Now if the forecast is not fairly decent and the temperature promising to be mild – I find myself making up excuses and reasons, painfully aware that I am no longer a child
It is the middle of February and it has been rainy and gloomy for the past few weeks here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. I feel like I have been trudging in mud for months. Suddenly, here comes the sun in all its glory. My grandson paid me a visit and helped me feed the horses. His job was to break the ice up in the water tanks which he tackled with all the might a 3 1/2 year old with a big stick possesses. Then our attention turned to a big patch of newly blooming daffodils in the pasture. It was such a wonderful and uplifting sight and drew us in like a magnet to steel. Here, in the middle of winter with ice cycles hanging from the eaves, was this incredible vision of new tender life pushing up to feel the sun on their faces. Sunshine was just what we all needed along with the promise of spring. As we began gathering some blooms, my colt couldn’t resist and joined in the fun. I watched as Wyatt picked the flowers with Eddy-O looking over his shoulder and occasionally sniffing the flowers.
Eddy-O and Wyatt enjoying the sunny day
I thought about how lucky I am to have these times. The things I love the best – my farm, my grandson, my horses, nature and warm sunshine – all wrapped up in a few chosen moments that would probably go unnoticed to most people and surely forgotten once they have passed. It really is true that we miss the best times when we don’t stop to smell the flowers. It is also true that it is not the biggest events that shape our lives. It is the small, everyday occurences that we choose to acknowledge or pass up that determines our happiness. One of my favorite sayings is “our lives are not defined by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. This was one of those moments. Nothing earth-shattering or eventful – just pure joy in the moment that made my heart sing. As wonderful as the sun made us feel that day, I know that my sunshine did not manifest due to the appearance of that heavenly orb of burning gases. My sunshine was already here in my heart.
Don’t use a strong hand to bully her, show her who’s boss, or force her along …..
Mothers spend a great deal of time trying to teach their children manners so that they will get along easier in the world. Sometimes we tend to forget that other species will co-operate better also if shown some respect and courtesy. Because we are supposed to be the ones who are in control, it can be frustrating and maddening when things don’t go as smoothly with our horses as we think they should. One of two things may occur at this point. Either you give up and decide I can’t do this and quit or, more commonly, our reaction is to take on the attitude of “I will win this battle” and default to using brute strength and force instead or our intellect.
You see, one problem is that horses don’t know it is a contest. The second problem is that they can win that battle if that is what it comes down to. Horses just do what comes natural for them unless they understand what they should be doing and are agreeable to it. Unless they have been grossly mistreated, they don’t plot against us just to push our buttons. They want to get along. It makes their life easier. They didn’t ask to be here with us sitting on them, kicking their sides, jerking a metal bar against their mouths, tieing them up, tightly strapping a saddle on their backs, pulling them around by the head with a rope, having spurs dug into their sides, being smacked with a crop, have shoes nailed onto their feet or any of the other things we humans may do to our horses. If you think about it, it is a miracle they let us do any of those things. They certainly have the power not to. It is only because of their respect for us, kindness and willingness to serve that we even conceive of the notion to put our children, grandchildren or ourselves up on their backs or within striking distance of them. Let’s return the favor and figure out ways to help a horse understand what we need instead of punishing them for not doing something correctly. Figure out another way to get things done without resorting to bullying. Change it up and keep the emotions out of it. This is where manners come into play. In order to teach a horse good manners, you have to employ them yourself toward your horse. Don’t push and pull if you don’t want it done to you. Don’t strike, jerk or kick if you don’t want your horse to do it. Just like with everything else, you will find that your horse and you will get along alot better if you show some respect and use good manners.
For when I am around horses, I have to say –
My troubles all vanish and the world goes away.
Tuffy came into this world fighting an uphill battle. He was the tiniest kitten born to my cat out in the barn and struggled valiantly. When it became obvious that he needed some help, I brought him into the house and bottle fed him. My white lab, Molly, helped me nurse the little guy along and for awhile we made good progress. Then one day, for no apparent reason something went terribly wrong.
Tuffy was in his basket where I had left him but he was having trouble walking. It was like his back end was disconnected from his front end. I wrapped him in a towel and took him to the vet. It seemed that his back had gotten broken and I had to make one of those terribly tough decisions. I said my goodbyes to little Tuffy. He had fought so hard and it broke my heart to watch them take him away knowing his short life was over before it even got started.
When you must muster your strength and dig deep inside so you can be strong –
When I brought my young colt into feed him this morning, I gasped when I saw all the blood running down his leg. There was a horrendous gash running vertically down his left hind leg. His white stocking on his right hind was splattered red as well as his front right shoulder and leg being matted with dried blood. He was hurt badly and ended up with stitches both on the inside and outside of the wound. After the vet left, I investigated. I walked the pasture following the blood trail and got a pretty clear picture of how terrorized my poor horse had been.
run for your life
There were places where he had run in circles and had fallen in his own blood. When I saw the paw prints, I really saw red. There were tracks from dogs who had chased down and attacked my horse. Having this happen once in a lifetime is bad enough but just a few weeks ago, it also happened. I didn’t know at the time what had panicked my horses to the point where they charged though the gate and broke the cord I had securing it and go tearing down the road, but one of my other horses had the identical gash wound on one of his legs from that episode. It has been a puzzle why they would do that but now the pieces are coming together and I am fairly certain it was caused by the same catalist. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge dog- lover and have five of my own, but don’t hurt my horses. I am beyond feeling sick about it and now I am mad. I am going to get to the bottom of this and rest assured, it will not happen again to my horses. It is my responsibility to protect them when I keep them in fences where they cannot escape if attacked. A horse’s first instinct is to flee before fighting and if they can’t do that, they are handicapped and are forced to face their predator. The good news is that both horses should make a full recovery after several weeks of vigilant treatments and regular bandage changes. But this is war and I am prepared to defend my horses. I will set aside my feelings to protect them. Heaven help the next critter who hurts my horses – I will be waiting.
It is these times that continue to give me such pleasure – It is the life’s lessons horses teach us that I so treasure
Whenever I ask a child which horse is their favorite, the answer is always the same: “This one”. Five minutes later I will be leading them on a different horse and will get the very same answer. It doesn’t matter what color the horse is, how big it is, how fancy the tack is, how old the horse is, or what the bloodlines consist of. They just love that it is a horse. For that moment in time while this is the particular horse they are interacting with, it is the best horse in the world. I love that about the kids that don’t have the opportunity to be around horses often. Their love is so pure and they appreciate every moment spent just being around horses. There is no room for preferences that could take away from their enjoyment of being with whatever horse it may be.
I can’t say that is always the case when it comes to the adults. More often than not, they come with an idea of what kind of a horse they want to spend their time with. They want a certain style without regard to the suitability of the right horse for the job they will be doing. They may immediately point out the horse they prefer based entirely on how a horse looks at first glance with no regard to who that horse is. Kids instinctively understand that no good horse is a bad color. In a child’s mind, they are all wonderful and they are grateful for the chance to be there. Sure, while they are standing there looking at the horses while waiting their turn, they may pick out one that stands out as being the prettiest to them. But, as soon as they are lifted onto a horse’s back – any one of the bunch – that horse immediately becomes their favorite. There are no objections, demands or temper tantrums because they are not riding a particular horse. It just doesn’t happen. We can learn some valuable lessons from the workings between children and horses. Lessons like giving something a chance before dismissing it because of some preconceived notion. Lessons like appreciation for all things. Lessons like loving who we are with right now because right now is all that matters. Lessons like every horse – like every living thing – gives certain gifts to us when we include them in our world. Lessons like not missing what is in front of us by always looking for something else. Lessons like being grateful there are such incredible things like horses to love.
Maybe my life isn’t all that desirable an it is imagined by others to be – But I would never forsake it, it is the perfect lifestyle for me.
I give riding lessons to a very special 12 year old girl who has a form of autism called Aspergers. She is very logical, kind-hearted, and exacting – taking everything quite literally. Because Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, I made some horse-shaped cookies and invited her and her mom to decorate a few to take to her family members. During the course of icing the cookies (using LOTS of sprinkles), the subject of Love came up. She wanted me to know that she had a crush on a boy. Her mom tried to get the point across that she was really too young for that kind of stuff, but she insisted she wasn’t. I tried to help by suggesting that what she felt was “puppy love”. She wanted to know more about that so I explained that it is called puppy love because of how good it makes you feel when you see puppies. You just want to cuddle them and they kiss you and make you laugh. “But what about the parasites on their tongue?” she asked. Ok, so she had her point. I didn’t want to tell her that kissing a boy was most definintely more germy than any puppy kisses but I wasn’t going to go there with her and possibly ruin kisses for the rest of her life. So, the conversation turned back to “crushes”. Again, trying to put things in perspective for her only being 12 years old, I told her: “In MY day, I had crushes on lots of boys”. She was astounded and asked: “You had a day?”. Trying to clarify that “my day” meant in my better days, not that I owned a particular day, I foolishly made the following comment: “What I mean is when I was younger and pretty like you”. Her jaw dropped and with a totally baffled look on her face she asked in her most serious voice: “You were pretty?”. Her mom about fell out of her chair. As funny as it was, it spoke volumes. Somewhere in there the phrase “Love is Blind” comes to mind and I will admit that my husband’s eyesight is a long way from where it used to be. I may not be the pretty girl I was 50 years ago when I was her age, but I still get a rose on Valentine’s Day and he still makes me feel good like I do when I see puppies.
When he shows fear and maybe just not ready, I don’t push him along until I feel he is steady.
I have used the expression “chomping at the bit” for the better part of my life. I didn’t realize until I rode my young green colt the other day that I really was not using the term entirely in context. I always knew that the phrase indicated a readiness to do something – an urgency to “get ‘er done”, an impatience to move forward. I always took that to mean an eagerness in a positive way and have referred to myself in that manner whenever I began a new project that I couldn’t wait to get going on. I found out that that is not always the case. In fact, it is more of a display of nervous energy revealing concern. I discovered this when I switched from riding with a bitless bridle to using a snaffle bit on my gelding.
Learning the snaffle bit
We rode along calm and quiet until we came to something out of the ordinary that he was not sure about. That was when I noticed he would start chomping on the bit. This behavior would last until he felt sure of what we were doing and then it would cease. It was his subtle way of letting me know that he needed to process something for a few minutes. I am sure that he was also aware that if I chose, I could use leverage on that bit to make it uncomfortable for him to question me. Maybe he was taking the bit in his teeth as a form of instinctive self-preservation to prevent being forced into something he wasn’t ready for. Or perhaps it worked as a sort of pacifier when he needed to expel that nervousness-kind of like when you see a person chomping on gum and not even aware they are doing it while attempting a difficult task. Whatever the reason, I will take note and wait until we have worked through what is bothering him and he once again is quiet at the mouth before pressing forward. When a horse is uncomfortable, feeling pressured or in distress, his first way to try to communicate that to humans will be by working his mouth. The answer is not to shoot the messenger by strapping his mouth shut or jerk painfully on the bit to stop him from expressing his uneasiness. Get to the root of the problem and figure out how to fix it so that there is no need for him to be concerned. He is trying to tell you something that is important to him even if you don’t see it that way.
I have to laugh out loud – It is a joke that we share
The other day, my husband – aka Papa -took our 3 1/2 year old grandson with him to the grocery store. As they were walking across the parking lot toward the store, our grandson spoke up in a very matter-of-fact voice saying: “You know, they actually sell toys here”. He didn’t ask for any toys, nor did he even say he wanted any. He just mentioned the fact, planting the seed. And it was the way he said it, using the word “actually”. So grown up sounding and so knowledgeable. My husband could not just dismiss it. So, you guessed it, they left the store with a toy. I might mention that going down the toy isle was Papa’s idea. There was no begging, pleading, threats or temper tantrums. Just a suggestion, but a suggestion made in such a way that Papa wanted to buy him a toy. If the child would have thrown a fit or started whining, would he have still gotten the toy? In all probability, yes, just because it was grandpa. But it would have been given under duress and it wouldn’t be anytime soon that they repeated the trip to the store. That memory would have been tarnished instead of being looked at fondly.
Papa and Wyatt making memories
I find the same is true when I make a request of my horse when teaching him something new. It is not “when” I take up the reins, or even “if” I ask. The trick is “how” I make my request. If I demand it of him, it turns into a battle of wills. When I start using force or sharp abrupt movements, it all goes South quickly and tempers flare on both sides. Yes, I may eventually get what I want but the price I pay is not worth it and my colt resents it. But, if I make the suggestion lightly and wait for the correct response, we both win. I get what I want and he thinks it is his idea. If he doesn’t respond favorably, I hold firm until he figures it out and then I reward him. Aim to please. Simple concept that works every time.