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We Are Flying Solo

August 31, 2011

Remembering To Be Lucky

It is hard not to let the heartbreak take over.  Solo does not feel good, despite my plea with him to make the hock injections magically fix everything, despite what logic says. 

I almost cried riding him tonight; I have finally gotten him where I want him. He is trained. As long as I stay in a long frame, he can do a lovely, round 20 m circle with consistent bend on a steady, round contact. Down the long side, he steps easily into shoulder-in which we can then shift immediately into a strong leg yield. Back to a cadenced sitting trot on the short side, then springing out into a bright extended trot, flipping his front feet out (extended gaits are his favourite).

His canter is balanced & he can stretch down & still hold a metronome of a rhythm. I can create & change strides to a jump or pole, jump at angles, & make balanced, focused turns.

And the second I try to shorten his neck & really engage his back, I can feel him go, "Sorry, mom, but that part is very sore." No more A game.

But I am still lucky.

I am lucky that I can walk into the barn & wrap my arms around his muscular orange neck, inhaling that beautiful scent that is his alone.

I am lucky that I can lean against his shoulder while he rests his nose on my thigh & I can feel the energy, the bond between us in that quiet moment.

I am lucky that I can still ride him, albeit lightly, but we can still explore some trails & we can still canter through the last, most beautiful day of August.

I am lucky that we can still hop over a few jumps; they are small, but they still make Solo's ears prick & lock on as he gets taller and brighter with happiness.

I am lucky that I have a great circle of supportive people in my little horse world, especially a fantastic mom who is always a million percent supportive whenever we need help, no matter what.

I am lucky that I ever met Solo & all his untapped energy & heart which were just waiting for someone to open the door.

I am lucky that we will get a tomorrow, even though it may not be the one I expected or planned or wanted. It will still be another day to cherish the inexplicable, indescribable relationship which has changed my life & has come to define what my center really is.

That, my friends, is lucky indeed.

August 27, 2011

Soggy And Somnolent

It's a rainy day as Irene hugs the NC coast on her way north. Good for over-thinking, exaggerating, despondency, rallying, napping, and compulsive eating.

I want to say thank you to all of you who took the time to say a kind word. To say it is meaningful is cliche, but no less true. My job exists because of the crimes all people commit in the name of selfishness, greed and laziness, so human kindness always catches me by surprise.

Solo will do what Solo will do, as always. Anyone who knows me knows that I will move heaven and earth for him. I would sell everything I had (all $14 worth!) if it would make him better (it won't) and I certainly will never give up on him. He has given me immeasurable gifts, awed me with his heart, and taught me a lifetime's worth of wry wisdom. Special, unique, they don't do him justice, and I have known a lot of horses. So, hell or high water (hmmm, both in existence today!), I will see him through and we will not be lessened or defeated or cowed in the face of it.

With that battle cry out of the way...

Having spent the last, long several days chasing fish in the rocky shallows of a piedmont river, I have not yet had a chance to visit the farm and check on things. I am sure Solo has been happily partaking in his daily pond swims, where, submerged up to his eyeballs, he has perfected his hippo impression.

Meanwhile, my front yard is perfecting its riverine impression and I think I hear some chocolate calling my name. Stay safe, stay dry, and give all the ponies a hug.

August 25, 2011

In Which Dr. Bob Breaks My Heart

Someone once said to me, "Treasure every ride, every run, because you never know when it might be your last one."

And I always have, because if I have learned one thing about horses and about eventing, it is that the sucker punch is inevitable.

I took Solo in to Dr. Bob on Tuesday for his fall hock injections, but I also wanted his back investigated some more. He has been doing relatively well until about two weeks ago, when suddenly the soreness escalated to the point where on some days, he wouldn't let me pick up one of his hind legs. Concerned, I was.

Dr. Bob poked, Solo protested. Dr. Bob said, "Hmmmmm...." and stared thoughtfully. My blood pressure turns into a geyser when Dr. Bob is stumped. Dr. Bob is never stumped.

He proffered several possibilities, each of which was tough to diagnose. He talked about xrays where they hang the horse by his back feet from the ceiling after cashing your $2000 check. I heard the words "ossification," "restriction of vertebral movement," and "then he could only jump crossrails." I think my brain shut down at about that point. :Please stop telling me about impossible things," I begged. I am sure he could read the yawning chasm in my soul quite plainly on my face.

This is the best I can gather - best case scenario, since I have worked out most of the knots in the injured muscle, the whole hip area is very loose and the muscle has to rebuild itself and will do so. However, in the worst case scenario, the body will attempt to stabilize that area by laying down bone around the vertebrae, at which point mobility goes away. Which means Solo's career would be over.

All I can think is that had I simply listened to my gut reaction and scratched that Sunday morning in Virginia, none of this would be on the table. One small wrong decision can bring that house of cards crumbling down around your ears when you least expect it.

For most people in this sport, they could simply pick up a prospect and let the healing take its time. I can't seem to figure out a way to make the money magically happen though, so I am just as stuck as Solo is, everything on hold while his body decides what to do. That event in October I've been looking forward to all year? Probably not going to happen. Fall season? Not looking good. Spring season? Oh, if there are any universal powers out there, please let good things happen.

August 23, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt II

Disclaimer Again: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

He leapt and spun and dug in to a scrambling gallop. I called him a not very nice name that started with a b-a-s and ended with a t-a-r-d, but otherwise, remained impassive, holding the end of the lead and letting him tear around his melodramatic circle. When he began to slow, I lifted the end of the whip slightly and asked him to continue, which propelled him into a new frenzy of drama.

When I was ready, I asked him to stop, an opportunity, he gladly seized, licking his lips and begging forgiveness. I patted his head and we turned to the trailer again. He assumed his position on the ramp again. I prepared to ask him for another step again. I was presented with a view of his front ankles again.

So he found himself on the circle after he was done twisting and bucking away.

"You're doing this to yourself, you know," I informed him as he scrambled madly around me. I was not chasing him with whip or rope. I kept my body quiet and still, simply following his circle. He knew what I wanted. He simply didn't want to do it and was using all the tricks he knew to end the dance.

We repeated this a few times. It was hot and he quickly worked up a heavy sweat. I stayed quiet and kept the directions clear: you can walk nicely into the trailer and hang out in the shade or you can stay out here and work in circles and be hot and unhappy.

I'm not usually a proponent of the circling thing. I'd rather use a tap as a forward cue and a simple pressure and release approach. But to tap, you must be able to touch the horse with the whip. Which you cannot do if he is standing all hi-ho-Silver at skull level. You could touch him, tap him, with the whip all day long anywhere else, but on the trailer ramp, abandon hope all ye who enter.

So we circled. And we approached the trailer again. And he stood up again. As I looked up at him, I saw pinned ears, flat against his head, and I saw his anger as he turned his head and glared down at me. I had called his bluff and he was pissed.

We circled some more and stopped again. He was hot. I was hot. A fit young TB, he could probably keep it up all day, but I did not want to push him into a black rage OR heat stress.  I never hit him, I never hurt him, I never chased him, but his penchant for drama might write checks that neither of our bodies could cash.

"Take him for a walk for a few minutes, let him have a mental break." I handed his lead to his owner and sat down to nurse a drink and ponder.

I knew he knew what I wanted. And I knew he knew I knew he knew. I also knew he had not yet conceded that apes should get full respect; that was a much longer, deeper project. He was an intriguing mental puzzle, one I longed to unravel. He was not dangerous in that he would intentionally hurt you -- had he wanted that, I would have been finished 30 minutes ago. He would just rather not toe the line unless you made him. But it was not a physical battle (we'll always lose those in the end), it was a mental one, which is what made it so interesting.

He and his owner came wandering back. "Ok," I said, "put him on the trailer."

She walked him to the ramp. He stepped on, hesitated for about five seconds, then sighed and walked in. In the shade, they stopped and he licked his lips and lowered his head. Lots of pats and finally, a rest. After that, he proceeded to unload and load a few times, then we were done.

Over the past week, he has continued to march on readily. When the rope halter goes on, his body language changes and he becomes alert and obedient. I would love to keep working with him, but he is not my horse, so I must respect those boundaries. But I think he got the message, at least for the time being. Will it stick? I hope so, but I feel certain he will need reminders, although they will undoubtedly be far easier than the first drawing-of-lines-in-the-sand.

Sweet though he is, he is smart, fit, energetic, young, red, and easily distracted. A challenge for anyone. His owner is an excellent rider and an experienced horse owner, strong and intelligent, just a little out of practice on the groundwork. Her horse, as all of ours attempt to do (and often succeed!) has found a few small openings in her armour and made the most of them. Fortunately, he will soon be hopefully back on course and continue on his way to becoming a well-trained, mannerly eventer.

He is lucky enough to have an owner who understands the bad manners lead to other problems, that eventual caving in to bribery does not equal trained horse, that you must have the body AND the mind to succeed.  Because of this, he will get to lead the happy, well-adjusted life of a horse who is obedient and safe.  And his owner will get to enjoy her horse with a little less frustration every day.

August 21, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt. I

Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

I watched as she tried to load her horse on the trailer.  He stepped willingly enough onto the ramp until his back toes met the edge.  There he stopped, craning his neck inside, but refusing to move his hind feet to any point of committment.  She coaxed and tugged and bribed and begged, he looked around, pointedly ignoring her requests in a show of subtle defiance.

After 45 minutes of this, he gave in and wandered into the rig with a sigh. His handler fumed with the frustrated fury any of us have felt when thwarted at that critical loading moment.

"I need help," she told me.

"I hope I have some to give," I answered.

And so it began.

"You don't have a trailer problem," I said. "You have a leading problem and you have a respect problem. He is not afraid, he just doesn't feel like cooperating on any terms other than his own, if he can help it. He IS a redhead."

We talked about leading, about controlling the horse's feet, about never letting those feet stop. The key to trailer loading is a reliable forward cue and a commitment to seeing it through, as well as NEVER EVER EVER losing your temper.

"Ok," I started, "Give it a go and make sure, whatever happens, he is not allowed to stand still. If he backs up, let him go back without pressure, but as soon as he stops, move him forward again."

I was interested to see how he would respond -- not only was he a bit cocky, he was also on the sensitive and dramatic side. Much like Solo, he could NOT be forced into things unless you fancied yourself trampled into a human pulp.

He wore a rope halter and a head bumper, just in case. They practiced some leading away from the trailer -- she was confident and strong as always, he was obedient, but distracted.

Approaching the trailer, he quickly got wind of the plan and in an effortless shift, pushed her in a veering line off the left side of the ramp with his chest and shoulder. She turned him and came again and the second time, he was even faster in his re-direction.

After watching four or five times, it was clear he had little regard for the pink apes at the other end of his lead rope. He has never been a mean thing, in fact, he is very sweet-natured and gregarious. But like any kid whose boundaries have not always been clear, he knew how to take an opening when he saw one.

"Do you mind if I take him for a second?" I wondered how he would respond to a different-smelling ape.

"Oh dear god, please do!" She practically threw the lead rope at me.

Here we go, I thought.

I began by asking him to yield his hindquarters to my touch in both directions. Ok, good. Now lower your poll. Ok, not great, but passable. Ok, now move in a circle around me. Oh dear.

"Kindly move in a circle, please" was apparently translated by this equine brain as "race around at a speed trot bouncing off the end of the line." His head was cocked pointedly to the outside of the circle, most certainly not giving me the time of day.

We continued to circle until he began watching me and flicking an ear in my direction. My heart wept for our property's lack of a round pen. But you make do. We stopped and started and reversed and repeated until he was willing to walk the circle with considerably less frenetic energy.

Ok, let's walk to trailer. We get to the ramp and he assumes the position -- front feet firmly at threshold of door, back stretched out and hind toes against the base of the ramp. I have his lead softly in my left hand and dressage whip in my right. I begin to lift my right wrist to gently touch his haunch with my whip.

Did I blink? Because suddenly, he is standing on his hind legs, his front hooves dangling at my eye level. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing I had put on a helmet. For groundwork. 

To be continued...