Friday, July 12, 2013

The 5 Horses that Reach You

I borrowed this from Viva Carlos' blog and thought it might be a fun thing to do.

1. The Intro Horse.
We each came into horses in our own way, but it was always with a horse leading us. This might have been a friend’s first pony, or perhaps it was a draft horse on a farm you once visited It might have been a real-life meeting, or an imaginary one.

I don't remember my intro horse. I think I was too young to recognize when the bug first bit. I don't ever remember being afraid or startled at how big they were. I do remember the sense of completeness I felt at the age of 6, sitting in the saddle of a three year old palomino appaloosa mare, letting her graze as I just hung out. I can remember asking from the age of six and perhaps earlier for a horse. It was my deepest, most enduring heart desire ever.

2. The Experimental Horse
Once you had crossed the line between “Darn, they’re big!” and “Wow! Can I try that?” you found yourself face-to-face with the horse that would suffer through your early attempts at figuring out the whole horse experience … wherever this horse came from, he probably didn’t benefit from the encounter as much as you did…

Seabisquit. Aging shetland pony sold to my parents by my father's brother as a great starter horse. I know that I learned both how to stay on and how to jump off that little bastard. I can't count the number of times I bailed before he was able to scrape me off on a tree or a clothesline. I can't count the number of times I had bruises on my body from his teeth and hooves. I also spent six weeks in a cast from breaking my hand bailing off of him. I remember my first 4-H group and my fascination and crush on the 4-H President, who rode a neat little bay Arabian, and who had waist length brown hair, and how I wanted her to see me. I remember how angry and frustrated I was my first 4-H show when I came back with three white ribbons because neither of us knew what we were doing. How humiliated and shamed I felt in front of the young woman I had a crush on. A lot of life lessons learned at the age of eight.

But learn I did. The fall, winter, spring and summer after the County Fair I spent riding that shithead in circles. I had a path worn into the sage brush and grass in the barnyard next to our house. We schooled for hours around that circle until Seabisquit would walk, trot and canter correctly on command. We got blues at the next fair, but alas the woman of my dreams had aged out of the 4-H program. I learned to control Seabisquit by the use of violence and pain, the only thing I knew, years before the idea of Natural Horsemanship became part of our conversation. I learned to stay on, regardless of circumstances, and how to bail off without hurting myself. We played Planet of the Apes with nets made of bailing twine and our BB guns; and Jousted with broomsticks and an old pair of boxing gloves. We rode through town in an Indian breechclout made of gunnysack material and nothing else, for which I was grounded for weeks by my furious mother who had fielded numerous phone calls from outraged citizens at my nudity (years before I was to grow anything resembling a chest). It's a miracle I managed to survive. I was both relieved and ecstatic when we sold him for $35 to another family.

3. The Connected Horse
The first horses we meet don’t really connect with us, nor do we with them. Those are experiences in survival and tests of endurance. The Connected Horse is the first horse you truly bond with. This is the horse that sounds a chord that lives so deep in you that you might never have heard it otherwise…

My first heart horse. My life changed forever that Christmas morning in 1975 when Queenie was waiting for me outside in the snow. We spent the rest of that winter teaching each other how to get along, how to turn and move, how to stop. I was thirteen and there were no trainers or books or experts to help. I just used my gut and instincts to work with her. By that fall we place in the blue in all four classes in 4-H, plus got two rosettes (top three in the class). By the next year I added reining to my halter, bareback, WP, and trail classes. We spent hours every day riding every where, most of the time bareback and almost always at a canter. She didn't have a mean bone in her body and she was everything to me. She dried my tears, became my haven, gave me a way to escape from a situation that was becoming more painful and difficult as each day passed. We did everything - posse work, 4-H, reining, cattle herding, trail riding. She was my companion and transportation. I could walk her through the halls of the high school, lead her across a train tressel over a raging river, ride her from any position imaginable, including lounging on her rump talking to the people riding behind us. She was everything and because of her I survived my childhood. She gave me three wonderful foals and was a true heart companion for ten years.

In my early twenties, when she was thirteen, I was unable to find work in my small town in Idaho. I moved to LA to live with my grandparents. I wasn't able to make enough money to keep paying her board so I gave my horse away. My mother has said that one of her biggest regrets was not moving her out to their farm. They had five acres of grass she could have lived on. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done was let go of her.

 4. The Challenger
Into each horseperson’s life, a little challenge must fall. You’ll have read that one final training book, bought yourself a clicker and heading rope, and there you’ll stand, arms crossed, assessing the situation as if you actually knew what the situation was. It might be difficult to believe, as you are flying down the aisleway on the losing end of a braided cotton line, but you actually need this horse in your life…

Kaili. A National Show Horse and completely pyschotic. Bought after she flipped her head sideways into my face and broke my glasses. She never really settled and would break ropes and halters with no hesitation. This was before the rope halters they make now. I really thought I would make progress with her, not knowing someone at the barn was messing with her when I wasn't around, which was making the issues with her worse. I could ride her, but it was always a challenge. She probably would have made a great endurance horse, because I never found the bottom of her energy. Even after riding for eight or ten hours this mare was as hot and up as when we had started. I finally realized I was way in over my head when she broke a railroad tie off at the ground pulling back on it, and then beat herself bloody with it. I thought she had killed herself when the railroad tie knocked her out. I sold her the next day before she could kill me or someone else.

5. Your Deepest Heart
There will come a time when you will look at yourself with a cold, appraising eye, and you’ll have to be honest about your continued ability to deal with The Challenger and other difficult horses. At that point, you’ll seek out the horse that will be your soul mate forever… You’ll have bought him the most comfortable, best fitting equipment… Maybe you’ll still go to shows and ride – brilliantly or barely – in the Alzheimer’s class. Maybe you’ll just stay home. Whatever you do, one day you’ll realize that after all the money you spent on animal communicators and trainers, you only had to stop and listen and you would have clearly heard your horse’s thoughts and desires…

He wasn't what I was expecting, but he is exactly what I wanted. In my work with him comes the accummulated learning of a lifetime of experiences, patience learned from raising my son and reward techniques from having dogs have all combined to create the relationship with Ashke. I am bringing a better me to the conversation, the best of me to the relationship. Now, I am in contact with Trainers and writers like Mark Rashid, or the Parellis. I now know about saddle fitting and dressage techniques and strengthening his back. I've learned about ground work and obstacles and proper nutrition. And I delight in him. I love how he smells and how he whinnies at me and how he begs for peppermints. How he licks my hand when he's stressed and how he is learning to trust I know what I'm about. I love the feel of his coat under my hand and the delight he displays when we ride out on the trail. I love how in the moment I am when I am with him and nothing matters, not my weight, not my age, not my greying hair or expanding waistline. None of that is an issue when I am with him.