Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hope and Possibilities

Yesterday, as I was walking Bee to the barn next door, Cowboy saw us leaving and came running , full out, across the East Pasture to me. He was prancing around and trying to rush through the gate.  He'd just had breakfast, and I didn't have anything he would want.  Not to mention, going to the barn next door always scares him.

Why was he running to me? Why this need to be with me?

I thought, What is this all about?  Is it some harbinger from above? Some warning to be careful with Bee today?  That wasn't too much of a stretch, since I was alone at the barn, should anything happen, and a friend of a friends is in a coma right now from a brain bleed after a horse accident.

After an hour working Bee, where I was very cautious and all went most excellent, I started to walk back home.  While I was still on the neighbor's property, but almost to the gate, Cowboy, who was grazing at the end of the pasture, saw me and again came running, full bore, to the gate!

He was prancing, even dancing, by my side, like I'd been gone for 3 days, he was starving, and I was bringing him food.  Cowboy, I said, what is it with you.  You're acting so weird.  As I lead Bee, he walked with me, through the east pasture, through the turn out, all the way to the gate in front of my tack room.

Bee had  her ears back, as if she was annoyed, but not dangerously so.  She seemed to be saying, Hey, get out of here, bud, this is my time.

I praised her for not kicking out at him.

I unsaddled her as fast as I could, as Cowboy watched us with his head hung over the rail of the fence. Then, I walked back into the turnout, switched Bee for Cowboy, took him over to the overturned trough, stood on the precarious, slick trough asking Cowboy to come closer and closer so that I could swing my leg over his bare back without falling.

He did.

Inch by inch.

I jumped on and we went off on our daily ride through the pastures: walking, trotting, loping.

It was an amazing day with Cowboy, and I couldn't get it out of my heart or mind.  I was tossing and turning in bed last night, and it came to me--how I always say, I think in heaven the horses we loved will come running to greet us.

It’s true.


You can imagine, living in "heaven," with a horse like Cowboy calling my name, how difficult it is for me to go to work nowadays.  It's getting harder and harder and harder.  My spirit is home with my horses.  An hour away from them feels like 10 hours.  It's driving me crazy.

My husband has noticed it because we work together--which, of course, is the upside of my work.  He and I have been talking a lot about how to fix it, and we think we have a solution.

I won't know for a few weeks, but we may have found a way to work from home together.


The other thing that kept me up last night was wondering if that crazy behavior of Cowboy's was some final goodbye.  Is he going to colic tonight?  Did he have some sense it would be our last together?  (I tend to overthink everything).

I ran out to the barn this morning to see Cowboy, the orphan, the outcast, my heart-horse, before work.  He was healthy and happy.

Bee came to see me, too.

Leah did her best imitation of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, but for her it was the round bale.

Now, I'm off to work.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Would You Like To Dance?

"So much wasted time."

David Cassidy's last words as he was dying.

When the nurse told me to “go to my happy place,” she said I told her it would be the horses. (My husband and children gave me a bit of grief about that!)  I woke up feeling euphoric, just as the nurse was telling my husband the story. It felt right. It felt like I had truly been with my horses.

I’ve written before about how it feels for me to climb into the saddle—it’s like a swoosh of endorphins flooding my brain. I also have this image of heaven, my herd galloping to meet me when I pass over. It gives me comfort. I love my family with all my heart, but my relationship with the horses is other-worldly. I hope the readers will understand what I mean, and maybe even be able to clarify it more, in the comments section.

Yesterday was the first day I was able to work with my horses—Cowboy, Leah, and Beautiful--since the heart ablation.  I didn’t expect it to be any different, but it was. Something had changed in me, a way of communicating. It's as if, when they fixed my heart, they also helped it to feel more vividly the emotions of my horses.

The idea of The Dance became clearer and shifted from a--

We're going to dance!

To a--

Would you like to dance?

I had more patience to ask and wait for the give.  More patience to see it as a series of dance steps, rather than a whole dance.  And, this great understanding that learning the steps to the dance is not wasted time, but rushing the dance or not dancing at all IS wasted time.

Seeing it that way, I was able to get insight into my relationships the three horses I worked with, and I want to share it and ask you to leave a comment explaining how you see your own dances with your horses.



As I tried to take Cowboy's picture, he wanted to come to me.  He didn't want to graze.  He didn't want to walk back to the herd.  He wanted to dance.  With me.

We are those long-time dance partners you see on the dance floor, feet shuffling back and forth, back and forth, hands held tight--knowing the rhythm, the steps, the give and take.  Imagine the most perfect couple out on the dance floor, the one that just has you mesmerized, and then look over to the side at the ones who aren't that good, but you can tell they've been dancing together for a long time, too.  That is us.  Cowboy and me.  There is still a bit of tension here and there, but we've learned to dance together and we're used to each other.

Cowboy doesn't like the tango.  We don't do the tango.  We only dance the ones he likes.  For the most part, I lead, but there are some steep or rocky sections, where I let Cowboy choose the path, and he always gets us where we need to go.  Opening and closing gates--the tap-tap on his side--he scoots over a wee bit. A gentle squeeze--he takes one step--a gentle squeeze--another step.  He hears me softly say, "Whoooaaaa," and he stands still enough that I can reach down to the chain and unlatch the gate.

Dancing with Cowboy wasn't always this easy or fun, but it is  now.  I wish I'd been a more patient partner in the early days, but he has been forgiving.  Nowadays, we dance as much as we can to keep his body going in his older age. 



It struck me that I'd been stepping on Leah's toes a lot as we've been learning to dance together.  She's a gentle soul, takes everything deeply, doesn't want to make missteps--and I need to honor that. 

Yesterday, we danced on the ground first.  I worked with her at a trot, in circles, all around the arena.  We danced over the poles, around the barrels, along the rail.  She was a lovely partner.

I wanted a plan in saddle.  What dance would be learning?  Which steps did we need to learn?

I decided the dance was opening the gate (without actually opening the gate), and the steps would be moving off my leg and learning the gentle--one step forward--stop and rest--one more step forward--stop and rest--side pass, side pass--rest--don't be frightened of me bending over--rest--don't be frightened of the sound of the chain clinking against metal--rest. We could call this the waltz, and our practice a dry run.  No music.  No putting the steps all together.  Just work at learning the subtle shifting, counting--gentle pushing away and pulling in.


Beautiful Girl.

If you can't dance well together on the ground, how can you possibly dance well in the saddle? 

Bee had a week off, and she was on edge.  She wants to learn to dance, but but she thinks she knows the dance already--and constantly attempts to take the lead from me.  Her dance is one of self-preservation--I heard a sound, let's get the hell out of here!  She is in the early stages of the steps: getting used to the feel of bridle and bit, the tug of a rein, the pressure of a leg, the weight of a rider. 

Yesterday, we worked on the ground dance.  At first her trot was fast and fearful, but we twirled around the arena in circles until she slowed down and tuned into her dance partner.  At that point, she watched the up and down of my left hand as it urged her to continue forward over poles and tires.  She felt the tug of my right hand guiding her forward, then into a circle, then forward, then over a pole, then forward, then into a circle--and so on. 

We have quite a few steps to learn together, but working with her, and the others, is my happy place.  Why rush the dance?  Those older couples you see on the dance floor probably didn't look so great when they were first learning.  The element of TIME is essential. Forgiveness.  Togetherness. And just plain wanting to dance together in the first place. 

This is not wasted time. 

It's precious time.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Horse to Heal a Heart

I had a guest and horse helper for the last few days, my nine year old grand-niece.

She washed Lily, the pony. She helped me trim her bridle path.  She led her through the obstacles in my arena.

My grand-niece lost her mom last year about this time, and as you can imagine, it has been a painful journey for her. But she loves the horses.  Horses heal hearts.

In fact, I know a horse who lost his mom, too.

Cowboy hasn't ever been a kid's horse or, for that matter, given kids rides at all.  When I first put her on his back, he looked unsure.

But after some wither scratches and rubs along his mane, he was melting in her hands.

He even allowed her to lead him through the obstacles.

I was proud of Cowboy.

My grand-niece now lives with my sister and her husband--her grandparents--and we plan to get her up here to the horses as much as possible.

There is a non-profit center in her town that helps children who are grieving.  It's called the Willow Center.

They meet every week and then have an annual summer camp for the kids.

There is currently an internet competition going on for a charity to receive a $5,000 donation and the Willow Center is vying for 1st place with three others.  Please click on this link-- Willow Center for Grieving Children --and click a vote for Willow Springs.  They don't ask for any information and you can vote from anywhere.  You can also vote every day!  If you can take a second and help them out, I thank you!  My grand-niece, and many more children who have lost moms, dads, sisters and brothers, are being helped tremendously. 

And, a little horse time doesn't hurt either!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Spring, You Came Back to Me

It appears spring and I are still a thang.  I thought spring had broken up--ended the relationship--but she came back and acted like nothing ever happened.  Of course, I wanted to ask her why--why she'd just walked out like that, but then, I didn't want to piss her off and have her walk out again.  So, I'm willing to take her back--this time--without an apology.  

Yesterday was warm and glorious.  I rode in the morning, with Cowboy...

And, I was part of a trail clinic that night.

Cowboy is experiencing a lot of head shaking this year.  I'm giving him his medication (carbamazepine, for seizure, and bute, for foot arthritis after broken, displaced P3 10 years ago) and waiting for it to subside, but it's tough to manage.  He benefits from being used, so I try to keep him comfortable and keep him working.  You could say that's my answer to everything, and you'd be about 75% right.  Many horse health issues really do benefit from them moving.  It gets the blood flowing and gets them in shape.  As in people, a sedentary lifestyle is a killer.

Leah hates crossing water, but she'll do anything for me if I do it first.  So yeah, I walked through the puddle in my leather boots, she followed, I got back on, she rode through with no problem.

Foxy, our new well-broke horse, lost her mind at the trail last night.  It was her first time out with us.  She jigged and was just all around bug-eyed nervous.  My husband had to hand her off to our trainer and switch horses.  This is them kissing and making up at the end.  Today, my daughter and I are taking her back out there to try again.

See that white butt way up ahead in the trees?  That is Leah.  She walks out fast, and that is about all anyone ever sees of her.  I like a fast walking horse, and it seems to rub off on every horse I ride.  I must send them vibes.

Here we are switching out the horses.

The day before, I worked with Leah in her side reins--from the ground.  I'm trying to build up her top line.  I only work her in very small increments on the line, then I take the side reins off and do the rest in saddle.  It helps her to know what I'm looking for without the added pressure of having a rider aboard.

An update on the trailering (see previous post about making trailering safe) Leah has become a pro in the trailer since I did that work with her--tying her up and feeding her in it while I trained the other horses.  She could probably use a refresher in between trailering her to work just to mix it up and keep her solid.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

DIY Hoof Poultice & a Few Miscellaneous Photos & Thoughts

Here's a trail blooper from a ride yesterday morning, the photos I don't usually share, but probably should. Something is wrong.  Can you see it?

Here's the photo you usually see.  Cowboy's eye seems to say, I like the other photo better, mom.

More pictures from the 1st day releasing Foxy.  Can you tell what's happening in this photo?

Here is the same scene with a little more close-up view.

And a ride with Cowboy from last week.  Riverside State Park--the same park where I rode with Leah in the Heaven, I'm in Heaven post.

This is the same spot I took the photo with Leah.

My herd is still sorting it out with Foxy.  We have a very strong mare herd dynamic--they can hear each other think--and it takes a bit to get a new mare synchronized.

I'm also nursing an abscess with Little Joe.  It popped in his frog this week.  I used the Animalintex poultice pads, wrapped in duct tape, to draw it out. They're kind of spendy, especially when they just fall off from bad wrapping.  I lost 3 of the 6 pads!  My trainer uses a diaper (cut to fit), with nitrofurazone and epsom salts, duct taped onto the hoof.  A little DIY poultice idea.

Today, since it has popped, I'm going to soak it in warm water and epsom salts and pack it with sugardine (sugar and iodine).  He's been getting my wraps off pretty easily, so I'm going to vet wrap it up and over his ankle and then reinforce it with duct tape around the hoof area, to keep it dry.

My neighbor delivered a truck load of cedar chips to me last weekend, out of the blue, no charge.  Can you believe it?  I was in need of wood chips, too.

The weather is cold, wet and blustery up here in the Northwest, and I feel like I'm always cold, but I'm going to bundle up and go out to ride Leah today.  I have a new obstacle I'm going to work on and that I'll share with you in a later post.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happy Birthday, Cowboy, My Crazy Heart Horse

Happy birthday to my crazy heart-horse, Cowboy. He was 22 on March 7, 2017.  As far as I know, he is the oldest in our herd now.  Penny may be older, since she's a non-registered horse, and most non-registered are likely to be a little older than they say when they sell them to you.  But as far as papers are concerned, Cowboy is officially the oldest.

Cowboy was born on a ranch in St. Maries, Idaho.  His birth occurred when the family was out shopping, and when they arrived home, they saw him out with another mare who had stolen him from his mama.  A month later, his mama died after getting her neck stuck in a feeder, and Cowboy ended up being a bottle-fed orphan.

Bottle-fed orphans are unique because it's not the natural or best way to raise a foal, but he has the biggest heart and loves people.  In his best moments he is the most amazing horse. Though, he'll never be a kid's horse because he does have that unpredictable, scaredy-cat side.

Cowboy is a survivor--he's 10 years past a broken and displaced front coffin bone.  There is arthritis in the coffin joint, but Cowboy pushes through and still carries me on the trails.

Last weekend, I was bringing home some of the horses from the clinic next door and Cowboy came running along the fence line whinnying at them--just like Old Red used to do.  My daughter and I couldn't believe out eyes.  Is Cowboy stepping up into Red's role?  Time will tell.

Here's to Cowboy--my golden (almost) oldie.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Horses & A New Chapter

Losing Red was hard and, in fact, it set off a couple of health issues which I went to my doctor for this morning, but all is well.

Last week, I told my friends to keep an eye out for an older horse for us to add to our herd--a grand kid type horse.  I was thinking down the road, but one of those very friends, to my surprise, was needing to find a home for her heart-horse.  He's a 20 year old, very well trained & gentle Paint named Little Joe.

I went out to meet him last Friday, and he was a sweetie.

(Right before he mauled my camera.)

In between snow storms, that very day, I brought him home.

His only issue is that he has foundered before.  My farrier trimmed him yesterday, and he thinks he will be just fine.  But because of that, he has to be on a limited all grass diet, which makes him a perfect companion for Leah.  I'll be playing with him on my day off Friday.  Being thrown in with a bunch of mares initially made him really nervous, even though he's in a stall and run. You know how mares are--total hussies! Anyway, I think he's getting used to them now.

And, at the exact same time I was getting Little Joe, my daughter, Shiloh, found a horse for her husband, a beginning rider.  She's a 17 year old, ranch-trained Quarter Horse.

Meet Foxy:

I went out with them to ride Foxy and she was golden--very smooth, willing and responsive.  She's only ever been ridden in a hackamore, which they sold her with. She has done lots and lots of trail riding and a little rodeo.  My farrier went over to meet her, pushed back her long, raven-black bangs, saw one swirl on her head and said, "Easy!"  Which she was and is.  I'm really excited for my son-in-law.  He had a small amount of money to spend on her, so he made them an offer. They had a woman coming to see her the next day that probably would have given them their full price offer, easily--but the owner wanted to sell him to my SIL.  

Our herd is now back up to eight horses.  No horse can replace Red--that's for sure--but they are helping us to turn the page to a New Chapter. Even Cowgirl is going to start a new chapter this year, if all goes well.  Because she lost Red, Shiloh is ready to breed her and let her raise a baby.  It's something she has put off and put off, not wanting to pull Cowgirl away from Red, but now it's time.  

Do you think this is crazy?  When I used to go out to the pasture to bring Red in for morning and evening feedings, I'd always call for him.  I'd say things like, "Hey, Handsome. Come on, Big Boy. Let's go, Red. Hurry Up." (Red never hurried.) And, variations of that.  Now, when I go out there, I envision him with the others and I say those same things out loud, as if he's there, and it makes me laugh.  I know he's not there, but I like to remember it, and the whole scenario cracks me up.  Is that totally nuts??  

Cowboy is a good sport.  Yesterday, he looked around like, who you talking  And, he came over for some mom time.  I think it's his turn to get the special treatment.

More photos of the newbies and the day they arrived:

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Horse to Make Your Heart Sing

Last weekend, I took Cowboy and Leah to the barn next door for a day of fun.  First, I worked with Leah, and she did great, but when I switched the saddle over to Cowboy and hopped on--my heart sang! He's NOT a better horse than Leah--he's just the one I have the most time with, and I believe TIME makes all the difference.

You may wonder why I decided to divide my time away from my sweet boy--and sometimes I even have to remind myself--but it's because 10 years ago Cowboy broke his front, left P3 and I thought he was never going to be 100 percent sound again. He'd been mis-diagnosed by his vet for 3 months.  She thought it was an abscess, even though the x-rays showed a clear fracture and displacement--x-rays she took on the FIRST day.  She took more x-rays later, when he didn't get sound, but they weren't as good as the ones on the first day.  She just kept coming to the house and digging deeper into his hoof--drawing blood each time--swearing it was an abscess.  Eventually she consulted and they decided to make a removable plate and had  me pack sugardine inside to "draw out the abscess."  That plate inadvertently cast his foot, so in that regard, it was helpful.

(I had to take off the bolts and repack it twice a day with sugardine--sugar and iodine mixed together. My farrier was the one who took the measurements and nailed the plate onto his hoof.)

When I finally got my 2nd opinion, I brought those x-rays to the new doc and he saw the fracture with a flashlight in a dark bathroom at the barn.  It was clear as day.  (Moral: always look at  the x-rays and don't take your vet's word for it.)   We sent those x-rays, and new ones, to WSU and had the vets there give us an opinion.  They thought his prognosis was very poor because of the time that had lapsed (3 months) and the severity of the displacement.  They recommended that any treatment we did should be "conservative."

During his convalescence--which took a year--I didn't have a personal horse to ride, so I rode my husband's horse, Shadow, but he was already pretty arthritic and trippy.  I looked for another horse and ended up finding two--Leah and Beautiful Girl.  Then, Cowboy surprised us all and had almost a full recovery. He'd made it 6 months in a 12x12 stall--I visited him constantly because we had set it up right next to our house.  Then, he moved to a 24x12 stall for another 3 months. During the whole stall-rest process, he had not been allowed all, which would have been cruel for some horses, but Cowboy had been an Orphan Colt, so he seemed to like the attention and be okay.

Cowboy and I have been through A LOT together!

Time is key to a singing heart, and to that end, with all three of my horses, I'm devoted.  So, I don't have any time to waste.

I asked my husband to dig out my horse trailer with the tractor.

I loaded up Leah on Saturday and went next door to the barn.  (The only place safe to ride in this weather.)

I've only ridden her once--bareback in the snow--since our last clinic.  Saturday was day 17, but most of those days were spent riding Cowboy and working with Beautiful Girl.  Leah was a little wound up, but we worked on the walk, trot and lope.  She doesn't have any pain in her feet anymore, but I think she still does have issues in her body that exercise and massage will slowly work out.  She used to overarch to the inside going left, and she barely does that anymore.  It used to seem like a pinched nerve, but whatever it is, it's almost completely resolved.

On Sunday, I took Cowboy and Leah both to the barn.

I rode Leah first, then switched out the saddle and rode Cowboy.  He had been pretty bothered by the fact that he had to wait, so when I hopped on him, he was ready to go and as responsive as he's ever been.  Riding him was pure joy.

We set up a few obstacles to play over.

And, afterward, I rode bareback which, as you know, is much WARMER.

My heart did begin to sing a little bit riding Leah bareback.  She was happier than when she's saddled.  And, her trot is like floating on butterfly's wings.

All and all, I was at the barn for four wonderful hours that day.

I'm going to be trying a few new saddles on her in the coming weeks to see if I can replicate that bareback feel.  A friend suggested a cut-away--and another, an English trail-style saddle.  Whatever it is, it needs to fit around her broad, muscular shoulders.

Finally, today, Day 19, I took Leah over to the barn for more of the same work.  I hope that riding her more will help her lose more weight and stay in better shape.  My farrier suggested I ride her every day to get her moving good again.  That's not always possible, but with the arena, I can ride her quite a bit.  If I didn't have the arena there is no way I'd ride in the snow and ice.  Too dangerous.  I feel very lucky to have the arena.

Hope you're all getting horse time in, as well!