Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When One Door Closes Another Opens...

Looking forward to another great ride on Bob, we returned to the barn a few days later to take our second ride.  On that day I was so excited about our recent ride that before we left I signed up and paid for a sorting clinic in early August.  Watch out cows!  Bob and I are back!!

Arriving at the barn, we didn't need as much time to settle in and soon I was up and we were riding.

My good riding friend had joined me for this second ride.  As we'd done on our previous ride two days earlier, we chatted as we rode next to each other.  We rode at a walk for about 20 minutes - and then it happened...

Bob stumbled.

I looked down - surprised.  He stumbled again.  I asked my friend to observe from next to me.  Bob tripped, stumbled and tripped again.

A few days earlier my friend had commented that Bob's front legs looked a little weak and had suggested working with poles to build up his strength.  Now she observed Bob's knees were shaking and he was rolling over his front feet like he used to.

I stopped and could feel his front legs quivering as I sat on him.  I jumped off, a lump in my throat.

Both knees appeard to be suddenly swollen (they weren't like that when I'd gotten on).  A twenty minute ride in 72 hours had resulted in Bob and I returning back to where we'd been twelve months ago.

I stood holding Bob in misery knowing it was time to face the truth.  The efforts I'd taken to resolve Bob's issues hadn't worked.  I'd pulled out all the stops for the love of this horse.  Just as he'd done for me on so many rides, I'd done the same for him - I'd tried my best.

It was a quiet, somber drive home.  After I unloaded Bob and put him back in the pasture I called my husband.  When I tried to tell him about our ride and that Bob's riding days were over - that he was now officially retired - my throat closed up and all I could do was squeak one word out at a time...and then I couldn't speak at all.  Tears flowed and I sobbed in pain and disappointment.  Bob and I'd come to the end of our trail.

But my husband - the most wonderful guy in the world, knew exactly what to say.  He reminded me that Bob wasn't going anywhere, that he has a forever home with us and just because I can no longer ride him doesn't mean I can't still interact with him and maintain the special bond we've developed.

And he reminded me that there is a horse here that needs me right now.  My husband gently told me that he understood why I've been focusing on Bob but (with a bit more direction) he suggested that it was now time to take advantage of the great opportunity I've had sitting here.

He told me that one door had closed but another door was open and waiting for me to walk through.

Elvis.  I'd brought him home from the barn and given him time off to "be a horse".  My husband told me that it was time to end Elvis's "vacation", bringing up Elvis's young age and the training he's had - the talent he has shown.  And my husband warned me - if I didn't start working with this horse soon that it might be detrimental to Elvis and my relationship and negatively impact our riding future.

I took a few sniffs, wiped my eyes and agreed.  Bob will hopefully be here for many years in our pasture and I can still go out and receive those blubbering sighs.  And I recognized how lucky I was to have another horse to turn to, a horse such as Elvis, that would challenge me yet take me places I've always wanted to go.

My husband was right.  It was time to end Elvis's vacation.  It was time to get to work on this talented six-year old horse, who may not take me down the road of sorting cows but would allow me to participate in Western Dressage and Performance.

I told my husband how much I loved him, hung up the phone and got up out of the pity chair.  As I got up I stood up tall.  I looked out the window and saw Bob happily grazing in the field.  My gaze moved to the other horse near Bob, the gorgeous, big, strapping Appy Gelding, Rock on Hunter, aka Elvis, whose little white Appy spots are starting to come out as he matures giving him dazzle and bling.

And I knew that although one door had closed, another had opened and I was walking through it to Elvis and a fresh trail blessed by great memories of riding a little brown cow horse.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Banking on the Bond

The fireworks are over and things have settled down.  We would usually go to the cabin and participate in post holiday events but J and C both had to work until late Friday night.  The idea of driving up on Saturday morning and returning home Sunday afternoon in heavy holiday traffic didn't appeal to any of us.  We decided to stay home.

Saturday morning found me home alone by myself with J taking off with friends on an all day motorcycle ride.  C headed out with pals to the beach.  I wanted to go out and have fun too!  What should I do?

I've spent almost a year and considerable resources trying to address his issues.  He's had a long time to rest and heal.  It's been hard waiting for him but yet the waiting has brought us close.  It's time.

He's in the trailer behind me.  I'm excited but uncertain.  He hasn't left home since last October when I had to board him while he received medical treatment.

Today I am going to haul Bob to the barn and if all goes well, I will ride him.

I wasn't sure how Bob would handle being saddled.  In the past he's playfully bucked as I saddled him up.  Today he stands quietly, turning his head to nuzzle me as I adjust the pad and cinch him up.  I'm pleased.

But I'm still unsure how this is going to turn out.  I put my camera away at this point, wanting to have my hands free for the unknown.  Bob is such a sensitive horse; I've never known a horse such as this.  He's been known to run away at loud voices.  He gets upset if he's around a horse being disciplined.  Loud noises cause him to flee (forward at a fast pace).

Will the bond we've built hold up through this event?  I will bank on that bond and hope for the best.

As I walk Bob into the indoor arena I speak to him the entire time.  My voice is quiet, my speech is slow, my tone is assured.  My physical movements are the same, quiet, slow and assured.

My friend hasn't arrived yet.  She will be joining me on this day with her horse.  The indoor arena is dark and empty, somewhere in the distance faint music plays on the barn radio.  Bob and I are alone and I can feel his uncertainty about all of this.

We walk around the arena.  I hold the lead rope gently yet I'm prepared.  The rope is folded in my hand so it won't wrap around and hurt my hand should Bob suddenly bolt.  As we walk I let him stop and smell whatever he wants until he decides he's ready to move on.  We take all the time he needs.

Eventually we make it to the other end of the arena and go through the gate.  As we walk through I'm able to reach over and turn on the indoor lights.  We continue to the outside of the arena.  We are now on the opposite end from where we first entered.  There are two people nearby trying to unsuccessfully load a horse in a trailer; it's not going well (at all).  Oh Oh...best to go back inside and wander to the other end of the arena.  I don't want the noise and activity from this event to set Bob off.  Need to keep this positive karma going.

With the lights all on, we visit all the mirrors on the arena walls.  As we stop I ask Bob, "Who is that pretty Sorrel horse?"  I laugh out loud, I sound like I'm talking to a 2-year old.  I hear the sign that all is going well, Bob replies with his first slobbering sigh.  He is starting to relax.

We continue with more slobbering sighs and then a good, long blow.  I laugh, smile and give him pats.

My friend arrives and gets on her horse.  We walk next to her for a few rounds.  I notice the people who were loading their horse have left.   With no reservations and a large feeling confidence I haven't felt in eleven months, I go over to the arena wall where Bob's bridle and my helmet await, "just in case" I decided to ride.  I've decided...

Bob takes the bit without any issue.  I check the cinch and we walk to the mounting block while I make sure my helmet fits firmly on my head.  The mounting block...this is where I still have issues with confidence - that final commitment of swinging your leg over the saddle; it's always a challenge for me.  I ask my friend if she'd dismount and "spot" me as I get on.  She's off and waiting.  It's time...

Bob stands quietly as I swing my leg up and over.  Ahhhh, I've missed sitting in my Crates saddle on Bob!  We stand there for a few moments while I settle in.  Time to ride...

We move off at a walk - it's a fast walk.  At first I'm a bit concerned about how quick our walk is.  Then I smile and laugh out loud, echoed by a slobbering sigh from Bob.  I remark to my friend that I've forgotten how Bob moves.  Where Elvis is western pleasure slow, Bob is sorting cow fast.

This is just how Bob moves, there is no threat.  I relax.  I don't walk off in a straight line, I use by legs to move him to the right and left.  He immediately responds.  I forgot how easily he moves off my leg.  It's a joy.

Another friend joins us and the three of us, mounted on our horses, walk around the arena side by side chatting and catching up.  I move away from my friends to do a few rollbacks.  They are picture perfect.  Bob hasn't forgotten.  I am smiling ear to ear.

My friends are observing us.  They tell me Bob looks great but that he appears to be a little weak in his front end.  There is no longer any stumbling or falling so we determine this is because he hasn't been ridden in such a long time.  They suggest we walk over poles to build up his muscles.

I could ride him forever but am sensitive to this being his first ride in a long time.  Too soon it's time to end our ride.  It's hot and he has sweat running down the sides of his back haunches.  He turns his head to the sweat and then returns to look at me, turns his head again and returns to give me "that look".  He wants me to rub the sides of his rear haunches where the sweat is running down, it probably tickles.  I rub and he closes his eyes in happiness.

We say our farewells and head to the trailer.  He hops right in and we head home.  I laugh as we drive down the road because I can see him sticking his nose out the side of the trailer.  I am so happy!

Got the camera back again.  Bob unloads.  Another day at the office to him.  I unsaddle him.  He's soaking with sweat.  Even though we didn't do much, he has worked hard on this first ride.  I spray him down with cold water from the hose.  He moves around on his own so I can get both sides sprayed (I don't have to move at all).  Nice guy, Bob!

I wipe him off and give him a huge hug.  He responds...with another blubbering sigh of content.  How I love this horse.  I banked on the bond between us that today would go well.  I couldn't be more thrilled!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Bad Neighbors

Up here it's a live and let live life.  Neighbors up here keep to their own.  Sure we're friendly and we look out (from a distance) for each other.  But we are not best friends - nor do we want to be.

We are all here for the same reason.  To live, raise our children and/or livestock in the peace of the country.  Up here there's a silent unwritten code of ethics that includes respecting your neighbor and not calling 911 unless you've done all you can to resolve the issue first.  It's a good place to live.

Or I thought it was.

Our home is set back on our property which borders our neighbor's 15 acres which includes a large field and home, complete with pool and tennis courts.  Nice place.  The folks that lived there did a lot of traveling.  The place was usually empty.  Every year they had their field cut and hayed.  They kept the fence painted, etc.

About a year ago they climbed over the fence to tell us they were planning on cutting the poplars that line our drive.  They said the poplars had incurred too much damage from that winter's ice storm and "needed to go".  Although we hated to hear the news, we realized that the neighbor's didn't have to come over to tell us, they could have just cut them down.  But that's what a good neighbor does up here, the code of respect.

A few days later the poplars were gone.  We wondered, how come they only cut down one fence line of the "damaged/have to go" poplars?  The other three fence lines were left alone.

We suspected that the removal of the poplars gave them more of the view which is on the other side of our house.  But why would they suddenly decide they needed the view?  (We soon found out they were selling their home and hoped to enhance their view.)

The house sold and the poplars started to grow back.  The house stood empty...until last August.  On that quiet summer evening the silent house turned into a "party house".  Every light on, loud outside music, people screaming and yelling.  Sounded like they were having a great time.

And just as suddenly as it started, it stopped - as in immediately stopped.  Lights went off and there was silence.  The house once again stood empty and we returned to the quiet life we moved here for until the end of September when the same situation repeated itself.  It was odd.

Winter arrived and spring left.  During that time the house had visitors during the day but at night all was dark and silent...until last night - the Fourth of July.

Our horses.  Living near a Native American community, our horses have always been desensitized to fireworks, which start around mid-June and are sold until midnight on July 4th.

Last night I took precautions of hanging halters near the gates of the pastures but didn't think anything else about it.  In all the years we've lived here we've never had an issue.  Everybody near us has livestock or dry fields.  They leave and go watch a firework show some place else but don't set them off at home.

So on this night it wasn't only the first party next door of the summer that rocked our house at dusk; it was the aerial fireworks being set off as it became dark.

Fireworks that were being set off into the tinder dry uncut hay field that borders our property, now lined with bushy poplars.

Pointed directly at our place, I not only worried about fire but what impact this was having on our horses, only a short distance away from the showering sparks.  I went out to find them frantic.  Elvis and Bob had parked themselves right up against their fence next to Prince, who was parked against the other side of the fence.  The roman candles (and whatever else flies in the air), would come towards the horses who would scatter only to return, like a magnet to each other.

I had left Bob and Elvis in the large summer pasture.  I worried I wouldn't have 3 acres of time to catch them should there be a fire and I kicked myself for not anticipating this situation.  I threw open the gate to Prince's pasture.  Bob and Elvis flew past me like the world behind them was going to end.  Now I had easier access and hoped they'd find comfort together.

I was so frustrated.  I must admit to uttering (well, yeah - I did kind of yell) "poor neighbor" four letter words at the party goers but they couldn't hear me over their own noise (probably a good thing in retrospect).  I thought about going over and talking to them but chickened out...too many of them.  I thought about sending my husband over to talk to them, but he had to work the next day and was already in bed.  I knew calling the authorities, who had their hands full, wouldn't help.  I fretted and fumed.

After three continuous hours of aerial fireworks, it suddenly became quiet.  I ran outside - to find the house dark and not a soul around.  I took a flashlight and checked on the horses, huddled together in a corner of the pasture.  I left them as they were, together for comfort.

This morning the house was once again empty and quiet.  I found the horses no worse for wear and moved Bob and Elvis back into the summer pasture.  When I looked out the window a little later this is what I found...

...Three exhausted horses.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Prince and I

I've been spending time with Prince, something I really haven't done since I brought him home last November.  At that time Prince's condition was so poor all I expected out of him was to eat, rest, heal and eat again.  About the time Prince started to feel better Elvis came on the scene, followed by moving Elvis home and finally restoring peace to the pastures here at home with all three of them now living here.

With harmony in the pastures the time has arrived for getting some hands-on Prince.  I'm told Prince's past includes being a pick-up horse and years in the high country. He also did a stint as a 'lesson horse' in his later years, followed by his last job as a trail horse for a novice rider prior to coming into our lives.

Prince toys with me when I try to catch him.  He walks away as I approach.  I walk, he walks.  I walk some more, he walks some more.  Eventually he gives up the game and stands quietly waiting for me to catch up and put on his halter.  This game is getting shorter (i.e., less walking) each time I catch him.  It will soon end as he realizes, as all my horses do, that being caught is a good thing.  For Prince it includes some light work, a good grooming session and ends with dinner.

Dinner now consists of soaked Orchard Grass pellets and grain (which includes his Cushings pill).  I've got beet pulp but wanted to slowly introduce the soaked grass pellets first.  Prince loves his wet food and slops it right up.  I can already see he has filled out and his coat is getting glossy.  I will hold off on the beet pulp at this time.

It has become apparent that Prince's last owner allowed him to get away with some bad habits (which probably include the game of being caught).  Everything I do with Prince I find I need to do twice.  His way and my way.  His way is slightly naughty and definitely disrespectful.  My way is gentle via ground work, yielding, leading, backing, etc.

Prince is no fool, once we do it my way he gives up and there are no further issues.  I can almost hear him say, "Ok, you win.  You've won my respect and I won't test you any further".  I believe that at one time Prince was a well trained horse because he actually knows this stuff but doesn't initially want to admit it.  I look forward to taking him back there.

Bob watches us from the gate.  He is a one of those one-on-one horses.  I am his one human - he trusts like no other.  Prince is his old pasture pal.  Bob is our audience while Prince and I go through our daily steps.  As for The Kid?  Just like a kid, there he is on the right - happily eating without a care in the world.

I'm really enjoying this time with Prince and look forward to working further with him and bringing him back to the horse he used to be!