The Morgan Horse: They’re like Ducati Hondas?

“So are they all brown?”

“Well, I mean, Morgans can be almost any color, although until recently the splash gene….  wait.  Too much.  Bay.  That color right there in the video is bay, not brown.”

Scandias Mademoiselle

“They’re not the same?”

“Bay has the black stockings, and the black mane and tail.”

“But the base color is brown, so it’s the same, right?”

“I mean, I guess so.  Chestnut is the reddish color.”

Scandias Marvelous Mark

“What do they do with them, though?”

“Morgans?”


“Yeah, what’s their thing?”
 
“The Morgan horse is very versatile – they can do anything.”
 
“Yeah, but what are they known for?”
 
“Ummm… well, they’re kind of known for being good at everything.  They’re one of the oldest American breeds…. they’re very strong, with a lot of endurance and health and dependability, but they’re also fancy. So you get that flashiness, without having to deal with them being too hot and losing their brain.”

Scandias Trademark

“So… they’re like a Ducati made by a Honda?”
 
“….. Uh, sure. Yeah. That.”

“Okay.”

“They’re like…. a Kawasaki, but with a Goldwing comfort on a long trail…”

“WHAT?”

“I was coming up with a metaphor for you.”

“I already had one.  Ducati made by a Honda.  That makes sense to me.”

“I was trying to come up with a motorcycle analogy for you.  You know, to bond with you.”

“That was a motorcycle analogy.  What did you think a Ducati was?”

“I…. I forgot.  I heard Honda and thought car.”

“You thought a Ducati was a car???”

“Yes…. I mean no.  I mean, I was just focusing on Honda…. I mean, shut up.  You thought bay was the same as brown.”

 
 

Caspian vs the Yellow Jacket

I looked into the rearview mirror as I backed into the car port, and as the gravel crunched under my tires, the view in that small mirror made my stomach sink.

Oh, no.

Oh, NO.  No.  No, no, no…….

Caspian stood in the corner of his paddock – head down, ears half pinned, and sweaty. His nostrils flared, and he whipped his head back to bite at his belly – once.  Twice.  Three times. He kicked at his belly, hard, and his neck shot up in distress, tail wringing and snapping.

Oh, no.  No, no, no.  Not colic.  Please, not colic.

“Boys!  Get the babies out of the car, and into the house!”

The boys began the tedious process of unloading the twins and I walked through the backyard, approaching Caspian warily. Maybe I was wrong?  Please?  I hope?

It didn’t look like it.  It was all the classic signs of colic – and pretty severe colic at that. Caspian pawed twice,  as if to roll, and then continued to bite at his belly.  He’s a fairly stoic horse, so for it to be this far along….. I bit my lip, and began to feel nauseous. Please.  Please let him be okay.

And then I saw it… or maybe I heard it?  It’s hard to say which happened first, but there, among the normal flies buzzing around, was a large shape.  Was that a bee?  A horse fly? What WAS that?

And then I realized what it was – a yellow jacket, furious, body curved into a “C”, stinger leading.

 

It buzzed in, and jabbed, and Caspian jerked around to bite at it, only to have it dodge, hover, and then swoop in again.

Sting.  Sting.  StingSting.  With every sting the wasp gave him Caspian kicked, or bit, or whipped his tail around, but to no avail.  Eventually he took off in a loop around the paddock, and by his movement and the sweat I could tell it wasn’t the first time he’d tried that.

He thundered around once.  Twice. Three times.  Four times.

The entire time I could see a small dark speck following him angrily, and the second he stopped it began to sting him again.  Sting.  Sting. STING STING.

I turned around and ran to the house.  “Where’s the swatter?  Where’s the swatter, boys?!”

It took longer than I liked to make my way back to the paddock, but Caspian will have to forgive me.  I spent most of the morning jumping on a trampoline and, well, the old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be.

I made it out there half hoping I was too late to do anything about it, but nope.  There was that stupid @*#@*&! yellow jacket, still in a “C” shape, stinging him without mercy.  I stomped through the gate and tried approaching Caspian without a halter, but my body language was furious, and with the first missed lunging swipe at the yellow jacket and his belly he took off like a shot and began to do his laps again.  You could almost see it in his face: “What have I ever done to you, woman?  Do you have any idea what kind of day I’m already having?!”

I circled back around and grabbed his halter, approaching him warily.  I wouldn’t blame him in the least if he kicked when that stupid thing stung him, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be on the receiving end of one of his draft-sized hooves.

The second I put the halter on him, he began to calm down, although not entirely – with the yellow jacket still making passes at his legs, belly, and flank, it was hard for him to do anything other than quit running.

“Easy.  Easy.  I’m not mad at you.  I’m mad at that stupid insect.  Shh.  I’m trying to help you.

Help faster, he said with an obvious flick of his tail.

I took a swipe and missed, and the yellow jacket stung him in response.  Caspian jumped forward, and I grabbed a hold of the lead rope and apologized.

Get it together, woman.

The yellow jacket swooped at his belly again and paused to curve into a more exaggerated “C” shape, and just as it paused I leaped forward and smacked it with the fly swatter.  Boom.  BULLSEYE.

Caspian jumped forward a few steps, then turned around to look at me.  I couldn’t see where it had landed, but I decided to pretend I had, and made an obvious show of stomping the ground.  Horses will instinctively stomp on a snake, so I figured he’d understand what I was saying.

Look at me, the nice human, stomping the biting thing for you. I will protect you.

He stared at me for a moment, then approached, head down, and laid his forehead against my arm.

Thank you.  Thank you so much.

“I’m so sorry, buddy.  You must hurt so much. I’m so sorry.”

It does.  It hurts.  But thank you.

And we stood like that for a moment, our conversation spent, just enjoying each other’s company.

But seriously – if I could find that stupid yellowjacket’s body, I’d probably pin it down with a needle and then set it on fire.  I swear, I’ve never hated anything quite so much.  I think I was literally seeing red the entire time I hunted for the fly swatter.

Winter, Blessings, and a Barn

What an absolutely brutal winter.

*

That star up above represents the 800 words I just cut from this post, where I went into a bunch of boring detail describing how sucky it was for me, linking to articles proving how abnormally rainy and grey it was to “prove” it was okay for me to feel that way, etc, etc.

When I’m boring myself with my whininess I know it’s probably time to cut the words.

Suffice it to say, it was an abnormally rainy winter.  There were only 3 mild days between October and March (when there are usually 17), some months broke rainfall records that have lasted since… well, since they started recording rainfall records. Other months didn’t break those records… but they fell short by less than a tenth of an inch.

At the library we had a lot of people coming in and printing bus tickets, or plane tickets, or any other ticket they could find to get outta Dodge.  “I can’t handle it anymore.  You never see the sky,” they’d say, with a half-crazed, almost caged look to their eyes.

Continue reading

How to Fence a Horse

I’m really good at daydreaming.

Like, if you need someone to just sit there and daydream, I’m your man.  Or girl.  I guess woman?

Eh, whatever.  If you need someone to daydream, pick me!  I’m super good at that sort of stuff.

But real life stuff?

I mean, it’s one thing to say “One day I’m gonna have a great big horse who is allllll mine, and I’m gonna get up in the morning and look out my bedroom window and see him grazing in the fields….”

Only now it’s for real.

 

Pasture

 

That’s a screenshot of what is going to be my new backyard.  Actually, the yard is even bigger than that, but that’s the area that I get to do what I want with, for Caspian. We are going to have funds from the sale of the house to fence it in, and also build a run-in and an area to compost manure.

Speaking of the sale of the house, I think we have someone.  We still have to pass inspection, and even if we do pass inspection we will still be in our current house for a couple of months because escrow takes a while right now..

But I think this thing is actually going to happen.  We have found a house we all agree on, they’ve accepted our offer (contingent on the sale of our house), we found a buyer for the new house, and I might have my pony in my yard before summer.

It’s one thing to daydream…. it’s another to actually sit down and do it for real.

“Yaaaay!  I get a horse in my backyard!  Oh. Wait…. Uh, how do you safely house a horse in your backyard?”

I’ve decided to go with 5 foot no-climb horse fence with a strand of hot wire on the inside, but what kind of posts do I use? The t-posts or the wood ones? How many feet of fencing will I need? How many posts per feet of fence?  How far down do you sink the posts? How big of a sacrifice area do I make?  I’d really like to plan it out so that it can house two horses eventually – I see two horses in my future at some point, so there’s no sense doing it twice.

Slope

The back 2/3 of the pasture is slightly sloped – less than it looks here, but still something to take into account.

Do I put the sacrifice area at the bottom, since it’ll be muddy anyways?  Do I put it at the top, and then have the pasture be sloped?  Do I just do long paddocks with shelters, and then one big turn out area? The rule is one horse per acre, but they never say how best to make that work.

I mean, in a perfect “I have all the space and all the money” I would do a gorgeous paddock paradise setup, but all the ones I’ve seen online require a ton of fencing.  Fencing costs money, and I’m not sure we can swing that.

Also, just to make things more complicated, I think I want to include a small riding area somewhere, so there’s a safe place for the kids to ride without having to trailer anywhere.  Of course, if I do that the amount of pasture I have to work with is even smaller.
Sigh.

Do I cut back on the pasture or the sacrifice area, or forgot the riding area?  Where would I put the imaginary riding area – at the bottom, or at the top?  Do you cap wood posts? What do you set your posts and/or t-posts in to keep them stable and sturdy? What kind of electric fence should I get?  Where do I store the hay?

 

 

Can I just go back to daydreaming about the pony in my backyard, without having to do so much math, please?

 

 

Yes, I understand that my “complaining” is the very essence of #FirstWorldProblems

 

How Not To Have A Relaxing November

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA WHAT WAS I THINKING.

 

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I mean, it’s not like I have a lot on my plate.  It’s not like I’m attempting NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words of writing in one month.  I’m not like I’m trying to survive the first year with my twins – who, even though they just turned 9 months old, still wake every 3 hours at night.

It’s not like I’m trying to raise my 5 and my 8-year-old sons, and all the complexities that come with kids as they grow older.  Sure, they don’t pee or color on stuff anymore, but solutions to their problems now require me to actually turn on my brain.  On the whole, I think I found the random destruction a lot easier to deal with it.

It’s not like I don’t have all of the stuff I listed above, or a part-time job, or household chores, or family visiting, or holiday activities, or or or….

But I received the sweetest email a couple of weeks ago.

“Caspian is such a dear – he never does anything wrong – but he’s not really settling in/thriving here at the barn…”

I mean, if you’re going to get politely broken up with by a barn, it was the nicest, softest way to break the news ever… but it was still a bummer.   I couldn’t disagree with her assessment – Caspian seemed lonely and a bit sad at the new barn. It was obvious a change was needed.

The truth is, I spent the first few days after receiving that email trying to figure out if I even really had any business owning a horse.

Yes, Caspian was and is receiving the best of care…. but I almost never get to see him.  I actually do have plenty of time to spend with him.  The problem is that my free time is when most barns are closed.  I have time every morning from 5:30am-7am, and then again every evening after 8pm…. but what barn is going to agree to let a boarder traipse around in the dark like that?

I spent the next week after the email looking at the hard facts.  It’s hard to justify the expense of owning a “luxury item”, so to speak, when I have so little time to enjoy him.The problem with having an accountant for a husband is that I have started taking a longer view of how much things cost.  I think it’s easy to justify a horse when you are looking at the month-to-month.  Can I afford his monthly care?  Yes.

Even if I technically can afford it… should I, when I never see him?  The times I have available to devote to my horse are probably never going to work with a traditional barns, and it’s going to be quite some time before the twins are old enough to let me visit during regular hours. Can I afford him for another “wasted” year or more, knowing that the $400 a month I have set aside for him adds up to $4800 in one year? $9600 every two years?

That’s a lot of money for a once-a-week (if that) horse habit.

And so began The Great Depression of 2016.

I hate being an adult.  I really, really do…. but I just couldn’t see any way around it. Shopping for a new horse barn just made it seem so much clearer to me.  So many of the places around where I live are self-care.  It’s not that I don’t want to do self-care – I actually really enjoy mucking stalls.  It’s that I just don’t want to do it with four kids in tow.  I’ve cleaned Caspian’s stall quite a few times while wearing the twins, and it left me sweaty and grumpy. Somewhere in the middle of it, while I struggled to push the wheelbarrow through some damp grass, desperately trying to keep it from dumping over, one twin strapped in front, one twin strapped in back, sweat pouring down my face, I thought…

Wait.  Am I actually paying to do this?  I mean, I’m not just choosing to torture myself like this, but I’m actually paying good money to do it?  I’m paying money to never ride and never groom, and just spend my time pushing around my horse’s feces?

So I came home, and I had a long discussion with The Bean.  And then another long discussion.  And then we had several long discussions.

And then the Bean and I sat down and had a long talk a week ago on Monday night, and we came to the final decision.

We decided to sell our house.

I know, it was a bit of a shock for me too.  I went into it thinking the conversation was going to end with, “Yeah, let’s sell Caspian and we’ll just find another horse when the time is better.”  Instead, the conversation turned into “Why don’t we just bump up our ‘find a home with enough land for a horse’ plan”?

We’re not looking to move far – we both love our town.  We just want a little land for the horse, and maybe a little more room for when my mom comes to help me with the twins.

Hey, did you know what’s easy?  Deciding to sell your house.

Do you know what’s not easy?  Cleaning your house so that it’s ready to sell…. in less than two days.  We decided to sell on Monday night, and we were due to leave for Thanksgiving on Wednesday night.

It’s not that I live in squalor, but let’s all agree that unless you are one of those fancy-schmancy OCD people, there’s a big difference between having a house that’s straightened up and having a house that’s ready for a realtor to show at an Open House.

Two days later, with every closet organized, and every bit of furniture positioned just so, and every shelf arranged, the basement cleaned, the cobwebs dusted, the floors waxed, the bathrooms scrubbed, the Thanksgiving ingredients bought and in the fridge, it was 11pm at night and the only thing I had left to do was put away the laundry in my bedroom….

And I couldn’t.

I just plain ran out of gas. I stood there and stared at the last little bit of mess in an otherwise pristine (pristine for me, anyways) house, and I just…. I just couldn’t.

 

meme

The Bean, who was in a miraculously good mood, looked around the room with a smile.  “We’re almost done,” he chirped, coming in with another armful of clean laundry.

I looked at him, I looked at the maybe 20 minutes of work left, and I fell face first on the bed and started to cry.  It wasn’t even a satisfying cry, either.  A satisfying cry would have involved sobs and… well, energy.  I just lay face-first on the bed and tears leaked out.  I was so, so tired.

Did you know that you can shove a bunch of dirty laundry in trash bags and that it fits neatly in the trunk of a Honda Civic?  That’s what we ended up doing, and the clothes is still in there.  We haven’t really missed the items, either.  Maybe I should just drive it to the Goodwill and dump it?

Anyways, I made it through the rest of the cleaning and through a Thanksgiving that was amazing and perfect, and kind of hazy from a fog of exhaustion.

And now my days have become a crazy string of “Quick, feed a baby…. crap, there’s a showing.  Quick, clean the house and make it look non-lived in.  Quick, grab Artemis.  Quick, grab my mom’s dog that I’m babysitting for a month.  Are the boys getting off of school?  Quick, grab a snack so they don’t turn hangry while we sit at a park and wait for strangers to stare at the house.  Quick, return home and cook dinner.  Quick, get ready for work the next day.  Quick, quick, quick….

I moved Caspian yesterday to what I am hoping is his last boarding situation – he has an huge box stall, and turnout all day, and I paid extra for him to have hay in his face all day.  He seems happy, even if I am sad I don’t get to stare at the GORGEOUS Morgans at the other place anymore.  (I’m still disgruntled he ruined my stay at my dream barn, but oh well.)

As I unloaded him, I pet his fuzzy, yellowish-grey, barely-groomed face with the large, sad eyes.  He looked… like an abandoned pony, and it made my heart sad.  I hate being the absentee owner that people on horse threads make fun of.  Caspian deserves better.

… but the neat thing is that soon he is going to get it.  As I ran my fingers under his mane he leaned in to the contact every-so-lightly, ever-so-politely, and it was so strangely thrilling to be able to say, “Don’t get too attached to the ponies here.  This is just a temporary barn.  The next move, you get to come home.  Permanently.”

Timehop keeps reminding me that 9 years ago I was a cocktail waitress in a bar, just starting to date the unassuming car salesman who liked to sit at the corner and drink a bottle of Heineken and eat chicken strips with ranch.

And now?

Yesterday I had to rearrange all the seats in my minivan to make a road trip, and when we finally returned home The Bean stood out in the pouring rain at 9:30 at night rearranging them back to normal it so I wouldn’t have to deal with it in the morning.  Over Thanksgiving weekend he took all four kids out so I could get a much needed nap.  And this morning he put up with me snapping at him (sorry Bean – I’m a cranky toddler when I’m sleep deprived) over tiny stuff, and still managed to remember to make out a check and put it where I could find it easily and change the babies diapers before heading off for his ridiculously-long day at work.

And today?

Today is the first day I haven’t had a lot on my plate.  The house guests went home (don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing and I’m so glad they stayed), and today there are no showings scheduled yet. Today I don’t work, and I don’t have to do a 3 hour round trip to drive to return a vehicle, and my husband is kind, and there aren’t any holidays looming.

And now, today, two kids are in school, two babies are napping (at the same time!  For once!) and I am sitting on my computer, researching fencing options.

Dude.  Fencing options, and pasture rotation details, and sacrifice areas for MY horse who is going to be in MY backyard in a few months.

WHOA.

So….. does anyone want to buy a house?

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Shallow Hope

This is so inconsequential compared to the big, important, “real life” stuff happening out there.

But.

Today my mom offered to watch the kids so I got in my car, backed out of my driveway, closed the gate, and drove very slowly to my new barn.

I arrived and took the long way through all the barns so I could walk and see each horse.  To be honest, I’m a little concerned this barn might ruin me for life.  It’s like…. if you had a 5 star chef cooking food for you every single day, would that make you appreciate food more, or would it just make all other food taste kind of gross?

At any rate, since boarding here is still new to me, I am like a 14 year old boy set free at a Playboy bunny convention (do those exist?  Eh.  Roll with me on my simile here).

 

Anyways, I took the long way to the barn so I could stare at all the Morgans, because some of them are for sale, so I better gawk while the gawking’s good.

 

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This is a yearling (Scandias Signature). None of her yearlings got the memo that they’re supposed to be gawky.

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One of these days someone is gonna buy Scandias Anthem…. and I’m gonna be so sad when they do.  In the meantime, I get to scratch on him whenever I want…. SWEEEET.

I arrived at Caspian’s stall (he’d just come in from spending all night out at pasture), took him out, and groomed him.

I saddled him, and led him to the roundpen and asked him to go around a few times to warm up.

I mounted up and rode, with the sun beating down on my shoulders and the wind making the summer flowers bend in the breeze.

I cooled him down and hopped off.

I groomed him again.

I said hello to Kathleen (the breeder/barn owner).

I picked Caspian’s stall and picked up his manure from the round pen.

I got in my car and drove home – slowly again, so I could know how long it might take me if there was ice on the ground.

…….

Wait for it……

And I did it all in 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Guys.

Guys, I know this is so small compared to some of the bigger issues some people face….. but I am feeling so hopeful for the first time in a long time.  I might actually be able to do this “mom of four” and “horse owner” thing after all.

New Barn and Morgan Horses

About a month before the twins were due, I received a Facebook message.  I’m too lazy to look up the actual wording, but the basic idea was this:

“Hey Becky, I know you’re going to have your hands full with twins and you probably won’t get as much horse time as you want over the next few months, so if you ever wanted to board out here, we’d be open to the idea.  We have plenty of turnout….”

The message wasn’t all that thrilling in and of itself – it was who it was from that made me all hand flappy with excitement.
You guys remember how excitable I was back in 2012 when I started researching barns around my new home in Oregon?

Remember how I wrote that one post where I went and called dibs on all the pretty Morgans that lived on a Morgan horse farm right by me?

Remember how I was drooling over contestant # 1 in my last post?

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, remember how I’ve been peppering my feed with constant updates about the horses over at Scandia Morgan Horse Farm, sighing and drooling?

Well, it was that farm who reached out to me.

I’d met the owner when I first came into town and had a chance to go out and groom a couple of times, but life got in the way of me doing anything more so I had to kind of drool from a distance.

Fast forward four years (can you believe I’ve already lived in Oregon for four years?!), and she wrote to me.

I sat on my answer for days, because I was completely torn.

On the one hand, Scandia Morgans was not only closer to me, it offered more turnout and was… well, let’s face it.  It’s a stunning barn chock full of stunning Morgans. Boarding at a place like that would be like The Bean getting a call from a parking garage in Portland, offering him a chance to park his car in an Aston-Martin-Only Parking garage.

And yes, the only reason I put that metaphor in there is because I’m still trying to explain to The Bean how excited I am over what just happened.   After close to 9 years together he gets a glazed look every time I start talking horse, but he still reads my blog, so I’ve got to work with what I’ve got.

Aston Martins, Bean.  Scandia Morgan Horse Farm is the horse equivalent of a barn full of Aston Martins.

Anyways, like I said, I sat on my answer for days. On the hand, all of the above…

But on the other hand, I was about to give birth to twins, and should I really rock the boat? I loved my current barn, and Caspian was receiving great care, and we’d already been there for almost two years. What if something happened and the new situation wasn’t a good fit?  What if Caspian decided to tear around his new pasture in the middle of winter and slip and slide through a fence, causing tons of vet bills at a time when we could least afford them?

What if, what if, what if?

I finally decided to regretfully decline the offer, mostly out of fear of the unknown.

Fast forward a couple of month.

I had Caspian in the cross ties, grooming him after one of my too-infrequent trips to the barn when the barn owner came up to break the news.  There was no rush, but she wanted to let me know that they were going to slowly be shutting down the barn to boarders.  Too much work for too little income… they were making decent money by offering up the indoor arena to clinics instead…. there was no rush but maybe I could start looking around for a new barn, etc, etc….

I raced home, logged onto Facebook, and shot out a message as fast as my fingers could type.  Was the offer still open?  Was there still space available? I knew she wasn’t going to be a boarding barn, but had been hoping to only have one or two friends keep their horses with her, so I was really worried I’d missed my opportunity and she’d already found someone else.

As luck would have it (in case you haven’t already figured it out) guess who just became the newest horse at Scandia Morgan Horse farm this morning? 🙂 🙂 🙂

Guys, are you hearing this?  I GET TO BOARD WITH AND HANG OUT AND SCRATCH AND LOVE ON THE HORSES I’VE BEEN DROOLING OVER FOR FOUR YEARS.

 

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I’m usually pretty good at picking horses out from each other….. but with these guys I keep guessing wrong.  They are almost all bay, and they all have the same pretty head and clean lines.

It was a little bittersweet saying goodbye to the old barn, since I’d had such a great time there, loved the care he received, and had spent more than two years boarding there…. but this new situation is too, too perfect for words.

The best part about the whole situation is that it’s not really a boarding barn.  The only horses there who aren’t Scandia Morgans are Caspian, and one other lady’s Morgans.  I know it sounds kind of antisocial to be so excited about the lack of sociability at this barn…..

But while I don’t mind chatting with other boarders, when I get the rare chance to spend some time with my horse, that’s usually what I like doing – spending time with my horse. I don’t mind talking with people I know, but at a busy barn you’re not only obligated to remember names (something I’m terrible at), you’re also obligated to make a lot of small talk with semi-strangers (something I’m equally terrible at.)  If I’m paying a babysitter or using up spouse points by getting some kid-free time, I’d rather spend my time riding or just enjoying the peace that horses bring, rather than sitting on a hay bale and talking, you know?

Wait… where was I, before I got all “get off my lawn” about being sociable at the barn?

Ah, yes.  So, today I moved Caspian to his new barn.  Although he had a minute or two of hollering out his welcome to the other horses during the long driveway up, by the time I unloaded him he was acting like he’d been living there for years.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of nervous snorting and blowing – there was plenty of that going on…. but it was being done by the other horses as I led him down the aisles.

Horses may not see the same color as humans, but they certainly notice the lack of it.  Most of the young stock had never seen a grey horse before, and they were really unnerved by the giant, white, lumbering “ghost”.

His stall inside is a private box stall – but after he settles in, if he gets along with the other horses, he can actually spend a lot of his time out in the pasture (as long as the weather holds, but still, hooray!).

And, oh, what a pasture it is.

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I think this is technically the mare/foal field, but they all pretty much look the same brand of amazing.

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View from the roundpen- there’s another turnout pasture down below.

In fact, the whole setup is kind of like the barns I used to daydream about when I was a little girl – all red siding and tidy aisleways, neatly hanging turnout blankets, and brass nameplates.

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All the horses in the box stalls (they do rotational turnout) have happy expressions and move right up to come say hello/beg for scratches.  I find that so telling – it’s unnerving to walk into a barn full of horses with sour expressions.

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Every horse on her place has the same expression as this “Contestant #1 colt”… and it’s a good thing it’s a cute view,  because that’s the view you get of all the horses – good luck trying to peel them off of you. Their expressive, happy, sociability is a lot of fun after working Caspian’s stoic dignity for the past few years.  I feel like I’m surrounded by paparazzi, only they’re begging for attention instead of photos.

I may have even taken Caspian for a little walk around the barn simply so I could hear the delicious clop-clop of his hooves on the concrete driveway leading up.  There’s just something about that sound, you know?

The apple trees on the property are producing – any of the apples that fall to the ground are fair game to feed to the horses.

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Caspian thought he was in seventh heaven when I led him over to graze on grass AND apples.

In addition to an indoor arena, there’s a sizeable outdoor round pen right outside of his barn.  The footing was great – there were a few stray clumps of grass that had grown up in it since nobody had used it recently, which is just mind-boggling to me after having grown up using barns where there would be a line three horses deep to use a teensy, tiny turnout.  After letting Caspian mosey around his box stall for a little to see if he seemed upset (he didn’t), I took him to the round pen and asked him for a few laps.

I expected him to blow around, high-headed and snorty with the newness…. but he seemed really at ease.

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His barn (there’s more than one barn) to the left, giant indoor covered arena to the right.

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I couldn’t believe how calm Caspian was – here he was in a completely new barn, and he was acting like he’d been living there for years.

That’s not to say he didn’t cause a bit of a ruckus.  In addition to the “HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT THING?!” snorts from some of the younger horses, one of the younger fillies who was in the middle of a training session was so unimpressed with him that they had to take a break mid-lesson to come introduce her and prove that the Terrifying Grey Thing was actually a horse, so she could focus on her work.

As the two of them sniffed noses I remarked to the owner how at ease he was, and she brought up that she thinks horses can tell when they’ve landed in a nice spot…. and I agree.  It’s like Caspian took one look around and said, “Oh, yeah, this is just great.  This is really great,” and settled right in.

He’s come a long ways from the tooth-grinding, quietly nervous horse he was when I arrived.  Don’t get me wrong – my parents treated him amazing and his nervousness in new places didn’t come from them –  but at new barns he always acted a bit concerned that the rug was going to be pulled out from underneath him at any moment, that he might end up with a not-so-nice home.  The first time I moved him he ground his teeth for weeks, and chewed on the wood in his stall.  When we moved to the last stall he only ground his teeth a couple of times, and nibbled politely.

This is the fourth barn he’s been to since he’s been with me, and I think he’s beginning to let himself believe that just because he changes barns doesn’t mean he’s going to get a new owner with a completely new set of rules.

IMG_3465Update:  He settled in so nicely he’s already been turned out for the night, and I received what may be my new favoritest pictures of him, because she actually managed to capture the size of him.

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Updates, Horses, and Photo Dump

I gave birth three and a half months ago.

It is SO strange to type that out.  I feel like between exhaustion and the simple act of caring for twins  I completely lost a chunk of time.  One moment it was winter, and then I went to the hospital on February 29th, labored for a little bit, pushed for a couple of minutes and out popped twins.

 

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I loaded them up in the car two days later, marvelling during the ride home at the hints of flowers popping out on trees that marked the arrival of spring.  We drove home, unlatched the car seats and walked the new babies inside…

 

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And now it’s summer.

I feel like a DVD with a scratch. I never felt the time pass, even though I was awake for most of it, what with nursing ’round the clock.  Where did the spring of 2016 go?  I have no idea, but it was 100 degrees this past weekend, so I’m pretty sure summer is here.

There hasn’t been time for much other than living in the moment, especially not much time for writing.  The words are still there, rattling around in my sleep-deprived brain, but I just don’t have the spare hands for the typing.  I’ve been working on a post here and there, as well as a “birth story” post for the past… well, three months. I  intended on having the story  of their arrival typed out within the week so I could remember all the tiny details.

At this point, I’ll be happy to post it by the time the twins hit kindergarten.

And you know what?

That’s okay.

It’s more than okay.  These are my last babies, and while it doesn’t make for good blog posts or even a great social life, I’m simply allowing myself to enjoy them as much as possible, because having been through this twice before, I know exactly how fast the first year flies by.

 

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I am content and happy with my life, my four kids, my family.

 

In fact, I’m so content and happy it actually makes me feel a little uncomfortable.    There’s a small part of me that wishes I was unhappy with simply hanging out, that wonders if I’m becoming… well, placid.  Isn’t that why they used to recommend breeding fractious fillies?  To calm them down?  Shouldn’t I be uncomfortable and itchy, struggling against the bonds of a minivan (I had to get a Kia Sedona to fit everyone…. and I actually love it.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen) and angry at the fit of my mom jeans?

….and yet I’m not. Oh, sure, if I had the chance to go on a secret mission where I travelled to Europe and saved the world against Nazi Zombies I would totally go….

 

I’d look just like this, only with slightly fewer tattoos

 

….But if I did go I’d have to bring along my breast pump and pump every two hours to avoid clogged ducts.  I’d also have to arrange daycare for four (FOUR!?!) kids, which would be so expensive I’d have to save up for it… and even if I could arrange it, who would cover my shifts at the library?

Daydreaming about big adventures has gotten so complicated as of late, which is why I’m sticking to daydreaming about horses.

Speaking of daydreaming about horses….

Now that I’ve sort of caught everyone up on what I’ve been up to since January, you can help me with a very important question:

Which imaginary horse should I imaginarily buy?  I mean, we’re just going to ignore the fact that I barely have time to see Caspian as it is.  I definitely don’t have the money or time for a second horse right now.  We’re also going to ignore the fact that this imaginary horse is being bought in addition to this guy, who I’ve already imaginarily bought from Scandia Morgan Farm:

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This is Scandia Anthem, and I’ve been drooling over him since he was born. He’s not even for sale, yet I’ve been imaginarily buying him for years now.

This new imaginarily bought horse is one that I am going to put in my imaginary pasture on the imaginary land I don’t own.  He/She is going to grow up and (aside from learning basic manners and maybe ponying a couple of trails)  will just grow up and be a horse until around four years old… at which point the twins will be old enough for me to start really working him/her.

Now that you know the rules, which one should I nab?

Currently we have three contenders:

Contender #1:

 

 

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This little red colt was only born this week, so he’s less and impressive and more  adorable with that ribby, just-born look.  Still, everything seems to be put in the perfect place as far as his conformation, and he comes from a long line of GORGEOUS Morgans.

 

Here is mom:

 

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And here is dad:

 

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Scandias Trademark

And here is Grandpa:

 

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Marvelous Intrigue

 

I mean…. ’nuff said, am I right?

Contender #2:

 

 

Curtain

Look at her!  She’s 14.2 at two years old, so she’ll be plenty stout enough to carry me and not make me feel too big.  Plus, she’s stunning.

 

Here is mom:

 

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Scandias Lady in Red

And here is dad:

 

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Marvelous Intrigue

As you can tell, I’ve got a thing for Marvelous Intrigue – I think he’s put together gooorgeously and all his colts and fillies grow up with that same gorgeous look.

Anyways, since the filly’s older I won’t have to wait as long to start her.  I’m not a big fan of the yearling stage, so I’d get to bypass that stage as well.

 

Contestant #3:

 

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BLUE EYES.  I don’t care if you don’t like blue eyes… I’ve got a thing for them.  It’s silly, I know.  But LOOOK.  IT’S A BLUE EYED BUCKSKIN MORGAN COLT.

Here is mom:

 

 

And here is dad:

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UDM White Water… photo credit to the very talented Heather Moreton: https://www.flickr.com/people/desertnightcreations/

I guess, in the interest of being a nice person I should mention these horses are actually for sale, and that I suppose you could for-real buy them.  You can find them here:

Scandia Morgan Horse Farm

and here:

Beaches Triple T Ranch

I suppose I would even forgive you if you did buy them out from underneath me, but only if you promised to update me with regular photos.

The Mugwump/Big K Clinic: Purpose Makes Sense to Horses

He was going to rear.

OMG, he was going to rear.

I hate rearing horses.  I hate them.  It scares me worse than anything.  I hate them.  I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. And now I own one.

Caspian danced at the edge of the mud, head high and unbalanced on an unnaturally tense neck, weight rocked back on his heels, jaw locked against the bit.    We were “trapped”.  We’d come down a hill, there were small banks on either side, and the only way across was through a marshy mud puddle that might have been a creek a few weeks back.

It was supposed to be a Montana cattle roundup, but at this point it had turned into a Montana Mud Mexican Standoff.  Caspian flat out told me there was zero chance of him setting foot into that horse-eating muck… and to make matters worse, he was beginning to freak out about everyone riding away from us.  I saw the last horse disappear around the corner, and the cold nerves in my stomach went from a slithering worm of fear to a thrashing mass of hissing rattle snakes.

I tried to think calm thoughts.  I was in Montana.  I was on my horse.  It was a beautiful day.  I was at the clinic, and I was on a cattle ranch in Montana, and I was on my horse, and all I had to do was not force him, not let my body stiffen up with my nerves, and just keep him calmly pointed towards where the other horses disappeared, and…

Caspian’s sideways dancing jig slowed as he shook his head and lifted his front hooves off the ground – controlled and frustrated, not very high, but still a rear.

I tried to think happy thoughts, but my brain wasn’t having any part of it.

Do you remember?  Do you remember what it looked like when you went down to the Santa Anita racetrack to watch the Thoroughbreds exercise, and that one jockey you’d spent all morning chatting with rode that one colt- what was his name?  ImAPlayboy?  And even though the jockey did nothing and was perfectly balanced, the horse flipped over on top of him with no warning, and broke his back and pelvis right in front of you?  

I was in Montana.  I was on a horse.  I was supposed to be having fun, dangit. It was a stupid, 10 foot mud crossing.  I did not drive 1,000 miles just to get nervous about a stupid, 10 foot mud crossing, on a mellow 8 year old horse.  Pull yourself together, Becky.  Just relax – you’re making it worse.  It was easy.  Simple.  How hard could it be? Tighten the knees, loose calves, sit down in your seat, loose reins – keep him pointed towards it but don’t transmit any tension… Think happy thoughts…. Montana… sky…. happy thoughts….

Caspian jigged again and then leaned back, front hooves coming even further off the ground.

 At what point does it become a rear?  Sh*t.  You own a rearing horse.  SH*T.   You can’t just get off and not ride him again. You have to fix this.   Do you remember Dom?  Remember how that one horse flipped over on her and broke her leg?  She’s ten times stickier of a rider than you’ll ever be. If a jockey and Dom can get hurt with a rearing horse, what chance do you have?  You’re going to die.  Or be paralyzed.  He’s going to lift up, and you’re going to panic, and you’re going to pull the reins sideways, and his hind legs are going to slip out from under him and he’s going to crash back on top of you.  And you’re too slow, and too fat, and too unbalanced to ever get out of the saddle in time.

Think happy thoughts.  Calm.  Don’t let him spin around – just keep him forward – CRAP, he’s trying to rear again.  Why didn’t I stick with the main group on the way out to get the cows?  I would have had to cross this then, and we would have had company, and he would have followed the other horses, and it would have been easy. 

But noooooo.  I had to try to tag along with Tim and Janet, and now I’ve discovered my horse doesn’t like water or mud at the same time everyone’s gone and left us, and I can’t exactly call out for someone to come back, because that’s just stupid.  First I can’t lope, and now I can’t cross a patch of mud, and can I really be this inept?  I can’t act like a stupid, California city girl and yell for someone to come back just because it’s a mud puddle, and I can’t get down because then Caspian will think all he has to do is jig for me to get off, and SH*T THERE HE GOES AGAIN – I think that’s totally a rear, even if it does feel balanced, SH*T I OWN A REARING HORSE. WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO…

“Hey there.”  Tim appeared suddenly from around the bend, relaxed and loose in the saddle as he headed straight back to us.

I was so relieved I could have cried.  I wasn’t the only one.  At the sight of the other horse returning, Caspian’s weight redistributed itself more firmly on all four hooves, and his head lowered a tiny degree.  He still jigged, but not nearly with the same level of frenzy, and I could feel the relief pouring off of him, too.

“Everyone’s just heading off, and it can be scary,” Tim said, blue eyes staring into mine, willing me to be calm.

Wait, is he talking about it being scary for the horse, or for me? Can he tell how scared I am? I must look so stupid, obviously terrified on top of a totally easy-going gelding, while he’s guiding this little 2 or 3 year old colt through the hills and mud with only his knees.  

I don’t care.  I was scared.  Am scared.  Sh*t, what am I going to do about owning a rearing horse?  I don’t care if he feels balanced, it’s still a rear.  I’m so glad Tim noticed I was missing and came back.  Seriously, I could kiss this man.  I would bear his children.   Wait, he’s married.  Wait, so am I.  Well, I didn’t mean it that way anyways.  Besides, I hate being pregnant, but that’s the point.  Maybe I’d just do the surrogacy thing.  Him coming back means that much to me.  You know, if he needed a surrogate, like if he and his wife have some kind of fertility issues.  Do they?  Wait, don’t they have kids?  I can’t remember.  And what the heck, that’s none of my business. I’m just so, so relieved Caspian’s not rearing, and that someone came back for me.  I’ve never loved anyone more than I love this man, right here, right now, for not stranding me here with my new rearing horse.  I would do his laundry for a year, that’s how much I love him.  Also, that sounds better.  I should tell him that, instead of the “carrying his baby” thing.  That just sounds weird. It sounds kind of sexual ,and I don’t mean it that way at all.  I like his wife.  She seems awesome, and she’s totally sexy, and she cooks way better than I ever could.  No wonder he married her.  Holy crap, I’m not even talking out loud and I’m rambling.  I should just shut my mouth and wave at him.  Wait, I need both hands on the reins. Nod. I’ll just nod at him instead.

I nodded at Tim.

Tim eased the little mare next to mine, and both Caspian and I relaxed further.

“It’s the scariest thing in the world to be left behind,” he said.

I ducked my gaze away and tried to force my stiff body to mimic his relaxed slouch.  This time I was pretty sure he was directing the sentence at both Caspian and me, but I didn’t care.  I had felt a little bit like a panicking horse when I saw the rest of the riders trotting easily away, as I was stuck behind with my problem child – who probably wasn’t even that bad of a problem.  Man, I hated being out of shape and awkward in the saddle again.  Man, I was so glad he came back.  Man, I really, really, really would do that man’s laundry for an entire year.

“Got any tips on how to get him across?”  I tried to sound nonchalant, offhand, but I’m pretty sure I sounded as desperate as I felt.  Please help me figure out a way to get him across without him wanting to rear.

And that’s when it got cool.

Do you guys remember reading that one blog post from Mugwump, about how she gets horses to go over something they don’t want to?  I’m still trying to find it (if you can find it before me, can you shoot me the link?)  She talked about how you work them in front of the object, and only let them rest when they’re facing the object, so it becomes a happy place, instead of a scary place?

I remember reading it and thinking, “Boy, I bet that works!” and mentally filing it away under “Things I will try once I have a horse“.  Of course, as soon as I needed it I totally forgot about it.   Apparently my brain’s filing cabinet is actually just a big paper shredder.  Thanks, brain.

Anyways, long story short, I did it.  I totally lived out a blog post, in real life, learning a training tip that I’d read about on a blog I liked, long before I ever knew Mugwump was a woman named Janet, and the whole time I did it, I did it under the watchful eye of the Big K, beneath the blue Montana sky.

If that was the only thing I’d done the entire weekend, that alone would have been worth the price of admission.  (Note:  I had four or five other huge AHA! moments that weekend, some with Mugwump, some with the Big K, some just by watching other people on their horses, so I would definitely say I more than got my money’s worth.)

So, for non-horsey people, I’m going to “dumb” this down a bit and use less technical terms.

Here was my old way of dealing with a horse that didn’t want to cross something:

  1. Horse balks, throwing on the brakes and screeching to a halt. It could be anything – a scary dog behind a fence, a plastic bag flapping in the wind, a bit of menacing shrubbery.  For the sake of argument, let’s pretend the horse is balking at a scary, scary stream crossing.
  2. I make sure I have no pressure on the reins, and use my legs to urge the horse forward.
  3. The horse continues to balk, and at this point usually tries to turn around and leave the scary situation.
  4. I don’t let the horse turn around.  I use my legs to block the horse from turning away from scary object, and use the reins to keep the horse’s head pointed towards the scary object.  I continue to urge the horse forward.  It’s still early in the argument, so I’m probably just squeezing and using my heels a bit.
  5. The horse takes a slight step forward.  I stop squeezing with my legs and say “Gooood” in a calm voice while patting the neck.
  6. Horse thinks about it a second, then realizes: NOPE.  Not worth it.  Being “Gooood” is not worth dying a terrible, painful, bloody death by “scary, scary stream” and tries to spin around and flee.
  7. I do not let the horse spin around – or if they start the spin and I’m too late to catch it, I just spin them back until they’re facing it.  Begin upping the “pressure” – louder clucks, firming heels, etc – keeping pressure off the reins unless it’s to keep the horse facing forward.  Any forward movement is rewarded by a release of pressure, and any attempt to leave means the pressure increases.
  8. The horse, feeling trapped and claustrophobic by the scary, scary stream in front of it, and the mean, mean pressure from my increasingly forceful cues to go forward begins to dance and jig from side to side. Or, in Caspian’s case, they go up (rear).  Jubilee used to escape backwards – he’d face the scary, scary object and just bolt backwards at 100 million miles an hour, not caring what was behind him.  That was always fun.  Horses can be such a blast to ride, sometimes.
  9. Eventually I win – I’m more stubborn, the horse gives in to both my cues and the relief that comes from the “release” and we cross.
It was not exactly a bad system.  I was usually sympathetic to their fear and for the most part my cues were gentle and firm.  The thing is, even if I stayed calm and patient throughout the entire thing, there really wasn’t any way for the horse to avoid feeling either fear/anxiety or mounting frustration throughout the whole process, until they decided to give in, trust, and move forward.

Here is why I love my new and improved Montana system so well:  When my horse is facing a fearful situation… why create more fear/anxiety/frustration?  That’s just going to get in the way of learning.

Here is what Tim walked me through with Caspian:

Since Caspian was already so light on his front end… why not work on rollbacks?
(A rollback: Where a horse swaps directions by pivoting on its hind legs – this is the only photo I could find on the internet with a decent photo sequence – ignore the gaping mouth on the horse.)
So, we did.  We used the mud pit like a wall to block his forward movement, and I worked him on his rollbacks, with zero intentions of crossing the swampy mud.  It worked like a charm, too – I had no idea my horse could double up and turn so neatly.

The only caveat was that I was not allowed to him take a breather in any direction except facing the mud, and  if Caspian showed any hesitation on his own while facing the mud, I was to immediately let him take a break.

We must have done 10-15 rollbacks in a row without a single stop.  That may not be a lot for a well-muscled horse, but it was certainly taxing on Caspian.  They were good rollbacks, too – Big K was giving me pointers on how to get him to follow through, and how to cue him better.  It literally felt like an arena lesson, only it was taking place on a churned-up, narrow cow trail.

And the thing was, with something else to concentrate on, and with the feeling of success on each rollback, both Caspian and I relaxed and unclenched our buttholes (Dude – it’s crass, but you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

“Let him rest now,” Tim said, one or two turns before Caspian was going to become sluggish.

I pointed Caspian at the mud hole, and let him breathe.  He took a few breaths, and then noticed where he was standing, and began to tense up.

“Work him some more,” came Tim’s voice from behind me, a moment before I was going to cue him on my own…. but I guess that’s why one of us is paying to attend clinics, and the other one giving them. On a side note – another interesting thing I learned at the clinic came from listening to Tim and Janet and realizing just how “off” my timing was for corrections and release was.

I worked him again, and almost immediately I could feel Caspian roll his eyes.  Rollbacks? he seemed to say.  Aren’t you tired of those yet? Because I sure am.

We did a few more of them before Tim called for me to stop him.  This time, Caspian stood easily, a bit out of breath, his front hooves actually sinking a bit in the mud without him even noticing.

“See if he’ll go forward – if he starts to turn away, go back to more rollbacks.”

I asked Caspian to move forward with my legs, and I felt him consider it for a moment, right up until he realized he was actually touching the mud with his front hooves.  Omg, it’s gonna eat me!

I used his horror and turned him into a neat little rollback, and went back to work.  I could feel him rolling his eyes as he forgot about the yawning mudpit of doom and became bored and slightly irritated with the constant maneuvering.  Dude.  The rollbacks are getting old.  Why are you so obsessed with this maneuver?

This time, three sets of rollbacks in, he asked to stop.  I felt it beneath me – a slight hesitation as he faced the stream, a questioning slowing of his movement, so I turned him towards the mud and let him breathe.

“Good,” Tim said in a quiet voice, and I found myself feeling absurdly pleased at the small bit of praise.  Caspian lowered his head, sniffing and snorting at the mud, trembling slightly underneath me.  I felt him rock backwards slightly, preparing to flee, and I settled my seat, reaching to gather the reins so I could ask him to do more rollbacks.

Woman, you have GOT to be kidding me.  No.  NO.  No more rollbacks – I am so, SO sick of that stupid thing you’re so obsessed with.  You will not make me do another one of those stupid maneuvers.
Caspian’s a quiet horse, but when he’s disdainful, you can feel it surging up from underneath you in a deafening roar.  Sensing my intentions, he stepped forward into the mud before I could ask him to work some more.  He quivered beneath me the entire way, snorting and blowing and trembling with nerves, but once he took that first step he crossed  it without a single complaint.

When we reached the other side, I think my smile could have lit up an entire room.  I was Becky Bean, Teacher of Rollbacks, and Understander of Horse Body Language.  I was Horse Trainer and Mud Crosser Extraordinaire.   
All joking aside… it’s hard to explain how eye-opening the whole scenario was for me.  I don’t have to fight with my horse.  I really don’t.

I know that may sound overly elementary to some of you, but when I was learning to ride horses, somehow I ended up with the mindset that I had to “win”.  If a horse balks, be more stubborn, and force them over, force them past.  Don’t give in.  Don’t lose.  It’s for their own good.

And the thing is… it doesn’t have to be like that at all. You always hear “Make the wrong choice hard, and the right choice easy,” but to have it work so easily, with so little fight…. for the first time ever, it just really sunk in.

And so far, I’m having the most amazing experiences because of the way that lesson sank in, and I really credit the clinic.    I’m not saying I achieved this guru-like ability to speak with horses – Caspian’s a very easy horse at heart, and he makes things easy, and I’m so very lucky, because it’s more like he’s training me while I train him.  I’ve ridden horses where I probably would have had to work on rollbacks for 20 minutes, and we both would have been sweaty and exhausted before they even gave it a single try… and then I would have to repeat the lesson five or six times in a row for it to really sink in.  For me to only have to do three tries at the mud, and for him to just understand it with just one crossing…. the credit goes to my horse and his calm, intelligent brain.

That said, I think a lot of the open communication I’m starting to feel with him comes from the Jedi mind tricks I learned at the clinic.  I’ve owned Caspian for almost a year now, and I’ve never once fought with him.  That is just so weird to me.  And I don’t mean “fight” in the physical sense.  I mean it in the “I will win, and you will NOT win” kind of a way that usually accompanied my approach to butting heads with horses in the past whenever I encountered a problem.

I don’t have to fight Caspian… and in the 11 months I’ve owned him, I haven’t had a single fight with him.  Not once.   Do you have any idea how crazy that is to me?

I think the mud crossing would have been enough to chew on on its own, but there was this other point in the clinic, where the big arena was muddy so we had gone into the indoor to work the mechanical cow.

We’d been inside for almost two hours before I realized that Caspian was nervous about the entrance to the arena – something about the mix of bright and shadows was making him uncomfortable, and even though he was doing a great job “cutting” the plastic cow on a string, when we would approach that side of the arena his canter would transform from practical into a beautiful, lofty, very high thing.  I’m sure it was gorgeous to look at, it felt really cool to ride, and I’m sure it would have made a dressage instructor drool…. but it made me uneasy.

Instead of turning to follow the cow, I whoa’d Caspian, and turned to face Tim and Mugwump.

“I have a question.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, I know he isn’t really spooking right now, but it kind of ties into that semi-rearing thing he did with me at the mud.  He doesn’t like this side of the arena.  And he still canters toward it, but I can feel him getting really light in the front end because he doesn’t want to be over here, and it just makes me really uncomfortable.  I feel like it’s a baby step in the rearing direction, and I’d like to just make him quit before I even start.  It’s not like I’ve got any real pressure on the reins blocking him.  I’m not sure what the best way to handle it is.”

“Well, do you need to be over on that side of the arena?”

Huh?  I blinked at Tim a few times before answering.  “Uh… I guess not?”

“Well, then, there you go.  Don’t go over there.”  Tim nodded once, as if everything had been answered.

“Uhh…. But….”  But Tim, that’s kind of the most confusing, obviously wrong answer I’ve ever heard in my entire life… “But Tim, doesn’t that, you know, let him ‘win’?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve just…. Well, you know how you’re always asking us ‘how would we do it’?  Well, if I were home, and this was happening, I would take Caspian over to that corner, and just force him to do his work in it until he got over whatever was bothering him.  Just… just kind of make him stay there until he wasn’t nervous anymore.”

“Well, if you don’t really need to go over there, then I say don’t make him.”

“But…. but why?  I just don’t understand how that’s the right answer.  It seems like I would be letting him win – that he would learn that trying to avoid an area results in me avoiding it.”

“If it were important for you to work over there, then yeah, I would say you need to make him go over there.  But you said it yourself – you don’t need to be in that part of the arena.  The thing is, if you come in here, day after day, and just work on the things you need to work on, and ignore whatever’s making him nervous about that area… well, eventually you’ll come in one day, and realize it’s not a problem anymore.  He’ll have worked through it on his own, and it won’t be an issue.  There’s no sense fighting him over something that’s not important – he’ll pick it up on his own along the way.  You’d be surprised.”

Guys, I really hope that makes as much sense to you as it does to me – and if it doesn’t, and if you want to “get it” better, ask me a question in the comments and I’ll try to explain again…. because this has been the most absolutely life-changing thing about the way I’m interacting with horses.

I mean, in the spirit of complete honesty, at the time I heard it, I disagreed with what Tim was saying.  Sure, that method would work, if I was ever going to come back to this barn.  And sure, that might work if we were all on horseback 8 hours a day with a velcro seat, and we didn’t get nervous when horses started to act up…. but it seemed like a useless approach for someone like me.

Still – I paid good money for the clinic, so I wasn’t about to just ignore the advice I’d paid to receive.  I did what he asked – stopped concentrating on that half of the arena, stopped mentally willing Caspian to move into it, and stopped caring when his canter got all airy and lofty and dude-if-my-hind-legs-were-still-this-would-be-a-Lipizzaner-rear.

And you know what?  Somewhere in the  middle of that rainy morning…. Caspian quit caring about the doorway.

It was the weirdest darn thing I’d ever had happen – and again, I really, REALLY credit my horse and his big, calm brain for allowing me to make all of these mental breakthroughs.  A flightier, stupider horse wouldn’t have taken five giant mental steps for every single tiny shuffle that I made that weekend…. but Caspian did, and because of that, I’ve been able to have epiphany after epiphany with him.

I’ve had a couple of months to chew on what I think Tim was trying to say, and I’ve bounced the idea off of Mugwump and she agrees with my interpretation.

Ignoring the door and Caspian’s lack of forward movement wasn’t “letting him win” – it was just… just not arguing with him over stupid, small stuff.  Did I need to go over to the doorway to accomplish my goals?  No?  Then it didn’t matter – why argue with him unless it really mattered?  Sure I could have made him do it in the end, but I should only “force” him if it really matters, and not fight over useless stuff, just to prove I can “win”.

And the beautiful thing is, CASPIAN UNDERSTANDS THIS PREMISE.  I don’t know when I became aware of it, but somewhere along the way, as we built our relationship – and as I explored this “don’t butt heads” way of approaching a horse… Caspian told me he understood the rules.

It was kind of funny, in a way, because I didn’t even realize I was giving him rules until he told me  he understood them.

A couple of weeks ago we were out on the trails at our new barn.  There’s never anybody there to ride with me, so both Caspian and I are learning how to ride out on the trails, away from any signs of houses or fences or anything, with only each other for company.

Both of us were pretty unnerved by this idea at first, not that we’re 100% comfortable yet, or anything.   I actually tried approaching it in a different way that I got from a book, and it seems to have worked… but that will have to be another post, because this one’s already stupidly long.

Anyways, our new trails are several hundred acres of rolling cattle pasture – and once you “cross the creek and go through the gate”, you are on public land – or at least land that belongs to some giant logging company (or something) who doesn’t mind if we ride on it.

I swear this creek is mythical, because I still haven’t found it yet.  On the day in question I had about three hours before work so I decided to find the creek to see if Caspian remembered his rollbacks lesson.  Despite surviving an entire Oregon winter, he’s still a little iffy about certain types of mud, and I haven’t had any chance at all to work on water crossings yet.

We threaded our way through the hills, him a little uncertain but walking calmly on a loose lead.  We made our way up a hill, then up a road, before we arrived at a flat muddy road-type area about a football field or more in length that was churned up by countless, fresh cow hoof prints.

Well… the road was wide, and obviously well-traveled by cows… and it sloped downwards…. there was probably a creek at the bottom? (Spoiler:  it totally wasn’t.)

Still – I eyed the mud dubiously.  I could feel Caspian underneath me doing the same.  I had no idea how deep it was, but it looked bad, so I decided to get off and lead him through it (it’s part of my “training a solo trail horse” thing I’m doing – lots of leading in uncertain situations until we’re both comfortable alone.)

I got off and began to slip, and slide through a couple hundred yards of the slimiest, suckiest clay ever. At one point I sank down so deep that the pooled water on the top of the mud began pouring down into my boot.  Man, that’s a nasty feeling.  I even lost my boot twice in the sticky, slimy mess and had to take a step backwards for it.

I thought about turning back, but by that time I was more than halfway through, and I figured there had to be another way around this mud pit so I never had to go through it again.

Caspian followed me respectfully as I edged my way through there – the two of us sliding like Bambi as we made our way through, the lead rope loose and his nose about a foot or two behind my shoulder.  He’s good as gold when I’m on the ground leading him, and has been for some time.  We got to the bottom and I began to look around for another way out.

An hour later I’d bumped into every single fence the farmer must have had, some of it serving no other visible purpose than to keep me from getting back to the barn.  I was annoyed, and frustrated, and worried about getting to work on time….

And lost.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I could point which way the barn was, but I had no idea how to actually get back there.  I’d criss-crossed so many times I couldn’t remember the way I came in.  Every hill I climbed seemed to dead end in barbed wire.  I was hot, and sweaty, and really out of breath, because somewhere along the way I’d gotten so involved in searching that I’d literally forgotten to mount back up on my horse.  Caspian follows on a completely loose lead, so several times I actually forgot I was even leading him and would spin around and almost bump into him as I marched back down the hill, frustrated and muttering.

Eventually, I gave up.  I knew where home was.  I knew where we were.  I just didn’t know how to actually get back there.

“Alright,” I said, as I led Caspian over to a stump and heaved myself back up into the saddle.  “Your turn.”

It took only a few steps before he realized I was letting him decide the path, and he turned around and made a beeline straight for the barn.

“It’s not going to work,” I said in a sulky tone.  “There’s a stupid fence up there.”

Either Caspian didn’t speak English or he decided to ignore me, because he continued marching on, with pricked ears and a happy expression.  Hooray!  We’re finally going home, where there are other horses and no mud or wolves lurking in the shadows.

He reached the top of the hill and stopped short, staring intently at the fence in front of him for a few moments as he flicked his ears.

“See?  I tooooold you there was a fence.”

Proving once again that he’s more mature than I am, Caspian ignored me and turned around to head back down the hill in another direction.

A few turns later I recognized where he was taking us- we were heading straight back to the ugly mud pit.  I hadn’t wanted to cross it again… but I’d told Caspian he could choose the route home, and he probably remembered what lay there, so I decided to let him. Besides, I needed to be in my car in 40 minutes if I was going to make it to work on time, and we were rapidly running out of time.

He walked calmly to the edge of the stretch and stood for a moment, catching his breath from the long trek up the hill.

I sat quietly on top of him, to see what he would do.  After a few moments he lowered his head and blew on the mud, nostrils flaring as he snorted quietly.  And then he just stepped into it.

I mean, to understand what this really means, you have to know that I never once worked on Caspian’s phobia of mud.  There were a couple of times I had to lead him over a small patch at his old barn, and each time I did it was a barely-controlled, frantic skitter.  But I never worked with him.  Old-style Becky would dragged him over to every single patch of mud she ever found and forced him to cross it, time and time and time again until he got over it.  And in the end I would have had exactly what I trained for:  A horse that didn’t like mud, and tensed up when he saw it, but crossed it because he knew he had to.

But New-Style Becky… well, I just worked on other stuff.  And if mud happened to be in the way when we had to go somewhere, then so be it.  The only time I’d ever deliberately walked him over mud had been about an hour before, when he’d followed me willingly and without complaint over it the first time.

And now I had a horse that could feel me wanting him to go forward, and knew it was important to me…. so he did – because he trusted me, trusted that I wouldn’t ask him to do it unless it mattered.

I sat as still as I could on top of Caspian, doing my best to keep out of his way as he skated and slid and dragged his legs out of mud that made a deep, sucking SCHLOOOOOP noise with each step.  At one point he stopped, catching his breath and eyeing the chaos in front of us, trying to figure out which way to go.

Since I had a better vantage point I decided to chime in.   You should maybe go that way—over to the left, right around that big mud puddle…. oh, never mind.  Because even as I began to softly touch my request with my calf I thought – he’s doing great.  Why are you micromanaging, Becky?  Let him figure it out.

Except….as soon as I said something, he listened, even though I was just mumbling with my legs.  Oh, left?  Through the big mud puddle?  That way?  But there’s a huge puddle.  Well, I think that’s a stupid way to go, but if you think it’s the best way, then I believe you.

And without a single hesitation Caspian continued forward, splashing calmly through a deep puddle that sprayed up dirty water over my boots and his belly, willing to trust and completely in tune because to him, I made sense.

Love your horse. Just don’t LOVE your horse.

The barn at night is my favorite place in the world.  The horses are quiet, the wind is soft, and the world seems to slow to a peaceful crawl.

I’ve taken on a part time job doing in-home care for an elderly gentleman. It’s rewarding work and I love it…. but it doesn’t leave me a lot of extra time between that, taking care of the boys, taking care of the pets, and trying to cram in writing time so maybe one day I can actually publish a book.

One of the best parts about Pacific Northwest summers are how long the days are.  As I finished my evening shift, I looked outside and decided to take an impromptu trip to the barn. Why not?  Even though it was nine at night the sun had barely set and there was probably almost an hour left of that endless summer twilight that I appreciate but will probably never get used to.

Caspian moved barns a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been great.  The new barn has acres upon hundreds of acres of trails that start about 10 feet outside of the arena, and the horses get regular turnout on individual paddocks of green grass.

Needless to say, we’re both happy.

Since the new barn is full-care I no longer have to drive out to the barn daily, and I have to admit it’s been kind of nice.

Still – I feel guilty having someone else do all the work for my horse, which is why it was so gratifying to pull up and see Caspian hang his head out of his window and watch me pull up with pricked ears and a pleasant expression.  He seemed genuinely happy to see me, but that’s probably because I’m stacking the odds in my favor – I try to end every visit with at least 5 minutes of hand grazing.  My theory is that no matter how hard we work on a new concept, or how much we butt heads (it’s rare, but it happens), five minutes of peaceful hand grazing can erase it and leave him with a good taste in his mouth, both literally and figuratively.

I slipped the halter onto his waiting nose and we walked in darkness to the arena, waiting as the large overhead lights slowly turned on.  I let him run around for awhile, mentally cursing my lack of camera.  He’s looking great lately, and I really want to document his weight gain.  Besides – he’s just gorgeous when he’s flinging his head around and striking out mid-gallop, and I really  need to get a good picture of it.

I only had about 30 minutes before I needed to head for home, as I’d promised the barn owner I’d be out of there by 10 so she could lock up.  I took him outside and let him graze in the knee-deep grass beneath a violet sky and a waxing moon.  I tried to take a picture, but all you see is an amorphous shadow beneath a tiny white dot…

Technology?  Are you hearing me?  One of these days you’re going to have to figure out how to let normal people take better pictures of night time.  Let’s have a few less Facebook cell phone updates and pay a little more attention to that, mmkay?

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and I have plans to bathe Caspian, so after I led him back to his stall I decided to take out his mane braids.  I’ve been doing my best to follow the “grow your horse’s mane like a Friesian” method of mane care, and so far it’s really working.  The only time the hair is down from its braids is when I am washing it with lots of conditioner and finger-combing, working out any knots carefully.  After it dries, I french braid it into about 8 sections that hang down his neck, and then I don’t touch it until the next time I’m ready to wash it.  Occasionally I have to rebraid sections, but it seems to hold up just fine.

I’ve owned Caspian less than a year, but in that time period his mane has probably tripled in thickness and it has grown about four inches.  That may not be impressive compared to some horses,  but considering how wispy his mane was when I got him, it’s an unbelievable improvement.

I decided to give him the evening with his braids down – he hated being braided in the beginning but has grown used to it, and now there is no grooming he likes better than the feel of me taking out his braids.  I slipped off his halter and he stood without moving as I worked my way up his neck slowly, carefully picking around potential knots and doing my best not to pull out any more hair than was necessary as threaded my fingers through his salt and pepper strands.

His eyelids sank slowly, his neck dropped with each passing moment, and at one point he actually fell asleep with his muzzle resting on my shoe.

Eventually we were done, so I grabbed a brush and decided to give him a once over before saying goodbye for the night.  I intended it to be a quick, but as I brushed him I realized he was in an unusually affectionate mood, so I slowed down and began to really groom him.

He leaned into each brush stroke ever-so-slightly, eyes glazed and upper lip twitching with pleasure.  I started at his head and worked my way back, even going so far as to stand up on tiptoe so I could see the top of his hindquarters as I brushed them, making sure I didn’t miss a spot.  I’m used to his size now, but it still gets me that I can’t see the top of his hindquarter without going on tiptoes – I’m 5’8, so it’s not like I’m exactly petite.

I turned my back to his head, leaning my shoulder against him as I worked on a particularly stubborn green stain on the inside of his hock… but as I did the hair on the back of my neck began to prickle in warning.

Was… was someone looking at me?

I stood up slowly, resting a hand on Caspian’s hip as I turned around…. and that’s when I saw him.

Gone was the sleepy, glazed look he’d been wearing for the past ten minutes.  Instead, Caspian had his head craned completely around, his neck nearly doubled on itself, and he was staring at me with a bright eyes.  His ears were pricked and his nostrils flared slightly as he stretched his nose toward me.

It looked for all the world like the look a mother horse gives her foal when she sees it for the first time.

(Just like that – except we were both standing, and there was less placenta.)
“Hey, buddy.”  I smiled at him, trying to figure out where this unusual surge of emotion was coming from.

He stared at me harder, willing me to understand.

“Hey… hey handsome.  I love you, too.”

His nostrils quivered – the barest hint of the beginnings of a silent nicker.

“Does it feel good, Caspers?”  I ran the brush down his hip again, and he stared at me harder.  “Does it feel good?  I bet you were itchy, weren’t you, Caspian?  I bet you were totally itchy, and it just feels so good.  You like it?  Do you like…..”

I trailed off as I stepped forward to brush his side, and that’s when I saw it.

IT.

All of IT– nearly a foot and a half of erect glory, proudly announcing that oh, yes.  Caspian liked it.  He definitely liked it, thank you very much.

“GROSS.”  I took a step back and grimaced.  “Gross.  Put it away, Caspian.”
Content that I had seen him in all his turgid magnificence, Caspian’s intent expression relaxed and he quit staring at me, swinging his head back around to face the front of his stall with a satisfied expression.  Do you like it, Becky?  It’s for you. You make me feel good.
“No, I do NOT like it.  Put it away.”  I knew I needed to correct him, and hard – but I was loathe to break the peacefulness of the evening.  This was supposed to be my quiet time, dangit.  If I’d wanted to train I would have ridden him.  Also, if I’d wanted to deal with a foot and a half of reproductive equipment, I would have bought a stallion, not a stupid gelding.  Still – I couldn’t just ignore it.  I slapped his flank with a flat palm, hoping the sound would startle him out of his exhibition.

He ignored me.  That was very surprising, considering he’s usually a little overly sensitive to correction.  He stared resolutely forward, refusing to acknowledge me.  Go ahead and look, Becky.  I don’t mind.  It’s not awkward, so long as we don’t make eye contact.

IT twitched.

“GROSS,” I said.  “Put it AWAY.” Even if it wasn’t weird and gross, Caspian was gelded late and there are certain lines you just don’t let an ex stallion cross… this was definitely one of them.  I deliberately created a little bit of a growl in my voice – which normally made him throw his head up in the air dramatically – and accompanied it with a hard THWAP on his side with the brush. The brush I was using had a solid wooden handle, and there was no doubt that it hurt.

He jumped slightly, but refused to turn around.  Becky, shhh. There’s no need to raise your voice and get all violent.  Just keep brushing me.  We’ll keep this between us.  I’ll just avoid your eyes to give you a moment to take it all in….. but really.  Look at it.  He shifted his weight infinitesimally,   somehow managing to give off the impression that he was pointing at it, without any hands.

Enough was enough.  “Put it AWAY!” I said, and this time I reached out and thwacked IT hard with the prickly, bristly side of the brush, although I may have squeezed my eyes shut in sympathy at the moment of impact.
That got his attention.

He jumped vertically about three feet, and swung his hindquarters away from me.  What the hell was that?!  You don’t do that to a stallion.  OW.  Why did you do that?  We were having a moment, and you just lash out at me like that? What is wrong with you?

“No.  No, no, no, no, NO.  You are not a stallion – that thing is for peeing, and peeing only.  PERIOD.  You keep that away, you hear me?  I mean it,” I said, pointing at IT with the brush.  “You finish putting that away, right now, or so help me I’ll hit it again.”

He avoided my eyes again, but this time with a chastised expression.  IT went back to where it belonged, and I went back to brushing him – me businesslike and curt, him staring straight ahead with a hurt expression and no hint of affection.  Apparently our intimate moment was over.

But that’s okay – I mean, I want my horse to like me, but I don’t want him to like me, you know?