Thursday, March 25, 2010

Many Things, No One Thing

On Tuesday, I left work after a remarkably stupid day at my desk and went to the barn. It was my night to feed, but also to go and see E ride her big mare.

I groomed Dar first. My big goon has learned his cross ties and he's wising up to how good the shedding block feels. I banged his tail back five inches to keep it out of the muddy paddock effluvia. He may be half Percheron, but not in his tail, which is thick, yes, but also ridiculously long.

I haven't seen E ride since October because she keeps the Percheron/TB cross she co-owns with K at the barn where Scout was injured. The last time I was there was the night we loaded Scout to trailer her to the clinic for the surgery. It's taken me all this time to put that in perspective and move on. All that's left is the lingering sense of irony -- how I was finally really ready to get on my blowhard, hotheaded mare, only to discover that she had been seriously injured. It seems I can still remember the resolve I had that particular night; I hope I can, any way, because I'll need it soon.

E has a new boyfriend, and I kept him company. K was there too, and the poor guy had to deal with meeting the Trinity and watching E ride her dressage mare at the same time.

"That's the canter," I told him when he asked. "Walk, trot, canter. Then there's the gallop, but you won't see that tonight unless it's an accident." We gave him mini-tutorials here and there while E put the Commish through her paces.
It was fun. He doesn't know from horses, and it wouldn't matter if he did, because he's drunk on E and she's what he can see.

I was completely relaxed and engaged there. Work couldn't have been further from my mind. It was all about horses. This is a huge sea change for me. I leave everything behind when I'm with the horses. I mean, I'm just completely present. I'm not sure I ever had that awareness when I was younger. Maybe it's come late to me, but also just in time. If fear is holding me back, at least I'm mature enough to see that it can be overcome, that there may be ways to overcome it.

I just feel that I've found a kind of place, and I'm surprised at how much of me I can bring to it. In a place that good, even fear seems less mysterious.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Our Family

I'm a photophobe, and I go to remarkable and often silly lengths to avoid being photographed. I've been that way most of my life, and I doubt it will ever change. Once, I saw a picture of just me that I liked. But this one, of Scout, me, and H.G., my unmarried partner (as the latest Census form denominates it) is a picture I treasure. It was taken by my best friend on a day shortly after Scout was brought to the picture-book farm where we board. That was in the autumn of 2006; it seems impossibly long ago. In the picture, Scout is asserting her absolute right to be with the two of us, not to intrude, but to belong, to be part of our family.

Scout adores and trusts H.G. I think it's his height that she loves. When we brush her together, he rests his left arm over her withers or back, and I think it takes her all the way back to when she was a foal, resting close against whomever her mother was. I just see that peace in her eyes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seasons of the Horse (Mud)

There's the seemingly endless winter (blankets), the long-awaited summer (fly spray), and the fleeting autumn (just ride), but spring stands unrivaled for the mud. At the farm, the paddocks transform into a deep, perfect weave of manure, hay, and boot-sucking ooze. The horses squish their way through it, content to breathe the fresh, clean air of the thaw and doze in warmth of the sun. When the mud softens, they take a spa day, rolling just so, grunting with pleasure in the wallow of their choosing. I cringe at the filth, but love what they do.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Six Long Months

Beautiful weather. I left work early to see the horses.

One thing has changed irrevocably in me since Scout's injury: my priorities. I won't allow less important things, less meaningful things, to push the horses into the background anymore. Keeping even one of them will require sacrifice and commitment, things I now realize I'm perfectly willing to accept. To work that hard for them means they deserve more of my time than the things that come easily.

When I pulled up to the barn today, Scout was lying down, her legs curled under her, catlike, in the sun and mud. She was basking, her eyes alert, her expression soft, completely relaxed. It's only the second time in the years I've owned her that I've seen her lying down.

The last time I was on a horse was in September 2009. I can't even believe that. But K told me I could ride Gambler whenever I wanted to. It means a lot to be trusted with another person's horse.

Gambler dozed in the cross ties while I spent 45 minutes peeling off some of his winter coat with a shedding block and brush. Eventually, a deep white pelt covered the ground around us. I love grooming horses, especially in springtime.

I tacked up Gambler and off we went. It was just a 30-minute ride, but I was also shedding. I left bits of frustration, pressure, tension and sadness behind me with every step. Gambler picked his way through the wet edge of the field. The sunlight, the stillness. Somewhere, a woodpecker jack-hammered a tree.

At the center of the south pasture, we rode serpentines and circles. I kept a light, steady contact, and deepened my seat, stretching tall.

Oh, I can remember how to ride.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Trinity

We call ourselves the Trinity, me, E and K, bonded around our horses and our hopes for them, our hopes for ourselves as riders, our hopes for our lives. Often a simple kinship springs up between horse people, but we blew past that quickly, into something profoundly deeper, into the place where you tell the truth about your emotional investment in your horse, the fears or frustrations you deal with, the progress and the setbacks. We all turn to our horses so we can cope with our lives, with the pressures we have in common and the ones that are unique to each of us.

Things have been building in all of our lives over the winter, and though we try to get together every Sunday, this was the one that turned into a Trinity summit.
We had a group implosion of the best kind. E turned 30 today, so we all met at the barn to take her out for her birthday. First, we did an in-hand session with Dar, E working with him while K and I watched her, learning. Afterward, we went to lunch, and there was very little horse talk during that, just lots of personal stuff. It was during the drive back to the barn that the floodgates opened. We sat in K's car for two hours, laying it all out, really working our hands into the muck of our horse lives. How to make it work, how to make it work. Give and take, trade-offs, pulling in the same harness toward variations of the same goal. Many tears and much laughter. Plans: If this, then that. If that, then this. It's all out in the open now between us. No more hesitating because something might be embarrassing, something might be so difficult to imagine. We all want to keep our horses, and we all know it will be hard, but not impossible if we work together.

E said, "This is the best birthday I've ever had."

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Every time we change the sheets on our bed, we go through this. We have no choice. This is Possum's favorite game, so it must be played. Of our 11 cats, only he understands the game of the deadly sheets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Watching Me

I know, I tend to brood over the rough things, the worrisome things. I don't mark and carry with me the good things, and I think I'm hardly alone in that. It seems that joy and vitality slip too quickly from memory, while sadness and doubt lumber heavily to the very edge of forgetting, where they linger for far too long.

But there are good things. Here's my doofus watching me, pining for me from the other side of the window yesterday. He gets to me, he just does.

And here's yesterday's stunning red sun falling off the horizon, through the fog and rain, sinking far too quickly for my camera to capture. I was captured by it, though.

I'm changing the name of this journal.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Watching Him

Monday and Tuesday nights, I do the P.M. clean and feed at the barn. After Sunday's sexcapades between Dar and Keely, I drove out yesterday feeling overwrought and sad. I got out of the Pathfinder and just stood in the driveway, looking at Dar. There he was, dozing in solitary lockdown, oblivious to Keely mooning over him from the other side of the fence. I crushed down the smile that always rises in me when I first see him; that's how bad I felt.

But I stood there for a long time, watching him. Eventually, he saw me and came to the fence, lifting his head high over the the rail, tipping his ears toward me. "You have no idea what a good life you'd have with me," I said to him. "I need you not to be a dick. This farm is perfect, and I don't want to have to take you away from here." His ears followed my voice. Fifty yards away, Keely squealed, banging her do-me rump against the fence. Dar whiffled, impatient for me to come closer. I went to the barn instead.

Dar knew I was there. He pressed his face against the window, watching me. There was something laughable in his expression, so dog like, so hopeful. It caught me for a second, a moment quick enough to jar me out of my reactive state. I gathered the cavesson, lunge line, dressage and longe whips.

So we worked. He waited for me at the gate, walked quietly beside me to the arena, and lowered his head for the cavesson. He needs work on halting on the longe line. Circling out in front of me, he daydreams through the command. It's not that he loves to rush, just that he doesn't think about what I'm asking until I alpha-ask it. Then, startled, he looks at me. "Oh, I didn't realize you were there!" We did well. Working with him, I forgot how upset I was, forgot how worried I was.

Right. Work with the horse you have today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


My horse story has been churning and roiling incessantly inside of me for months now, ever since the moment I learned the extent of Scout's injury. Since then, it's been only and always one step forward, two steps back, or that is how it has felt. Just when I think I've decided, when I've resolved myself to the next step, something happens to erase it. The fact of that has created a sense of pressure in me completely unlike others that life brings, something about the imperative that is horses. They cannot be discarded. I don't know how to discard them.

Because the winter skewed oddly this year, the worst of it coming later than usual, it neatly contained Scout's dilemma and kept me from having to face it in the long term. Conveniently, winter is mostly the off-season for horses and riders, especially for those of us who can't afford a big-dollar facility. Nevertheless, even as I accepted that Scout would be in recovery, Dar loomed ever larger, blooming and unused, in the background. I really felt him there, felt the urgency of needing to take him up before he turned into his own thing and left me behind. It hasn't been a good feeling.

The things you say to yourself when confronted with an unexpected turn of events, an unlucky, bad turn of events. Early morning has always been the worst time of day for me, all my life. I linger at the outer edge of sleep, where a relentless, droning chatter loops in my mind, all of it irrational, much of it bruising. If I'm lucky, I sleep it off; if I'm not, I carry it with me into the day.

You have no business having one horse, let alone two. You can't afford either of them.
You just shouldn't have taken Dar.
If you hadn't moved Scout, none of this would have happened.
She won't be sound, even if you did have the guts to ride her.
Dar's probably an asshole, too.
Just walk away.

Usually, I don't talk about my predawn horror thoughts, but lately all the churning has been getting to me. I told H.G. about it yesterday. I fell in love with him for many reasons, but at the time, his wisdom was something I didn't even perceive; it's a fringe benefit. "This is like a major car breakdown," he told me. "A blown head gasket or a stripped transmission. The car was already running rough, and you can't afford to get a new one, so what choice do you have but to suck it up and pay for the repair? And yes, with a credit card."

That's what we did with Scout, because we love her, because that's what we had to do in that moment. She had a broken bone and it had to be removed.

She's been on daily turnout since January 16th, almost two months. This week I began to see her unsoundness. During the first month of her turnout, I didn't scrutinize her. She'd been injured, gone through surgery and then nine weeks of stall rest; I didn't expect her to move normally, especially in the poor footing of snow and ice. A couple of weeks ago, I started to tune in. The surgeon had told me she should be fit for riding after six weeks of turnout. But no. No, she's not. I know Scout, and I can see she's far from normal, I think I can see that she's in pain. And the soundness wouldn't matter anyway, not to me, because it's not me that would ride her. I made that choice long ago, the night I put her pictures up on Dreamhorse. Scout's not the horse that's going to help me gain a foothold against my fear; she's just a horse I love. But soundness will matter if I have to give her up.

On CNN last week, I heard someone say the recession has ended and the economic recovery has begun. Not here, not in our house. Here, the recession has only just begun. For the first time, I've seen that I can't keep both of the horses. And I don't even know how to accept that, let alone what to do about it.

So you go scraping for money. Erin and I went out early this morning, drove 35 miles to a tack sale with stuff we could sell. They had overbooked the facility, though, and we couldn't set up. We drove back to the barn and decided to work with Dar in the snow-covered outdoor arena. It was there, during our session, that I felt myself breathe in a way I haven't for a couple of weeks, or maybe longer. Yes, much longer. I think I inhaled sharply the day Scout's fracture was diagnosed and I didn't release that particular breath until this morning.

Because he learned. Because we finished cutting in his sport-horse mane, because his feet looked great. Because he just isn't herdbound, and stood fairly quietly in the crossties. Because he hadn't forgotten all of his work on the longe line from last fall. Because he didn't buck or pin his ears. Because he resisted once and soon lost that argument. Because later, Keely, now in heat, backed into him and he didn't care. So, I exhaled, realizing one of the horses is a going concern, I can work with one of the horses.

And that's all it was, a simple lift, a brief clearing of my mind. Take it while you can get it. Just moments ago, Erin called to say Dar had climbed aboard provocative Keely once again. Ugh, and oh no. I so hoped he wouldn't be a studdy gelding.