Sunday, January 16, 2022

Epona's Christmas Injury, and More Uncertainty

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” (Marianne Williamson)
I have a small window of opportunity to write on this blog between family commitments, but a lot to say about Brene Brown’s books and their connection to being not only better humans, but better horse-humans. I want to finish all four before I do that, and then, pay them forward to others who want to read them. 

Today, I want to circle back to Christmas, having bypassed an important story from that day, Epona’s injury. 

First, a few thoughts about 2021, a year that in many ways was quite wonderful, but experienced as something less than that. I have one dear friend who cannot say enough good about 2021. She loved it with all her heart. But everyone else I know seemed happy to put it behind them. Including me. As I reflect back, I can see only one reason for that: uncertainty. 

There was uncertainty in Epona’s early pharyngeal dysfunction and resulting pneumonia, and uncertainty in my dad’s cancer. But there was also uncertainty in the world, due to the pandemic. We had hope vaccines would end it, but that did not materialize. 
“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 82)

There was uncertainty about the weather, and if it would impede us making it to see my dad on Christmas Eve. Turns out, we encountered dangerous road conditions that day, and had to turn around and go back home. We connected via FaceTime to hear what is probably his last retelling of the Christmas Story. It was one of his best. We also scrabbled together a dinner and game night here, which was quite wonderful. And, we made it down to see him a few days later when we had a window of opportunity. 

On Christmas Day, we had another surprise, when we went out to the barn, Epona was favoring her front left leg. More uncertainty. Was it broken?  I walked her around, and it didn't seem so. How did she do it? We don't know, but suspect ice. There wasn't much at that time, and she was in her stall and run that she knows well, but babies are so inexperienced, it could have been, and probably was, a patch of ice. Would she recover? We didn't know. Since it was Christmas, we opted not to call out the vet, but to watch and see if she was better the next day.

Uncertainty. A state of doubt about the future or about what is the right thing to do.

I have found that with the world trembling in universal anxiety about the pandemic and the effects of the pandemic, uncertainty seems less tolerable. Yet, I'm the caregiver to nine horses, and multiple other sweet creatures whom I love with all my heart, and who carry some piece of my own well-being and happiness. I am a mother and a grandmother, whose children carry a piece of that, too. I am a daughter. I am a friend. That's a lot of connections, which carry an increased supply of love, and an increased risk of loss.

Epona's injury touched off a period of anxiety that was only cured by her getting remarkably better each day. By day three, she looked back to normal. However, horses are horses, and young horses are crazy. I was out cleaning stalls, and she got so excited, she went running around her outside enclosure, then almost entirely ice, and came back in limping again. Oh, Epona, the roller coaster ride you've taken me on!

It seemed a huge setback, but oddly enough, the next day she was better again. Not only that, but she has remained sound ever since, AND, as a bonus, she is finally, finally cautious on ice. I was able to spread hay and woodchips over her entire turnout, which definitely helped, but she is also paying much closer attention to where she places her feet. We appear to have dodged yet another Epona bullet.

All this said, I have one more item to add to my 2022 goals: 
Do not let uncertainty rob me of my joy today.
We live in very unusual times, and it is impossible to predict how this will end. My husband has always counseled his patients dealing with anxiety (which was almost every patient, pre-pandemic, in our private practice, and probably now, too, in the hospital setting) that the way to deal with anxiety is to know you can handle whatever the world throws at you. You can't wait for anxiety to hit before you start to prepare. You have to build upon your strengths, and take care of every aspect of your life that is within your control, so that when the uncertainty comes, you are ready for it. Much of the work he did was helping people see those areas of their life that they could control and build upon. My own work, pruning, is quite similar. Cleaning house. Organizing life. Concentrating energy and focus. Making goals for 2022.  All the same theme.

The other part of his counsel was to enjoy every minute of life and be mindful of those moments. Basically, immerse yourself in the here and now and learn to let go of the past, and future worry. Train hard for that mindfulness, and steep it in gratitude.
mindfulness + action = buffer from the anxiety uncertainty brings

So, off I go to do those things and to read my Brene Brown books.....

When I'm done with these, I do hope to pass them on. If you have any interest in reading them, too, let me know. I think of them as more tools for the tool belt, just like the tools we accumulate to take care of our horses. I'll take nuggets of wisdom wherever they can be found.

If you do have time to comment today, please, if you're inclined, share your own wisdom on dealing with uncertainty. I bet there are a lot of people, including myself, that would be interested.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Building His Confidence

Things were crazy around here when I pulled out yesterday. Something got the horses riled up, and they were all running around like crazy, which scared Tumbleweed as he was loading. Part of me said, abort the mission! But the other side of me said, you can't make everything perfect, and he needs to know he can trust my decision to work today. The latter side won.

When we arrived at the trail head, he was still on edge, but we started our work on the obstacles in-hand. I didn't want to overburden him, since he has shutdown on them before, so I chose only one on which to concentrate. It's the bridge he has gone over 1000 times, but after the teeter-totter bridge, he firmly believes it is a teeter-totter in disguise. Before we can even think about mastering the TT bridge, we need to circle back on this one.

My daughter, who is due any day now, accompanied me. She and I think a lot like when it comes to training, so I bounced ideas off of her as I was working. Too much pressure? Need more? What do you see happening?

The winning approach for Tweed was a little bit of pressure, but lots of reinforcement. At one point, when he committed his front feet, and most of his back momentum, to the bridge, I stopped and kissed his sweet little mouth--which is something I do a lot around here--and he just immediately melted. It paved the way for several successful tries. A little pressure, a little release, lots of kissing. My training method!

After that, we did some work in the round pen and arena, and then rode out to try the obstacles in-saddle.

The Sand Box

The Poles. (This is one is good for teaching him to balance a rider while picking up his legs to maneuver over obstacles, something that still scares him. He seems to be very worried about his balance when we do these obstacles, so I take them slow.)

I apologize for the next one being crooked, but I sent it up to YouTube in the correct position, and it still processed it skewed. The Ladder. Last time I  tried this one with Tweed, in saddle, he refused it. So, this was a big, big win for us.

We did more of the obstacles, like the labyrinth and poles--going in, and backing out, but that gives you a good idea. I'm starting to use the obstacles more as a supplement, rather than an entire session. I'm going to build on them slowly, as he gains confidence. 

Today is going to be our first trail ride, and I think he's more than ready. It's a beautiful day, and I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Now That I've Scared Everyone Off...

Now that I've scared everyone off from ever giving me advice again >insert laughing emoji<, I would like to shift gears and ask you to share the best piece of advice, or maybe more accurately, wisdom, you ever received.

For me, it was probably the day my vet told me Cowboy was a smart horse because he had a strong survival instinct. I was thinking about it from the negative--he's not a bright horse, because he's not allowing my vet to give him his vaccination shot, and I was making apologies. He turned that back around to the positive so fast my head was left spinning.

I was Cowboy's fifth owner by the time he was seven, partially because the poor guy had been caught up in a divorce situation. He was also an orphan foal. Cowboy must have thought if he was going to survive, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. When I look back, every blow up, every refusal, everything--was a failure of not meeting that most basic, essential need.

1. Have I done the necessary conditioning / training?

2. Have I earned this horse's trust?

3. Does my horse feel like he / she can communicate their needs to me and have them heard and respected?

4. Is anything I'm doing contributing to my horse's fear and survival instinct?

5. What's the best way I can get this horse past his fear and not make him more fearful?

6. At the end of the day, the relationship is more important than the results.

It took me a long time to get there with Cowboy, and I had to let some things go. He never enjoyed riding in super large groups. He always hated desensitization clinics. He wasn't good crossing water, and always took extra time. When he got it, he'd do it forever, but only that particular water crossing. In all other things, he gave me everything he had--really poured it out and wanted more time with me on the trail. 

How about all of you? What is that great epiphany? What piece of wisdom changed everything about your outlook?

Oh, and we introduced Foxy and Epona last night.

It was extremely uneventful.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Falling In Love With You

Wise men say, only fools rush in,
but I can't help falling in love with you.
Like a river flows, surely, to the sea,
Tweed, so it goes, some things, are meant to be.
Take my hand, take my whole life too,
(Even over the teeter totter bridge),
For I can’t help falling in love with you.

Spending time with Tumbleweed at the equestrian area and taking it slow. I don't have an agenda, but I do have a goal of first, getting his whole heart, and second, to be riding those trails and obstacles. We're very close.  I'll know when it's time, because I'll have his feet. As of yesterday, he was still nervous and calling for a buddy. I want him to see me as that buddy. He has gone over the teeter totter bridge twice, but he's still nervous about it. We'll get there. In the meantime, I'm pursuing LoVe, encouragement, and enjoying our journey.

A little wine and cheese between training.

I wish I could say I came up with this philosophy of slow, long day training myself, but I actually stole it from another equestrian. I'd see her at the equestrian area with her horse last summer when I'd go down for rides. She was there everyday, most of the day, and her husband would sit and read a book. I'd see her before my rides, and I'd see her after my rides. She and her horse started out rough, and I didn't know how it would turn out for them, but by the end of the summer, she was riding her mare all over the place, and they had a deep connection. It made me think how like weekend clinics that is--you spend all day with your horse partner, and by the end of the day or weekend, you get this unbelievable bond. My horse camping friends get the same results. There's just something to be said with longer days together.

Update: Epona gets daily turnout with Cowgirl now, and Cowgirl isn't letting her nurse anymore--but we're watching them closely. Cowgirl seems to have turned off the spigot and has no interest in allowing her to assume the position. Epona isn't trying as much either. Good news for an eventual full reunion.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

I Wish I Had Time To Bake You a Cake!

Yesterday was Epona's vet visit, and though we could see a remarkable change in her, we have learned to wait for the bloodwork and diagnostics before we celebrate.

The first thing we saw was that she had gained almost 100 pounds since our last visit. That was a big indicator something was going right. But being healthier also meant being stronger and more opinionated, and Epona was not happy about having her blood drawn. Our vet was impressed with her ground manners, considering she is an "orphan, non-orphan foal," but Epona definitely had spunk, and it made us all very happy to see it.

We loaded her back in the trailer to await the results of her blood test, and when our vet walked out to give us the news, her first words were, "I wish I had time to bake you a cake! --because we need to celebrate!"

There was a feeling of elation among all of us. A heavy weight lifted from our mutual shoulders. We thanked Dr Stein over and over, and she returned the praise to us. It was a team effort with a heavy dose of miracles from above.

Throughout this journey, I would often pray to God out in the barn, "I love her so much, can we keep her?" 

His answer was yes. 

Prognosis: No more vet visits. She has learned to swallow normally, and they expect her to have a normal life now. As you know, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to type those words.