Tough Choices

“That is silly” you might say and harbor no pangs of sympathy – Because deep down you are wishing you had these problems like me.

Making tough decisions does not necessarily mean having to decide on something that is going to cause you pain. In fact, some of the hardest one we have to make are the ones that may bring us the most happiness. When my niece was young and at that impressionable fairy-tale age of princesses, Cinderella and Snow White I took her to the Disney store at the mall. It was like walking into wonderland for her – I thought.  All the gauzy, gorgeous princess dress-up gowns were hanging on a rack. It was a spectacular array of lace, pastel colors, satin and bows. I was going to surprise her and buy her one of those dresses – all she had to do was pick one out. What I envisioned as a dream come true for a little girl was, in reality, a nightmare. She wouldn’t move but just stood there, frozen. She didn’t say anything, wouldn’t look at the dresses and didn’t didn’t touch them.  Even when I pulled a couple out to see if she liked one better than another, she wouldn’t answer or give me any indication what she was thinking. The more I tried to get her to loosened up and have fun with it, the more tense it got. In fact, she started crying. It didn’t take too long before I got somewhat annoyed with it all and we ended up leaving the store without a dress. The giddiness I felt entering the store was lost and a tenseness was now in the air between us. How did that happen? How did such a wonderful surprise turn into a hideous, scary thing? I knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want one of those dresses. She did – desperately. She was afraid of making the wrong decision and her only solution was to make no decision. That little girl got married last fall and I can’t tell you how many times that scene has played out in my mind over the years. But never has it become as clear to me exactly what happened that day as it has these past couple of years while starting my young colt.

Getting him started

Getting him started

There are no drastic or horrible consequences if he chooses to do something other than what I have in mind. He just wants to figure out what I want and sometimes he will do nothing instead of making a move he is unsure of. And yes, there are times that my impatience is obvious and it puts up a barrier between us. That is when I think of my niece and the dresses. If only I would have just taken a break and got an ice cream cone and then came back to it. I bet she would have gotten her dress and it probably would have become one of her prize possessions and one of our favorite shared memories.

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The Empty Stall

This isn’t the way he would choose to live – And you can’t watch him go on this way. With a heavy heart you call in to the vet – Knowing your horse will be gone after today.

I dreaded going to the barn the morning after we had to have Barney put down. I can’t begin to tell you how heavy my heart was, even though it felt empty. I felt almost physically sick as I pulled on my boots and started down the path to the barn. I braced myself for the wave of grief that I knew was waiting to descend on me when I reached the barnyard and saw the empty space where Barney’s handsome face would normally be watching for me to bring his breakfast.

Our Beloved Barney

Our Beloved Barney

As I came around the corner and his stall came into view, I got a whiff of the medicine that he had been on for the last couple of months while we fought to postpone the inevitable. It was the horrible, sickening smell of DMSO combined with other equally potent EPM paste. He hated that stuff as we all did. It was the necessary evil that we had to try as a last resort. The strangest feeling came over me when that smell registered and my eyes took in the emptiness where he once stood. A feeling of unexpected extreme relief washed over me and instantly lifted my spirits. Barney belonged to my best friend who adored him. He was boarded at my farm and I had cared for him for the past couple of years. The last few months were a constant emotional drain as Barney would improve slightly and then fall back. It was heartbreaking to watch my friend cope with his pain and discomfort, not to mention her sorrow knowing he was slipping away. It dawned on me that I no longer had to worry about Barney. He wasn’t  suffering and struggling with the exhausting task of survival. He had wanted to go for some time -but we were not ready to let him go. Now there was a peacefulness that replaced that helpless and desperate feeling. Of course, the loneliness still remained and the pain of loss was still acute, but the last bit of doubt had been lifted. The feeling was so strong and so surprising that I somehow felt that he not only forgave us for having to make  that call that ended his life, but was reassuring us that he was grateful. He had had a very hard life for many years as a school horse, but he knew he was loved those last few years he spent as Julia’s horse. He left a huge gaping hole in our hearts but that is the price we willing pay to know the love of a horse. The pain we feel when they leave us is a very small price for the joy they give us when they are here.

They Grow Up So Fast

I shine the flashlight into the dark space – She’s standing quietly eating away at the hay – Then my light finds the most wondrous face of my new foal staring at me from where he lay.

Where does the time go? It has been 5 years now since Eddy-O was born. Hard to believe. He is all grown up now and a very handsome guy if I might say so myself. It had been over 35 years since I had a baby foal and most likely he will be my last, so he  is very special to me. I have a group of young girls who come and work with me at the barn  on Saturday mornings doing chores in exchange for some horsey time. We decided to give Eddy-O a birthday party and he loved it. So did all the other horses too, as they all benefited from the celebration. Everyone brought something to contribute to his “cake”. We had mashed bananas, applesauce, apples, raisins, cinnamon, shredded carrots watermelon and sweet feed to throw into the mix. We stirred it all up in a large bowl and cut up apple slices for the candles. Then I showed the girls a slideshow of my baby boy when he was first born. They couldn’t believe how tiny and cute he was and that he was a full grown horse now.

Eddy-O's 5th Birthday Party

Eddy-O’s 5th Birthday Party

The girls made him a community birthday card which we hung outside his stall. We sang “Happy Birthday” while Eddy-O literally took a nosedive into the cake. After he had taken his share, we passed the cake around so that the other eight horses got a couple of bites, making sure his mom, Dixie, got more than her share. Then we let Eddy-O lick the bowl. It was a big hit. The other horses all knew something special was going  on and Eddy was playing the ham. We topped it off with everybody getting a carrot and a peppermint as a party favor as we turned them out. Eddy-O got our full attention with a good grooming, complete with painting his hooves so he could look his best on his special day. The truth is, everyday with that horse is a special day to me. The day he was born, something came alive in me also. I celebrate his birthday daily and realize that I don’t need candles to make my wishes come true. He is standing right in front of me.

Highs and Lows

Years have gone by now and held so many wondrous ways – Hardly a day has gone by that he has not been in my sight. He is one of life’s greatest gifts and brightens my days, but nothing compares to how I felt on that magical night.

It was 6 days before my mare’s due date when I got the call. My father was dying and would not make it through the day. I had to leave and head home to Michigan immediately. All my careful preparations to make sure it was a safe delivery were no longer the issue. I still had to scrub the birthing stall and put down fresh straw. I had collected an arsenal of items that I may need in the event that something went wrong at the last minute. I had rubber gloves that went to my armpits. I was “going in” if that is what it took. I had waited for over 35 years for this opportunity and now it looked like I was going to miss it. I was so torn with emotions. My only remaining parent that I adored was leaving this world. I was devastated and heartbroken. At the same time, I was worried sick about leaving at this crucial time. I was also disappointed that I might miss this event that I had planned on and imagined over and over. Why did two major life changing events have to be happening to me at the same time and pulling me in two entirely different directions? I made a call to my best friend who was my accomplice in researching and preparing for the birth of the foal and gave her the news that I was leaving town and it was up to her now. I could hear the panic in her voice as she assured me that she would handle it if it came down to it and not to worry. Like that was possible. But, I had no choice in the matter and trusted her almost as much as myself. The next few days were spent making whispered phone calls to check on Dixie’s progress in between making my father’s funeral service plans and greeting fiends and family members. Those stolen minutes completely took me out of the grief that I was immersed in and injected excitement and nervous laughter as my friend gave me minute-by-minute updates. My prayers that my mare would wait for me to get back to give birth were only eclipsed by my friend’s – who was terrified that it would happen on her watch while I was 700 miles away. As it turned out – I did make it home in time, just barely. I arrived late on a Monday evening and she went into labor on Tuesday and had my colt in the early morning hours on Wednesday. Ironically, I was there but I still missed the actual birth. I fell asleep and when I woke up and checked on her, there was my new colt.

Just 2 hours old.

Just 2 hours old.

Everything went perfectly without me, which is a good thing. I felt somewhat guilty that I was feeling such joy and wonderment at a time when my father’s death was still so fresh but then I realized what a gift it was and that my father wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. My package was delivered exactly one week after my father died and one week before his birthday. My father’s name was Edward but his children called him “Poppo” and he lived in a small town called Owosso – hence, my foal’s name “Eddy-O”. It couldn’t have been anything else. One of my life’s greatest joys followed on the heels of one of my greatest sorrows and somehow it made perfect sense.

A Bird At The Window

I have an ongoing problem I deal with on a regular basis – that pops up whenever I see all five of my horses’ faces

As I was getting ready to head to the barn to do the morning chores, I heard a loud thud against my window. I watched as a bird tried again and again to get through the unseen glass. Day after day it continued to happen. Over and over that bird just kept on hitting the window and over and over again he would just knock his head against the wall. He never made any progress and in fact appeared to be going backwards as he was wasting all his time and energy on this instead of putting it to good use to do something productive.

A bird at the window

A bird at the window

The definition of insanity came to mind: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The thought popped into my mind that I was guilty of doing the same thing on some of my horse training issues. Why would I think that magically one day my horse would understand when I have been telling her the same thing in the same way over and over again to no avail? In this instance, I am referring to the bad habit my mare has of kicking at the gate or the stall door when she is impatient to be feed or turned out. For years, she has made my blood boil when she starts this. The madder I get, the more clever she becomes. She has it figured out just how far away I need to be to be out of her reach and has it timed perfectly so that I cannot correct her while she is in the act. While my approach varies somewhat, it is always based on the same premise – it makes me angry. I have replaced countless gate latches and she has let all the horses out when she busts through the chains and other safety precautions I have had to make. I have yelled and screamed at her, threatened her, swung towels to back her up, knocked whips and other objects on the fence and stall door, threw things in her direction, hidden outside her stall to pop her and scare her when she started up, made her wait to be last, etc. All with the same results – none. I need to stop doing what is obviously not working and figure out what will. Any suggestions? By the way, I just saw that bird – he’s back again at my window.

Pieces of the Puzzle

I am starting a youngster and there is a whole world to conquer – It’s a constant trial and error finding methods we both prefer.

I only allow myself to do one or two jigsaw puzzles a year because I become obsessed with them once I begin.  I am driven to finish it and stay up all hours of the night. I can’t do much of anything that will take me away from it for any length of time. It just seems to me that every piece I fit into the picture is a mini success and brings me one step closer to solving the elusive mystery of life on a much grander scale than just the puzzle before me.  As I was working on this puzzle it suddenly occurred to me how working with my young gelding has changed my style in my approach to puzzles and other things.Jigsaw Puzzle

There is such a parallel to solving puzzles and the riddle of getting a young horse ready to ride confidently. A youngster is like the box full of pieces with the potential to be completed into something beautiful. But when you first open the box, it is just a jumble of loose pieces. The first thing I do is lay out the foundation by finding all the outside edges and anchoring it with definite corners – much like the groundwork I do with my colt. Once I have that in place, I turn my attention to something that is obvious and that I can put together easily while I am acquainting myself with the pieces and the feel of the puzzle.I try to determine exactly where that fits into the big picture and work out from there. I build from there, sorting pieces that are related and working them in, building on the absolute.  I separate pieces by color within a group, breaking it into tiny steps and joining the pieces where I can until I find a connection to the main picture .  Sometimes I get stuck and use the slow and methodical approach by just trying one piece after another until I find something that works. When I have that, it opens opportunities for the next pieces. Other times, it seems like the pieces just fall into place with no effort. If I try to put in a piece that needs another piece in place first or make a mistake and put it in the wrong place, it just won’t work and I have to go back to the basics and experiment until I find the correct missing piece. I had a setback in my horse’s training when he was injured – not unlike the setbacks in the puzzle when my cat landed in the center and pieces went flying. I had to rebuild but found it much quicker and easier than starting from the beginning. I have learned that when I get frustrated to take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes. I find that it takes hours and hours to really see the different nuances of each piece and that what may appear to be an obvious fit  isn’t always the way to go. I will never quit because I already know what the end picture is – and it is beautiful and all the parts are right in front of me albeit some with teethmarks, even if I haven’t got it together yet.