Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Home Again

There is a definite deliciousness to a rainy day. After long periods of time where the sky stays a consistent clear blue with only an occasional puff of a mare’s tail cloud high in the stratosphere, and perhaps marked by a trail of a jet with an unknown destination, a rainy day is a form of peace. A rainy day is gift to be inside and to do the things that get pushed aside when the fair days take one outside to take advantage of nice weather. To be self indulgent, to drink another cup of tea, to draw, to paint, to write, to listen to the patter of the slow drops of rain hitting the newly fallen leaves, to slow time down, these are the things that I like about a rainy day. The kettle is still warm and a quiet steam escapes from its spout, and for a few minutes, I will write.

Last April, I made a very unusual decision for me, and that was to let another person put in time training one of my young horses. With few exceptions over the years, I have started all of my young horses, rarely letting any one even step into the stirrup until I had finished that basics of the training. Sidelined for months with broken and reluctant to heal ribs since October, and watching a young horse sitting idle with no training work to continue her learning, I made the decision to take the mare to someone to do that which I could not be doing.

I chose Laura Sevriens, a woman who I had known through her and her husbands’ affiliation with the Dutch Warmblood inspections, but more recently Laura had come to my attention at what a fabulous job she had done with another horse, one that I had also bred. This other horse, a mare named Avalon, was a beautiful and precocious young thing, had been sold, then had been quickly started and sent to Florida to compete on the dressage circuit there. The stress of it all turned the mare into a basket case, fretful, unsteady, nervous, and not very rider friendly. Finally, once in the hands of Laura, the mare calmed and bloomed into the talent that was hers. I was impressed at the transformation and trusted Laura could do the same with Cistine.

I dropped Cistine off with the idea of possibly not seeing her again as mine, as I had her on the market and planned to sell her. I made an emotional separation of sorts with her and drove my empty trailer home. Then, ironically, only a week later, the dam of this mare, and also of the gorgeous Avalon, tragically died in attempting to foal another sibling of these two. There would be no more foals from the greatest mare I have ever known. Joline’s legacy remained now in her offspring and I still owned Frank, a two year old colt, and Cistine. I had been leaning heavily on the idea of Frank being my future riding horse, with Cistine being the one to go. The under current now rose of the temptation of a long time breeder that says, never sell the gene pool. Cistine is a potential brood mare that carries Joline’s royal line and did I really want to let that go? The memory of Joline’s death was lingering still, and the idea of breeding again was not a thought I could handle, so I kept my emotional distance from Cistine.

I went a few times to watch Laura ride the mare and to see her progress. From right on it was very evident that Laura was again doing such a wonderful job bringing the mare alone with her steady hands, calm and patient demeanor, and a riding style that makes a horse want to do their job. I watched her ride with a strange detachment to this mare, this foal who I had helped into this life and had raised to this point in her life, now in the care and focus of someone else. Laura told me later that the first few days after I had dropped Cistine off that the mare was like a red neck in Manhatten, which was a pretty good analogy, but now the mare was accustomed to life at the big fancy barn, grown up and acting like a working girl.

Laura took Cistine to her first two shows and brought home the blues in each class with scores in the 70’s. The mare was going so well, but a weak market did not produce the buyer I sought and the time finally came to me where the empty pocketbook, and my sort of healed up ribs, said it was time for the mare to come home. I took the trailer and brought my mare back home. Once again in the cross fenced pasture next to her little brother, Frank, and next to the pen where the immortal Tony the pony lives, she took in her former surroundings and began to settle back in.

It had been a full year since I had been on her. We had left off at a point where most green horses get where the worst of the fear on their part was over and the real learning about the communication was beginning. We had been having difficulty here with contact with the bit. She thought the bit sucked and wanted no part of what I was trying to tell her with it, not rude, but just not getting the idea. We basically went around the arena like a wet spaghetti noodle being pushed up hill. That was where Laura took over.

It has been said that if you want to know someone, ride their horse. What training you put on a horse is a signature of you and how you deal with them, and they you. From the ground Laura had turned Cistine into a steady and willing worker, moving with purpose and calmness. What I had not gotten a chance to do was to ride Cistine with Laura on the ground telling me what buttons she had programed in and where. I tacked Cistine for the first time back in her home barn, and hopped on. I came very quickly to the realization that I had no idea how to ride her. What I had watched as a well tuned machine, now was a horse in total no go mode. We were like two left feet dancing with no rhythm and floundered like fish on land together. It was a lesson in frustration for us both.

I pondered this dilemma long and hard over the weekend. How could this obviously well trained horse suddenly be so unrideable for me? It finally dawned on me that this mare is so smart, that she remembered exactly where we had dropped off prior to Laura’s teachings, and was doing her best to do the same things she used to do with me, going back in time, and picking up where we had left off over a year ago. She had thought she was doing what I wanted of her.  

After my light bulb moment, I tacked her again on Monday, and planned a different approach. She had given it some thought as well and as we started I could feel a difference in her. Slowly the two of us began to dance. Her long floating strides were supple and she no longer tried to rip my arms from their sockets with her teeth. Her eye lashes slowly blinked in the calmness of a horse at peace, and we began to get reacquainted in a new light, and riding her was fun, really fun. We ended on a good note  for the day and I am looking forward to our next ride after this passing rainy day.
Having been a breeder for decades I have started many horses, and have parted ways with most of them. It is a very hard choice to make, whether to sell or keep. They become a part of me, my energy, my painting in horse flesh, and they are my friends. I have no idea what Cistine’s future is, whether it be with me or, if a buyer appears will I really want to let her go. Hard call. I will just have to wait on hind sight for that to know what is, or was, the right path. Hind sight is always twenty twenty and things work out how they will. For now, Cistine and I will pick up our relationship, and hopefully press on with success for us both, in whatever path that takes us. She is home again.      

Monday, November 19, 2012

Markers and Clinics

The recently past Veterans’ Day weekend had a few memorable markers, a one year mark since the day my daddy died. 11/11/11 was also was the date our Yorkie Gracie was born making her now one year old, and, there was a big birthday for Heidi, my geriatric German Shepherd, this time her 10th.  Despite the number, Heidi’s attitude is still good even though she aches and can’t move with the lightening strike she used to be able to do. Most of her teeth are broken from years of gnawing on large tree limbs that she used to carry around until it was time to chew them into shreds.

Heidi and Gracie have formed an interesting relationship since Gracie joined the pack with the Shepherd teaching the ways of the farm to the tiny pooch, and together they rule the farm yard. Heidi has taught Gracie about house training, staying on the front porch when the people leave the house, and untold things needed to survive on this farm on the edge of a swamp and, Gracie has victoriously made it to this first year marker. I had my doubts at first whether her size and or her attitude would make her a target for the many dangers out here but their co-allegiance seems to be working, and so far, Gracie has avoided being sat upon by the grand baby Margaret, stepped on by a hoof, picked up by an owl, or swallowed by a snake. These are good things. 

Over her many years Heidi has seen the coming and going of many dogs who have shared the farm, some she has shared with more peacefully than with others, (the very stupid provocateurs were not suffered lightly.) Stoic as a statue she has remained a passive sentry and only once did she act upon feel a need to rise to defend me from a person.

I had driven with her, well after dark, to the airport to pick up my friend and long time dressage instructor, Jeff for the next days’ clinic. Heidi was in the back seat behind the tinted windows, sitting up watching the parade of folks coming and going. I was slowing down to see if I could find Jeff in the crowd, when I noticed the “Barney” airport officer start towards my truck. I had the window partially down and turned to see what he had to say. Instead of quietly telling me that I had to keep moving, which I already knew, he surprisingly blew up in my face and angrily screamed and gestured stuff at me. Suddenly beside my face and reaching out the window from the back seat was a very big set of barking and very angry teeth intent on making that man stop his verbal attack on me.

If the window had been fully open I do think she would have been out of there and would have taken him down. The scared fellow tripped falling backwards and mumbled something about not having seen my dog, like that might have made a difference in his behavior.  I just told him he didn’t need to have been quite so rude, and drove on. Upon my next lap around the airport terminal there were no patrol officers, no guys to get luggage, there was just Jeff standing there without a clue as to what had just happened and why the terminal was now a ghost town.

The past four days have been intense, again another dressage clinic with Jeff. I figured that Heidi has been a witness to these twice a year clinics for all of her ten years, making this past one her twentieth or so and she could probably ride a horse quite nicely by now, if she magically morphed into a human and chose to give it a try. Gracie remained on a leash through the clinic as this was her first and she was very interested in all the nifty smells that rolled in on the trailer tires bringing the visiting horses and their riders. We are still working on that part of survival training.

Anyone who has put on a riding clinic knows the hard work and out on a limb commitment it takes to put one on successfully. The list of things to do before the clinic, seems to be endless, and after all the years of hosting it hasn’t gotten any shorter. The days of the clinic itself, there are so many factors that have to go right. The weather has to be nice, the horses have to behave, the people have to get along or act like it, and fortunately, this one went as well as any could. There was no champagne bought for the group from any rider getting bucked off, we all ate very yummy food that everybody pitched in and brought. Dinners in town were great too. No one cried, and all the horses went so well., oh and we all learned a lot.  All in all well worth the effort.

There have been some special moments in the history of our group of riders. There was one lady who came for a first time to ride with Jeff, who began crying at the beginning of her lesson when he asked her a few questions about her experience. Totally benign in his intent to know more about her level of riding, it must have sparked a nerve, she left the ring weeping with no answer leaving us all sitting there with our mouths open. She also left her traveling companion and her horse behind which was quite an inconvenience for the other stranded lady. 

Many have been bucked off over the years but the most spectacular was not too long ago. A lady on a young recently started horse came in the arena and it was easy to see the horse had an attitude of really not wanting to be there. After a few minutes of tolerating the situation, the horse ducked its head and began a series of bucks that few cowboys could sit. The rider was hanging on until the beast ran away, straight across the arena, and then once close to the fence, at full gallop dropped its shoulder and gave the last heave ho, slinging this person head first towards the wire mesh fencing. 

Jeff, the few riders who were still there, and I were watching this unfolding event like it was going in slow motion, and helpless to help this poor rider avoid what was coming. Her head hit straight into the fence like an arrow shot from a bow, and she then bounced back towards the horse faster than she had gone into it. Finally her body became one with the ground and she lay there while the idiot horse ran over to a corner and stood and cocked a hind leg. 

For some unknown reason, Jeff and I were in uncontrollable giggles, the nervous "know you are not supposed to be laughing" at someone’s bad luck and possible injury, but her hitting that fence the way she did and bouncing back was simply hilarious. It would have made a great YouTube video. The good news was that the fence had been a good catch for the body in motion and the soft sand that she landed on softened her fall and no injury was had. Seeing it was the last day of that clinic she luckily avoided the penalty of  having to buy everyone a round of champagne at dinner since all were heading home, too bad for the rest of us. 

The totally trashed barn has now been cleaned back up, the stalls cleaned and re-fluffed, my horses and I have taken the day off to ponder the teachings of Jeff and enjoy a day of some rest. Worth the effort for sure, I always look forward to the next time, but never know if there will be one. As I watched the last trailer take the last rider home yesterday, I felt my shoulders drop a notch like the weight had lifted and felt the relief of working so hard for something to work out well when so much could have gone wrong. The evening’s martinis went down just fine, and I slept well too, I think. Tomorrow I will ride again and see what I remember of it all.