Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sing Khan
" My Teacher"

For The Love of an Elephant!

I think I'm getting in the groove!
Above is another of my finger paintings with a little bit of brush work.
This one is of the eye of my special elephant teacher " Sing Khan".
Those of you that know me, know my passion for elephants. As a child I could not stand to see them any more as all the ones I saw in this country looked troubled and sad.
When the invitation came to go to Thailand to work with them, I was very hesitant for fear of seeing the same thing there. I was assured I would see no such thing by Richard who lives and works there, that I would only see , happy , healthy and engaged elephants. So the invitation to study and work with them was accepted, a dream came true.
I was in a very special place dedicated to preserve and protect the elephants, any human out of bounds with an elephant was instantly reprimanded by the staff. I had never seen elephants look fat or they seemed that way in comparison to what I had seen as a child. Elephants being gaited was another opportunity to study more about bio-mechanics and locomotion as it relates to gaits, one of my favorite things to study, I'm a study freak but I come by that through my family genetics that's for sure.
To touch, to feel, to get as close as I can!
I was not prepared for what was to happen though in finding a new relationship, which I had no say in how it went unless my partner Sing Khan was willing. Elephants have never been bred for domestication so to be standing and living with something 10 feet tall , 2 tons in weight , with a instant sweep of her trunk could finish my life gave one much to be concerned about. What I received from Sing Khan was a welcome with soft searching eyes that had me pegged in no time at all . I realized I would not be teaching her ,but that she would be teaching me, not only about her, but about myself.
I had no halter, no bridle, no saddle, nothing, the only means of communication was my body to hers, using seat ,legs and voice only to do what we needed to get done.
Of course I had to learn a bit of Thai Language since that is what she understood . The seat and legs part was easy, no different than riding a horse just more to wrap them around.
A sample of the words I learned were:
Bai= go
How!= stop
Sok=walk backwards
Geb bon= pick something up
Nung Long= sit down
Loog khen= stand up
plus many many more!
When I got something correct Sing Khan would do the task while so softly bring the tip of her trunk up to me and touch me acknowledging and rewarding me for getting it right. I was being taught through positive re-enforcement just like I teach horses!
I gave her several baths a day would , ride her into the mountain jungle at night so she could eat through the night , walk back up into the jungle at dawn to ride her out for her days work of teaching me.
Dave doing a vaulting mount from the front
on his elephant teacher" Pang -Kod
Also here at the center is the largest and finest elephant hospital in the world. All the treatment is free to any one that brings their elephant in for any medical needs. The center takes on all the cost, they do have to take in tourists and donations from around the world to fund the center and hospital. I met vets from around the world doing internships and had a grand time discussing the elephants aspects of health and bio-mechanics, I was in heaven.
We also entertained the thousands of tourists coming through with what I was learning from and with Sing Khan.
I did teach her one very important thing though, she was not a very good beggar! She loved the treats the tourist would give her but I felt she was not exuberant enough to get more as many of the other elephants did. We worked on this, by the time I left we were able to get so many more treats from the tourists. She got really good at this and giving her the feeling through my emotions of excitement for the treats, she understood and taught her how to show it herself.
Everyday when we would finish our work , I would dismount, I would get up on tip toes and kiss her under her eye, she would then gently touch me with her trunk.
Even as rough as her skin was with coarse hairs, my hands never got tender or sore from all the massaging I did on her.
That surprised me.
Our last minutes together at the lake saying goodbye!
My last day working with her she was trumpeting all the time and she had not done this before she always waged her ears with me but not this very loud , deafening noise before, my Mahout(trainer) teacher told me she knew I was leaving that day and she was sad. I was already holding back tears most of the day as it was , while hiding what I could not hold back, learning she would miss me too I put me over the edge.
We were given some alone time together and rode off to say goodbye privately which we did around the big lake at the center.
Dave and I both left in tears, not wanting to leave our new friends that taught us so much about them and about ourselves.
We were scheduled to go back this year but something in my gut said we should not go, but I did not know why. I listened ,took it off the book and sure enough the country went through a government over throw right when we had booked to return. We would have been stuck living in Bangkok airport with thousands of other stranded people from around the world for 3 weeks. I live in airports enough and am used to it but that would have been way over the top even for me.
I will go back in time, when the world is more peaceful to work on my next level of training. For now I have many wonderful memories to keep me going with Sing Khan in my heart till we can be together again as student, teacher and friends.
Receiving my Amateur Mahout( trainer) certificate
but actually she should have gotten one for teaching me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Liz and Magic working canter in the snow

Snow Riding
For those of you that live in places that get snow it can be so much fun working in soft fluffy fresh snow.
We have too much ice this year with our snow for me to do any outside riding and am being held hostage to the indoors riding so far this winter.
I always wrap the legs for support and use rubber boots for protection in case of a slip.
The above photo is of TWH "Dee's Midnight Magic" a horse I had in for training some years ago and one of my all time favorites.
He went on after this to win many versatility championships, ROMs and some very impressive wins in dressage competitions at open dressage shows in WI.
I also had the Honor of showing him sidesaddle which has always been one of my very favorite disciplines to ride.
Some other Stuff
I've been getting a lot of wonderful e-mail from people working this winter on many things with their horses. I hope it will help again to share some of my experience with those of you that are working with your horses or wondering about my answers to many of the questions I receive.
1. Long and low is not the same thing as down and round.
Folks seem to be using these two terms interchangeably and they are not. The execution and shape of each is important and is very valuable in every horses training, it is necessary to achieve the highest of quality work in any finished horse.
2. All horses should be taught collection, gaited horses too. Teach this in your walks first, as the walks of gaited horses also must be of quality and utilizing collections helps the body, not only in good performance but also is about keeping your horses body healthy so it will last for many years with proper use.
If your gaited horse also has a trot teach collection at the trot to, another good way to keep that body healthy.
3. Yes, you can trot your gaited horse, it's a long standing myth that has come out of the built up walking horse world long ago that you cannot trot your gaited horse. Still we are battling those old myths today.
This myth should not be an element in the world of naturally gaited horse training. Just teach the trot with specific signals, and only to be brought up when asked for by the rider.
4. Trotting your gaited horse will not make the gait go away forever, if gait has been bred to be in your horse it will always be there, you may have to learn how to bring it out by not get in it's way from letting it happen.
5. Yes, you can canter your gaited horse, yet another myth put out there by so many over the years that don't know how to ride a horse that canters. Lacking the knowledge to help support and guide a horse in the learning phase of how to carry a rider and canter at the same time, they actually get in the way of a horse doing so hence the myth evolved..
6. Yes, gaited horses are supposed to learn to and can back like non-gaited horses and should be taught how, just don't do it with a built up horse or you'll pull the pads, again another myth out of that same culture.
7. Yes, gaited horses should stand still when you mount and not be in any moving forward phase.
8. It is a myth that all gaited horses have the same shoulder angle, if you just get out there your self and do some marking of various bodies , even in the same breed you will see the reality if you chose to. Sad so many folks have been led astray due to unethical teachers looking to keep the public confused for their own personal gain or reasons. It's up to us to open our eyes and really learn to see with them.
9. Dont think putting your horse in a "Frame", this tends to hold folks hostage in what they think a horse should look like in carrying it's self . A better way to think is the word " Shape", what is the proper shape my horses body should be in to execute an exercise or gait. Stay within that horses individual conformational structure. They are not all built the same hence they can have very different shapes while doing the same thing as another horse.
10. A horses head being positioned behind the vertical does not mean it is collected and is one of those tell tail signs it is not, it's just been taught to carry it's self in a down crammed and jammed shape just as we can also have an up crammed and jammed shape.
Liz on left and Virgina Ganno on the right
Virgina was one of my favorite people to show with and it was an honor to judge her in the ring over the years. Wonderful horsewoman and always set the finest example of great sportsmanship.
The above photos of the bay are of my mare "Candy Cow Cody", one of my quarter horses. I purchased her as a foal several months old and now she is well in to her 20's.
I adore this mare and does she ever love to push a cow, this one it's been bred into, she used to herd all my goats all by herself back and forth across 40 acres when she was young.
I showed her many years, stock seat, hunt seat, side saddle and when I retired her from the show ring I did have to numb her up a bit so other folks could ride her as lesson horse . Used to be every muscle twitch I made meant to do something so she was way to light for many folks to ride. Kind of like getting on a great cutter and being on the ground in the blink of an eye if you don't know how to ride one.
She's taught a lot of kids since and took such good care of them with her kind and gentle nature and is still a great riding horse, we just go slower and for shorter amounts of time theses day.
Liz Graves
Copyright 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

" Aussie Eyes"
I've not set a brush to a canvas in about 6 years now , well more my fingers as most of my work is with fingers with just a bit of brush use.
Was not sure I would remember since all my painting the last 6 years has been posts, stall and fence boards. Once again it felt good to find my release and relaxation in something I so love to do.
Our adored Tony being the model. Affectionately known as Tony Laroni Coboni, Wiggle Butt or Little Bear as nothing around here has only one name.
Those that meet him just given a little time succumb to his charms although he can intimidate the shy as he can be over whelming in his joy, exuberance and zest for life.
Only those with the blackest of heart he can not reach.
Below is a Tony inspired poem Dave's now adult children presented at Christmas.
A shattered pan of biscuits.
A slopping pot of gravy.
There's a wolverine in my kitchen.
His tongue is burnt.
His claws glisten.
By: Will and Evelyn Genadek