Five years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, I was sitting on the ground of a cold stall with this horse’s head in my lap, listening to the quiet, defeated words of his legal owner as she made the decision to let him go after a short but serious struggle with colic that was leading nowhere good, fast. The words had scarcely registered in my emotion fogged brain before the vet began bustling about gathering supplied and his owner and her sister both started setting up for the aftermath like the well oiled machine they were when it came to this sort of thing.
As for me? I stayed curled up on the floor with GP’s muzzle resting in my lap, incapable of processing the series of events I was going to have to endure. I whispered platitudes to both of us, tears streaming down my face, unbidden and unstoppable. I knew noise and commotion were taking place around me, but I didn’t see or hear any of it. I ran my hand down his face, over and over again, only pausing to trace his half moon star and arrow shaped snip. There was only silence for me, which struck me as completely odd, because my world was shattering into irreparable pieces.
I didn’t know how I was going to face the world without this firecracker of a Quarter horse as my partner in crime. He had spent countless hours with me, patiently teaching me lessons that I never knew I needed. He was the first horse I galloped, the first horse I swam with, the first horse I cantered bareback…the first horse I ever truly gave myself over to. Sure, I had loved horses before, in the all encompassing way a horse obsessed teenager loved horses, but I’d never had one that had woven his soul so completely into mine. I didn’t understand what true connection was until GP.
Connection is our lifeblood. It is what truly fills our hearts and gives us reason to see the sun rise the next day. It is what removes the heavy, leaden bricks from our chest when the weight of the world bears down on us, allowing us to breathe again. It is what we turn to when we feel we have nowhere else to turn. It is what fills our empathy with electricity, making it something heavy you can carry around with you instead of it having no weight at all. It makes you want to share love and laughter and light because of the overwhelming amount of love and laughter and light in your own heart. GP showed me all of this as we slowly learned one another, and I found out that underneath the reserved, slightly cranky exterior was a horse looking to connect to someone, to tie his heart into someone else’s. It made us both feel whole and showed me that this life is about so much more than just skimming the surface, as I had unknowingly been doing all along. I was floored at how colorful and bright the world could be when you felt such unmitigated joy in the presence of another being. I carried the lightness from his connection with me and it permeated the relationships I had with the people in my life. I learned how to give to others what this horse had given to me, and the depth it created in my relationships was something I hadn’t had a chance to experience before.
But, then I lost him.
His death came on the heels of a lot of heavy loss in a very short timeframe. I was in an inordinate amount of pain. I let the fear of that loss and pain dictate how I interacted with the world around me, and I shut down completely, shying away from connection as a whole. I could hear the words and see the actions of those who cared, but I couldn’t truly feel it. I could still mimic connection to others, but because I was blocking anything real, it wasn’t something I could honestly emulate when someone else needed to feel it themselves. My empathy was hollow and ingenuine – the words were right, maybe, but there was no resonating feeling that someone could take with them to revisit if they needed to. I felt no inclination to try and reawaken the emotional core that gave real weight to the compassion I once had. I was doing a major disservice to the people and creatures I claimed to care about in refusing to connect. I had completely lost sight of the important lessons GP had taught me.
I coasted through life this way for quite some time, but in the past year, I’ve gotten undeservedly lucky again. I stumbled upon a little grey horse that reminded me of the lessons GP so painstakingly bestowed upon me. Sirius took one look at me, quirked an eyebrow, and began the laborious process of reopening my heart, poking and prodding with a stubborn insistence at me until I let him in. I don’t know what his motives were, but he forced me to see that where I stood from behind thick, well constructed walls was not where I really wanted to be.
He refused to give his all until I gave mine, so in an attempt to meet him where he stood, I tentatively stepped forward into the hole he had chipped into my walls with tireless determination…and was promptly knocked off my feet by the force of what I had closed myself off from for all these years.
I am viewing the world in a way I haven’t in a very long time. Sirius was the catalyst to bringing GP’s initial life lessons back to the surface, followed closely by Remus and then a few very special people who I will not embarrass by naming directly, and I am overwhelmed with such an intense gratitude for their presence that I can’t even begin to adequately express it. I’m suffering some serious consequences for having been so shut down for so long, but even when things are at their most suffocating, I won’t allow myself to entertain the idea of slamming the door on the idea of connection ever again. The kind of warmth, empathy and compassion that I’ve experienced from those who had a hand in reminding me that this life is about what you give and how you give it, are things everyone should get a chance to feel. I have taken this so much to heart that no matter how terrible a day I may be having, I make a conscious effort to connect to someone, to give to them what I have been so fortunate to be given and refuse to take for granted ever again. I make a point to genuinely show them that they are seen and heard and cared about, that their story is important, that it is held in someone’s heart with the proper reverence.
I want them to feel — not just know, but feel in their core — that they are not alone…and the only way to do that, is through the kind of connection that GP taught me to have.
Today, I will celebrate GP. I will wear the bracelet made from his tail and tell stories of some of our best misadventures. I’ll pull out his old halter, the worn purple one his owner graciously gave me to me, and let it hang on my headboard, where it sat for almost a year after his death. I’ll finish this post, and share it on Facebook, allowing myself to be emotionally open and vulnerable. Most importantly, I will reach out to someone in some way that is genuine, to lift them up the way he lifted me up.
I will honor him by giving someone the one thing he always, always, always gave to me: love.
In past years, I’ve hidden behind my mother’s suicide, using my “status” as a suicide survivor as my catalyst to speak on this topic. The path she walked with her mental illness is one I had no choice but to be dragged along on, and it taught me things that no child should ever have to learn. It also meant I had a little more insight and empathy for those walking the same path. It’ll be seven years on the 21st since her demons became too loud for her to bear, and I’ve spent a great deal of time since then doing everything in my power to remind others that tomorrow is worth seeing.
This year is different, however. This year I face this day as more than just someone who got caught in the backlash of someone else’s pain. I approach this day with a much different, more intimate knowledge of what it means to walk this road. In previous years, the noise inside my own head had never been so loud as it has been these past few months. I know I am my mother’s daughter in many ways, but I adamantly swore that suicide would never be one of the ways that I emulated her. I promised myself and everyone around me that I would never even consider that path.
Well. I considered it. Hell, I very nearly did much more than consider it.
A little over a month ago, on an otherwise quiet Thursday night, I spent eight hours or so staring at a bottle of pills, rolling the idea of ending my own life around in my head, in the same way you would try and decide on what to eat for breakfast in the morning.
The logical decision, of course, was a loud, resounding “fuck no”…but when you are Really, Really Tired and the noise in your head just. won’t. stop, that “fuck no” becomes a snarled “just do it and get it over with already”. When you are desperate for some quiet and to stop hurting, and absolutely nothing else is working (including your usual ill-advised coping mechanisms) , logic no longer plays as heavy a role as you’d like it to. I had hit an all time new low, where my self imposed silence and smallness had caused me to feel like I was unequivocally alone. I couldn’t take a breath without the sentient beings that Anxiety and Depression had morphed into hissing things about how much of a waste of space I was. I couldn’t dredge up a single reason as to why I shouldn’t open that bottle and just get it the fuck over with.
Fortunately (though at the time, I’m not sure I would have considered it “fortunate”), the fear of not succeeding and having to face the consequences finally beat back the overwhelming desire to give in and give up. It isn’t a glamorous or romantic reason, but it was enough of one to keep me from taking that final step. And, if we’re being entirely honest? It was 5 AM and I needed to get ready for work. So, I shuffled into the bathroom, turned the shower on and started my day, prepared to face my Friday like I hadn’t spent all night awake and fighting an internal battle over whether or not I felt like continuing to live.
This is not something I share lightly. I’m not sharing for attention, or pity, or for a pat on the back or head telling me I’m going to be okay and that life isn’t so bad. I share this because this is the reality of the world I’m living in right now.
I share this because I made the decision, however uninspired, to keep living.
I am still in a place that is dark and terrifying. I still have days where I’m convinced that there isn’t a single soul on this Earth that actually, honestly cares and isn’t just giving me lip service to make me shut up and sit down and leave them alone. I am still not sure what the other side of this is going to look like or how I’m going to get there. I still have scary moments when I wonder if it is really, honestly, truly worth continuing to fight this fight, because I am so tired of trying to rationalize with my very, very mean brain.
But still, I keep living.
I share all of this because I know this is a reality others are living as well, and I desperately, wholeheartedly, genuinely want them to know they aren’t alone. Depression is one of the biggest, meanest liars on the planet, and can convince you that you are completely, relentlessly alone, even when you are in a room full of people that you know, for a fact, care about you. Depression convinces you that you are nothing; a worthless excuse of a human being that cannot and will not ever bring anything of value to the table, so why should anyone else waste even half a second on your pathetic existence?
It’s impossible to remember that depression lies all on your own. You can’t do it by yourself. I’ve tried. I’ve tried every which way to go this alone. Hell, I’m STILL trying because the lies that have woven themselves into my being feel like truths. But I know that the real truth is that people need other people. It can be a hard thing to accept when you’ve cultivated an insane amount of independence and self sufficiency like I have, because other people have never been safe. It can be downright terrifying to look at someone and say that you need them. I’m still not capable of reaching out when I need to 99% of the time, because I am so thoroughly convinced that I don’t deserve to show up on anyone’s radar.
It took a decidedly small but emotionally monumental gesture for someone to drill a hole through the solid shell of lies and for me to believe that maybe someone did legitimately care. That hole was made by an early morning, completely unexpected text from a person who is both new to my life and new to my story, telling me that she had just heard a song for the first time that she needed me to hear. It followed up on the heels of that terrible Thursday night, and directly after a painful conversation with her that left me raw and vulnerable. When I Googled the lyrics to the song she forwarded, which was Cold Water by Major Lazer, I sat at my desk at work and cried for over an hour.
For someone like me — someone who is pretty good at convincing herself to be small and silent and that she doesn’t have a place in anyone’s life — this was not a little gesture. I can be in a room full of people that I know, logically, care about me and want to help, and still feel like staying silent and small is the only way to make sure that no one else feels the need to expend anything extra on me because I’m just. not. worth. it.
Except, despite all of that, she spent the energy anyway. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it was nothing to her, but for me, in that moment, so soon after I had grappled with whether or not I deserved keep living? It was truly monumental to me. I was overwhelmed with a kind of gratitude that I can’t even beginto describe. Someone saw me, despite my attempts to make myself as small as possible, and she let me know she saw me in a way that resonated louder than just saying the words. She was showing me that my story was important to her, in no uncertain terms. It was painful and amazing and bone-jarringly shocking to my ineffectual little brain, all at once.
I went home that evening, put the song on repeat, and threw away the pills that had been such a tempting offer of peace just a few short days ago.
Since that day, I’ve had something that I can reach for when unkind thoughts stretch themselves over my psyche, casting an impenetrable shadow over anything that looks even a little bit like sunshine. It knocks that shadow back just enough, to right before the point where I am sitting up for an entire night trying to decide whether or not to end my life. I am still in the midst of a seemingly unrelenting struggle, and I may not be able to reach out to the person herself (or anyone, for that matter), but I have something the darkness can’t touch, and that’s not something I’ve had before.
This is what I want for you. If you are like me, and you can’t fathom why anyone would want to hear your story, please take this to heart. This is me, showing you, the same way I was shown, that your story is intensely important to me. You are important to me. You are so deserving of love and empathy. You matter. I want you to know that if you feel like you’re sinking, that I will jump into cold water for you. I have been in that water. I know how it can paralyze your lungs and brain and make you feel like drowning is the only option. But I promise you, it’s not.
I want you to keep living.
I want you to find that one tiny thing that you can wrap your hand around and hold on to so tightly that even the darkness can’t take it away from you, no matter what. Even when every nerve in your body feels like its on fire because you are feeling everything and nothing all at once, keep fighting. There is a reason you are here, and you are integral to the stories of the people who love you. There are still so many more miles you need to travel. Fall leaves need to be seen from the top of a mountain you just hiked up, and puppies need to be rolled around with on the floor. There are tiny mom and pop candy shops to be discovered and hotel beds to be jumped on and cities to get purposely lost in. There are dirty jokes to be giggled at and songs to be sung at the top of your lungs and games of tag to be played.
There are people who need you to hold their hands and love them just as much as you need your hand to be held and for them to love you.
Look around and find someone who is willing to jump into cold water for you.
I’m right here if you need me to.
“And if you feel you’re sinking, I will jump right over Into cold, cold water for you And although time may take us into different places I will still be patient with you And I hope you know, I won’t let go I’ll be your lifeline tonight.”
Cold Water by Major Lazer
People throw that adjective at me all the time, especially once they’ve heard a bit of my story. I’ve heard it more often than I’m comfortable admitting. I’m shit at taking compliments (which I knew, but it took my boss pointing it out to me for me to really realize just how shit I was at it), but out of all the things I tend to protest, I’ve always protested this one the most.
Bravery isn’t natural to me. I’m not sure it’s truly natural to ANYONE, but some people are simply more apt to throw themselves into the madness than others. I am not one of those people. I am much happier standing on the sidewalk, my back pressed against the fence, spending too much time observing and waffling before taking a step forward. I have always been a cautious, timid creature. I have gotten quite good at pretending I’m not peeking out at the world from behind my hands, but I’ve never been able to find my brave on my own. It’s always been an act…and holy shit do I deserve an Oscar at this point in the game, because I’ve perfected the art.
My timidity has colored a lot in my life, but it definitely came to a head when horses came into the picture. Again, a lot of people tend to watch me ride, and label me a confident rider. I have to bite my tongue to keep from correcting them, because I’m anything but. I can handle a lot more now than I could when I was a teenager, but I still remember arriving to the barn and literally shaking with nerves over the idea of even tacking up. It took a long time and a lot of effort to get to where I am an outwardly confident rider, and it is something I still have to work at every time I am within touching distance of a horse. Even now, with a horse of my very own, it is a constant battle. Sirius is a good, honest soul, with more try and kindness in the tip of his ear than most horses have in their whole being, but he is not for the faint of heart. He needs a rider who is confident and collected to bring out his best, and I am not either of those things on a regular basis, especially these days. I am very much weighed down by my own anxiety and insecurity. It makes keeping my head above water on a good day a struggle, and on a bad day, near impossible. I don’t “do” giving up, but sometimes, the whispered negativities I’ve adopted as truth push me to a point where I wonder if maybe he’d be better off with someone who can do more for him.
Then I remember that I am, if nothing else, stubborn as fuck. I am still a seven year old little girl who is desperately in love with horses, who dreamed about having a very special horse all her own. I have a very special horse to call my own now, which is something I still find myself marveling over on a regular basis, because it was always a pipe dream of mine. I refuse to give up on this dream, and I refuse to give up on such a special horse. So, I find a way. I find a way to step into the stirrup even when the voices inside my head are telling me that I can’t be the person my horse needs me to be, that I’m not enough and I’ll never be enough, for him or anything else in this world. I find a way to circumvent the fear even though every fiber of my being is telling me how absolutely insane and stupid I am for even trying.
I find a way, because when I do get up there and gather those reins, everything else melts away. Quiet and calm stifle out the white static of anxiety, no matter how strong it may be at that point in time. Our worlds open up and things that feel insurmountable become trivial. For a little while, I get to be centered and whole and he gets to investigate the world around him with confidence. We are fiery and brash and bold and everything is laughable. I can handle life again.
I have felt comfortable with horses before, and I have felt connected with horses before, but none of them have given me a sense of fearlessness like this little grey horse does. We work together to elevate each other past our separate but similar anxieties, and it’s just a little bit magical. Bravery becomes something we can both embody. It becomes something we can both believe is possible for ourselves.
It becomes truth.
I try to drag that truth with me, kicking and screaming, when I leave his side and the calm induced by his presence is slowly lost to the tumultuous fray of my mind. I hold on to it as long as I can, because when I have his influence running through my veins, I can forge into battle and beat the sentient beings my anxiety and depression have become into submission. They aren’t allowed to spin tall tales about who I am and what I stand for. I am able to find my voice and reach out. I am able to take comfort in a hand on my shoulder, instead of letting it break me in half because I don’t feel entitled to any undue kindness. I can sidestep the emotional baggage I’m forced to face every day at work, instead of tripping over it and falling ass over teakettle into an anxiety driven, emotionally fragile state of hell. I am able to pin down the emotionally damaged five year old child that has taken up residence within me and keep her from running rampant. I am able to breathe.
It may not last long — I’m grateful for a day or two of clarity at this stage in the game — but when I am able to take what he gives me down the road, I can see a light at the end of a relentlessly long tunnel. The strength of that light waxes and wanes, but I know it’s there. Even when I don’t fully trust that I’ll ever be able to find where that light is stemming from, I know it’s there, because he gives me the courage to keep looking for it.
It’s taken twenty five years, but I have found a way to cultivate my own brave. It’s not traditional, and it’s not consistent, but this unsteady hold I have on what it means to be brave is more than I’ve ever had. My brave is 14.1 hands of powerhouse Paso Fino gelding with a heart of gold, and he is my tangible courage. He is the reason I am fighting for my next good day, in whatever form that takes. He gives me a safe place to face the storm inside of my own head. He shows me how to open my heart and let the light in. He reminds me that silence is not the answer, even when it feels like there is no way out of its oppressive, suffocating grasp.
He is proof that my brave is bigger than fear.
How big is your brave?
“And since your history of silence, Won’t do you any good, Did you think it would? Let your words be anything but empty, Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say, And let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave. With what you want to say, And let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
Brave, Sara Bareilles
Winter in New England is never exactly fun. Even this year, though we were treated with a mostly snowless and uncharacteristically warm season, it was no different.
…actually, you know what? That’s a bald-faced lie.
This winter was, decidedly, much worse, despite the warmth and lack of precipitation. I can’t blame the weather this time around, though. You see, right before the season hit, I made a lot of important and GOOD life changes. I bought a horse, moved into a new job and new department in my company, and began trying to adult for realsies. These were exciting and positive things, but I uprooted my whole life and turned it upside down in the span of a month or two. I am a wildly anxious creature, and that makes change extremely difficult for me, no matter how much good it will do in the long run. Throw that on top of starting and ending my first sort-of relationship, as well as worrying about the health of my best human friend, and you can see why things began to unravel.
After a few months of dealing with elevated anxiety, I realized that my carefully constructed and reinforced walls were riddled with cracks and holes from repeated beatings. I panicked when I realized this. I am an intense person by nature, with an emotional volatility that can be damaging to myself and others if I’m not constantly on top of it. These walls were integral to the protection of all parties involved (or so I believed). I scurried to and fro, trying to keep up with the repairs on said walls, but once all of these life changes settled down on my shoulders, I had to spend an inordinate amount of energy just to function, never mind expend extra on keeping up a facade. Shortly thereafter, I didn’t have the ability to keep up with the repairs either. My anxiety, having bubbled to an unmanageable level, raged right through those cracked and damaged walls and I struggled to just function, never mind be the actress I had become so skilled at being. The walls crumbled, bit by bit, until there was nothing left but a pile of rubble.
I was left entirely open for damage, and damage hunted me down like wounded prey. I completely lacked defenses, so when I found myself in the throes of an unceremonious resurfacing of an emotional issue that I thought I had laid to rest years ago, it caught me viciously off guard. I was forced to my knees by the weight of it, unable to catch my breath, vulnerable and raw and aching.
It was too much.
There are few things psychologically scarier than having your sense of self decimated into something you can’t even recognize. I have spent roughly ten years showing the public a carefully cultivated image of who I wanted to be, and the fact that I am physically incapable of gluing things back together quick enough to continue holding up that front causes a paralyzing amount of terror. I don’t know how to function without my armor anymore. I have hit the point where this fractured person that I’ve become is all I have left to offer. I have to sit in the rubble and sift through the brokenness, to try and rebuild myself from sharp edges that no longer fit flush with one another.
This is where I have to make a choice.
I can choose to rebuild those walls. I did it once, I can do it again. I can return to being the girl who hides. That is easy. That is safe. That requires very little thought and even less bravery.
Or, I can choose to start fucking living, which is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever had to force myself to do.
The girl I have been has not been living. She has been acting. The motions came easily, but there was no genuineness to them. She was cold and closed off and refused to believe in the goodness that the world can hold. She had forgotten what it felt like to be compassionate and empathetic and truly, wholeheartedly kind. She had forgotten that connection, both human and horse, was essential to living. She grew used to making herself small and silent, to stifling her voice for so she wasn’t a burden. I have to find the girl that used to be able to connect with the world around her, who used to honestly and deeply care about the people, creatures and causes in her life. She’s in there, and she used to be mine. I just have to find her again.
Thankfully, I have real reason to fight this battle now. It has taken me almost four years, but I have something that I want to connect with again. When I feel like I can’t bear to sift through the wreckage for another day/hour/minute/second, I can press a button on my phone and my own personal silver lining stares back at me, his white eyelashes stark against dark eyes. My little grey horse, with all his tendencies to be hyper-reactive and highly anxious, has kindly and tenderly taken care of his disaster area of a human without question or pretense. He has centered me when I could not center myself, and he has forced me to be present when I was so lost in things out of my control that I couldn’t get out of my own head. He has taken me away when I most needed it, with pounding hooves and flying mane, pinned ears and whistling wind. He has brought unadulterated joy and laughter with his goofy, childlike personality. I sit with him, and there is peace. It’s not always long lasting, and I may not be able to sustain it on my own right now, but for a little while, I can breathe again. I can contemplate the idea of a better tomorrow when my fingers are tangled in his mane and not have it be an unattainable idea. He has been a tangible beacon of hope in a situation that has felt suffocating and unrelenting. He has given me a reason to continue my story, no matter how much I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, and I am eternally grateful for that.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me. This is uncharted territory and it’s a road that may not end for a very long time. I do know that I have an entire cheerleading squad’s worth of wonderful, impossibly kind, supportive people who have consistently ignored my attempts to push them away, which has been a bewildering and tentatively promising discovery. I have a saint-like therapist who is actually borderline excited by this development, because for the first time in the fifteen plus years she’s known me, I am showing her something raw and real. I have the drive to fix this instead of hide from it, so I have a shot in hell at leading a life that is worth living.
And, maybe most importantly, I have a horse who is patiently waiting for me to return to him with an open heart, so he can tell me, in his own words, that he’s been right here for me all along.
“She’s imperfect, but she tries.
She is good, but she lies.
She is hard on herself,
She is broken and won’t ask for help.
She is messy, but she’s kind.
She is lonely most of the time.
She is all of this mixed up
And baked in a beautiful pie.
She is gone, but she used to be mine.”
She Used to Be Mine, Sara Bareilles
(10 points to your appropriate Hogwarts house if you identify that theme song…)
I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school/high school. Like, REALLY wanted to be one. I had some amazing, inspiring teachers who had held my hand when it needed to be held and I wanted to be that person for a kid like me. Many thought this was a lovely, admirable goal but I had a few very wise folks give me a side eye because they realized, long before I did, that I have no patience for people. I scoffed at them for awhile, before begrudgingly admitting that they were right: I had no patience for other people. However! I had unending patience with critters. It would totally translate into patience with people, when the time came, right?
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Found that out in college. I have no patience for other humans and want to smack most of them. Tiny humans I tend to be better with — they’re kind of like puppies and I like puppies so they’re okay — but anything older than 5 gets the hairy eyeball when they want me to teach them something. I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent, but I’m a relatively quick study and expect everyone to be equally as quick. I also expect everyone to not need a whole lot of guidance and to independently figure stuff out for themselves, because that’s what I do.
I’m sure you see the issue here. There’s a reason they quit giving me the new reps when I was still in customer service at Dover…and that reason was, plain and simple, I sucked at it.
Moral of the story is, teaching has never been my strong point…until you give me an animal.
Critters are different. I’ve always had quite a bit more patience for the furry ones, and I like watching creatures learn. I don’t feel the same frustration with the process, probably because my expectations from the start are so much different with animals than they are with people. I love seeing or feeling that lightbulb moment when said creature finally understands what I’ve been trying to communicate, they give it, and they get a reward. I love the eager student who then throws me this response every time I ask because they KNOW now, and because they know, everything is okay in their little world again. Some people hate training because it takes time and effort, but thankfully, I’m not one of them.
It’s not always smooth, though. There is one other thing about training critters that can sometimes trip me up: hitting the end of my knowledge. I hit a point where I’ve built everything I can from what I know and can teach successfully, and then have to figure out where to go from there. I am young, prideful, and sometimes overly independent, so 90% of the time, I try to muddle my way through by piecing together a MacGuyvered approach through reading, YouTube videos, and the occasional discussion with a friend. There comes a point, though, where there’s only so much you can glean from reading/YouTube. I’m just smart enough to know that pride and independence cannot get in the way of properly educating a horse to be a good citizen, which means that calling in outside help is usually a better option before you get in over your head.
I don’t feel “over my head” with Sirius. I did with Simba, to be honest. I was overwhelmed by his lack of try and didn’t know how to go about combating that. At the end of the day, we fed off of each other and his lack of try became my lack of try…and, well, we know how that ends. Sirius is eager, though. He wants to do the right thing, whatever that is, even if he doesn’t understand it. I was willing to blindly muddle my way through with Simba because I hit a point where “good enough” was, well, good enough. With Sirius, I don’t want “good enough”. I want us to be the very best, like no one ever was (aahahahaha I crack myself up). So, while I’m not feeling overwhelmed and like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m willing to throw everything I have at this horse to make the very best happen. “My everything” at this point means going out and finding someone to walk me through teaching him the things he needs to know, so I can be 100% sure it’s done correctly without me puzzle-piecing things together. Don’t get me wrong, I am an adequate rider. I can stay on through most stuff, have enough experience to know when to discipline and when to pick my battles, and am mostly confident working with and around horses…but, I have holes in my training. Give me a green horse and I can ride it, but don’t ask me to teach it anything outside of forward, backwards, left and right. The finessing stuff is just not something I’ve had a chance to explore with someone guiding me. Sure, I could probably puzzle it out…but I don’t want this horse being an experiment on my end. If I’m going to learn how to do this stuff, I want to have someone walking me through it.
As I said last time, I made the decision to ask J for some lessons after I realized that a ground person in general would be beneficial for me. It’s been over a year since I last had a horse I was actively, consistently working with and it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get into riding mode instead of pure passenger mode. I really needed a year of just playing with horses, and I’m eternally grateful that I got what I needed, but switching gears is taking more effort than I expected it would. Once I realized that, it made sense to reach out for a few lessons.
I chose J for a whole slew of reasons, some of which I’ve already detailed. She knows Sirius well and she has the skills and experience to help us get to where we need to be. Lastly, and maybe most importantly right now, I am as comfortable with J as I can get with another person. She is possibly one of the only people on the planet I don’t feel constant emotional and mental pressure from when I’m in her presence. I knew that, in itself, was going to be extremely beneficial because my general reaction to other humans is tension, which isn’t conducive to a productive learning environment.
In short, it made sense…and based on the past few weeks, it’s been a really, really good decision.
J came out first three weeks ago for a short session that was mostly an evaluation. Now, I’ve been riding WITH J for over a year now, but not UNDER J. She is very good about not injecting her opinion unless it’s asked for, so this was my first formal instruction from her. I was mildly nervous, per usual, but that quickly dissipated as our usual banter wove itself into her teaching style. She is very good at articulating her point and getting it across in a way that is both easy to understand and easy to visualize. I’m a pretty visual learner, so I usually have to have someone show me something before I really “get” it, but J only had to take Sirius from me once when I gave her a deer in the headlights look.
Sirius’ groundwork was remarkably good that day — he was consistent and soft on the lunge line, and willingly yielded both fore and hindquarters. It was his best groundwork to date at the time (first weekend in January) and even I was impressed with him. Sometimes it takes an outsider standing with you for you to really observe a horse, and he has come leaps and bounds with his pre-flight check groundwork stuff.
J only worked with us under saddle for maybe ten minutes before having to leave, but it was a really productive ten minutes. I got on, and Sirius immediately buzzed forward into fast and bracey. I, instinctively, tightened up on the reins and went to turn him in a tight circle. J called out to me to loosen my reins a few notches, and open one rein and turn him in the complete opposite direction…and then let him go straight. Er, okay. Sure. So, I did. He went through the turn, walked for half a stride, and then tried to gait. J had me immediate turn him in a wider circle in the other direction.
Lather, rinse, repeat…until he was walking on a loose rein. Granted, J didn’t get to see that part because she had to scoot, but but the end of 20 minutes under saddle, I had a nice, flatfoot walk. I could tell Sirius was mildly confused but also pleasantly surprised by the heaps of praise he was getting. I vaulted off after two laps around the front of the ring at the walk, and he happily toodled after me back into the barn for a good grooming.
The next weekend was a bit of the same, but we added some corto into the mix. This is where things got really, really cool.
Now, I’ve been riding for almost 20 years. I’ve ridden a whole slew of horses and have some really awesome stories about those horses. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden one like Sirius. I’ve ridden hot and sensitive, sure, but I’ve never ridden one who tried so hard to be in tune with his rider. He has his moments when his hot and sensitive nature overwhelms him, but when we both get it right? Magic.
Nearing the end of the lesson two Saturdays ago, J wanted to incorporate some corto into our walking now that Sirius kind of had the idea of what we wanted. We went up to the front of the ring and put ourselves on a smaller circle. J asked me to corto, and I clucked to move Sirius up into his gait. He gaited off nicely, per usual, from just my voice. After a few strides, J asked me to come down to the walk. I gently closed my hands on the reins, and he obliged.
J then asked me to try just using my seat to ask him to move forward. Now, my experience with using my seat for forward motion is with reiners — aka, up and out of the saddle for your fast circles and run downs, and then coming back into the saddle to slow down or cue for a stop. These are big, exaggerated movements that cause big, exaggerated responses. Sure, I’ve always used my seat to ask for a stop.”Sinking down” into my seatbones was drilled into my head as a youngster. I’ve never actively asked for incremental forward movement with my seat, though, so it was a new concept for me.
It took me a few minutes to figure out how to do what was being asked of me. It’s a bit hard for me to describe, but I literally just add the slightest amount of tension to my seat and just think “corto”. The second it happened, I’m 100% certain there was a big, dumb grin on my face…because not only did he corto, he cortoed quite calmly and slowly, instead of steamrolling himself forward at mach ten. Then, the smile stayed plastered on my face because I released that tension, and he dropped back to a walk. SO FREAKING COOL. I know this is elementary stuff for most folks, but I have many training holes and have been riding horses that were not mine/not sensitive enough to really help me understand what this level of riding could be about,
I did this a few more times before repeating my vault off of him and covering him in kisses. He’s so pleased with himself when he gets praise. He’s such a smush.
This past Saturday, I almost boogered out…the weather in the morning was total shit, and I spent half my day in the office because inventory was about to be upon us and I had a hundred things that needed doing. However, when I got out of the office, the sun was almost shining and it was warm enough to where the snow was squishy…so, I suited up, and shuffled over to the barn.
I’m super glad I did, because we had a really lovely ride. Just in three rides of “redirecting” him when he gets zoomy, he’s relaxed markedly under saddle. In fact, I was able to mount him from the mounting block with almost no issues for the first time. He has come SO FAR from the panicked mess he was not too long ago, and has learned the command “stand” almost perfectly. I also started leaving his rope halter on under his bridle, mostly because he is super comfortable and secure with cues from the halter if it gets to that point (it hasn’t, but it acts like a security blanket of sorts for him), and I switched him into a double jointed snaffle I had lying around. I’m treating this as an accelerated (and I only use that word because he learns so quickly and he DOES have a fair amount of training) re-starting, and wanted to go back to basics with what was in his mouth. Unfortunately, Chad the Vet had to reschedule for Wednesday the 27th, so I’ve been consistently checking his mouth for ouchies and have pretty much sworn off using the reins if I don’t have to right now until that gets checked out…but he has taken to the snaffle quite well. He’s heavy in it, but lightness will come later.
Anyway, we did more of the same redirecting when I first climbed into the saddle. Once he was quiet down by the front of the ring, I expanded our circle a bit. We had to repeat the redirecting a few times, because he gets rushy going back towards the barn (mild barn sourness, clearly), but he settled very quickly. So, after a few good laps, we went back up front where the footing was best and worked on our walk-corto-walk transitions.
Which were AWESOME. I pretty much just thought “corto” and off he went. It is such a neat feeling to have a horse that in tune with what you’re asking! I experimented with turns as well, and he was quick to pick up moving off of my seat for turning. This horse, you guys…he is just so. much. FUN.
I cut it short after that because he was being so good and we were both enjoying ourselves, and I don’t like pushing it. He enjoyed many scritches and cookies, and was happy to go back outside with his friends.
Sunday, we just lunged because the footing had re-frozen and I wasn’t about to risk it. The far end of the ring was crunchy enough, so after a rousing game of chase (*mutter*), I caught my naughty beast and he gleefully zoomed around me on the end of the lunge line, even through multiple changes of direction. When I finally stopped flying my kite of a horse and he settled down to listen, we got some nice transition on the lunge line, worked on sidepassing on the ground, and then played with the mounting block.
He is really almost 100% with the mounting block at this point. He stands stock still when I get on, and only gets antsy when I approach the block. He is VERY protective of his left side for some reason. Once I place him at the block and tell him to stand, he tries his damnedest to keep me from moving around to his left side, attempting to “block” me with his head. I know for a fact this horse has never been mistreated or abused, so his reluctance over having someone approach him from the side to step up onto a mounting block is very curious. Regardless, most of our work was just standing still while I stood on the block. He’s quit his frantic circling, but the second you move to climb up on the block, he shifts his hindquarters away so he’s facing you, again, blocking you from being on his left. So, I would correct him, and try again. It took maybe ten minutes of this before he stood and let me scratch him from up on the block. I repeated this a handful of times, before swinging on bareback. Perks of having a short horse? A three step mounting block is PLENTY tall enough to simply swing your leg over his back for a bareback ride!
Of course, he just had his rope halter on so I sat up there for a minute, sang his praises, and stepped back down. We did this a couple more times, before I shrugged and asked him to walk off. We did a few circles in each direction at the walk (I didn’t even have to redirect him once, which was FABULOUS), before I slid down again and gave him many kisses.
It is amazing how much this horse is teaching me, in such a short amount of time. It’s also blowing my mind how much I’m loving every single second of it. He is such a vibrant little horse with such a big heart that you can’t help but want to smush his face. I’m so, so proud of him already and am so grateful I get to call him mine. I sincerely hope we have many years of teaching each other things.
In unrelated news, I house sat this weekend where I had the Corgi Crew and got many Corgi kisses.
And I met Lindsey Stirling and her sister Brooke at their book signing!
Aaaaand Alan Rickman died and I cried. A lot. #pathetic
I’m not sure if there will be ride time this weekend because snowstorm and inventory (UGH). Here’s hoping we get just enough snow so maybe we can hit the trails Saturday or Sunday…!
If you know me at all, you know I’m not a holiday person. My usual excuse is my job, but seeing as I’m no longer a customer service lackey, I don’t have that to hide behind. The magic of the holidays was squashed many, many years ago and I don’t expect it to ever come back. I’m okay with that. It is what it is, and I’ve become a talented actress over the years so my Scrooge attitude doesn’t bother anyone else. At this rate, I should be nominated for a damn Oscar.
Anyway, this year has been significantly easier with the lack of pissy customers and a lack of places I have to be — my family didn’t get together until today (which I sadly had to skip anyway due to a nasty virus that’s knocked me on my ass), and the folks I live with were out in Arizona, so I spent Christmas burrowed in a pile of blankets playing video games. It’s been a much brighter holiday season because of lack of pressure.
It’s also been significantly brighter because of a certain little grey beast.
We are getting along quite well and are figuring each other out. The more I learn about him and the more he reveals himself to me, the more I adore him. Groundwork has come quite far in just the past two weeks. Last weekend, for the first time, his attention was completely on me without me having to remind him to give me eyes and ears whenever he wasn’t actively doing something. He’s also gotten the idea of turning on the lunge line — all I need to do is slide my hand down the line and invite him to turn in, and he’s already turning. He’s also figured out how to differentiate that from a whoa…which he has also gotten loads better about. Stopping and standing has not ever been his thing, especially under saddle, so achieving it on the ground was a good step in that direction.
There are also little things that he’s doing that are indicative of a progressing relationship. Earlier this month, he started being more reactive with scritches. I was standing and talking on the phone to a friend with him loose in the ring, scratching his neck and withers. He twisted his lips happily, and then swung his head around to wiggle them against my face. I burst out into delighted giggles, which clearly reinforced the behavior, because he’s continued to do it ever since. He’s adorable.
Under saddle, he and I had a fabulous ride Saturday the 19th. We took to the rail trail and boogied our way down to the quarry, which I haven’t seen in a year or two. I worked very hard at being 100% relaxed physically in the saddle and it definitely helped with his goofy spooking. Thankfully, it’s just annoying — he’s not a bolter, spinner, bucker, ect but when you’re cantering down the trail and your horse suddenly full body shudders away from something, it’s a little jarring! I have a decent enough seat that it’s never even halfway unseated me, and I usually just laugh, but I like my teeth not clacking together, thanks! Sirius was not ridden by himself often at J’s, so I don’t fault him for being a little “up” in a new place with new trails. He is awfully similar to Simba in that way…and in the way that rocks seem to be terrifying. He’s such a goober!
Sunday the 20th, I was really mean and I did this:
And you know what?
He was perfect. He didn’t bat an eye at ANY of it, including the very shiny, annoying tinsel. He even seemed to LIKE it. A coworker came out to run my camera while we cortoed around the ring, and he was happy to do so. He even preened a little when I turned him loose in the ring with said coworker to push him around for me so I could step behind the camera. He puffed up and strutted a little bit. Can I also mention that he lunged in perfect circle around my coworker at liberty? That was cool to see, and I repeated the feat the next day just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. I wish I had access to a round pen…liberty work with him would be a blast!
A few more friends came over to visit and I demoed Sirius’ gait for them. His gait, admittedly, takes a hit in the ring. It’s not his favorite place and he is not shy about expressing his displeasure. He’s never BAD, but he’s much stiffer and more likely to give me lip about commands, especially when it comes to slowing down or stopping. Stopping under saddle has been an ongoing battle. He’s is a hot, forward horse so when he’s asked to stop and he hits the bit, he feels claustrophobic and has a mild meltdown. Usually, it’s a half rear/spin thing. It is irritating but also somewhat amusing because he is 14.1 hands of childish temper tantrum and is easily corrected. However! Based on the past few weekends of working on this and it not being consistently better, I clearly need a better game plan. The stop itself has come leaps and bounds — I can ask for it and get it more often than not, but he is tense and unhappy about it. If he tries to go forward and I close my hands on the reins, he hits that bit and has his temper tantrum. I pull his nose to my foot and ask him to move his hindquarters over a couple time as a punishment, but it’s not really mitigating the issue.
So, after a particularly messy ride last Sunday, with rearing and temper tantrums and a complete inability to walk, I touched base with J. Now, I say that like we don’t talk anymore. That’s complete and total bullshit. We chat off and on during the week via Gchat at work and have nighttime conversations a few times a week after work. J’s been a wealth of knowledge when I ask for it, and has been really, really good about being hands off if I DON’T ask for it. Anyway, despite the fact I don’t actually feel like I’m in over my head yet, I did ask her for some input because I’m not one to shy away from outside perspectives. She had some good things to say…and it dawned on me that maybe the smart thing to do would be to take some real, live formal lessons from her. I’m certain she can really help us both here. I don’t need “intense” training, but I find I do much, much better when I have someone physically there to focus me. She knows me relatively well and has a good sense of where my limitations are, and knows the horse inside and out. I know she can help us patch up the few holes Sirius has that I’m not sure how to navigate the patching of, and then continue on to adding some fancier buttons, such as lateral movement, collection, and real balance at all gaits. I have very lofty goals overall, but for the next six months, I’d really like to work on just having a responsive, soft critter. The rest will follow! So, we’ll start that up weekly and, provided the weather keeps holding, do that through the winter.
I’m also doing my due diligence and having Chad the Vet come out on Tuesday. I rode past my coworker K’s house last weekend, and she pointed out that she could see sharp toothies from where she was standing, at least 5 feet away from him. So, Chad the Vet (who will be masquerading as Chad the Tooth Fairy) will be coming to check his mouth out. That could absolutely be contributing to his resistance all around. I’ve also been obsessively checking his back, and while I don’t have any reaction when I palpate his back (even with a bit of force…nothing!), I’ll continue watching that as he muscles up, especially in the spring.
In less analytical news…Sirius had made a new friend! Everyone, this is Ben.
Ben is a super cute, super sweet Gypsy Vanner gelding. He is A’s daughter’s gelding, and he had been away at “school” at a local boarding barn. Unfortunately, some troubling tummy issues have him back at home. He and Sirius have decided to be buddies — A has caught them rough housing and munching together since Ben got home. Sirius is such a social creature, and I’m really glad he has a friend — Lexi and Cherry, the Quarter horse and mini respectively, tolerated him but wouldn’t really engage him in play. Ben is already playing bitey face and is play boxing with him, and he’s loving it. Makes my little worried mama heart sing!
“I eat with my face 1/8″ from yours, right?”
“NO YOU DO NOT.”
So, that’s the update! Now that we’re on the other side of holiday hell, I feel a little more mentally equipped to start looking forward to our modest goal for 2016: learn to communicate with each other. That’s all I want this year…well, and some fun rides tossed in for good measure!
I learned a lot from Simba, even if we kind of hated each other.
I learned that nothing happens immediately. I learned that uprooting a horse and changing everything about its surroundings means that you’re going to see the worst of it in the first 2-3 months as the horse adjusts and you get to know each other. I learned that no matter how awful something seems at first, it can and will get better if you put the time into it.
Thankfully, I actually really kinda sorta ADORE this horse…so, we’re already ten million steps ahead from where I was with Simba when I brought him home. I thought I liked Simba. I swear I thought I did. But then I started working with him and we made each other insane. I work with Sirius and it’s an entirely different feeling — even when things get crazy or something goes wrong, I still want to smush his face because he’s so smushable. In less “I am obsessed with my horse” wording, I also have a horse that is much more willing to work with me instead of fighting me tooth and nail. He’s also much more sensitive, MUCH hotter, and a lot more reactive than Simba was. So, while there are some similarities, mostly when it comes to holes in his training, there are some major differences that keep me on my toes.
I did jump on him the day after I moved him to A’s. Ill advised? Maybe, but he’s a horse with a busy brain who does MUCH better when he’s doing something. So, I went over there with the mindset of “if he lunges well and seems to be okay, I’ll get on.”
He lunged well. He stood for grooming and tacking up well. He was good for our pre-flight groundwork check. So, I climbed into the saddle.
He was attentive and as soft as he gets right now when I climbed up. He was his usual zoomy self, but it was fun to work in such a large ring with that. We did lots of circles and serpentines and changes of directions to keep him occupied until A joined us on Lexi. A and Lexi loped around on a loose rein (reiners! Man I miss riding reiners!) and watched us motor around the ring, laughing at Sirius’ funny way of moving. Shortly after, we were walking down the driveway to hit the trails!
Now, I was under the impression that I knew the trails in this area pretty damn well. WRONG. There is a whole freaking side of the forest I didn’t even know about. I am itching to get out there and start exploring, because that is my favorite thing to do!
A and I set out and wove through the back of her neighbor’s property. Sirius was happy and forward, with the occasional mild goofy spook over nothing. Lexi, bless her, cantered down the dirt roads to keep up with us at a gait. It was adorable. A is a really excellent horsewoman and a really competent, pretty rider. We’ve known each other for ten years (oh my CHRIST I am OLD) and I think that was the second time we’ve ever ridden together…and the first time was a glorified nose-to-tail trail ride so I don’t much count that.
We ended up pausing to chat with her friend once we hit the dirt roads before picking up the rail trail (squeeee!). A looked back at me and asked if it was okay to canter.
In my mind: YES YES YES CANTER YES YES YES YES YES
Verbally: *nonchalantly* “Yeah it’s okay.”
So, we cantered and it was glorious. Sirius was a little strong and a little more concerned with keeping up than anything else but it was not the day to pick that battle…especially because I was also preoccupied with watching Lexi have a BALL in front of us. She is such a lovely horse, and her version of “being naughty” is to swap her leads up front while cantering with the occasional sassy little hind end pop. Such a funny mare!
We headed back for home after that. I found out quickly that Sirius REALLY loves to goat-jump logs and steams (much to my chagrin…I’m sure the entire town of Mason, NH heard my pterodactyl screeches of terror), and quickly put that near the top of my list of things to school when given the chance because hell nah. ALL FOUR HOOFIES ON THE GROUND. MAMA DON’T JUMP.
The following weekend was amazing because I was actually house sitting at the barn. I spent all Friday evening gleefully running back and forth between the house and the barn to hug him like a lovestruck teenager. I even threw his rope halter on, wiggled onto his back, and had a nice little bareback ride under the stars. Then I plopped down in his stall and fussed on my phone for awhile while he napped. It was perfect.
The actual weekend, however, was a little bit scattered and frustrating for me under saddle. Saturday morning, I ran over to J’s and rode Sirius’ dam, Tica. That ran long, and then I was in a rush to meet up with D when I went back to the barn to ride Sirius. I ended up flustering both of us. There was a lot of spooking and a lot of him trying to blow through my hands while we rode over to D’s, including a full mental breakdown over a scary house. Our ride WITH D was good, and included some schooling over logs (he walked over every one) and a nice bit of gaiting in the woods. We leap-frogged who was leading and who wasn’t, and we both got to work with our respective mounts on being respectful even when there was a horse in front. My favorite part of that ride, though, was D’s comment from behind me after we boogied up a hill and mountain goat-ed our way through some rocky terrain: “It’s nice to hear you laughing on a horse again.”
That Sunday, I stuck to the ring. My back was cranky after riding Tica, Sirius, and tanking it HARD in the paddock losing my footing over loose hay, and I didn’t want to risk it. I was also a little annoyed at myself for not keeping my shit together and wanted to work on something “easy” for both of our sakes.
I just wanted to work on “stop”. Stop has gotten much better since I started riding Sirius, but I figured a little schooling couldn’t hurt. It went really well — like, stopping off of my seat and barely having to close my hands on the reins well! — for 3/4ths of the ring…except for one side, one direction. It was really, really strange. Going right, along one long side, he decided he just. couldn’t. I would ask him, and he would stop for a second, then throw his head up and threaten to rear. I’d spin him a few times and ask for it again, and he’d give it to me reluctantly. It took us maybe 20 minutes of this, interspersed with giving him the “easier” task of stopping somewhere else in the ring (where he was happy to do so) to not completely fry him. By the end of it, I got one stop out of him on that long side that he actually stood for instead of threatening to go off. The second he gave that to me, I practically vaulted off of him and gave him lots of pats. Whatever it was, he seems to be over it, because when I repeated the lesson (very, very briefly) in the ring this past weekend? No rearing.
Odd creature is odd.
I spent the following week analyzing the rides we had the previous weekend, and was determined to make some changes. Sirius is so sensitive, and it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for me to just be present and not succumb to my own crazy high anxiety. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I needed to chill the fuck out. I went up Friday night after work to say hello, and spent the evening currying lazy circles into his coat and chattering at him. We did some minimal work on ground tying, which is hard for him because he really wants to be with you. He’s not pushy or in your space unless invited, but he is very much “locked on” when he’s working with you and has never been asked to just stay put. It took some repetition but he was standing quite nicely while I walked away from him by the end of a very short session.
Saturday was just…fun. I did some groundwork where we reinforced the “stand” command. I kept myself as light and quiet as possible, with LOTS of praise when he got it right. It was very interesting (and rewarding) to see the difference. He responds very, very well to touch and praise, which is something I’m very much not used to. You can almost see him swell up with excitement when he “gets” it, especially when it’s hard for him. We are still diligently working on the mounting block, and it’s a million billion times better. He had zero nervous circles around the mounting block on Saturday — he was not relaxed and there were wiggles, but none of his previous nervousness. I was able to swing on and have him stand until I cued him to move off, which was fabulous compared to his previous reaction of “your butt is in the saddle we go now byeeeee!”
We set off without a plan and, per usual, he was tense at the very beginning. I, however, expected this and was VERY conscious of my own reaction to it. I have a tendency to get tense when they get tense (imagine that!) and I’ve always had duller horses that did not feed off of my energy quite as much. Even if I forced myself to relax with Simba, he was still a ball of tension under me. Sirius, however, is so “in tune” with his rider that when I would relax, so would he. He boogered at stuff once or twice until I got into my own rhythm…and that was the end of it. If I felt him tense up over something, all I had to do was talk to him and run a hand down his neck. It was really heartening to have him relax so easily with just a few soft words and a gentle pat.
I ran into my coworker/house sitting client K and her family as we were blazing up the road at a good clip. By then, I had decided on the far side of Townsend State Forest, and was planning on picking it up down by my aunt’s. K, however, scoffed at me and pointed me to the back of her property where there was an entrance. Excellent! I didn’t have to travel on the roads for forever, and could hit the trails!
Except those trails were recently logged and went off in a million directions…we explored for awhile before I gave up trying to find a familiar landmark and headed back towards the roads. We did get to school streams, though, which he DESPERATELY wanted to throw himself over and was all kinds of mad that I wouldn’t let him. He took these ridiculous, tiny steps through the water and made me howl with laughter, which was not conducive to keeping him from jumping said streams. He did not catapult us over anything but it took some doing each time to convince him to just WALK through them. Doofus!
We ended back on the dirt roads, and I rode down to the bottom of the hill just for good measure. We turned back around to come back up, and neither of us could help ourselves. We kept it at a civilized largo for a minute or two, before I gave him a fraction of rein and he was off. We scared the snot out of some folks working in their front yard and the wind made my eyes water and it was glorious. We slowed down to a gentle corto long before we had to, and we moseyed back home, with matching gleeful grins.
Then I got back to the barn and locked myself out of my car. BECAUSE I’M AWESOME.
I didn’t ride Sunday — instead, a whole crew of us hauled out to the Plaistow, NH Dover Saddlery store where I got to play customer service rep for my aunt and A for various things. I had a blast but I was TOAST by the time we left and desperately needed to unpeople for awhile.
So, tomorrow brings another unseasonably warm but exciting weekend full of pony things. All of my anxiety aside about trying to make sure I don’t entirely fuck this horse up…I am enjoying him. Even with all of the stuff that I knew would happen — relocation adjustment periods, “getting to know you” mishaps, re-wiring my brain to work with HIM and not any other horse I’ve worked with, so on and so forth — I’m enjoying this process of figuring out what does and doesn’t work, and I’m really enjoying when I get it right and things fall into place. It’s really something to have a horse respond to you the way he has started responding to me, with just a touch or a word. I have always loved this breed, but never fully understood what other Paso people meant when they said that once you begin a partnership with one, you have a partner for life. I haven’t even had this horse very long and he’s already showing me bits and pieces of what that could be like.
So, onward! Oh, and be prepared…it’s the holiday season, and at this point, I’m well known for dressing my horses up for any reason I see fit.
The holidays are usually anxiety filled for me. They still are, don’t get me wrong — I really hate the holidays — but at the very least, I’m not getting yelled at by customers anymore. My new position has its own set of terrifying responsibilities but at least no one is yelling at me for trivial shit! So, during the Thanksgiving stretch, I was panicked about getting all my shit done on time at work, house sitting, and MOVING MY HORSE.
Of course, I needn’t have panicked about any of that, but welcome to the brain of someone who is high anxiety! Work mostly solved itself, thanks to said anxiety pushing me into overdrive, and kind words from a coworker who was previously in my position (basically boiled down to: “We aren’t curing cancer. Chill the fuck out”). House sitting was mostly a non-event because that client’s critters are all easy and her clan of corgis make me a happy pet sitter.
Moving Sirius? Definitely didn’t need to panic.
I went up on Thanksgiving morning to ride before heading down to the other side of the state for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. We had a quick ride where he was good, if a little stupid-spooky (not legit spooky because there was nothing to spook at. Fool!). It was a glorious, 60 degree day at the end of November. No better way to spend it than on horseback and then eating FAR too much food with family!
I left that afternoon with my trunk full of my tack again. It was a little bittersweet. I’ve been riding with J and her family for almost a year now, first on Acerca and then Sirius. J and her family have been a source of fun and unwavering kindness the whole time, and it is exactly what I needed after Simba. I’m honestly unsure who’s going to miss who more…J and her family are certainly going to miss Sirius, but we are all mourning the loss of our Saturday morning rides together!
Saturday rolled around and I peeled into my aunt’s driveway at mach ten, tossed myself excitedly into her truck, and restrained myself from bouncing on my seat (poorly, but thankfully D either didn’t notice or was very nice in choosing not to make fun of me because she is a much better person than I am). D carefully backed her trailer into J’s tiny, difficult driveway like a pro, and I tumbled out of the truck and into the barn, probably with all the ungainly excitement of a five year old on Christmas.
I pulled Sirius into the barn and threw his shiny new blankie on him for the drive back to Mason. He side-eyed the hell out of all of us standing around and staring at him. I tossed his shiny new halter on him (working for Dover Saddlery really does have some major perks…) and marched him down to the trailer.
He loaded with no issues, outside of tiny, mincing, HYSTERICAL steps up the ramp and while he was mildly concerned on the trailer and tried to back out on top of poor D while she was doing up the butt bar, he traveled without fanfare.
We got to his new home and D, again, backed into the driveway like a pro. My shiny new barn owner, who is also a longtime friend and longtime house sitting client, A, came down to meet us as I was opening the side door so Sirius could peek out. I refrained from full body tackling her in excitement (which was good, because I am still significantly bigger than she is and would squish her). Moving my horse to this particular spot seemed to be excellent for all parties involved. A’s place is a sweet, private little barn with four stalls that is tucked away from the road and is on top of my very favorite trails on the planet. I am a stone’s throw from D’s farm, and surrounded by coworkers/friends/other house sitting clients. I also totally adore A and her family. It’s going to be very nice to actually SEE them once in awhile, instead of just taking care of their homestead while they’re away!
I backed Sirius off the trailer and he politely, albeit alertly, followed me up to the barn. We walked through the barn to the paddock, and all three of the current inhabitants — Lexi, a Quarter horse ex-reiner; Cherry, a squee-worthy mini mare, and Onyx, a slightly crotchety old Tennesee Walking Horse gelding — called to Sirius. He didn’t call back, but was certainly interested in the filled stalls.
Once I let him loose in his paddock (aka, the riding ring), he did a few laps at the walk. He wandered back over to where I was standing, looked at me, and did the equivalent of a horsey shrug. “Okay, now what?” A brought out a hay bag, but to my surprise, he chose to stand with the three of us as we chatted, calmly surveying his new surroundings. I walked him over to his hay, where he would munch if I was standing with him, but if I walked away, he velcroed himself to me. I took him inside shortly after that, because it was doing a gross drizzly thing and everyone was staying in for lunch hay. He happily stuffed his face in his hay in his stall after touching noses with Onyx, and once I was convinced he wasn’t going to suddenly have a meltdown, I left with D to go back and pick up my car/all my tack to unload.
We were a quarter of the way down the driveway, still in Sirius’ view, when he called out to our retreating backs.
Nope. I didn’t melt a little. What gave you that idea?
I came back to unload my stuff, and once I was convinced he was settled okay, I returned back to where I was house sitting that weekend, a mere two minutes away from the barn. I spent the rest of the evening only checking my phone every five minutes instead of every thirty seconds like I wanted to, and sat on my hands to keep from being a helicopter horse mommy. I succeeded, and also passed out VERY early because I was worn out from being an excited basket case all day.
I rode the next day…which I will detail in a separate post catching everyone up on our rides, because this is long and the ride post will be even longer.
I really do not like surprises. I’m supremely spooky (no seriously, I spook…any one of you that have met me in person know that I spook EXACTLY like a horse) and am easily overwhelmed emotionally so for the love of all things furry and four legged, don’t try and surprise me.
I will, however, acquiesce to unexpected surprises from my horse.
I had a big, long post about last weekend 90% done, and then I hit a button and it all disappeared…so, I’ll be combining yesterday’s ride and last weekend’s ride into one big post about being pleasantly surprised with how quickly things seem to be falling into place with Sirius.
Both weekend rides have been a big change from the previous ones. I could attribute this to the bit change to something he likes better, the groundwork, or him just finally understanding his new “rules of the road”. It could also be because I took a good, hard look at myself after one of our tougher rides at the beginning of the month. I felt the familiar anxiety bubbling in my chest, very similar to Simba, over how to “handle” this horse — meaning, how to fix and “perfect” him. I realized that the amount of pressure I was putting on myself, and by proxy, on Sirius, was unfair…mostly to him. I was asking too much, too soon, and I needed to chill the fuck out.
So, I chilled the fuck out and broke down what I wanted from him into even smaller steps. For example, he has been allowed (and I contributed to this in the beginning!) to pretty much run like a bat out of hell up every hill he sees. I was beginning to fight to make him walk, or at the very least gait, up the hills he’s used to running. It turned into a battle up every hill and neither of us were pleased at the end of the ride. So, I changed my approach — I asked for a few moments of his attention and to make sure he was “checked in” before allowing him what he wanted, on MY terms. Plus, it meant we got to run and we both love that because this horse has turbo boosters on his ass. He was happy he got to run, and I was happy with the little bit of attention he gave me before I let him loose — both happy! It also meant he was more willing to come back to me when I asked him to, instead of fighting to break through my hands.
I also just…rode. I stopped trying to make every second a training opportunity. Yes, I want to better my horse and myself. Yes, we have things that need to be worked on. At the end of the day, though…I just want to ride, and he just wants to play. He LOVES going out. Loves it. His ears are always forward and he never, ever says no to exploring or going somewhere new. We had fun and that was more important. He wasn’t allowed to get away with bad manners or
Based on this, I’m chalking up most of our success of the past two rides to my mental shift. I really needed to take the pressure off of BOTH of us, and learn to work with him, specifically. He’s such a different animal than I’m used to. I knew he was going to challenge everything I’ve done up until now. Simba was a bully and you had to bully him back to get your point across. Sirius isn’t. He occasionally will give you a flippant answer when you ask him something, but if you get after him, he’s apologetic and quits almost immediately. I’ve realized that if he doesn’t quit, I’m asking the wrong way and need to reevaluate my questions. He is challenging because I have to basically restock my proverbial toolbox, but he isn’t actually overwhelming. He is a joy to work with and I need to remember that.
Despite all of this, I was still surprised at just how quickly this horse has picked up on the things I’m asking him to do. When I figure out how to get my point across to him, he “gets” it almost immediately. We do not have any head slinging, panicky circles at the mounting block anymore because implementing a “stand” cue has helped immensely. He is already lunging really well and is super soft on the end of the line 90% of the time. Flexing in the halter is not something I need to even consider drilling — you pick up that line and his nose is to you in a millisecond. He is ridiculously smart, probably smarter than I am, and that is going to be both fun and tricky to work with. Hmm. Tricky. Maybe some trick training books are in my immediate future…
What is most surprising, however, is just how quickly I’m becoming attached to him. It’s not the white hot, almost terrifying attachment I had to Image, but it’s there, slowly revealing itself as time goes on. I just wanted another horse so badly with Simba that I forgot that this is what it’s supposed to feel like: the little jolt of excitement and happiness when you get to go ride or see your critter, the having to remind yourself that people don’t want to hear every little detail about how perfect he is when people ask about your horse, the realization that this horse is yours and that you’re HAPPY he’s yours, wanting to squish his wittle face every time you see him…
THIS is right. I’m terrified of owning a horse and fucking it up again, but even with his greyness and littleness and goofy mane and inability to contain himself around hills…he’s mine and I’m so happy he’s mine.
So, surprises around every corner, and I don’t hate it. Well, I don’t hate THESE surprises. I do hate the surprise of my check engine light coming on randomly on the highway. I also hate surprise printer blow ups at work when I have a million reports that need printing. I also hate cancer and what it’s doing to a few really important people in my life.
And boys. I don’t like boys right now either.
Thank god for horses.
Up next…Sirius moves to Mason, NH this Saturday and I’m only a little freaked out about it!
AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD I WILL FINISH THAT POST ABOUT SARA BAREILLES IF IT KILLS ME.
I’ve been laboring over a post about meeting this woman for the past MONTH and it’s been really, really hard to get it written down in a way that adequately expresses how I feel…so until then, LOOK SHE NOTICED ME (and liked a picture of my doofus pony)!!!!! Sara shared a photo of her with a cute bay horse. I usually only use twitter to silently stalk celebrities but tweeted her back with a silly photo of Sirius. THEN SHE LIKED IT AND I WAS SO EXCITED THAT I TRIED TO GET OUT OF MY CAR WITH MY SEATBELT STILL ON.
Okay. Serious (Sirius! Ahahahah that joke never gets old…) post coming up next, as we had a freaking fantabulous ride today and I am super proud of Little Grey!