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.
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.
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
The day is a glorious one and I have set it aside – to spend with my horses and go for a ride.
Comet had just been at my farm for a few days. He actually didn’t have a name before then. He was a result of one of those mares that somebody just didn’t bother to keep away from the stallion. He was about two years old, white, and had never been handled. As a rule, he was very laid back, almost to a fault -very slow moving and almost lethargic. At least that was how he had appeared in the short time I knew him. One particular summer day, I went to the pasture to get my horse out for a ride and as I was leading Blaze out of the gate, Comet darted through the opening past us. I had no idea he could move that fast but I had named him appropriately as all I saw as he flew up the driveway and down the road was his tail flying behind him.
Off on a mission
I had no choice but to pursue him on foot as I didn’t want to lose sight of him. He ran to the corner and took a left down the first dirt road with me trying to keep him in my sights. We were in Michigan where the roads are laid out in square country miles so I could see him about a quarter of a mile ahead. Suddenly, still at a dead gallop, he took a sharp right into a yard. Way before I could get close enough to see where he went, I heard the screams. As I approached, I saw people running in every direction, grabbing the small children, knocking over the food tables and shouting that a wild horse was running loose. There was Comet right smack in the middle of about forty or fifty people having a family reunion picnic in the yard. He didn’t realize they were running and screaming because of him. When they panicked he did also and tried to stay close to them for security. Of course, the more they ran and yelled, the more he charged around. I can’t think of many moments in my life that were more embarrassing than when I had to go get him from the middle of that chaotic mess. To make matters even worse, he didn’t hardly know me yet and didn’t even know his name. It took me about 15 minutes – excruciatingly long minutes – to get a halter on him and walk him the long road back home while my audience glared at me. You have no idea how much I wanted to just deny knowing or owning that horse at that moment. I honestly considering it. I know they thought I was some kind of a lunatic who probably abused my horses and had caused him to run away from home. When he didn’t respond to me calling his name and didn’t want me catch him, it appeared that he was running for his life. I think that the worst part of the whole ordeal was knowing how bad a horsewoman they thought I must be. I don’t know what he was looking for that day when he went on his escapade. I can only guess that he had been attached to another horse – possibly his mother – and got homesick for her. Typical human that I am, at the time, I was more worried about how it made me look and not about how he felt. Although I really didn’t blame him for trying, once again, I learned how humbling horses can be.
But for all of the trouble and all of the pain, If I had to do it over, I would do it again.
I guess it is kind of like being a parent when you own and love a horse. It means you are willing to do what is best for the horse and put your own feelings aside when you know deep in your heart that it is the right thing to do. – even when it means letting them go. Don’t worry, this story has a happily ever after ending even though somewhat painful to me. You see, when I have a horse, it is family. He is going to have a wonderful, stress-free and know-he-is-wanted life. I can do that – easily – because I love horses passionately. I have been extremely lucky to have always had incredible horses (at least in my opinion). I am not in the business of horse trading for the sake of selling horses for the money. If a horse leaves my hands, it is only because I feel fairly certain that the horse will have a better life with someone else. Usually, the deciding factor is a matter of time and attention someone else can give it that I can’t. Every horse should be someone’s “special” horse. My problem is that I have too many to be able to give them all that kind of time. Twice now I have done just that with two very different results. The first was sold to a young teen who had taken a couple of years of lessons on this particular horse and decided she had to have him. I knew where he was gong and that he would be well cared for. I made up a contract for the girl to sing stating the importance of caring for her horse and putting him first even when she was not in the mood. Of course, she eagerly signed it. I had visions of her spending endless hours with her horse for many years to come. I sold her that horse even though something told me she was not the one that would give him that. But she promised and her parents insisted it had to be that horse and I had others, so we made the deal. I was really disappointed in the way that has turned out. It is not so much what she does wrong, it is what she doesn’t do. The other day she came out to ride the horse and it took her over half an hour to catch him. That should have told her she was missing something called a relationship with her horse. She was complaining about it and I made the suggestion that possibly he felt used. When she came to see him, she just got him, saddled him, drilled him in the ring and then left. There was nothing in it for him. No fun, no joy, no pleasure. Hopefully, she will start to understand that before he completely tunes her out. The second horse hit the Irish Sweepstakes. This 15 year old girl’s life revolves around that horse. She sits with him while she does her homework, personally tends to his stall even after the crew comes through, rides bitless and works at liberty with the horse. They are learning and experiencing the magic of horses together and she cannot get enough of it. Her horse is the love of her life and he knows it. I am so happy for him because even though I loved him dearly, she can give him that special something that will give him heart.
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
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.
I know from experience what a fine friend she can be..
I always put my beginner riders on Guilty. She is safe, level headed and takes care of her rider. The problem lies in the fact that she is too careful sometimes, resulting in what some people interpret as difficult. She doesn’t move too fast or too much unless she feels it is necessary, she believes that you should be the one calling the shots, or if she isn’t quite comfortable going into a trot with a rider who can’t even make her turn or stop yet correctly. Then I start hearing the grumbles: “She won’t go. She’s lazy. I can’t make her do anything. She’s stubborn”. etc. These comments coming from a youngster who has no idea how to handle a horse much less make these assumptions. It is always the horse’s fault. Today when I heard these comments coming from a camper who is now on her third day of ever riding a horse, it hit home to me how this mindset affects the horse. If this is the kind of labels you put on her, this is what you will get from here on out. She feels that energy and will live up to those expectations because you have a bad attitude. She knows it. It actually reminded me of an incident that I am not too proud of that happened to me when I was growing up. I overheard my mother telling a neighbor how much help my older sister was around the house -( I was the second child and always thought she favored her which didn’t help matters) – When the neighbor commented that it looked like I was a good helper too (I guess she realized I was listening and that my feelings were getting hurt ) my mother spoke up and said, “Oh no, not Bobby. I can’t get her to anything around here. Her next sentence was when she turned to me and said, “Why don’t you finish doing the dishes?”. Being the rebel I was, I got my snotty attitude on and retorted “Because I don’t want to make a liar out of you!” and stormed out the door. Granted, my claim to fame has never been for my love of housework, but I embarrassed my mother in front of her friend. Her friend probably thought I was some kind of demon child from that moment on. The point is, I was going to live up to her expectation of me – not try harder to prove she was wrong about me. If she thought I was not a good helper, then by god, I wasn’t going to be. I am afraid that Guilty and I have that mindset in common. I tried to explain this concept to the little girl and tell her not to assume Guilty won’t do something for you – because she will, gladly, if you expect her to. She told me later that she apologized to Guilty for getting impatient and frustrated with her and for thinking bad things. She said it was funny but she thought Guilty winked at her. About a half hour later Guilty carried her her first trail ride of her life and performed beautifully for her. She was glowing.
A change in Attitudes
I have always said that Guilty is my best teacher.
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
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.
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
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.