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March 10, 2019

Don't Lose "Better" In The Quest For "Perfect": Part II

I broke this topic into two parts because my original post was so long that even I got bored halfway through.  But the following is the practical example of "eventer79 forcing herself to manage her expectations so her horse doesn't dread work," as applied to the Training Of Trot Poles.  My number one goal:  to recognize & reward the incremental steps of progress. 

Ribbon earned
Session 1

On the first attempt at trotting four poles, 5' apart, Echo trots the first two, then neatly canters through the second two, without touching any of them.  I say Good boy, great job going over them, but how about a little slower?

On the third or fourth attempt, he trots all four.  It's a little rushy, it's flat, & he clipped the last two.  I say GOOD BOY! You honestly looked for the right answer every time & you successfully trotted the trot poles!  You're a winner!!

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

Session 2

Today, he starts out taking the poles hell-for-leather, grabbing the bit for a run because it's a pretty day & he feels good.  I say I DIDN'T ASK FOR THAT, WHOA!  Thank you.  Now, about these poles, I just want you to trot softly.

We alternated with this similar exercise, apparently far more exciting
We scale back, approaching at a relaxed walk, halting immediately before & immediately after the poles.  The third or fourth attempt, he trots through on a very soft contact, then picks up an exquisitely balanced, very slow canter after the last pole.  I let him have four soft strides, then sit up & ask for a down transition with my body.  He obliges like a pro.  I say Great job staying soft in the bridle & not rushing.  Even though I didn't ask for canter, thanks for being polite, willing, & obedient.

The next attempt, he trots through on a soft contact & after the poles, when I sit up, he immediately hesitates for a breath to see if I want him to stop.  He is still flat-ish through the poles & the rhythm speeds up a bit to allow him to keep his balance.  I say GOOD BOY!  Great job staying soft & listening, while trotting all the poles!  You're a winner!

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

Session 3

He trots through the poles on the first try, but rushes quite a bit, clunking the last two pretty hard & bracing through his topline.  However, he does stay in trot after the poles.  I say Good job trotting!  How about thinking relaxing thoughts.

The next approach, I do a half-halt through his body a few steps out, then think the most yoga-breathing, stretchy, lifting, slow thoughts I can think of.  Ears focused on the puzzle like mini-homing beacons, Echo trots through a little slower, feeling a little less like he's rushing out from under me, with only a light toe-tap behind.  I say Great job!  Enjoy this mini-stretch break on loose rein for an excellent effort. 
He quickly learned to love the stretchies
After the stretch break, one more attempt.  This time I let him approach from a trot from father out (I had been just asking for trot ~4 strides out until now).  I focus on staying super soft on the reins & quiet with my body.  He trots through, stays soft in the bridle, & while he is still somewhat flat, his rhythm has almost no appreciable change, even though I feel him want to go.  He cocks an ear back at me & wags his head after the poles, his way of letting out youthful energy when he knows he is not supposed to speed up.  I say GOOD BOY OMG GREAT JOB! Excellent work trotting & waiting!  You're an amazing winner!!!!
Of course I winner

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

That's where we are now.  We don't have sproing, BUT we have:
  • a rhythm that's about the same as our approach,
  • trot with a soft contact,
  • ability to transition down to walk or balanced halt afterwards, &
  • we don't brace our back & sewing-machine our legs through puzzle as fast as possible.
Even more importantly, I'm not pulling on his face, I'm not shutting him down, I'm not fighting with him.  He's not hearing, "No, that's garbage!"  Obviously, he can't understand my sentences, but I'm rewarding each time some aspect, any aspect, improves.  From his perspective, he is being:
  • encouraged to try different solutions,
  • rewarded with happy voice & rests, &
  • given an end to demands...
...when he finds a solution that was better than previous efforts.  This motivates him to hunt for Better with every request, because he knows it is the gateway to pleasant things.

Better.  That is the brick upon which we must build our staircases to success.   

Not Perfect.  Perfect is a mirage, tempting us into quixotic quests, in the course of which we trample the blossomings of Better into oblivion.  And like all mirages, we discover that the dogged & inflexible insistence upon what we THINK should happen only leads us in fruitless circles or worse, dead-ends, chasing something that doesn't even exist (wait, this metaphor is sounding suspiciously similar to dressage tests...but I digress).
Resist the temptation
What did your student do Better today?  Have you remembered to give him a sticker for his efforts?  Even if he didn't get the right answer to the original question, award him with partial credit for getting it wrong differently than he did last time.
      
I figure at the very least, this will dissuade him from plotting my demise next time he sees me.

Everybody wins.
Ok, human, I let u live another day

March 6, 2019

Don't Lose "Better" In The Quest For "Perfect": Part I

Echo continues to make clear to me the importance of recognizing progress as a true journey, not a single leap.

An equine student is just like a human student:  you may have an over-arching goal, but in order for your student to keep working towards that goal without souring, you have to hand out plenty of stickers & extra credit along the way.  Echo reminds me that is doubly important when dealing with young things.  Trust, confidence, enthusiasm, try - these are fragile items.  Handle with care.

It's about making sure our conversations are dominated by "Yes!" Not a new topic for this blog, but a reminder that is always relevant. 

Think of it this way:  when you decided to learn how to ride, you likely had a vision of yourself soaring over a course of jumps or cantering a victory lap with a blue ribbon or trotting up to the summit of a mountain trail...all with glorious views.

You won...something...
But this is not a feasible skillset to learn in a week.  First you had to learn how to get on a large creature with questionable judgement.  Then you were expected to guide said fur-covered bag of opinions with squeezes of your legs & fingers, whilst balancing yourself over its bouncing spine.

I don't know about you, but I didn't execute those tasks with instant grace & poise.  Fortunately, my teachers were kind enough to exclaim, "Good job!" when I successfully posted the trot on request...even though I was on the "wrong" diagonal, my reins were flapping in the breeze, & the horse meandered drunkenly between the quarterline & the rail.
Details...

Taking heart from that initial success, I could then turn my attention to improving other items on the list, each in their turn. If, during that first trot, the instructor had instead bellowed, "That was garbage! You didn't steer the horse, your reins were a mess, the diagonal was wrong - that's not what I asked for!!  Do it again, & this time you better do it right!!"

If the 2nd scenario had been repeated each time, without stopping, when I didn't ride the posting trot exactly right...I never would have made it to "doing it right."  I would have gotten frustrated, discouraged, & would have soon given up this obviously impossible quest.  I probably would have developed some very unpleasant feelings towards the bellowing tyrant who expected me to both master new techniques & develop new strength all at once.

Our horses are no different.  Case in point:

I'm using trot poles as one tool to develop Echo's hind end strength, particularly to tighten & build his stifles.  Given the eleventy billion inches of rain, my steeper hills will not be usable for some time.

My "poles" are really an assortment of heavy duty PVC pipes found or scavenged, of varied diameters up to about 6-8".  I like the extra challenge they provide the horse in asking him to flex all his joints without my having to build extra pole lifters.  Bonus:  they fit exactly within my training budget of $0.

They even come in different colours
We began at a walk with the poles ~9' apart.  Echo being the clever creature that he is, quickly progressed to 5' spacing (this is my standard for a true trot pole).  My expectations were for him to walk through four poles (this is how many poles I possess), with an even rhythm, without tripping on them or kicking them out of whack.

This was achieved in about three to four sessions, primarily because I am not going to climb on & off the horse a bunch of times if I don't have to.  So I just introduce changes in each new session & I only spend a portion of the ride on them -- in a 30-minute ride (as calibrated to 4-yr-old horse brain), this is 5-10 minutes at most.  Keepin' it fresh.

As Echo locked in on the task quickly each time, as we built up from two, to three, then four poles, this is where it became CRITICAL to manage my expectations & reward incremental progress.
Random stills from one video of us are all I have so far - but he be tryin'
If you have ridden a fit horse over four sequential trot poles, you have felt that delightful sproing-sproing-sproing-sproing-yippee (yes, that is exactly the noise it makes, including human punctuation cheer) as the horse coils his leg joints & butt muscles collectively & gains an extra moment of suspension.

There was a part of me that set this feeling as my expectation, but I had to check myself, because guess what (this shouldn't really have been hard to guess) - Echo is not strong enough to sproing yet.  It takes a loooong time for a horse to develop the strength to have that kind of cadence & balance, which is generated through the powerful coil/release of muscular energy.  It would have been easy for our sessions to devolve into me simply telling him, "No, that wasn't perfect, do it again slower & just right," on repeat.

Had I done so, as his muscles got tired & as the demand got repeated again & again & again, he would have gotten frustrated, discouraged, & he would have developed some very unpleasant feelings towards the bellowing tyrant who expected him to both master new techniques & develop new strength all at once.

Bc this is his face with almost no contact (ignore my out of shape issues)
I think this is a concept that is easier to recognize in retrospect, though, & a line that can be very, very thin depending on both the challenge & the horse.  I have to watch myself very carefully & make sure I don't get greedy, make sure I don't fall into the trap of "one more time, surely he'll get it just right if we go one more time."

What does this look like in practice?  Well, that's part II...

February 2, 2019

Little Shop Of Hoof Horrors

A big part of transitioning a horse to a new career is rebuilding his body.  Often it entails changing shape & developing different muscle groups.  How much change takes place is related to how different his new life is in comparison to his old one.

Sometimes this process includes a measure of falling apart before you can get to the re-assembly.  Sometimes you just have to let that happen.  If you have control issues (which I totally, uh, don't, erm...), this can be exceedingly difficult.

As Echo & I worked through Operation Farm-Breaking, the (much bigger) parallel process was his large-yet-small body.  Aside from the several hundred pounds of mass he needed to gain & the leg that needed to heal, his feet, while having ok structure, were too upright & boxy in racing plates that were keeping them too small (his hind shoes had already been pulled when I got him, so better back there).

Unfortunately, I didn't take any foot photos as the very beginning, but I do have a few photos of what happened next.  A couple weeks in, I pulled his front shoes to try to let his feet spread out to a more appropriate size & shape.  They proceeded to disintegrate in ways that I have never before seen a hoof disintegrate.

RF begins its fail, late Feb 2018
RH - I didn't know hooves could peel
His walls were so weak & flaky, they seemed to just fall apart.  You can see the layers just peeling away from each other.  Amazingly, he didn't seem terribly sore on them, but as much as I tried to keep the edges cleaned up with a rasp to slow things down, it mostly just failed.

RF in its most brain-exploding stage, early May.  I can't even...
I'm pretty sure farrier got tired of my barely-contained panic as I texted him ludicrious things like, "I'm worried my horse's sole is detaching & falling off?"  He was nice enough to roll with it.

I suspect that Echo was definitely missing some important trace minerals in his diet.  He was living in Florida, where there is a lot of nutrient-poor, sandy soil which doesn't produce very rich hay.  Either way, I immediately introduced him to my biotin-rich friend, SmartHoof pellets, along with a balanced diet based on Triple Crown Complete & a ton of grass, & tried my best to look at other parts of his body.

To little avail.  Along with thin, structurally-incompetent walls, he had similarly thin soles.  So we got this added to the fun:

One very impressive abscess, April
It often felt like one step forward, two steps back.  As the disintegration worsened, it became clear that his feet were not ready to be barefoot on hard-packed, rock-strewn Carolina summer ground while stomping at flies.  He had to have shoes back on.  That included several of its own debacles, including one instance of stepping on a hind clip:
You can see where it went in on right side
I texted the photo to farrier & told him, "Well, you can definitely see where his white line is now."  We got lucky & he didn't abscess or end up lame on that, he drove the clip into the white line instead of the sole.

We did a stint in glue-ons due to another debacle.  The hind shoes came off as soon as fly season tapered off, as additional bruising from excessive stomping & more wall disintegration had to grow out.  I was buying duct tape & generic vet-wrap in bulk.

If I had to treat one more foot, I was ready to throw up..
We're slowly accumulating more positive progress now, though.  His front feet have already gone up two sizes & I'm sure there's at least one more to go.  His hind feet are currently looking 1000% stronger - remember that peeling apart right hind foot from above?

RH yesterday (sorry, Keratex just applied)
He's actually completely barefoot at the moment.  I know we won't be able to stay this way - when the flies come back & the ground turns back to rock, he will need front shoes at the least.  But I pulled his front shoes at the end of December - I figured this was my last chance to let his heels spread out, while the ground has been VERY soft from the zillion feet of rain.  That right front, the brain-exploder, is much more solid looking (just ignore the dirt packed in the growing-out nail holes & the leftover epoxy from the glue-ons):
RF yesterday, also ignore my sloppy edge smoothing at the toe
We still have a ways to go, but now we have a little more to work with.  His walls actually didn't chip at all through most of January 2019, even when the ground was frozen.  I don't have any hoof boots that fit him at the moment, but he's doing fairly well riding in the field.  There's no rushing any of this - it takes a horse about a year to grow a new foot.  In Echo's case, I fully expect another year on his front feet before we are really stable.

The in-between stages of hoof (or anything) rehab often contain a whole lot of ugly.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do is wait, despite all your urges to Just Do Something.  And even though Echo's feet sometimes looked terrible, he assured me that he felt just fine:
Looking fancy in Aug (ok, maybe I just wanted to see something green, sigh)
If anyone knows where I can get a discount on Durasole by the case, just let me know.

January 21, 2019

Glove Quest, Round I-Lost-Count

Since it's ludicrously frigid outside (at least in the Northern hemisphere), I thought I would assist you in whiling away your time by helping you spend money.  You're welcome.

We all have our own physical quirks that make shopping for gear agonizing fun.  This joy is multiplied if you also want said gear to last more than one week & you don't make $100,000 a year.  When it comes to gloves, I have to scour size charts & reviews with extra fervour to determine whether something might fit my enormous hands with crazy long fingers.  I can't ride sans gloves because my delicate, wussy skin falls off when...it touches something.  Whee.

Also an expert on using things ALL the way up
I am still using my Horze Lyon gloves (reviewed here), which I still love & can't believe remain functional after 4+ years.  They don't have holes yet, but are wearing too thin to use in winter.  I've also been struggling with another issue:  phone use.

Miss you button: GET IT?!!
While I am definitely not sitting on my horse texting or browsing the interwebz, there are times when I need to operate the touchscreen (I MISS BUTTONS. SO. MUCH.) without having to remove gloves.  I use GPS sometimes, especially on new or extensive trails.  I've been using the free Equilab app to track riding/longe sessions, which means I want to start it right before I get on.  Half the time I forget to leave my left glove off when I lead Echo out to the mounting block, so I have to remove it to start the track.  Annoying.

In a much MUCH rarer, but much more important scenario, I recently had to dial 911 when I witnessed a nasty fall.  I was sitting on Solo & I was the only person who had my phone strapped to me (I use a calf holster, so that if I fall, the phone doesn't contribute to a back or pelvis injury the way it might on a belt).  Those seconds to pull off a glove felt really really long when I wasn't entirely certain whether the fallen rider was (a) alive or (b) suffering spinal or brain injuries (she wore a helmet, got a concussion, but was fortunately otherwise ok).  This wasn't an experience I'd thought much about before, but I sure do now.

I didn't need anything super insulated since I already have the SSG 10 Below (also wonderful & durable).  And I categorically refuse to pay $40+ for a pair of hand covers for horsey riding.  I set out on my quest.

Contestant #1:  Noble Outfitters Perfect Fit 3 Season Glove

Pros:  Technically less than $20 ($19-something at SmartPak).  Claimed to be "cell phone compatible."

Cons:  NOT touchscreen compatible.  I suppose technically you can still sort of use a cell phone while wearing these gloves.  I mean, they don't cover your mouth.  :/  But you certainly can't operate the screen; I even tried using my off-hand, just in case they were designed by some thoughtless person who assumed everyone was right-handed.  Nope, the right one was just as ineffective as the left.

I was also mildly irritated that the published size chart showed how to use a dollar bill to measure your hand.  It's 2019, people:  I'm not a millennial, but I still have fully embraced electronic payments & I would guess I'm in the majority of people who don't carry cash anymore.  After ~15 minutes of googling, I finally found a size chart with real measurements on it.  The gloves still didn't fit very well though & the material felt pretty cheap.

Summary:  A "meh" would be excessively generous.  Returned them.  Thankfully SmartPak makes that easy, although it would be even easier if there was a UPS store in my rural area.

Excuse usage dirt
Contestant #2:  Ovation Tekflex Stretch Comfort All Season Riding Glove

Pros:  I got these on clearance, but regular price is still less than $20 ($18.99 I think at Riding Warehouse).  The XL fits my giant mitts decently.  And they ARE touchscreen compatible, no misleading claims here.  I was pleasantly suprised at how super-grippy they are as well, they would be great in any discipline.  Material feels sturdy & I like that they extend a little farther down my wrist for more sun protection in summer/warmth in winter.  They aren't insulated but my easily-frosted extremities were comfortable at 40-45 degrees.

There is a simple size chart consisting of normal measurements using a ruler.  The olive green accents were on sale, but they do come with other colors.  The accents are very subtle though, which I prefer.  Especially when I was competing, I hardly wanted attention called to my not-always-obedient hands.

Touch pads on thumb/touchy finger
Cons:  None so far.  If I was being really picky, is it really necessary to have a product name with EIGHT words?

Summary:  I love these gloves far more than I expected.  I would definitely buy them again if they hold up.   

Giant awkward thumbs-up: thanks, Ovation!
What about you?  Have you found an affordable glove that you love?  How do you deal with the phone issue?  My old Sony phone had a "glove mode," which actually worked; the new LG is rather crappy & does not. 

January 13, 2019

Bridging The Space Between Us

Echo & I had physical & mental assignments to tackle.  Both would take time, but that was a resource I had available, particularly that first winter, when you don't feel like you're missing out if you can't ride in the cold/dark/wind. 

Welcome Home To Prison

As mentioned, Echo had some sesamoiditis in one ankle.  This was a new one for me.  You can google it, but as I quickly learned after diving into vet textbooks & scientific literature, there are many uncertainties around this condition.  In brief, it's an inflammation within the bone itself which creates mysterious channels (unknown exactly how they form), usually related to excessive concussion (so not uncommon in racehorses).  The sesamoid bones are strange free-floating bones at the back of the fetlock (under the yellow bulge in the graphic), wrapped in the suspensory branches where they split to go around the ankle.  As such, they have a poor blood supply & are among the slowest in the body to heal.

Of course. 

It's often separated into two grades of severity, based on whether or not there is associated soft tissue involvement (i.e. suspensory branch desmitis).  The prognosis is better if it is caught early & there is no ligament damage.  Echo had a clean ultrasound of the suspensory ligament in that leg, so the prescription was rest.  And no more racing.

Love his white dot
I was ok with both.  I needed to put several hundred pounds on him, so it's not like we were going anywhere in a hurry anyway.  I conferred with Dr. Bob:  his radiograph showed the bone channels were more pronounced than originally thought & he had a little chunk of cartilage floating around.  He's a lucky horse:  he was raced by his breeder & retired just in time.  From what I saw on the rad, his next race could have ended with a sesamoid fracture across that weakened channel & his story would be very different.

Fortunately for us both, the cartilage would be re-absorbed by the body, causing no concern, & soft tissues still all looked good, so Dr. Bob agreed we still had a good prognosis.  And it was already becoming apparent to me, even in the first few weeks, that this horse was going to be well worth some effort.

Echo had developed some minor fill & warmth in the ankle around these stressed structures, so Dr. Bob prescribed 6-8 weeks of small pen rest with wrapping as needed.  He injected it to help bring down the inflammation, preventing joint damage.  He wanted to take the most conservative approach to ensure we protected those critical tissues & I was grateful for it.  We also had the advantage of a young horse body which was still developing & still had all those healing powers my own body has long since forgotten.

The cutest prisoner
Inmate Development & Rehab Programs

While I didn't love pen-cleaning or trying to figure out how to prevent a bored young horse from eating plywood (tip: you can't), or the inherent anxiety that comes with waiting for anything to heal, this time did turn into an opportunity.  Echo had enough space to not feel trapped (approximately 3x the length of that picture...the space in the picture...not the actual picture...you get it), but not enough to say, elude me across 2-3 acres.  We had nothing to juggle on the schedule but "eat & relax," & this intelligent kid needed something to engage him.  I began what I call Operation Farm-Breaking.

A racehorse knows how to lead, how to be groomed, how to be tacked up.  He's used to baths & farriers & (often) clippers & loud equipment.  He's not Farm Broke.  A Farm Broke horse gets blanketed at liberty in the dark after the headlamp-wearing owner trips over the fence wire.  He is approached & haltered in a large field by a woman wearing 7 different colours & a noisy, hooded rain jacket.  His rump is used for draping said noisy jackets or jangly girths, which often slide off & land under his feet.  His owner drops ropes, tosses brushes, splashes water, drags weird-shaped objects, & moves things without permission.

This monster may approach at any time & will definitely trip on something
I started small miniscule:  the lead-rope-touching skittishness.  After making sure he would let me touch every part of his body with my hands (he did), I began by draping the rope over his neck, about midway & sliding it back towards his withers, just until he started to get uncomfortable.  I'd pause for just a moment there, pet & praise (he didn't yet understand how to eat treats, also common with OTTBs), then move it back up to the "safe" zone as a release.  Rinse & repeat ad nauseum for a few minutes every time I caught him.  Eventually, I could swing the end of the rope all the way back to his butt (this is one of the many reasons I only buy 10' leads, plenty to work with). 

This was also the base of my pledge to him on which I was to build everything else:  I will never unfairly hurt you & I will never ask you to do something you can't do.

Over the following days & weeks, we learned plenty, using the same gradual approach, including:
  • Blankets cause no actual physical harm, despite sliding across your rump like a two-dimensional cougar.  Same goes for rain jackets, plastic bags, & other loud crinkly things.  You don't have to love it, you just have to accept it.
  • Headlamp-wearing human is not a disembodied orb seeking to extract your soul; in fact, she often produces delicious morsels
  • Small objects presented under nose by owner's hand are actually delicious morsels for nomming.  Except apples, we still don't understand apples.
  • No human parts go in your mouth unless the human puts them there herself.  This includes clothing.  Owner may dress like a homeless person, but the clothes are not actually disposable.
  • Strange human presents no real threat & does speak rudimentary Horse.  Should always be investigated for morsels & can generally be counted on to provide some form of entertainment.
April: Learning is exhausting. Also, he is not a graceful sleeper.
Along with this went Bodywork By Me.  I had wanted Dr. Bob to do a chiro adjustment with spring shots in February, but he recommended waiting until fall:  Echo's body was so tight that any adjustments would probably just get pulled right back out until we retrained that muscle memory.  I re-toned my forearms with liberal application of massage to all those tight tissues & slathered SoreNoMore on that pulled butt.  Producing many sighs, drooping ears, lip licking, & reinforcing that most of the time, contact with Weird Human is a good thing.

Awakenings

As days became weeks became months, I began to see the returns on my investment.  Echo's initial guardedness melted away into an enormous, gregarious personality who wanted his nose in the middle of everything.  I didn't have to walk up to him in the pasture because he came to me as soon as he spotted me (which Solo has rarely done, he maintains that the world should proceed on his terms).  Each barrier we conquered made the next one easier as I gained his trust.

July 2018:  I can haz morsel?
His body made progress too.  That ankle was cool & quiet & we graduated back to normal turnout.  Butt muscle healed uneventfully.  The feet, well, I think that will have to be a whole 'nother post.  But they were stuttering forwards (and backwards...and forwards...and backwards) too.   His rangy frame began to fill out, drifting from "whippet-shaped" to "horse-shaped."  I'm not sure if it's because he's dark brown, but he has more substance to him than first appears.  He has nice big cannon bones & roomy joints & his head is FULL full-sized.  It was very obvious that there was going to be plenty more "filling out" in our future, but at least I could brush him without feeling like I was going break the edge off some sticky-out-y part! 

Feb vs Sept:  please don't ever make me add up that feed bill
My favourite part, though, & the most rewarding by far, was the change in his expression & overall demeanor.  As I've said before, he was always friendly, always curious, but you could feel a reserve there, as if he was withholding judgement pending further review.  I felt like he was filing away experiences in labeled boxes or making a pro & con list on me:  "Hmmm, the blanket thing ended up fine & I got lots of morsels, file that under 'pro!'  But she occasionally has sparks on her fingers (winter static is begrudged), NOT COOL, that is a 'con!'"

After nearly 13 years with emotionally intuitive Solo, I am sensitive to (or try to be) the nuances of horses' personalities & reactions.  No, they aren't human (thank goodness), but they absolutely have both emotions, intuition, & intent, along with the ability to read that of other animals -- a necessary skill for a prey animal living in a herd.  Pondering how to reach across Echo's moat of reserve & knock on the door meant also examining myself & the signals I was sending.  The more I observed him, it felt like he was waiting.  But for what?

Cautious reservation
I realized I was withholding too.  In my fear of "something bad" happening, in my compensatory attempt to protect my battered self from more disappointment, more sadness, I was keeping my own heart at a distance & trying not to get too attached to this fragile animal, just in case it didn't work out.  I enjoyed Echo, I was kind to him, but in a rather businesslike manner.  And I think this very intelligent, very sensitive horse, who was already responding to my purposeful changes in projected mental energy in groundwork, also picked up on that distance. 

He was waiting for me.

With a deep & shaky breath, I leaned my shoulder to the heavy lid of the box around my heart.  I haven't gotten it all the way open, I don't think that setting exists anymore.  After all, Solo is already in the box, so I can't let him escape.  But as Johnathan Safran Foer sagely wrote, "You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness."  With some metaphorical & actual fresh air & sunlight, I am making some tentative forays into the edges of hope & trust.   

As I do so, Echo is lowering the drawbridge & opening the door to reveal a cool, confident exuberance paired with a desire to please & venturesome spirit that I can't wait to keep exploring.  And it's written all over his face.

The world?  Bring it.