Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bernice talks about her Thoroughbred, Honor, Part II

The second week at the stable, she ran off through the barn and jumped over a little Ford tractor standing parked in the door way -- cuts and scrapes. How she came through with only that, I’ll never understand. Only with a lip chain was I able to clean her up and keep those wounds clean three times a day. What was good, however, from the situation -- if there is one -- is it gave me another opportunity to step even closer to her -- she had to trust me again and gain. Two weeks later I no longer needed the lip chain and the wounds were healing well. I set up a training schedule that went something like this: morning feed and brushing, ground work, leading, longing, saddling on and off, voice commands, plastic bags and scary obstacles. The morning would end with a massage and feeding.

In the afternoon, I took her for walks with my little pony (his name is “Little Pony”). We learned about hobbles, packs and being tied up and left alone.

The third week, I’d begun to ride her. Now something I rarely mentioned to anyone was her back. First the rain rot all along her shoulder, back and hips made her very sensitive to touch -- I could do a deep massage along her back and she’d sink to her knees. “Whoa!” most would think and so did I! But as I massaged more and more her back became less and less sensitive, so I just kept on rubbing oils onto her and she got better about her back. So I lay across her back before saddling her just to see what she’d do -- I took a milk crate and stood on it so I could just lie across her. Much to my surprise, she sunk like a wet noodle. I have never seen a horse bend their back like she did. I thought “Oh now what, my horse is a cripple.” Anyone would have called a vet in and had her x-rayed, etc. But I knew -- I just knew -- that

  1. this horse had probably never had a person on her bareback,
  2. the rain rot was a factor and
  3. she moved too fluidly to have back problems.

So I kept going. When I used a saddle, there were no problems and no sign of weakness. Yet when I mounted bareback, I thought her belly would touch the
ground! So I started laying across her and I’d slap her belly with my right hand to encourage her to stand up straight (she was tied while I did this). How much weight does a racehorse carry in its racehorse world (60-80 pounds, maybe 100 pounds?) They only pick up the left lead; a right lead would be severely discouraged. They are trained to run in to the pressure of the bit, not yield to it. And one can only imagine what it must do to their psyche…the noise, the ringing bells, the loud speakers, the adrenaline rushes and the feed they are wired up on to run.

Today we crossed Interstate 90 heading south nearing Iowa. There are semis, heavy equipment on trailers, pickups and cars racing by us. The over pass is wide, but still a semi is a semi. She walked bravely, quietly even when in the middle of the over pass, semis were now racing under her, out of eyesight, making the earth shake beneath us. I am proud of her! It has been such a long haul with her and even as I reflect back to those early days with her -- the afternoons of dressage training, then an hour of climbing, then maybe road work and then maybe just let loose to run and stretch. It all seems so long ago. Yet many problems remain. She still paws, although it is better. She still gets oh so crazy when in heat and if any one of you out there can give me a “try this,” I am always willing to listen to something new. I consequently keep her from other horses. When I stop to ask for water or a place to camp, I choose homes without horses. If I stay at a fairground, I do it during the middle of the week. I believe she needs to unlearn her instincts and I believe it can be done -- a long process and much time to reverse old habits -- like us all. But I believe also I must approach this differently as I have a very unique situation with this horse. We are together 24/7. Her training continues everyday. She is now, I say with confidence, road safe, town and city safe. Four-wheelers, motorcycles, bicycles, llamas, pack of dogs, plastic bags waving on barbwire fences. We have ridden into pig farms smelling so strongly I wondered what other horse would do this. We pass turkey and chicken barns. Yesterday we rode in to the town of Windom, along a very busy highway, and once had to ride past a noisy, foul smelling meat packing plant. I thought what must this horse smell? Yet she handled it with the ease of a well-seasoned, long-distance, cross-country horse. We made our way through town to the fairground where although no horses were in sight, she could smell them and she
threw a fit in the stall. Had it lasted much longer, I’d have put hobbles on her. But these little tantrums last less and less. I don’t leave her sight, nor does Claire, until she has settled down.

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