In the true spirit of doing everything backwards (I am left handed after all) I am piecing my horse life back together in a non-conventional manner. Maybe. I dunno - I firmly believe that if you are going to purchase a 1200 pound animal you should have somewhere to put him (or her). Surprisingly, many horse people will go out and start a horse buying search without a clue of where that horse will live. The general manner of thought seems to be something like squeeeee I'm buyin' a horse! and meeehhhhhhh, I'll look for a boarding barn tomorrow...
The horsey life goes like this: If you are not lucky enough to have a shelter, fence and some grazing area on your own property (I am not I live on a forested rock farm) you will have to board your horse at a boarding facility. In many places this isn't really an issue because facilities are plentiful. Where my mom lives in Florida they are practically on top of one another and all have tracks, trails, arenas... In other places, like here (unfortunately) stalls are a hard to come by commodity. The barn where I leased horses for years before deciding to go out on my own is private, another nice boarding facility closed a few years ago due to financial issues and now a housing development sits in its place. The fancy, snooty barn is 45 minutes away and out in the middle of (scuze the phrase) BF (bum f8ck) nowhere. Too many horses and not enough available stalls is the way it goes 'round here.
So, because I was worried about finding a space, I secured my stall before I bought a horse. The facility is the oldest one in the area. I believe it originally opened in the 1960s. It is an old fashioned farm complete with chickens that run around pecking the ground, pig pens and cows. The digs ain't fancy and board includes morning and evening feeding, turn-out and turn-in and they dig out your stall once a week. If you want it mucked daily, that is up to you to do. So, I see a whole lotta mucking in my future. LOL.
So why didn't I go to the fancy barn? Well, besides it being 45 minutes away it is also over twice as much monthly. I can afford the fancy barn yes, but when you make your two columns and checkmark your points, half the cost wins that category.
Discipline is also a factor. It does you little good to have a horse that you want to trail ride if there are no trails. I have run into this issue before in my life as a horse leaser. My new barn has over 200 acres of trails/fields to play in. It has no indoor arena (the fancy barn does as did my lease barn) and only a small outdoor ring and then a separate round pen. I will miss the indoor arena a little. It means you can ride any day, no matter the weather. But, I'm not really a cold weather arena girl so I'll get over it. The round pen I will dig. Believe it or not at my lease barn we didn't have one and working in a round pen is really cool for natural horsemanship games.
My new barn is also 6 minutes from my house. I clocked it today. A definite checkmark in the plus category. 45 minutes is a long way to drive and part of having a horse (at least to me) is spending time with him. That is the ONLY way you are going to establish a relationship. Grooming, talking, touching, simply walking around with your horse is just as important as riding regularly. Horses are like other animals in that they recognize who cares for them. What kind of connection are you going to have with your horse if you are only able to see him once or twice a week. Yes, at times this will happen to the best of us but for me, close proximity ensures that I can meet what I feel is my obligation of the heart to my horse. And the fact that I gotta muck his stall or he will have to stand in poop that night doesn't hurt either. ;)
My new barn is also predominately a Western barn. I get a walk-in locker. LOL. Yes, my locker space is important to me. And Western tack is bigger so Western lockers tend to be more roomy than your standard English locker.
And lastly there is the country factor. LOL. Many barns are full of lovely horses with fancy names and chicks with lockers full of ribbons. All that is fine except that (especially in barns that are predominately English, Hunter/Jumper and other panties in a damn twitch disciplines) it sometimes lends itself to that snotty attitude that the horse world can be known for. I have dealt with that in the past at more than one barn and I was over it then, I'm over it now and I just don't want those types of people in my life anymore.
So forward I go. The actual horse search will no doubt be long and frustrating at times. I am keeping in mind the information that I have presented to people when they ask me what I am looking for. I want a friend. A horse that I mostly trail ride and kick around with in a field. A horse that I can do a little flat work with on occasion, play some horsemanship games and hug. I want a companion. I want to teach him, learn from him, grow with him, care for him until I bury him. That is why it is so important to find the right horse. I don't want the perfect horse but I want the perfect horse for me. And I want to be the right person for him.
This is all a tall order I am beginning to realize. It should be easy as what I described to someone that I need in a horse is not complicated. Until I find him I guess I'll just pimp out my walk-in locker. ;)
Sometimes things are so unclear to me. Last night I had the weirdest dreams about being forced to marry our football coach. LOL. I was sort of irritated by the whole prospect. Probably because we suck and I don't like to hang out with losers.
But, after that nonsense I had another dream in which a woman came to our house and she wanted to do a study on trees, faeries and also take the dog out for me on a daily basis. If someone showed up at your place with this list of tasks would you be a little suspicious? Well, I was not and we went about going over all the places that the faeries live on our property, other animals I talk to on a daily basis and whether they would be helpful to her, etc...
At some point I woke up a little earlier than I intended but couldn't get back to sleep and started thinking about my love of dreams and keeping track of them, interpreting them and whether they sometimes have or don't have a damn thing to do with deep inner travel so much as they have to do with what you had for dinner that evening.
For instance, I watched football on and off all afternoon and into the night. Why wouldn't I dream about football, (although marriage is a bit much). I dream about zombies a lot. I mean, A LOT. But, I watch zombies A LOT. So, that stuff makes sense. I almost think that sometimes your first dreams of the night are leftover static from the day while your brain works through and works out those sorts of things and then as the night gets deeper so do your dreams.
So, as to last night's journey, as we enter the dark season, I am thinking was to remind me of the daily magic in my life. Because having had a severely long "dry spell" things seem to be following me around at night and knocking on the doors of my memory, tugging on my shirt sleeve so to speak, and whispering to me to not forget...
And also, reminding me to not forget to let the dog out?
Fall brings change and for my horse and I this year it will mean returning to our Western discipline and kicking up some mud (hopefully). As many of you know, I am limited to the riding that I can do with my pony due to the fact that we have no decent trails where he is owned and housed. I have a long term relationship and lease and he is mostly an arena and field horse. And I am thankful for having him and a place to enjoy horses so this should not be taken as me bitching. But, it gets boring sometimes for both of us. His life is much more fun and creative than it was before he came to us. In his prior situation he didn't even have pasture buddies. He was strictly ridden in an arena and sometimes turned out by himself. He was loved but not treated "like a horse" by any means. He has a lovely field and friends now. We do have some trails but they are fairly treacherous and we have used them a couple of times but he was terrified and frankly, so was I so we kick around the barn and up and down the long lane beside the pasture sometimes....
I have spent the good part of the spring and summer returning to English and working with the bitless bridle. It has been a great experience. We had an almost year long bout with some sarcoids (wart-like growths some horses are prone to - they multiply and can get quite nasty) and have finally turned the corner with those. I have had a hankering to get back to Western and recently purchased a synthetic saddle that will allow us to have fun no matter the weather! My girlfriend's saddle, which I normally use for Western riding, is a humongous, expensive, honking, reining saddle that looks something like this:
It is an awesome saddle. But, as you can see it is huge and I have a hard time "finding" my seat in it. Reining is a whole other sub-discipline in and of itself and requires a good bit of ability to shift and move around for both rider and horse. We are not reining. LOL.
It is heavy. I mean heavy. LOL. My other girlfriend, who is two inches shorter than I am, balances it on her head before hoisting it onto the horse. I find it completely cumbersome, frankly. Plus the saddle is expensive. And leather. Rain? Snow? I think not. So, I had decided that I would explore my options and ended up picking a synthetic saddle of traditional Western design. Basically, a riding saddle.
So, my bum fits nicely into the seat and the damn thing is as light as my English tack! My horse seems to like it. He didn't even sniff it funny like he does most new things. LOL. And go figure, the first time we used it, it was raining! Not full out raining but misty and wet. So, good stuff. Our first ride was mostly spent trying to get a feel for it, getting the stirrup length correct, etc... Hopefully we will break it in as well as we have the bitless bridle and be riding no matter the weather!
My horse's mouth is now a no metal zone. Max has been on his bitless bridle now for almost a month. We have done all gaits with it. He has given numerous lessons using it from adults to nine year olds. As one of them described the change in him from bit to bitless - it seems like he trots more like he likes to trot, he doesn't stop as much - ahhhhhhh, perhaps because he isn't inadvertently being "told" to stop by the bit when little kids lose their balance or shift their hands too quickly or too much?
We'll never know for certain because, of course, he cannot speak but it has been a good thing for us both.
Trust. Going bitless requires trust. Because the "experts" and the traditional riders will all tell you the value of a bit. They will go on and on about how the bit will assist in proper form, in what we call "framing", which is part of "collection", neither of which have a damn thing to do with a piece of metal between a horse's teeth.
Framing and collection refer to the manner in which a horse carries himself. Mainly, that the horse is using his hind quarters for his energy and strength. Important when jumping out of the way of snakes and mountain lions. Important also when jumping for sport and in overall muscle development. I think of framing and collection sort of like doing proper deadlifts as a human. You use your butt and legs for a proper dead, not your back. Just like when you are lifting heavy things to move them.
But, it isn't the bit that is doing the framing is my point. Yes, part of it is the manner in which a horse is holding his head, therefore neck, therefore....and all that can be achieved with the help of a bit. BUT it can also be achieved without it.
I had a friend once and we used to ride her (very young and by young I mean 2 and 3 year old) horses on trails with nothing more than those rubber "training" bits. That is all they ever knew and they were fine. People used to scoff. What if they spooked? What if? Mine did once in a field and I fell clean off. He ran to about 20 feet away and started to graze. LOL. Another time he spooked at a starting motor and I turned him in a tight circle and calmed him down. The point is - horses will do the SAME things with or without a bit. The difference is in what comes after they do those things.
Max did not go "crazy" without his bit. He didn't buck and he didn't "disrespect" his riders. Well, anymore than he normally plays with them. LOL. Max is a fun horse and will always have just a little bit of colt left in him. That is one of the fabulous things about this horse. The only difference I have noticed without a bit is that when he gets distracted by, say, our riding instructor eating donuts (one of his forbidden favorite treats) beside the fence, it is just a bit (no pun intended) more difficult to get him to not climb said fence in hopes of her sharing.
Riding cues are the same. Everything is the same. Well, except that when you DO make a mistake or are thrown off balance (as anyone who rides knows happens no matter how experienced you are) there isn't metal clanging against your horse's teeth and jaw. I worried about all this frankly mostly because Max does give lessons regularly. And, unfortunately, I am not in complete control of his life. Remember, technically I lease Max. I don't own him. I wish I did but, alas, that is not our relationship right now...
So, anything I can do to further his training, our relationship and the knowledge that he is safe and well I will do. Max has gone from a Western only horse, with a semi-harsh bit, single rider and use of spurs to a multi-discipline, multi-rider horse with no spurs and NO bit. Pretty good for a pony life upgrade in my opinion.
My mom gave me a passage once that was a Bible story for dogs. We have had pets my entire life and they were ALWAYS a part of the family. It is no surprise to me that I have an affection for animals that goes way beyond any warm feelings i have for most of the humans in my life. This passage that she gave me clicked with me SO much that i modified it to suit my beliefs and feelings. When our beloved retriever mix died several years ago i got him cremated. I just couldn't let him go. I HAD to have him with me and that is basically why i made the choice to have him cremated. There are animals in my life that i feel should be buried in the earth - a particular cat of ours that started life as a stray and to her last day loved being outside - SHE belongs under a big tree on the hill. She belonged to the earth and that's where she returned. But, this dog of ours, who used to sit patiently at the door until i arrived home every night... This dog that during a particularly dark period in my life was there to comfort me, as if to say - I'll wait for you. This dog who could not bear to be out of my sight, who would do WHATEVER i asked of him simply because i asked... THIS dog belonged with me forever. So i had him cremated and my mate made a lovely, decorative wooden box for his ashes. I put this poem in the box with him, along with a picture of the cat mentioned above, who was his good friend, and a candle to light his way should he need it.
A Dog's Story ~ Goddess Style
The Great Goddess, who was herself the earth and the sky; the sea and the soil, summoned a beast from the fields and said, "Behold these creatures that beckon you and adore them. Protect them in the wilderness, watch over the flocks they keep and accompany them wherever they may go - even into
civilization. Be a companion, an ally, a friend. To do these things, you shall be endowed with instincts uncommon to other beasts: faithfulness, devotion and understanding surpassing even that of these creatures. Lest it impair your courage, you shall never foresee your death. Lest it impair your loyalty, you
shall be blind to the faults of your companions. Lest it impair your understanding, you are denied the power of words. Speak to your companions only with your mind and through your kind eyes. Walk by their sides; sleep in their nests; forage for them; ward off their enemies; carry their burdens; share their afflictions; love them and comfort them. And in return for this, these human creatures will fulfill your needs and wants, which shall be only food, shelter and affection. So be silent, and be a friend to these humans. Guide them along
the way onto this land that is my gift to all creatures. This shall be your destiny and your immortality". So spoke the Goddess. And the dog heard and was content.