Friday, September 28, 2012

Pilot Error

Did the stupidest thing today. Decided to take Dewey out to the arena alone, because it was time to get him going alone that short distance. He was fine, I rode halfway, and then when he seemed nervous, I got off and walked him the rest of the way. At the arena, I opened the gate to go in, and I didn't open it enough. So I walked through, and when he walked through, the stirrup accidentally got caught on the gate. Like a fishhook, hooking a horse. So then in about 5 long seconds, poor Dewey realized he was caught, tried to free himself by wrestling back and forth on the gate, ripping a gash in his leg. I stood there frozen because I couldn't rush in in case he trampled me, so I didn't help him at all, which is still killing me. The girth finally broke under the saddle and he ran off into the arena, and I caught him by carefully walking up to him like nothing was terrible, nothing was wrong. His leg had some cuts on it, I picked up my broken saddle, we walked back home, and Tim met me on the trail halfway, and carried the saddle and I was so angry at myself for not opening the gate right, and then worried because I soon saw that Dewey had a big square chunk missing out of the top inside of his back leg. Then the whole day was depressing. Washing the wound, trying to dress the wound. Talking to the lady who gave him to me, and she came over, and gave him a tetanus shot, and penicillan, and washed it out again, and Lilly played in the mud while we fixed the broken horse, and I kept thinking, what am I doing, I don't have time for this. And Dewey tries really hard to understand and be good, while also being 4 years old. So tomorrow he should be even more sore, and hopefully I'll clean it up right, and give him the pain med, and the antibiotic, and hopefully I haven't ruined things for this horse. I went out and walked him around in the dark, and he is sore, but walking. He's so smooth, his coat, like black velvet when you pet him. This was not my favorite day. The only good thing was because I was out walking him in the back paddock area, a place I don't go much, I heard this buzzing sound, and I finally looked to see what it was, and a tomato plant had grown huge and was crossing the electric wire (that keeps coyotes out), causing a short. Sparks were flying off it. We had to pry the plant off without shocking ourselves. Dewey's injury was bad, but he might have saved us from our whole property burning to the ground. So he's resting, and the short is fixed, and we get a whole day tomorrow to perhaps heal. I don't like when I make an error in judgement, a stupid mistake. Because I'm too tired, or too lazy, or whatever. It's depressing. As you get older, aren't you supposed to get smarter? I just feel less capable. Maybe I should just accept that, and stick to knitting. But we were doing so well. That's why I tried to go to the next step, because we were doing so well, and it's good to keep moving forward. I think I just learned that the horse is not a tool, it's a real thing, that needs tiny steps, and tending. Just like everything.

Monday, September 24, 2012


After Maggie, Dewey and Waffles are like the world's best horses. I'm also doing something different this time around - I'm not in it alone. I'm going out with company. I'm not trying to be some Joan of Arc (even Joan of Arc had company). If it wasn't for Waffles, Dewey would be way more nervous trying new things. Because he has the solid Waffles behind him, Dewey is a calm and confident most of the time horse. And Waffles herself is just an old, opinionated mare. She definitely wants to do what she wants to do, but she is most of the time just a horse that clocks in, does the job, doesn't worry about running dogs or bicycles or trash trucks. It's almost like she's got an earpiece in and is conducting some other very important business while going through the motions of scary new trail rides. She's only been here two weeks and she's never flinched at anything. She's a Getterdone. Go at that trail, and getterdone. Then come back and doze. I still don't trust her all the way, because I've been riding the bigger, blacker horse, and I don't have a good track record with ponies. But she seems to be a reliable horse. Dewey is a gazelle of a horse, two people have said "he looks like a painting." He is the horse people pose with in those 18th century fox hunting paintings where the people's heads look too small and the horses' legs look too thin. He is a horse that floats along next to you, looking to you for support, because he's still a gawky teenager. But he has a solid head on his shoulders, he's wary of some new things, but not a bolter or a nervous horse. He loves going out. So that's the horse situation. The horses are training each other, and if they didn't eat hay, there'd be no problem at all with keeping them. But for now I'll teach the kids on Waffles, and train Dewey and keep getting to go out on gentle trail rides where nothing happens except peace.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Follow the Trail of Poop

The only thing I miss about Maggie, is she used to line her poops up like an accountant, very neatly at the far end of her paddock area. Always. These new horses are like frat boys that take a dump off a balcony. They leave their poops strewn around like my kids leave their shoes all over the house. Wherever they are, well, that's a good enough place to heft a load.

But then this morning when I was cleaning up poop in the early morning quiet, when the sun streams in like it's just teasing, it's going to stay this cool and perfect forever, I liked that I had to follow the random trail of poops all through the horsy area. It was like a scavenger hunt. Who knows where it will take me. There are little spots of light there, and a lone chicken pecking in mud over there, and a contented horse sneeze while chewing hay, both their muzzles nuzzling together.

Being organized is thrifty, but being random is mysterious and rich.

Perhaps we should call these new horses Hansel and Gretel.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Good Brownies

Last Friday, I was saying goodbye to Maggie. Then I had two horse-free days. I even contemplated never getting another horse. I thought, wow, more time to clean my house. Organize. Take the kids on walks.

Monday, here comes Waffles. An 18 year old Fjord pony. Okay, we'll take her in and try her out. She can't eat much, she's like a little blonde muffin. The first hour she's here I decided she's way scary, I don't like new things, she's not right for us, what have I done.

A day later, a lady in the neighborhood tells me to come meet a 4 yr old black Thoroughbred gelding. 4 is kinda young, 4 means insane rides with difficult years ahead of desensitizing. I meet Dewey, and he looks like a movie star. I take him on a trail ride, through water, up hills, past trucks, he's like Robert Redford mellow and we just ride home with Waffles. I rode the horse directly home. All the way thinking THIS IS A TOTAL MISTAKE.

It's been two days. I've taken him on 2 trail rides with Waffles. Waffles has turned into the steadiest, readiest, sweetest pony who ever lived. Dewey is a tall drink of water who doesn't want to share his food, but otherwise, he's an amazing horse.

After ONE YEAR of Maggie, she has suddenly evaporated into these two steady and calm horses. In one week. Of course, I've had diarrhea from all the changes. I can't get off the toilet. But other than that, it's been the strangest week of my life. At one point I had so much anxiety about all the changes, it felt like someone lifted off the top of my head and was stirring up my brains. I think that was when I was on the trail through water with the horse and pony I don't know, who now live at my house.

So now I have to get a job of some sort, because I think these are our horses. Oh yeah, and then TODAY, after ALL this, a friend calls and says hey, you can have my pony, and her little cart, just keep her for free. If she'd said that A WEEK AGO, things would have been alot EASIER!! But I'm thinking we'll see how these two dudes do at our house. Waffles had nobody to play with. Dewey needed a buddy and a family. They're trained, and they're nice to everybody. It's like being handed a plate of brownies after swimming the English Channel. You deserve it, and they're good brownies.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

It's Off To Work I Go

Starting to look for work as a farmer writer. I need to spread the Momish word. I emailed some movie livestock people, you know, the guys who drive carriages in movies and tv. I'm not sure they read or spell, I think their chaps are too tight. I'll probably have to call. But then I picture a life on a movie set sitting around between takes, dressed as a pioneer woman with my team of horses waiting for the next take, talking to guys who spit between every other word or just look at me like "lesbian." I'm not sure anyone would be reading "Pride and Prejudice" and wanting to discuss.

My other options are regular writing work, that's where everyone is smart but I have to work indoors and smell nice. I could still wear my pajamas, which is high on my list of must haves.

I'm sure the right thing is just hanging there, waiting for me to pluck it. Perhaps I have to GROW it, and then REAP it. Create it myself.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Swimming Downstream

Here's what I learned after almost exactly one year of riding a green draft cross mare: there might be something YOU want out of a horse. And you can try, four days a week, for a year, and all the hours in between, in your brain when you're obsessing about how to make this horse the right horse -- but in reality, the horse will be the horse she is, and will need what she needs, and that is the fact.

The last time Mags and I went out on the trail, she bolted 3 times in a row. I could handle it. I am now used to horses exploding under me and I rode it like a swan glides across water. Maggie and I were out alone, on a trail we go on all the time.

I realized, walking home that day, when she was back to her regular, boring old self, that all this time I was shaping Maggie into my dream horse, she was trying REALLY hard to be that horse for me, she was doing things she'd never done before, she is bold and hopeful in that way. But I was so rigid in my need to shape things MY way, that I was weaker at seeing what SHE needs. She shouldn't be ridden alone. My job wouldn't have even BEEN that hard all these months, if she hadn't been ridden alone. She needs a horse to mimic. But I only had one horse, so I did what someone can do who has one horse and a crazy desire to accomplish. You ride it.

But walking back that day, I saw Maggie, the hero. She never wanted to do all those things alone. She tried to do all these things for me, and in a short amount of time. But there's no reason to do all those things by herself, with some old mom on top of her, scared, with some dream horse agenda. She should have horse friends around. When she follows along with other horses, she is happy. She's always going to be a strong horse. But she will have her people, her herd. That's what she had in North Dakota, she could count on those few months she got out to pasture with a herd of other girls, and their foals, she had that every spring.

So as of yesterday, my friend Julie has bought Maggie, and she'll get to live with her old friend Ginger, they'll be reuinited like at the end of a war, running to greet each other and Maggie will snort and say "oh my GOD, Becky, you won't believe what I've gone through." And then she'll pack on big men riders that have probably never ridden before, and she'll follow Ginger, and they'll go out with a string of horses in Griffith Park, walking, Maggie's favorite gait, and for Maggie it will be like the end of the Olympics, every day. She will be done excelling. She will bask in glory, and contentment. Riders and horse will be matched, there won't be annoying new things to worry about, and Maggie will have Julie (not the original, but still just as good) as her ultimate leader, who will keep her forever, who loves and speaks horse.

I was only taking her out once a day, and by the end of the day, Maggie was always hanging over the fence, wanting to be in the garage with us, or wanting to do something else, offering to do something else. Now she'll have 70 other horse buddies. They'll play cards, they'll have nachos, they'll take rides, they'll peek at the cute geldings. The outcome of things - it's kind of meaningless, isn't it. When you get to the end, it isn't what you think. It kind of peters out, and then there's usually an abandoned taco stand, and you're thirsty. I guess all the meaty parts are the getting there. But we don't always notice because we're so busy in all the emotion and joy and terror and noise, but we do feel the current, and we ride it without knowing it, it's all a hurled snowball, love and living.

Am I done with horses? (As James Herriott would say, "It's always okay to get another dog.") In Maggie Aftermath, a lady I met yesterday has an old Fjord mare, short, thick and very experienced, who used to do what Maggie's about to start doing, take people on rides through Malibu on a rental string. Lilly can walk the pony all by herself, and I can ride the pony because she's sturdy like Maggie, just shorter. If we want, we can borrow this pony to see how she is at our house. Instead of having to try and force Maggie's size, bulk and inexperience into what we're looking for, there may already be a horse waiting, who's all chocked full of what we need, and lonely. Maggie can be Maggie. And this pony, who knows if she's right, but maybe she'll be a horse the entire neighborhood of kids can climb on right now and gain confidence.

So you CAN try and force things to be what you want. I spent most of my life doing that, and it leaves some spikey, angry residue in your skin. I did succeed with Maggie about 89%. She became what I wanted in lots of ways. But it took a ton of energy, and in the end, Maggie would have been just as happy having no person, and being one amongst many like her friend Ginger did - Ginger just went directly to work. They both came from Colorado on the same trailer. I'm guessing Maggie would have become the exact same horse she is today even if I had never met her. That's what's ridiculous about forcing something. You can choose it, but maybe leaping in with a full heart is better, and knowing when to stop. When it's not the right direction to swim. Stop fighting. Swim downstream. Find someone swimming your way.

I like thinking that it was all me that made her, but in reality, I was making myself nuts. Stretching to the point of breaking - not fun, although one of the perks is becoming a better rider and learning a ton about horses. But I also saw my limits, and went too far past them for too long. That part made me feel anxious, and angry. Maybe how Maggie feels when her limits are tested.

I thought when Maggie came that she was the end of a search. I got her because I only had $400 and I loved drafts because Clyde, the carriage horse, was the most amazing horse I had ever ridden or driven. He was Buddha. Maggie had his body type, but she also had a streak of wild. I never could totally cure that piece, working alone. I tried really hard, but it was like trying to eat soup with chopsticks. I could be alot of things, but I couldn't be me AND OTHER HORSES. As versatile as I am. I lost my sense of humor for awhile. I tripped over it, it was leaking out my pants. After this Maggie year, I did learn what WOULD be good for me: one really safe, gentle, experienced old horse that is good for the kids to start on. A borrowed horse is great. And one regular trail horse, that will do what I ask, including sometimes moving faster, and is safe. Riding together, kids and me. Sometimes alone, but together is good.

Not trying to change to Maggie anymore will be a great relief. Knowing that she is going to a place where she is welcomed and used happily, exactly as she is, is a great relief. Knowing I will get to enjoy her and bring her carrots, is a happy thought. Not having to DO it all, after doing it all, and comically, no one asked me to do it all, I just DID, (as my dad will understand) - a pretty great lesson to learn. Find what you need. It's probably already there. You don't have to work that hard. You just have to find the right path, and gauge how much energy you have. You don't have to kill yourself to get there.

It can even be funny.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Large Barge

I wasn't going to post in here after last Tuesday, because Maggie acted crazy on the trail, bolting 3 short bolts all in a row, her worst ever, she gave me a rope burn on my finger and I had her bags packed, and forget it, goodbye.

I ignored her for two days, and then I started to crack, and talk about it. How it is hard to train something that weighs 1600 pds. How maybe I shouldn't be going out alone like some idiot, on a horse that is still learning. I should ride where there are people and it's safe, and I should ride with a horse buddy when I want to try new territory.

Mostly, I should realize that Maggie can be annoying and want her own way, but mostly Maggie is just big. And she can be powerful. And her brain is the size of a walnut. I've dated people like her. I certainly wouldn't let her drive my car.

But it's not about the walnut brain, it's the instinct thing. She is always going to want to be, apparently, 3 feet away from danger at all times. And if danger is lurking, she will move those three feet away REALLY fast. Then she'll act like she never went anywhere. She will in fact look annoyed at me, that I didn't see the danger first and WARN her. (Sprinklers on top of hills are HIGHLY DANGEROUS. They can go off at ANY TIME.)

So I'm looking into having a buddy for Maggie. And also just riding with the local freaks I mean ladies in my neighborhood. It does make for a rich human tapestry, and fun things to talk about at birthday parties.

Of course she's been excellent ever since. A one ton angel. Funny, and with a butt the size of Rhode Island. (I think I've dated that too.) The trainer came and worked with us this morning, and I tried an Australian saddle, and had the first mini-riding lesson I've had since I was ten. It was great. I am learning to lengthen my leg, and ride kind of long and mermaid-ish, floating with chest out and legs behind, like those carvings on the front of a ship. Makes a strong center core, and I'm pretty sure it makes you taller. All I know is I've never stretched the front of my legs before, because my body was kind of laughing at me when I tried to ride the way she taught me. Should be fun to keep trying. I'm all for humor and things that seem impossible.

And from the ground, I could watch the trainer on Maggie, and see how Maggie might resist going forward, but only because going forward takes alot of effort. She isn't a mean horse, she's like the fat kid who's looking for an ice cream cone and someone has put him on the track team instead. She's disappointed there's all this work and not enough snacks. Funny to watch, especially when she gives up fighting and just sighs and does what we ask. (Then she gets carrots. And she gets to walk.) Working through that resistance. Not taking it seriously. It's a pretty good life for a barge.