Dec 30, 2011

I hoped to get out and ride today, but things didn’t work according to plan. The guys decided to ride around one and not knowing for sure what that might entail, I choose to opt out and go for a ride a bit later on my own. However, an hour later when I went out to get Dharla ready to ride, she had worked herself into a nervous frenzy at Bullet’s absence.

Typically, when the guys go off and ride we put Dharla in the smaller paddock. I feel a bit better knowing she’s in a little tighter confinement where she has everything she needs: food, water, shelter and a small area to walk around freely. The idea is that she still has her freedom to express her angst, but won’t be tempted to do anything foolish. Or so theory has it. When we lost The Bean, we lost our “babysitter” horse, but initially Dharla wasn’t all that disturbed when Bullet left on a ride. However, in the two months since Bean has been gone there has been a shift in energy and Dharla seems a bit more anxious when Bullet rides off.

So an hour or so after the guys left I went out to tack up, only to find Dharla totally unwilling to cooperate. Hm. Could I have pressed the issue? Sure, I could have. But I honestly wasn’t in the mood. I guess it all comes down to how badly you want to ride. It was a very nice day, unseasonably warm, but a lot of people were out and about on foot and bikes. Truth be told, that isn’t my favorite time to ride. So I decided to pick a different track.

I slipped on Dharla’s rope halter (even that was a test of wills) grabbed a fifteen foot lead rope and my training stick and we went out into the (larger) muddy paddock. Dharla was head-up and snorty. We walked. I led her around the muddy paddock for about ten minutes until I saw her head drop and she was licking her lips and beginning to relax. Once she wasn’t feeling quite so large and in charge, I started working on moving her hindquarters. I worked both sides several times until she was taking three good steps in each direction with only very light taps for a prompt. As she began to start using her brains she settled down more, which is typical for this mare.

I wasn’t content to stop there, but the paddock was too slick to do much else. I contemplated walking her down to the arena and lunging her, but I could tell she was still pretty fired up. Did I want to end there, on a good note or risk moving to a bigger area and working on something else that had the potential to deteriorate? Since I was giving up my opportunity to ride I decided my horse was going to work anyway. I led Dharla to the gate and we headed down the road to the arena. It was like waking on pins and needles the whole way. Good grief. You’d think we’d never been down this road before in our life. The whole time I was wondering if my horse is going to be a complete nut case when we get down to the ring. (Note to self: lose the negative thoughts … Ug!)

I started small. VERY small. I led Dharla around the perimeter of the ring three or four times. She was still very spooky and goofy, but I was quietly and gently not having any part of it. She got the hint. Next, I started walking her in circles with a couple of feet of lead line. My thought was, if she can handle walking, then trotting quietly with a couple of feet, then after a few minutes I’ll feed her a few more feet. The plan worked well, and gradually I fed her more line until I finally had Dharla walking and trotting quietly at the end of the fifteen foot lead rope. What I didn’t want was her flaking out at the end of the line or trying to pull any smarty-pants stuff on me. I always strive to avoid issues rather than have to try to fix them after they occur. I don’t know if that’s the right approach to take or not, but it just seems logical to me to try to set her up to succeed.

Once I had Dharla settled down a bit we took a little break and walked around the ring together again. I stopped in each corner and moved her hindquarters on both sides, then we walked some more. I stopped again and worked on backing her a few steps without touching her, then we walked some more. We did this for about fifteen minutes, then I walked her over to the gate and swapped out the lead rope for the lunge line.

We started on the lunge line the same as we did the lead rope; in iddy-biddy circles, fed out a couple of feet at a time with good behavior. We moved all around the arena working on her walk/trot transitions. Overall, she was great; quiet, accepting, listening to my voice and body cues. She spooked once at the far end of the ring, but didn’t go off like a rocket. (Yay!) We worked our way up the arena toward the “big scary spot” and circled there (both directions) until she lost her wide-eyed expression and relaxed. By the time I decided we were finished I had myself a different horse. On walk back up the road to the barn Dharla’s head was level and her breathing calm. When we got back to the barn I decided to leave Dharla in the bigger paddock that has access to the main gate. I stayed out with her for about fifteen minutes and picked the paddock. I wanted to see what she’d do, see if she’d revert back to her previous nervous, pacing, whinnying-for-Bullet state. She did not! (Yay!)

In conclusion, a couple of things:

1. Good on me for using my head (not my emotions) and finding a constructive substitute for riding. I tend to view “not getting my way” as defeat and often use this emotion to draw a line in the sand. I’m learning to do what’s right for my horse and (I’m hoping) we’ll both be better for this in the long run.

2. Along that same note, I’m learning to look down the line more: forgo instant gratification. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had such a green young horse. It’s easy for me to get frustrated by (what feels like) a lot of endless repetition. I have to learn to believe in my heart that Dharla is making progress, even during those times when it seems like she’s not. It’s all good.

3. Keep setting us (both) up for success! If you don’t have the confidence to take a specific path, choose a path (however small) that you do have the confidence to take. Even small steps can be constructive.

4. When my horse acts out, it’s not about ME. It’s not because I’ve failed her (us). It’s not because she’s a miserable cuss. There’s usually a reason. Try to see the situation through her eyes and find a remedy that fits the circumstance. (In this case, doing some simple, easy ground work to take her mind off missing her buddy and getting her to focus on me for a while.)

Dec 27, 2011

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Yesterday’s ride gave Dharla and me our first “big” adventure since I brought her home last April. For the most part I’m at the age where I pick my riding risks carefully. I’ve been trail riding long enough that I have plenty of ‘been there, done that’ stories to tell and I don’t go looking to add more to my catalog. But sometimes things come up out on the trail that can’t be avoided and you just have to go with the flow.

It was (yet) another damp, gray wet day. It wasn’t raining, but it had poured heavily the night before, leaving the slightly frozen ground soft and slick. My plan had been to ride in the woods. Muzzle loading season is almost over and has actually come to an end on state land. Chances are slim that we would meet anyone hunting deer. I don’t like to foil a hunter’s carefully laid plans or risk getting shot. But with deer season finally behind us and winter temperatures staying on the milder side, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to get out into the woods. I’ve been limited to riding the biking/hiking trail for three months now and I’m sick to death of the same old scenery.

Having made plans to ride with a friend, I went out about an hour ahead and curried the mud off the buckskin. He’s always a consummate mess. The dirt clinging to his hairy flanks was dry except for one large patch on a meaty gam and big spot on his belly. As usual, Bullet had been lounging in the mud. I can’t fault the horse; there isn’t a dry patch of ground to be had lately and he needs to get off his feet at least once or twice a day. He’s a big boy. My husband had ridden him the day before and I’m sure he was a bit fatigued. Still, it seems like he’s always a major project to clean up before any ride. I brushed the clots away, spent a few minutes brushing my own mare, tossed them both some hay and went back inside to wait for my friend to arrive.

We got a late start, then only minutes into the ride we ran into my neighbors, who were just returning from a ride. We stopped to chat for a few before continuing along on our way. We didn’t get very far. The viaduct trestle was blocked with several large equipment trucks and a cement mixer. At first it looked like we might be able to squeak past them on one side, but as we stood planning our route the cement mixer started to rumble and turn and we both agreed that we would probably be better off riding somewhere else. With that decided we turned off on a woodsy path that went in the opposite direction.

The beginning of the ride was unremarkable except that Dharla boldly led and Bullet followed. Dharla stepped readily and unquestioningly across streams that only months earlier she had refused to cross, and hopped lightly over logs that blocked our path. Although the trail was slick in places and boggy with mud in others, Dharla handled the lead quite well. The last third of the two hour trail crosses an old abandoned tree farm that is leased by a local sportsman’s hunting club. Years ago we used to ride this land regularly and we know the lay of the land well. Although the property is now posted, we’ve carefully and respectfully continued to cross this land for the better part of 20 years with no complaints. Occasionally I’ve encountered bird hunters out with their dogs, but they’ve always welcomed me and allowed me to cross the fields to get to the other side where the trail circles back toward our farm. Unfortunately, today was an exception to that rule.

As my friend and I wound our way toward the open fields I could hear voices in the distance. Having encountered bird hunters before, I knew they were calling commands to their dogs. They were unable to see us as we approached, but I called out as we rounded the bend and they came somewhat into sight. Their Black Labs froze, staring in our direction. I asked if we could have permission to cross the field … if it was OK with them. They called back, “Hunting is still in season!” Taking that as a “No” I turned to my friend and told her we might actually have to ride back home the way we’d just come. That’s another two hour ride, when we were only about twenty minutes from home. As we contemplated our few options, the clouds started to spit rain.

We decided to sit tight and see where the hunters went. If they turned off the main trail and fanned out toward one side of the large field, we might be able to skirt them by riding along the opposite side of the orchard. I knew once we got around the first bend we’d be well out of sight and gun range and could probably eclipse the whole field before they even knew we’d slipped by. We waited about fifteen minutes, then quietly advanced. When we got up to the open field I could see the hunters had indeed taken the path I expected and were well on their way to the opposite side. We darted for the trees at a fast trot, then high-tailed it around the outside perimeter of the orchard. The ground was slick and greasy, but wanting to put as much distance as possible between us and the hunters, we continued to trot as fast as we dared. Then, about halfway around the field I felt both Dharla’s back feet slip sideways … and I knew we were going to go down!

Somehow, Dharla miraculously managed to regain her footing without losing a beat. We continued around the outside of the field, then when I knew we were well out of sight, crossed back to the center. We pushed the horses through the second field (the airstrip) and finally reached the path that leads back to our farm. While I hate trespassing and sneaking behind the hunter’s backs, I really don’t understand why they couldn’t let us ride through. We could have been out of their way in a matter of ten minutes. Instead, they wanted us to add another two hours to an already lengthy (and hilly) ride. Why? Because they can. I’m going to have to really think about this now, before including this trail in my future repertoire. This is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorite rides.  *Sigh*

So that was our big adventure! 🙂

Ride Time: 3 hours

The Bean

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In 1987 my husband decided he wanted to learn how to ride a horse. He asked if he could ride mine, but she wasn’t a good choice for someone who’d never ridden before. Well, we’d been to Rydin’ High twice a few years prior, but those horses were city slicker broke and anyone could have ridden them blindfolded on a moonless night. I wasn’t about to let him up on my horse. He pestered and pestered until I finally suggested that he take riding lessons. There was a stable not too far from our (new) house where I knew he could take western lessons, something that’s kinda hard to find in these parts. We signed him up there.

My husband proved to be a natural rider. Not all that surprising given he was a state champion wrestler and the captain of his High School football team. To say the guy is athletic is a bit of an understatement. He’s gifted. Still is. He never once struggled to get his seat and hands where they needed to be. At the time I didn’t know if I wanted be happy for him or annoyed about this. Let’s just say there’s a certain degree of humility and a sense of caution that comes with getting tossed on your keester and bounced around a bit. But during his learning curve my husband didn’t experience any of that. He was a good rider coming right out of the gate.

He wanted to start looking for his own horse only a few months after he started to ride. I wasn’t for or against that, I was just a bit surprised. I really didn’t see his infatuation with riding lasting through the cold winter. But by early spring my husband was paying to take lessons twice a week. He just loved being around horses. So we started looking at newspaper ads and keeping an eye out for a suitable match. The stable where he rode had a very experienced, push button reining horse that they kept trying to get us to buy. High On Smoke. Nice horse, but he was already in his mid-teens and had done it all. I remember thinking the horse ought to be retired and allowed to finish out his days just relaxing. He was too expensive for that, and as much as we both rode and liked him, we didn’t think he was a contender.

One of our friends who lives in the northern part of our state shared her local penny saver paper with us every week. There seems to be more horses in the rural sections of this state and we could pick and choose from several equine ads. Eventually an ad caught our eye: “Four year-old bay Arabian gelding. Started under saddle.” Little did we know when we called and made an appointment to go see this prospect that he lived on a large breeding farm for racing Arabians.

We met the owners of the farm, then we were turned over to the farm manager who took us to look at the horse we came to see as well as ANY horse we wanted to check out. If we stopped at the front of any stall and asked about the occupant, sometimes just because it was pretty, that horse was immediately haltered and paraded out of it’s stall so we could view it as we were given the history on that horse. Needless to say, unlike the little gelding we’d come to see, many of these “pretty” horses were listed for upwards for $20,000.00 or more.

At noontime we were taken to lunch by the farm manager. We talked about the bay gelding as we warmed up with bowls of steaming soup and delicious sandwiches. As we ate, Vicki politely inquired about what we thought we wanted in a horse. Both my husband and I felt Vicki was being quite honest in her assessment of the young gelding and we didn’t feel any pressure to purchase this particular horse. He was very cute and personable, but he was also young and green and I had some concerns about mixing a green rider with a green horse. We asked for a bit more time to think about it. Vicki excused herself and returned to the farm, leaving us to talk more about the possibilities over desert.

I knew my husband was smitten. Years prior I had turned him on to the movie The Black Stallion and he’d been moved by the deep, binding relationship between Alec Ramsey and the Black. I knew he was already thinking that this young, green Arabian might be his “Black.” How could I deny him? We drove back to the farm and made Vicki and offer. She vanished into the owners office and returned minutes later with an ear-to-ear grin. The horse was ours!

I don’t know how much truth there was to the story, but we were told that Finale was the last get of the great Arabian stallion “Gamaar”.

GAMAAR:

When one thinks of  the great Arabian horses of the past,  One horse in particular comes to mind.  “Gamaar”  This beautiful stallion made his mark on the Arabian breed in an elegant, graceful and beautiful way.

The story begins in the many great generations before the birth of “Gamaar”.  One of the most famous Sons of “Witez II”  was “Nitez” out of the well known mare “Nafa”.  Daniel C Gainey purchased two great stallions  “Ferzon” and “Nitez” as yearlings in 1953 and promoted them together until he sold “Nitez” in 1963.  “Nitez” was bred to “Galena” before she was sold and the resulting foal was a beautiful black colt named “Niga”.  Bob Powers the manager of Gainey Arabian Ranch at the time was so impressed with “Niga” that he had Ed and Milt Strand of Minnesota go see the colt and suggested they purchase him. When Niga was four years old Mr. Gainey bred 3 mares to him and in 1962 he leased him and bred another 8 mares to him, one of those mares being “Gay Rose” the dam of “Gamaar”.  

Niga was sold in 1962 to Butler Arabians and then in 1967 he was sold back to The Strands. And in 1969 the Strand Family moved to Iowa.  “Gay Rose” produced  4 notable foals before her untimely death at the age of nine in 1966 among those foals were “Gamaar”, “Galizon” 1969 US National Champion stallion, “Gay Rouge” A Canadian top ten National Champion stallion, “Gai Gay Rose” a US National Top Ten  Stallion. Gay Rose was Sired by the great “Ferzon”  who has a story all his own to tell, a great stallion in his own right.  He was most prized by Daniel C Gainey, in fact when he sold “Nitez”  he was so impressed with “Ferzon” that he retained him.  

In 1964 Bob Erdman decided to visit the Gainey Ranch in Minnesota, to see if he could find a nice stud colt to upgrade his own Arabian horse stock. He was shown the young stock at the Gainey Farm and was most impressed with a fine, typey, bay colt named “Gamaar”.  He encouraged the Trainer at the Gainey Farm to telephone Mr. Gainey and ask for a price on the colt. After the telephone conversation Mr.Gainey decided that as long as he had one colt and one filly by his prized broodmare “Gay Rose” on the farm at one time he would sell the beautiful colt.  

Mr. Bob Erdman purchased “Gamaar” on the spot. He lived with the Erdman’s until they decided to retire and they offered him for sale. In 1970 Arden and Patricia Forehand purchased him and he stayed with them until his  death. During his lifetime he produced some of the finest Arabian horses in the United States. Gamaar son’s and Daughters are well known for their great beauty, and refinement which carries on for many generations. He is also known for being
a great broodmare sire. His daughters are among the most prized broodmares in the country.

The breeders who told us Finale’s history went on to say that the young colt, the last get of the great Gamaar, was named Gamaar’s Reflection, or “Finale” for short, as in Grand Finale! Regarding his registered name, he was indeed a carbon copy of his Pa! Unfortunately, a year or so after Finale was born another Gamaar baby appeared, usurping his status as the Grand Finale. That didn’t matter to us though and we ended up calling Finale “The Bean” (or Beanie) for the rest of his life.

The Bean and Aldo did indeed share a relationship and bond like Alec and the Black. They shared a friendship, love and deep respect for each other that nothing could ever eclipse. They covered thousands of miles  and experienced many firsts as they grew together as horse and rider. Watching them together it was obvious they had a special bond that most horsemen and women can only dream of having. And while I sometimes rode Bean too, and I did the lions share of the daily upkeep, Bean’s heart always belonged to Aldo.

One afternoon in October when Aldo was away on his annual fall riding vacation with his (other) horse Bullet and his two best friends and their horses, I went out to give Dharla and Bean their afternoon hay and found the Bean wasn’t himself. I could tell he was having tummy issues, something he’s struggled with off and on all his life, especially when there are wild barometric pressure changes. A cold front was moving in and I wasn’t that surprised to find the Bean slightly camped out and not wanting his hay. I didn’t panic. We’ve been through many bouts of weather-related stomach aches in the past and they usually just get better on their own over the course of several hours. But because Bean’s a twenty-eight year-old senior, I kept an eye on him. You just never know.

When I went out to feed “last call” hay at 11 PM Bean was looking a bit perkier. He’d eaten some of his hay, had polished off his water and he had pooped enough to help lessen my worries about blockage. I didn’t think he was over the hump, but he was looking much better than he did at my last check two hours before. Normally, I won’t go to bed if a horse isn’t feeling right, but I was so certain that Bean was well on his way to mending that I went inside, fell asleep and didn’t wake up all night.

I next morning I let the dogs out and started my coffee. I kept glancing out the kitchen window that faced the barn, but I didn’t see hide nor hair of the Bean. Granted, he could have been over on the far side of the barn or in the run-in shed, but I felt the sudden prickle of alarm. I threw the dogs some food, pulled on my mud boots, grabbed a sweatshirt and headed for the barn. My heart sank when I looked inside Beanie’s stall.

It was quickly apparent that the Bean had had a rough night. He was laying down and his mane and forelock were peppered with shavings; the sign of a horse who’s been rolling. He was quiet, but when his eyes met mine they were dull and glazed with pain. I opened his stall door and approached, but the Bean didn’t get up. I stroked his face, picked the hay and shavings from his cheeks and then fighting panic I quickly got Dharla fed and ran back to the house.

I tried calling my husband’s “emergency” cell phone. My husband is not a cell phone user and only took an old cell phone with him on vacation for emergencies … like this. Trouble is, he isn’t accustomed to using a cell and checking voice mail isn’t something he would think to do. Also, he had turned his phone off to save on battery life. So my frantic calls were just going directly into his voice mail box where they would probably sit unnoticed until he got home. There was no other way for me to reach him or his buddies!

I called my vet and woke him up. We had a short discussion about what I could give the Bean for pain. I had a tube of Banamine paste from previous episodes of the same thing, so we decided to start with that. I ran back out to the barn and administered a dose of pain med, then ran back toward the house and tried (again) to raise Aldo on his cell phone. No such luck. As I waited to see if the pain med would help Beanie, I racked my brain to recall the name of a riding stable a few miles up the road from where my husband and his friends were camping. The week before as the guys were pulling out to leave I asked them for the name of this stable … just in case. It must have been a premonition because I’m usually not the worrying type.

Miraculously, I somehow remembered the name of the stable. I ran to my computer and googled the name. Again, miraculously, the stable had a webpage that listed a phone number. With shaking hands I dialed the number. The stable owner’s wife answered the phone and I quickly explained who I was and why I was calling. Did she know where my husband was camping and would she deliver a message to him asking him to call me? She said she knew where their camp was and she would get the message to him. Somewhat relieved, all I could do was wait.

About forty-five minutes passed before my phone rang. I explained to Aldo what had been going on since the night before and in his typical laid-back manner he wasn’t too worried. Whether he was in denial or simply not understanding the gravity of the situation I can’t say, but the end result was that he convinced me to wait and see if the pain meds helped. I should have insisted he come home, as complicated as I knew that would be. In my heart of hearts, I thought it was a stretch to think the meds were going to help; enough time had already passed and they didn’t seem to be working. But not wanting to cry wolf and ruin his vacation, I didn’t insist he come home … yet. I hesitanty agreed to wait another hour or so to give the pain med a little more time to work. He said he’d call back in about an hour to check in. I no sooner hung up and ran out to the barn (no cell signal in the barn) when I realized what a fool I’d been. Bean was down and very obviously in distress again.

I ran back to the house and immediately dialed my husband’s cell phone. The call went directly into voice mail. I wailed with frustration. I knew there was no way Aldo was going to think to keep checking his phone for messages and so it was futile to even bother leaving one. I opened the door and heard Bean scream. I bolted back to the barn and found Beanie cast in his stall, groaning. Thankfully, the Bean is a little guy and I was able to position myself to flip him over without getting pinned or hurt, but I could not get him back on his feet. I knew if I didn’t get him up he’d just cast himself again. I put Bean’s halter on and gently tried to coax him up, but he wouldn’t budge. His eyes were wide and bulging and his lips were pulled back in a tight grimace. I’m not even sure if he recognized me, and with that thought I started to panic.

I ran back to the house and frantically dialed the home of one of his other buddies. Although this friend isn’t a rider, his wife and daughter ride and I knew Kyle would do anything he could to help us. I got one of Kyle’s teenage daughters on the phone and calmly asked for her mother’s work number. I hung up, redialed and got through to Kimberly. Trying desperately not to sob, I explained my situation. She told me her husband was done with work in about thirty minutes and she would send him directly over. I was beginning to think my best bet at getting my husband home was going to be to send Kyle to go get him, especially since the guys were camping with just one truck, which pulled the goose neck stock trailer. How else could I get Aldo home without forcing all three men (and their horses) to come home? It was so complicated! And speaking of Aldo, where the hell was he? He was overdue to call back and I still hadn’t heard from him. Every minute that passed felt like an hour.

After that phone call my house phone died. The battery was shot. I get an iffy cell signal in my house and no cell signal in the barn, so I was becoming increasingly frustrated by this situation. I glanced out my kitchen window and saw Bean charging around his small muddy paddock. He looked totally panicked and was whinnying in a voice that sounded unnatural. Clearly, the pain meds were not working. I stepped outside and called the vet on my cell phone. He told me there was nothing more he could do. He’s predominately a holistic vet and his suggestion was to get in touch with another equine vet who could administer something stronger. Gee, ya think?

As I hung up I decided to call the lady at the stable down the road from the camping site again. I was still waiting to hear from Aldo and I couldn’t wait any longer. He needed to get on the road and come home NOW. I had no doubt in my mind that his horse was probably going to die. I got through to the lady and she immediately dropped what she was doing and jumped in her car to go find my husband. As I hung up from that call Kyle pulled in. I didn’t know what he could do to help me, but at least I wasn’t alone.

Kyle and I went out to access the situation. At this point Bean was again cast in his stall. We got him unstuck and back on his feet and I made an effort to walk him around the paddock. Bean either refused to move or sunk to the ground groaning. I was losing him and there was nothing I could do to ease his agony. I felt like throwing up and I was shaking with horror, fear and anger. This went on for about fifteen minutes and then Kyle’s phone rang. It was Aldo. He told Kyle he and one of the guys were on their way and they had called another vet who was also on route to the farm. He hoped they’d both arrive at about the same time, but he was a bit over an hour away and didn’t know if he was going to make it home in time. Kyle passed the phone to me and we talked for a few brief seconds. I don’t recall his exact words, but the general gist was “don’t wait for me!”

I won’t describe the next half hour except to say that every time that little gelding went down I thought it was the last, only to watch him will himself back up on his feet. It was almost unbearable to watch, but he was still on his feet when the vet pulled in. Aldo was still not home. The vet didn’t need to explain to me that  Bean was dying and we needed to release him from his misery. I knew that, but I was deeply grieved that Aldo was so close to being there to say goodbye, but hadn’t arrived yet. I went inside to get something while the vet called Aldo to tell him the prognosis. Aldo was only about ten minutes from home, but not wanting to prolong the Bean’s suffering, he told her to go ahead without him. When I went back out to the barn the vet had gone back to her truck to draw up the meds.

At this point Bean had been lightly medicated and he lay on the cold muddy ground. All around him the paddock looked like a battlefield. Bean had fought so hard to hold on, but he needed to go. Having just lost my own mare nine months prior, my heart was torn knowing that Aldo wouldn’t have one last chance to say goodbye to his boy, his heart horse. The vet reappeared and waited for me to give the signal. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I turned to her and nodded. As she started to kneel down I heard the rumble of the pickup truck. “Wait!” I croaked. “I think he’s here!” I looked toward the house and saw Aldo running toward the barn. As Aldo jogged up to the small, silent circle of people surrounding his horse Bean lifted his head, looked at Aldo and nickered. He’d waited to say goodbye to his partner. He knew all along that he’d come. Bean passed over the bridge a minute or two later.

Many years ago Aldo was late coming home from work one Saturday. Not a little late, but very late. I was annoyed. I’d hoped to go riding that afternoon and he was a no-show. As he walked in the door he had his apology ready. He had a surprise. Intrigued, I held my tongue. He gently removed his shirt and there, on a meaty deltoid was a tattoo. It was a silhouette of The Black Stallion, the head shot taken from the front of the old worn-out VHS move box. (Minus the print)

*

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A boy and his first horse are never parted.

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Dec 22, 2011

Another chilly, damp day, but Dharla and I managed to squeeze in a ride despite the threatening clouds. It was supposed to be sunny and warm, but the sunshine never materialized. My friend called early to say she didn’t have any herding lessons until later in the afternoon and wondered if I wanted to ride. Since I’d already planned to get out, I said yes and we set a time for about noon.

The icicles that had been such an obstacle earlier in the week had almost vanished in all three places. We warmed up with a nice extended trot that was uninterrupted by Dharla’s wanting to dodge and weave when we neared the rocky ledges. It’s so amazing how having another horse along will bolster a young horse’s confidence. After we got the kinks (and a few hops and kicks) out, we slowed things down and worked on getting a nice relaxed, slow jog. Dharla didn’t have much trouble sustaining a slower pace since that’s what we’ve been working on for a while now. But Bullet was a bit resistant.

In Bullet’s defence, he’s never been ridden by anyone except my husband in the six or seven years we’ve had him. Prior to that Bullet was only ridden by his previous owner enough times to call him “started.” I’m sure Bullet was not too thrilled to have a completely new person on his back, one who hasn’t ridden herself in over 30 years. That said, Bullet’s not known for his cheerful personality. He’s known as a bit of a curmudgeon and pest even in the best of circumstances. But put a rider on him who doesn’t know what makes him tick, and he’s going to mess with their head every time.

About halfway into the ride Bullet started dropping his head, rounding his back and collecting, but at the same time he began fooling around with the bit. I’d never seen him do this to this extreme before and I thought it was kind of funny. His rider didn’t. She worried that maybe something was wrong. Had he gotten his tongue over the bit? Was there an issue with his mouth that we couldn’t see? She was so disturbed that we finally stopped so I could dismount and check things out. Nope, no apparent mouth issues. I remounted and we continued, and Bullet kept up his routine. He wasn’t fighting or tugging or flinging his head, he was simply toying with the bit. And yawning. That aside, the rest of the ride was unremarkable, but I tried to make a mental note to ask my husband if Bullet had ever done this before.

Sometimes stuff like this makes me feel like my horse isn’t good enough. Bullet is nicely broke and does exactly what my husband wants him to do whenever he asks, but he’s not a lesson horse nor does he suffer schooling gladly anymore. Bullet loves getting out and hitting the trail. That’s the crux of what we do here. My husband didn’t spend years ring and ground working this horse because that isn’t the kind of stuff he does. He did a bunch of that in the beginning when we first got Bullet, then he just taught him to do what he needs to understand for the kind of stuff we typically encounter …. and Bullet does that very, very well. Now all of a sudden someone else is riding him and nit-picking him to death and this makes me feel kind of bad. Bullet’s a good horse, a powerhouse and a steadfast, reliable boy, but God love him, he’s not a reining or cutting horse and probably never will be. That’s not something we have any opportunity to do here.

My whole point in offering my husband’s horse was to give this friend a chance to get back in the saddle again after a 30+ year hiatus. I didn’t think it was important that the horse be super finely tuned to her and I don’t think my husband really cares about that either. While there’s a place for schooling, there’s something to be said for just getting out and relaxing. That’s all I was trying to do. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it matters on a ride like that if your horse wants to drop his head and play with the bit for awhile. But maybe in my old age I’ve just gotten too laid back?

Ride time: 2.5 hrs

Distance: Approx 6 mi.

Dce 21, 2011, (Off)

It’s yet another crappy, rainy day. It seems like I can hardly get two days in a row of decent riding weather and then it’s miserable again for a few days. We’ve been in this weather pattern for the last year now, and I’m pretty sick of it. When I had a 28 year-old horse it didn’t much matter what the weather was like as I didn’t feel the daily pressure to get her out. But this year things are different and I can’t help feeling that I should have been more productive than things turned out to be. And our downfall was 100% related to nasty weather.

So we get another day off. That’s not horrible, but it wasn’t what I had planned for today. Not having much else on my agenda this morning, I sat down at my computer and caught up on email and reading. A fellow equine blogger that I follow had written an interesting post about being “horse crazy” since birth and trying to find acceptance in the equine community as she grew up. Unable to have a horse of her own, she baptized herself into the horse world by working in the equine industry and learning via firsthand experience, albeit with other people’s horses. Yet for some reason feeling accepted into and affirmed by the greater equine community somehow eluded her. Why? Because she didn’t have a horse of her own.

Like her, I spent most of my youth fantasizing about owning and riding horses. Whenever opportunity arose, I pestered horse owners relentlessly, begging them to give me a ride. Though we didn’t live in an area where horses were typically found, we sometimes visited the countryside where horse and pony sightings were far more common. On those rare occasions I would bolt at the clip-clop of approaching hooves like a child who runs toward the jingle-jangle of an ice cream truck bell. When we visited a summer fair, I would abandon my family just to hang out around the pony ride.

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As I grew a bit older, my favorite summer event was attending the pony and horse pulls with my family. I was fortunate that, although my father was not a full time farmer, he was well liked and respected among the local horsemen. Once these men got to know (and trust) me, I was allowed to help harness and hitch their teams. Looking back, I can’t imagine anyone letting someone’s non-horse reared child help with this task, but it was a different time and they welcomed the extra help. Me? I was thrilled, even if it meant just standing for hours in the hot sun holding a grazing pony on the end of a lead rope.

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 I still enjoy watching pony and horse pulls, only now I usually watch them through the lens of my camera.

So thinking about all this and the blog I read earlier made think about my own past and path with horses. My father bought a pony for the family when I was about ten. She was young, unbroken and quite an advanced “project” for an inexperienced child. But children and fools have no fear so I guess my parents didn’t see the harm in letting me give this pony a shot. We did have some help in the form of a family friend who had grown up riding horses on his parents farm. But he was a grown man and couldn’t be expected to back such a little Welsh pony.

I remember we did some ground work, if you could call it that. We taught the pony to be haltered, lead and eventually to be saddled. Perhaps we sacked her out, but I don’t recall and it’s probably unlikely. I remember getting helped up on her while our friend held her head, then her bucking and shaking and and basically just doing everything she could to get me off. Sometimes she succeeded. Eventually, the friend started to let go of the lead rope as he walked beside us. I was nervous, but not really scared. I knew Topsy would buck … I expected it. But I learned not to be afraid of that. I knew it was just part of the process of her learning to be ridden.

I rode that pony as much as I possibly could until I was thirteen or so, when my parents broke down and bought me a horse of my own. By then, my folks had made the decision to leave the ‘burbs and relocate in the country. They purchased an old run-down dairy farm that my father intended to convert back into an operating “Gentleman’s Farm.” You see, my father was a farmer at heart, but a doctor by profession, and sometimes I think he used my love for horses as the catalyst for leaving city life and livin’ the dream. I sure can’t fault him for that!

Through most of my teens I was involved in riding my barrel racing horse. She was fast, well broke and very competitive, and the riding skills that were learned at the expense of a feisty Welsh pony were further honed on the back of this capable mare. Bottom line, Serena made me look pretty damn good … far better than I probably actually was. In defense of myself, I did have to learn how to stay with such a fast moving, quick turning horse. But as quick as Serena was, she never gave a buck or a hop in her life, and I could eventually learn to relax and enjoy the ride.

If there’s a common theme with my fellow blogger, it’s that while I had my own pony, I never once had a riding lesson in all this time. Oh, I rode plenty of horses, some who were very challenging to ride, but I never had formal instruction of any sort. I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of rider, who did pretty well I might add.

Many years later, when I was in my mid 30’s, my husband decided he wanted to learn how to ride. Not anxious to try to teach him, I signed him up to take lessons nearby. I went with him for the first few lessons to make sure it was the right kind of place for him, but also because I was curious. I wanted to see how riding was taught, especially to an adult. Each time I went I found myself wanting to do more than just watch, but it seemed a bit foolish to pay good money to take lessons for something I thought I already knew how to do. But the more I watched the more I started to realize how little I actually knew about the technical aspects of riding. Sure, I’d picked up some things instinctively and from basic repetition, but many of the finer points had eluded me all those years. So I asked the instructor if I could join the class. She was very willing to let me.

It wasn’t long before I noticed something unusual happened during our lesson: The instructor often didn’t expect me to perform the same exercises as the rest of the group. Now granted, the other students were all beginners of various levels, but still. Why was I exempt from having to practice the same basic skills? She seemed to treat me as though I didn’t need to be taught or corrected because I already knew how to ride. In the end, I didn’t take lessons for more than a few months because I wasn’t learning or perfecting anything new. I came away from the whole experience feeling foolish and never tried to take another lesson again until I bought Dharla last March.

I sometimes share my blogging friend’s feelings of not being good enough or of not knowing enough because I didn’t grow up with a ‘formal’ horsey background. I mostly learned from the school of hard knocks, and while that’s really OK, it means I don’t have the bragging rights to the credentials so many like to see. Usually I don’t get too hung up on this, but I sometimes feel a bit left in the dust when horsey friends start throwing around buzz words and terms I never much cared to learn. But I’m not an armchair expert either. I’ve lived with horses in my back yard for almost 45 years. I think a little knowledge has rubbed off along the way … or at least I sure hope so!

Dec 20, 2011

Had a great herding lesson with the red monster.

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That’s an older picture of him working sheep. Today, we started with five or six geese and worked on driving them along a specific course. Hazer did pretty well considering I was doing the handling and I’m a total moron. After about thirty minutes we switched geese for pygmy goats. Hazer is lukewarm about the geese, but he loves those goats. They move faster and push back harder and he likes that. We worked on the same things as we did with the geese, it’s just harder with goats. And I’m a moron. That never changes.

A few hours later my herding instructor and I hit the trail together. She rode my husband’s Q-horse Bullet and I was on Dharla. We didn’t have any special plans … really just a repeat of yesterday for me, but with company. Interesting how Dharla was much more comfortable walking through those icicle spots when she had a babysitter horse with her. In all fairness though, most had melted back a good bit and were far less intimidating on this cloudy day than yesterday, with the sun hitting and reflecting off them like a laser beam.

We did some nice long extended trots. It was relaxing and fun and nice to have company along for a change.

Ride time: 2.5 hrs.

Distance: About 6 mi.

Dec 19, 2011

After a weekend of not getting out at all, I decided that in spite of bitter cold temps and blustery winds, I’d better ride Dharla. The ground has started to freeze and with the high water content in the soil, the ring is too iffy in places to ride there. I knew this would probably happen … it’s been the wettest year on record here since rainfall records have been recorded. Over 100 years, or so I’ve been told. We broke the crappy weather record during the first year I own a young new horse. Good timing … NOT!

I’m kinda proud of myself for layering on the clothes and getting out there. It was sunny, but nasty. A front was moving in and the wind was really howling …. never a great thing when riding a young Arab, Wind seems to put a lot of energy and spook into them. But I didn’t have a choice, I feel I need to ride every chance I can as long as the footing is safe.

I knew the dripping water on the rock ledges would be frozen, which means icicles. Last time Dharla encountered icicles it was a real test of wills … hers against mine. I won, but I’m by no means convinced that’s going to be the last she’ll have to say about the matter. I had no idea what the icy areas would look like, but we weren’t out on the trail more than five minutes before we approached the first icicles hanging from rock ledge.

Dharla was terrified, to the point where I didn’t even try to urge her forward more than a few steps. My thought is that I want to do everything I can to avoid stressing her to the point where she wants to default to “turn and flee” mode, which is a strong response that comes naturally to her. Instead, I dismounted and slowly coaxed her forward one slow step at a time. She is a formidable creature when she’s terrified, that’s for sure. And her reaction wasn’t just stubbornness or outright refusal, she was literally trembling with fear.

So we took our time. I inched her one slow step forward, then let her stop. It WAS scary … lots of wind whipping up the leaves, and we were standing at the beginning of a rock ledge “tunnel” that has two-story stone walls that feel like they’re closing in from both sides. In this particular spot there are icicles only on one side of the walls, but that doesn’t really help since Dharla isn’t thrilled with the closed-in feeling of the rock walls. So if the icicles fail to set her on edge, the closeness of the rock walls will. Our mantra is “We have to face our fears.” I gently said that to Dharla every time her head whipped up and her nostrils flared. She snorted and blew, but one thing I’ll say for this girl, she tends to hold her ground when she’s scared. I like that about her. I know “Flee! Run!” was coursing through her veins, but she held her ground by my side and trembled.

We slowly made progress. It took about fifteen minutes, but we inched to the end of the rocky ledges, where I turned her around and walked her back. Oh boy, other side of the brain! I followed the same steady routine, slowly inching her forward, gently coaxing, petting, rewarding every step. Finally she relaxed enough to become curious about the thing that was scaring her so badly. I led her closer to the dripping ice and she s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d her neck out, keeping her feet and body as far away as possible from the scary monsters. She sniffed. Hm. Not so bad!

All toll, we spent about 30 minutes just traversing the same 25 yards or so. Back and forth, until I thought Dharla was looking more relaxed about this encounter. I knew we’d have another encounter with icicles about .25 miles up the trail, so I decided it was time to remount and move on. When we approached the next trouble spot I could see the sheen of ice on the trail between the two rocky ledges. Deeming the footing unsafe for a potential icicle challenge, I chose to take a detour and we continued on our way. There would be other places where we would encounter and conquer icicles further down the trail.

Our second icicle challenge was even more difficult than the first. The path is more narrow and the alley is dark and damp. All that makes this a scary spot without even having to cope with huge dripping monsters. As we approached, Dharla came to a halt. I just let her stand and look. A few minutes passed and I gently squeezed her sides. To my surprise, she took a few steps forward before stopping again! I let her stand and look as I talked to her quietly. “You have to face your fears, Dharla. We all do.” After a minute or so I squeezed her again, and she moved forward several steps. It went on like this until we were slowly inching through the first few feet of the icy ledge tunnel. Then, she committed and didn’t stop once the rest of the way through!

Holy crap, was I thrilled! Of course, my biggest fear is that we’ll pass through or by something going one way, then not be able to pass through or by on the way back, stranding us far from home. So once we reached the 3/4 mark in the tunnel I turned her and started back the way we came. Obviously, Dharla has been with me long enough to know this doesn’t mean we’re going home, but I do think that knowledge sometimes helps move them forward with a ‘false’ sense of security. (“We’re going HOME! I can do this!) She seemed to have less resistance heading back even though the ice was on her right, which is always her more hesitant side. When we reached the end I turned her around again, and we repeated the whole procedure several times. Not once did she spook or shy or hesitate to move forward when asked. This was HUGE progress and I was delighted!

However, we were not through yet. Although we had passed through the most challenging areas (tight walls, lots of icicles) I decided we would continue to the place where we usually turn and head for home. There were a few other icicle encounters, but they seemed to go pretty well. Once or twice Dharla tried to use a little avoidance tactic only to discover she really did have to face her fears and move on when asked.

The return ride home was mostly uneventful. By that time Dharla was relaxed and we worked on walk/trot transitions. We practiced random stopping and just standing still, which she does so well. At one point we were just walking along and all of a sudden she schooched and bolted forward a few steps. A bicyclist came charging past us from behind. I wanted to ‘effing stomp the living crap out of the guy. WTF? Do people think I have eyes in the back of my head? Normally, Dharla warns me when she hears someone coming up behind us on a bike and she’s pretty darn good about it, but yesterday the wind was literally howling and we couldn’t hear a thing. I guess what pisses me off so much is that this biker had us in his line of vision for at least a good two minutes before he came up on our ass, yet he couldn’t call out to warn us that he was there and going to pass? I had a menopausal moment and pictured us kicking him off his bike and watching his limp body tumble down the steep banks of the trail. How’s that for trail etiquette, buddy?

Dharla walked back through all the icy scary spots with little trouble. She was cautiously alarmed, but not outright fearful or panicky. I was thrilled with her response and progress. Really, I didn’t expect things to go half that well. When we got home I was frozen and she was hungry. Not the best of days to ride, but we got ‘er done!

Ride time: 2.5 hrs.

Distance: 6 miles

Day Off

Well, no ride today or yesterday for that matter. The weather has turned much colder and I’m starting to realize that it’s going to take a lot for me to keep riding through the winter. I simply hate the damp and cold and it wreaks havoc with my bionic back.

Twenty years ago I rode during the winter. I didn’t like the cold back then either, but I didn’t let it stop me from getting out and riding. I’d pile on the layers or zip into my “zoot suit” (a highly unflattering, quilted, one-piece mechanics suit) and go ride. But the older I get the less I want to venture out when the mercury drops below 45. I hunker down inside, venture out as little as humanly possible and gripe about the cold when I’m forced to endure it.

I thought I’d try to keep riding Dharla through the winter, but I don’t know if I can stick to it. Others have told me it’s OK to let her have a little break, but here that can easily mean 12 weeks of rest. It worries me to think what she’ll be like after such a long layoff. I know that’s the longest she’s ever gone without any training or riding since she was started. So we’ll see what happens next!