Friday, May 21, 2010


Everyone should have goals. Whether the goal reaches long into the future or just sending a letter at the end of the week, I think it’s good to have something to work for.

I have more goals than I can count. In fact, many times, I set so many goals for myself I forget them. Tom and I decided a few days ago that we were going to put our dusty dry-erase board to good use for once. We are setting a list of things to accomplish in the next year and I’ve been thinking hard about it. You better believe writing at least three posts a week is on that list as well. I write every day but my posts end up staying in “draft” format. I finish them, but sometimes the post isn’t right for the day or how I’m feeling at the time.

I spoke with my mother-in-law about goals a few months ago. We both have a hard time getting in motion with our riding plans. We both get caught up in just trying to make things work and forget to enjoy ourselves. I still want to plan a horse camping trip with her within the next year...but life just gets in the way and before I know it 6 months have gone by and we are even farther away from accomplishing that little dream for ourselves.

So, this is to get my butt in gear. I’m going to outline some things right now that I want to accomplish with Eclipse and my other talents.

In the next year I will:
 - Develop a better relationship with my horse and be able to confidently ride without fear I’m doing something wrong
 - Take Eclipse to at least ONE show – no matter what the discipline
 - Get my camera back!
 - Get at least ONE paid photo gig in the city or Long Island
 - Load Eclipse in a trailer without having to call my trainer to do it for me
 - Go on at least ONE trail ride AWAY from the barn
 - prepare for an endurance ride in 2011 (I’m SERIOUS about this one!!!)

There’s a lot more...especially pertaining to my dog and home life and relationship with Tom, but I’ll spare you those. These goals are really the first step into getting to a larger goal I have for the future in respect to what it is...but if you don’t lay the foundation, where do you start?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


This is a little unlike me, but I’m working on some other posts that are going to take more time to write and I really want to focus on them before just throwing them up here because it’s been two days since I’ve posted. Therefore, I want to open up this post to a discussion.


My horse spooks. He’s not an all-out spook-and-bolt type, but he is way too cautious of things going outside the arena when we’re having a lesson. Heaven forbid we’re in a show and he bends his entire body away from the rail because some little kid blew a bubble at him or something. Really...his level of distraction has become something of an annoyance. Whenever he shows signs of shying from something (be it a sound, smell or a mean-looking stump on the ground) I kindly guide him back to the area, breathe deeply, talk to him, rub his withers, etc. But the 19th time he does it going past the same spot I start to get a little annoyed. We’re not going to have an hour to make sure a scary post isn’t so scary when we’re doing a dressage test or, heaven forbid, a jumping course.

Do any of you have this problem? If so, what did you do? What do you do? Is this just something that’s never going to go away? I want to compete in endurance races eventually with him, but if he never gets over this, how can I trust he won’t kill me out there in new terrain? There have to be other spooky Arabs doing endurance. Do I just have the crazy one?

Thoughts? Anyone?

**I just realized my father told me a story once about my mother. He said she had an Arabian named Spook. I just always thought she named him that because he was grey and looked like a ghost. lol That''ll teach me to assume. That connection is just too perfect.** 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Out Smarted by An Arab

So a few weeks ago I posted about how great the ground work training was going with Eclipse. Today that all officially ended. He's got my number and he's not really impressed anymore. I'm kinda stuck with my hands in the air. What now?

It started a few days ago when Eclipse stopped meeting me at the gate when I came to the barn. I thought it was odd, but I waited and eventually he came over. Forget it, it's not happened in a week now and I'm starting to wonder what I've done wrong. I haven't changed anything in a negative way. I haven't been doing the same thing over and over...I really just don't know what happened.

Today I tried free-lunging him in his paddock to see if he would eventually come in to me, but nope, didn't happen. In fact, he gave me even more attitude than normal and really came close to running me over a few times. He's really glued to the other horses over the fence and definitely goes to them to rescue him. I eventually let him rest and he took a step and put the halter on him.

We worked to the left and right at a walk and a trot. He yielded his hindquarters and when I asked him to go back to the right he refused. And not just refused, he fought. He pulled and reared and reared and pulled. I had no idea what was going on. I asked him to come in and he resisted, but eventually came have way in, then I asked again and he refused again. I eventually walked him around by hand and reassured him the best I could. I asked him to walk left and he went, but when I asked for the right again he refused.

I asked him to zig zag and same thing each time...not to the right. I played friendly games with him and the stick to let him know the stick was not threatening him. I never even touch him with the stick, but none of it made a difference. I ended up just walking him around the arena a few times by hand and releasing him back to the paddock.

A few girls were at the barn at this point, and of course everyone has their way of doing things. I don't mind advice, but when it's unclear whether the person is offering advice or criticism that's when I start to bristle a little bit. I know the person meant well, but it didn't come across very well. I'm using the methods my trainer gave's not supposed to serve the same purpose as lunging and I'm sure you think I look like I have no idea what I'm doing, but really I do have an idea and it was working just fine.

I'm just frustrated. I rode him for an hour and a half and he seemed a little more relaxed than usual. He's still not bending or giving to the bit when we increase the pace to a trot. He cuts in his circles still. My trainer and I have been working on this for some time, and nothing seems to work. I open the reins and he collapses his shoulder and cuts in, I then lift the rein to pick him up and he cuts the circle again. He softens in a small, tight circle, but opening it up is sloppy and stiff. I flex and bend and stretch him at a halt and a walk, but at the trot he's stiff as a board--even in two-point. He does loosen up at the canter, but he's so fast and out-of-control--it's like he's over bending.

I guess I'm looking for some advice, but I just have to be more patient. I don't want to lose my spirits, but I just don't know what he wants. Sometimes I think he enjoys being with me, but right now I feel like he's being a spoiled 10-year-old kid throwing a temper tantrum so he can get dessert for dinner instead of his vegetables.

I'm not looking forward to that reality either in the future, but maybe he's preparing me for that.

Alright. Tomorrow's another day. We'll get there.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gathering Rain

I had a flashback to high school today on my walk home form the subway station. It started with the soft spring rain and flooded in like the warm breeze.

I'm probably not shocking anyone here when I say I had a hard time growing up--mostly all of us have. I was an only child being raised by my father and grandfather. My mom died when I was only a baby and my father had a hard time being ok after that, and so have I. My grandfather was amazing. He gave up so much so I could try to have a normal life. He really did.

I was told once that acceptance equals control and I'm working on that. Acceptance sounds like such an easy concept but it's really one of those beautiful boxes with a special key that no one makes anymore. It looks so nice on the outside and you're certain it's just as lovely on the inside but you get so frustrated trying to open it at eventual you give up. I keep returning to it and try again, but that patience issue always gets me. Still working at it.

Back to story time. I was, like so many little girls, a tad horse-obsessed. I was saving up all my nickles and dimes to OWN my own horse. Until I had enough money, I came up with an imaginary horse. Her name was Desert and she was my best friend. Every night I hosted plays for my grandfather while my dad was cooking dinner. I would, without fail, ride in on Desert and perform a drama for him the likes of which have never been seen! He always laughed, smiled and applauded appropriately.

I decided one day that Desert needed a friend. His name was Dessert and they soon had a foal named Hot Chocolate. I thought I was pretty clever. I would ride one of my "horses" into the living room from the kitchen each night and first make my grandfather guess which one it was and promptly correct him when he got it wrong. "Poppy! Can't you see? Desert doesn't look anything like Hot Chocolate! Hot Chocolate is a Appaloosa with a spotted blanket, not a Paint!" I think Dessert was his favorite. He always loved Paints (we argued about the difference between a Paint and Pinto almost daily. I love it).

These theatrics lasted through my freshman year of high school until he was diagnosed with cancer and soon thereafter passed away. He was a man of few words, but he always supported my love of horses and my creativity. I remember one summer he scraped some money together (from where, I'll never know) and sent me to an all-girls' horse camp in the mountains for two weeks. It was amazing and everything I needed. It funny how most people never get you what you really want, but he always knew.

When he died I shut down a little. My father had pulled me from riding lessons at this point and I really had no where to go with the feelings I had inside. I remember the one thing, however, that really made me feel good was the rain. I would walk outside, whether it was pouring or just sprinkling, and just let it take me over. My father thought I was crazy, but he didn't understand my love of horses either. It was always, "Your mother broke every bone in her body riding horses! Is that what you want?" Never, "Your mother loved horses just like you." I bet she loved the rain, too.

I remember I had a Collective Soul album, self titled, that I listened to over and over again. I loved Collective Soul period, but there was this one song...and it's lyrics are probably tattooed under my skin somewhere. The chorus is as follows:

She gathers rain
to rinse away all her guilt and pain
she gathers rain
to wash and cleanse and make her whole again

When I first heard it I think I cried. I couldn't believe someone could write something so uniquely fitted for what I was feeling. I secretly hoped it was written for me. It was about change and overcoming hardships and, honestly, what all songs are about...getting over some life-altering challenge. But I took that song so seriously. I thought of it whenever I was sad--just like the horses, just like the rain, just like the smile on Poppy's face when I announced my dinner theatre each night.

I don't walk out into the rain anymore, but I still love it. It annoys me when I can't ride Eclipse because of it, but I can't ever say I hate it. I needed the rain tonight to remind me of how important it was to me for a few years back there in that house, with my father and my changes. Now, riding in the rain is  pretty fantastic...but not tonight. Today, rain, I'm going to let you have the night. Enjoy it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Moment of Weakness

I feel like a smoker trying to quit cold turkey when I don't want to quit at all (I know, quit it with the metaphors and analogies). I've been a neurotic mess this week without Eclipse and tonight was the first night since Sunday I've been able to see him.

I'm pretty sure he's a xanax wrapped in muscle, organs, fur and love. Any doubts I ever have about having him wash away the moment we're together. Maybe he's actually a magic pony and I didn't know it until now.

Thank you, Eclipse, for being my shoulder tonight and really listening to me. I'm sorry I doubted my ability to be with him. He is my priority, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make our relationship last forever and be rewarding for us both.

Happier posts from now on! Yay!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Making the Right Decision

I struggle with myself over that question daily. It doesn't matter what it is, I will second guess myself even when I am more than 100% certain it's the right thing to do in whatever situation. Right now, I'm really battling over my work life and play life.

I spent a large portion of my college years pouring every ounce of my soul into my studies in order to learn enough to really compete with everyone else for the specific job I hold today in New York City. Most of my graduating class went on to work for newspapers or small local magazines or journals in the state, but I never had any of that in my plans. I wanted to go straight to the top, and somehow, I did it.

You know that old saying, "I got to the top and I didn't like the view,"? Yeah. I find myself saying that lately and it bothers me a little. Though, I'm not exactly at the top, I'm certainly close enough to realize it aint all what it's cracked up to be. So, yes, that's what prompted that last post and I won't bore you with more talks like that.

Most times I struggle more between my love of horses and my art. I love telling stories in my photographs, but there is nothing equal to the joy I feel when riding or just being around horses...or all animals really. Sometimes it's not all that I was hoping for. Eclipse really has his issues, and I'm learning how to deal with them, but I don't have any experience in this type of thing, so it's going slow. I never had this trouble with Iron Man and I really took him for granted in a lot of ways. He couldn't jump and he couldn't run like the wind but he never said no to anything I asked from him. He really loved me and loved what we did together and I'm not sure I fully appreciated that until he was gone and I found out what hard work another horse could be.

I wonder if I made the right choice in selling him. I wonder if I made the right choice in Eclipse--is he right for me? My current trainer is very encouraging, but she's certainly made it a point to say he's not an easy horse and certainly wouldn't be right for most riders. That's a pretty awesome compliment in itself, but it also encourages that tiny whisper of a question in me, "Did I make the right decision?"

I'm too damn stubborn to turn my back on him. I'm not the type to throw my hands in the air and say I give. Just because I can't quite figure him out now doesn't mean it will never's just going to take time, right? I am not a quitter and to give up on Eclipse because he's too much of a challenge would feel more shameful to me than anything. Am I wrong in feeling this way? I get mixed thoughts from other horsemen, but they all think I'm crazy for having an Arab in the first place (especially if they've ridden with me).

And the same thing happened with my camera this year. My original camera from Tennessee was stolen on Christmas day a couple of years ago so I bought a replacement a few months after and it was the best of the best. I paid way too much money for it, but it was worth every penny. But what happened? It sat on my shelf. I only took it out for small events and a couple of jobs here and there. I certainly wasn't putting it to the use it deserved. First off, I was paranoid something would happen to it--get stolen, drop it, lose it, etc. But honestly, work sucked away so much of my time and energy that when I was finally out of the office the LAST thing I wanted to do was hop around the city snapping photos.

Long story short, I took the camera out last fall for a friend's birthday photo scavenger hunt and I dropped it. It was a neck-strap malfunction (meaning I wasn't wearing it correctly) and it simply slipped out of my hands. I couldn't find anything wrong with the camera itself, but the lens was busted and the camera was as good as worthless in my eyes. I sold it and put the money toward the construction for our new loft. I didn't put the money back into a new camera and now I'm currently camera-less. It makes me feel like I have one less hand or foot. I just don't feel when you can't get in a comfortable position in bed and you toss and turn all night.

So, I've got money going into the horse and not into a new camera. I am spending 8 hours a day agonizing over the absolute boredom of my job and how I wish I wasn't having to watch my life pass before my eyes wishing there was something else I could do about it. Can't I find a way to make money doing the things I love most? Most of my day is spend conspiring on how to break out into equine photography and follow in Tim Flach's footsteps but I sorta need a job to sorta get the camera and then maybe I'll sorta get some jobs...sorta. Yeah. I'm in NYC where a photographer is a dime-a-dozen. What am I even thinking having a horse?

And that's when the real abuse starts. I tear into myself about having a horse and allowing myself to have such a luxury like that when I'm barely making ends meet without the damn thing. If I didn't have the horse, I could have my camera and my weekends would be spent taking pictures, right? Wrong. My weekends would consist of longing for my horse again and feeling just as awful as I do right now without my camera. Why can't you have both? you ask? Well, because of money. and school loans. and bills. and metro cards. and my two hour commute to and from work each day. and my job. The list goes on. I need equal time for both, and the only way to make that happen it to quit my job, but that doesn't tell my bills to stop asking me to pay them. Nope.

So the easy solution would be to find a way to make the photography PAY. Yeah. I'm thinking about that.  I hear weddings are a lucrative business, and you don't even have to be any good. Ok, that was harsh. Sorry.

I don't know what the solution is here, but the job is seriously driving me crazy. There has to be something. For now, Eclipse makes everything go away. Like I said...reset button.

So where's the shutter release? That's next on the list.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Following your dreams

One of the first things I remember about my childhood is the question we’re all asked at one point or another, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always, “I want to be a doctor!”. I have no idea why I said it, or why I was so adamant about it. I didn’t even like doctors all that much. I think my father whispered it in my ear every night as I was sleeping, “You want to be a doctor. You will be a doctor,” etc, etc.  It was in 7th grade compacted math that I decided being a doctor was probably not the best thing for me (or my potential clients).

I have always been artistically geared, anyway. I was a musician, an actress, a painter, a crafter and also very athletic (but a total klutz all the same). I always loved animals and decided a compromise may exist in being a veterinarian. So what if vet school was supposedly harder to get into?! I was on the animal science track for a semester, but then my father swooped in and ruined my chances of ever being considered. Long story short, I didn’t score high enough in chemistry to be eligible...anywhere. That was pretty depressing.

As you saw in another post, I considered music as well. That was my pipe dream of “doing what I love” for a living and that was squashed immediately, so I went down the path of do-something-you-will-make-money-for. Everyone has a moment of selling out I guess and I think that’s what journalism was for me. I wasn’t smart enough for music theory, I was too distracted with family crisis to really concentrate on chemistry, so I turned to journalism. Hey, it doesn’t pay much but at least I know I can write. That was successful and led me to good opportunities for sure, but it’s got me thinking about the “doing what I love” thing again.

Living in NYC has certainly opened my eyes to how short life is and how fast time passes. I equate one year in NYC to 5 years where I’m from in Tennessee. It’s just hard to keep up with it. It’s May? Really?! I’m also surrounded by people who hate what they do for a living. I think it has to do with those parents who fed us lies in our sleep. The idea that you can only be happy if you’re in a position making beau coups is preposterous in this day and age. Hell, after the economy crash, I get the feeling everyone must be reevaluating things. I have met people who worked and saved everything they had, working jobs they hated to invest and watch it all disappear over night! It makes you reconsider what’s more important...your sanity or making money?

I’m not saying you should quit your job and become a rock star with no money to support you during the trial period, but maybe finding a way to make money doing something you truly enjoy. The real challenge is getting past the idea that you can’t do it and you’d never get anywhere and be poor the rest of your life. I mean, doesn’t that seem so counter-intuitive? Why wouldn’t you be good at something you love so much?! Why is it so hard for most people to fathom?

For most, I think, it’s the starting over that’s the hardest hurdle to climb over. It’s what I’m facing as well. How do I make those four years of college not seem like a giant waste of time and money if I decide to take a completely different career path? How can I jump into my new line of work and make the same amount of money I do now so I can sustain my current standard of living? It’s a fear that keeps people in bad relationships, too, but that’s a whole different discussion.

This isn’t meant to be a motivational speech, and I certainly don’t intend on making the world wake up tomorrow and start a completely new job, but there are just too many miserable people out there (myself included). This is not the dream I had envisioned. I find myself asking these questions: How do I keep holding on to my dreams without losing grasp of everything I truly care about? How do I protect my dreams from corporate corruption? How do I manipulate what I’m doing now into something I can be actually proud of and happy to do? What is it that I really want to do?

That last question is the hardest and easiest to answer. Quite simply, I want to do everything! I want to write the next great American novel, I want to publish a photography book that could rival Tim Flach’s Equus, I want to train horses and riders, I want to photograph animals with their people and actually make a living off it, I want to travel the country and world, and really...I want to live and not worry. It’s a lot, but really, it’s not. I can do all of that. I’ve done so much more up to this point and wow, I have a lot of years left. I am still young enough to make a complete 180 from where I am now.

So, now, I’m trying to figure out a way to take my talents and meld them into something I can really be proud of and something that the public can appreciate and seek. I just have to make it happen.

It’s just like starting a term paper. Even if it’s on a subject you know and love inside and out, that first paragraph is always the hardest to write, because it’s the most important. You outline everything that’s most important and it stands as the foundation to the entire body of work. It’s the same thing starting a new career you’re unsure will be successful. You have to put yourself out there and really take the risk that it won’t work out, but you have to establish the reasons you’re taking the risk, because, otherwise, you may lose your inspiration.

However you do it, you have to have courage and faith in yourself. So, then what do you tell yourself right as you’re jumping off the cliff into the great unknown?


Monday, May 10, 2010

Two steps forward

It was blustery here this past weekend and I was a little less than eager to go outside to do anything. I was completely worthless on Saturday aside from making my husband fresh pasta ravioli and providing my loving pit bull and cat a warm body to snuggle 75% of the day. I spent most of the week with Eclipse, so I took the day off to wallow in self-pity and attempt a brighter outlook on the week to come.

Sunday arrived and I had no excuse. I needed to see my horse or I’d lose everything we had accomplished these past few weeks. I forgot it was mother’s day (the result of having lost my mother as a baby and being raised by only men, I tend to forget this holiday) and quickly kicked myself once I hit traffic on my way to the barn.

The place was deserted so at least I had the arena to myself, but then again no one is ever there in the first place, so I’m not sure why this was a relief to me. So, in the two days I hadn’t seen my horse he was somehow transformed from a loving pocket pony into a fire-breathing dragon. My guess is that he was completely pissed off at me for not visiting him on Saturday that he decided to defy my every move. I decided against riding. The wind was howling and he was just crazy.

We did lots of ground work and that went well for the most part, until I let him off the lead rope to run around the arena. He decided to take the opportunity to repeatedly charge the alpha mare’s pen, threatening to jump the fence to impress her (or challenge her authority, which is doubtful). I think I actually saw her roll her eyes at him. Maybe I did, too. He was way beyond even registering my presence, so I rounded him up again and went back to the barn.

The wind was really howling through the barn and the barn door at the end of the aisle was cracked slightly making horrible banging noises when the wind really kicked up. Eclipse decided to take the the opportunity to test the strength of the barn cross ties and back out as if had to escape that horrible barn door or die a slow painful death. He was able to wiggle out of his halter before anything broke, fortunately enough, but I was still extremely annoyed. He bolted outside to the nearest patch of grass, acting nervous, but completely calm. He’s a good actor I think I’m finding out...

Great. So he’s broken one fence from backing, backed out of a halter, backed out of a hitch post breaking my reins and now I’m afraid he’s just going to do this all the time. It’s happening way to often and he doesn’t listen to “WHOA”, “Eaasssyyyy”, “STAND”, or “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WILL YOU STOP IT YOU CRAZY HORSE?!” Our ground work has been helping, but that’s not stopping the standing issues.


I’m going to hope for good weather and a sane horse this week. Maybe I’ll get at least one or the other. I’m hoping for the later.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When God Closes a Door...

Yesterday was awful. It was a beautiful day, they let us out of work early, but unfortunately those things didn't take away the horrible disappointment of the news I received in the afternoon.

Let's just say, it was career related, I put my all into this thing and I was was so confident it would come out in my favor. Instead, I was completely taken by surprise. I'm sorry to be vague. I was really counting on this change.

I tried to optimistically tell myself it must be a sign. It didn't help my mood at all. I'm just so unhappy doing what I'm doing right now. It's so incredibly mind-numbing that I could actually take up some form of banging my head against the cubical wall if they weren't so unstable and soft. This other opportunity came up just as I was starting to think I could never do this for the rest of my life. This other job would have been so perfect for me--would have restarted my inspiration and perhaps interest me in this industry again.

But I guess it wasn't meant to be...and honestly, it's a little crazy to me. I was perfect for it.

I have to stop it. I just deleted a couple of paragraphs of more self-deprecating whining. It's not worth it. Today is a new day. Yesterday is over and I have to move on. "You can't always get what you want," the Rolling Stones said.

So, aside from the other shitty happenings of the day (DMV time-wasting-money-spending uselessness, difference in principal beliefs with the husband and overall discomfort with anything and everything around me in those moments), it at least ended on a good note. Tom put up with my overall bratty attitude and made me help him make rice crispy treats. Yes, it lifted my mood. Then we watched Brothers and I cried some more. **Note: that is one HEAVY movie. Don't watch for something uplifting. nope.**

I want to go back to what I said earlier about signs. Several years ago, I was a classical vocalist and I was good. Unfortunately, it was a situation where my father had pressured me into it all because everyone else was, and he saw big lights an venues for me like everyone else, but I was a kid and all I wanted to do was ride horses. It was a constant battle with him between those two things. One day my trainer announced we were training for the Olympics and he never let me go back. He blamed it on the money. I never forgave him for that. Perhaps I took a little of that anger out on my music career.

I was accepted to a prestigious private liberal arts college and decided to pursue psychology until I made up my mind. I joined the chorus and for some reason was coaxed into switching to a music major completely. I transferred to another school, a general university with an incredible music school, and went full steam ahead. If I couldn't make my passion for horses a career then I'd pursue music to the max. I was a good singer and had enough pull to get in and make a name for myself. I spend a semester and a half studying music and the day came for auditions to be formally accepted for the curriculum.

I. Didn't. Get. In.

I was completely shattered. Just thinking about it now makes me sick to my stomach. I got the same feeling yesterday and I told myself the same thing both times: I must be meant to do something else. Everything happens for a reason.

I'm not sure if that's more of a coping mechanism or my actual soul consoling me, but it certainly came to fruition last time. Since music was out of the picture, I was forced to look to my other talents. I discovered I was a very talented writer and photographer so I absorbed myself in anything I could to tell a story with photographs. I loved it. I love it. That's not what I'm doing right now, but it is what led me here.

So, I've learned something from both of these events. I hate a lot of what I'm doing right now, and I HATE to lose. So there's that. It finally came out...and it makes so much sense...especially with my work with Eclipse and what our trainer observed in us. Eclipse hates to lose too, and isn't it funny we're together?

I confessed to Tom the other night I was looking at listings for horse trainers and instructors seeking apprentices and students. He nodded and said it sounded pretty perfect for if he started looking for a sound engineer needing an assistant to learn all they know--it would be exactly perfect for him. I was half joking when I told him, but he said he would fully support anything I decide to do as long as it makes me happy. The problem? It would most certainly take me somewhere else for a year minimum.

I'm enjoying the work I'm doing with Eclipse and I'm learning so much. It makes me want to know more, but knowledge is money most times, and I have to have some kind of job to pay for that, right? It's this horrible cycle I can't remove myself from...or at least, I don't know how...yet.

Anyway. It's a decently nice day today. It rained this morning and I stayed in bed with my cuddly pit bull for far too long and I couldn't continue to the barn without relieving my heart of these feelings.

Well, so that door closed. Where's the window?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You Never Forget Your First...

Tom and I lived together in Tennessee for a year in an apartment above a stable. The rent was expensive, but it was my dream to be around horses 24/7 so he made it happen for me. I was only taking lessons at the time and Tom’s mother found the place accidentally on her way home from work one day. I went out to take a look despite the rent, which was way over my college budget. Needless to say, I fell in love.

It was an existing horse farm on a large property previously owned by a Saddlebred breeder who sold the farm and moved next door and retire. The new owner of the stable leased it out to a horse trader who rebuilt the barn (it had burned almost to the ground years prior). It was a beautiful place looking over amazing rolling pastures and the Tennessee river. I can still remember the sun set and how it transformed everything into a shimmering wonderland of a dream. It was surreal and sometimes I have to ask Tom if it was real. I think he feels the same longing I have—we both want that time back. Maybe we needed that short time in heaven to understand what it is we are working for, and why we had to leave it behind.

Tom was still in New York when I went to see the apartment. I came home crushed. I knew we’d never be able to afford it and wished I had never seen it. I called Tom to tell him all about it and he agreed that we couldn’t afford it, even together. I was living in his parent’s basement and could hardly find an affordable apartment that allowed pets, so I was stuck for the time being, which I was fine with. They were amazing to let me stay and I am (and was) so grateful for that.

Meanwhile, I started school that fall and pushed the barn out of my mind. Tom came to visit for a surprise weekend and I took him out to see the place. No one was around to show us the apartment but he was able to look inside...or maybe the door was unlocked? I can’t quite remember at this point, but what I do remember is the sensation my heart made when I kissed him goodbye at the airport and he told me to get the apartment if it was still available.

I practically ran to my car and called the landlord the very second I closed my car door. He said it was still available and that I could have it if I wanted it.

Before I knew it, I was making a home again. Painting, cleaning, decorating, settling the animals and petting all the gorgeous horses over the fence. Of course it wasn’t perfect but there’s no reason to dwell on the negatives at this point. I was in heaven and that’s all that matters right now.

Tom, grudgingly, moved in with me a couple of months later. The landlord (or Horse Trader, as I came to know him) was a bit of a womanizer, so he was not warming to Tom’s presence in his neatly groomed harem of cute horse girls. This caused problems, and was ultimately why we had to leave down the road, but I still remember the joyous moments clearer.

Of the numerous horses crammed into the 19 acre back pasture, I had found one I couldn’t take my eye off of. He was black. The horse trader always called him “Blackie” and told me to take him for a ride. I never looked back. I rode that horse every day. I groomed him, fed him—loved him. The horse trader saw my growing affection for “Blackie” turn into dollar signs. I was just another sucker to him. Tom’s mother bought him in a sunset trade (what I call a two-hour horse purchase) and I worked with them both in the evening and cared for him during the day.

**You’ve seen me refer to this horse in previous posts as “Iron Man”. That technically was his name, but that’s not what we called him. The same goes for all other names mentioned here. I’ll explain that another time. **

At any rate, Iron Man was a little too much horse for her, so she began looking for something else. In the meantime, I took care of Iron Man as if he were my own and paid board for him while we kept our eyes out for someone to take him. I certainly couldn’t afford him, after all.

Of all the beautiful memories of that place, there is one that will never fade or tarnish in my heart. It was Christmas Eve—our first Christmas living together, and Tom and I had spent the night cooking, making presents for our loved ones and enjoying the day with our “kids”. I brought home a tiny little Christmas tree (a bush really) complete with miniature lights and bulbs and we decorated it together.

That night as we were going to bed I remember Tom saying he was going to stay up for a little while and play on his guitar.  I was hardly awake when he came to bed and asked me if I had ever written a letter to Santa Clause. I mumbled in my tired-stupor: Of course I did! He asked me what I ever asked for. I told him, “A horse of my own. What else could I have ever wanted?”

The next morning I grudgingly pulled on my coat and jeans to go downstairs and feed Iron Man. I remember everything about that morning. It was unusually warm and the sun was breaking through the clouds so gloriously kissing the tops of the trees and setting the river below to a shimmering light show. I shuffled my feet down the barn aisle, stopping in the feed room to get his grain. I could hear him pawing at his stall door and asking me to please hurry it up. I meandered up to his stall door, but there was something different.

On the handle of the stall door was a strange assortment of bowed ribbon and string. I thought it was very cute Tom had put Christmas decorations on his stall. They had really bonded, and Tom was becoming a good rider. But there was still something strange-looking about those bows...was that a note in there?

My eyes were still a little blurry from sleep, but I leaned in closer after tossing Iron Man’s grain in his stall and realized there was something written on a little folded piece of gift wrap. This is what it said:

“Dear ______,
I got your letters long ago and I’m sorry it took me so long to deliver. He was hard to fit in the sleigh!
Sonic’s Iron Man is yours to keep!
Merry Christmas,

I screamed and cried and cried and screamed and threw the stall door open and hugged him and kissed him and kissed him and hugged him! I ran upstairs and jumped on Tom and told him what I had found! He smiled at me and said I must have been very good to get an entire horse for Christmas. I cried some more. He kissed me and we both went downstairs to share that most amazing moment. I threw the bridle on Iron Man and had the best ride I can remember. It was beautiful out. It was spiritual. Tom filmed it all and we shared it with the family that night for dinner. It was more than magical. It was a dream.

My relationship with that horse was special before he was mine, but after that, it was like we had become one heart and one soul. I love him so very very much and my heart aches that he’s no longer with me. I would give anything to be able to live the kind of life I would need to have him back. I didn’t know what kind of a life I was headed into. I couldn’t risk Iron Man’s safety for my uncertainty. I did what was best for him.

But this isn’t about our ending, it’s about our beginning...and though it wasn’t the actual start of our relationship, it was the true foundation of our love and it taught me so much.

Maybe it’s not Christmas or even close to Christmas, but that memory always crosses my mind whenever I see something that reminds me of him. This time, it was last night’s sunset—just like the ones we had at that barn and I can’t think of that place without thinking of him. Here’s the you, Iron Man...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NYC Carriage Horses

I had an appointment today at the lower east corner of Central Park today. It was just what I needed to help get me through the rest of the work day, but it made me a little sad, too.

I’ll spare you the details of my appointment, but let’s just say that it was medical and something I will probably be revisiting soon enough in a much more serious way.

Most of the time, getting on the subway is a major pain, especially to and from work, but when it’s the middle of the day, the trains are empty and it’s almost relaxing. It feels a little like the sensation of getting on a school bus for a field trip in school. Another other time it would be boring or wouldn’t matter, but you’re so excited to meet the destination that the bus becomes something more magical than ordinary.

I only traveled one stop but it was enough to get my blood moving and pick up my spirits. The best part was emerging from the underground to be greeted by that sweet smell of spring air mingled with the signature scent of the park carriage horses. Opinions may differ from person to person on how to classify that horse smell, but what some may find as an offensive odor, I define as a pleasant aroma! :)

I didn’t have a moment to spend time with any of the idle horses as I was already late for my appointment, but I always take a second to look at their overall physical appearance before passing by. As always, I was disappointed in the size of the horses against the size of the carriages. Some of the smaller horses seem so pitiful next to those ridiculous carts. I often call out to a driver pushing their horse too fast through yellow lights in traffic, because the smaller guys really struggle to slow down the weight behind them. I could go into the physical effects caused by such negligence but we’d be here forever. It shows though, that the drivers just don't care. (I am not defining carriage drivers as horribly negligent people with no regard for the horses in their care, I'm just saying that many of the carriage horses working in NYC are not cared for by standards I deem proper...This doesn't go for them all, obviously.)

Of course their feet always bother me. Iron on concrete for 9-10 hours a day should be a crime. And what do they go home to? A straight stall. I could go on for hours, but what REALLY gets me angry is how reckless the drivers are with the horses’ lives. I watched one carriage driver urge his horse into on-coming traffic to cut off other drivers to get a group as I was crossing the street. That poor horse is probably so emotionally numb at this point that he doesn’t care, and he made no reaction against the driver. He probably does that two or three times everyday and is too used to it to care anymore, but what do I know? Maybe he genuinely loves his work and is just fine with the traffic and the cars. I digress...

The sight and smell of the horses in Central Park really completes the aesthetic of Manhattan and I think it’s for that reason that they are still allowed to offer rides, but it comes at such a heavy price. What are your thoughts on the NYC carriage horse issue? Equine Progressive wrote this article about what’s going on and I have to say I agree on all points. It’s NOT fair how hard those poor horses work. Please see the links in the article for more information on what some of the local movements are doing to get more rights for those over-worked equines.

On the other side of the spectrum, those beautiful drafts (and other breeds) really saved my heart from total destruction in that first hard year without Iron Man. When I felt most alone or sad or simply felt home sick, I would walk to Central Park and walk down the block rubbing my hands and face all over those beautiful animals. Some of them just stood there, but sometimes one or two would really show an interest and seemed genuinely happy to give back a little comfort. I wonder sometimes what it would have been like without them. I wouldn’t have been able to walk away with that glorious smell on my hands for the rest of the day, inspiring memories of my past and dreams of the future.

Whatever the result may have been, I deeply believe their purpose in my life was good and their presence was/is positive, even if my one little life against all the pain they suffer is sorely unbalanced, I am nevertheless so very grateful for them. Don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting the actions, or lack thereof, of their owners/drivers. I want them out of harm’s way and working humane hours. Hopefully that will fuel my own action to their cause soon enough. Until then, I have to say, I’m thankful for those horses in my city. The least we can show is our gratitude. It’s our love and respect that will be the first actions to further stand up for their rights and treatment--but we can't just stop at that. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whole Numbers and Fractions

Eclipse and I had a pretty fantastic weekend despite the bath incident. For me, our progress in the past few weeks has felt like a something more along the lines of a fairy tale more than reality.

I wrote a while back about my frustration with Eclipse’s complete disinterest in me and anything we did together here. It seemed like a cruel joke at the time. How could a horse known for being the most able and willing to bond with their owner completely hate me? Of course I’m projecting my social insecurities a bit by trying to associate an animal’s instinctual responses to my human circumstance, but still, it was beginning to hurt.

So, since I moved him, things have really started to change. It’s as if the entire past year didn’t even happen and it’s more of a blurry memory of a dream than actual reality. He’s just so...different. But I’m realizing that it’s not just him—it’s me, too.

My riding instructor wrote me an e-mail with the following statement when we were discussing my goals with Eclipse regarding the move:

You appear to be an overachiever to me and sometimes that personality expects too much too fast.  On the other hand its part of what makes you an amazing person and will make you an amazing horse person as well.

Well- guess what?  Arabs are overachievers too.  They can be hard to work with because they are so good at outsmarting us.  We discussed when
{Eclipse’s trainer} was working with him that you tend to think in whole numbers instead of fractions.  We'll start with your fractions!

I do believe he has a sensitive personality and it may very well be that he resents the other horses getting more attention.”

I think I read that email a dozen times with my jaw to the floor because I had never realized...she is exactly right. I tend to hold certain standards and expectations for a bigger picture without really taking the time to address the smaller elements involved to create that bigger picture, but I never realized how much that affected my relationship with Eclipse.

I took her advice to heart and we have really worked on things from the ground up. I’m treating this move as a fresh start, as I did with Tom when we moved out of our stress-infested loft into our relaxed, albeit unfinished, new semi-private loft. The parallels between the two moves are uncanny. Tom and I are more relaxed around each other than we’ve been since we moved her and Eclipse is finally interested in my existence...but it’s so much more than that. I don’t have the space or attention span to make a true comparison of the two in this post, but I’ll share the other side of the story in the near future.

All it took was a little patience. It’s been almost a month now and I’ve noticed more about my little pony in this short time period than the entire year leading up to it. Granted, there is a TON of work left to do and we are only scratching the surface, but I feel we have finally gone a step in the right direction.

I started by simply slowing down. My instructor has advised me that better prep allows for better lessons, which of course is true, but not something I had ever really appreciated until now. Instead of jumping out of my car, wrangling him in for a quick brush, ride and run, I’m just taking my time...

Instead of walking to him in the paddock I wait by the gate until he decides to come to me—and he does. Instead of starting by riding, we’re doing natural horsemanship ground work and games—and it’s working. Instead of just grooming and tacking, we’re also massaging and stretching—and it’s working. Instead of un-tacking and sending him back to his paddock, we’re spending time in a grassy lot to graze and have lunch together. We’re running around together without the lead—and it’s amazing. I can actually feel his honest interest in what we do together. I can see his interest in me—finally!

I think it started with the massage and stretches. You can read more about that from the post I wrote addressing the first session, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It has been marvelous seeing Eclipse make those adorable faces when I scratch or massage just the right spot. It’s embarrassing to admit I never took the time to really find these “happy places” until now.   I can see his eyes light up when I put the “happy brush” to his nose and ears. I giggle in-spite of myself. His happiness is mine.

Then I grab our training stick and lead and get to work on some of the exercises our trainer showed me. I start out by playing the “friendly game”, rather, rubbing the stick on his back, shoulders neck and legs and allowing the string and lead rope to do the same. Before he falls asleep we work on some other techniques I learned to help desensitize him to the snaps and cracks from the string and he totally gets it. He’s patient and understands nothing is going to hurt him, even if the stick and string sound scary sometimes. We’ve done this a few times, but last Saturday was a real break through.

We played the normal games...we lunged, hid the hinny, yielded the shoulder, side-passed along the fence line in both directions and really worked up a sweat. I decided to do something different this time, though. I let him off the lead to run around and do as he pleased without me being attached. First, he ran off the the side of the arena where his friends were, but they paid him no attention, so he ran up and down the fence line. I called to him and he trotted over.

This is where every sound in my world was sucked away. I was holding my breath in disbelief. I held out my hand and he placed his soft little nose in my palm. I smiled.

I picked up my right arm and pointed. I then raised the stick in my left and and sent him around to the right and he went. He circled me a few times before he left the circle. I called him again and he came back. We went through this several times, increasing the pace, slowing the pace, pushing him to other areas of the arena and calling him back again.

Then, finally, I put down the stick and kissed to him. He came to my shoulder and I walked away. He followed. I turned to the left. He followed. I turned completely around. He followed. I walked to the scary side of the area, and he followed! I started to jog and he trotted along with me! We were Dancing! I was in tears.

I was so happy. I threw my arms around him and laughed, heaving with joy. He licked and chewed and nuzzled my shoulder gently without knocking me over. I had butterflies under my skin and a sweet buzzing in my head. We were different. We were hearing each other for the first time. I thanked him for waiting on me.

That was Saturday...stay tuned for Sunday.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bath Time Hysterics

It’s raining in Manhattan today. Meteorologists are calling for more storms throughout the day and I’m sitting in my office watching it all from 30 stories up. I can imagine Eclipse is watching the rain from his run-in stall, keeping his precious nose warm and dry inside.

He hates water.

When I first brought him to his new home (our last barn) I was sure he had zero vices. Within that first weekend I realized how very wrong I was to think other horse owners' definition of "bomb-proof" was different than mine. I had taken Eclipse on a non-eventful trail ride when I went to meet him in New Jersey, but I suppose he had been on those trails more times than would warrant a spooky reaction from anything.

But when he arrived at the barn I discovered he was deathly afraid of water—puddles, streams, sprays, etc. After a rather interesting first trail ride in the park on his second day with me I gave him a bath to wash away all the “stress sweat” that had dried on his shoulders and neck. That did not go well. I had him tied to a post in the wash area and decided to avoid cross-ties. Within two seconds of turning on the water hose he had already broken the lead snap and bolted away down the paddock. I was standing there with the hose in my hand in completely shock and disbelief. I had never had a horse afraid of a bath!

I emailed the owner and she said he had never shown any kind of behavior like this and promptly dismissed my concerns. I’m not sure what she had done with him up until this point, or if he had even ever had a bath in her ownership, but he was NOT having it! It took a long time to get him calm enough to allow the hose to come close to him, but getting him back on the rubber mats was a completely different story. I got to the point where I was honestly afraid of giving him a bath in fear he would hurt himself or me to get out of it. Needless to say, it took a long time for baths to become more comfortable—and it’s still not 100% there.

I thought we had the bath time jitters out of our system until this weekend. As I mentioned before, we recently moved to a new barn. The wash “area” is at the side of the barn next to house with a very loud set of kids running around throughout the day. There’s a concrete section and a fence rail to tie up to. I gave him a bath there a couple of weeks ago without too much trouble, OK he pulled back once, but I calmed him down enough to finish hosing him down.

I thought everything was fine until Saturday. We had an amazing workout together and the heat really put Eclipse in a lather. I had him completely hosed down when one of the kids next door screams frantically from behind the privacy fence. No matter how soft my voice was or firm I held the rope to help him give to the pressure, he was determined to break away. He knows he can do it, so he did.

But it wasn’t the lead snap that was the actual fence and it came down on me. Granted, it was an old wooden post with feeble slats on each side, still, it hurt as it crashed into my knees. Despite the ache, I walked him around the area the best I could and tried to soothe him and help him see the water and the hose weren’t the issue. His mind was already gone though, and I wasn’t sure what else could be done at that point.

Puddles and streams and sprays are another story all together, but this bath thing has REALLY got me wondering about his past and what on earth would trigger such fright in him. I understand the little girl screaming probably set him off this time, but it wouldn’t have spurred such a strong reaction in him if he hadn’t been in water, I think.

I’ve used the tarp techniques, rubbing it on him, having him walk over it, crinkling it up around him—it doesn’t bother him! I’ve stroked him with the hose, walked him over the bath mats dry and wet and he still freaks out over bath time.

I’m really not sure what to do about it at this point aside from just bathing him 5 times a day to get him used to it. What do you all think? Do you have any similar situations or suggestions?

So, here I am, reflecting on how I can help Eclipse get through this and I didn't even notice my gigantic bruise from the fence as I was putting on a dress for work. At least it's not hoof-shaped.