Saturday, April 26, 2003

Nicole stepped in to help me out with some of my games today and it really improved us. I felt like I was at a plateau. We were getting somewhere, but not really anywhere in particular, and I felt stalled. So when Nic showed me where my deficiencies were in my games, for once I appreciated her "butting in". Basically, I was not really meaning it when I asked for something. I had just enough ambiguity that WF would hesitate in her response b/c she was trying to figure out what I meant. Luckily for me, her confusion is expressed as "uh... you want me to... uh... oh, wait, maybe it's THIS you want? It is? Oh, good, ok." Cheerios' is more like "WHAT?! WHAT!! I don't underSTAND!!!! waddayawantmeto DOOOOOOOO???!?!?!?!! OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod she's gonna KILL me if I screw up OhGodOhGod--" and meanwhile I'm terrified thinking he's gonna kill ME. It's a cycle.

So she reminded me to be a bit more direct and serious. Horses want us to be certain. They hate uncertainty. They'd rather have us say NO!!! that is not what I wanted and get it over with than to hear "well... I think maybe you could go over there... if ya wanna..." It's still hard to touch my horse with the stick very hard. Especially around the eyes—I'm always afraid I'm going to poke an eye out or something. I realize that horses are very very brutal with each other and they seem to survive, but still. It's a psychological thing. And I know from past experience that if you touch them once with a good Phase 4, you probably won't ever have to go to Phase 4 again. She's always following me around after we're finished, so I can't be doing any harm.

The concept of a consequence vs. the phases was brought to my attention as well. WF was starting to do what Cheerios does (but very much less aggressively), which is to come too close to my personal space to try to control how well I can use the stick or any other requests. I hesitate to do anything about it b/c the way Cheerios reacted when I did that is in the back of my mind (he freaks, he rushes towards me, he snorts, eyes wide open nostrils flaring). My reaction has been to Porcupine her back with her nose a few steps and yo-yo her in phases. Well, that's not sending a strong enough signal to BACK UP and not come into my space. Now I know what to do. Send a strong wave down the line, snapped like you're throwing a frisbee. Real quick, then drop the energy. I tried it and she backed off and after a couple of those she stopped at a polite distance and only came into me when I asked.

Nic had me work on direct vs. indirect rein and indirect rein vs. lateral flexion. Big BFOs for me. (BFO = Blinding Flash of the Obvious) I'm still not completely sure, but I'm getting better. My legs were so sore from the previous day that I could hardly ride her bareback. Ouch. Nic also gave me pointers on my FQ driving and on the Sideways Game.

Now for a non-PNH sidenote. I ran into an old friend at the barn today.

It's feeding time, and all the horses (42 of them) had been brought in. I'd let WF go eat and stopped by to say hello to Cheerios, then went to finish a conversation with Nicole about the clinics. Then I came back through the barn. Imagine it: a huge old-fashioned red wooden barn, with four rows of stalls—two aisles, one down each side, a tack room in the center, above which is the hay loft. I'm coming down WF's aisle to say bye-bye before heading for home. Now, about a week ago, a couple new horses arrived whom I'd only seen from a distance. Both geldings, they looked like Arabs. One afternoon I'd watched the interplay between them and the other horses. Well, I'm walking through the barn and I stopped short at the stalls where the new guys were and backed up and did a double-take, then looked at the name on the stall card.

I recognized one of them.

I almost fell over. It was Spock! I couldn't believe it. When I'd first got the riding bug three years ago, I'd found a stable across the border in Michigan to ride at and after a few weeks of nose-to-tail, decided to take lessons. I may have mentioned this in an earlier post. The stable housed three types of horses: the trail string, boarders, and a few belonging to a horse rescue that was operating out of the barn. Some of the boarders would allow their horses to be used for lessons or trail rides in exchange for lower board fees. It was a grab bag as to which horse would be the lesson horse, but most of the time I'd been with Dublin (yes, ironically, the horse belonging to my current barn's manager Erin).

I'd been taking lessons for awhile and one day Dublin wasn't available so my instructor debated before picking out this bay horse with a dorsal stripe whose ears had splits in them. He'd been sold at auction with tags in both ears, which nasty horses ripped out, leaving splits in his ears when they healed. So he'd been named Spock. Spock had a reputation for being very particular in who he liked. If he liked you, he liked you. If he didn't... best stay away from him. I did not know that when I saddled him up for my lesson. I liked him right off and felt sorry for his ears.

It was an interesting lesson—he wasn't about to listen to me and gave me a run for my money, whirling and stuff but I was laughing. I thought it was fun! I stuck it out and told the instructor I wanted to ride him again. She gave me the wierdest look. And from that point on, I fell in love with Spock and every time I went up for a lesson or to trail ride, I'd stop and pet him and feed him goodies. The instructor was surprised b/c he actually LIKED me. I thought he had personality and spunk. So when I decided I was gonna buy my own horse... I inquired. Spock was one of the rescues. He'd had it pretty bad. I forget the story now b/c it's been almost four years but it wasn't pretty and he had some emotional problems b/c of it. Well, that just made me more sympathetic.

So I asked about adopting him (you pay a fee and board and after a year you can keep him if the adoption is approved). The rescue lady told me, "you don't want that horse". Apparently everytime he went to a home, he was sent right back b/c he was so uncooperative with the new owners. I recognized elements of my dearly departed cat Vincent in that, b/c Vince also was sent back from several potential adopters b/c he arrived and wouldn't stop growling. They thought Vince was a mean cat. He wasn't. He was just scared. And untrusting. And he growled for a couple weeks with me, too, but I just let him growl it out of his system.

Then one night, I grabbed him at his food dish and held him down despite his protests and talked to him in a soothing voice and petted and petted and petted and petted him until he finally gave in, relaxed and the growl turned to a purr. He eventually fell asleep in my arms. I'd proven to him I could be trusted and bonded with him and he was my best friend for the rest of his life, until he died of cancer six days after our ten-year anniversary. I was betting Spock's story was similar. Most people just don't know how to gain a traumatized horse's trust. They think if they can dominate him, he'll listen and calm down. Not if he's been traumatized, he won't. A traumatized horse needs the opposite of domination.

I pestered and pestered the lady. I really wanted Spock. Weeks went by, and I was also pestering my Dad to come see him, help me adopt him, but neither side was budging. So I made an impassioned plea to the stable owner to talk to the rescue on my behalf. It was agony. I was trying to convince my Dad to let me have him, and telling the owner that I was certain I just about had the financing, and everyone was in limbo. The stable owner got tired of my stalling and wanted my decision by the next day. Dad wasn't sure about him. Then he finally caved.

But I never got the chance to adopt Spock. The next morning, when I called the barn to tell them that it was a go, I could finally have Spock, I learned that the rescue lady and the barn owner had had a big blow out the night before, and the rescue horses were leaving. All the rescue horses were being redistributed to new foster homes immediately—including Spock. Because the ties between the stable and the rescue were severed, all pending agreements between them were dissolved. I was devastated. NO!!! They're taking Spock away!!! I'll never see him again! I jumped into my car and raced up to Michigan, hoping to stop them from taking Spock away, to beg them to let me be the last person at that stable to adopt a rescue. He had been so close to being mine! But as I turned the corner, I passed a trailer full of horses. Spock!!! my mind cried out. I knew he was in there already. And I was right. They hustled him out of there first so I wouldn't be able to get my hands on him. The only horses left were the rescuer's personal horses. I was so utterly devastated. And noone knew where he'd gone. Or they weren't interested in telling me.

Not long afterwards, I stopped riding up there b/c the weather got bad (winter came) and then I discovered the team roping barn and took lessons there for a while then found Cheerios and moved out to my current barn. Ironically, a few months after I arrived, the horse rescue people moved in! But Spock wasn't with them. My old lesson horse Dublin was and still is, a big quarter-draft cross mare owned by the girl who is now managing the barn (she used to help with the rescue but a few months later, she had a falling out with the other girl). They said he was doing fine with the girl who adopted him. It was a small consolation but at least I knew he was safe. But I missed him. Eventually I got all caught up in my drama with Cheerios and memories of Spock drifted away. Then the rescue lady ran into some financial trouble (it was just too draining to care for all the horses dropped on her doorstep using her own money) and the rescue eventually dissolved. Horses left yet again.

So when I saw those ears today, and realized my Spockie had come home, I nearly fainted from joy. I rubbed him all over and I don't know if he remembered me, but he was calm about it, seemed to enjoy it. I was standing by his stall, absentmindedly scratching his cheek and one of the boarders (sometimes some help with turnout and feeding) was very surprised and made the comment about how he either likes you or hates you. Poor Spock! His reputation preceded him! I said he was an old friend. And I watched the quizzical expressions of four people who were uneasy around him who were perplexed that I was so happy to see him and that he was letting me scritch him. (In fact, the other horse that came in with him was also from that barn, Mocha, but I didn't have much experience with him.) I guess I must've bonded with Spock long ago. Hell, I didn't know he was supposed to hate me!

Apparently he and Mocha might be up for sale again. I guess it's the same old story. Either he isn't working out for her, or her finances are in jeopardy like everybody else in the world. They were moved to our barn b/c our barn is relatively cheap compared to the other barns (we are not a show barn, we don't have an indoor arena) to see if she can manage to hang onto them.

Gawd, if I could win the lottery. I'd buy Spock in a heartbeat. Probably Mocha too b/c they are bonded tightly. (Yeah, four horses to put through the Levels, just what I need! One good stable one, one with an attitude problem, one who's nutso, and one that's just an Arab. j/k) Well, at least I get to see him again. I hope they stick around for a while. I'll try hard not to get attached again but he's so cute in such a funny way, poor thing.

Funny how the high points of my days involve horses. And the low points involve men—or jobs.

So now we are up to speed. Two years in the life of me as a horseowner. The years before weren't nearly as interesting b/c all the horses were "safe" horses. Well, there was the Nugget incident back in high school I'll have to recall sometime, and the Arab at the trail string barn that ran off with me over the manure pile...

But back to the present. Today was a very good horse day. I headed out around 2:00. It was a little chillier than it looked like it should be; I actually had to wear my fleece shirt buttoned clear up under my heavy barn coat. My barn coat used to be a casual outerwear coat. It's kind of cool—it has a windbreaker part made of khaki fabric (that new stuff that the rain just rolls off of) and an inner part that really warm. The inner part zips into the outer part, and it's reversible. So you have four options. The whole thing, plaid cotton interior. The whole thing, plain green fleece interior. The outer part only for warm breezy days; the inner part only (either side, so I guess that's five options) as its own jacket. I wore it to the barn a few times and got horse-slobbered and that pretty much sealed its fate.

ANyway... WF was very much into following me today. I walked into the arena where the poor mares are still stuck until the pasture grass grows, and was carrying my tack over to the round pen. She saw me. I smiled and said hello to her. I deposited my tack (hung the saddle and blanket on the fence) and turned and Oh! There she is, right beside me. I rubbed her and said I wasn't quite ready and walked back into the barn. She didn't know what to make of that. Came back out with more stuff. Right there, following me. I opened the gate, and she walked right in. Another horse named LaDeDa tried to follow her (she always seems like she really wants to be included, too) but I gently turned her away.

The whole session was very good. I was out there for FIVE hours. Half of it on the ground, half mounted. My mission was to Mean It today. One time I accidentally meant it a little too much on Zone 4 (her butt) and she jerked back, let out the beginning of a squeal and bucked her hind end up. Oops! Had to really rub her to make up for that mistake. She forgave me. Ironically, she started disengaging much better after that. I worked on Driving the FQ (still a bit iffy but there's improvement), yo-yoing with determination, circling and changing gaits (MUCH improved especially on the Send and maintaining until I say stop), and even got some Sideways out of her. I was excited. I'm still working on asking her to go over there and put her butt over that way, but it's starting to fall into place. I can see the beginning of it. I can also see how far we've come: from standing in the center of the pen to moving around in it effectively. Oh yeah, we did the Squeeze Game too. That's a no-brainer for her b/c all it is is half the circling game between me and the pen with a quick disengagement of the HQ to change direction. She's really good at that. And we picked up all four feet from one side very nicely.

Riding portion: POLITELY saddling from the Indian side (do I need to change my rigging? Pat has his rigged like everyone else does, he just puts the saddle on from the opposite side); practice mounting from both sides, bouncing 3x with my foot in the stirrup before standing up, bellybutton pointing towards the horse's head (NOT toward the saddle), wait, ask for permission to mount, then swing the leg over and politely descend into the saddle (way harder than it sounds); hurry up and wait; direct vs. indirect rein; indirect rein vs. lateral flexion; and "patience, my dear, I won't let you miss dinner". We work on that last one a lot. No matter how early I hit the barn, I'm always there for feeding time. It went VERY well. Even going into the barn was good. She was anxious to eat, but she waited for me to ask her to enter the gate, and willingly let me lead her past her hay- and grain-filled stall to the cross-tie area by the tack room so I could untack her; then she politely went into her stall and disengaged her HQ w/o my asking much, and though one eye was on her food, she contained herself politely and tipped her nose to me when I took her halter off. I asked her to wait just a moment before I released her.

She still pulls away a little quicker than I'd like, but she is improving. She's beginning to realize I won't let her starve, I won't torture her, and if she waits until I give the signal, I give the signal faster and she gets to her food a lot faster than if she yanks away from me. If she does that, she's found out that I'll just pull her away from her food, put the halter back on and do it again, as many times as it takes until she waits for my signal. Oh, the frustration! It's just easier to do as the human asks the first time.

Karen was in charge of feeding tonight b/c Erin is on a long weekend camping trip she looks forward to every year (with her horse). I helped out since it was only the two of us. While Karen was finishing up putting the feed in, I groomed Echo's head. Poor Echo. She always has her ears back so everyone thinks she's mean. But she's not. Well, she is to certain non-savvy individuals... but not to me. She's figured me out. I'm ok in her book. Her hair is still long—like it hasn't shed out. I'm concerned that it's Cushing's Disease; I got my shedding blade and curry comb out. Her forehead (and Redbird's too) was just icky, fuzzy with unshed hair and greasy and dandruffy. Red wanted to rub so bad on my arm that I let her b/c she's miserable. So I took to Echo with the shedding blade. She was a bit wary at first but I approached and retreated slowly, letting her sniff it, and touched her neck gently a couple times until she realized not to jerk away. Then I gave it a stroke. And another. Echo's eyes went from the usual coldness to brief surprise, then they softened and half-closed. That is the first time in two years I have ever seen Echo with a soft eye. She leaned into the blade and I worked out some of her hairs. She seemed to be mentally thanking me for scratching that nasty itchy forehead of hers and loosening up some of the hair. Poor thing. I'd love to get ahold of her and give her a good grooming. I don't think her owners come out much.

Do I have a soft spot or what?

We let the mares in, then we let the boys in. Cheerios came right to me; Spock and Mocha had to be walked in b/c they didn't know the routine yet and everyone was scared to go into a stall with both of them (they go into one stall together to eat, they are joined at the hip), except me. So I offered to walk them in. Oh, there was a minor situation when two other horses came trotting down the aisle before I had them in their stalls, and I know now that my mistake was. I had a lead rope around Spock's neck. I went to put him in first. Mocha followed. Oops. While I was trying to get Mocha to come out, Spock came out and started going the other way. So do I go after Spock, or keep Mocha from eating Spock's food? Then the other horses came in, and everyone was headed my way. Then Mocha got out of Spock's stall. Oh, geez. Impending disaster. Four geldings with attitudes, two freaky ones and two who know the drill, in an aisleway with me with nowhere to go.

You don't have health insurance yet, my mind says.

Don't remind me of that right now, I reprimand my subconscious.

Well, it all ended well with everyone safely in their stalls w/o snorts or incidents, but what I should have done was lead Spock as I was doing; send Mocha into his stall and shut the door while keeping hold of Spock, THEN lead Spock into his stall. OK, so I learned something. After everyone was in and happily crunching, I bid my farewells to my horses. Wildflower got a handful of her carrot treats. Cheerios got a few apple treats. I kept one for Spock. He happily accepted it and nodded his head as he chewed. I'm so glad he's here. I wonder why, after all this time, he has reappeared in my life?

It is 3:34 am. I cannot believe I'm still up typing. This was supposed to be a quick notation in my PNH (b)log, but turned into more. I started at 1 am. Man, I'm pooped!

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