shape the atmosphere around us by what we carry. Are we carrying joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, etc into the places we go, activities we participate in, and interactions with others? Or are we carrying their opposites? Anger, bitterness, fear, anxiety, stress, control, you name it, they all effect the spaces we occupy and the people around us. We all desire those atmospheres where you can be at your best, but we are all participants in providing places where each of us can thrive. Everyone knows it is hard to thrive when you can’t find peace, understanding, patience, and kindness. Well the same goes for our horses too. We are all trying to find a place for our horse to find peace and understanding in our riding. Much of that journey to find peace and understanding requires us to carry clear and direct communication that often times requires the pressure we talked about last week. Horses seek peace and comfort, where they find that, they learn. They seek that spot in the ride where you gave them a space to find peace. First you usually have to get through the pressure part where you’re constantly redirecting them to the path they need to be on.
A question of each of us in the saddle and in life is how are we applying the pressure? What kind of presence is carried with it? Is our presence with anger, frustration, pride, anxiety, fear or any other negative? If we want our horses to find peace on the other side of pressure we have to carry the right presence. Our presence in the saddle and on the ground requires us to be direct with them, carrying a firm, but kind presence, seeking out their benefit on the other side of the pressure. We are indeed contending for our equine partners with every ride, but this requires us being intentional with our presence. An example this week is with Rocks. Rocks has come a long way, but he despises the flag touching his ears and upper neck. He throws a fit and acts like you’ve offended him for a lifetime when you go to pet him with the flag on the ears. I’m in the process of creatively attempting to work through this area with him. Every session with the flag requires that my presence and the presence with the flag is carried with thoughtful attention. Shayne made a comment as he worked Rocks the other day that there was a lack of feel with the flag. I was lacking correct presence.
The next ride I came out with a different idea of how to approach the issues of the flag. Similarly to how Rocks improved with the poles the previous week, I thought to expand on the idea. The hope was to ride with the flag on his upper neck and near his ears while doing all of his progressions warming up. For the ride, the idea required two forms of presence from me actively. My legs had better mean something and be firm when necessary in asking for him to maneuver around the arena and my flag needed to remain in a comforting manner when he despised its presence. The primary goal was to focus him on the task of whatever I was asking him to do, so that the flag just became an inert part of the ride that was constantly present. At first he was bothered, distracted, and upset with the flag being in that spot. My presence remained consistent and the same no matter how many times he chucked it off his neck, threw his head, or hopped around. I kept directing him with a kind firmness to the task at hand with my legs and seat, occasionally plucking a rein to redirect his flexion. Every step of the ride required presence, peace, patience, and kindness while being direct and unwavering with the mission. Fear, impatience, annoyance, none of that could interrupt the ride, otherwise the atmosphere of what was attempting to be achieved would have probably gone nowhere. Rocks needed to know that the person directing him is the same, flag or no flag. The end goal at some point being that the flag is a place of comfort and pets when he’s on the right path. We were able to get to a few spaces where I let his feet rest and was rubbed with the flag on the upper neck and he would drop is head and neck. Maybe yawn, relax for a breath. I needed him to see that this place of rest he always gets in the rides that he loves is still the same space, even with the flag. We had some moments and I’ll count those as building blocks to the hopeful end result. The right presence had to be the foundation of the pressure being applied.
If we apply pressure in any area to people or horses with the wrong presence or many times the wrong ‘tone’ we generally get further from the desired result. Just like the grapes and coal transforming, our end result can be ruined by the wrong atmosphere. Your grapes can sour, coal can crumble, and in the end you start all over. The presence we carry in every situation, conversation, and ride either hinders or helps us and those around us to the desired outcome. Resistance is normal when change is in the air. But can we manage the most direct route to the end result desired by carrying peace, patience, and kindness as the foundation of the pressure we are applying? I think many of us, if we can prioritize the quality of the foundation of what’s driving us towards our goal, we may find more diamonds than lumps of coal on the journey.
Purpose of Pressure
This week there’s been a thought of, what is the purpose of pressure? Now a consideration like this could be applied to a variety of situations, learning environments, and life circumstances. We can apply this idea of purpose in pressure to our rides on horses, but also how pressure is applied in life. We can be on the receiving end of the pressure or the one dishing it out. The questions begs the answer of what is the outcome of the pressure. Does the pressure create a diamond from a lump of coal or fine wine from a winepress? Or do we allow the pressure to unravel us in an unproductive fashion. If we apply pressure, is it effective for the desired outcome? All pressure is nuanced and should be! The end result should be something unique and have quality. We are all in a place of either receiving, applying it, or both! We had the opportunity to ride Monday – Friday this week in the arena for the majority of each day, and let me tell you, the pressure was on!
Des and Shayne came out with an agenda for Brenda, Jenna, and I to apply some pressure. They turned up the heat in the arena and put us to the test for two days. The pressure begged the question, have we learned over the last couple of months? Can we work with skill and quality at pace? I would say it was a reality check that we all needed, because each of us felt every piece of the pressure hitting us in a multitude of areas. We realized some areas of our riding happened with quality and others were a complete failure. In this case, our teachers were the ones pressing us to see what came out. We all know, that when you are pressed, the true picture always shows. Our picture was not one that was meeting I think anyone’s expectations in some area or another. The list of expectations not being met is a laundry list, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some good parts working for each of us. That’s not to be taken from a point of discouragement, but rather with understanding that there’s more work to be done, to produce the desired outcome. and meet expectation. We all know that with horses and life, it is a never ending journey. We all go through seasons of pressure which should later produce the thing you were contending for in the midst of the pressure. Were you contending for personal growth, spiritual maturity, stronger relationships, more educated horse, show partner, or less anxiety in the saddle? Or were you not a contender at all? Did you allow the pressure to misdirect you off the path set before you? We have an active choice every day to choose what we want to have on the other side of pressure in our lives. Much of the outcome is determined during the period between the initial pressure and the end result. Well this begs the questions, does a diamond become a diamond overnight? Does fine wine ferment in a month? Are all lumps of coal and all grapes going to become diamonds and wine? No. Unlike these two examples, we have an active role and choice to contend for the diamond and fine wine in our lives. The space of contending for us this week was found in the next three days after the active pressure let off.
For me, I spent the next three days collecting my thoughts over the months of watching and learning from Shayne & Des. Then I added that to the ups and downs to the two previous days rides and came to a place where I had some ideas of how to get closer to that fine wine ride. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t have good turns on my horse Rocks off of my legs only. They were inaccurate and especially to the right, we didn’t have much going for us. I also had zero backing off of the seat only. We really struggled with leg yields right to left. He just wasn’t committed to the soft feel in the way that was acceptable for where he was at. He needed to be more committed to it in order to carry himself through every maneuver. I’ll also add in that Des decided to put a ton of poles in the arena which are Rocks least favorite activity. I committed Rocks and I to get better about being on the same page for as many of the steps of the ride as we could manage. I chose to hold us both accountable, carrying pressure from Monday and Tuesday into Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The process created a more creative and dynamic ride with a pursuit of a certain feel in the saddle and expectation of outcome.
The highlight for Rocks was that we turned his anxiety about going over poles into direction and getting with me, rather than what was going on underneath his feet. He has gotten decent about his ‘slow walk’ and allowing me to place his feet with my legs. We worked that slow walk over every pole pursuing quality with every step. By the end, rather than scooting off after the poles, hopping over them, or quickening his stride, he realized it was about the slow walk, not the poles. Once his focus was redirected to what I was asking for rather than his environment, his perception of his surroundings changed. He was able to place one front foot over the pole and leave the other behind it and stand like that until I asked for the other foot to come forward. The ride that day, carried to the next, where he picked up almost where we left off, and his confidence increased. We were able to trot and canter poles without trouble and go right back to the slow walk without him unraveling. He finished the week with a better feel, better turns, and more confidence. Contending for him and I amidst the pressure while maintaining direction with purpose. produced more steps on the journey to the diamond hoping to be made.
If you notice, to have purpose amidst pressure, you have to have reflection, decision, and be willing to contend. When we have these building blocks in our lives, we gain a framework to stay on course to transform coal into diamonds or grapes to wine. First you will be put through the winepress and then there will be a period of living in the in-between space of what was and what can be. In the hallway of decision and contending is where we work towards refining the pieces of our lives. We choose daily to take up the correct path before us and not get pushed off the road. When we are doing the pushing, like in the case of me with Rocks, I want to help him reach his best too. Our lives are two fold, we are pressed and what’s within us comes out. What comes out, is how we press others towards their upward call. Choose your path well and let that pressure push you forward.
What are you striving for?
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written for the Highline, but I haven’t had much to say. I’ve been in a place of reflection, decision, and contending. The winter here is a place of slowing down in many ways but also where we are are many times working in all areas to get projects done or to progress in our horsemanship. The question of, what am I striving for, has been a thought that has encircled my thoughts the last few weeks. What’s most important and where am I going. There’s been plenty of time to think and reflect, especially between Brenda, Jenna, and I. We all live together in the Davis house and regularly have thoughtful conversations about each other, Jesus, our horsemanship, learning, being good servants and stewards in our jobs, and how we can be our best for the ranch. Generally all of these conversations revolve around our personal growth, pursuit of our relationships with Jesus, and growing in every facet of our lives. Reflecting, deciding, and contending for growth in each of our unique ways and lives is a full-time & active pursuit. Today I’ll talk a little about where I’ve been reflecting, deciding, and contending for my future and the people around me.
Reflection always starts with where am I coming from, what’s gotten better, and then what doesn’t line up with who I’m called to be. I examine everything God’s gifted me with and then take into account the ugly stuff that isn’t working vs the active work of growth towards becoming more Christ like in my walk as a Christian. Sometimes that examination is a not so enjoyable one. The best part about the examining is many times the people around you do it first! Whether you wanted them to or not, but the best people in your life will examine you with an honest lens that calls you to grow in a better direction. Being at this ranch I’m surrounded by a lot of that, people who want you to be your best. At first it isn’t always appreciated because it hurts or is hard to swallow, but if you can quench the pride and self defense, you may be able to discern just what they’re getting at. In that space then without offense or deep hurt you can find your way to making decisions in who you’re going to be. For me this isn’t without prayer, pressing into what the Holy Spirit is speaking over my life, and refocusing to what my ultimate purpose is in life. There I can rise to that challenge of, okay, I need to be better.
I can’t stick my head in the sand or make excuse for why I am the way I am. Shayne called me out the other day in the arena for laughing every time he complimented me when I was riding. I didn’t realize what I was doing or why that was my default response. I didn’t have an answer for him when he point blank asked me why. I had to sit on that conversation for a few days before I could come to a place where I could see what I was struggling with to not be able to receive a compliment. I couldn’t take the compliment as the truth in the moment or receive it completely. I realized that one, it steals joy from the one giving the compliment to not receive it fully and completely. Two I struggle with it, because I carried my own thought of how the ride went at higher value than the teacher who was watching and seeing the progress. I got stuck in my own thought process of gosh, this ride feels like crap, and my horse is running away with me, this is indeed a mess. Whereas Shayne saw something different, he saw progress, me sticking in there, getting a change with my horse, Cat. Despite the ride feeling like a marginal disaster, Shayne saw something different, better. He saw what I couldn’t see. Recognizing when the people around you care enough to see what you can’t see about yourself and your life puts you in a position where you can grow if you choose. The decision is, am I willing to change? Can I make an effort in this case to be a better student and recognize when the teacher sees something that I’m oblivious to, take hold of it, and go forward.
Making decisions about who you are and where you’re going is only the middle step of that pursuit of growth as a person. A willingness to change some of the deepest rooted things is a difficult road. That is where contending for your future comes into play. We can choose a road of complacency and only changing when it’s convenient, but that’s a stagnant life, not the one God made you or me for. We are each so uniquely designed and gifted in different areas and many times we don’t live up to the potential we have due to our current circumstances. Life lived to a full measure, is a life that has to be contended for no matter what the world is throwing at you. I walked away from a different world as my own boss with clients, show horses, etc. to put myself at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ to re-learn how to be a better trainer, broaden my understanding of horsemanship, and refine my riding skillset. I could have stayed in the same industry doing the same things and kept on keeping on. I’m sure that would have been fine. That’s not where I felt God was pushing me to go. There was an urgency of, you’ve prayed to be more, do more, learn more, and be in a place where you can grow, so here it is. Here’s the opportunity to do just that at 32 years old, let’s flip life on its head and do something different. I may have gotten more than I asked for. Being here at the ranch, every ounce of my comfort zone has been busted. I’ve had to learn how to be a student again, rather than the teacher, and admit I really don’t know much. Every step of being here has required contending for my future. Without contending for who I want to be, where I’m going, and what the hope is for it to look like, it will never happen. Giving up here at the ranch isn’t something that exists. Shayne and Des won’t let you. At first I don’t think most of us appreciate that they care that much, to kick you in the pants to either contend for your future or quit and leave. We can all attest that it’s imperfect at times, that we get upset, struggle, maybe get pissed at each other. We’re imperfect people, all of us. What I can say, is that each of us have a capacity to forgive, keep learning, pursue growth, better friendships, and contend for one another. I’m thankful for people who contend for me and I contend for them. We push each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, and are on a journey together. I can only hope that everyone gets to experience a diverse community like that. When you come here, you certainly will.
P.S. Jenna and I decided to be ridiculous at Western Outdoor. I managed to fit in kids size three sparkle boots and enjoyed my new pony, much easier to ride. There’s a funny photo of Jenna too, but I’d rather not die posting it lol.
Signature of Spring
It came at me softly this morning – a light breeze from over the mountains. It was not veiled in bitter cold as has been these winter months, but rather warm and light like a silk scarf. I knew then that the unfolding of spring had begun. Sure, it is still early- only mid-February. Yet, that characteristic soft wind was unmistakable. Then, later in the morning, I heard a bird I had not heard all winter. Doors were being opened for more visitors to stay awhile. There was also a shift in the feel of the trees. They no longer seemed to stand dormant and lifeless, but rather awake and lifting their needles to a warmer sun.
Here up at the ranch, we revolve our lives around the seasons. Fall is for getting the cattle shipped and preparing equipment and the ranch facilities for winter. Winter is for keeping the herd well-fed and refining our horsemanship in the indoor arena. Spring is for branding new cattle, getting our guests horses legged up and irrigating the meadows for an abundant hay harvest. Summer is for moving and checking on cattle, teaching horsemanship and enjoying the company of our guests, and bringing in the hay that feeds our herd and our cattle in the late fall. It is a cycle that is like the back of our hand. We know it well. Yet, each season always has its share of surprises – rain in January, snow in July, hot sun in October and pure blue sky in April.
To me, each season has its own signature. Summer comes on strong and courts your heart with seemingly endless days of fun and games to be played until late into the night. There is no shortage of activity from the ground, the waters nor the sky. Spring gently moves in with warmer days and softer winds and then in a flash the meadows turn a blinding, brilliant green that you wish you could re-create and paint on your walls for the grey days of winter.
Fall has a characteristic scent of life receding into the deep soil and a feel of angled sunlight that makes your skin crinkle. Winter, the longest of them all, rolls in sometimes with massive momentum and sometimes with building force. The scent is clean but the feel is cold and at times abrasive. The sound, well, the sound is silence. Miles of silence. Sometimes, I will pause and wait to hear something, anything in the winter. Sometimes I hear the wings of a bird, but other times I simply hear my own thoughts. I console myself with the remembrance of spring. And, now, here it is! The first hint of spring. I smile as I write this. Soon, spring will be here and the newness of life will once again find center stage.
P.S. I took a couple of pictures today of our pastures. In a few short months, these pastures will hold cattle as well as horses. I can almost see them now. I can’t wait!
The Sound of the Wild
I don’t know what part of the nation or world you are reading this from, but here in Montana in the middle of February days can be warm with the longer, more penetrating sun or grey, listless and snowing, but regardless, nights are chilly. This morning it was about twelve degrees. Waterers needed to broken. As I was carrying my shovel up to one of the waterers, I was stopped by a sound. A distinctive, ancient sound that generations before me knew well. Up on one of the ridges, a lone wolf was howling. To whom, I do not know.
For about 5 minutes, this magnificent creature of our woods, let me know that he was there – present and powerful. For the remainder of the day, I carried within me a touch of the wild and a reminder of the blessings that surround me here at the ranch. Some people wake to sirens or the hum of traffic or the pressing headline news. My morning started with the sound of a wolf and ended with star-studded skies. Maybe one day you too will walk these woods and hear ancient sounds and see the unaltered portraits of God alone. To Him be the glory for what we get to appreciate out here in the wild country.
I witnessed something remarkable two days ago. I was out in one of our pastures in the late afternoon to treat a horse with an ulcerated eye (his eye is healing nicely). I heard an elk calf calling to its mother over and over.
I have heard this high pitched, rhythmic succession of calls often in the winter when the elk come to eat thrown down hay with our horses. These numbers can be between fifty to one hundred and consist of bulls (young and old), cows and calves. But, two days ago, something was different. The calf I heard and quickly located in the pasture was intent on finding only mama. At first I thought he might be in distress, but no, he (or she) was simply hungry. Hungry for milk. With awe and wonder I watched this calf get on its knees and bump his mother’s udder until the liquid gold flowed.
As I type this, I am still fluttery inside knowing that I was witness to something that is innate among mammals and yet so remarkable. Life giving life.
Even amongst the colder days of winter here at McGinnis, there are still gifts that God drops in our lap to help us carry on and wait patiently for spring.
Reminders of Summertime
I figured this week I could just share some very pretty photos of the ranch in the summer that we are all dreaming of. Especially today since we got covered in a foot or so of snow overnight and the next few days will be in the negative temperatures at night. I always forget how beautiful the summer colors are until I see pictures. I figured these photos will cure anyones winter blues and get you pumped up for some warmer weather!
I promise next week we will have some good horsemanship updates and photos of what we’ve been working on. We have certainly been busy with 12hr days and lots of riding. Hopefully if you’ve seen Facebook or Instagram and witnessed Shayne’s dance moves. If you haven’t, you need to. But now for some dreamy pictures, enjoy!
Creativity to Create Confidence
This week we had a theme come up working with our horses that involved our creativity or lack there of. What do I mean by this? Well each of us were in the midst of challenging ourselves of how we can better our horses without boring or unnecessarily stressing our horses. The goal was to be able to find ways to engage the horses’ minds, look forward to the job, all the while gaining confidence in what they are doing.
Some of our creativity related to how we go about achieving groundwork that boosts the confidence of a timid horse. We also challenged ourselves in the saddle as well. In the words of Shayne, don’t keep coming back to the same thing day after day and make them sour to it. Instead mix up the routine, eventually you’ll get to where you want to be, but pounding on the same topic with your horse over and over may in fact make them dislike their job and merely accept what you are asking. We want more than our horses begrudgingly accepting what we are offering. The goal is a horse who looks forward to the job while gaining skills. That may in fact sound simple, but it’s not.
One horse this week, Max, gets stressed when he’s pushed out of his comfort zone. In order for our horses to learn, we need them to be relaxed, rather than in an internal state of panic. Des found with Max that he was struggling to not get sweaty and lathered by the end of a ride. Finding that sweet spot in the training where he could be pushed but also not get overwhelmed was a fine line. Needless to say, by the end of the week Des had a dry horse from the beginning to the end of the ride. To get Max to that point in his riding, it required a lot of creativity of Des’ part to get him there. She knew the end result needed to be a horse who improved mentally and physically even if it didn’t come easy. The only way this would happen was to continue taking different approaches to the same goal until there was a positive change. No matter how far each of us are in our horsemanship journey, we have to keep adding tools to our box so we can continue to address each problem with the right solution.
The most difficult part of the ground work and in the saddle, is understanding which tools you have will accelerate the horse’s learning with the least resistance and maximum effect. Sometimes its a combination of things you know that you’ve not put together before or its an entirely brand new idea, that may fail. We don’t know until we try, and connecting the dots may in fact be the part that requires creativity. To be creative and build confidence in ourselves and our horses we have to understand the nuances of how each exercise we use connects to another. We always start with the foundational building blocks of Buck’s groundwork and progressions under saddle. The creativity comes in when you understand at each level how everything interconnects at it’s foundation. You have to know why you do what you do. To just do something without understanding why defeats the purpose of doing. Understanding and then building upon the foundation you have to create a large tool box of exercises will help you attain the goal at hand.
Relearning the learning
We’ve had a lot of conversations lately on learning and trying to learn better for the sake of ourselves, horses, and the team. These past few weeks, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what goals I want to set for this upcoming year, both inside and outside the arena. The list includes everything from studying all the nuances of how to reach for a horse in a soft feel to taking time to snowshoe some of our grazing allotments so I can become more familiar with them before cattle arrive in April. All of these goals require one major shift in thinking and action — to be creative and do something different. Sounds simple, but I have found creativity and changing routine are the crux of most mountains I have to climb.
On a regular basis, I fall into this pattern of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. For those that have read Des’ blog, this is my “default response” or automatic thing I return to when I am at a crossroads. Rather than pulling a different arrow from my quiver, I reload the same arrow time and time again hoping that it will somehow hit the target. In the arena, this lands me with horses that become resentful or bothered because I am expecting them to search for something different while not being willing to offer something different.
At its core, this idea of change and doing something different might start with cutting ties with patterns we have adopted that no longer serve us. To me, being a horseman means to give. I am in the process of becoming a horseman, but at this point in my journey I am finding that I need to give up something in order to have something to give. I want to give up the fear of failure so that I can see it more as an opportunity to grow. I want to give up this idea that repetition and drilling on an exercise will help refine it. I want to give up the habit of staring down at my horse’s head when I ride and start changing my perspective to ‘look up’ in all areas of my life.
In essence, its expanding learning to all areas of my life and re-learning wherever needed. Sometimes habits, ideas, and processes have to be let go in order to learn something new. Its a true re-learning how to learn. Learning is not linear and that reminder has to stay at the forefront so that I can remember learning is a dynamic process of picking up, balancing, and dropping many things to create the whole picture. Here’s to painting the picture unafraid of the mistakes along the way.