Kindness


 

The stalling point

 

So the arena has been stalled at an unusable point for a month due to the construction crews moving to a cow/calf operation project that had to get done before calving. Um, arg.    This has effectively eliminated any chance of riding to days when the footing happens to be perfect in the pasture or on the gravel roads, which doesn’t happen with frequency in February in Iowa.  Of course, before the indoor arena project I had an outdoor arena which I could use with some regularity in winter, but the location of the indoor is where the outdoor was, so I am now effectively hamstrung for riding, until construction begins again in mid-March.

So I’ve been reading.  The latest book is “Dressage Masters, Techniques and Philosophies of Four Legendary Trainers”.  It is an interview book, simply written and it is really wonderful.  I bought it because it has my dressage hero, Klaus Balkenhol, as one of the four, but I’ve found also that the other trainers – Ernst Hoyos, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer and George Theodorescu are equally admirable.  It makes me feel good every time I realize that all good trainers sound fundamentally the same.  They all have first a love of the horse.  That seems obvious, until you meet a trainer who doesn’t love horses.   I bought this book for my Kindle for like $15 or something.

 

Ellen Schulten-Baumer

The quote from it that I want to share with you was spoken by Ellen Schulten-Baumer, whose father, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer, trained her.  She currently has 5 Grand Prix dressage horses in her barn that she and her dad trained from 3 year olds.  I’m just going to share this quote and get out, because I can add nothing to it.  Rock on, people.

 

“I learned something very important from my father.  When a horse doesn’t perform a lesson as expected, I first have to ask myself whether the horse is capable.  If the answer is yes, then I must think about how I apply my aids.  I must use them better so the horse understands exactly what I want.  This may involve riding more preparatory exercises.  If I can’t get it right fairly quickly, then I go to something else.  It is unfair and unproductive to drill a horse; this causes too much physical and mental stress.  I tell my students this also.  If they just can’t get it right, they can think about their aids overnight and try again tomorrow.  Then the horse and rider get a fresh star together.”

One of the tricks to being the Horsitivity Girl and keeping a positive attitude, is dealing as well as I can with days that are not so terrific.  Today is not a bad day at all, Jay and I are well, all the horses are well, so the basics are covered.  But I am annoyed with the mud that is part and parcel of the arena construction project.  This can really drag on a person as my paddock boots are always dirty and heavy with mud.  My barn is full of mud.  The footing is terrible everywhere, so I am limiting my riding to only the absolutely necessary rides, which bums me out.  It is overcast today and there is a long winter ahead.  All these add up to a slight melancholy for me.  But it is ridiculous for a person as fortunate as me to whine, so for days like this I always keep something easy and fun to do that cheers me up.

My cheerup for the moment is the helmet cam video of Peter Atkins riding Henry Jo Hampton around the WEG xc course.  Peter has a fun accent, he talks to his horse like he loves him, and watching the video generally reminds me of all that is effortless and fun and why horses and the people who love them are great.  The sort of growling you hear is him saying “Henny!”, the horse’s name.  He also takes out the flag at the third to the last obstacle and doesn’t miss a beat, just lands it and takes the option.  Love it.  Enjoy.

Tomorrow is supposed to be very windy, with rain.  So today we are getting as much done as we can outside – riding as many horses, raking leaves, and it turns out, late night dog walking in the pasture.

Even though the moon is nearly full, it is dark outside tonight.  The cloud cover has overpowered the luminosity of the moon and a southeast breeze blows forebodingly. But it is still mild enough out for a walk and we take the three dogs out.

Dory the wonder pup

Dory, who is 3 months old now, is a new addition to our family.  She was mostly ignored the first 8 weeks of her life, so she arrived fairly skittish.  Peppa, the Newfoundland, immediately understood the situation and took Dory under her wing, showing her all the good hangouts at our place, where varmints live or even momentarily passed by in the last 6 years, and that life is good here.  Now we are doing our part to show Dory that people are good too, thus the late-night pasture walks, clicker training at the Animal Rescue League and patience when she occasionally gets scared of something and runs from us.  That part makes us both very sad.  It is hard to not take it personally when a puppy runs away when all you want to do is comfort her.  She is getting much better at coming to us when loud noises and scary things, which are many to her, happen.  She is starting to see us as protectors and we are delighted.

Thus the pasture walk in the dark tonight.  Another opportunity to bond, to show Dory that we are fun to be around.  About 400 yards into the pasture, after we had joked that if we didn’t walk into a jump it would be a miracle with our lack of visibility, a silent horse form appeared, white stockings announcing the presence of Elliot.  He stood quietly as we walked up and we petted him while he lowered his head  and accepted our affection.  I moved back along his neck and over his shoulders, petting his developing winter coat  in long strokes.  I was amazed with how smooth and silky it was.  Soft and springy as spring grass, and nearly as sweet smelling.  He turned and looked at me with his big soft eyes as if to say, “Did you forget how sweet we are?”  I had.  These cooler days I have been wearing gloves most of the time, and in a little bit of a hurry here or there, so I hadn’t petted a horse barehanded and really paid attention to the luxuriousness of a horse’s coat in, well,  a while.  I just hung out a few minutes and really felt his coat while the breeze blew and the dogs and Jay played.

I had intended to do something nice for one animal, to spend some time with Dory, and I was thereby blessed with a reminder of the magnificence of experiencing something so familiar, but altogether new.  Glad I got off the couch.

Piaffe

When Jay and I were watching dressage at the WEG, we were using the headsets in which a commentator was, well, commentating.  I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes a particular turn of phrase will have such an undeniable “truthiness” (oh how I love that word) to it that I find myself putting everything else immediately aside to think about it.  The commentator was acknowledging a particularly beautiful piaffe in an afternoon of piaffing excellence.  She said,

“When you train a horse you have to do two things:  You have to teach him the mechanics of what you wish him to do, and then you have to teach him that he is good at it.”

Upon hearing that, I didn’t really see the rest of the test, though I was looking.  It was like a lightning bolt hit me, and I sat there, stunned.  That one sentence encapsulated all that I do with horses.  A trainer has to know the correct mechanics of any skill she is trying to teach (what are the footfalls of canter?  How does half pass start?  How does a horse arrange his legs in all stages of a jump?).  The trainer also has to know when the work is correct, or even close while they are learning, and communicate that to the horse.  Congratulate him, even.  When the horse gets his paycheck in praise for doing a thing as we wish, pretty soon he likes to do that thing.  When he likes to do that thing, he performs it with increasing confidence, which, if nurtured, becomes brilliance.

So the horse piaffing with joyful brilliance in front of us that day had mastered the mechanics of the movement, and he clearly knew he was good at it.  It was a joy to see.  Now that’s training.

 

Bino

 

I took a client’s horse in to ISU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital today to have radiographs on his front hooves.  He’d been pointing one front leg or the other intermittently over the last few weeks and finally we had to know what was going on.

The radiographs indicated moderate navicular and the prognosis is continuing deterioration and discomfort for the rest of his life.  I’ve had some second-hand experience with navicular disease and I know it isn’t fun for horse or human companion.  I’d suspected navicular and talked with my client yesterday about our options should that be the diagnosis.  We agreed that donating to the vet school for educational use for the students would be an option that at least would yield some benefit to society.  So when I got the news, alone with the vet in front of the glow of the radiographs on the lightbox, I considered a moment and told her of our wishes.  She agreed that navicular can be a difficult road and said she had to talk to administration to see if they were in need of horses right now.

She went off, and after I wiped the tears from my eyes after a sob, I went over to Bino’s stall and rubbed him in all the places he likes to be rubbed.  It isn’t fair, this business of good-minded, gentle souls being placed in bodies that hurt them.  But I didn’t cry around Bino.  I talked in my usual low voice and fed him cookies from my pocket.  He doesn’t need hysterics, he needs a friend to take his mind off his aching feet.  And a real friend to make the hard decision to take the pain away entirely for this lifetime.

The vet came back and said that there was a class starting in 2 weeks where the 4th year students would be learning catheterization and ultrasound techniques.  Since Bino is a good sort, he was a candidate.  They would administer pain killers so that he would not hurt in any way as a result of their occasional misfires in the learning process.  At the end of the term, they would euthanize him.  This wasn’t quite what I had envisioned.  I was thinking of them doing a practice colic surgery and just not reviving him at the end.  But I could get my mind around this plan too.

Difficult decision made, sniffles abated, but the class doesn’t start until October 27th, two and half weeks from now.  He could stay at the vet school or I could take him home and bring him back then.

I brought him home.  We’re going to have cookies.  We’re going to use bute.  We’re going to trail ride every day possible between here and October 26th, when I have to deliver him back to Ames.  I am going to continue to be his pal, even though he is really “only” a training horse to me.  His mom lives pretty far away and may come to see him, but she won’t be here daily.  I’m going to smile and notice butterflies and watch geese fly south from his back during the next two weeks.  I’m going to sing cowboy songs and let him be my hero horse.

And I won’t cry around him.  When my dad was terminal he seemed to really be uncomfortable when people would cry because of his situation.  Of course.  They were thinking of their loss, not really of him, or they’d have brought cookies or board games to cheer him up, even if only momentarily.  So I made him a funny fake news show about John Deere tractors at the television station I worked at during that time, and brought it to him.  He was a JD salesman.  He loved it.  He forgot his troubles for a moment.  It made him remember who he was and made him laugh.  There was time for crying after he was gone.

And the same is true for Bino.  We’re going to put on the big girl panties and enjoy these two weeks with walks in the soft ground of the harvested soybean fields, and I won’t cry in front of Bino.  There’s time for that later.

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