Sunday, February 18, 2018

A day in the life

Hello. Long time no see. Many of you have heard about the tragic departure of our friend and mentor, Peter Campbell. I thought my next blog would be to talk about that, and I haven't been able to find the words. I think I will, maybe but not today.

Yesterday I drove out to the barn. That would seem no big deal except I haven't been. Not on Saturdays or any other day. The weather. Working mad overtime. I was sick for awhile. Bought a house.

Underneath all those excuses lay a deeper  . . .  reason? Was I done? I've asked myself that question before here and there and the answer always came back a resounding no, sooner rather than later. No answer was turning up. Losing Peter definitely took a chunk of heart out of me. There didn't seem to be any good way to grieve and move on when every time I looked at Royal I thought of all our unanswered questions. 

I doubted my ability to move us past them on my own. If I could, would I not have already? I would think of Peter and what kind of pain a man faces to cause that type of choice. How we had let him down, not seeing, not somehow being there for him. Being enough.

So I found a lot of other places to be and considered possible homes for my horses.

A couple of years ago, I took on a young off the track Thoroughbred. I've talked about him some but that was awhile ago. Just Sam.

He's an old soul kind of horse, but still a kid and I tend to forget that. I throw him into the trailer, into situations, and while I notice there's trouble brewing I figure I'll get to that later. When I have time.  And desire.

Yesterday, back to that. Sam ran himself into a lather and then rolled, taking up a good layer of Greg's spendy top footing and turning himself into a caked unsaddleable mess. 

Royal then. I did the groundwork. He knows it as well as I do. We did nothing different and he looked okay to ride.

He was . . .okay. Not fabulous. High, fussy, and promised to bounce his ass, and mine if I asked for canter transitions. Welp. When you ride a horse three times in 7 months, you may get something like this. I wasn't really mad at either of us just chagrined at where I find us, fat, sassy, out of shape instead of where we might be. 

I started dressage lessons again last spring, thinking I could keep my mind and heart busy with new learning. All I did was get angry. With myself, my horse, even my wonderful instructor because she was not, could not be Peter and nobody else ever could be, either. I quit lessons and riding altogether for the most part.

Today, I began with Sam. He was not completely enthusiastic about trailer loading when I got him and I have never taken the time to make that right. The trail ride I hauled him to in November was no different. Good thing Tammy Musil was there, and calmer with him than I was. Between us, we got him loaded nicely but I give her far more credit than me.

I saddled him with the fully rigged western saddle. He doesn't mind it so much anymore. I let him hang on the wall and I considered my plan. Where to begin? Where the trouble starts.

I built a horse trailer inside the arena. To you it may have looked like three barrels about three feet apart, five or six feet away from the wall with a pvc pipe on the ground at either end. I knew it was a trailer and Sam knew it too.

The wind was blowing a total gale. Skeletal branchy fingers clawed at the roof, screeching against the tin. Doors banged, limbs took flight. Sam thought the hounds of hell were poised just outside the back door. It was perfect for learning.

We did a bunch of stretchy circles. I allowed him to find his way into moving all four corners the same. They have to relax to be able to do this. Tight, a horse can't round himself from poll to hip. Something sticks out or caves in . . .  When he quit tucking his butt to the noisy end of the arena, I moved to the make shift trailer.

Head come up, nostrils flared, eyes widened with suspicion. What's this? Why would I go anywhere near that  . . .  contraption.

I had to get both smarter than I was and also remember what I used to do, back when I successfully trailer loaded horses. Back before Royal.

Sam lifted his head way up high. He is tall. He can put his head higher than I can reach and evade looking where I want him to go and where the eyes and ears go, the feet soon follow. Anywhere but approaching the opening between wall and barrel.

I found my old stick and string (my flag too far away or I'd have used that). It worked as it always did. 

"Don't go that way, Sam, there's trouble over there. Yes, look where I want you to go. No trouble there. Peaceful." You are not taller than me now, either my friend. Look, over there, that's right . . .

Meanwhile we have other riders doing their thing in the indoor arena, cantering circles past us. Wind howls and screams. I don't care, Sam. We can load here, we can load anywhere.

Eventually it works as it always has when I do this right. I am patient. I am kind. I am quick to teach with release when he makes a small tentative try.

You know how this story ends. Sam, calmly following a feel all the way in and through a bunch of times until it's a non issue. Then I wind him through the barrels because now it's not a trailer anymore, it's an obstacle course. Follow a feel, Sam, go where I point you.

This did not happen in five minutes. I don't know how long it took, felt like a lifetime. As in any of these things, I always feel I have bitten off more than I can chew, that I will never see daylight and the horse is never going to do what I want it to do in any right way. When I cave to those fears, they are realized. When I don't they are smoke, whirled away on the breeze as fears usually are, once you walk all the way through . . .

Sam licked, chewed, came down, looked like he was even enjoying himself a little. I have rushed that sweet horse and he deserves better from me. Today, he got it.

Then Royal. We did a little of the basics, then to the obstacle course. Trailer loading is no issue for Royal. He's a point and shoot. Getting in was never a problem, it was the claustrophobia once he was in that got us in trouble and there's been no sign of that for a long time.

He's a more advanced horse than green eggs and ham Sam so I didn't waste his time with baby steps. Coming forward, I stop a foot in midstep, back him up, catch a foot come forward again. Then we back through the barrels. Straight, and then weave through them. Backwards.

I am in his way a hundred times. I can hear Peter "Terri WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? How can he even back up with you at that angle. Come ON!"

I stopped, rearranged myself, set up my horse for success. We did different things, made us both think, and we achieved a different result.

Royal was flawless. Nicely in the bridle we extended our walk, slowed it from my seat. Trotted pretty cadenced circles. Canter transitions that when I set them up correctly were light as a feather. I had to close my eyes a couple of times and just allow him to canter under me. The banging, screaming thumping noises all around us bothered me far more than they did my horse. Pivots on forehand. Walk front end around the rear. He was so damn much fun. Far better than ice cream, even Rocky Road.

So, looks like I did end up talking about Peter, after all.  It also looks like I may be up to dealing with Royal. I still have no idea where our journey will lead us but this, I know; I will stick to my guns and not listen to my fears. I will give my horses the best deal I am capable of and when I know better I will come back and do better.

That's what I have, for today.

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