Such an array of extreme emotions, so many choices – Dreams and fears are real here and more than just voices.
A few years ago, I attended a “graduation” of sorts at Warm Springs Institute in Georgia. The ceremony marked the end of a rehabilitation program designed to merge challenged citizens into the real world as productive citizens. Most were learning to cope with physical handicaps as a result of birth complications or due to impairing accidents. Some, like my brother, were dealing with brain irregularities. They were all taught certain skills which co-coordinated with their individual interests and capabilities. Celebrations ran high. They were so proud of their achievements. We were proud of them. They now felt like they had a place, a chance to blend with the “normal” world. This marked the end of the struggle and was just the beginning of a new and better life. Such high hopes and expectations. It was such an emotional day, so full of promise after living through such hardships. I cried as they laughed.
Fast forward to last weekend where I attended the Ultimate Rescue Challenge sponsored by the Georgia Equine Rescue League. Not unlike the graduates mentioned above, these horses had survived indescribable hardships of abuse and starvation. They were hurt, damaged and fearful of what the world had to offer them – kindness or cruelty? They had undergone a 120 day training session to get them ready for the real world – a permanent home. What I saw was an impossibly strong connection between horse and trainer that allowed these equine partners to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and give their all. Were they perfect? Of course not and some would never be able to function as a normal “riding”horse. But they all had value and gave everything they possibly could. They all had a place where they could excel in the right setting and situation. Much like the graduates of Warm Springs, these graduates of rescue were being celebrated for their accomplishments and potential while being painfully aware of the limitations. I cried as their stories were told.
Wondering what the future holds.
The possibilities are endless as to the future of these graduates – both human and horse. Graduation Day was the high point of their lives so far and then tomorrow it all ends and they are thrown into the world, ready or not. The world can be a wonderful place with an ending that they live happily ever after in the perfect homes and jobs, or ….. Only time will tell how well they can fill in the gaps needed to make it all work out for the best and what their destiny will be. It is hard enough to make it without dealing with unfair handicaps. I choose to believe that, given a chance, they will change the way they have had to look at the world and put the darker side behind them. I watched the culmination of those graduations and felt all those emotions stir inside me that an unfortunate past and unknown future holds. I was moved by the euphoric sensations and just as strongly fearful of the outcome. I prayed for the best and I cried.
I am not saying all those fast and furious days are past – That on occasion I won’t be feeling the need. I am just saying that I am finding more here lately that I am built more for comfort than for speed.
A while back I wrote a story titled “Hay, Don’t I know you?” It was about a pretty little palomino named named Caramel who was sold and moved away from her friends and her herd. After a few years went by, she was returned to that very farm and the remaining herd. Re-introducing her to the other horses was a very intimidating event for little Caramel as things change, new friendships replaced the ones she knew and a new hierarchy had been formed. As a rule, the new horse has to take some bullying to see where she fits in. As they were opening the gate to the pasture to turn her out with the others, she was nervous. She felt alone, friendless and unsure. She knew how it worked and they were gathered around waiting for her. Suddenly, the group parted and her once best friend, Bella, walked right up to her and together they walked off without incident. Bella was a huge and powerful draft horse who was held in high esteem by her peers. She put herself at risk to defend her little buddy if needed. The absent years, the new relationships, the differences in them did not matter. They were friends. There was a connection that time and life events could not erase.
A trusted friend.
I kind of felt like Caramel last weekend when I attended my 45th class reunion – not sure how I would be received. After all, it had been a long time and some things weren’t left on the best terms. I found that it didn’t matter what had happened during the last 45+ years to me or to my former classmates or how much we had changed. The ones that I felt a powerful connection or draw to those many years ago were the very ones I still felt that rare and wonderful feeling for. That elusive attraction was still there on some spiritual level. One of life’s greatest mysteries to me has always been what element exactly dictates why certain people strike a certain chord with you that the rest of the world doesn’t. I have to believe that we recognize something inexplicable – something in our very souls. Yes, 45 years is a long time, but I learned an important lesson from Caramel’s story and my recent reunion. Time may change many things but when it comes to matters of the heart, it stands still. I had the most wonderful and memorable reunions of my life. Gaps were filled, some that I wasn’t even aware existed. I have always been a little on the shy and introverted side and prefer fewer quality relationships and friendships over quantity. That being said, my point is: If you are one of those few people who I feel this bond with, it doesn’t matter how many years go by or what path life may lead us down, you will always hold a special place in my heart. That doesn’t change.
If you have never experienced what I am talking about, Make it a point in your life and don’t go without
There is no way to place a value on horses we love.
We had a cute, albeit, broken down little pony here on the farm that belonged to one of my boarders. Little Man was very special to its owners and had been in the family for a long time. So when it became so ill that his quality of life was reduced to a breath by breath struggle, the humane decision was made to let him go. The owner and his son were distraught and heartbroken over their loss even though the little pony had been ill for a long time and had been out of service for years. Hours of care and countless vet bills were not the deciding factor. The decision was made because they loved the horse enough to give it some relief, not to lighten their own burden of caring for him.
As it happened, we were having a camp that fateful day. We made it a point to remove the children attending the camp to another part of the farm so they wouldn’t have to witness the euthanization. The camp leader explained to the little girls that they would not be able to ride that morning because the horse was very sick and the vet couldn’t do anything more for him. They needed the privacy of the barn area. It was at this point one of the little girls made this statement: “It doesn’t matter because you couldn’t ride him anymore, so what good was he anyway?”. The first wave of shocked disbelief hit my camp staff like a ton of bricks – and then the anger set in. That little girl got a lesson in life that day from people who truly love and appreciate their horses. Some of us have even lost one. To label our horses as valueless objects better of disposed of when it has outlived its usefulness is beyond our comprehension.
Unfortunately, that child’s opinion is not the exception to the rule. I was discussing this matter with one of my barn buddies who had just lost his own horse after nearly 20 years recently later that evening. He made the simple and profound statement which pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. He said he knows that most people just throw away a horse and get another one once it no longer serves the purpose without even a backward glance, he even knew some who did that. (Usually, it is because of something they did causing an injury.) “But, those aren’t the kind of people I want to be around and have as friends.” Well said, my friend.
By the way, that misguided child’s parent complained to us the following morning that they paid a lot of money so their child could ride horses at the camp and wanted to be sure they would be able to ride that day. We explained that we did not feel it was the proper thing to do to just carry on while this horse was lying on the ground – for the child’s sake as well as the mourning owners and other horses. I can only hope that some of our compassion was learned by the campers that day and maybe a new perspective will be formed of the value of some of us consider a treasure.
It is hard to explain how my itinerary is made – There is a certain rotation to be sure a foundation is laid.
Partners and friends
There are just some topics you avoid with certain people because you already know you are not going to agree. The top three in my world are politics, religion and especially horses. Avoiding the first two is not that difficult in my day-to-day existence and I generally believe that everyone has a right to formulate their own ideas as long as it doesn’t infringe on my life. My opinions are mostly kept to myself and revealed only through my lifestyle. Horses – now that is a different subject. I find that horse people are the most opinionated of all. Every single aspect of horses is up for contention depending on how they think it should be done. I don’t care if it is about the care, training, riding, breeding, keeping, shoeing, tack, blanketing, worming, shots, stalling, supplements, disciplines, eventing or feeding. Horse owners, handlers and lovers are passionate in their beliefs of what is the right way when it comes to our equine partners. I work with horses daily and how I operate is an open book to anyone who observes or interacts with me. Unfortunately, it seems that people feel they have “free rein” (excuse the pun) to give their unsolicited opinion when I do things a little differently than they might. In all truthfulness, I am probably one of the worst at doing that myself because I believe in what I do. I have great difficulty biting my tongue when I witness treatment of a horse based on the old school methods of “show ’em who’s boss” or “you gotta make them more afraid of you than what you want him to do”. I personally get no sense of joy or accomplishment whatsoever from “making” a horse do anything, especially by using means of brute force, pain or fear. It is kind of ironic that the term “cowboy” used to be the epitome of the ultimate perfect horse person. We all aspired to be able to ride like a cowboy. Now, when we use that word to describe how a horse is trained, if it has been “cowboyed” it means handled brutally into submission. The more enlightened horse trainers and handlers are more interested in “gentling” a horse – not “breaking” them. We are looking for partners, not slaves or vehicles. We want to be on the same side. It is not a contest. There should be no winners or losers. There is a great deal of ego that comes into play with humans when they can intimidate a huge, powerful and majestic beast like the horse. What I am telling those people is that they are missing the magic. They will never truly be a fine horseman if they have to operate on that base level and they will never experience the wonders of knowing horses by heart. There is no honor in being a bully. Sure, you may get a horse broke to ride, but you steal his soul and you sell yours. There is a better way. So, maybe I am really getting onto all three dangerous territories here. The topic of horses is actually about religion and politics.
If the truth be known it is me who will benefit the most from her – No matter what other troubles I might have, she is my cure.
I recognized it the very first time I met her. There was just something about her that I just could not get off my mind. Not what I pictured when envisioning my dream horse by a long shot. Guilty stood a mere 14.3 hands, was at least 200 lbs. overweight, her feet were neglected horribly and she had not been handled or ridden for about 6 years. She stood in a small backyard paddock with her 3 year old filly who had never been out of her sight and was spoiled rotten with treats from her owners and the neighbors. But she was special. I may have been the only one who thought so at the time, but I knew that this was the horse for me. Something about the name “Guilty” rang true with me. How could a horse with a name like that be anything but special? After many months of finagling and bartering, I finally brought her home. Guilty actually has the very regal registered quarter horse name of “King Leo’s Golden Bars” and her grandmother’s name was “Quilty”. Somehow this morphed into the absolutely perfect name for her although it came about because of the way her coat shines with seemingly golden threads running through it when in the direct sun- like gilded gold. I have never seen another like it. Nor have I ever seen another horse like her. She may be the smartest horse I have ever dealt with and she definitely earns her name. I have volumes of stories about her antics, her bravery and her character. She is the matriarch of our herd without question. In her own quiet and passive way, she gets her point across time and again. When challenged for her position by a newcomer, she doesn’t fight. Rather, she merely picks up the entire group and moves them to another part of the pasture leaving the newbie all alone and wondering what happened? As soon as she is humbly acknowledged as the leader, she welcomes the new horse into the herd graciously without any violence. She behaves like royalty – demanding respect in a dignified manner, and she gets it. She will not be bullied by horse or human. Unless asked politely and correctly, she refuses to even acknowledge the request. Trust me, I have learned more from this horse because of her “resistance” than all the rest put together. Asked nicely, she will do anything for you – just don’t try to make her do anything. Not too much to ask from a mare who is now almost 24 and has never kicked, reared, bucked, bit or bolted, no matter how unskilled the rider or handler. She is one of those horses that you wouldn’t take a million dollars for, couldn’t get a nickel for, but would give away if it meant a better life than I could give her. That is what I have decided to do. She has a chance to have a home with someone who knows her, appreciates her little quirks and loves her like I do. She will actually get much more attention than I have been able to give her recently and I foresee even less in the future. She deserves it and it is what I want for her, as much as I will miss her. As her new soon-to-be owner, her barefoot trimmer and I stood discussing the transfer of ownership, we watched her performing her role as the “main squeeze” in her pasture where a new horse had just arrived. The remark was made that Guilty was a princess. I quickly corrected that by stating “Oh no, she is the “Queen”.
Each one has its unique gift given so sweetly and freely to me – And each has its need for improvement so that we can agree.
As I mature, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning to me. Somehow, I have turned the corner where I don’t worry and fret so much about the presents I give or receive. Most of those trinkets are quickly forgotten once the packages are opened and seasons change. It is the gifts that create special memories for me that I treasure. It is the visits, the phone calls and the helping hands that warm my heart this season. Also, it is the memory of Christmas past that I hold dear. One particular one comes to mind. It was Christmas of 1995 which was the last Christmas our family was whole. My mother died February 1st, 1996 and ever since that year, my siblings and I just never find the time or the need to be all together again for the holidays- just not convenient anymore. My mom was the nucleus of “our family” and now we all have developed into our own traditions and our own families have grown. I know that is the way it goes but just can’t help thinking about how it used to be. We had a family picture taken that last whole family Christmas and my mom is wearing her “Christmas sweater”. It is a beautiful black sweater with a big Christmas bow of sequins embellishing it. I have that sweater. It is one of my most treasured possessions. If I walked into a second hand store and saw that sweater on the rack for $1, I wouldn’t be interested, but I wouldn’t trade this one for anything in the world. I keep it in my cedar chest and have never had it cleaned. I want to smell and feel her when I hold it. I even wear it for a few hours some years even though it is long past being in style. That gaudy trinket is my treasure.
I guess thinking like that is exactly why I get a lot of criticism for some of my methods of working with horses. I am not interested in the “proof of the pudding” in the form of ribbons and trophies as proof of my abilities. Those are just useless trinkets down the road unless they are earned from the heart – yours and your horse’s -and then become a true treasure. I would personally take no joy from completing a perfect performance if it meant giving up a partnership with my horse in lieu of a dominating rigorous drilling that my horse hated. Nothing fills up my heart more than walking out to the pasture and my horse freely walking up to greet me. Now, that is a gift I treasure and hold dear and am not willing to trade.
So, while it’s a great problem, they are still tough choices – Deciding the best way to go about quieting these inner voices.
I was making apple cinnamon muffins for a training clinic I was hosting the other day when I was reminded of an incident that occurred many years ago. The funny thing was that I just finally figured out the lesson I learned that day and how it relates to my horses. My mother was famous in our small Michigan hometown for her apple pie baking skills. She had entered the annual contest and everyone knew she would have no competition taking first prize. When she took second place, I was in disbelief. How did that happen? When I questioned her about it, she admitted that someone had given her some apples and so instead of using the normal McIntosh apples, she used the gifted ones. “Whatttt??? You changed the main ingredient for an event as important as this? Why would you do that?” Her wise and sensible answer infuriated me. “Because it was what I had to work with at the time”. I get it now and she was so right. It really didn’t matter in the big scheme of things if she only took second prize. Everyone knew how good her pies were anyway. It was still one of the best pies most people will ever eat and she was proud of it, as she should have been. How many of us insist on using the tried and true instead of taking a chance? How many of us demand perfection from a horse that might not be the best one for the job but tries hard to please because it is important to us? How many of us won’t settle for anything less than the ultimate breeding and training methods because we are so afraid of not getting that prized blue ribbon when we have a willing partner readily available. Perfection is not the journey, nor is it even the goal. Bringing out the best of what you have to work with is where the real prize is found. Being thankful and grateful for the gifts presented to us and seeing the potential in everything instead of dwelling on what is lacking is how magic is created.
Loved for who he was.
Anybody can follow a recipe to the letter and get similar results, but it takes a master chef to create something wonderful out of ordinary ingredients.
I love and miss my mom – she died February 1st, 1996. Still teaching me lessons.
I pull on my jeans, lace my boots and tie up my hair – head down to the pasture because my horses are there.
We have all had one – you know which one I am talking about-the aunt who always pinched your cheeks when she saw you as a child and exclaimed how you have grown. Do you remember your feelings when she would do that? How you would shrink away from her and try to stay out of her reach whenever she came around, even if you loved her. You hated that but tolerated it because it wasn’t polite to rebuke her affections.
Well, guess what? We do that same thing to our horses all the time. I don’t mean literally “pinch their cheeks” but we tend to go right for the face when we encounter them. They are so beautiful that it is hard not to. It just seems like those elongated noses, soft muzzles and deep eyes draw our hands right to it. To us, we offer it as a sign of affection and admiration, but does it mean the same thing to them being on the receiving end? What if the horses touches you with his nose first? Do you get offended and slap him away? Do you deem it to be disrespectful? Does it scare you? Maybe you weren’t ready for that contact yet.
Now, look at our actions from the horses’ point of view. Let’s say a total stranger, someone you didn’t particularly have an affection for, or someone that might frighten you somewhat approached you, and without your consent, started putting his hands on your face. Even if it was done gently and lovingly, you would be repulsed by that action. It is presumptuous and shows a total lack of respect for your space. Unearned familiarity may even be intimidating. Are there times when stroking someone’s face is appropriate and meaningful? Of course! The operative word being “appropriate”. A tender touch to the cheek can be one of the most intimate and loving gestures, as we all know. Realize the difference and apply it to your horse. Stay away from a horses’s face unless you are familiar to him and he has invited you to do so. Stroke his shoulder or withers instead – a very comforting and non-intrusive gesture of friendship that he will appreciate. Notice how horse friends “groom” each other in those places.
Oh, and another thing. Girls, I see this all the time and it drives me insane. I am talking about those pictures (mostly selfies these days) where the person takes a close up of her face smashed up against her horses. Notice how the horse is being held tightly by the clasp of the halter just below the horses’ head. I don’t see the horse smiling in those pictures. That is not a pretty picture to people who know horses well. Now if you get a photo of the horse willingly and freely coming that close to you, then you have something.
Of all of my treasures – This one I won’t trade, This is one that I shall value – It’s worth doesn’t fade.
Ann worked with Patches in the arena doing ground work without a glimmer of worry on the horse’s face When it came time to tack the mare up,. Ann walked over to the hitching post which consisted of a 500+ lb. length of telephone pole setting on two additional notched out posts made of the same type of heavy duty telephone pole. She no sooner had tied the rope around the post than the mare just went berserk for no apparent reason. She spooked back suddenly and violently, pulling the huge pole down with her. Of course, when the log dropped, the knot on the rope halter tightened from the weight, sending her into yet another fearful flight mode as it pulled her head downward. She was backing up furiously trying to escape the pressure which only amplified it. The quick-release knot wasn’t working either. Finally, finally, I was able to get the halter slipped off her head. It was a horrifying few seconds which could have been disastrous for the horse, Ann and me also as I struggled to release the horse with a 500+ lb. log being dragged across the barnyard. After all was said and done (Ann had a few stitches in her hand and we both had some bruising on our legs), all she kept saying was: “There was no reason”. Ann hadn’t seen anything to set the seemingly calm horse off like that. No bees, to quick movements or loud noises. Nothing she could see. I have since come to the conclusion that she was 100% right – There was nothing she could see. It was something in the horse’s head that caused it.
I realized the power of those emotional triggers just the other day at the grocery store. I was standing in the checkout line when I noticed the woman the next isle over. I couldn’t quit staring at her and after a few moments she couldn’t help but notice. I smiled weakly at her but still couldn’t tear my eyes from her. My husband was poking me in the side saying” you’re staring”. She was getting uncomfortable at my steady gazing so finally I spoke to her. “I was just admiring your hair. It is thick and wavy and very beautiful. My mother had hair just like that and the same pretty silver gray color. She has been gone for 18 year’s now but I couldn’t help but think of her when I saw you.” When I said the words out loud, tears sprang to my eyes. She smiled at me and said “I understand, That is a good thing, right?” “Yes, it is a very good thing”. As my husband and I walked out to the parking lot to the car, my husband reprimanded my in a disbelieving tone “You didn’t just tell that woman that she looks like your mother, did you?” (Did I mention that I am 62 years old?) My reply was that “yes, I did and we both knew it was a good thing”.
I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with the incident with Patches at the hitching post. The point is, although no one could see any reason for me to suddenly stare stupidly at a perfectly normal looking stranger or fathom why all of a sudden I had tears in my eyes, I saw it. It was an emotional trigger. These can be really good memories or really bad ones. Sometimes it isn’t a memory at all but just a feeling – like on a new crisp late spring day and you are driving down the road with the radio playing and the window down and all of a sudden you get the same carefree feeling of youth you felt when you were a teenager. It has been my experience that, as a rule, our bad memories tend to stick with us more or at least cause a bigger reaction. Fearful situations especially. I am sure that whatever caused poor Patches to freak out at seemingly nothing was really very real to her – something only she sees in her mind’s eye. Just as no one can make me stop feeling the sadness I feel for losing my mother no matter how long ago it was, I will not be able to make Patches not remember whatever it was that bothered her so much. You just don’t get over some things.
We can both learn how to deal with it and control our reactions better. I will not tie Patches to the post again and I will never tie her using a rope halter. It has to be one of those two variables as I have tied her to trees while on trail rides without incident using a regular halter. Doesn’t matter. I will not make her “go there” to that place that terrifies her so badly. As for my triggers about my mom – well, even though they make me sad and I may want to cry, I love having those unexpected jolts that trigger my emotions when they concern my mother. Tears are a small price to pay.
There is just not enough time in the day or energy in me – to divide my attention into portions distributed equally.
I know all about the Serenity Prayer and the wisdom of not letting things get to me that I have no control over and cannot change. I know that it does far more harm than good to dwell on thoughts that make me feel bad. I really do try to focus on replacing disturbing thoughts with positive ones. In this particular instance, the only positive thing I can think of where these crows are concerned is that they are dead crows. The crows that I am referring to are strung up by their feet along the perimeter of a garden and left to slowly disintegrate in the hot sun. The purpose of this distasteful display is being a deterrent to other crows who may be planning on invading the cornfield planted there. There is also a scarecrow complete with a gun as if to shoot more crows if they should dare trespass there. I may be a little over the top where my compassion for animals and suffering is concerned – I realize that. But, I cannot drive past that garden without getting a sick feeling. I try not to look at it, but it is right along the only road into town that I have to drive by daily – usually more than once. It never fails to ruin my mood and force me to think some not very nice things about a person who would show such a lack of respect for life in such a base method.” They are just crows” I hear if I voice my opinion about it and mention that it bothers me. I can’t help it. They were living things that sought out a life and tried to survive. Killing them is one thing, making a mockery and example of their death is another. I think it is just wrong to have so little respect for life – even if it is crows. Where is the line drawn? What if this guy doesn’t like feral cats on his property? Would he string them up also? I know there are many people who will think it is me that is being ridiculous, but is it so wrong to have the sight of dead animals be a cause of distress to me? Aren’t there worse things than being compassionate about animals – things like killing and torturing them? I never could stand being in a room with heads of dead animals mounted on the wall. I don’t get it and I hope I never do. In the meantime, the cornfield has finally grown up enough that the poor crows are now hidden in the stalks and I no longer have to see them. I have made it a point not to find out whose garden it is because I don’t want to harbor bad feelings toward someone and I would if I knew who it was. I know that we can’t all agree on how to handle things and what is acceptable for one isn’t always the case for another. It is not for me to judge and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else because there have been hanging there for weeks now. I can’t help the feeling that if it feels this wrong to me, there have got to be others. I hope so.