One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.






Domestic Violence is Also This - Emotional Abuse

This is part four of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Emotional Abuse

All abuse is about control.  With emotional abuse, the abuser seeks to control their victim by use of emotions.  This can be instead of or in addition to other means of control such as physical and financial abuse.

Emotional abuse can include:

* Criticizing
* Shaming and blaming
* Belittling language
* Withholding affection as punishment
* Property damage as a means to emotionally hurt (such as by throwing out or breaking something that the victim loves)
* Alienation and isolation of the victim from their family and friends
* Gift-giving with a guilt trip - using gifts to prove something, as a sort of debt over the victim, to belittle the victim (such as “see what all I gave you and you never appreciate me”)
* Making unreasobable demands or expectations - such as to spend all your time together, being dissatisfied no matter how hard the victim tries to meet their “needs,” expecting the victim to always have the same opinions as them (and to read their mind about those opinions)
* Invalidating and dismissing the victims ideas, opinions, feelings, etc
* Behaving erratically and unpredicably so the victim feels like they are “walking on eggshells”
* Making confusing and contradictory statements (sometimes aptly called “crazy-making”)
* Embarassing the victim in public
* Guilt trips

It is often closely intertwined with other kinds of verbal and psychological abuses, such as gaslighting, name-calling, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, threats and ultimatums, etc. Some forms of technological abuse can also be called emotional abuse, such as reading the victims emails without their consent. A comprehensive list of emotionally abusive behaviors is excellently compiled on this website.

My story

What else can I say about emotional abuse, that my own story would shed light on? As with all abuse, it started small and it started slowly.  Little snide comments or criticism masked as “just being helpful” or “just a joke” or “just being overly sensitive.” Things that weren’t worth fighting over, or breaking up over - especially in the early stages when he would apologize or promise to stop.

And following the textbook cycle of violence, the emotional abuse got worse and worse, with less and less “honeymoon period” in between.  Until eventually I felt so ashamed, so ugly, so stupid, so worthless, that I couldn’t even imagine trying to leave and being able to survive  on my own. Who else would love me? Who would even hire me? Surely I’d be homeless and starving, alone and vulnerable.

It seems almost unbelievable that I would have been brought so low in my own esteem.  I had a happy childhood, was an excellent student and had a bright future.  I was confident and outgoing, if a bit shy.  But years of gradually increasing  emotional abuse turned me into a weak, submissive, and scared wreck of my former self.  Before it happened to me, I would have thought myself immune to such a thing.  I was too smart, too independent, to fall prey to such a degree of abuse.  But then I learned the hard way that it can happen to anyone.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

Domestic Violence is Also This - Gaslighting

This is part three of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Gaslighting, a type of psychological abuse

Before I knew about the term “gaslighting”, I called what happened to me “mind games,” “brainwashing,” or “a kind of psychological torture.”  For my own experiences, gaslighting was the most difficult and harmful of all the types of abuse that I experienced.

Gaslighting is defined as “a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.” It is not limited to domestic abuse; there are other relationships in which this can happen, such as at work.  It is also typical of cults.

Abusers who use gaslighting techniques are excellent liars.  They are often charming, and act concerned and kind to earn the victims trust.  They may also charm the victim’s friends and acquaintances so that they seem even more trustworthy, honest, and kind.

These mind games start slowly.  At first the victim may feel guilty for doubting someone they love and trust.  Then they are manipulated into doubting themselves instead.  Over time, the confusion and doubt grows from a few inconsequential things to the victim’s entire reality.

They tell blatant lies, unashamedly and with a straight face.  If the victim calls them on it, they may be hurt with physical or verbal abuses, and so they learn to stay quiet and not argue.  Blatant lies also sets the stage for future doubt, so that smaller and more convincing lies may be easier to believe.

They deny having said or done things, even if there is proof.  Often they are able to refute the proof in a somewhat convincing or plausible way, making the victim doubt their own memory of the event.

Their actions do not match their words.  However, they may be able to justify the discrepancy in a way that sort-of makes sense, or can use a “magic trick” tactic where they deflect attention from their actions by immediately preceding or following them with a bigger or opposite action, to confuse or distract the victim from thinking about the discrepancy.  Later, this can be used to make the victim question reality and to deny what they said or did.

They use compliments or other positive reinforcement to confuse and control, such as by mixing up criticisms and compliments, or by destroying property and giving gifts.

They do not take responsibility for their own faults, mistakes, and problems, and instead blame the victim.  The victim is then forced to think about defending themselves instead of thinking about what the abuser did or didn’t do.

They try to turn others against the victim, twist what others have said to use against the victim, or lie outright about what others said to use against the victim.  This creates both confusion and a feeling of isolation from people who they might otherwise have turned to for help.

They create chaos and confusion.  This serves to keep the victim on edge and unsure of what is actually happening, and makes them question reality and even their own perceptions.

They accuse others of being liars.  By questioning the reality of what a victim is being told by outsiders, the victim does not know who is telling the truth and what is real.  They are drawn to believe the abuser because this is the “safe” choice.

They tell the victim that she is crazy, and/or tell other people that the victim is crazy. Often real-life events or words are twisted to “prove” this, and make the victim question their own sanity, and make others doubt their sanity as well if they ever do decide to speak out about the abuse.

My story

Gaslighting was the predominant reason that I stayed in my abusive relathonship as long as I did (12 years).  Every single step and sign of gaslighting listed above what a part of my experience.

He was even so effective in gaslighting tactics that the court required I get a mental evaluation before we could proceed with the divorce, to make sure that I wasn’t crazy like he said I was.  Obviously I passed, but the point is that he even was able to make the judge doubt my mental competence.

Additionally, many of the physically and emotionally abusive things he did to me were so outright weird that it was easy to question my own sanity and memory about what had happened.  And who would believe me if I told them some of these things? Of course I’d sound insane! Even now I find it difficult to put into words some of the strange experiences I went through, and to separate nightmarish reality from the confusion created by gaslighting.

There are many things that happened to me which I may never sort out the truth about.  For example, one night I woke up with extreme nausea and then blacked out on the way to the bathroom.  He called me an ambulance and I was kept at the hospital overnight, but in my fear and fogginess at the time, I was not in a good mental state to think about and understand what the doctor told me.  Later, my abuser told me that I had suffered from acute dehydration, and used this as a falsely helpful tactic to further gaslight me.  But thinking back on the bits that I know are true about that night, dehydration doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And I can’t help but wonder now whether he just grabbed an opportunity to control me “for my health,” or whether there was something more sinister going on that caused me to black out in the first place.

I was not able to make an exit plan and effect my escape until I combatted the gaslighting and got control back over my grasp on reality.  Ironically, the very spiritual abuse that he tried to use to hurt me actually was in the end what saved me.  At that time, I was being forced to study the Buddha’s teachings by daily readings of the Pali Canon.  In particular, the various teachings about separating truth from perception and for controlling one’s mind in stressful situations allowed me to finally test and see how he had twisted reality. I could apply the Buddha’s teachings to his actions and his words and see when they did not match, and other such instances of confusion.  Of course I couldn’t tell him this or I’d get beaten, but it did allow me to finally break the hold he had taken on my mind and realize the depth of the abuse and the need to leave.

After I left (and occasionally still today), there were many things that he told me about myself, about my friends and family, and about my world as a whole that I had to re-analyze and seek the truth.  Every single thing that he had told me over the previous 12 years was now cast in doubt. Even basic things that I thought I had learned during that time, such as certain “facts” about history, agriculture, music, and other subjects he liked to talk about, I had to check up on.

In my personal experience, gaslighting was the most indidious of all the types of abuse.  The tactics were often so subtle that they defy description.  Yet they were extremely effective in keeping me controlled and preventing me from leaving even during the worst of the physical or verbal abuse.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

Domestic Violence is Also This - Sexual Abuse

This is part two of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Sexual Abuse

For the longest time, even after I left my abusive husband and learned more about the cycles and types of violence, I did not think that I had experienced sexual abuse.  I, like most people, tend to think of sexual abuse being just another word for rape or molestation.  However, there are actually many other abusive actions that are categorized as sexual abuse.

These include:

* spousal rape (aka marital rape) - this is not the “classic” type of rape.  It includes any sort of sexual act without willing consent. Often there is an underlying threat of violence (verbal or physical) if the victim does not give in to demands for sex. For more on this, here’s a great article.
* prostituting the victim
* treating the victim in a sexually demeaning manner, which can be verbal or physical
* controlling the victims reproductive choices, including whether (or how) they use birth control, forcing an abortion, etc.

My Story

I never realized that what I was going through was called rape. To me, rape meant being held down and forced while protesting or drugged.  I never had that experience. But what I went through was just as bad, and actually quite common.  

The psychological and physical abuse I’d suffered had included sexual aspects which caused me to be submissive and to not protest anything he wanted.  My natural shyness also worked against me as I was uncomfortable talking about sex, about what I wanted or didn’t want, and so forth.  And he encouraged that, subtly.

 I had to submit whenever he wanted some, or else risk a fight and a beating.  I had to lay quietly and let him prod my vagina with his fingers (not so much a hand job as a routine, and never was intended for my pleasure) , and then lay quietly while he fucked me. Pardon the language, but there is really no more accurate term for what happened.  He was always quick about it, and never tried to give me any sort of pleasure. This eventually became a morning routine, and I could either go along with that or get more violence than a normal day.

And after he was done, I always felt dirty.  I would hurry on to the next thing, to get away from him before he could come back down from his natural high.

He insisted on me giving him a hand job almost daily as well.  He did not approve of oral, either to give or receive.  He said hand jobs were good for his health, and if I was to refuse him I was cruel and causing him physical pain.  It never occurred to me that he could give himself one if it meant so much to his health, but even if it had I wouldn’t have dared suggest that because such a cheeky comment would have gotten me another beating.

He also controlled our birth control methods.  Looking back, I am very lucky I never got pregnant, or an STD for that matter. We only used a condom once, before he decided that was awful and convinced me it would be better without one.  Since I was on the pill, why bother? He claimed he was a virgin too so no risk of infection.  Maybe he was.  He probably actually was, but I never asked him to do a physical first or anything like that.  Just accepted his word at face value because I was too shy to talk about that stuff.

I had been on the pill for quite a few years before he decided that he knew better than medical professionals and made me stop taking it.  That was the year the abuse had escalated to outright physical, no holds barred beatings.  I was terrified of him and what he would do to me if I argued, so I went along with it.  He had recently decided that all doctors were frauds who were out for money by writing unneeded prescriptions, and that all medical science was bunk that was created to support the doctors in their prescription-writing scam.

Instead of the pill, he said we would rely on a combination of pull-out and Chinese herbs.  Between those methods and the stress of daily beatings, I managed to avoid getting pregnant for the remaining five or six years of my marriage.  My life was already a hot mess of anxiety, and now I had the added stress of being at risk of unwanted pregnancy.  No matter what he told me, I never was convinced in the reliability of the herbs. But by then I was a prisoner in my own home and couldn’t have taken any other preventative actions even if I’d dared.

Shortly before I left for good, he started talking about children.  The decision to become a parent was also not going to be in my control.  He talked about having children as if they were a carrot on a stick for me.  If I was “good” and could “prove I was able” to be a parent by not “needing a beating” then we could stop using what little birth control we did.  He even had already picked the names - by himself, naturally.  If a girl, he would name it after his grandmother, and if a boy his uncle.  Although he never once seemed to realize he had chosen the names of relatives, and that he didn’t even like those relatives.

But I didn’t want children.  And I especially didn’t want to bring any other human into the crazy household I lived in.  This kind of talk scared me more than the risk of further violence, and was one of the key motivations for me to escape.

It took me many years to be able to even consider dating again, and when I did I began to realize how evilly twisted my previous sexual experiences had been.  It took some work and a lot of courage to be able to overcome the shame and fear I associated with physical touch of any kind.  Then to be able to look at sex as something to be enjoyed, to see myself as beautiful when naked, to speak my mind about what I want, to understand and to allow myself to feel why it’s called making love.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

Maximum fun in Minnesota


Apollo and I recently finished our journey through Minnesota, our 20th state.  Of all the states so far, it was the one with the most fun adventures!


Minnesota is probably most famous for its lakes.  And for a good reason.  There were lakes, ponds, and “swamps” (wet, reedy areas but without a visible pond in the middle) dotting the landscape.  It was a nice change of scenery from just corn and soybeans - now it was corn, beans, and water!


I read a statistic that there is a boat for every six people in the state.  That’s a lot of boats.  So of course it was more likely here than anywhere else that I would get invited to go sailing.  One of my lovely hosts had a sailboat on Lake Minnetonka, and we spent a pleasant afternoon on the water.


I was also treated to a ride in an airplane! This was by far the smallest airplane I’ve ever flown in, with barely enough room to fit my pilot and me.


We flew around Wilmer and Green Lake, and the many lakes below glittered in the late afternoon sunlight.


Just as fun, in my opinion, was the trip I took to Rollag for their huge “threshing bee.” Threshing bees are a common thing in this part of the country. These are like agricultural festivals, with activities, vendors, and food, but the focus is on old-fashioned grain threshing.  Rollag is one of the bigger events, and featured hundreds of early steam-powered tractors in working condition, as well as horse-pulled equipment, which were used throughout the event to thresh (or separate) grain from straw.


I also had a local craft beer tasting adventure.  On one of my days off, my host’s neighbor offered to take me around to see the sights of the area.  This mostly involved stopping at numerous breweries to sample.  As the locals know how to say, Skol! (Cheers, in Norwegian)


I also made a quick stop at the Mall of America, just to see.  I knew it had an amusement park in the middle but couldn’t picture how that would look.  It was remarkable how many rides they fit in such a small space; other than that it was just an ordinary (but extra-big) mall.


The Mall was not the only shopping destination I visited.  Even more exciting was the trip I took to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, located near the town of Jordan.  The selection of treats from around the world was amazing.  They had candy from Japan, from Holland, from France, and even Idaho Spuds!


The state is very big on Scandinavian heritage. Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish immigrants were a large part of the early settlers.  This means that I got to enjoy more lefse (basically a crepe made with potato flour).  One of the more curious (in my opinion at least) remnants of the Scandinavian heritage is the local expression “uffda.” It’s akin to “darn it,” but more versatile.  You can say uffda to sympathize with someone’s tale of woe, to gripe on how heavy an item is when you pick it up, to express having eaten too much at dinner...


Last, but certainly not least, I visited a shoe museum.  Red Wing Shoes doesn’t sound like the average tourist highlight, but their tiny museum does contain the Guiness World Record boot, built to fit a 12 foot one-legged person.


Of course my time in the state wouldn’t have been complete without finding the best donut.  I was assured that the donuts at Hamlisch’s Bakery in Red Wing have been voted as such.  They were certainly yummy!


Domestic Violence is Also This - Financial Abuse

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one, starting with today’s blog on financial abuse.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Financial Abuse, also called Economic Abuse

Financial abuse is extremely prevalent in abusive relationships, and like all kinds of abuse it stems from the abuser’s need to control their victim.  With this particular type of control, the means of doing so is with money.

In my experience of talking with other survivors, financial abuse is the number one reason that they didn’t leave sooner.  It is extremely difficult to choose between an unstable, unsafe home where you at least have shelter, food, and your basic needs met, versus possible homelessness, struggling to feed yourself and your children, and other financial insecurity even if it is violence-free.  

Everyone’s experiences are unique, but some of the common ways that financial abuse manifest is:

* Abuser will not allow their victim to work or go to school
* Abuser requires their victim to work 
* Abuser controls all the financial decisions, bank account access, etc.
* Abuser harasses their victim at work or school, such as with excessive phone calls that affects their work performance
* Abuser sabotages their victim’s job or education in other ways
* Abuser demands that a lease or mortgage or other financial instrument be in their own name so they have full control, or demands it be only in the victims name and then sabotages their credit
* Abuser forces their victim to sign financial documents or take out loans
* Abuser withholds money for buying needed items, or even withholds the items themselves (such as clothing, food, personal hygiene etc)
* Abuser refuses to pay child support 
* Abuser requires justification for all money spent, demands receipts for money spent, and/or requires “payment” for money spent (such as sexual favors)
* Abuser repeatedly files lawsuits or otherwise forces their victim to incure large legal debt
* Abuser damages or steals their victims belongings
* Abuser punishes their victim with other types of abuse (physical, emotional, etc) for spending money

My Story

In my case, when we were first married my abuser would sabotage my attempts to get ready for work on time.  When this didn’t do enough harm, he got hired by the same company and told them that we would have to carpool to work.  He was an awful employee, and when they made their seasonal cutbacks they let us both go.  I knew at the time it was due to his sabotag; my performance reviews had been high before he was hired and slipped more and more the longer he worked there.   

I got another job, but it required I wake up before dawn and drive an hour to the office.  He pulled all sorts of shenanigans to keep me from getting to bed on time; the lack of sleep made me too tired to drive safely (although I never had an accident, I was concerned I would), and negatively affected my performance.  

Later, he talked me into going into business with him; self-employment sounded like a good idea at first.  But once I was working with him, it was extremely easy for him to control my work schedule, as well as gradually take away my financial independence.  By the time I left, he had full control of all the bank accounts and credit cards.  He insisted that I “do the bookkeeping,” but this was an excuse to abuse me further when he reviewed them and didn’t like what he saw.  

Throughout our marriage, he would insist on buying things that we couldn’t afford, often on credit, and then when things got tight he would sell things at a loss.  He would insist that I let him use my credit cards for this, or open up new lines of credit, so that I could “pull my weight.”  The purchases were typically things that could be justified as being for the business so that if I did argue he could mansplain it all to me about why we needed it and how it would increase profits.  Of course I knew he’d just go ahead and buy (or sell) whatever it was anyway, so eventually I stopped argueing because it wasn’t worth the resulting physical or verbal abuse.

One of the biggest reasons I stayed was financial.  I had no idea where I’d be able to find a job and certainly didn’t have access to money of my own to rent an apartment, hire a divorce lawyer, or even buy food.  But it was also a major part of why I knew I had to leave.  Everything I considered my own property, or even the things we owned together but that I cared about, were subject to his whims to sell or destroy.  Some of the things he got rid of, such as my pet goat, were more painful to lose than the pain of another beating.

When I left over five years ago, the financial abuse didn’t end.  In fact, it’s still ongoing.  He ruined my credit even further.  He did everything he could to make the divorce costs get as expensive as possible.  Additionally, he filed numerous lawsuits against me and my family, and continues to press legal actions against me even recently.


Financial abuse, like any kind of abuse, is all about control.  It’s a way to hurt the victim by taking away their independence, their self-worth, and even depriving the of basic needs or making them barter for those things with degredation.  It takes away the very means than a victim needs to leave their abuser.  

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

Please don’t scare my horse!


There has been a Batman meme floating around on facebook for a while now, that keeps popping back up on my news feed as various horsey friends share it.  You may have seen it before, you may have been one of those who shared it.  It’s supposed to be funny, but it just makes me mad.  So much so, that I have spent many hours in the saddle reflecting on why, and that’s why I’m writing this blog post.

Let me first preface by saying that I do understand the “train your horse” mentality expressed here.  Yes, everyone should do what they can to train their horse.  Yes, there are horse owners out there who are not perhaps doing everything possible to desensitize their horse to spooking at everyday objects or situations.  And I’ll agree that there are bad horse owners, and they would in many cases benefit from the message to “train your horse.”

However.

The reason I am upset about this meme is two-fold.

First, that it assumes that the horse owner, the one that needs to “train your horse,” is not already doing so or that the thing that is scaring their horse  is something that could have already been desensitized.  There are many reasons this is an unreasonable assumption in many cases that I’ve seen or experienced.

It is simply rude to assume that every person can or should own a horse that has already been fully trained.  Every horse, at some point in its life, has been green.  Every horse, even the best trained horse, can still get scared of something new.  It is simply impossible to train a horse to be non-fearful of every single thing in the world.

Even Apollo, who I think has seen just about everything, still encounters new and frightening objects or situations, and it is normal for him to feel fear about these.  This is part of being a horse, and this is part of the learning curve.  I would even say it is part of being alive.  I get scared sometimes, too!

There are also plenty of horses (in various stages of training) that have had a bad experience in their past.  Not just horses that have been abused, but perhaps they had an accident at some point, or some rough training by a previous owner, or some other traumatic moment.  Trauma of any kind, to a horse, is hard to “get over.”  It is often possible with time and patience to help a horse overcome their specific trauma-induced fears, but it is a slow process.

If someone says that their horse is afraid of something, it’s rude to assume that it’s a training issue.  Maybe that person is already working on helping their horse with that fear, or maybe the horse has been traumatized in the past in a way that it will never fully recover from.

The other reason this meme makes me mad is that it assumes that the person saying “train your horse” knows better than the horse owner, and is justified in ignoring the owner’s request.

If I am in a situation where Apollo is nervous or full-out scared, you can be damn sure I’d ask anyone scaring him to please stop, if asking would help the problem.  Not only is a scared horse no fun to deal with, it can be dangerous to the horse, their person, and anyone else around.

Even if the situation is not dangerous yet, it may become so.  If someone asks you to move more safely around their horse, there’s quite possibly a good reason for it.  Maybe there isn’t, but why assume you know better when it could result in someone getting hurt?

And why would you want to scare someone else’s horse anyway? If their horse is scared, the kind thing to do for that horse (regardless of how you feel about their person) is to help them calm down. Fear is an stressful feeling, especially for a prey animal such as a horse.  Be kind, at least to a horse that doesn’t know any better and is only acting in its nature or how it has been taught.

This is not to say that horses should not be introduced to new things, because even if you only ride in the arena at home, there is always a chance that new things will happen.  A plastic bag could blow by, or a car could backfire, or a stray dog could run at your horse.  Avoiding exposing your horse to new things is not a solution, and is no fun either (or else you will never be able to go on a trail ride, or a show, or a parade, or other new places, or you’ll end up worried about your horse spooking the whole time).

It is possible to train a horse to deal with new situations and scary situations with a minimal reaction, and even no reaction most of the time.   Ideally every horse can achieve this level of confidence and trust in their person, but not every horse will - and every horse has to start somewhere.  

But don’t be like Batman, don’t assume it’s your place to desensitize someone else’s horse or blame the owner for not having already done so.

And if I or someone else asks you to not scare my horse, please assume that it is for a good reason and not because of negligent training, even if you don’t understand what that reason is.  

Horses are vehicles, too!


This comes as a surprise to a great many people that I talk to along the ‘Ride: horses are still considered a vehicle in every state.  So what does that mean in practical terms, why do I care, and why should you?

* As a non-motorized vehicle, horses are required to follow traffic codes in the same way that bicylclists are (and yes, bicycles are also considered vehicles).  This means that horses being used on a road are supposed to stay on the right side of the road (going the same way as traffic, not against), stop at stop signs and obey other traffic signals, etc.

* Cars and other vehicles are required to drive around horses like they would another non-motorized vehicle, or someone in a slower moving vehicle, or someone pulled over: give plenty of space when passing, and slow down.

* Horses are allowed to be on any road that bicycles are allowed on (ie, not most interstates), unless otherwise posted or written in local traffic code.

* Some traffic codes dictate certain safety devices be used, such as using headlights or taillights after dusk; these may or may not apply to riders versus carriages, depending on the area.  In my personal opinion, it just makes sense to use lights and reflective apparel on you and your horse no matter how or why you’re on the road in dim lighting.  I have clip on bike lights attached behind the saddle for rear “tail” lights, and a headlamp I can use on my helmet, as well as lots of reflective tape on both of us.

* If there is no shoulder or bike lane where a horse can stay out of the traffic, a horse is allowed to use the right lane. But like bicycles, the rider should stay as far to the right as possible.

* Horses, like bicycles and other vehicles, are not permitted on sidewalks.

* Riders, like cyclists (and drivers), should know and use hand-signals to indicate intent to make a turn. Personally, I don’t trust drivers to know or pay attention to my hand signals, so I tend to just wait and go when it’s clear instead of signaling.  But there have been instances I’ve needed to use hand-signals, and it’s not a bad idea to at least be familiar in case that need arises.

* As a driver, please do not get mad if you see a horse being ridden or driven on the road.  We have a right to use our vehicle of choice there, too.

I am not a legal expert, so please don’t cite this article if you ever get a traffic violation for having a horse in the road.  If you would like to see your local traffic code to see if there are any restrictions on horses, look up your state’s statutes as well as checking with local (municipal and/or county) traffic codes.

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Like the image at the top of this article? It’s just one of many I designed and sell on the Centauride Store.  

Never far from winter - our ride through the Dakotas


Apollo and I recently completed our journey through two more states (our 18th and 19th): South Dakota and North Dakota.  North Dakota was the farthest north we’ll travel this year, and good thing too, because this far north it’s already looking and feeling like autumn.


In fact, the whole way through the Dakotas I’ve been told “you’re going the wrong way! You need to go south, winter’s going to be here soon!” I have been hearing that winter is coming so often (and mind you, this was throughout the month of August - the hottest part of the year) that I started to wonder if I hadn’t wandered been transported into a Game of Thrones universe.


We entered South Dakota over the Missouri River - my third time crossing it, and the second time with a police escort.  It was a really big bridge, to say the least.  It took a month to cross the state south-to-north.


Finally, a whole lot of corn and soybean fields later, we reached the North Dakota border.  I spent a whole two hours in the state, and that was enough. It had turned cool and rainy, and it was time to head south.  After all, winter is coming.

Here are some of the highlights of our ride through South Dakota.


Corn and soybean fields were mostly what we looked at each day.


This region grows a lot of corn for animal feed and ethanol, and I watched it mature almost to the point of harvest.

I went to several county fairs.  My favorite thing was watching the lawnmower races.


Sioux Falls is named for these beautiful waterfalls. This city also had my least favorite road of the state (and on my top 10 worst roads so far).


One of my favorite days was when I spent a whole afternoon and evening making crafts with Raelynn (and also, briefly, her mom), and eating kid food like otter pops and cupcakes with blue frosting.


The cutest donkey in South Dakota.


Dell Rapids was my favorite town to ride through, with all the pink buildings and pink roads, and all the friendly people.


Apollo made some new friends, too!


It rained often.  Sometimes there was no other option but to keep riding through the storms.


The monarch migration was happening as I rode through.  It was always a beautiful and exciting sight to see these giant butterflies flitting about.


I also enjoyed the town of Brookings, which had the best Main Street.  Lots of old buildings filled with shops, coffee bars, and eateries.


For about 100 miles, these huge spiders were everywhere.  And then they weren’t.  It was very strange, like I crossed some invisible spider fence around their territory.

 

It’s often windy in these flat states. A great place for wind energy! And the corn growing underneath may be destined for ethanol.


The most interesting old building, an “Indian church” made from rough-hewn logs.


Prettiest herd of cattle I’ve seen anywhere. Apollo didn’t agree (they were scary).


I spent a relaxing afternoon on a boat (Apollo didn’t get to come along), cruising Big Stone Lake on the SD-MN border.  This and the neighboring lake - Lake Traverse - are on opposite sides of a continental divide so they flow into rivers going opposite directions along the border.  


Of course I ate a lot.  Mac and Cheese Pizza was a new idea to me, but on several menus I saw through the state.


Apollo’s favorite food stop was the bakery in Flandreau.  He shared my cream horn (pictured) and several people bought him oatmeal scotchies (a cookie).  This was also the funniest “coffee bar” I’ve ever been in.  They had two options for coffee: regular and decaf.


South Dakota was the place for company on my rides! I had more people join me for an hour or a day here than possibly every previous state combined.  Raelynn was the first kid to ride along.


Tracie carried her baby while riding, who became my youngest riding companion at less than a year old.


Kris joined me on my longest ride of the year, and the longest anyone has ridden with me, for a 20 mile stretch near Milbank.


And since winter is coming, we finally get to use Apollo’s fancy new quarter-sheet, generously embroidered by Bird Dog Embroidery.  Looking good as we start south and pass our half-way point for the year! 

A horse’s thoughts on traveling


I recently wrote about my thoughts from the saddle, which got me thinking - what does Apollo think about while we’re traveling?

I don’t like putting words in Apollo’s mouth, but he is rather expressive for a horse... he has no qualms about telling me exactly when he likes or doesn’t like something!  So here’s my interpretation of some of his thoughts on the road.

“Hey, cows! Can we stop and chat?”

“Let’s go over there... now over here... ooo let’s go fast!”

“Why are we stopping? It’s time to work. Silly human, there’s places to go!”

“Yup, yup, yup, yup.” (As he nods along to the rhythm of his walk).

“Hey, a barking dog! It wants to say hi! Can we stop and chat?”

“Hey, another horse!  Hi, horses! I’m awesome, and I have a way better job than you. Sorry, can’t stay and chat, got important things to do.”

“Is that a monster? Oh, nope, just a trash can.  All good.”

“This looks like a nice place to stop.  I found the driveway! Are we stopping here? No? Oh okay.”

“Hey, a person! I bet they’re going to scratch my itchy face.  Can we please stop and let them scratch my face? Please please please? Yay!”

Thoughts from the saddle


I was recently asked “what do you think about during all those hours in the saddle?”

It’s a good question - I typically spent 5 to 6 hours a day traveling with Apollo, whether walking or riding, and none of it with the distractions that most people immerse themselves in, not even music (I need my ears free to listen for cars and simply to enjoy my surroundings).

A lot of the time is spent simply being, without conscious thought.  Just placing one foot in front of the other, looking at the scenery, listening to Apollo’s bells and hoof beats. Even when there’s not much going on with the scenery, I am still looking at the flowers, the sky, the birds, or Apollo’s cute ears.

More time is also spent in thinking about Apollo - what he’s telling me with his actions, whether I need to adjust some aspect of our routine, his training, the pack arrangement or saddle fit, etc.

Here’s a sampling of my normal internal chatter.

“I wonder if horse boogers have any medicinal properties?”

“How many miles have I gone now? How many left?” (Repeat every 2 to 10 minutes)

Calculating approximate days to travel to certain major points on the map, such as the next big city, and how far I’m likely to make it by winter.

“Yup, yup, yup, yup” (out loud, to Apollo, as he nods his head while walking or gaiting).

Singing to myself, and out loud if Apollo is unlucky.  (Mostly broadway show tunes, since I know you just wondered that).

“My feet/back/knees/ankles/shoulders hurt. Why am I doing this to myself.”

Calculating how many miles until I can stop for ice cream or some other non-granola bar snack, if I will be riding by somewhere that sells food. (This is something I check on my map before starting each day).

“Gosh I’m lucky to be seeing the country like this, and Apollo is such a great horse.”

Thinking about new topics to write about here.