Saturday, May 29, 2010

My little black horse

Midnight made me cry today.

We had planned a trail ride--Midnight and I, Galahad and a friend of ours--in spite of the heat. I don't take the heat very well these days, and I must admit I was in a pretty bad mood when we saddled up.

As horses will do, Midnight reflected my mood for me. We had several tussles before I finally got the saddle on him. He wouldn't stand; he bit the trailer and scraped the paint with his teeth; he tried to nip me; he tried to pull the saddle blanket off when I turned my back to pick up the saddle. It took twice as long as usual--he was being really obnoxious.

Once we headed out on the trail, though, he was his usual willing self. He didn't even try very hard to eat clover, but responded nicely to leg cues to stay on the trail. Only once, when I asked him to walk through the grass to let me get a closer look at a flower, did he grab a bite of clover.

When we got back, my friend and I hosed both horses off to cool them down. As I led Midnight back to his stall, I knew that what he really wanted to do was roll in the sand in the indoor arena. He'd been such a good guy on the trail that I decided to let him have that treat, in spite of the fact that I'd just cleaned him up.

And roll he did, after spending a while finding the perfect spot. Over and over, feet in the air, rubbing his face in the sand. There wasn't anyone else around, so I left him in there enjoying himself while I took a load of tack out to the trailer.

I wasn't gone but five minutes. When I got back, I saw him standing at the far end of the arena looking out the door toward the trailer. As I walked toward the arena gate, he saw me--and whinnied loudly as he galloped across the arena to me. Not cantered, galloped. He skidded to a stop right in front of me, dropped his head, and looked me right in the eye. A gentle, reproachful look it was, and it went right to my heart.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. That little horse evidently thought I had gone off without him, and was upset about it! I realized in that moment that my little black horse actually does love me--he doesn't just tolerate me. My heart melted, and yes, I cried a little.

We played a brief game of "chase me" in the arena. I've never played a horse game with him like that, and we both enjoyed it even though it was too hot to keep it up. Then he followed me to the gate and stood for me to put his halter back on.

Seems kind of silly, putting it down in words, but there was a different kind of communication between us today. It felt absolutely wonderful. I'm still on Cloud Nine....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Happy fourth birthday, Galahad!

One year ago, starved almost to death, Galahad arrived at the rescue ranch. We don't know his actual birthday, but it's most likely some time in May, so we're going to celebrate his birthday and his rescue on the same day.

What a difference in just a year! I cannot imagine anyone throwing away any animal, let alone one as beautiful, intelligent, and loving as this horse.

I hope his story inspires others to adopt. These animals deserve a second chance. Galahad has brought so many blessings to my life, and I am very grateful.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Synchronicity, again

I’ve been reading Linda Kohanov’s second book, Riding Between the Worlds, this morning. In order to be able to relax and focus on the reading in spite of an appointment at 11:30, I set a timer to let me know when I needed to quit and go get ready to leave.

In the chapter on “The Music of Connection,” Kohanov talks about how difficult, but how necessary, it is to let go of past patterns of behavior: old ways of being-in-the-world that kill off parts of the soul, or at least don’t allow those parts to grow and thrive. She notes how this kind of pattern leads to depression and sometimes even to suicidal thoughts as the person fails to recognize that it’s the “False Self” who has to die.

This resonates with my own experience. She goes on to describe how horses have helped her clients see how this operates. It made me realize the absolute importance of knowing myself as I move forward with this work.

Then, as I read her example of the woman who was completely unaware of her own fear, though the horse felt it and was badly spooked until the woman returned to her physical body (pp. 130-132), I burst into tears:

"Do you think [the horse] was acting out my hidden fear?” Jane asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe she was spooking for her own reasons, most likely a bit of both. Either way, you gained her respect, not by denying your fear and talking a good game, but simply by being present. And you showed everyone outside the arena what being present really means. It looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but it means everything to a horse.”

At that moment, just as I absorbed the import of that sentence for my own life and work, my timer went off, leaving me laughing and crying at the same time, marveling at the “synchronicity.” Such a blessing! So my “homework,” it seems, is to just be present with my horses, with no other agenda. Just be present. Which is, of course, much harder than it sounds.

[Cross-posted on It's an Alchemical Life, my other blog.]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Grazing games

An interesting working session with Galahad this morning. Ground work first—we worked on the squeeze game, and on turns and sidestepping. He performed quite well and willingly. A couple of times he got confused, but once he figured out what I wanted (the problems were caused by my mis-cues, not his resistance), he did just what I asked. After that I took him out briefly to graze.

He still challenges my authority, even on a day when he seems happy to do what he’s asked. Today, the challenge was subtle, and came while he was eating grass: the same old “the best piece of clover is right under your foot” game. He was pretty persistent about it, to the point where I had to wiggle my foot against his teeth to get him to back off. No way was I going to give up my space!

Poor Galahad. He tries so hard to be Top Horse. But that’s his job: the herd has to test the leader, because they can’t “afford” a leader who isn’t the strongest horse among them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Last night at my lesson I was to ride Champ, whom I’ve ridden a couple of times before and liked. He’s a little bigger than Galahad, with a long, rangy canter that took some getting used to.

Like most of the lesson horses, Champ is a bit crabby at times. I don’t blame them—that’s not my idea of an ideal life for a horse. But in general, he’s fine. His worst habit is making a funny face by sticking his tongue out the side of his mouth and wagging it when he’s annoyed.

Last night when I groomed him I noticed that he flinched a little when I got close to his “elbows,” and he tried to kick with his hind foot when I brushed his flanks. I was paying attention, and I thought he was objecting to the stiff brush that was in his tack bag, so I promised him I wouldn’t brush those sensitive parts.

I got the saddle on him, and he did get more agitated when I went to tighten the cinch. They all do that, even Midnight and Galahad. Then I ducked under his neck (he was cross-tied, which is the rule when students saddle the horses) to snug up the other side, and as I passed his head, he grabbed my shoulder and bit. Hard. Very hard. I yelled, then stood there and looked at him, wondering what the heck he did that for?

The instructors, who had seen it happen, came running. My favorite “Dances With Hooves” t-shirt was full of drool and blood. It did hurt like the very dickens, but mainly I wanted to find out what was wrong with the horse that would make him behave that way.

After some searching, they discovered a big and obviously painful scab on his belly, right where the cinch crosses it. It’s not a place that you can see without getting under the horse, and I had failed to even run my hand under there. I’m not excusing biting behavior, but poor Champ had no other way to communicate his pain under the circumstances.

So what did I learn? First, never to assume anything, lesson horse or no. I should have checked more closely when he acted up, since I did have some previous experience with this particular horse. I needed to pay more attention to the signals he was giving me, especially because these horses, who are deliberately tied from both sides of their heads so that they’re easier to saddle, have limited ways of telling us they’re not feeling well.

I’m just glad it was me and not some little child who had the experience. A bite this severe on a tiny body could have had lasting effects. As for me, thanks to “Chomp,” I won’t be wearing any off-the-shoulder dresses for a couple of months, but I’m not badly injured.

(The photo, BTW, is Midnight.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Raja is doing better!

Raja, who was so thin and weak we'd all pretty much given up on him, is doing better. He's eating Nutrena Senior feed, albeit slowly, and has filled out just a little bit.

His ribs still stand out, and his hip bones and spine are still sharp, but there's a little muscle coming back. His energy is bright and much stronger. I am cautiously optimistic. We still have a long way to go.

Raja is the sweetest little horse. He's tiny--probably just barely 14 hands--but has that Arabian spirit and heart. And those big, deep eyes.... A beautiful little guy.

Over the past several months he's spent his days in the pasture alone, head down, refusing attention from other horses with a gentle but unmistakable swing of his backside when anyone got close. Today, though, I was delighted to see him hanging out with Midnight's two best friends, Romeo and Ty, when I went to turn Midnight loose after our trail ride.

All three horses came over to me right away, and Romeo and Raja vied for my attention. After a few minutes of petting and patting and nuzzling, I decided to take Raja out to graze for a little bit. I called him and he followed me to the gate, with the most heartwarming expression in his eyes. "Really? You picked me?" he seemed to say. I swear, I'm not making this up, folks. He seemed genuinely surprised.

I took him over to the little grassy patch by the lesson barn and let him eat for half an hour or so, until I had to leave for an appointment, then took him back. Galahad will just have to wait until tomorrow. Don't anybody tell on me, OK?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I realized something today while trying to get a point across: After learning to work with a thousand-pound, stubborn and opinionated horse, facing down a bossy man in a meeting is not nearly as difficult as it used to be.