This Way or That

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.

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.

Advertisements

A Mother’s Love

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

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.

You Get What You Really Want

Finally, the long awaited day arrived – Although not until I was full grown. I am proof that wishes do come true – And I got to ride a horse of my own.

It was my 22nd birthday when it happened. All my childhood days had been spent imagining this moment. My nights were filled with dreams about it. As I passed from childhood to young adulthood, the love never died but the fervor of wishful thinking had waned somewhat. I was in the house fixing dinner when they called me outside. There she stood like a vision – sleek, shining and all tacked up – a gorgeous 2 year old 3/4 Arabian, 1/4 Thoroughbred registered bay mare. Tentatively, I walked up and put a hand on her shoulder, not believing my eyes and not yet knowing why she was standing in my yard. My first thought was that they were just showing her to me knowing how much I had always loved horses. Just a visit. My mind flew to the thought that possibly I would be able to ride her. What a wonderful thing that would be to experience a ride on this magnificent creature. I timidly asked what she was doing there, afraid of the answer. Afraid it was just for that moment and that laying a hand on her shoulder and taking her in with my eyes was the extent of it and then she would be gone. “She’s yours” was the reply. My hand flew off her like it had been scorched. I turned to stare at my husband  (at the time) and his friend who was holding Blaze. Was this a joke?If it was, it was a cruel one knowing how much I had always wanted a horse of my own. I searched their eyes for a glimpse of “just kidding” but it wasn’t there. She was mine. It took me all of 10 seconds to climb into the saddle and fly through the fields. If this was a dream, I was going to live it to the maximum. The realization was almost frightening. To have something I yearned for for years and years finally manifest out of seemingly thin air was almost too good to be true.

A Dream Comes True

A Dream Comes True

What made me think of this story was a young girl who visited my farm with her grandfather the other day to ride the horses. She was as love with them as I was at her age and was virtually vibrating with excitement. On our ride that day she must have said “I love horses” at least half a dozen times and she meant it. I know how that feels. Of course, she was in no immediate position to have a horse. They lived in the city, no funds, no knowledge of care, etc. Nothing but the sheer pure will to have one. Exactly how I started my horse  journey. I explained to her that that was enough and someday, somehow, she would have her horse if she didn’t give up on it. By keeping that picture in her mind and thinking of how she could get past some of those obstacles, the attention she paid to that dream would pay off someday. That is the way the universe works. If you really, really want something – you will get it. Why not want a horse?

Behind The Barn

When he comes near me and enters my space, I kiss on his forehead – He knows it ‘s his place.

Jeff has been with us for about 9 years now and I am sadly seeing our time together quickly coming to an end. Jeff is a breed known as a Red-tick healer and he is a character. So full of life. His place is on the golf cart where he rushes frantically to get on board if he hears the motor start up. Ironically, it is due to this object of his utter bliss that caused his demise. Several years ago, Jeff took a flying leap off the cart in pursuit of a squirrel and caught his hind leg in the armrest. He didn’t break anything, but the injury set a series of hip problems in motion which has progressed over the years to the point that he has lost almost all control of his hind legs. He is not in any pain, however his inability to maneuver is quite distressing and before too long, it will be unbearable.

I just got home from running an errand and Jeff was right beside me in the front seat of the car – his other passion. I have to lift him up to help him up into the car or he fall backwards. I had my hand on his lovely head as we passed the spot where I first saw Jeff and the memory came flooding back to me. We live just off a windy mountain road in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along this road are several spots along a creek where you can pull off the road. Jeff was sitting patiently at one of those spots not too far from our road. For three days in a row, he sat and waited in the exact same spot, staring at every car that passed but never moved. After seeing him several days in a row, I told my husband that I kept seeing that dog. He seemed to be looking for someone and was very loyal. If I saw him again, I was bringing him home. It was just too sad. The next day when I passed his spot, he was gone. I was feeling both concern and relief as I knew he wouldn’t have left on his own. I put it out of my mind for the next couple of days. On a very cold November morning two days after last seeing him, I was leading my horses to the upper pasture when something caught my eye behind the old barn. As I approached I saw it was Jeff along with another, much older Red-bone Hound dog. They just sat perfectly still and watched me. That, in itself was a phenomenon as Jeff NEVER sits still. But there they were, not making  a sound or moving  a muscle. They were both very skinny and shivering. Of course, I got them some food and made them a bed in the straw. Neither dog ever left and it wasn’t long before Jeff and Leon were a part of our family.

Leon and Jeff at Barney's Birthday Party

Leon and Jeff at Barney’s Birthday Party

I don’t know how Jeff and Leon hooked up or how Leon convinced Jeff to leave his post. I don’t know how any one wouldn’t be looking for these two special dogs. I don’t know how they knew to come to my house. All I know is that we are grateful that they did. Our lives have been all the richer for it. Leon died a couple of years ago at the ripe old age of approximately 17 and I see Jeff going down that path shortly. It will be the end of an era.

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.

I Get It Now

The problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to need me at all. He doesn’t seek my attention and is content left alone in his stall.

Breeze and I never connected. A fact that is very uncommon with my animals. I have always been a magnet of sorts for animals and my horses are no exception. I never understood it at the time and even grew to resent him somewhat for his lack of interest in me. Breeze was by far the best horse I have ever owned as far as looks, kindness, work ethic, ability etc. Everyone who met him  always oohed and awwed over him. He was everybody’s favorite. A very distinguished looking and fabulous horse who always performed beautifully – but he didn’t like me. He never did anything bad, he just didn’t care if I was around or not.

A Lonely Breeze

A Lonely Breeze

I had a friend who fell in love with him the first time she saw him. I ended up selling him to her and she kept him here and boarded with me for awhile so we could ride together. The change was unbelievable. All she had to do was call his name and he literally ran to get to her. He adored her in a way that I never thought he was capable of. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it over and over again with my own eyes. He lived for her visits. So what did she have that I didn’t? I have pondered this many times over the past few years and can’t deny it any longer. I gave him no reason to give me his affection and his heart. I didn’t give him mine – it is as simple as that.  From the moment he was given to me as a birthday gift, I had my mind and my sights on another horse. When I bought his tack, I bought it with the other horse in mind. I was forbidden to get the horse I wanted and he was chosen for me even though I protested. Although Breeze was a far superior horse in every obvious way, he was not the one I had my heart set on and he knew it from the start. To top it off, for the first couple of months I had him, every single time I saddled him up for a ride, before I could get on him, I would get a phone call telling me my father had taken a turn for the worst and may not make it through the day. It happened so consistently that I got afraid to even think about riding him. I made the association of bad news with him. It wasn’t his fault- none of it was- and it wasn’t fair to him, so he just tuned me out. I deserved it. I knew he needed more than I could give him, which was the only reason I sold him to someone who adored him. Everybody thought I was crazy to do so because he was such a great horse – a really wonderful horse. But I knew I had to – for his sake. Do I regret it? Yes, sometimes I do. I understand it all now and know what to do that could have changed things between us. On the other hand, I wasn’t ready for him. Things come full circle and this week he is coming back to board with me again. He has his special person and now it will be my turn to be the one on the outside looking in.

Horses That Haunt Me

There is absolutely no substitution to cure the unfortunate broken hearted – Than acquiring another horse to love once your four legged friend has departed.

There wasn’t many things in this world that I loved more than my first horse and her colt – including my first husband. Which was a big part of the problem. When the marriage didn’t work out, I had to leave the farm and figure things out. When I went back to visit my horses, they were gone. No warning, no notice, just gone. I frantically investigated and finally one of my husband’s friends took pity on me and told me where they were. My soon-to-be ex had sold them to a horse trader who buys horses based on the poundage. We all know what that means. I found out where he was keeping them and paid him a visit. It was winter in Michigan and he took me out to a big open pasture where he had about 30 horses. They were all shaggy with mud crusted winter coats and it had been several months since I had seen my horses. At first, I couldn’t pick them out. As I stood there, out of the herd came my two horses. They walked right up to me as if we had never been apart. The man was astounded as he was the kind of guy that would never consider actually having a relationship with an animal. I spent a few minutes caressing them and breathing in their familiar smell. I pleaded with him to sell them back to me. He refused. I asked for just one of them. He refused. Broken hearted,  I had no choice but to turn and walk away from them knowing I would never see them again. Before I left, I made sure he knew these horses were not ordinary horses. They had papers – good registration papers and would make the right person a fine horse. All I could do was hope that he used that information to market them instead of taking them to slaughter.

Sad, but true

Sad, but true

Actually, I don’t know what I would have done if he had agreed to let me have them back. I was young, broke, living at my parents and had no plan. All I knew was that I loved those horses and would have done almost anything to keep them in my life. But, at the same time, I knew deep down it wouldn’t work  right then. I had to take care of myself first and couldn’t ask anyone else to take on the burden. If I would have been more mature,  I would have made sure they were taken care of properly by finding them great home before I left the farm. I was in denial and assumed they would be there when I got ready to reclaim them. It was my fault they ended up with that man.  I guess I can’t really blame my ex for not keeping them for me. It took me over 25 years to have my own horses again. Now I am blessed with 4 incredible horses including my colt who was foaled here on the farm. It is more than I deserve and I have learned the important lesson of responsibility for them. Even with all I have now, I am still haunted by that day in the frozen field when Blaze and Devlin came up to me,forgave me and said our good-byes.

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.

Love The One You’re With

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.IMG_1976

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.