Sunday, April 6, 2014

Darkest Before the Dawn


Back when I was very young in my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction I was often plagued with waking in the middle of the night. I would lie awake and think of horrible things. I had no faith in my future, was sad about my past. My sponsor told me “Never take stock at 4 a.m. Your brain will never tell you anything good in the hours of darkness.”

It never occurred to me to apply that to the waking hours of horsemanship.

You guys that follow my blog know that my good horse, Royal, and I have been through some pretty dark hours. He hung himself upside down by a front foot in 2012 in a type of injury very few horses survive. 2013 saw bent steel, torn bruised hocks, stitches, and staples, and bruises for both of us.

Peter told me in 2012 I had bitten off quite a little bit and I was going to have to find some way to help my horse relax. I will tell you when things are going south, for me, it is too late. I understand we BOTH need to relax but I can no longer find the ability for either of us.

Here in 2014, it has occurred to me to give up and walk away. Get a quieter horse. Figure out a way to board two, that Royal can be safe in a pasture, a beloved pet. 

Walking away has been my mode of operation as long as I can remember. As a kid, caught in a tough childhood, I dreamed of escape. As an adult, I have exercised that option time after time.

Along this journey, I have discovered the Universe (Great Spirit, God, you fill in the blank to suit yourself) is quite generous with It’s willingness to provide a person with opportunities to grow through that which It deems necessary. You can duck, dodge, fail, to your heart’s content and the opportunities will continue to roll back in front of you, blocking your path. The trick is, the stakes get higher every time.

I finally have a partner that is worth whatever I have to grow through to be worthy of our marriage, I have children that I will seek to build relationships with no matter our difficulties, friends I will swallow my pride and ego for, a job that pushes me to raise to it’s very high standards and a horse I cannot abandon. In any way.

A few days ago, I had the priviledge of being asked to ride someone else’s horse in Kip Fladland’s last of his winter series clinics. It is a very deep honor to have someone trust their horse to my care and I was determined to do my best by the sweet bay mare and her owner. I knew I would learn things that would apply to Royal but I was amazed at the first piece of information.

I handled that mare, understanding she had trouble spots and was easily triggered into distrusting humans. I reached for her with my heart and she reached right back. She gave me gift after gift of trust and response.  I made it easy for her.

I was not angry with that horse. No matter what she did I did not take it personally, did not expect her to behave differently, or expect anything of her at all, really. I set up situations, and allowed her to respond to them.

She licked, chewed, yawned, her gratitude was obvious and overwhelming.

I was not angry with her. I repeat this because it struck me like a ton of bricks just how very angry I was with Royal. How disappointed in him and in myself that we are at such passes. I didn’t want to ride him, didn’t want to attempt to take him anywhere. Couldn’t stand beside him and groom without him jumping around and me wanting to resort to a swift kick in the belly to stand him still. Fear and anger boiled in my stomach at the thought of my poor horse. Damn. No wonder we weren’t getting anywhere.

The mare and I had a fantastic day, worked through a ton of stuff and it struck me hard I should bring her home. I hope her owners keep her, go on with her and write a wonderful story of success with their very good little horse. She just needs a chance to relax and gain trust.


My friend Colleen had offered up some suggestions that we bring Royal out to her place, stand him tied to his hated trailer beside her good Smore gelding and let him soak there. I am game for anything and at this point, the light is slowly dawning once again that I am likely more the problem than he is.

Opportunity arose when the Omaha Stockyards Saddle Club hosted their annual clean up. Colleen is a long time member and I have skipped in and out.  I would load the horse, we would stand him tied with Smore, do our chores and then head for Cunningham Lake for a long ride.

Loading him, I had to channel another me, one that was arrogant and thought there was no horse I could not load. I do not miss the bravado of that person but I do miss the confidence. I got the job done, minimum drama and thought we might have a shot at a decent day.

My heart still rattled in my chest at the thought of Royal possibly blowing up, doing himself in, wrecking the barely paid for new to us trailer . . . the nightmares were alive and well in broad daylight.

Here he is, suspiciously examining the dubious trailer


Colleen was willing to lend a hand and I gratefully stepped aside and allowed her to do her magic. She helped my horse understand that rushing out of the trailer was not going to do for him what he needed done. Head lowered, he wouldn’t whack himself on the roof.

I watched Royal trust, relax and believe in her. She set up situations to allow him to trust and relax. He gave her gifts of acceptance and response.

The ride started a little tense for me. I stepped up without doing any groundwork, figured it had already been done in the trailer and he was soft and easy during the tacking up.

Suddenly I have a fire breathing dragon under me, snorting, head high, hip locked and unwilling to give. Damn.

He’s tall. Once on, my knees tell me it’s better to stay there and so I did. He is broke enough I have faith I can work out our stuff from the saddle though I was getting a little more than I bargained for, already.

As we head out, Colleen glances over at us. “What happens if you let him ride out on a loose rein?” She asks . . .

Fire and brimstone will break out, demons will arise from the ground and the hounds of hell will chase us clear to Texas is what will happen.

“He will jump out from under me.” Says me.


A little later she tries again. “Sometimes a horse can’t relax if they can’t get their head down.” I think I nod and mutter something here.

Dammit. I know she’s right. I know he can’t let down if I have him all gathered up. I have to deal with my fears of what might happen and set up some better situations. I cautiously slip him some rein. We go along.

I slip him a little more rein, chatting with my friend, acting like I am ignoring my horse.

A bit later, we are going along, his head is lowering, he’s relaxed, the rein is long, loose and easy in my hand. I sigh, take a deep breath, everything but lick and chew.

“Just in case you didn’t notice,” I point out, in case she hadn’t noticed “I have followed your advice, even if I did argue with you about it.” I grin at her.

She allows as how I am a pain in the ass, and I wholeheartedly concur. Just not a completely unteachable pain in the ass and neither is my horse.

We do lots of really good stuff. I am very guilty of buying my peace, allowing him to stalk past whatever he is afraid of, high alert and braced for the inevitable spook when it hits his rear view mirror.

Colleen coached me to stop him right before the trouble started, to help my horse relax through it and not to shortcut either one of us by leaving early.

Right here, we are coming up out of a draw, he would normally rush the last few steps. Normally, I would let him. We both had lightbulbs yesterday about how to get things working a little better.

Cunningham lake, resting 2014

Royal paid us back in spades. I think he was as delighted to find his peace of mind as I was. Cheerful and happy, we proceed.

Cunningham lake 2014Cunningham lake1 2014


Until we hit the bridge. Ya know, I don’t like bridges. I don’t know why, I have never yet to this day seen a horse leap to it and it’s rider’s deaths from one, but I always figure it might happen.

When Royal said he didn’t think it was a very good idea to step up on that thing I have to tell you a very large part of me agreed with him.

It was there the trailer loading demons could get us both. I could see the violent reaction, crashing us against the steel sides or sending us rolling down the sharp bank on either side. I did hang in there, schooling against that swishy Arabian butt that dodged, evaded, the rib cage that pushed, until I could get him lined up for it pretty decent. But there, my courage failed me and I knew it was never going to happen quite like this. I could get off and lead him over  (knees, ugh) or . . .

Colleen says “do you want me to give it a shot?” Heck yes I do. I know Colleen has her demons too, but they are different ones and not likely to attack at this particular point.

By then, Royal was thoroughly convinced the bridge was just not going to  happen and he said no a thousand different ways before he finally said yes. When he did, it was not perfect but it wasn’t the stuff of horsey nightmares either.




They found their peace and we moved on. I have always wanted Colleen to ride Royal, experience that long beautiful stride, how smoothly he can switch gears, how light he can be to hand and leg. I suggested we trade for a bit, hoping that would be the case.


At points, it was. My horse has a long way to go to keep his emotional stability in a consistent way and Colleen had a much more eventful hour on mine than I did on hers. I probably should buy her lunch Smile

Back at the trailer, Royal stands calmly. Our energy has changed. We almost feel like us. He loads nice. I lead him in, turn him around and tie him. No shaking, no trembling on either side. We both breathe easy and I pet his pretty face.

It might be very dark before the sunrise, but man, when the light breaks over the horizon it is very very sweet.

Thank you, my friend, for helping us see this through.



Anonymous said...

I am experiencing some of the exact things you are...25 yrs. sober and recovering from a horse accident which left me with 8 broken ribs , collapsed lung and a broken back. I too, am blessed with a great friend who helps me with my confidence...I can't, no won't give up and walk away...thank you for sharing your story!

Gretchen Ahrens said...

BEST BLOG EVER!!! i can find myself in so many places in this blog. that lamblasted loose rein thing. omg. so bloody hard....but so true. i have been there. so many time. and the whole "yeah, yeah, i'm doing what you told me to...SEE!" glare, mutter, grumble. i'm really good at that too. (just ask susan or meghan). both have given me heck (well deserved) about stubborneness.....sigh.....this is a great write up. you are true, you are honest, you give me hope. :)

Anonymous said...

You are an inspiration, yes you are. Helping a nervous horse relax is one of the hardest tasks there is - and it really isn't about training the horse to do specific things, it's about building their self-confidence. Easier said than done, particularly if we're dealing with our own nervousness and self-confidence issues.

Red and I are working on our trailer loading issues, and I'm pretty sure that once I can get him to load quietly and with softness, his worries about riding in the trailer will also go away. Worked with the wash stall, will work with the trailer.

But I've got to offer him softness myself first - I've found that it's always about me, not the horse, in the long run.

Thanks for your honesty.

Cindy D. said...

A very inspiring post. I knew that we had similar horses, I was not aware that we have similar back grounds as well. I am also in recovery from my addiction, and often times my experiences from my own road to recovery translate over to my horses recovery from his mental issues.

I recently started my crazy paint, on a magnesium supplement. I really had my doubts as to whether or not it would work. But yesterday he actually dealt with three different things that normally would have sent him sky high, and he took each one in stride....more like a "normal" horse. So I do not know if you have tried that yet, but if you haven't you might want too.

I sure do relate to struggling to let him go on a loose rein. ONe of my former trainers used to tell me that if I "took hold of his face, to make it mean something." Easier said than done, but once I was able too, we got a long a lot better.

Something happened recently that caused me too lose the trust I had in my horse. He hurt me, and I find myself being scared of him more than I like to admit. However, with each new obstacle that we have surpassed since that day, my confidence is regaining, and my fear is lessening. But it is me I know how you feel.

I loved this post, I love your blog. Thank you for sharing your story with us and for your honesty.

Good Hands said...

You guys really touched my heart with your comments. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with me your thoughts. Dunno how inspirational I am, stumbling around making more wrong guesses than right ones . . .

Kate, you are so right, it is not about training the horse to do any specific thing that gets them to relax. Royal can do a lot of pretty cool stuff, and yet, tonight I watch him stand by the trailer, flinging his head in crazy 8's. Not scared now, just bored and neurotic.

Cindy, I think I might try your supplement. How do you find magnesium for equines? Heck, maybe I need some!

I am sorry to hear your horse hurt you. It's tough getting past that. They are big, fast, reactive animals and while the intent to harm is rarely in them, it works out that way sometimes when their instincts collide with our presence.

Gretchen, you give me hope too. More than you know, I think, you have come so far, so fast. I know you don't think it's fast but it is :-)

Tonight driving home, I am muttering about how I envy people who can crack a beer and take the edge off. Then, I got to thinking, well, I can choose to relax, I don't have to keep spinning my head around and that's really the issue, isn't it? Relax. Jeez.

Hancock25 said...

Dear Terry --- You were the best date for Cat at kip's Clinic.... Cat is so much better and so much more trusting. Thank you for your kindness and willingness to help me help her. :) Cat needed to know what you could show her and how you helped her push through those levels of unconfidence. Love your boy Royal... You are an awesome person in my book. Thank you for sharing. Carrie

Good Hands said...

Carrie, it was an honor and a privilege to be trusted with your lovely mare. Sometimes I get to be at the right place, at the right time, and I manage to do a little bit of the right thing. I am so glad it is working out with you guys! You are a pretty darned awesome person in my book too!!