There and Back

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about riding, age and safety. Apparently I’m not alone. I echo Kate’s thoughts when I admit that I often picture myself riding well into my mid-to-late 70’s. After all, when I was in my 30’s I rode for about a decade with an older gentleman who was in his 70’s. So God willing and if my health holds out, the idea of having another fifteen years of riding left in me seems pretty rational.

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Which brings me to the place where I start to think about how those rides might look. At this point, when weather cooperates I try to ride 4-5 times a week. I almost always trail ride alone, and sometimes I do a little arena riding, but not much. Either way, it’s always just me and my horse. I always wear a helmet and pack a pocket knife, and I try to remember to carry a (charged) cell phone. But I’m usually not riding in places where I can get a cell signal. This doesn’t particularly worry me … yet. It’s just part and parcel of where I ride and where I live. Even in my own back yard a decent cell signal can be sketchy at best.

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I don’t see the facts that I’ve outlined above changing very much. It’s only when I start to think about my horse that the picture begins to get a bit blurry. I’ve grown quite fond of Dharla. She has her strengths and her weaknesses, but overall she’s a very honest horse. If I look back I can see that although she’s made good progress and matured some, she’s still very much the same horse she was when she arrived 2.5 years ago. She’s sane, but very reactive. High energy, but not hot. Smart, but somewhat independent-minded. I always try to look for the plus factor, not focus on or obsess about the opposite, because I like to believe that if you keep your eye on the good, the other traits will eventually become less and less of a habit until they eventually fade away. Or so I’d like to think.

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That said, there are some traits that you can’t always ignore, or continue to ignore. Especially if those traits begin to rub up against your own weaknesses or worries. In spite of constant exposure to the same trails and routes, Dharla continues to be a very spooky ride. I can’t deny or ignore this any more, nor do I know how to address it. I don’t mind when a horse has one or two things they’re consistently worried about. Even Tia had her issues with certain things that she perceived were a threat. The difference is that I knew what those things were and I could be prepared to support her through or past them. Dharla’s different in that her list of Big Scary Things changes by the moment. And it’s a LONG list.

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Part of me wants to try to understand why a horse with a ton of trail miles is still afraid of the same old things we see every single ride, and the other part of me just wants to move on. While I’m sick of this behavior and my patience is wearing thin, I get that my timetable and Dharla’s timetable is probably quite different. I want to give Dharla all the time she needs to be OK with her fears, but on the other hand it’s hard to be patient when I feel like we’re moving at a snail’s pace. I often tell myself that if it takes five years for Dharla to gain more confidence then so be it. The problem is, I’ll be five years older and those five years will get subtracted from the total years I have left to ride.

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I guess it comes back to the age old question: Are you riding the right horse for the rider you are right now?

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I don’t know the answer, but I think about it constantly. I do know the answer has nothing to do with liking my horse enough. I love Dharla. She’s a sweetie. But I’m really not doing the things with her that I’d like to be doing right now, and the things that we are doing don’t seem to be helping me gain any ground in that direction. There’s a saying that states: The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That sounds logical … except when it comes to training animals. Repetition is a key element of training any animal! So maybe I’m doing things right, but I’m just not seeing our progress? Or maybe I just need help?

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I’ve decided to move Dharla to the barn where I’ve been taking lessons. Not forever, but I want the trainer to work with us for a month or two, see if we can tweak our teamwork a little and re-evaluate how we’re doing things. I know I can use some help and I think Dharla will benefit from the experience too. Naturally, I’m a nervous wreck. Excited, but really nervous. But I think it’s time to pull out all the stops because eventually, I’m going to have to decide if I’ve got the right horse for the rider I am right now. And I can’t do that unless I’m certain I’ve given Dharla every opportunity to be the best she can be. Her weaknesses are most likely my fault and it wouldn’t be fair to judge her without trying to fix myself first. So I’m looking at this next adventure as an opportunity for us both to learn more about life and about each other. I’ll keep you posted!

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Work or Play

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When I was young my favorite toys were plastic horses. I didn’t just collect them and put them on a shelf. No, I got them out almost daily and played with them. I played make believe because we didn’t have computers or the Internet or prefabricated play barns or stuff like that. Instead I used empty shoe boxes and the legs under the dining room table to “build” my stable and house my trusty steeds. I “fed” my horses shredded Kleenex for hay and made up lots of elaborate stories about wild ponies that needed to be rescued and trained. Naturally, I always played the part of the heroine cowgirl.

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 When I got a little older I progressed to the real deal. And I’ve never looked back. I’d like to imagine the young lady in the photo is a lot like I was at her age; more happy being with real horses than collecting them and putting them on a shelf.

Out To Pasture

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We all think about it: What will we do with our horses when they grow old and unable to perform the tasks we got them to do? I didn’t have to think about it for very long. Suddenly that moment had arrived and I knew I had to face the inevitable. But I was lucky, I was able to keep, even ride (lightly) my aged mare until just a week or so before she left for greener pastures. Other people haven’t been so lucky.

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I know there are places where owners can retire their senior horses. A retirement farm will care for the aged equine and provide for their comfort while allowing the owner to move on with a younger mount if desired. Few people have the luxury of being able to stable and ride more than one horse at a time, so unfortunately that means sending your beloved, faithful senior to go live out the remainder of their golden years under the care of someone else. If the owner is lucky, they’ll find a retirement farm close to home, but often that’s not the case. Some owners have to send their horses to live in another state, where they’ll have limited access to them. That means relying on internet updates, photos and phone calls to stay abreast of the weekly or monthly changes.

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I can understand wanting to make room in your heart and barn to move on with a younger horse. After all, most horses don’t live but maybe a third of a human life span. But I can’t imagine missing those last few years of my horse’s life. Tia was engaging and fun right up until the week she passed on. To have missed those last few rides and months with her would have left me feeling sad and …. well, maybe just a bit neglectful. So with that said, if money was no object and I had all the time (and energy) in the world, I would love to have a retirement horse farm. I know caring for some aged horses can be stressful and hard work, but I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for elderly equines. I suppose running an old horse farm doesn’t exactly fall under the heading of a charity but it’s probably about as close as I’m ever going to come.

Name Game

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I didn’t get to name my horse. It’s not that I don’t like her name, but Dharla probably isn’t what I would have chosen to name her if the choice was mine. It’s a little too foo-foo for me. But now that I’ve had her a few years I’m used to her name and I wouldn’t think of changing it. I don’t know how the breeders arrived at the name Dharla, but I’m sure they had some kind of reason for choosing it. It has no association to either her sire or dam, which is not unusual for Arabian horse names. It could have been something as simple as naming all foals born in that year with a name that started with a D. That isn’t uncommon in both the horse and dog world.

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I was named after my paternal grandmother. My father’s only sister also bears the same name. And while it’s not an uncommon name, the pronunciation is different than most people would think. The Ch is supposed to be hard, like in the word ‘chair,’ not soft as in the word Sherry. Only my mother-in-law, immediate family and a few close friends ever pronounce my name properly and I never correct those who mess it up. I’ve always been a little embarrassed that my name is somewhat different in that respect. And I’ve never liked the name anyway. No disrespect meant toward my dearly departed grandmother. My older sister’s name is Mikel, which back in the 50’s was very unusual.  I’ve always wished our names could have been switched. She was never thrilled with her name either and it didn’t suit her at all. But like my horses name, we’ve grown accustomed to our names and I guess they probably fit us now.