Monday, December 28, 2009
"I don't know. Why?"
She called me and explained she wanted to ride from the barn to her house so her boyfriend's nephews could pet the horses. "Come with me," she insisted. I wanted to go out and see my boy anyway and the ride to her place is only about 30 minutes. I thought I could sneak off for that long without my family missing me too much.
Little did I know that when I told my husband I was going he was going to freak out. I'm not even sure what kind of passive agressive BS that was but do you think he could just ask me to stay home? Of course not...it had to be the hairy eyeball rolling thing he does when he doesn't want to tell me not to do something but he's mad I didn't just read his mind. So, I called Sister and told her I wasn't going to make it. Just then my husband drug a bag of carrots he bought for the horses out of the fridge and plopped it on the counter beside me. "Just go," he growled and went back to chores which is what he does when he's mad. Really? Why'd he buy the horses Christmas treats and then get mad at me for wanting to go ride...argh. I will never get men. But never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took him at his word and bolted.
I got to the barn just as Sister finished tacking up and rushed to get Tax out and saddled. By then it was 3:30 and I was starting to worry about making it to her house and back before dark. As long as we didn't stay too long we should make it but it aslo meant I didn't get time to warm Tax up in the arena and do an attitude check. Of course that means that everything that could go wrong did. Tax was a creep...even Promise was a creep. The garbage cans at the end of the driveway were scary, the dogs barking at the fence next door were scary. Promise REALLY did NOT want to leave the barn and kept trying to turn around and go home but sister was afraid to fight with him because Tax was so tense so instead she kept having to hop off and lead on foot. We got lost and had to double back a bit to find our trail again. We came across loose dogs and honking attack geese. And in a minute I'll tell you about the bike jumps but first a bit about traffic...
The Christmas traffic was terrible. Local folks drive really carefully around the horses even though we aren't riding right on the road most of the time other than a couple of places where we have to actually cross. The worst we typically get is someone who drives a little too fast but Sister (on her usually reliable pony) flags them and asks them to slow it down and they usually do. Christmas, however, meant a lot of vistors to our little rural area. We had two vehicles I'm pretty sure were purposely trying to scare the horses; honking and gunning their engines right next to us when the could clearly see my horse dancing around starting to panic and there was absolutely no reason for it but pure malice. Sometimes we have folks honk when they're excited about seeing horses and they wave...I get it and while it's inconvenient with my idiot horse we deal. These guys were just being awful and trying to cause an accident. We weren't on the road; we certainly weren't causing a problem for them. There must be a special place in hell for someone who would try to get someone else killed in a horrible accident like that on Christmas. Idiots.
Bike jumps...I used to run up and down them, hills and ditches, as a kid on my pony and it was great fun. The trail were were riding on Christmas was elevated with slopes down each side and water in the ditches along side. Some kid had dug down the trail right in the middle about 7-8 feet and it was almost a straight drop down, then a narrow bottom and then straight up the other side. Sitting 5 and a half feet off the ground and looking down at a huge drop off on my morondon does not bring back fond memories that make me want to try it again. As a matter of fact it makes fear boil up in the pit of my stomach bad enough that when we got to the first one I got off and walked. I can't get on Tax from the ground so once I'm off I'm off until I can find something to climb up which is fun when he's freaking out and dancing all over the place. We were close to the house and needed to cross the road so I decided walking was a great option at that point.
Going down in hand was actually not too bad. He went slow although sideways and with his head up like a llama. Why can't he watch where he's going? Up was another story...he blew up that hill sideways in two big leaps and nearly crashed into the back of Promise dragging me along with him by the reins. Whatever, we made it to the house finally without further incident and he was great with the kids. He grazed all sweetly while the family fawned over my "majestic" horse. Heehee...he is a pretty striking animal especially when you aren't used to horses.
I'd already gotten myself in trouble for going to the barn on Christmas now it was someone else's turn. Sister was in trouble with her boyfriend's mom for not being there. I have always, always ridden my horse on Christmas when I had one. Why do non-horsey people not understand this? We decided to get back to the barn as fast as possible because the light was getting low and Sister needed to get back for the Christmas dinner she hadn't planned on having.
We tried heading out at a trot but the horses were antsy to get back to the barn. Tax was bucking and crow hopping about twice a minute. Then we had the first of the creep drivers just as we got ready to cross the street to hit the trail with the bike jumps so that got him nice and riled up. Shortly after that we were back to the trail. On the way back we saw there was a small path next to the water in one of the ditches skirting the first bike ramp. The footing on the path looked okay so we decided to try it instead. I didn't want to get down now or I'd be walking quite a long way to find a suitable fence to help me get up on Tax again.
Sister took off too fast and got ahead while I was trying to negotiate some mud (which Tax also doesn't like) to get on the path. I called out to have her wait up but stopping on the way to the barn was not in Promise's plan for the day. He proptly turned, refused to listen to Sister's cue and went back up to the main trail. Tax was none too happy about that, let me tell you. Sister got to the top of that bike jump and immediately hopped off to walk it. Damn her and her long legs and short pony. We were doing okay until Tax and I got to the point where our path intersected with the bottom off the bike trail just as Sister started up the hill back out of it. Tax thought they were leaving him and just flat panicked. I could feel it in every muscle in his body. He backed onto the trail while I started calling out to Sister. It's what I do when I panic. Sister, Sister, Sister, Sister (except I use her real name in real life)...over and over. I remember thinking that I hate that my voice sounded panicky too. I was kicking Tax forward toward the path while he backed in a blind fury. I knew he was going up the hill after Promise no matter what and I flashed back to a fall he took on a hill on another trail ride because he just doesn't pay attention if he gets left behind. Then I couldn't think about anything because he was leaping up the hill sideways and flailing about. I remember a half a second of rational calm where I realized I just needed to let him go. I pushed my shaking hands forward to stop my frantic pulling and sank deep in my saddle grabbing the horn. Sister had stopped at the top afraid to go further and make his panic worse. We hit Promise hard in the butt as my horse twisted sideways trying to find purchase on the path. I prayed the mud would hold us and he wouldn't slip. Then we were standing at the top slightly off the path and I cannot believe I stayed on him. It was like riding a ship tossed in a storm. I immediately burst in to hysterical laughy tears. I don't think I've ever been so afraid in my whole life...I'm kinda proud we managed it but do not EVER want to do that again.
On the way back there were a couple of good moments but also too many stupid drivers and too many crow hops into Promises butt. We're so lucky he's got the patience of a saint. You'd never know these two try to kill each other the minute they're turned out together. I finally got off and walked the last couple of blocks as the twilight got too deep. Everyone got home safe. I'm still not getting a divorce and I have no idea if sister had the most uncomfortable dinner of her life but my guess would be yes. Man, this was supposed to be a relaxing ride!
Note to self...if Sister ever asks if I'm feeling adventurous, just say no.
Oh, so I cut December's mane. Yeah, with scissors and yes, I know I'm not supposed to but I got tired of trying to comb mud out and she won't let me pull it and sometimes I get impatient. Oh and yes, I cut it wet; thanks for asking. It's too short but only the top 1/3 closest to her ears so she has a mini-mohawk on top. I banded it and put her sleazy on her but I don't know if its going to help. I would only do something so stupid with a horse I need to sell. Heh...that's so not true. I constantly do stupid stuff. Sigh.
Next, I'll write about my niece's first fall off a horse. She and December are no longer friends.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Now I'm preparing for surgery in late January that's going to have me laid up enough I can't ride for two months at least. Two months...in Feb and March when I should be preparing for show season which was the whole point of moving to the expensive barn with an indoor arena. I kind of want to cry everytime I think about it. I know doing it is the right thing to do but I wish we could have done it in November when we first figured out what was going on. Especially because it feels like something really clicked with Tax in the last week. Wow...enough, bitching already, huh?
On a happier note let me explain about Tax. I had take a week off mid-December when my cramps had me doing not a lot but writhing in pain. Coming back he hadn't been turned out much because the rain turned all of the outdoor arenas into big mudpits. Our first ride didn't go well. He bucked and I flopped around and got two huges bruises on my stomach from my saddle horn. Really ugly and of course all in front of the new girl at the barn who rides so well. Bleh. I got smart the next day and lunged the heck out of him. I even used side reins which I typically don't like doing. Whatever, maybe I should lunge him in side reins more. By the time I got a nice slowish rythmic canter from him from the ground he was pretty tuckered out. I hopped on to ride and I swear it was a different horse. He was so light in my hands it was amazing. He moved off my leg like...well, not like a 6 yo green ex-racehorse. I could feel him stepping through with his hind. Another small change I made was carrying a dressage whip. I never even really used it but it changed his whole frame. I could feel how lifted his ribs and back were. I decided it was a good time to try some leg yeilds at the trot. We've been working on some lateral work at a walk.
I got him trotting evenly down the center of the arena. Toward the end I shifted my weight slightly to slightly drop my weight to my right seat bone. I pushed my left leg against him just behind the girth and held him steady with the reins: outide holding and inside softly massaging. He in return bent all wonky and broke to the walk. I tapped him on the left with the whip lightly behing my leg and clucked. He picked back up the trot and I felt him thinking about what I was asking. I straighten for a minute then asked again. He tossed his head once against the reins, figured out I wanted them there and then trotted a decent yeild. Yay!
We've been working on it a couple of times a night since. God, it feels good. Maybe someday he'll be a decent riding horse if we can just get the canter under control. I do have more hope than I used to though.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Then she said, “I love my sport, but god I hate never being able to eat anything.” She told me a story about a picture her mom (mom rode very competitively too) liked from a show and bought to submit to a magazine without telling her. She hates it because her coat billowed out and she looks “40 pounds heavier”. It hit me what it might be like to grow up with that kind of pressure to be good and to look right and be competitive. I’m kinda glad that I’ve always been able to ride just because I love it.
Saturday I met the vet at the barn to have the horses teeth floated. It went better than I was expecting given that we had to do it in the corner of the cross tie area of the barn. When I showed up I realized December is completely in heat and was being a spaz but one shot of sedatives calmed her right down. Tax was also in a mood. He’s been indoors too much with all the rain we’ve been getting. Again, one shot and quiet as can be. And now both have floated teeth.
One question, when did vets get younger than me? Cute too…sigh. The kids were a hoot. I had my niece and middle son with me and they both laughed and laughed at the funny horse faces. Son kept up a running commentary that had the vet tech giggling under her breath and the vet smiling. Who knew vet appointments could be so fun?
Friday, December 4, 2009
We brought him carrots and I swear the first thing he did after smelling my hand was shove his big old head in my chest the way he always used to. I managed not to cry but I'm pretty sure I heard some sniffling from Sister. Luckily for her it was dark... We gave him our carrots and lots of scritches and love.
His mane is all grown out now and I think it's becoming on him. Very thick and long. His coat is soft and shiny and his weight looks like what you'd hope an older horse would look like. He's downright fat for a TB. We didn't get pics since it was dark but I plan to drive by now that I know where he is and get some. B says we can visit whenever we want. Yay!
She's got her work cut out for her having bought a 100 year old farm house. It's pretty cool though, I must admit. They've started renovating the ancient milking barn on the place and want to open it up for the horses. I don't love the fences, there's barb wire at the far end of the pasture but they've run hot wire along the inside and it looks like they've started replacing it closest to the house with no climb. They do have a fenced arena and paddock that they keep Cody in at night so he can't get into trouble in the dark.
I'm playing it by ear right now. If she really wants December I think I'll sell her. If she doesn't push it neither will I...I'm kinda loving the BGM these days. We have an appointment with the vet on Dec. 12th to look at her leg and float her teeth. We'll see how it goes after that.
I rode December at night for the first time recently. Sister did it first last week so I was feeling brave. I warmed her up in the round pen and then I took her in the indoor arena. My younger two boys were in there with one of the kids who lives at the barn playing in the sand and gosh those boys get loud. December was really good even with them screaming and running around at one end of the arena and pigeons flying out of the rafters at the other. Who is this horse that has come and replaced my bitchy mare???
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We were crazy with our ponies. My mom’s boyfriend had two daughters, one a year older and one a year younger than me who both had small ponies when I first met them. Later they were replaced with horses after I got my larger pony because I was not allowed to have anything nicer than them. I don’t blame them; their dad was insane but they were just children. We did our best at the time to get along and were usually friends. Largely unsupervised and by parents who were not horse people we got up to all kinds of shenanigans. It just never occurred to me that one of us could get hurt. Applejack and I were invincible, right? And that poor little guy poured his heart out to give me everything I asked for. Sure, he was hard mouthed and stiff and out of shape when I got him but that didn’t keep us from tearing up the town.
One day we decided to teach the ponies to jump. In our hard packed dirt and gravel driveway we set up a 2x4 across the seats of two lawn chairs. We set it up at the point where there was a pond on either side of the driveway to discourage the ponies from veering off course. We’d start at the bottom of the slightly uphill grade and tear up to the homemade jump at a run. I quickly learned that a saddle horn in the guts didn’t feel so good. Did I mention all of us rode western because that was what we happened to have? I was also riding in a small curb bit because I had no idea horses are supposed to be trained for it. I just bought a cheap western bridle and threw it on him. Yikes. To avoid bruising my stomach I ripped my saddle off and put on my trusty red fleece bareback pad. At least it had a handle I could hold onto instead of ripping on Applejack’s face. I only remember a couple of falls on that hard ground and only one trip into the pond before I learned to balance just right and steer at the same time.
That was how we learned to jump. Soon the wood was raised to the back of the lawn chairs, and the other ponies started refusing. It was too tall for them to try to clear with a kid in tow. We took turns racing my poor barefooted pony up the driveway and hooting with delight as he tucked up and sailed over the 2x4. To his credit he always loved to run and jump and did so without much complaint. It became a favorite new activity and many jumping sessions followed. When Apple was done for the day he’d let you know with a buck and we’d take down the “jump” and trot around the backyard in the soft grass for a while.
Our next door neighbor was a married women in her mid-twenties. She was a high point champion in a local hunter/jumper riding club and had a huge beautiful chestnut jumper. His name was Merrimack after the 1800’s US frigate that was destroyed by fire and rebuilt later for another purpose. He’d had a bad accident and broke his face (I think on the track if memory serves me) and she had rehabbed him and taught him to jump. His face would forever carry the scar but he had a soft and gentle eye and the story of his name appealed to my fanciful imagination. I used to ride down the road to her place just to stare over her fence at him. I loved the graceful way he lumbered over to sniff my hands hoping for a bite of grass. The first time she saw us jumping in the driveway I thought she was going to have a heart attack and I don’t blame her one bit. She started coming out when she saw me ride up the road and struck up a conversation with me.
“Hi there,” she said.
“Hi,” I must have looked like a cornered rat but I wanted to know about her horse.
“What’s your pony’s name?” she asked.
“Applejack. What’s your horse’s name?” She told me the story of the Merrimack and how she had named her horse. I sat there blinking for a minute wishing someone would rebuild me and give me a new purpose. Most of the time I felt pretty worthless and mom’s boyfriend made it pretty clear the only thing he thought I was good for.
“Do you have a helmet?” she asked me and I shook my head, my infamous blond mop of wavy hair swaying against my cheeks.
“Hang on a second,” she ran up to her barn and came out a moment latter carrying something with her.
She was always kind of aloof and I could tell she didn’t think much of me and my pony but she did her best to educate me in small doses. She gave me an old velvet helmet of hers and explained why I should wear it when I was jumping. Unlike most kids my age I was proud to put it on. My “step-sisters” thought I was crazy and were quick to mock me but I didn’t care. Some days I watched our neighbor warm up her gelding in her makeshift arena and the way they glided over a few small fences. Such dignity! She was kind of a mousey non-descript woman with glasses but when she rode it changed her. And her rides were nothing like our mad dashes down the driveway. She taught me about the importance of a good warm up and cool down and about riding safely. I found I wanted to be just like her…I wanted to ride English.
About that time I was looking for an under the table summer job so I could try to save up for an English saddle. I found an ad for a local barn who was looking for a high school kid to clean stalls. They paid cash or you could work for lessons. It was an English barn! I wanted to respond so badly even though I hadn’t started my freshman year yet. Julie and her sister Amanda were allowed to do anything that their dad knew I would want to do. It was yet another way for him to control me so even though it was my dream job Julia was taken down to meet the trainer and was quickly hired.
I often went to the barn with Julia to keep her company and I helped out with the cleaning when her mother took her on vacation for a couple of weeks. Her sister Amanda hated hard work and was almost useless when it came to cleaning but Julia and I weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty if it meant more time with horses. The trainer at the barn wasn’t the best trainer but she wasn’t terrible either. My biggest complaint was you never saw her ride and she never worked with adults, but her girls did well enough showing. I didn’t fit in with all of her polished pony club kids who looked down on us because we cleaned stalls. I didn’t care for them either because in my humble 13 year old opinion most of them barely knew how to ride and could only handle their quiet lovely show ponies. I’d already learned how to handle a pony with hard mouth who did occasionally run off with you and could throw a decent buck when he was feeling good. I’m going to be a very big person right now and admit that many of them turned out to be better technical riders than I ever was. My equitation has never been great and that is the benefit of having a well trained horse to practice on.
I got to know the barn owner, Alycia, and I think she saw something in me. She was fond of lost little girls trying to find their way in the world and couldn’t resist nurturing a horse fiend. She was a large mid-western woman; strict and if you didn’t know her intimidating, but I respected her. In my mind she’s still larger than life. She was 6 feet tall without her riding boots on, large breasted and walked like a man. She had short hair brown hair, and a very loud stern voice but was a kind woman. She was half blind and always losing her glasses so she squinted most of the time and had delicate crow’s feet around her blue eyes. She was educated and had kids late in life so her two daughters were slightly younger than me. She also had her own three horses and a pony for her daughters who had outgrown her but that she was too sentimental to sell. She rented the rest of her 5 acre place to the trainer for her lesson program. She rode dressage on a young gray Anglo-Arab. Blaze was kind of the barn “bad boy” and I was instantly in love with him. Go figure… I’d never known anything about dressage and this was my first introduction to the sport. I’d ask her my shy questions about how to get my pony to listen better whenever we talked. The idea of a whole discipline of riding dedicated to just the partnership between horse and rider seemed like magic to me. When I started my freshman year of high school Alycia hired me to clean stalls and care for her horses. It was the beginning of a much needed friendship.
To illustrate how determined I was at that time to keep learning I want to describe a typical week for me. I rode a bus that dropped me off about two miles from the ranch. Three days a week I walked those two miles to the barn rain or shine to clean stalls until dark when my mom or her boyfriend got off work and picked me up. As the days got shorter Julia and I sat in the cold barn doing our homework until they got there. Then I went home to feed and clean my pony before finishing my school work. It never occurred to me to ask for a ride from my new employer who was a stay-at-home mom. It was my job and my responsibility to get there. On Saturdays I got up early to clean her stalls before my lesson with the trainer. Julia was still cleaning for the trainer who had many more horses so sometimes I would help her when I finished first for the day.
It was grueling work for my small body. At the time I was 5 foot and barely 100 pounds. We’d clean out the stalls and paddocks and put the dirty shavings and mature into a large wheelbarrow. Then we had to push the wheelbarrow up a hill to the far side of the pasture and dump it and spread the pile around. You couldn’t leave a pile for a horse to trip on when they were turned out or for the tractor to get stuck on when they turned the pasture a couple of times a year. We made that trip as many as ten times per day. Mud boots became my new best friends and struggling up that hill with a half filled wet load in the rain was my nemesis. I was determined to be valuable and keep my place at the barn.
Saturday lessons were what I lived and breathed for. The trainer rotated those of us without our own horses through her string of lesson ponies. My favorite was an older chestnut quarter horse mare with a big blaze named Sunkist. She was the color of new copper pennies. She was also bigger than most of the ponies which was nice since I wasn’t one of the little kids and she had a little bit of go to her. Most days it was a lot of walk/trot/canter each direction in a large group, but she was the horse I learned to jump a nice controlled hunter course on. She’d just tuck her little head and lope in like a pleasure horse popping over fences. It was a nice change from the out of control speed of my little man, Applejack.
I took those lessons home with me and practiced in a field across the street from my house. I’d learned about leads and learned my pony was good about picking up the correct one. We started to work on getting his head down out of the sky and he learned to arch his thick neck when I half halted gently. We practiced circles and going straight down a line. And last but not least I practiced the heck out of my posting trot, trying to learn to balance all over again. This just makes me laugh because I was such a kid….the one thing we never thought to work on at that time was stopping. He was terrible at it. I could get him to slow down and stop when I need to, but not without a bit of dancing around first.
When I first began Alycia was paying me so I could save up for my saddle but as time when on she began to ask questions about my pony and my home. I’m pretty sure she was a perceptive woman who figured out more than I ever shared with her. At any rate, whatever she knew she never pushed me too hard or broke my trust. I could tell she didn’t like my mom’s boyfriend one bit and I’m pretty sure at one point even tried to talk to my mom about it. Whatever she said she managed to do it was with enough grace that it didn’t result in any retaliation from my parents. Ultimately what did happen was she offered to allow me to move my pony to her home so I could continue my lessons on him. I would be allowed to clean in exchanged for his food and board. She even dug up some old tack that would fit us. She gave me my first snaffle bit and English bridle.
I can’t tell you how excited I was. This felt like the beginning of my dreams coming true. I was still a shy kid, and still very reserved around other people. I tried all the time to put on an act of just being normal and it caused me a lot of stress wondering when someone was going to realize what a freak I was. I didn’t think that I deserved good things happening to me, and I was hesitant to put myself in someone’s debt. So, as happy as I wanted to be it wasn’t with a clear conscience that I first asked my mom if we could move Applejack to Alycia's.
I'm posting an new installation today. I know this bit of the story will be kind of the calm before the storm, but the next one will be difficult. My beginning with horses is so tied to this story I can't separate the two.
I was going to apologize again that this story will get harder before the happy ending I promised, but then there was a comment on Mug's blog by an anonymous poster who said "Thanks for sharing. It helps". And she was right...it does help. She was the one, the first one, who wanted to hear that she wasn't alone, that others battle with these scars everyday. I understand how profound of an effect that can have because I've been there. I hope she got some of that from my story...its an incredibly powerful feeling. The simple fact is that this happens to kids and its okay to talk about. Ignoring it is easy. Pretending that it will go away and "moving on" is easy, but fixing it...that's a whole other thing entirely. It has to be discussed sometimes. It has to be thought about and deliberately healed. Thanks Anon for helping me think about that differently. I'm giving myself permission to write what I need to write and not apologize for it again.
I hope I've got some new readers. I really hope my writing improves through this process and I know sharing this is changing me in a subtle way. Thank you for allowing me to indulge.