Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Red Horse

This is Red Tee Bar, my beloved 17 yr old appendix quarter horse gelding.
Red is a horse with a strong and vivid sense of who he is, and who he wants me to be. We absolutely have a partnership and he strongly maintains that he is, at the very least, an equal partner. Red scoffs at the human as "leader" concepts of natural horsemanship (for the record, I do not agree with Red). In his equine vision of the world, humans and horses walk side by side.

Each day, in new and subtle ways, I am called upon to prove my worthiness to continue to claim partnership status. Yesterday's test: walking into the barn from the general pasture we easily flow into our evening routine. I move slightly in front of Red as we turn the corner into the barn and suddenly I'm bumped in the middle of my back - BUMPED - by Red, his nose to be exact. Hmmmmmm, message to mom - "HEY CARROT WENCH, get a move on and get me my good stuff to eat!" We stop and take a partnership refresher course. This looks like me swelling up, glaring directly into his eyes, and growling "QUIT!" He is so not impressed, gives me the slightest, tiniest hint of a lick and chew, and looks expectantly towards the tack room door.

Red was my first horse after 27 long years in the no equine desert of raising a child and getting an education. I sold my last horse Cinnamon when I was 4 months pregnant with my son. That was the fall of 1980. Too long. How crazy was I to spend over a quarter of a century away from my heart's desire. I wanted to be absolutely sure I could well provide for a horse before I committed to one.

Now Red had once been an adored, bottle fed orphan foal, purchased from his breeder by a dear woman who lives in Eureka. When Red was about 7 she sold him to a fellow with a few kids and several other horses and mules. Just before I found Red, his first mom had bought him back cuz his 2nd owner had fallen into ill health and Red had been a tad neglected. By the time he came to live with me, his 1st mom had him glorious shape. Here is their picture at my friend's place on our first day.

Red did a lot of trail riding all over the west coast. He wore shoes like too many horses do, and carried his head high up so he wouldn't miss any action (knowing him like I do). By the time he came to me, he had some significant pathology in his feet and had developed a sway back - also called the "upside down horse" syndrome or the "Sacro-Sciatic Syndrome" by Dr. Lauren Derock, DVM. All this means I've had to put on rocket shoes to keep up with my steep, never-ending learning curve. He is a barefoot horse and I have learned to do my own trimming. I tend to have some strong opinions on the health benefits of natural hoof care.

I would not trade Red for a stable full of warm bloods - he rules my heart and I am grateful for every step we share on the trail of life.

Claiming Lyra

The sign was posted on our barn's BB late on a Friday afternoon, "Rehoming Zelda - $200.00"

NOT ZELDA!!!!! I knew her as a shy member of our general pasture herd, seemingly timid, accepting my approach with hesitation, appreciative of all carrots. Not Zelda. She had been adopted by a knowledgeable young woman in our barn - adopted to be a boyfriend horse. Turned out the boyfriend didn't like her and ordered that she be rehomed.

Back in November she was all bones, legs, coarse dark hair, and worried eyes. She had put alot of weight. Still had the worried eyes. I asked if I could spend a week seeing if we might make a team. My request was gladly granted . . . the week flew by. On May 25th, 2008 Zelda was rehomed with me and I suddently had tiny herd of two - Red and Zelda.

How many times . . did she change hands, have to say goodbye, feel her attachment to people, place, and herd ripped out of her heart and body? How many names has she had to learn? I've given her yet one more name - Zelda did not flow well for me. Lyra seemed somehow to be a closer fit.

I have discovered that Lyra is a beautifully trained horse, sensitive to breath, shifting weight, whisper soft aides. Not a schooled rider, I practice mindfulness and being present with Lyra. She responds.

Each day when I go to claim her from the herd, to ask her to leave the bounty and comfort of the general pasture and leave with another questionable human, she looks away. Looking back at me for an instant, she wheels and takes off. I must be able to catch her on 40 acres so I crouch into my predator stanch and hissing, carrot stick extended, I stalk her. For 45 minutes I stalked her the first day she ran, what a sight we were - graceful thoroughbred mare wheeling and cantering away from the not graceful, just over middle age woman stumbling, hissing, and always intruding into her space. Always intruding with annoying noise and invasive stares until she turns her attention my way.

I am trying to apply pressure and release strategies in an open pasture of 40 acres in a herd of 15 horses. I advance and look for the slightest shift towards me in her focus, an ear will do, and then I stop, shift into mild, passive stance as I soften my eyes and body. And slowly Lyra learns that the predator disappears whenever she looks at me, and if she stands still, the weirdly hissing woman turns into one with sweet words and sweeter carrots who gently and respectfully approaches.

It is seldom now that I have to call upon predator woman's help. Lyra will turn to me when I approach or, jealous for carrots, stride up to me and Red and demand her fair share.

Deeply I appreciate the courage it takes Lyra to stop and turn to me. I am asking much as I gently slip her halter on. As we walk towards the gate she frequently stops and turns her head back to her herd.

On our first days together I did not fully understand the depth of her concern as I asked her to leave and so I would insist that we kept moving. Each time she stopped I would force my agenda - onwards to the gate. Now I wait for her quietly, with soft words and images of what awaits us. I reassure Lyra that she will return, that only good things will happen to her, that she is going to stay with me until one of us no longer lives. I remind her of the delicacies that await, of the horses we will visit, of our routine that will guide us.

And Lyra listens, sighs, and moves to me on her own, deciding to trust me enough to move away from the 14 sweet horses who watch this seemingly simple exercise in-hand yet understand the depths of fear through which Lyra walks as she walks away from the herd.

This is Who I Am

All my life, at the center of my heart, there has been a love and a longing for horses. First memories - grandfather lingering over the fence, watching his beloved mare Gypsy. The smell - sweet sweat mixed with manure, this for me is the smell of heaven.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go horse camping at Cuneo Creek Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. My first camping trip with horses. Me and Red on the trail. Him - "dang, you didn't say I was going to have to haul your ass for 40 miles (insert sulking horse face)." Me - "This is where I've wanted to be all my life, this is who I am!"

In the lives of children there is a magical moment that sometimes happens, someone really sees the child as who they are - sees their spirit, acknowledges their being. This can be a healing moment. It can be a life line to a child who is struggling is a sea of chaos and trauma. Being seen for who we really are is something that heals our hearts.

I was on the phone with my Dad who is 78 and recovering from 4 broken ribs. I'm telling him about our adventures at Cuneo Creek. He is happy for me. Since I've returned to horses in my fifties, stories about Red and Lyra have been a way we connect. Through telling my Dad about Red, I have learned much about my father as he reciprocated with his own stories about being a boy with horses. I never knew, never knew that my dad showed reining horses. A common thread running through our family. My grandfather worked with mules, adored his horses; my father riding as a boy; me - finally returned to the horse tribe that rules my heart.

So as I am telling my Dad about how much fun I had on the trail, he comments that he is happy I am getting so much pleasure from my horses. I say, "this is who I am." And my dad says" that is true, this is what you've always wanted, I'm so glad you found your way there." For me, time stopped in a blessed moment where I felt truly seen for who I am - something I will always remember. I am someone who loves horses - always have, always will. My spirit is fed by their presence in my life. I am grateful and delighted that at 55, horses finally fill my life. They have always filled my heart.