Here’s another post high on imagery and low on content. Because I’ve been out as late as possible lately working with the horses, and because the dusty air has made for such pretty sunsets, I decided to do a fun exercise and take pictures of the barn residents and caretakers last night. Have fun with moody lighting and sweaty masked caretakers.
Excited about photo time.
Sunset and horse and donkey butts.
Very clean Fiona.
Suna unable to get the light adjusted. But cute sloth mask.
Big Red insisted on her own photo. So dramatic.
Socially distant Sara, with Spice and Lakota.
This is how you have fun in the hot Texas summer of 2020.
Why am I writing about my horse relationship issues? Surely very few people who read my little blog are well-meaning but somewhat clueless horse owners like me. Well, the growth you achieve when working with horses (or other animals) spills over to all other parts of your life. I’ve become much more confident at trying new things, secure that mistakes will teach me important lessons, and like I’ve been saying all week, braver. (I’m still me, but I’m learning to love my little quirks and care less if the way I am isn’t how someone else wants me to be…that’s for later.)
On to yesterday. I almost didn’t go do work with Apache yesterday, because it is so damned hot, and I was feeling bad that I was bothering the neighbors. Then I told myself that spending time with my horse is one of the most important things I could be doing right now, so Mandi and I just waited until later in the day to take a walk.
DAMN. After taking some photos of Mandi with Apache for some dating purpose or something, we headed off in a direction we’d never gone before. Now, bear in mind that prior to this, I’d never been able to take Apache in that direction farther than the big barn with the beef freezers in it. He has always gotten nervous, looked back at the other horses, and pranced around.
Not today. He and I walked slowly and calmly down the driveway, with Fiona and Mandi following at a respectful distance (to be sure he wasn’t relying on Mandi, who was so busy on her phone that I’m sure she wasn’t sending him vibes). We walked, I occasionally let him eat some plants, we talked.
I walked him to the big cattle tank/pond where he likes to eat the sedges, and he plopped his foot in the mud and munched away. We walked around the tank, and he didn’t even flinch when Fiona panicked due to not being able to see us and galloped to find us (a hilarious sight, I guarantee you). I never ONCE had to tighten the lead rope, and only once had to ask him to move over to the other side of the path (to avoid an electric fence).
When we got to the farthest I intended to walk, he looked longingly as if he wanted to keep going to the end of the driveway! Who IS this horse? We walked back, calmly. He was in no hurry to get to the other horses. We stopped to take some pictures. I dropped the lead rope and he just stood there, just as he’s been trained to do.
In other words, not only did he act like the “old” Apache, he acted BETTER. I’ve always wanted to be able to come out during the week and just walk around and hang out with him. I see now that I should have done what I did this week long ago (as Sara has repeatedly suggested and I resisted). It’s helped our relationship very much, and made both of us feel more confident. So, I say to Sara, “You were RIGHT!”
This weekend I’ll need to start riding again. I’ll stick to my plan of not using the bit again until his teeth are looked at (scheduled for the week after next). And next week I may try riding him alone, with Mandi, Sara, or Kathleen following along just in case I need them. The goal will be to feel safe to ride alone around the ranch at some point.
Apache and I are on our way. Thanks for listening.
This is a two-part part 2. Looks like it will be two posts.
The Horse Part
Like a good optimist should, I got on that horse again today. I was a little concerned about my attitude, not because of Apache, but because I’d been reading Facebook and becoming more and more sad/angry/disgusted/insert other negative emotion here. So, I walked to the barn and put thoughts of calm, peace and love in my mind, buoyed by some deep breathing.
Sara and I had a backup plan today. She was going to ride Lakota, our boarder horse, and I’d ride Apache. If all went well, great (she predicted today would be wonderful). If it didn’t, we could switch horses (I am not competent to ride Spice, I’m told).
We started going down the Scary Row of Trees, where Apache has always tended to want to go back or rush. It took a while, but we got him calmly walking, did a bunch of practice circles, then walked in a serpentine formation all the way back. He did okay (not great), but he was paying attention. Everyone was brave.
So, I declared we would now try the race again. Brave! That lasted about 20 yards. Apache again was having nothing to do with walking down that path. I spent a rather exhausting 20 minutes where he simply didn’t do a darn thing I asked him to do. There was backing, turning, going sideways, head flinging, ear pinning. WTH?
Fiona, Lakota, and Sara just watched me patiently coax and prod, and urge him a LOT harder than usual. So, I got off again. I managed to only briefly lose my temper, so I consider that a success. Sara said I did way better in being patient yet persistent than most people. Probably those saintly natural horsemanship trainers would be more patient, but then, they would be better at “reading the horse” and figure out what’s up.
Sara got on Apache, and I walked Lakota behind them (so I got to hang out with a nice horse and get some exercise). I can’t say I was pleased, but I guess I was relieved to see that Apache acted the same with Sara, though she had more tricks she could do (because she would not fall off). She eventually got him tired enough that he went forward halfway down the race. She said that was enough, because he was still all worked up.
I got to a gate I could use to get myself up on Lakota, so I did get to ride him back. That was nice, and it was brave to get up on a new horse out in the middle of nowhere on a wiggly gate. He didn’t act weird or anything, and followed my cues just fine.
Meanwhile, Apache never did settle down, though he did at least walk back. He was coated with sweat and only calmed down enough to walk in one circle at a calm pace, which we declared SUCCESS!
Once Sara dismounted, he was his normal self, although sweaty. As I gave him a bath, I realized I felt nothing but love for him, and curiosity about what was causing his problem. I wasn’t angry at all! I wish I had that attitude when my kids were small!
Interestingly, Sara had read a post from someone in a group she’s in who said their horse started acting extra barn-shy and strangely when a new gelding was introduced into the herd. So, maybe there is going to be a time of getting used to Lakota. Hmm.
So, what being brave and doing hard things the past two days has taught me is that just getting through a challenge counts as success. I am not going to give up on Apache, but will work through the issue, however long it takes, so we will both feel good about ourselves and learn a lot.
Will this attitude hold for challenges outside my immediate community?
Here’s another fine thing that happened this weekend; we added a beautiful new friend to our little herd of equines, Lakota the Perfectly Perfect Palomino Pony. That is NOT his real name (I don’t know what it is, actually), and he is also not a pony, though he is of the smaller quarter horse type.
Sara, my horse partner and ranch neighbor, and I had debated this for a while, with her doing the most debating with herself. We only have so much pasture and don’t want to overload it. But, I have been promised fencing that will allow horses to hang out on our side of the ranch, which will help a lot with that issue.
Besides, Lakota is a horse who deserves to hang out with us. He already knows Spice, since they were owned by the same person for a while, and had spent time together in training, I think. He is beautifully trained by the same Parelli Natural Horsemandhip Method* trainer who trained all the horses we own, Kerri April, and used to belong to one of her family members when he was a fancy equine athlete. This means we don’t have to learn new ways to work with him; he’ll probably help train ME.
Sara got Spice from her friend Mary when Apache’s occasional lameness issues made it hard for her to to the horsemanship activities she wanted to on him. Mary had found Spice to be a bit much too handle, but she loved Spice very much and only wanted her to go to a fellow Parelli-trained owner. Sara was it! I’ve enjoyed Apache, Sara has enjoyed Spice, and all has been well.
Now Mary is moving to the suburbs and won’t be able to keep horses at her place anymore. She sold her others, but there was Lakota,** too old to sell as a consistent mount. She just wanted him to have a happy last few years. We said okay.
Now, Sara had never seen Lakota before, and was just happy to help out, since Mary said she’d pay all his expenses. We had enjoyed our old buddy Pardner very much, and he kept the other horses calm. We had hoped Lakota would be similar.
On Saturday, Mary and a friend brought him in their trailer. Sara took him and brought him down to the horse paddock. I could not believe what I saw. This may be the prettiest horse I ever saw in person, at least conformation-wise. He is built to be a barrel racer or other show horse. Compact and muscular (even at his age). His palomino coat is soft and shiny and somehow smells like vanilla.
Now, I’ve always been told that you get a horse based on personality first and looks second. DANG. He exudes peace and kindness, just like Pardner did! He is wonderful with people. How would he be with horses, we wondered?
This is the next amazing part. He went over to Fiona, who was wandering around looking well-groomed (briefly). They touched noses and sniffed each other. Hey. Hey.
When we put him in the pens next to where Apache and Spice were, he was all excited, as were they. He and Apache touched noses, then nibbled each other’s shoulders. Hey. Hey.
Spice jumped up and down and made mare noises. She recognized him! It took her a while to calm down, but soon everyone was standing nose to nose, happy as they could be. We left them alone to get used to each other with a fence separating them.
Later that day, I got to ride Apache with the bit and bridle Mary conveniently sold to me, which was the same kind Sara was already teaching him with. I did not fail! I did it (and yes, I know there are other options; this stuff is all in Sara’s hands, not mine, since she’s training him).
After the ride, when everyone had eaten, we put everyone in the big pasture together. So much joy ensued that it brought happy tears to our eyes (yay, happy tears). They all ran around, then the paints showed Lakota all around the area. Then they suddenly realized they were in the GOOD grass and started eating away.
It appears that Lakota is in good enough to do trail rides with us, though he has some heat issues and we will have to watch him. In any case, they all bonded really fast and don’t like being separated. That’s not bad. We are grateful to Mary for letting us share this grand old gentleman. He may not be perfect, but his introduction to our herd certainly was!
*I do not endorse any particular natural method of training horses. I think they are all good.
**Why we end up with all these horses with Native American tribe names is beyond me.
As the days grow longer and longer here in Texas, our harvest starts arriving. It’s lots earlier than in other parts of the US, where nothing’s ready until August, but hey, it gets hot here early.
Some Good News
This has been a great year, too, with the rain continuing to fall much later than usual. It’s raining now, in fact, and it’s only 79 degrees (too bad it was up to 93 at the end of our horseback ride this morning).
I think I’ve mentioned that our neighbor Tyler started a vegetable garden this year. Yesterday, as I was looking for chickens, I peeked in and saw a really, really big yellow squash. And Tyler is out of town.
So, this morning after putting up the horses and Fiona (who went with us on our whole ride and caused no trouble), Sara and I went in and harvested the giant squash and zucchini that were lying under the large, healthy vines. We have to hand it to Tyler, his fencing and netting combination have worked great to keep meddling animals, birds, and others out of his crops. We left him plenty of small squash to harvest for himself once he gets home.