Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Returning to Horses after 40

Did horses sneak back into your life after a long break? I took a seven year hiatus from horses in order to spend time with Maizie. I tell about my return to riding in a new Equitrekking article, Return to Riding After 40. You can read it on the Equitrekking website and also on Equitrekking's Facebook page. Fun!

Here is my cute Pie posing with gorgeous violets on our Sunday ride. It was sunny, although still chilly. I had a saddle, but bareback rides are going to be infinitely easier now because...ta da...

...my father-in-law made me this super high mounting block!!! How great is this? I love it! I introduced it to the boys last week. 

Each horse came out of the barn and immediately snorted and ducked and backed up when they saw it for the first time. I was ready though - earlier I strategically placed carrot pieces on the corners of each step. A slow approach and munchy bites of carrots and everyone agreed, this new monster isn't so bad! I've used it to mount all three horses and it works perfectly. Also, it is light enough for me to move as necessary. I sanded the corners so they are round and not pointy and will paint it after the wood ages a little. 

It's the very thing for old women bareback riders like me!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No Thoroughbreds - ha!

On Sunday we finally had sunny skies and mild temperatures. The whole family hit the court for three sets of doubles with the horses grazing in the nearby pastures. Maizie had her music playing (which thankfully is our music too - poor honey - we brainwashed her into liking our music before she was five so she doesn't know anything else!) and the birds were singing and the flowers were blooming and the horses were munching. It doesn't get better than this for me. After the tennis, I had a great ride around the farm on Foggy.

Saturday our sweet Sage was visiting from Vermont and she and Brian walked beside me while I rode Pie bareback around the perimeter. Brian remarked that it was too bad we all couldn't ride. I've been thinking about this comment for the last few days.

There probably isn't a horse or breed of horse who is actually "safe" for non-riders to hop on anytime, but very occasionally, I do wish my horses were a little more beginner-friendly. When I decided to get back into horses in 2007, I told my mom that this time round I would like to have a gelding, preferably a slow, calm, quiet horse (does this exist?). I do not believe geldings are inherently quieter than mares. Our last three horses had been mares and I just wanted to have a gelding. One thing I distinctly remember saying was, "No more Thoroughbreds!" 

Hmmm...well, I got the gelding part right! 

This month has been atypical, with crazy, wild behavior from Sovereign, my usual go-to boy for safe rides. Here he is, above, on a Monday bareback ride, but Wednesday's ride on him would not have been ideal for picture taking since he was out of control. I'm not sure if he is worried about the herd of deer who have taken over our farm or something else, but I have to ride Sovereign lately rather than just sitting there like a sack of ...well, you know. 

His rushing requires circles and serpentines. I can get him to walk on a very long rein and he appears to be calm, but it is all an act. He is actually extending and dropping his head because of my body position, but there is no calm snort from him. He never relaxes completely. In fact, just the opposite - if I stop concentrating for a split second, his head comes back into my lap, he starts to jig or full trot and his sheath makes the worried gelding noises as he races around. Then, I regroup my brain, re-position my body, give him all the reins, and he pretends to calm down by dropping his head and lengthening his neck. 

I don't know what is going on, but over the years, other things have thrown Sovey out of balance and we always work it out. We had times when his bridle bothered him so I rode him in a halter for months. He had issues with the saddle so I still ride him bareback mostly. He demonstrated that he hates the cross-ties although he allowed them for the first six months. Now, he stands untied in the forebay without moving a muscle for tacking. This new worrying glitch seems to be external (deer on his land?) but I'll probably figure it out eventually. Sovereign is a great communicator. He'll show me with such tenacity and verve until I finally understand what he is saying - in spite of my being a dumb human.

I rarely think of my horses as "difficult" to ride; they seem so sensible and happy and sweet to me. But, if I look at it from another person's perspective, my horses probably are not completely easy. They are very aware of their surroundings. You can't go to sleep for one second because they will test you. They make me think. They make me ride well. And family and friends can't safely hop on for a quick ride unless I am on the ground leading.

But the upside of having three Thoroughbreds is that the challenge of every ride keeps it fresh. I can't imagine a time when a ride or a grooming session could be dull. My mind can't wander too far while I am with them and that time of constant focus is not tiring or exhausting. Instead it is meditative. There is no room in my brain for boredom or worry or creativity. It just is right now. I think my brain seems empty then, like I am in between conscious and unconscious thought. When I am in that space there is only joy. My horses walk out - they actually seem to strut - they do not dawdle or race nervously - they glide in the most alert, perceptive, interested walk that just makes my heart sing! No Thoroughbreds? What in the world was I thinking?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Say hello to heaven

Sometimes we are privileged to meet animals who make us better people. We strive to emulate their patience, kindness, and big heart. One such sweetie pie was our periodic house guest, adorable Zoe. We consider ourselves unbelievably lucky to have known her. Zoe passed away on April 2nd and now our hearts are heavy.

Zoe was a huge Bernese Mountain Dog. She was the largest in the litter - so big that no one wanted her. Our friends adopted her and she proved to be filled with the gentlest spirit you have ever seen. Everyone loved Zoe. We were lucky to have her in our home a few weeks a year when her family traveled. Our house is tiny and having Zoe was like having a small pony with us, but she was never loud or rough.

Noodlebug was completely smitten with Zoe - and Zoe's enormous food bowl! Her dry food was kept out for all-day snacking and Noodlebug never hesitated to visit this trough, often right in front of Zoe. The slow, kind, gentle puppy-girl never minded sharing, waiting patiently until Noodle was finished. Noodle would play with Zoe's tail as it continuously waved like a happy flag, but she never once got angry with Noodle.

This is Maizie with Zoe's little girl, Kyra, in 2007, when the girls were in third grade. Kyra owned Zoe, a few kitties and a pet bunny too. If Zoe was sleeping on the floor, the bunny would hop right on Zoe's back and over the other side! Zoe-girl didn't mind.

Zoe loved winter! The colder the better for her. She wanted to play and stay out in the snow for hours. There were times when I was fretting and worrying about my horses and wondering if I should bring them into the barn because of snow or sleet, but then I'd see Zoe, happily sleeping in the snow. No amount of coaxing from me could get her inside. I got her to come in at night but it was never easy in the winter!

I wish I could be as gentle and patient as Zoe. The world was certainly blessed to have her in it.