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.
There is a scar left behind where they took off a bump – Just under my ribcage from a saddle horn bump.
What started out to be just an ordinary ride with one of my male boarders, turned into what may have been one of my most embarrassing moments. We can all laugh at it now, but at the time, it was pretty humiliating. John and I decided to ride on the developing track for the motorsport park going in across the street from the farm. The roads were graded but unpaved which made it perfect to explore on horseback.
My guy Cruise
He was riding Ranger and I was on my powerful black appendix, Cruise. There are lots of twists, turns and hills on the track to make it challenging for future drivers. We rounded a bend and charged up a particularly steep incline. I was wearing a western shirt with the snap buttons up the front. As Cruise lunged up the hill, he would leap forward and then rock back and thrust with his turbo charged back end in a rocking motion, kicking his back feet out with each thrust. I was leaning forward to help him up the hill when the saddlehorn went through a gap between the buttons of my shirt and hooked under my bra. When Cruise rocked back, I was pulled forward and went right off his right shoulder. When I hit the ground, I landed flat on my back with every snap of my shirt complete undone and my bra only covering one of my breasts. It took me a few moment to grasp the situation as I had the wind knocked out of me but then awareness seeped in. I looked up to see my riding partner, John very politely standing on the far side of his horse waiting for me to get up, using Ranger as a shield from his eyes and pretending to be unaware of my plight other than falling from my horse. John never said a word about what he saw, and to this day adamantly denies seeing anything that might have been improper. I know differently because every time the story comes up about that ride, he turns beet red- especially when my husband brought it up in front of John’s wife. Being the gentleman he is, John and I have still never talked about what he really saw that day. I am sure he hasn’t forgotten it entirely. I know I will never forget it. I couldn’t if I tried as I has a scar from that saddlehorn to this day to remind me. Horses are known to teach you humility, but this took it to new level.
Maybe it’s because I go to a place in my mind – Where the best things are kept – Things only I can find.
I will never forget the last time I saw my mother. It was Christmas week of 1995. I live in Georgia and she lived in my childhood home in Michigan. She had been failing with congestive heart failure and was very ill. We all knew this might be the last Christmas with her, so we made the trip even though I was very much under the weather myself. The closer we got to home, the sicker I became. The plan was for us to stay at my sister’s house during the visit but my mom would have no part of that. She insisted that I stay with her under the pretense that I wouldn’t get everyone else sick. I knew it was because she felt the need to do what she does best: be my mother and take care of me. Even though it should have been the other way around and I should have been nursing her, she rallied herself around to see to my every need and comfort. She died February 1st, 1996. I thought of that last visit with my mother this past week when my 6 year old gelding, Eddy-O suddenly became very ill with a displaced bowel. I remembered how soothing her touch was, how cared for I felt, how important I was to her. I knew he was scared and hurting and so the first thing I did was go get his mom, Dixie. I put them in a separate pen together for the next 4 days while we weathered the storm.
A mother’s watchful eye
True to form, Dixie did what good mother’s do – she stood watch over Eddy-O and comforted him. She never went more than 10 feet from his side and constantly murmured soft encouragement to him. Even though Eddy has been weaned off her for 5 1/2 years, they remain constant companions. They can eat out of the same feed dish or pile of hay and stay in the same stall. I was determined that if Eddy-O wasn’t going to make it, he was not going to spend his last days with strangers who didn’t know or love him. He was going to know he was loved to the very end. There would be no trailering to UGA, no days of observation in the hospital, no major surgery (recommended by vet), no weeks of recovery in a sling hooked up to IV’s. It was a hard decision to make, but all things considered, I knew what was best for him, even if it meant losing him. Dixie and I kept vigil, 24/7. I really believe that this outpouring of love and encouragement is what helped him pull through. And pull through he did, with flying colors – albeit with alot of effort (he hardest part was having to starve him for those days – the mom in me wants to nurture). I have never had children of my own but I learned my lessons from two of the greatest mother’s that ever walked this planet. I learned that when you love something or someone, you will do whatever it takes and always put them first. They will always be your baby, no matter how old. Many, many thanks and much love to mom’s – mine and Eddy-O’s. Once a mom – always a mother.
I walked down the hill to the barn where my horses are found – on a clear winter’s morning with fresh snow on the ground…
One of my favorite winter memories is riding my horse in the snow when I was much, much younger and living in Michigan. Now I live in Georgia and the opportunities to ride in a winter wonderland are much rarer. Every once in a great while I get to relive that experience. Those rides never fail to transport me back to those magic times. This past week when the rest of the world stood still during a record breaking winter storm and 6″ snowfalls, my joy was whirling like those flurries as I not only watched- but lived it- from the back of my horse. The following is a poem I wrote about this very thing in my book “Knowing Horses By Heart” .
A Ride in the Snow
I walked down the hill to the barn where my horses are found
On a clear winter’s morning with fresh snow on the ground
I heard the soft nickers greeting me from the stalls
I saw the halters all hanging from the hooks on the walls
I made up a warm mash to chase off the chill
And stood listening to them eating as hungry horses will
I really had no intention of riding that day
Just doing my chores then going my way
I suddenly felt an old memory deep inside of me stir
Was it really so wonderful? I had to be sure
I walked over to the stall where my favorite mare stood
And right then and there decided I would
When she had finished her breakfast and her belly was full
I snapped on her lead rope and gently gave it a pull
I saddled her up and we headed on out
Feeling that it is times like this are what it’s about
Just me and my horse the world silent and white
Quietly trotting out to meet the day’s first light
She was tossing her head and wanting to go
Excited to be travelling on the year’s first snow
At first I was worried, afraid she would slip
But she told me in her way, she was up for the trip
So, I loosened the reins and away we did fly
I couldn’t have stopped her – I didn’t try
The snow was flying and the sky turning blue
When I realized this ride belonged to her too
I knew she was having even more fun than me
We both felt the thrill you feel being free
Her mane was blowing back as she kicked up heels
I knew she was remembering how a young filly feels
The reason I know what I’m saying is true
Is because I was feeling like young girl too
It had been a very long time, a good many years
Since I had turned it all loose, put away all my fears
I trusted her to carry me safely that day
To the place deep inside me where old memories lay
To a time I was young, carefree and bold
Before I turned 50, before she was sold
Back to a time when my very first horse and me
Ran alone in the snow with me laughing with glee
It all came back to me on that morning ride
Tears of a pure youthful joy I could no longer hide
I slowed my horse down and as we wandered along
The crunch of the snow played out like a song
There’s nothing else like it, no music so sweet
As the rhythm beat out by my mare’s four feet
Add to the mix my dog running happily astride
I felt the grin on my face stretching ever so wide
When it was over and I quietly walked at her side
I silently thanked her again for the wonderful ride
I gave her an apple for the new memory I’ll keep
I buried my face in her neck and breathed in deep
There is no better smell anywhere on this earth
There’s no way to explain just what it is worth
I turned her loose and away up the hill she did run
Glistening and golden in the mid-morning sun
It’s a magical thing, a treasure I know
To have such vivid memories of a ride in the snow
I was much different when I was younger – Indeed it was an altogether different story. I craved the speed and feeling of power. I knew no fear. It was all guts and all glory.
Deep in thought
The town was all abuzz because the rodeo was here. Horses, action, broncos, roping, etc. A single girlfriend of mine was asked to go to the rodeo on a first date with a new guy she had met. She had never been to a rodeo before and her date enthusiastically encouraged her to go. It was a highlight of this guy’s life so she agreed and went with him. I saw her the next day and asked what she thought, expecting the usual replay of action-packed memorable moments. The reply I got from her is one that I will never forget and has caused me to rethink my opinion of some of the events. Her reply was simply: “I just wanted to cry”. So many of the animals used were terrified and exploited for it. There was pain involved with whips, ropes, spurs, harsh bits and rough hands on animals that had no choice but to participate. Most of all, she couldn’t stand to watch the calf roping segment of the show. It broke her heart to see those babies running for their lives only to be savagely roped by either a leg or the neck and thrown down and tied, all the while thinking they were about to die. More than one of them limped off when released. Some of them entered the arena already limping most likely from practice runs. She never went out with that guy again because she knew that they were miles apart on some very basic core issues. She could never be attracted to someone who thought it was “FUN” to treat animals that way and think nothing about how they felt. It is not a game or a sport to them and to most of us who attend these events, they are dispensable. We just get another one when and if they get injured. A broken leg? No problem. Shoot that one and bring on the next. How can we humans be so calloused when it comes to animals? Is it because we just don’t want to spoil our entertainment to acknowledge that they feel fear, pain, grief, terror and affection for each other? She taught me a good lesson that day. She spoke with her heart and wasn’t afraid of how silly or over-the-top that guy or anybody else thought she was regarding her humanity toward the animals used in this widely accepted tradition. She has since died of cancer. As valiantly as she fought that battle, I admire her most for standing up for those rodeo victims. She was willing to endure ridicule for their sake even though she had no personal connection to any of them. She is one of my greatest heroes.
Or maybe it’s because dreams get buried in sleep – They only can reach me when I breathe her scent deep.
I spend the majority of my horse-time with my youngster. He is 5 now and we have so far to go yet. I love him dearly and wouldn’t trade him for the world. However, when I really need an understanding ear and a sympathetic heart, it is my mare, Guilty, that I turn to. I realized that more than ever last week when I had to put a beloved dog down. As soon as I got back home, I just had to get to Guilty. I wanted to bury my face in her neck and take in that intoxicating smell that only she has. Guilty has the best horse smell of any horse I have ever had the pleasure of smelling. Guilty is my 23 year old smoky dappled buckskin quarter horse that I couldn’t get a nickle for but wouldn’t trade for a million bucks. She is just that kind of horse. Over the years, in my darkest hours, it has been her shoulder I have wept into and her back that carried me to a place of tranquil peacefulness.
My Go-To Girl
As I look back, I remember her soothing more than one broken heart over the loss of a loved one – two or four legged. I counted on her to support me as I took my first tentative steps without crutches while leading her with one hand on her shoulder. She broke up my boredom and gave me joy while I brushed her while recuperating from a broken ankle. Guilty was the only horse I trusted wholeheartedly to take that first “back in he saddle” ride to rebuild my confidence. Once again, last week she proved to me what a great friend she is. With tears streaming down my face from saying goodbye to “Jeff”, I saddled my trusty steed and let her carry me into that secret private world only we share. The day was a perfectly beautiful crisp and clear autumn day. The sky was azure blue with just a few white fluffy clouds. As we rode in silence along the path by the lake, I felt the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. I focused on her steady stride, filled with purpose and solid, beneath me. The rhythm gave me strength and with every step I felt the pain of my loss easing as I became of the natural order of things- one footfall after another. Yes, I will still miss my dog. That won’t change. What has changed is the utter dismay I felt. I am not alone. I have my friends to help me through my valleys in life. Life goes on – with or without us – one day at a time. Or should I say; one hoofbeat after another.
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.
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.
This time of year always stirs up memories of Christmas as we have known it over the years. Hopefully, these are some of your best memories. As we march on through time and our lives take those bends in the road, we tend to look at the holidays a little differently. We might find that those memories that we hold dearest and that warm our hearts the most are the very same ones that now cause us to stop and lament what is no more.
Memories that once held pure joy now hold a twinge of sorrow as we realize that times change and we are swept up in an inevitable progression. Our role changes as we move through childhood to young adult to parent and then onto being grandparents. We may long for the magic that centers around children – whether we are remembering our own youthful excitement, making that magic happen, or just watching it unfold. We may finally realize the effort and sacrifices our own parents made to be sure we had the best Christmas possible as we attempt to duplicate them. Mostly, we may just get a little lonely for that feeling when the immediate family was intact and under one roof for the big day. I know I do. What I wouldn’t do to have another Christmas with my mom, dad, grandmother and my 4 siblings all together again.