Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Knot of the Year

I didn't say much in my journal about the difficulties of this year with the horses; not in particular details, at any rate. When I did mention barn moves and poor standards of care, I always added that the horses got through it, I got through it, my friends got through it, etc. People told me we'd get through it, and they were right. It's true: everybody got through it.

There are hidden side effects of squeezing through a bad pass, though, and I think I'm being impacted by one of them now. The difference between rushing to my horse because she's my refuge and rushing to my horse because I am worried about her is vast. That change of focus can be subtle, but it ends up being very consequential. I lost track of its silent encroachment into my consciousness somewhere near the end of the events, as we worked our way home to a good, steady, reliable barn. It wasn't until after we had settled and some other chapters were concluded that it all came to bear and I realized how disconnected I feel from my mare right now.

Such good things happened, too, this year, but there's that raw-deal thing about how fleeting is their power. Somehow it's not easy to hang onto the lift of them and let oneself be carried for a while. Instead, I have to list them from memory. Scout and Special K came together. I released Scout to K with full openness, acceptance and peace. Dar's been gone for over a year and I have no way of tracking him, so he's subsided to just an occasional daydream. Late in the summer I found an instructor I understand and respond to with sublime, practical ease. All these things help resolve and reshape my horse life for the better, I know they do.

...and I realized how disconnected I feel from my mare right now. But I don't know that it's her. I think it could be horses in general. And I'm struggling with it, very much so.

Here's how it went. Everything with the horses settled and then I moved home, but my job asked much more of me much later into the post-season than it ever had. I could not wait until the holiday break; I felt myself leaning hard against the gate, wanting so badly to burst into my own free space. An immense sense of pressure was building that left me on edge and preoccupied.

Now I am in that time I was awaiting with such need. Alone at home, holidays done, typing on a grey afternoon, cats asleep, the phone silent, I expected finally to exhale into calm, but that's not what's happened. Instead, I realize that I'm filled with aftereffects of the year and they are spilling out with a vengeance. I feel distant from my horse, as though something has changed. It's like a taint, a lingering pall cast over us by trouble, even though it's past. She's got nothing to do with it, and I know that, but I'm stuck here in this thing, stuck in a knot I don't think I tied. Or, I feel like I'm looking down at a bruise that just won't fade when I should be looking up at my horse. Why?

I don't know what else to say about it right now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finding Home, Concluded

I could have hope for Scout's future, perhaps, but not expectation. You can't have expectation when it comes to horses themselves. They are separate beings, living their own lives. As much as they must adapt to us, who possess them, so must we adapt to them. I'd adapted to not riding Scout and she'd adapted to not being ridden. There was a balance, but not a very useful one, with waste on both sides.

I get so busy in the summers, five months are wiped right out of my year. I told Special K she could ride Scout anytime she wanted and left it at that. It's not that I was indifferent, it's that my future with Scout only meant keeping her with me so she'd have the good, safe life she deserved. I remember how I'd get an email here and there from Special K in which she detailed some ride she'd had with Scout. She rode her out alone, in groups, for hours on trails. One day she told me she'd been putting all those miles on Scout just for me, so I'd feel less intimidated about riding her. Such a good, good friend. I shook my head no. Scout wasn't that for me, was never going to be that. There was a diamond in the rough in her, but I wasn't going to be the one to find it.

In July of 2010, I returned Dar to the jousters, and in September Saxony fell out of the sky and I bought her. I remember having a window of time there where I had just one horse. I thought hard about keeping it that way. But... I had Scout, yet I didn't have her. I needed a horse I could have in all three dimensions, one I could manage and grow with. That fall, our vet let Special K knew that her aging Arab needed to move to semi-retirement. No more four-hour rides for little Gambler. After her shock wore off, Special K proposed taking a half-lease on Scout. Of course I said yes, and together they rode out into the coming winter.

Then we went through a horrible year. The climate at our little-bit-of-paradise barn changed and the standard of care dropped rapidly. In May we moved our horses to another place, just before I was grabbed away by the festival. I  brought Saxony over from her barn to make us complete. The way I saw it, even if the summer claimed all my time, our horses would finally be together in one place, we'd have left barn drama behind, and we could start clean in the fall. It was not to be. The new place was a joke. Special K had to go there every day to care for our horses.

I worked and worried, but for Special K it was different. Her Arab had reached retirement; he was fit for light riding only. She was at the barn every day and I was gone, so she turned herself loose on Scout as though she were her own. I'd get these dispatches about where they'd trailered, which shooting range they'd ridden by, what group ride Scout had aced. Sometimes I'd get a quick call right in the middle of a show day at the festival. Amidst the churning crowds, I'd press the phone tight to my ear to Special K. Breathless, she'd squeal, "Scout is the bomb! She was perfect." Then, in a hushed tone, she'd say,"She's a trail goddess." The joy in her voice made my heart lift, just had to. It was like the C.W. Anderson novels I read as a kid, that simple, that magical.

We left the second place in August and moved everybody to the steady, reliable barn where I'd bought Saxony. What a hard, stressful summer it had been. But I remember following behind on Saxony, watching Special K handling Scout on a loose rein during our ride to the new barn, and feeling the first sense of calm I'd experienced in months. The ease, the rapport, the familiarity of each with the other, their confident sense of purpose. They were lovely together.

I don't know the precise moment when it happened. It might have been the moment when Scout bucked her off and made her so mad, or it might have been the moment when Special K realized she had the one horse on a long group ride who wasn't going to wig out. It doesn't matter for me to know; it really is between them. What matters is that at some point, Special K fell in love with Scout. And then she fought it, thinking there might be one last chance left in me for Scout. And then she quit fighting it. When she called me, asking could she buy her, I said yes, yes of course, because all I'd wanted was for Scout to find her true home. Now she has. They both have. How lucky am I?

Merry Christmas, with all my heart, to my two favorite redheads.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Finding Home, Continued

The thing is, when I put Scout up for sale, I was already drunk on another horse, a cranky youngster who the jousters couldn't bring around, wouldn't bring around. It was Dar, a six-year-old Percheron Morab cross, of all things. He was slow, lumpen; he seemed so much less complicated than Scout, though just as remote as she had been in the joust herd. I took him with me on trial, confident that I'd re-home Scout and have a horse more suited to my own re-education.

Circumstances derailed that, and, while Scout tolled her days of stall confinement, it really began to weigh on me that I now owned two horses, one I'd sort of already given up and the other one I'd yet to fully embrace. I wrote about it in a heart-heavy funk that winter of 2009/2010 and spent countless moments feeling pretty sure I'd been a fool through most of my return to the world of horses. It was a dilemma I spoke often of with friends, including Special K.

That mysterious thing of having a great friend who's right there, nearby, but never quite in the spotlight. That's what we were to each other before we ever knew it. Unlike me, she never really left horses, but like me, she had fears. Where I loved riding in an indoor arena, she was phobic about it. Instead, she was in full, thrilling bloom out on the trails, where I was anxious and clamped down. I remember one day, when Scout was throwing a screamy alpha tantrum about being separated from her herd, Special K exclaiming to me, "You ride her?"

Sometimes, and Kind of, is what I said to her. By the time we began to grow close as friends, I was already in my own conversation about letting Scout go. I was embarrassed about it, too, because I saw Special K as fearless when I rode out with her. Her way of laughing off her little Arab's rare spooks and startles left me awestruck. She would never part with a horse because of something like nerves, is how I imagined it. No need for embarrassment, though. Special K never minded dealing with me announcing my fears whenever they erupted in me. She'd just calmly lead us onward or homeward.

Of course, she's the kind of person who will ride any horse. Any horse. She's just that curious about them, that passionate about riding. It had to be inevitable that eventually she'd want to try Scout, have to try her, just to see what she was like. One warm, springtime day in 2010, we brought up the subject with each other in a spontaneous burble of coincidental thought. Dar was in training while Scout lay fallow, recovered and happy to be left grazing the days away. A voice somewhere deep in me whispered hope.