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.      

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