Keep Your Eyes On the Prize

Those bittersweet visits I made to the barn filled empty hours with the essence they emit – Kept up my spirits and me looking forward, never allowing me any reason or option to quit.

great ride

All of our childhood days we are instructed to “Look where you are going”. This seemed like wise advice coming from adults at the time. Little did we know, that was a lie – albeit not intentional. The real truth is that you need to keep your focus on where you want to go, not where you are now or where you seem to be going. Keep looking at the desired destination and never waver your attention from that goal. Sooner or later, you will get there, one way or another. This has been one of life’s biggest lessons that I have learned and have found it particularly true when it comes to working with horses. Anyone who has jumped a horse knows that it is fatal mistake to look at the the jump as you approach it. You look up over and past the jump because that is the goal – not the jump itself. The jump is merely an obstacle to overcome to get there. Another example is riding a horse that is intent on trying to get out of the gate when working in the arena. If your thoughts and attention are on the gate such as: “I know he is going to fight me when we go by the gate”, that is what will happen. When your focus is on the gate, so will your horse’s. Don’t even let that thought of the gate come into your mind. Visualize you and your horse heading to a spot past the gate. Even if it takes a few tries, it will no longer be a stopping point for your horse if that is not where the attention is. Life is like riding a horse. We tend to pay way too much attention to where we are at the moment, forgetting what we really set out to do. We get caught up in the moments when things seem to be heading in the wrong direction and put all of our energy there working on the problem instead of the solution. The obstacles become a diversion and instead of figuring out how to get past them, we allow them to change our direction. Stay the course and set your goals and dreams where you want them to be, working constantly toward them. Rarely is there a straight easy path to achieve anything worthwhile – in either life or with horses. Take the detours when necessary and go around the obstacles. They are only temporary setbacks.  Remember that we always get what we really, really want. We also always get what we really, really don’t want. Depends on which aspect we focus on.

 

 

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Bittersweet

I have to believe that I will be with him again when I leave this earth, when I should die – I will meet up with my horse and take that last ride, only this time we’ll be flying together across the sky.

Never give up on your dreams, no matter how long it takes or what obstacles you have to overcome. This is a true story of a woman who made her lifelong wish to ride horseback through the mountains out west with her sister come true. Sounds simple enough. I guess I need to tell you the rest of the story.

First, the dream was created when they were children and didn’t materialize until they were well into their sixties. She had lived her entire life, raised her family, had a career, endured life’s hardships and made wonderful memories carrying that vision. It never faded, it never changed. It was only when  she was in the final stages of cancer that she decided that this was one dream that was not going to slip away before she left this world. She got her life in order, found loving homes for all of her pets including her horses, and made reservations for herself and her sister to visit a dude ranch in Wyoming in June of that year. She was fading fast when the trip rolled around but got on that plane and headed west for the ride of her life. She knew it was literally now or never. Well, she rode those scenic mountains that week with her sister at her side even though she was partially debilitated at the time. Her right arm had ceased to function and hung limply at her side. That didn’t stop her. She got help getting on and off that horse and away she went laughing and smiling like it was pure heaven on earth.

Enjoying a mountain stream

Enjoying a mountain stream

It was probably the biggest highlight of her life and even better than she had imagined all those decades when she could only daydream about it. It was her final goal and she died that autumn shortly after returning from that trip. To celebrate the meaning of that ride and the joy she found though horses, her saddle pad and boots were draped over her casket at her funeral. Kind of said it all to us fellow horse lovers who understand the significance of that statement.

All In Good Time

Then there is Cruise, my handsome slightly higher strung black – Who just can’t seem to settle while I’m on his back.

I fell in love with Cruise the first time I laid eyes on him. We were visiting my stepdaughter’s horse at the farm where she was boarding at the time. My attention was drawn to a very handsome black face with a pretty white star watching me from another stall. The eyes were so soulful and something just struck my heartstrings. I spent my entire visit standing and staring at that horse.

A well-loved Cruise

A well-loved Cruise

Of course, he belonged to someone else and we didn’t even own the farm yet, but there was something about him that said he belonged with me. When we moved onto the farm, Cruise came up for sale, but I already had a couple of horses by then. My soon-to-be son-in-law was searching for a horse and I told him I knew the perfect horse. That didn’t work out and he was sold to another lady who adored him and changed his name to Beauty. Once again, he slipped away. Over then next few years, I always asked about Cruise and kept track of him. The story was always the same. His owner loved him and he was doing fine. I always finished those conversations with: “I always liked that horse”. Five years after I first encountered Cruise, I was at a party where the woman who had boarded him happened to be. Again, I asked about him and again I repeated “I always liked that horse”. About a week later my phone rang and it was her. She asked if I still had an interest in him. The owner had fallen and broke her wrist. When they treated her, she discovered that she had a severe case of Osteoporosis and would have to undergo extreme treatments for a couple of years. She was going to have to sell her horse as she couldn’t ride any longer. Of course I was interested, but I had 4 horses already and didn’t need another horse, couldn’t afford to buy another horse and my husband definitely did not see any reason to get one. With a broken heart, I told her I couldn’t buy him. She called me back and asked if it could be worked out that she could give me the horse, would I take him? I emphatically told her that I would figure something out if that was the case. Turns out it was a possibility. Now my brain and my heart are both racing. I said I was interested but I hadn’t seen the horse for over five years and would like to do that before making any commitments. I went to visit him and he was the same horse I fell in love with. He was magnificent. The place where they were keeping him was not he ideal situation and he obviously wanted to come home with me. He behaved beautifully and was a little stunned when I left without him that day. I could just see him asking me with those deep dark eyes what he did wrong – he tried so hard to please me. But the owner asked me to give her 30 days to try to sell him and make some money back on her investment. I told her I was definitely interested and agreed to her request. Ten days later she called me, crying: “Come get my horse”. She was not happy or comfortable with the options given her from interested buyers. She didn’t have a good feeling about his future. She knew he would be happy and well loved and cared for with me. When you really love your animals – the money is not the issue. It meant more to her to know he was going to be OK. A woman after my own heart. So, long story short -I now have Cruise in my pasture just like it should be.

My Re-awakening

Now that I’m older and wiser as such, I know that some wishes fell off of the grid – But I find I am still dreaming about horses not much different than when I was a kid.

I was on a winter night’s horse-drawn sleigh ride in Banff, Canada. The night was freezing cold but bright and clear. We were traveling down a frozen river that ran through the picturesque town, cuddling under warm blankets, enjoying the brilliant stars and the sound of the horse’s hooves on the ice as we glided along. I didn’t think it could get better than that, but it did. Much, much better. That cold, icy ride rekindled a fire that had been smoldering inside me for more than 20 years. As I gazed dreamily into the winter wonderland I was surrounded in, suddenly a vision appeared that would forever change my life. No, I didn’t see God, but I did see an angel in the form of a horse stepping onto the ice upon which a young girl effortlessly rode bareback. As I watched them trot gracefully up the river, I knew in that instant that I wanted to be that girl – that it should have been me. I could not think of anything or anyplace I would rather be experiencing in my life that would give me more pleasure than to be living my life like that. I was so moved that my heart actually ached. I knew I had to get horses back into my life and when I did, I was going to have that kind of a relationship with my horse. I asked around about the girl and her horse and the story was that she rode her horse to work every evening. She worked in a popular local restaurant until 10:00 p.m. or so while her horse waited patiently for her in the snowy parking lot and then together they traversed the frozen river in the moonlight. You could just feel how strong the bond between them was by the ease of their movements. It was as if they were one being – It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen to this day.

Back in my life & better than ever

Back in my life & better than ever

Such bittersweet memories of a very similar relationship with my horse many years ago -a lifetime ago -of a spirited 3/4 Arabian. 1/4 Thoroughbred mare named Blaze that only I could ride, and the fearless, passionate young girl I had once been. I hadn’t had a horse for many, many years and the love was buried under life’s circumstances. I realized in that moment that the ember had continued to glow and it was time to fan the fire. It wasn’t long before  horses were in my life again stronger than ever. Now they are my heaven on earth as you have probably noticed by now.

Rats In My Head

or establishing a level of involvement I might wish to take – to help a horse get over some human’s insensitive training mistake.

I let them in. You know what I am talking about. Those annoying thoughts that gnaw at your self-confidence. The ugly little beasts that constantly tell you that you can’t do it. That you need to get professionals to do it for you. That your horse will be dangerous to ride unless you resort to the old school “show ’em who’s boss” method of teaching a young horse using dominance, fear and pain to get your point across. That you are too old, too uneducated, not knowledgeable enough to take it on. That men do a better job at “breaking” a horse (That part probably is true if you literally want a broken” horse.) Yep, I let them in. The door was cracked when my peers started dropping hints and then blatantly voicing their opinions about it. The project I had been looking forward to for most of my entire life was now slipping  beyond my reach. I am the first to admit that I am not an expert horse trainer and it had been 35 years since my  last foal and I was now in my 60’s. I began to doubt myself. I started having thoughts of fear where I had never even considered it part of the equation. I knew my horse very well. He was born here and I imprinted him myself. I could sleep in his stall if I wanted to without worrying.

Dream Project in Early Stages

Dream Project in Early Stages

And now I was being told – by experts – that it was a job for someone else to handle. I started to believe them. Those rats multiplied until I was afraid to make a move thinking it would be a wrong move that would permanently ruin my horse or I would get badly injured. I had started him with a bitless bridle and things were going very well but then I was told that I needed a bit.  Twice I let someone else give him a riding lesson and both times it took me months to undo the damage.  I just didn’t trust anyone else to handle him knowing it was not going to be methods I felt good about. He turned five in March and there was no more putting it off. I had to get off the fence. I came to the conclusion that “if it is to be, it is up to me”. I quit listening to everyone and started doing my homework researching and exploring trainers via watching DVD’s of clinics. I dug deeper into the new, more natural way of “gentling” a horse using language that horses understand. I sorted through bits and pieces of what I agreed with, what felt right through trial and error. Every little piece of the puzzle led me to the next. I truly am learning the lesson to go as far as I can see and then I will see further. It is a fascinating and fulfilling journey and we are well on the way. Suddenly my doubts, worries and fears have turned to confidence, eagerness and excitement. I had an amazing “wow” moment yesterday when I climbed up on the fence and my horse walked over to me and positioned himself for me to get on without any guidance. I say we are going to be just fine. The rats are gone but occasionally one or two will try to sneak back in but now I know how to deal with them and I don’t let anyone steal my dream.