Day Two

So, this happened yesterday evening, when I went out to do the last check:

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That’s the baby’s tag, off her neck. 😀 Now she looks like a proper member of the family.

This morning, as soon as she saw me, she came to the rails to say hello and get a few scritches on her forehead. She let me rub most of her body – legs are still a bit of a caution zone, but she’s slowly relaxing under my hand – and then she let me rub her with the halter. I can slip it over her nose, but the smallest halter I have is still too big for her (Trinity was a long yearling when I brought her home, and this baby is likely just a smidge over a year) so I need to hit the feed store tomorrow to find one that will fit.

I saw a hint of spice this afternoon – she didn’t like the wind flapping my shirt when I reached to pet her, and gave me an ugly bitey face – but a quick stomp of my boot and a warning buzz had her scooting backwards and rethinking her attitude PDQ. A second later, when I invited her toward me again, she walked up and calmly investigated every stitch of my clothes. No big deal. 😀

I forgot how much fun it is to play with a baby, to see them figure every little thing out for the first time. I love, love, love this part.

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There’s a hint of shine under all that scruffy fuzz…

(First name I had picked out doesn’t seem to fit her, so I’m trying another.)

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First day!

I’ve found that if you let a new horse stand alone in his new home for too long, with nothing to occupy his mind, he’ll start to think that either this is the best deal ever and he never wants to work at all, or he’ll start to worry about what’s coming next and instead of settling in, he’ll get more and more anxious. So I think it’s important to introduce a routine in a gentle, easy way and to offer some glimpse of what your expectations are right from the start. I like smart horses, so the sorts of horses I tend to bring home tend to need something to think about – before they think themselves into trouble.

The challenge, of course, is to do this without overwhelming the new horse.

So, today I let the gray baby (name to be announced tomorrow!) mostly just relax and chow down while I sat on the corral rail nearby and read my book. (Reading a book is the fastest way I’ve found to catch a horse’s curiosity. Odd, but totally true!) She came over to sniff my hair, my hands, my jeans, my boots. Let me brush the forelock out of her eyes. She got used to seeing me with a hat and without, with long sleeves and without, with sunglasses and without. (Every mustang I’ve ever known thinks sunglasses are secret weapons and have to be convinced otherwise…)

And then I started to teach her the rules. (With Trinity’s occasional help from outside the corral.) Right now, there are only two she needs to know: 1. She can’t turn her butt to me. 2. When I walk up to her, she should stand still until I ask her to move.

She is doing really well with #2 and let me rub her head, neck, shoulder and back several times. I can reach for the tag around her neck, but I don’t trust her to stand still *quite* long enough for me to cut it off yet. That will come in the next day or so, I expect.

#1 is a little harder – her preferred defensive move appears to be a double-barrel kick so I REALLY don’t want her to get the idea she can swing her butt to me. She is sweet and mild around me – unlike the moments she feels she needs to protect her hay from Trinity *coughcough* – so I don’t want to make a huge deal of it. There’s no point in frightening her, but she needs to learn the rule. So today I taught her to turn and face me when I kiss to her. It’s an easy, adaptable cue that can form the basis for all sorts of conversations later, so it’s generally the first thing I teach. Took her a little bit to figure out I wasn’t just making weird noises for no reason, but I think she’s got the idea now. 🙂 Tomorrow I’ll build on it.

Already she’s looking less tucked-up and her eye is softer, so I think she’s doing pretty well. And tonight she discovered the wonders of soaked alfalfa shreds with a scoop of Horse Manna sprinkled on top. 😉

Life’s best adventures…

…begin like this:

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In other words, there’s a new wild mustang on the farm. 🙂

It all happened rather suddenly… my husband and I had been talking about adopting another for a while, but when we lost Gypsy it became a higher priority. And then the wranglers told me they’d be shipping horses east for satellite adoptions, so if I wanted the largest selection I needed to come quickly. My husband, who has always been distantly supportive of but largely uninterested in my horse hobby, decided he wanted to be involved this time and said, “Let’s leave this weekend!” So… yeah.

We drove to Elm Creek Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Nebraska (there is a closer facility, which I may visit this fall, but Elm Creek has a huge variety of horses and *excellent* wranglers) and spent almost two hours playing with 30 wild yearlings.

Before we arrived, I told my husband I was looking for learning potential more than athletic potential. I’m 40, and at this point in my life I care far more about a good mind than I do about fancy movement or athleticism (though I don’t regret choosing Trinity for those reasons at all, and I still like a horse with a decent build). I also said I didn’t care about color – “I’ll consider anything but a gray,” I said. (Note: I like gray horses! I just don’t want to deal with melanoma.)

So. I slipped into the corrals and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the choice available to me. I saw a bay roan and a red roan that tempted me – except then I’d be choosing based on color, and I swore I wouldn’t do that. There was a darling cream-colored filly with brown tips on her ears and large, soft eyes – but she was so, so small and her feet needed a lot of work. I saw several gorgeous sorrels – including one with a curly mane and tail – but they looked too much like Gypsy and my heart just wasn’t ready for that. There were a number of nice-looking bays and blacks, and several grays.

I nearly chose this one:

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because she was the first one to walk up to me, and had no hesitation in making contact with my hand. She was a stout little baby with a kind expression, but in the end, I chose this one:

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She looks a little rough around the edges, I know, and she’s a gray, which I swore I’d never choose, but I quite like her. When I stepped in her corral, she immediately approached and let me rub her nose, forehead, cheek, and neck. She followed me around, and when I asked her to back off she sensibly stepped back and waited for me to rub her face again. She let me run a hand down her back and over her withers, and when the other babies spooked at something she gave a little “huff!” but didn’t freak out.

She loaded in the trailer calmly and without fuss, though I did get to see a GORGEOUS elevated trot with a flagged tail, and she rode home like a pro. When we opened the door to let her out, she calmly stepped down and began chomping grass. She had no hesitation sucking water out of the stock tank even with the hose hissing and spraying water – something it took my generally fearless Trinity months to do.

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She has juvenile warts – really, really common in mustangs after the stress of capture and transport – and she needs to be dewormed again. Her winter coat hasn’t completely shed out, so she’s matted and dirty. She’s not much to see, yet. But when I look at her, I see the lovely horse she’ll grow into and I’m glad she’s here.

(And it broke my heart when the wrangler said, “I’m surprised you didn’t go for the roans or the palominos. No one chooses the plain ones!” I told him I was perfectly capable of looking beneath the color of the coat to find a good horse, and I’m sorry I was ever prejudiced against grays. Of course, if anyone has advice on how to prevent melanoma, I’m anxious to hear it! Plus, it will be loads of fun to watch her coat change as she grows.)

Trinity was very anxious when she heard the trailer rattling into her pasture, and then when the baby stepped off, she got SO EXCITED.

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The baby is a bit of a firecracker – she kicked at Trinity when she thought she was going to lose her pile of hay, and she has no problem asserting herself – but she’s respectful of people and their personal space, so she’s not quite as physically dominant as Trinity was when we brought her home.

I’m looking forward to working with her and seeing what she’ll be like once she settles in. Right now, she’s a little uncertain of her surroundings and tired from the long trailer ride, so I’ll keep things pretty low key for a few days.

First goal: remove the plastic tag from her neck and brush the mats off her coat.IMG_2782

(Her goal is, I believe, to suck up every blade of grass in her pen before someone else gets it!)

 

 

Books read in May…

  • BAYOU MAGIC by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill
  • THE READER by Traci Chee
  • FEAST OF SORROW by Crystal King
  • THE PERFECT DISTANCE by Kim Ablon Whitney
  • SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder
  • DRAGON TEETH by Michael Crichton
  • THE UNTOLD by Courtney Collins

Catching up, part 2…

This is the post I never wanted to write.

I’ve started and deleted it a number of times, because there’s no good way to say that Gypsy – my first mustang, my war mare – is gone. (For those that don’t know her, I wrote about her here.)

She was in her twenties and had been showing signs of what I assumed was mild arthritis, but she came out of the winter in good shape. She started exhibiting severe separation anxiety, but she’d lived her entire life in a herd, so I couldn’t blame her for being upset at suddenly getting left alone.

And then, on Mother’s Day, I found her in obvious distress. Her back was tight, abdomen cramped, steps short and uneven – left stifle obviously swollen. I hoped it was a soft tissue injury that might improve with rest and bute, but her condition deteriorated drastically over the next couple of days. Her resting heart rate, the last day, jumped from her usual 32 bpm to 68 bpm and she quit eating. She was basically breaking down in front of me, and though it broke my heart to do it, I had to say goodbye.

In retrospect, what I took to be mild arthritis in her hocks must have been more serious. She was a range-bred mustang who spent at least 8 years in the wild, so hiding pain was instinctive. I wonder now if this partly explains her separation anxiety, too. We think she took a bad step or slipped in mud and, maybe because her hocks were compromised, her stifle took the brunt of the force and couldn’t compensate. Her age and temperament probably contributed to the rapid progression of damage, though the vet assured me it could have happened to any horse and the prognosis would have been poor no matter what.

All I know is, she’s gone and the hole she’s left in my heart is too big for words.

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My big red mare, in her copper-penny spring coat.

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Passing the torch…

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I’ll always miss her, though.

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Catching up, part 1…

So, JP’s summer camp experience didn’t go the way I’d planned.

We got nine inches of rain the week he was here and his dry lot turned to a soul-sucking (or at least shoe-sucking) bog of heavy clay mud. Because of his foot issues, standing around in mud was NOT what he needed. My husband hauled in sand and screenings to at least give him dry bedding in the loafing shed, but an island of dry in a sea of muck wasn’t at all adequate for a big ol’ horse with bad feet. I hauled him back to my trainer’s barn for replacement shoes and had to leave him until the not-so-dry lot finally drained. Only, then we got another four inches, and another two inches… My husband tried cutting ditches around the lot to help with water flow, but when you get over a foot of rain in two weeks, there’s just not much you can do to keep things dry.

And then Gypsy tweaked something in her stifle, and I had to move her to the lot despite the mud. (More on that in the next post).

Unfortunately, JP’s summer camp here on the farm had to end much too soon. (He’s going to his new family this week, I think, and will have loads of fun playing with children – so all’s well that ends well, really). He was such a cool horse and I was looking forward to a couple months with him, but I didn’t have the flood-proof facilities he needed.

While he was here, I had the chance to truly appreciate a QH’s cool unflappability and gentle patience. JP was completely quiet – even with storms rolling overhead, trees shaking, and rain slanting in his face, he was easy to handle. And he was… simple in a sweet hearted way. Straightforward.

But I also realized, once again, that I’m a committed mustang person. Even when I’m tempted to tear my hair out, I really love bonding with challenging, sensitive, reactive horses. Mustangs are just *smart* – they have a self-reliance domestic horses don’t often get to develop, and I love that about them.

I also found it curious that neither Gypsy nor Trinity had ANY interest in befriending JP. Trinity made ugly faces at him over the fence and then adamantly ignored him the rest of the week. Gypsy pretended she never even saw him. I’ve noticed them behave this way with other domestic horses, so I can’t tell if their attitude was coincidental – were they just not in the mood to make friends? uninterested in an older gelding? uninterested in JP just because he’s JP? – or if they really can sense differences between mustangs and domestics.

I’m disappointed the summer camp experiment didn’t last longer (just watch: we won’t get another lick of rain until September… :S) but glad we had the chance to give it a try. It gave me several things to think about…

Horsewomen

I keep seeing, in the online circles I frequent, these “Why you should never date a horsewoman” memes. They’re meant to be tongue-in-cheek funny, I know, and I admit it’s easy to laugh at the peculiar quirks we recognize in ourselves.

But I have to say, those cutesy memes really drive me crazy. Hay-caught-in-the-bra crazy. Boot-stuck-in-the-mud crazy. Crazy, okay?

The thing is, they often carry an underlying smug condescension, a good-old-boy’s back-slap humor that says the patronizing indulgence of the patriarchy should be celebrated, that it’s okay to poke fun at what a woman considers important, that it’s okay to make her feel selfish and/or guilty for having a passion that doesn’t involve her man. (Even, oddly enough, when they’re written and shared by women.) Those memes tend to say, “Aren’t men great for putting up with silly women and their horses?

No. No, they’re not. What they are is lucky.

If you fall in love with a horsewoman*, and she happens to love you back, you’ve found a woman who isn’t afraid to get dirty. A woman who knows how to work hard, how to do a job right without expecting anyone to notice. You get a woman who values substance over shallow surfaces, authenticity over appearance.

If you love a horsewoman, you get a woman who can be comfortable in her own skin because her horse sees who she is inside. You get a woman who knows the importance of clear communication and the peace of companionable silence, a woman who knows how to listen and how to speak her mind. A woman who understands how to be vulnerable and when to be brave.

If you love a horsewoman, you love a woman with dreams, goals, and ambitions of her own – a woman who knows how to pursue her passions and who will support you while you chase yours, too. You have a woman who recognizes the importance of patience, but who also knows there are times you just have to grab mane and kick on.

If a woman has a heart wide and deep enough to love a horse, she has a heart with more than enough love for you. Sure, she might spend time at the barn (or in the pasture, or on the trail) that you wish she was spending with you – but when she returns, she’ll be so lit with joy and love and enthusiasm that she’ll light you up, too.

I would argue that horsewomen make the best life partners, because if they can build a partnership of mutual trust and respect with a creature that outweighs them by a thousand pounds, a creature strong enough and quick enough to kill them – well, then, they’re capable of facing everything life has to throw at you standing bravely at your side.

Sure, she may show up with hay in her hair or muck on her boots or random grass stains on her shirts, but there is genuine beauty in doing what you love and being who you’re meant to be.

She may spend more time cleaning stalls than cleaning the floors in your house, but you can figure out how to mop, too. Maybe dishes will wait an extra night for washing or the laundry won’t get folded right away. Maybe dinner won’t be waiting when you walk in the door. But if those are the things that matter to you, then a) what the heck is wrong with you? And b) you can hire a housekeeper or kitchen staff, if you feel that strongly.

Or c) maybe you don’t deserve a horsewoman at all.

But if you’re man enough to catch one, you’re a lucky man, indeed.

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  • Note: I freely admit not all women who say they love horses are actually horsewomen. I’m not talking about the fake ones, okay?

Books read in April

  • GEORGE WASHINGTON’S BEAUTIFUL NELLY: The Letters of Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis to Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, 1794-1851 edited by Patricia Brady
  • THE ISLAND OF HORSES by Eilis Dillon
  • [Redacted – personal research]
  • BOOTLEG: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal
  • FLAPPER by Joshua Zeitz
  • THE LOST GIRL OF ASTOR STREET by Stephanie Morrill
  • CAPONE: The Man and the Era by Laurence Bergreen
  • RELAXED AND FORWARD  by Anna Blake
  • A BEAUTIFUL BLUE DEATH by Charles Finch

A new kid in town for the summer…

Meet JP.

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He’s not mine, but he needed a place to spend the summer and I needed a companion for Gypsy while I take Trinity out and about. (Selling Brisa was absolutely the right thing to do for *her*, but I underestimated the impact it would have on Gypsy.) He has a minor health issue – but then, so do I. Maybe we’ll be good for each other (and maybe he can teach me how to ride Western :D).

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I never thought I’d bring a papered Quarter Horse to my little mustang ranch, but I suppose stranger things have happened. 😉 (No offense intended to any QHs or their people. I’m just passionate about mustangs.)

Anyway, he’s a cool horse and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better during the next couple of months. More pictures to come when it’s not raining.

On ambition, nostalgia, and regret…

The problem with having high ambitions is that falling a little short sometimes feels an awful lot like failure – even when you know you’re on the right path, even when you know it takes so many steps to climb a mountain.

I recently had the chance to reconnect with a group of bloggers I first “met” ten – twelve? – years ago, and while catching up has been wonderful, I’ve noticed that nostalgia can carry whispers of regret, too. Especially when you see people climbing higher, going farther, moving faster than you are.

There are so many things I thought I was going to accomplish by my fortieth birthday – things I’m still working on. (I’ve done plenty of other things I never dreamed I would, too, but the misses still sting.) I was feeling kind of rough and wobbly about it all, wondering if I’ve wasted the past decade or so, and then I spent time with my kids. Conversational time, where we laughed and talked and shared.

I’ve been a mom for seventeen years. During that time I’ve written grants, school policy handbooks, stories, poems, articles, essays, advocacy papers, and a book. I’ve homeschooled. I’ve raised dogs, sold dogs, adopted and tamed mustangs, ridden mustangs, gotten brave, lost my confidence, and started finding courage again. I went to my first (and so far only) horse show and came home with an armful of ribbons (even though I’m not at all competitive). I’ve crop scouted, learned to drive tractors, and started an environmental stewardship program on our farm. I’ve been a freelance editor, a volunteer, and a secretary.

But, really? I’ve mostly just been a mom. I put all my effort into being the best mom I knew how to be, even when it meant setting my own ambitions and goals aside for a while. Motherhood – parenthood – is hard and heartbreaking and hopeful. There are no promotions for motherhood – no awards, certificates, raises, paid vacation, buckles, ribbons, or trophies – but, man, the rewards and benefits are priceless.

Talking to my kids – my brilliant, creative, hilarious, independent teenagers – makes me more proud than anything else I could have been doing with the past seventeen years. And while watching them grow up brings its own bittersweet nostalgia, I am so looking forward to seeing where the future takes them – and me.