Thursday, February 25, 2010

Simple Gifts

It's not a good picture, but all the boarders received these bookmarks for Christmas. E made them, and her drawings of the horses captures each of them perfectly. Scout, wind whipping her mane back, wind generated by her speedy, high-tension personality. Seal-brown Sam, still finding his way, chewing fence rails down from time to time. Canadian Molly, years off the track, 22 years old and retired, hard to keep good weight on. Faithful JR, protector of riders, hard mouthed and kind. Tiny Gambler, bombproof Arab, tireless at 20. My doofus, Dar, braying his new-found splendor to the world. The Keely monster, always blustering at us with her pinned ears, which are just a silly facade.

Seven inmates running a charming asylum where I can always recover my sanity, if only for a while.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sharing the Thing That They Are

When I was a teenager, hurtling around on my crazy, bolting pinto mare, I never thought of this: It's a wonderful thing to introduce a horse to someone who's never been near one.

When I got Scout five years ago, I wanted to show her to everybody in my life. None of my friends knew me during my previous horse life. Whole lives had long since come and gone in me. If my life hadn't been so remote back then, so separated from whatever horse community might have been around, I might never have left horses behind. But my friends came after all of that; it couldn't mean anything to them.

With Scout, the awareness of the amazing thing that it is to have a horse returned to me in an instant. I was decades older, and still completely captivated by it. A piece of me that I'd left lying dormant for 25 years was reanimated, a piece that I could never take out and show to the people in my life. Missing its catalyst,the horse, it was little but a story to tell.

How wonderful is it to teach a person how to safely give a horse a carrot, or lead a horse around an indoor arena, or hand graze a horse? How wonderful is it to show someone how to brush a horse, or give a horse a bath? It's that wonderful; it's so wonderful. I've felt the joy of seeing someone realize that, for all their size, horses are social animals, inquisitive and friendly, quick to attach themselves to people. I've seen friends take pride in haltering a horse, moving a horse out of their way, walking a freshly-bathed horse in slow circles under the warm sun. Wonderful. I know it's the horse, but it makes me feel like I have something to offer.

They speak for themselves, horses, and so many people never have the chance to hear what they say. I have loved bringing my friends close to the horses, because I still know exactly how it feels to learn these magnificent animals; I experience it every time I am with them.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Perfect Rx

After a week, I've clawed my way back into cyberlife. A working laptop is critical to my job, my hamster-wheeling, our bills, our business, and staying in close contact with the friends I dearly love, almost all of whom live too far away from me. I felt cut off from all of it. When my data was restored, I felt like I also was restored. That gives me pause, but I'll think about my dependence on technology some other time.

Because horses are another sort of technology entirely, I went to the barn to work with Dar today. It was the perfect act of self medication.

I have a different sense of resolve with this horse. Maybe it's the fact that I have a body of experience with Scout, or maybe it's my awareness that time isn't limitless for me anymore; either way, I'm motivated with him in a way I can't help but believe is good.

No matter where he is or what he's doing, Dar always trots to me when I call his name. This afternoon I brought him from his paddock to the barn, taking the long way through the dune-like snow. I don't let my horses graze when I'm leading them or riding them, so Dar went through a mini-class while we walked. Every time he lowered his head toward a tuft of winter-worn grass, the lead line prevented him from reaching it. It has nothing to do with me; I just don't give him enough line to permit grazing.

In the barn, I clipped Dar into the cross-ties. The Percheron in him shows in his thick, self-parting mane. (Well, in his fantastic creased rump and brick
shithouse of a head, too.) I'll never be able to train his mane to one side or the other, so I've decided to give him a short sport-horse mane. I've always loved that look. While I hacked in a rough cut, Dar struggled to remain patient. What can I do? Must play, must nuzzle! I am mouthy!

I kept our cross-tie session short, holding it to 20 minutes. After working on his mane, I pulled out my shedding block and the great scrub brush I use to reach down to the skin. He's shedding already, and I'm looking forward to pulling the new Dar out from under all that dead coat, his old clothes from another life. I can see the weight and muscle that months of good care have built in him, but not yet the form.

Here's the wonderful thing: Dar is not herd bound. In Scout, that has been such a savage limitation, one that made it impossible for me to ride her alone and made it an endurance test to even try grooming her in the barn
. The absence of that in Dar gives me mental space I just can't get with her. I can really work with him because I'm not already fighting just to manage an anxiety that also causes anxiety in me.

I took Dar to the outdoor arena and watched him canter and buck through the undisturbed snow that's been piling there for months. When I first got Dar, he barely lifted his knees. Today, flagging his tail and arching his neck, he trotted in broad ovals, lifting his feet high in the deep snow. I think he's beautiful.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pffft! Ack. Crikey.

I'm waiting for the third bad thing to happen. On Sunday my laptop died. RIP motherboard. On Tuesday the owner of the barn I was set to move Dar to at the end of the month called to tell me not to bring him.

So...I'm feeling thwarted. More than.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sometimes, Talking Is Doing

Yesterday, I listened to remarks made by Lavar Arrington, a former NFL linebacker who was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2000 and played with the team for four years. After his contract negotiations broke down, Arrington left Washington and eventually played with the New York Giants until an injury sidelined him. In 2007, he was cut by the Giants; he doesn't play football now. And yet...

It's a common practice for star athletes to engage in smack talking, no matter the sport. Football, of course, is no exception. As a fan, I write most of it off to the easy recklessness that comes from living in the peculiar fairy land that often results from getting too much money too fast, too much fame too fast.

On Superbowl Sunday, a Redskins player, running back Clinton Portis, appeared on TV somewhere during the endless, irrelevant pregame coverage and made a couple of glib remarks about Lavar Arrington. Portis joined the Redskins in 2004. He missed much of the 2009 season with an injury.

One player dissing another in a sentence or two is nothing new. What is new is how Lavar Arrington responded, speaking live for 17 minutes on a Washington, D.C. radio show. I think what he said, and how he said it, is one of the most arresting things I've heard in years. I found things in it to help me with the horses; I found things in it to help me with my life.

Arrington Feb 8 2010

(Audio file embedded in this article in the Washington Post.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Released From C Block

Last Saturday, we turned Dar out one more time with the Keely monster. Really, my heart was in my throat, choking at the thought it might go badly or that, once again, he would climb aboard her. What if, and then what? I didn't have an answer, and I knew it.

We all stood and watched them. Scout was agitated, trotting back and forth along her paddock fence, fretting for Keely. We'd turned Dar and Keely out at the edge of the big pasture, opening the wide gate from paddock 3 to give them room to run. There, we waited for an explosion that never came. A squeal or two, some posturing and ear pinning. Eventually, Keely wandered back into the paddock. Dar, still out in the pasture, lifted his head and trotted in. He wanted to herd Keely away from the horses watching from the other paddocks. He was moving too fast, though, and wiped out, losing his footing in the snow and thudding suddenly, perfectly and safely, to his knees. I couldn't have asked for a better reality check. Surprised and chastened, he scrambled to his feet and walked slowly behind Keely. Inside of 20 minutes, they were eating hay side by side. I needed the sense of relief so much that when it came, it only filled the void created by my anxiety. Sometimes that kind of relief can feel like elation; this time, it only brought me back to level. That's how wrapped up I was in the question of whether I've got a jerk boy or a doofus boy.

Sunday night the Saints played a truly great game to win the Superbowl. That was elation. By then, I'd already heard that Dar made it through another day of turnout with Keely.
If I am arriving at an understanding of Dar by defining what he is not, then one possibility has been crossed off the list. No, he's not a total asshole in turnout who should remain in solitary confinement.

Who, me?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good Boy

Today I just had to get my hands out of my head and onto a horse. I've been impatient to work with Dar since he swung his chops toward me on Monday night. Tuesday, no go, work and then barn chores. Wednesday, no go, work and then friends in need. I made it out to the barn today. Since Dar's paddock is surrounded by the other two, I would have had to take him through one of them -- and between the horses there -- to get to the outdoor arena. I decided to wait on that until I've got him in hand a bit. Instead, we did simple leading/halting/yielding groundwork in his paddock. Basic in-hand ground manners. Walk. Whoa. Step back. Stand. Repeat.

The whole time, Scout watched at us from her paddock, standing alert at the fence. I know nothing about how horses might detect (if they do at all) that their person now has another horse.

Dar had trouble with one exercise: staying put when I stood facing him from five feet in front of him. That's the pushiness. Each time he tried to step closer, I sent him back. When he stood quietly, I moved forward to praise him.

I ended the work after asking Dar to lower his head. Light pressure on the poll, followed by immediate release. He grasped it quickly. The last time I asked, he lowered his head and stretched his neck long and low, licking his lips. Wonderful.

On Saturday morning, we're going to try turning him out with Keely monster again. She's out of heat. I hope she kicks his ass. I have just have to know.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

They call it anecdotal evidence, stories about events or actions related by others, but not proven to be fact, not filmed or otherwise recorded objectively. After months of hearing bits of this and that about Dar's pissy antics at the barn -- broken rails, wrecked tank heaters, aggression over the fence -- all the while faced with only the same young doofus when I'm there, I finally got a clean, short glimpse of his inner jerk. He's been pushy at the gate, unhappy at being kept alone in a paddock. When he's brought in for the night, he's pushy at the barn door. I always ask him to back up and wait while I slide the door open. Then I ask him to wait another moment before releasing him to step through the doorway and into his stall. He always obeys me, but on Monday night, he snaked bared teeth loosely in my direction. Surprise! And yet, he only reminded me of one of our cats, Possum. "You did not just do that," I said, and backed him all the way to his paddock gate. No feeling of fear or not fear moved me; he was simply out of line. It was nothing personal.

Impatience: Let me go in.
Frustration: Why are you training me just now?
I've been on my own, you know. I can take care of myself.

Somehow I absolutely get where he is. I saw it in that instant. It's time to start defining reality for Dar.