Thursday, December 24, 2009

How the NFL Pertains, Part I

It's strange how stories wind from the past, into the future. The future you don't know you'll come to one day, I mean.

My brother and I grew up in a wretched family. That we survived it all to be able to speak to each other was something neither of us expected, or even cared about, for that matter. Like anybody who comes out of a past of violence and destruction, we both have our fears. They're different between us, and they made it hard for us to communicate. For my brother, his path to himself came first through football, and then through the military. Football was a game I just could not understand; I couldn't grasp the rules. I tried for a little while, but the concept of a "down" was beyond me.

People speak through metaphor and analogy all the time. For years my brother was sending me signals while talking about football. "I know you don't care about football," he'd say. "But..." Before long, I'd tune out.

"Football is poetry in motion,"
my brother often said. I just laughed at that. Something like 15 years ago, I decided to try watching a game. With help from H.G., my partner -- (What a stupid word, "partner." He's the man I love, the man I live with, the man I've been with for nearly 20 years.) -- I slowly began to understand. Offense, defense, interceptions, kick-off returns, running backs, quarterbacks, I began to absorb it all. But I didn't care about it, not like my brother, so I stayed outside of the nuance of the game, its surprising subtleties. One Sunday I watched a Pittsburgh Steelers game. I don't even remember who they were playing. The Steelers had a young new quarterback named Kordell Stewart. I didn't know it then, but he held the key that would bring me all the way into the game of football. And I didn't know it then, but what happened to him is something I would remember the first time I realized that I was intimidated by my horse.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The NFL Pertains

On Thursday, Scout's stitches were removed by Dr. B. I was strangely elated, almost giddy with relief. Maybe I put margins around her surgery, X-ray results on the left, removal of stitches on the right. No more bandaging after the weekend, no more meds. Except for the sedatives, a scoop twice a day. Scout is stoned, mild and slow motion in her stall, contented if not happy. When I scratch her belly or withers, it feels like she goes cross-eyed with delight. She doesn't know why she feels good, but the store-bought calm has helped her heal the leg well.

All week I've been thinking about what comes next, the long-term next, not tomorrow. I hold my breath about Dar, but Scout pends before me like a moment of reckoning that will have to come.
"Ride the horse you are on," my trainer has often reminded me. "Not the horse she was yesterday, not the horse you want her to be tomorrow." As if, for a minute, I could be that present and just ride. I can look at our history of anxiety like an object now, because I am disconnected from it by time. But when I remember some rides we've had, I can re-animate my fear and imagine how I felt. I tell myself I have a rare chance to get a grip on me before coming back to Scout. I tell myself there must be a way to forget all the crap and start clean, to unlearn what I should never have learned in the first place.

So I've been thinking about the NFL, how I came to it, and why, and what for. It's a story that pertains at odd times in my life, but never accidentally.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Upside of Turds

I love barn chores, I do. Simple work of the hands with a beginning, middle, and end. Doing the PM clean and feed halts the hamster-wheeling of my thoughts for a while. And speaking of rodents, I was forking near-frozen piles out of Molly's stall tonight. The turds were like marbles in the bitter cold. I sifted 10 or 12 of them on to the rake and swung it to the muck bucket. Then one turd rolled off the rake and took off, defying gravity by rolling high up into the straw. But no, it was a little black vole. How wonderful.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Now What, Number 2

Meanwhile, Dar has languished in the background, pushed aside by Scout. After a month at the farm, he's 50 pounds from goal weight, parasite-free, and vital with unreleased energy. There wasn't the time to introduce him to a paddock buddy once Scout was injured, so he stayed in paddock 3 by himself, next to the other horses, but separate. Finally, last weekend, we decided to try turning him out with Keely. She's the only one bitchy and tough enough to teach him herd manners. The others are too old, too small, or too new to pair with him.

Disaster, I guess. A month of accumulating energy made Dar over-excited and idiotic. I'd only known him to be a low-ranking lackey in his previous herds, but that belly full of parasites might have kept him depressed. Suddenly,
va-voom. A steppy, arched-necked fool trotted into the paddock, displaying dominance and spirit. All the horses keyed up instantly, not least of whom, Scout. Dar trotted right up to her window bars. Scout spun and pinned her ears. She bared her teeth. Dar didn't back down, he just kept close. Enough of that, E decided, and we moved Dar into paddock 2, alone with Keely, who seems to be in an eternal heat. It makes her even more crabby. Kick his ass, I thought. Let him have it.

Everyone was watching, waiting on some kind of a drama. Dar and Keely ran in circles. Then they went to separate hay piles. Ran some more. Ate a bit more hay. I began to relax, just a breath or two. Then, catastrophe. Dar mounted Keely. E ran to them, shouting his name. He came down as quickly as he went up, and his useless schlong never appeared, but... This. Is. Not. Good. My heart sank. Baseline zero, the testosterone test had reported. Before I got him, someone mentioned he might be "proud cut." I went right for the test. It was going to be the deal breaker for me, proof of a studdy gelding. But, Testosterone, 0 +/- 5%. I was elated when that result came over the fax.

Fuck. What now?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Accidents of Circumstance Mean Now What?

With this, everything has changed, no matter how well I thought I had it all worked out. The urgency of the moment created in me a relentless energy that I tapped to get Scout through her surgery and into recovery. Putting her needs first pushed me into the background, pushed my reactions down. She's been home for a week now, and a routine, of sorts, has been crafted. In that week, I found the time to write my long, hard letter to the barn where she was injured. When I dropped it in the mail, it seemed to put a frame around all of it, containing it as one long event. That's when I began to see how hard all of this is going to be.

It took me so, so long to decide to give up Scout. For two years I listened to a loop in my head, a festering chatter of questions and answers, delusions and bravado. I always got hung up on the same few things.

1) In the right person's hands, she could be a wonderful, athletic little horse. Then I would regret giving her up, forgetting that I decided the right person wasn't me.
2) She's so herdbound, I can never just take her out for a ride alone. Then I have to change my life so I can work with her more.
3) She intimidates me too much.
Really. Then I'm validating my fear by walking away from her.
4) I must have brought the fear with me, Scout didn't cause it. Then no horse can fix it.

The trouble with these themes that I obsessed over? I can't tell whether they came from my head or my heart. I only know that I felt relief when I finally decided to let her go. But now she's back. The fierceness of my love for her surged in the face of her injury. She awed me with her ability to go through things she didn't understand. The needles, the surgery, all the strangers around her. Through all of it, she looked for me. Don't I have to try again? Shouldn't I?

As I knew she would, Scout hates the separation from the herd. The first few days were so hard for her that we raised the sedative dose from once daily to twice, but she still paws the floor in frustration and sometimes spins.

I stood with her in her stall yesterday.
It was stupidly cold. For an hour, we both stared out the window, watching the other horses wandering in their paddocks. I talked to her, as I have since the first day I got her. She rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel the warmth of her body beside mine. I know I calm her. On the ground, our relationship can be sublime. Once I'm up, though, things change for me. I ride with an anxious anticipation and contaminate my skill with the tension I feel. That changes Scout. She absorbs my tension, and then we're pulled into a cycle of mutual mistrust that I don't know how to ride through, don't believe I can ride through.

Maybe nothing I think today will matter in a month or two, but I'm worried and sad. Scout's not for sale now; I don't think she ever will be. Winter has come; the cold feels sudden and shocking. Soon Dr. B will come and look at Scout's leg, maybe remove the stitches, and, above all, tell me when she can go out, and how she can go out.

I have too many thoughts and reactions to organize. For now, I'm left with the feeling of having suffered a blunt-force trauma. The story has changed too abruptly. Now I have two horses, one who is injured and another who is gaining energy, impatience and idiocy every day. I can't do much with either of them, preempted by the snow and ice.

I've long had the sense that winter time is when life withdraws into itself. I know how I shut down and go quiet then. That will still be true for me this year, but I won't be able to hide from the decisions that have to be made. Right now, I don't want to make them. What could be hard seems too hard, and my reactive, jaundiced eye often overlooks what could be simple. "It is what it is," they say. But I always want to
know what it is; that's my vigilance and my handicap. It's easy to say that fate has thrown me a do-over. What if it has?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

She's Not the Only One in My Life Short a Bit of Anatomy

4 of 4, A Language All Their Own - Scout Comes Home

We've all kept close to Scout this week, those of us who love her, those who provide care to her, even some who have never met her. But are any of us as close to Scout as these two are? No. We can't be, because we don't speak the same language. At best, we are middle men. Between what they are and what we want them to be, between what they do and what we want them to do. As a human being, I was on the outside of this reunion, exactly where I should have been. But it was a privileged place to be.

Wait! I know this place! She was full of excitement. Scout had been at another barn for one month, but this small farm had been her home for two years. Half a second was all she needed to recognize where she was.

They knew her, too. The air was electric with chill and the first light winter snow.

Someone told me once, years ago,
"Oh, your mare is a killer. She should never be turned out with other mares." Tell it to Keely, who missed Scout terribly. What happened? Where were you? Why are you in there? Come outside. (But those are just my words; they have nothing to do with what was going on between them.)

They crowded around Scout's window. But poor little Gambler couldn't see her.

Scout soon realized something had changed. Everybody was out in the paddocks. There was someone new out there, too. I think she started to feel it in her gut. It was one thing to be on stall rest at a strange barn and then at the clinic. It might be too hard at home.

Keely agreed. Together, they began to work at the window.

When Keely finally drifted back to her hay, Gam got his chance.
Scout wasn't terribly interested in visitors by then. The reality of her dilemma was becoming clear to her.

Bringing her home was the fourth of the hurdles I worried how we'd cross. Now I see, though, that every day that Scout must stay in her stall will be another hurdle. She can't change her nature, I only hope that she can change how she relates to it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Thousand Words, Part II

What the hell happened!? I don't feel good at all... I think my tongue is dead.

Her right side was wet from levage, the constant flushing and rinsing of the surgical incision, wound and debris. Later, the surgeon handed me a large plastic vial containing the remains of her splint bone.

She is a vacuum cleaner. No bit of hay escapes her trawling muzzle. She didn't even look at it.

She almost looks normal here, but her head had simply sunk to the floor. The remnants of the general anesthetic had to wear off, but she barely moved. Two sensations ebbed and flowed in her: as the cloud of anesthesia lifted, the heat of pain took its place. I groomed her for two hours then, until her right side was dry. The simple act of grooming was a thing that brought us close. It helped to know I could do something good for her

She did not know how to stand on the leg, but she was too tired to hold it off the ground for more than a few seconds. Occasionally she twisted her neck around to look back there.

Little by little, she began to come back. I just wanted her to sleep, to be away from it all. She couldn't understand it anyway, so why have to feel it?

How can she be so pretty?

When she was finally clear eyed, I went home to H.G. and the cats. I had to. Every time I stepped away to take a picture, she moved to follow me. She stayed within a foot of me all afternoon, into the evening. I needed her to forget me, forget everything, start eating and go to sleep.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Thousand Words, Part I

Remember? I don't want to see those needles! I can't.

Sedation changes everything. She began to slip past noticing.

They taped the edges of her hooves to protect the foam padding in the sedation and recovery room. A French manicure is not quite the right look for Scout, I don't think.

They wouldn't let me watch her going under general anesthesia. But later, they brought me into the operating room.

 the moment when finally everything turns real.

I went outside for a cigarette. I was jittery. Not at the blood or the wound, but at the complete vulnerability of my mare. That only got worse for me. I wanted to lie down with her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2, 3 of 4

Scout was so good, so strong. I hope she is asleep. It was such a long day, one that ended in pain and exhaustion for her.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1 of 4

There's four hurdles to cross before I can tuck Scout in for her recovery. Hurdle 1, taking her to the clinic tonight.

One thing about Scout, she knows me. She can tell the difference between my worry and my fear. She parked her chin on my shoulder and breathed into my ear, standing stock still, just waiting. Erin wrapped all four of her legs for the ride, and then Scout followed me right into the trailer. It was a long ride, but still so much shorter than those she routinely experienced as a joust horse. She crapped a tall mound of excita-poop, but hauled steady as ever.

They went right to work at the clinic, taking her temp and drawing blood for a workup. "Oh no, don't show me the needles! I can't look at the needles!" But her ears show anxiety, not hostility.

Questions to answer, phone numbers to check, a quick tour of the anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms. Then we stood near Scout's stall and talked through the first part of tomorrow. Scout sampled the hay, but she kept her eyes on me. Finally she whinnied stridently. "What the hell is there to talk about when you could all be paying attention to me?" I went in the stall and broke up a carrot for her.

We cleared this first hurdle easily. Scout was solid, willing, and, for the most part, calm. I can feel the tension beginning to build in me, though. Tomorrow I will worry about her from the moment she steps into the anesthesia room until the moment I step into her recovery stall.

I know how hard it is to surrender all control, because I've never done it. That's one of the reasons I couldn't just let go and ride her. I don't know if Scout has ever been unconscious before, but I know she won't like it.

What? I Have to Stay in For How Long?