Thursday, November 18, 2010

More on Riding & Writing…

Have you ever had that feeling that a certain purchase will leave you with buyers remorse?  Particularly an expensive one?

I was so happy that ended up NOT the case after the Equine Affaire this weekend!

I like big butts and I cannot lie... and pretty braids
Have you heard of Monty Roberts?  If not, the shortest, quickest introduction is he is the trainer who the movie, The Horse Whisperer, is based on.  Among the horse-training community - particularly those of us who believe in non-violent training - he is a legend!

The 75-year-old legend (Yes, he's 75 and still working with horses, frequently dangerous horses) was at this year's Equine Affaire.  After seeing his amazing clinic, I, along with a few hundred others, flocked to his booth to buy the combination set of stuff that his publicist walked out between horses to remind him to promote.

I planned to buy a bunch of stuff for Calico at the EA:  A saddle, a better lead rope, a bit, an extra long lunge whip, gloves for me… and chocolate for Scott (because I was spending so much $).  I got the saddle.  (Yay!)  I also bought breeches (which I needed) and long underwear (ditto), and do you know how hard it is to find that stuff in my size?*  However, I couldn't get anything else but the fudge for Scott.  As the weekend passed, I started to question the Monty Roberts package that had cost $99. 

I need not have questioned.  The Monty Roberts stuff not only worked magic with Cali - but it helped my writing!

Always Learning

Another great horse trainer I've mentioned before is Karen Scholl of Horsemanship for Women.  Besides her lesson on always getting do-overs, her other major piece of advice is to keep learning.  I've always embraced that, too… and sometimes learning works in mysterious ways.

Within the first few chapters of Monty Robert's book, From My Hands to Yours, he breaks down some of the most basic equine body language.  It's great for understanding Calico, but the opening scene of my current WIP is a fight between two stallions - and I was missing some key information!  Not only that, but what Roberts described would add so much more tension and chill to the scene.  It also will affect later scenes and a small bit of how the plot will unfold.

Can I tell you how happy I was to learn this?!

If you have any horses in your books, I cannot recommend this book enough.  It will give so much more depth and reality to your equine characters!

The Difference of Choice

The other part of the kit was this thing called a Dually halter, and you use it with a pair of extra-long long lines to simulate steering with reins from the much safer position of on the ground and not directly behind the horse (a frequent place when using regular-length long lines).

Have a cookie so we can see the pretty mane braid.
Normal lungeing (making your horse exercise by moving around you in a big circle) has a horse hitched to one really long line and you pushing the horse forward with a whip (no, not actually hitting the horse, but making noise and creating pressure). With Calico, about 3/4 of the way through training, she starts getting impatient and starts heading for a door (or the far end of the ring).  Her other frequent trick is to turn into me and give me those pleading, "Can we stop yet? Plee-ee-ase?" eyes. 

Without getting into a lot of detail for y'all who aren’t horse people, having the long lines on either side of this particular halter (which puts pressure on the nose based on the horse's movement) gave me more control of her head, and therefore what direction she was going.  So, if she tried to get out, the inside line created pressure on her nose and the outside line was on her butt (which prevented the "Look how fast I can move my big butt out of your pressure range!" trick).  If she returned to the circle, the pressure released.  If she turned toward me, the outside line tightened, and to release the pressure, she would have to return to the circle.

The key, of course, is that she is the one choosing the actions.  I'm not being a demanding human that gets angry and chases her for reasons she doesn't understand. 

By the end of this one session, she moved much better and answered my cues right away.

In fiction, most of us LOVE to torture characters and put them in difficult situations.  This works great when we let the characters figure out how to get out of these situations.  A lot of writers, though, will crack a whip and drive and force the characters on a plot path, though.  And it feels forced.  The characters aren't moving naturally and the writer gets frustrated and pissy because the characters just aren't cooperating!  And if you're writing non-fiction and you want readers to do something, the same mentality works.  Most people high-tail outta high-pressure sales pitches as fast as scared horse.  Design the situation so that you aren't the one applying pressure.  The pressure is there, and your writing will relieve the pressure.

For a horse, the logical decision is to not have extra pressure on their body.  It's the human's job to design things so that doing what you want becomes the horse's logical, unforced, choice.  It's the writer's job to design things so that doing what you want becomes the characters' or readers' logical, unforced, choice.

The Right Tools

The key to this lesson, of course, was having the right tools to pull it off.  I couldn't have simulated this experience with a regular halter and lunge line.  Even my bitless bridle wouldn't have worked as well.  These tools were very well engineered to do many different things - well beyond what I just described.  (Alton Brown would be proud at how multi-tasker these things are!)

A good writer also needs to have the right tools.  And the writing needs to multitask.  Strong dialogue should move the plot forward and show character development, if not also build tension, provide comic relief, or explain some aspect of the world.  One should also be able to do all that with narration, too.  Some of the best writers I know can even make their white space multitask.

Learn what tools you have available to you, and learn them well.  Some scenes need the pacing of dialogue, so knowing that tool for the right scene is critical.  Other scenes need narrative.  If you haven't taken time to learn all the ways writers get their message across, you might be missing out on some fabulous tool that's exactly what you need for a troubling scene!

So, keep learning, create situations where the logical choice (for characters, and even readers) is your desired outcome - but don't force it, and discover and utilize the right tools for the job.

Happy Writing - and Riding!

* The breeches look like jeans, which I've worn through two pairs since getting Calico.  Also, the purchase was from an independent, woman-owned business.  Despite the cost, I wasn't feeling remorse over those purchases.  ;)  Yay, Curvy Cowgirl!



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