Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two Years: Part Two

December, 2012
Unique in All the World
I wonder if Ashke knew . . . if the hope of someone coming to rescue him was what kept him alive. I can't imagine how dark and dreary his days were, without someone for him to believe in. Perhaps the wind whispered to him that if he held on long enough, I would come. I would come with food and shelter and a thick blanket. That he would no longer be weak or hungry or cold. That his needs would be met with warmth and extra food, with companionship and love.

Perhaps the future can call to the past and carry a message of what can be if you just hold on long enough.

Erin Ralston believed so. He believed that the child of his future, borne to his wife after he lost his arm, came to him in a waking dream while he was pinned to the wall of the slot canyon by his rotting arm. It was what gave him the strength to cut himself free and then hike seven miles with an amputated arm to find help.

Might Ashke have experienced some of the same thing? I could hope that the dream of warm bran mash, carrots, peppermints and a place of his own where he didn't have to fight for his food kept him company during the dark and bitter winter months he had to endure. I could hope that the thought of his teeth being fixed, his feet being balanced and the chiropractic care he has received kept him going through the pain of being so cold he shivered. I hope he knew I was coming.
January, 2013
Yesterday was the day I was supposed to go straight to the barn to ride Ashke. Instead, I got called home to clean up the disaster that is current state of affairs at home. See, we hadn't expected (okay who am I fooling - I wasn't prepared) to bring home two puppies and had forgotten how much we needed to do to puppy proof the house. I thought I had devised a decent plan with three child gates and the dining room table to keep the puppies contained. But no. Bad plan.
T was a trooper and cleaned up the larger piles of poo, plus most of the pee that was all over the house. Puppies can't just pee in one spot. No. They must pee in a lot of spots. And also poo. Which they then walk in and track every where. Which T discovered when he was ambushed by playful puppies and got poo in his hair. He decided to wash off their feet and that turned into a complete disaster, when the water got a little overwarm and Lily let him know in a shrill, puppy voice. (She was not hurt, just a touch uncomfortable until he got her out of the water. However, she sounded like she was dying.)
I am at work with a screaming puppy and a hysterical son on the phone, trying to calm him down while also trying to assess how serious the damage was. Thankfully, the puppy calmed right down and had no signs of burn and was back to her happy bouncy self in a matter of moments. The boy child did not bounce back as easily, and cried himself to sleep at the imagined injury he could have caused to his puppy. (In his defense, he was in the master bath, with the jacuzzi tub and he really doesn't know how to adjust the water temp like he knows in his bathroom. He had tested it when he put the puppies in the water, but didn't double check it a few minutes later. The water was about the temp I like for my shower, however, it was definitely too hot for Lily.) I skipped going to the barn and headed home.

February, 2013

EntrancedCompanions are white horses with a human-like soul inside them. They are Companions to the Heralds, who are Chosen by their Companion to serve Valdemar. This is also the series of books I took Ashke's name from, which is just about as perfect as it could be, seeing as Ashke is my Companion.

I love the well-muscled curve of his neck and how he arches it toward me when he wants something. I love the quiet, deepness of his eye, bold when needed, but soft and quiet with me. If a horse can have the heart of a lion, then mine does. I love how thick and healthy his mane is as it is growing back in. I love the muscle we are building in his rump. I love how thick the bone in his legs are getting (they were toothpick thin when I brought him home.) I love being able to ride him out - just the two of us. I love being able to ride with N and Cali.

March, 2013


The only reason I wanted a horse again was to have a relationship with him. Perhaps I was chasing a dream of my childhood, of recapturing the love and connection I had with Queenie when I was 13. Perhaps I was chasing a deeper dream of riding the wind blown prairie with a Spanish barb descendent, in leather and beads. Perhaps it was an even deeper dream of the first horses to join up with humans, to become both companion and comrade in travels across the steppe or desert. All I know is that I have been captivated by the grace and beauty that is horse.

Moreover, the grace and beauty that is the Arabian horse. I lucked out in rescuing a steed that is thoughtful, smart, actively engaged, connected and loving. He likes hanging out with me. He follows me with his eyes. He nickers when he sees me. He whinnies when I leave him alone too long. He seeks out my company, the same way I seek out his. He loves to follow me. I love to just hang out with him. I love to groom him, stroking my hands over his coat, making him feel as clean and comfortable as possible. He loves being fed treats. We like each other.

April, 2013

Fruit Loop
When I was young, I rode 95% of the time bareback on whatever horse we had. My first horse was a shetland pony with a predisposition to bite, kick and ignore the bit. I could ride him, as long as I was ready to bail off him when we got close to home, because he had no compunction about running under and into whatever he could find. He would kick with both hind feet and there was a year when I had twin hoof shaped purple bruises on my chest for most of the summer. I broke my left hand at the age of 12, playing Civil War, when I tried a flying mount and only made it about half way.

My second horse was a 3 year old green broke mare that I trained in the snow during our first winter. I rode her for years without a saddle. I rode without thought to balance or staying on. It was like we were connected at the point where my legs and her body connected. My body reacted without thought when she spun or spiked. There was one incredible afternoon when we played tag with 30 other 18 year old girls on their horses in a corral and Queenie was the last horse to be touched. Even 1 against 29 it took them a good five minutes to finally catch us and Queenie was wild-eyed, sweat soaked and still ready to evade when it finally happened. That magical moment was the most connected/without conscious thought I have ever had while on a horse.

I was an arrogant muck, but with good reason. I could ride anything. Bareback. I helped people break their horses. Bareback. I rode for hours all over the place. Bareback. I rode without holding on, even with my legs. Bareback. I had balance and could stay in the middle of my horse without thought. Especially bareback.

I want that again. I want that Centaur-like ability to stay on, to not worry about what the horse is going to do, because I will stay on. To ride with balance, to be centered and connected. But not bareback. Too old to do that again. I want Ashke to describe me as something other than a Fruit Loop.

May, 2013
Something To Think About
I was watching a Parelli TV show (horse TV, who would have guessed we would have something like that!) and was watching Linda Parelli ride around the ring at a walk. It was a "Ah ha" moment for me as I watched both her horse stretch and move easily, and Linda's hips flex and move in rhythm with her horse. I knew at that moment, that was what I was lacking. I needed to free up my brace, relax against the pain, and let my hips move with Ashke. He's probably thinking, "What the hell is she doing up there?" and "What is she worried about?" since tension and stiffening is something horses do when they are afraid or worried. In this case, as so often, the difficulty with our gaits and movement is not that he doesn't get it - he does - he knows exactly how to walk, trot and canter - it's the subliminal messages I'm sending him that I'm not aware of that is tripping us up. This is exactly the reason why he is SO relaxed at the walk - because I am moving with him and relaxed. As we increase our gait, I become more tense and braced against the potential pain.

Years ago, I was struggling with back pain. It hurt to walk. I found myself shortening my stride and walking to protect my injury. I looked like a needed a walker. And it didn't help. It just made more of my muscles ache from the strange position I found myself twisting into in order to protect myself against the pain. I looked like I was ten seconds away from a wheelchair. One day, I thought to myself that I was making things worse. My trying to protect myself from the pain was making the pain worse. I decided to stop favoring my back, to walk like there was nothing wrong. I forced myself to step out like nothing hurt and then I discovered the pain diminished when I moved that way. My fear and trying to prevent it from hurting was contributing to the back pain.

I tried a back brace from Back on Track the last time I rode and that's not going to help. I may be able to wear it while I am doing other things, but it really inhibits the movement of my hips while I am riding. I am going to try taking off the running martingale and focusing on relaxing and allowing my hips to move at the walk. When I feel comfortable at the walk, we will start working on the trot. I am going to worry less about where his head set is or how rounded his back is and just focus on moving WITH him.
This is a fairly funny post, since I wear the BOT back brace all.the.time. And I have purchased a second, smaller brace that I absolutely love. Between the brace and the Rocky Mountain Rider's Rescue Rub, I am a whole new woman.

I try very hard to be the same person all the time. You'd think it would be easy, right? But really, it's not. It's hard not to get angry when you are cut off in traffic or someone won't let you in, but it doesn't seem hypocritical fifteen minutes later when you are the person hitting the gas to cut off the person trying to move into your lane. Part of my journey in this lifetime is modeling who I want to be all the time, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the timeframe.

So, what does that look like? It looks like not fighting with my soon to be wife. It looks like not yelling at my kid when I am feeling frustrated. It's not whacking the dogs on the butt or Ashke on the shoulder when I am feeling frustrated and angry that they don't get whatever I am asking them to do. It's using humor and conversation to really find out what is bothering J, or why T is angry and slamming doors. It's not taking the destruction of property seriously when the puppies decide to chew up Rockies tickets and cash the cat knocked off the counter for them. It's not screaming at the dogs when they take food off the counter while I am getting something out of the refrigerator. It's not being short and terse with T when we leave the house fifteen minutes after it's time to catch the bus. It's being patient. It's listening. It's not taking things so seriously. It's taking responsibility for my own reactions when I've had a bad day.

None of this is easy when hormones are involved. About ten years ago now I started menopause and the one constant emotion I had to deal with was anger. At that time I was given the Lakota name of Badger Woman (Ihokawin) by Uncle Daniel (a Lakota man who adopted our family) to remind me to be wary of my anger. Badgers are very quick to anger, very protective of their family, and Uncle Daniel gave me that name to raise my awareness. I helped. It made me much more aware of the consequences of my actions and the ramifications of untimely explosions. (I'm not a fighter, I'm a lover, but living with someone that is perpetually angry is no fun on any level. It's like living next to a hive of yellowjackets. The incessant buzz kills all joy.) Thankfully, my hormones and menopause journey have leveled out and tailed off just in time to deal with the hormones and anger issues of a thirteen year old man-child just on the verge of developing into a bearded, brooding teenage man.

So, how does this combine with the joys and frustrations of owning Ashke? I need to remember to be calm and patient. I don't have an issue with dealing with Arabians, because I love the energy, the constant up, the almost-hyper awareness of surroundings, but I do sometimes get a little frustrated with the lack of what I see as progress. I want to grow our relationship to the point where we become a centaur, where the connection is so tight and complete that I can think about what I want and the horse does. I get impatient that it hasn't happened yet. I worry that he's not going to have the mental fortitude to handle long rides and weary legs and quick paced gymkhanas, and backcountry trail rides and camping in Wyoming and maybe a couple of LD's. (I have seriously reconsidered my desire to ride the Tevis, considering the number of horses that seem to fall off that trail.) It's having fun with my horse and spending time developing our relationship.

Like most things, this is a journey.

June, 2013
Shoulder Spot
What this means is my poor skinny thin boy of a year ago has gained more than six inches of beefcake across his chest. Woo Hooo! My weight tape measuring device I got at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo puts his weight between 1100 and 1200 pounds. Really?
July, 2013
Not The Tevis
So, the Tevis Cup race happened yesterday. For those of you who are not familiar, it is an 100 mile race from Tahoe, NV to Auburn, CA, and was my professed goal when I started talking about getting a horse and the main reason I wanted an Arabian. The temps in the canyon were 120 degrees and most of the ride was above 100. One horse was put down during the race yesterday after falling off the trail. 47% of the riders and horses that started the race, completed.

I was following the race on FB and reporting to J the posts I was reading. She told me I'm not to ride that race. I think she's right. The three reported falls this year all occurred with experienced riders and horses. I'm not willing to risk either myself or my horse. I'm thinking we need to do something other than endurance. Trail riding for sure. There is a group based in Denver that does backcountry riding and camping that might be fun. I'm just going to have to see.
Seven Things
Finally, I have to recognize that my weight does not define my ability to ride, get stronger or be more fit. The muscles that support my back, that add strength to my core, are getting stronger with each ride. Riding in the arena and working on all the gaits is forcing my body to strengthen and adapt. I can ride for several hours at a time, without being completely done in at the end of the ride. Just as I am requiring Ashke to do some movements that are difficult for him, so do I ask myself to ride for a length of time or in a gait that challenges my ability. Both my stamina and my overall strength are improving and I believe Ashke and I will be able to continue together on this path. I am pretty happy with my continuous improvement and my increased ability to ride the canter. Slowly, but surely, we will get there.

August, 2013
While we were getting them ready (they are both shedding like mad and Ashke's hair has gotten so thin and sleek that he is going gun metal grey on his shoulders and neck) N wondered out loud if she should work Cali in the sidereins, to help Cali remember that they have work to do. She opted out of sidereins, which she lamented about loudly as Cali was bucking, rearing and kicking her way in an all out battle of wills.

I was amused at Cali's behavior (I find it hilarious to watch her rear and kick when N asks her to disengage her hindquarters - although I know I would be frustrated and a little angry if I were N) while warming up Ashke, and feeling not a little bit of pleasure that Ashke had matured past the point of throwing tantrums. And you know what they say, Pride goes before a fall.

Luckily, I didn't fall, but I did have my horse suffer through about fifteen minutes of insanity. He started rearing, little bitty crowhops and a couple of loud snorts. I don't know if the issue was Tonka, complete with bright blue leg wraps which he was valiantly trying to jump out of, or something I could neither see or sense that was making both horses completely out of control. Ashke held still while I dismounted (thankfully - that's my least favorite thing when dealing with an out of control horse) but exploded away from me as soon as I was on the ground. He bolted in a circle around me at the end of the rein (roper - see earlier post) at a dead run, bucking and kicking and flagging his tail. He only made one serious attempt to get away and then seemed perfectly content to tear around doing Arabian scuttlebutt for a good fifteen minutes. In a fifteen foot circle around me until he was drenched with sweat.

N laughed at me.

September, 2013
Rain Totals
South Boulder got 18.64 inches, North Boulder got 12.91 (This area seems the hardest hit early)

Golden (TMR) got 8.64

Thornton (where I live) got 6.33

Estes Park got 8.5 (over 15" if you count the entire week)

Drake (Big Thompson Canyon) got 11.34

All this water emptied into the South Platte, which is why we are having flooding east of the mountains now.

Happily, the skies are partly cloudy and we have sun.
October, 2013
We walked out to the dressage arena, him snorting and blowing at everything. He was so UP. As we reached the far end of the arena, the wind caught the cooler and flipped it off his back. Unfortunately, one of the hooks I had looped through the saddle loop, held. Suddenly, I was holding on to a 1100 lb, panicked animal who had a freaking 8' by 5' black sail attacking him from the side. I don't remember dropping the stuff in my hand or even how in the world I held him; all I knew is that if he got away, he would be running for his life from the death kite into the road and beyond. I couldn't let him pull away from me, regardless. I held onto the reins with my right hand (thank god, I had the reins I did, my old rope reins would have pulled right through my hands) and managed to wrap the blanket up in my left arm. Once the black blanket wasn't billowing in the wind, Ashke listened and held still. I had pretty good burns on my right hand from the rein, but we completely avoided the whole "get killed on the Highway while running away from the blanket" thing. One more thing to NEVER do again.
N: Ten Things
1. N always says what's on her mind, straightforward and blunt. I love that. I have been caught off guard a couple of times, but not in a bad way. Most of the time people cloak themselves in what they think you want to hear, instead of speaking their truth. N speaks her truth.

2. N and I have been talking and sharing stories for over a year now and neither of us has run out of anything to say.

3. N and I have a lot of similiar interests outside of horses, which contributes to #2. We like Friends, we have the same sense of humor, there's just a lot of things that click. Makes being friends easy.

4. N and J and R are comfortable with and enjoy spending time with my family. They love T and his energy and T treats R like a little brother. J and J are very similiar in some of their personalities and things they like. We enjoy spending time with each other in a group and really enjoyed the camping trip we took together. We are now starting to celebrate important events together; birthdays, holidays, etc.

5. N's infectious grin, her wonderful laugh and her ability to laugh at herself. Those are all qualities I like and admire in a person, and ones that I feel I share.

6. She can cuss as good as I can. And she tells great stories.

7. I can ask her questions and talk to her about Ashke and she answers honestly and completely, not treating me like a noob.

8. N can talk me through moments of difficulty I'm having with Ashke. We can be each other's support and sometimes we talk each other off the cliff.

9. She's a great coach and very positive with my attempts to learn a completely new discipline. She is brave and willing to try things she's never done with her horse before, in part, because she trusts me not to put us in harm's way.

10. We have each other's back.
Back Away From the Jacket
Two minutes later I stepped over a rattlesnake.

You know, the biggest issue with snakes is that you don't see them 100 feet in advance. You see them as you are hand walking your horse over them. I stammered and stuttered back at N and she figured out what the hell I was trying to say. She stopped.

At that point, we were in quite a pickle. Cali and N were on one side of the snake. Ashke and I were on the other. And whatever snake magic had allowed us to walk over it in the first place was gone and the snake was both awake and a bit pissed off. I tried tossing a couple of rocks at it in the hope it would slither off downhill, but instead it moved uphill until it was hanging on the very lip of the hillside overlooking the trail.

That was worse, because we then had a pissed off, coiled up snake at the lip of the overhang, about shoulder height on a very narrow trail. And it wouldn't move. All it did was coil tighter and rattle.

November, 2013
 . . six months ago, Ashke couldn't trot with his head down.

. . . three months ago, I was still riding with a martingale to help bring his head down.

. . . two months ago, we couldn't canter a full circle to the right.

. . . we've only been doing dressage lessons for six weeks

. . . my feeling frustrated is NOT Ashke's fault.

. . . eating something at 4:30 will help my attitude and aptitude.

. . . Ashke is not responsible for my NOT being able to ride with balance or grace.

. . . last Saturday we trotted for six miles.

. . . Ashke is getting stronger with each ride.

. . .  I am responsible for my temper. Losing it is my responsibilty.

. . . my being angry and frustrated by our canter will NOT make Ashke magically better. In fact, it will make him worse.

. . . I set the tone for our conversation, our relationship and our interaction.

. . . trying to make things happen faster will result in set-backs.

. . . commitment is the most difficult when things become difficult.

. . . replacing Ashke will NOT magically fix everything, or speed things up. It would just change the conversation.

. . . don't let stress from work or life affect the conversation with Ashke. Make of our time a space outside of those things.

. . . improvement needs to be measured in smaller increments: one stride, one try, one moment.

. . . Ashke is trying for love of me. I need to be worthy of that.

. . . tomorrow is a new day and Wednesday is a new ride.

I hope to finish this on Friday, because tomorrow is TTTT.


  1. Oh my goodness! I forgot about the Companions!!! When Chrome turns gray he will be my Companion (or already is, but he will look the part then)! I'm going to have to dress up like one of the Chosen for Halloween one year hehe. Love it! It's so cool that we both love that series. I think I've read all of her books (some of them several times). :D In fact half of the books on my Nook right now are hers!

    I feel the exact same way that you do in the Relationship post. :) It is crazy how much we are alike. The bareback post sort of describes me too! In fact, even now, I'm more comfortable bareback than in the saddle. You can just feel so much more without a saddle. You know what they are going to do almost before they do it. I love riding bareback!

    If the Tevis Cup isn't in the cards, you should try Competitive Trail Riding! It would be so much fun. :D

  2. Have loved this recap and reading the pieces of past posts that you've chosen to highlight. It's wonderful that you've kept the blog so you could tell your story with Ashke. It's quite the story. Like something out of the horse stories we loved as kids. Like Alec and The Black. Like Sham, the Godolphin Arabian, and his boy Agba. It's a story of a dream that came true. Not only for you, but for Ashke as well. <3

    And you don't have to do Tevis to be great. The journey with your horse is alway the best part. Do your WE. Try out some LDs. Who knows-you may just end up doing 50's and 100's too. ;)

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I look forward to continuing to read about everything you learn and discover with Ashke!


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