The year 2010 has been one of those years with as much happiness as heartache. Curl up and get comfy as I cover some of my special moments in 2010:
On December 18, 2009: I wrote a Post called "Countdown". The following is part of that Post:
I've been marking each day during the month of December. Counting each one down. On December 31, I'll close the door to my office, turn in my ID badge and parking sticker. I will then slowly walk through the security gates of where I've worked for 34 years. I won't turn around for one last look because I will either be close to tears or already crying and I hate for people to see me cry. I know that once I'm outside those gates, they'll close behind me and I doubt very much I'll ever be back inside again.
They call it retirement. I think that word is too final. I call it the second phase of my life. After all, I'm not even close to being finished with life's adventures, I'm just moving onto a new phase.
On January 13th, only a few days before my retirement party, I wrote "A Sad Day". The following is part of that Post:
Yesterday, because it's after midnight, actually closer to 3AM, has been terrible. My boy, my Cisco, is gone, downed by colic earlier this evening.
Losing Cisco really hit me hard. He had been a hard nut to crack, initially resistive to letting me near him, never too sure of my intentions. I'd worked hard to get him to accept me and enjoyed every minute of the challenge. He had been a big part of my plans for retirement, only to be taken from me less than two weeks after I retired.
On Sunday, January 17, 2010, I wrote a follow-up Post re: the loss of Cisco, entitled, "Should Have, Could Have, Would Have". The following is part of that Post:
I'm still reeling from the sudden loss of Cisco this last Tuesday night. After Cisco was out of his pain and everybody had left, we headed into our house to try to gather what threads we could of the evening. We heard the coyotes out in the field next to where his body waited to be picked up the following day. I worried about the coyotes disturbing the blue tarp that covered my horse. I grabbed my husband's 30-30, my hat/gloves and heavy coat. NOBODY was going to mess with my horse.
I headed out to the barn and turned the radio up full blast, l lit up the barn with every light inside and out. I drug my favorite seat, my red mounting block, out next to the blue tarp that covered my little Confidence Booster Horse, now removed from his pain.
I sat there holding vigil to the blue tarp. I wasn't alone. The neighbor's Anatolian Sheppard, Trika, joined me shortly after I sat down. She is a friend to all of our horses and protects my family and horses as if we were her own.
As I sat there Trika leaned against my legs. Her furry coat kept me warm while I tried to absorb the shock of the evening. I absently petted her while I cried at sad songs and smiled at others, remembering my times with Cisco. It seemed that she understood my sadness and leaned in closer to me. I could sense she was also sad, as were our Belgians, standing watch by the fence.
There we spent the night, me and my rifle, the neighbor's dog, and my two remaining horses.
His name was Want My Autograph, i.e., Champ. I'd been riding him for almost a year but he was a challenge for me. On Monday, January 25, 2010, I wrote the following, "+/- Confidence". The following is part of that Post:
I've learned a hard lesson. When you are older and ride, your confidence must be continually nurtured to retain its high level.
Trying to get back into the swing of things after the holidays has been difficult. Last week I woke up on the morning of my lesson and that old familiar feeling of dread was with me. I came up with numerous excuses to NOT go out and ride, worried about what 'mood' my horse would be in.
Champ has been plain nasty. Barn pals tell me all the horses are fresh, but Champ's behavior outshines them all. Bucking, nipping, kicking, you name it. Being around Champ recently has not been any fun. I'm afraid to ride him, I'm afraid I'm going to get hurt.
I got myself so worked up before my lesson that when it came time, I found myself in tears. In a choking voice I told Hero Trainer how I mourn the loss of my hard-won/yet fun-won confidence, coupled with the fresh loss of Cisco who I could always count on to help me rebuild any doubtful times.
Hero Trainer was kind but she was very direct - something I appreciate about her. She told me I needed to recognize that this is how Champ is. She said if I am to continue to ride Champ, something must immediately change. She brought up what I already knew - you can't build your confidence if you aren't out here up on your horse, and I've been very absent.
The battle in riding Champ continued. On February 2, I wrote the following, "Round Two of Confidence Building".
My last lesson started with the ground work that I'd been doing every day for a week. Most of our issues center around when I ask Champ to reverse directions on the lunge line. He'll change direction but then turns his head towards me and with teeth bared and ears pinned back, he seems to sneer at me. He'll shake his head and either break into bucks or settle down until I reverse him, and then we'll go through it all over again.
On one of our reverses this day, he did his sneer deal and then broke into full rodeo mode. He pulled away from me so hard I lost the lunge line. I now had a loose horse running around the arena.
Hero Trainer's advice was, "Let him run, let him learn the consequences of his decision." She headed to the other end of the arena to ensure he kept moving.
Off Champ went around the arena at mach speeds, lead line between his front legs, flailing out between his back legs. Numerous times he sighted me across the arena, pinned his ears flat back, lowered his head and charged me at full speed. I stood my ground, tried to make myself taller and used my ground work stick in a way that said, "Go ahead Punk, make my day!" And with that stance, each time Champ got close he veered away.
Eventually Champ stopped in the middle of the arena, sideways between Hero Trainer and me, each at our respective ends. Hero Trainer laughed and said, "Let's see which one of us he chooses." Champ stood there panting and then he looked at me. He turned to me and this time he came to me at a slow lope with his ears pricked forward and soft eyes. Yet I still held my stick as if I meant business, not sure what to expect.
He circled around me at a slow lope as if he was on a lunge line. Hero Trainer chuckled and said that it appeared he now preferred being back where he'd left me. Eventually the licking/chewing started and then, taking a few moments, but not immediately, I verbally requested that he change to a trot (Champ knows voice commands for Trot and Ease (I chose Ease for Walk because Walk sounds too much like Whoa and of course, Whoa means stop).
He was now fully intent on me. Down he went to a trot and then when directed moved to the ease (walk) command. I put him back up to the trot and back down to the ease in both directions numerous times before I verbally requested he whoa.
He was now as humble as he was lathered and panting. I scratched his head with my stick as I'd seen done and then walked him out some more in different directions. Hero Trainer suggested I get on and walk him out to cool him off.
Up I went without an ounce of nerves. Champ didn't have the energy at this point to be nasty and the knowledge of knowing what I could expect when I got on gave me confidence. This was a huge breakthrough in my future rides with Champ - knowing what I had before I climbed on.
I could have cried for the partnership I was feeling with this horse, who only thirty minutes ago was charging at me with flattened ears and teeth bared.
That was a big day for Champ and I. And from there things improved. On April 22, I thought I should expand my blog to include those under 50. I moved to http://www.lifeplushorses.blogspot.com/. On May 10th I wrote the Post, "How I Nailed Down My Confidence":
I've been used to 'loving' my horses. But I found that if I tried to give Champ any "love" his behavior escalated totally out of control. He greeted me with flattened ears and bared teeth when I'd approach his stall. Entering his stall, he'd charge me or try to flatten me against a wall.
Hand feeding Champ created an even worse monster. I posted a sign on his stall that said "Please Do Not Hand Feed". But well-intended individuals would still slip Champ treats. I could always tell when I arrived if Champ had been hand fed. He'd hang his head out his stall door as far as he could and try to bite anybody who walked by. Well-intended individuals soon learned better after encountering Champ's snake-like behavior.
Ground work now comes before riding, and it always will. I nailed my high level of confidence down tight with my mantra of knowing what I have before I climb on, using ground work as the tool to determine when we're ready.
Champ is now a different horse. Yes, we still have some issues but nothing that challenges my confidence or that I can't accept. Today I'm a rider for all seasons, not just a few. I no longer dread going to ride, but look forward to my time with Champ and the fun it brings us. I received the highest compliment recently when my husband told me, "You've become the rider you always wanted to be."
Things were going well for Champ and I. I'd purchased a new horse named Poco so that my friends could join Champ and I on trail rides. My life with horses was incredible! On my June 23, I wrote the following in my Life+ blog, entitled, "A +10 Day":
Every once in awhile a day comes along that can only be described as a +10 Day. Special days like these are rare, which is what makes them so special. If we had them all the time they wouldn't mean as much to us.
Today I was honored to have a +10 Day. I wanted to document it, because sure as shootin' tomorrow might bring me a -9 Day. I want to hold today close, keep it in my heart, body and mind. I don't want this day to end.
Today started out with some rare sunshine. I've been out of town and Champ hasn't been ridden for a few days. I steadied myself to pull a spirited, pent up horse out of his stall. Instead I found something I'd always hoped for but never yet encountered. I found a horse mentally in synch with me from the moment I opened his door. It was like we were having a conversation and both of us understood each other.
I put Champ through his ground work paces and again I had this feeling that we were talking. On to the arena to start the lesson. Our lesson/ride? Poetic, incredible, spiritual. I would ask and Champ already knew what I wanted, his response immediate and perfect. Oh the joy of connecting with your horse. It's been many years and horses back since I had this experience. Once you experience it, you will seek it again and count your lucky stars if you find a horse that returns it on a regular basis.
This connection with my horse is the bottom line of why I ride. To be able to communicate on the back of a 1500 pound animal and for them to communicate back. What a wonderful gift. And to be doing this with Champ, the give an inch/take a mile guy? Definitely special.
As we returned, Champ walked next to me as a friend would in conversation, the lead line limp between us. I'd stop, he'd stop. I'd turn, he'd turn, both of us with peaceful looks on our faces, in our bodies, hearts and minds. I wished time would stop.
Oh how I wish that clock would have stopped! Because the next day changed everything as I wrote in my Post on Sunday, June 27, 2010, "Twelve Hours After a +10 Day - A Double Whammy."
Glad I got to enjoy my +10 Day with Champ because twelve hours later I was standing in his stall, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the vet.
I'd only stopped by the barn to pick up Poco's paperwork. I wasn't dressed for barn time, in my white t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. My phone started ringing as I walked into the barn to find my trainer, also the barn manager, calling me. Nothing has been normal since that moment.
Champ had urine dripping all over the place. He also had shavings all over him and was groaning in pain. The vet was on his way and we were soon pushing 16 bags of IV fluids into Champ. The diagnosis was the "Mother of all impactions".
When it comes to Colic, there is no replacement for hands-on experience. This is a tough, exhausting process but the best way to learn how to help your horse is to get your hands dirty and participate in it. Colic is not only exhausting for the horse but it's also exhausting, back breaking work for the support team. Every hand is needed, especially on the second day when those who went through the first 24 hours are physically and mentally exhausted.
I was lucky to have a great support team the first night. Rachel, my trainer and friend. Rachel has been involved in many Colics and has hands on experience. She was our Leader.
My riding pal, Haley. Haley is such a wonderful person, someone who can always make me smile. She was there not only to help, but to educate herself about Colic should she ever be faced with it (smart women).
My husband, who brought us camp chairs, blankets, my phone charger, a sleeping bag and (I still smile).....an extra pair of socks???
Our daughter, who dropped everything to rush to the barn and pitch in. Although she had given up riding Champ when she headed off to college, the love she has for this horse is still there.
There the four of us sat, taking turns walking Champ 20 minutes on the hour. We were a rather jovial group that first night, sharing stories, swapping philosophies on life. I don't think we realized the long road we were heading down.
In the late afternoon of the second day, with only a few hours rest, the four of us found ourselves back together, but now we all sat in exhausted silence while Champ struggled in pain as he started to pass the impaction. Around dinner time my husband arrived to take over for my daughter and I. I don't think I've ever been so exhausted.
The next four days brought antibiotics for a urinary tract infection and we were relieved to see Champ was no longer dripping, eating his hay and drinking water. But the dripping has started again. Where this will end, I'm not sure.
I guess I already knew where it would end, as I wrote on June 30th, in my Post, "Want My Autograph (Champ), May 1998 - June 2010":
Thank you for coming into our lives and becoming our daughter's horse, taking her to Paint, Pinto, 4H and schooling shows.
Thank you for your "bling". It was always fun to see how the judges loved your "bling".
Thank you for your signature slow jog, so comfortable and smooth that one could drink a cup of tea and not spill a drop.
Thank you for bathing, loading and unloading like a pro.
Thank you for accepting me as your new rider when our daughter moved on in her life. Yes, there were times I thought you'd kill me, especially when you used to charge me in the round pen, ears back, teeth bared, but we always came to an understanding.
Thank you for your patience in helping me to learn how to ride correctly. You always tried to do what I was asking, even when I wasn't asking the right way.
Thank you for your smooth haunch turns and side passes. When people used to watch us ride, it was always fun to pull a few of those off and watch their reactions.
Lastly, thank you for teaching me to become the rider I always wanted to be. I hoped we could have more time together to sort cows, learn Dressage and go on trail rides but I guess God needed a horse like you up in heaven more then we needed you.
But never forget this family who loved you with all their hearts and will miss having you down here with us.
Champ was gone. I needed the support of my friends in what my husband calls my "blog-o-sphere". On July 27th, I returned to my original Blog, 50+Horses where I found my wonderful friends waiting for me. Your support helped me through that trying time. On August 11, 2010, I captured a Post called, "Riding Goals for the Remainder of 2010":
Poco's easy going nature has yet to disappoint me. I've been thinking about goals.
1. Sorting. This week I discovered that Poco does roll-backs and haunch turns, and he does them well! A definite plus for sorting. I hope to join my pals in attending some sorting clinics down the road this winter.
2. Horse Show. I attended my first show last October and had a blast. It was fun to see old friends and be out in the arena with my horse. I came home with a higher level of confidence, a better bond with my horse and a big grin on my face. Isn't that what riding is all about? Can't wait to go back!
3. Dressage. I find Dressage one of the most beautiful disciplines of riding. I'll give this a try as the rain pounds against the walls of the barn and the wind blows this winter.
But a little over a month later I got more bad horse news as is written in my Post on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, called "Until the Day He Dies":
I had passed on a pre-purchase exam for Poco, thinking what did I need to know about a 21-year old horse? But something hasn't been right with Poco. Weepy eyes had me accounting it to the flies. I frequently cleaned his eyes but recently I noticed that Poco seemed to have an issue with movement on his right side, causing him to spook. It worried me.
I had the vet out. The diagnosis is Moon Blindness. My horse is going blind. His right eye is already pretty much gone. Pity isn't going to help Poco in the future, but an assured rider will. And for a 50+ rider who has worked hard on her confidence, I need to show Poco how assured I can be.
My commitment to this horse will be about comfort and trust. Moon Blindness is painful. I've got a meds if needed and my vet has versed me on degrading danger signs as well as assuring me to call him if things become worse.
Poco will be my horse until the day he dies. And I sure hope that's a long way off.
On October 23 I made a change with Poco and my riding life in my Post, "Getting to Know You":
I'd sure spent a lot of times on the sidelines as a Horse Show Mom but had never known how to ride a performance horse. Today after eighteen months of lessons I do.
I'd been told that Poco's history included showing but when I tried to apply the buttons I'd used on Champ I didn't get the same results. My weekly lessons became a struggle. My Trainer suggested Poco was rusty and so I offered him out for her to use for lessons, hoping this would help tune Poco up and improve our rides. Instead things became worse.
Poco is 21 years old. When I would come up to ride him later in the day after someone else had taken a lesson on him, I found him sluggish and worn out from his earlier ride. I started staying off of Poco on the days he was being used for lessons. Soon I found the only day I could ride was on MY lesson day. My time off of Poco has caused a larger gap in us getting to know each other. My lessons that used to go by in a flash now seemed to drag on.
Poco's diagnosis of Moon Blindness and loss of sight in his right eye was my wakeup call. My Vet's warning about taking Poco out on trails and to shows was validated by Poco's spooking at unusual objects on his right side. Poco's reaction is a spook that covers 15 feet sideways or forward in a split second. This suddenness isn't something I feel confident about riding out.
Goals with Poco changed. Lessons had been an aid to meeting goals. Now I had no idea what my goals were or what I should be working towards. I felt lost. Last month I announced that I was no longer offering Poco out and I was taking time off from lessons. I just wanted to ride and get to know my horse.
That was almost a month ago and it has been one of the best things I could have done as Poco and I have gone down the road of not only getting to know each other but having a good time doing it.
Right now my goals are still gray but I'm hoping that with his trust in me that maybe, just maybe, we can go to a schooling show and hang out. Depending on his reaction, I may enter us in a class.
In the meantime Poco and I are just having plain old good fun, riding and hanging out together. Horses take us on the most incredible journeys and this is surely to be one of them. And the best thing is that riding is fun again.
It seems that ever since June 29th, I'd been searching for something. Here it is now December and it's been a long road to get here but I finally realized what I'd been missing. It was the challenge and purpose I got when I rode. On Thursday, December 9, 2010, I wrote the Post entitled, "The Purpose of The Dance":
Training on a Performance Horse was a challenge for a 50+ rider who had only ridden for fun. My lessons had been intense, made even more so by my low level of confidence that was always interfering with my mind. Champ was a difficult horse to ride and he could be nasty. On his back I was never sure if I'd leave on my own or compliments of him.
But my rides had been exhilarating and in the end Champ and I had worked out our differences and mended our fences. We bonded and all I had to do was think and he'd respond.
My riding aids I'd trained so hard for didn't work on Poco. How ironic that I would have been able to ride Poco easier if I'd never taken lessons! Round and round the arena we've gone and as much as I like Poco, something is missing. I've enjoyed the pleasure of riding, but I'm missing the purpose of riding.
I miss the thrill of achieving a goal, the push of one's very best effort that brings such a high that it makes you punch your arm up into the air and then throw your arms around your horses' neck. I miss dancing in my saddle from the joy of a well-done accomplishment or floating back to unsaddle my horse because I did it (whatever it was). I miss the purpose of needing to go ride my horse so I can work towards a certain goal vs. riding my horse with no goal.
I started this road two years ago and I sure didn't get here overnight. I now know that the purpose of riding is what I've been missing. It defines who I am, it gives me a reason to eat healthy and keep fit, it allows me to dance in my saddle. I've missed dancing, but someday soon I hope to return to a purpose in riding and dance again.
Well, this is where I stand today. In the year 2011, I'll continue to ride Poco and love him to death. But I will also be searching for a new horse to dance with.
I've always felt that one of the best things about horses is the road it takes one down. I don't believe anybody knows everything about horses (although some people seem to think they are an exception to that thought). I find the learning as one goes down the road, the experiences, interaction and feeling of achievement to be some of the best things about horses (not to mention how good they smell when you put your nose in their neck).
To those who have commented on my Posts in 2010, I want to thank you. Your comments and suggestions have meant much to me. I look forward to 2011 and sharing my experiences on 50+Horses. Happy New Year!