Horsemanship Lessons From the Briar Patch


As I stand here on one leg twisting to the side with the other leg holding back thorny vines behind me and reaching deep into the tangled thorns with one hand while my other hand is using the trusty old carrot stick to hold back masses of other thorny vines, I am reminded that there are many parallels between picking wild blackberries and my natural horsemanship journey. Nothing tastes better than wild blackberries picked ripe on the vine and like one of my earlier blogs Nothing Worthwhile is Ever Easy.

I am a human contortionist stretching to get the big juicy blackberries ripening on the vines in a secluded patch. I felt the same way when I first started using the carrot stick, savvy string, and lead rope. It was just so awkward and it took so long to acquire the muscle tone and muscle memory to use the natural horsemanship tools. Once I mastered the 12 foot line, the 22 and 45 foot lines came along to challenge my abilities. I must confess that I still trip over that 45 foot line and am still learning to roll it back up without kinks.

As Pat often says “Prior and proper preparation prevents p-poor performance”. Planning is essential for picking wild berries. Wild berry patches never grow in a nice flat open field. The best berry vines always seem to flourish on steep hillsides littered with fallen trees and other natural obstacles. I spend weeks watching the patches turn green and blossom in the spring while I plan the best routes into the patch to get berries. I make paths through the patch so that I can reach the most berries without damaging the vines. But, as we all know, nothing ever goes according to the plan so there is always some last minute improvising using the knowledge I have gained from experience and during my preparations.

Slow and right definitely beats fast and wrong when dealing with thorny vines. As I am reaching for the ripe succulent berries, old woody vines wrap around my legs jabbing thorns through denim jeans, juvenile vines have grabbed my back and their thorns are digging through my heavy shirt, and the vines with fruit have rows of thorns surrounding every berry that dig into my hand as I pick each berry. This is definitely not the time to panic or act too quickly. The only course of action is to slowly yield to the pressure of each vine as you gently maneuver the thorns out of your skin and away from your body.

The natural power of focus is essential for anyone who wants to enter a patch of wild blackberries. A blackberry patch has three generations of berry vines. There are many old woody stemmed vines that produced berries in past years. These old vines are brittle and break easily when the thorns dig into your clothing and skin. There are green vines bearing fruit this year. But, the most annoying and thorniest vines of all are the new vines that will produce berries next year. These juvenile vines seem to have a magnetic attraction for human tissue and dig into your skin no matter how hard you try to avoid them. If you hurt these vines, there won’t be any berries next year so you must nurture them and be very careful not to damage this future potential. You must learn to handle the vines you have digging thorns into your skin today while nurturing the vines that will produce fruit next year.

The relationship is everything with horses and berry patches. I am nurturing a long-term relationship with this berry patch. I grew up on a family farm where we spent every spring harvesting wild blackberries and I learned how to use the natural lifecycle of the vines in a wild berry patch to ensure future berry harvests. If you look through my past blogs, you will see that I had to nurture a relationship with Rocky through a lot of thorny episodes as we built our horse – human relationship.

Today, I spent 2 hours sweating in the sun battling mosquitoes and thorns for 4 cups of vine ripened wild blackberries. Was it worth it? Absolutely! You need to take the time it takes to get the results you want. We will have fresh wild blackberries with French toast for breakfast.

What is the difference between a natural horseman and a wild berry enthusiast? Horsemen will freely give advice to anyone that will listen. Will I share the location of my secluded blackberry patch with anyone? Absolutely NOT!

Shadow J Ranch Tioga Texas © 2005-2016 All rights reserved.