Monday, December 21, 2009

Asking the right questions

Are you going to take the time to read through this?  Will you actually stop to think about life as we know it?  As the new year and new decade approaches, I wonder more about life and how we live each day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What do you do with separate passions?

When I was younger, I was fascinated with Monty Roberts, his method of breaking horses, and in particular the round-penning method he used.  Today it came to my attention that Fox has been a bad girl on the lunge line.  She stops and spins so that she only has to go in one direction.  So today I practiced the skills that the Sticky pony has been teaching me the past few weeks.  Sticky has lived in a herd for most of her life, and therefore is extremely sensitive to body language.  In her first week acclimating to her new herd, Polly drove her away each time she tried to join it.  In the same way, lunging a green horse is largely based on body language.  Sticky taught me more about my body language in the first day I worked her in the round pen than I had ever learned previously.

I was able to use those simple principles that I learned that day today with Fox.  From the way I position my body in relation to hers, to where I look, to my posture - she reacts to all of it.  After about twenty minutes of driving her forward, asking her stop, turn, and go forward she was ready to finally listen to me.  I dropped the whip and turned my back on her.  She stopped too, looking my way.  Eventually, while my back was still turned on her, she walked towards me and rested her head on my shoulder.  I proceeded to walk away, and she followed.  A huge part of respect on the ground can be taught in the round pen, and the concepts work whether you are in an enclosed area or not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Potential after all?

Today was the first day that I have really felt like there was any kind of bond developing between me and the pony beast. I began using a new method for catching her in the field, and surprisingly (or not so surprising) it took much less time to catch her. When I walk out into the field she instantly realizes I'm coming for her, and begins walking or trotting away. So today I brought a whole handful of peppermints with me, and I walked towards the herd. I first walked up to Max, crinkled the wrappers, and gave Max a peppermint. I soon had the whole herd following me, but it still took a few minutes to catch the beast.

Once I got her though, we went inside and I pulled all the burrs out of her mane, tail and ears. I went outside and set up a small cross rail with a chute on either side. She followed me as I moved standards and poles, genuinely curious about what was going. She seemed happy to be out and about playing around instead of working under saddle. I started by leading her through the chute, letting her follow me, with no halter or lead rope. Everything she did was her choice, and she is extremely responsive to body language. I have been able to reach a point with her where she drops her head and chews - a sign reflecting her desire to develop a bond with her human.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A reflection on the holiday season

The holidays are supposed to be a time to think and reflect on all the things that we are thankful for, but because of the university exam schedule, and because of all my extra curriculars, this is one of those things that is easier not to think about. Last night while I was at a pre-game in my friend's apartment, the N'Sync "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" song came on (, and everyone around me gathered together and swayed to Justin Timberlake's soothing voice. While the song is simply a corny late 90's song made by a stereotypical boy band, somehow the lyrics really got me thinking. The pre-game was a small one, maybe 15 people, but all very close friends. I had my big Sarah next to me, my sisters all around me, and I just had to stand back and think about how lucky I really am.

I have 115 girls that I call sisters that I can depend on at any time to lift me up if I'm down. I have friends and family that will support me no matter what, I have people around me that have blessed me with opportunities to have horses that I can pretend are my own.

Today Sarah and I went to Walmart to buy frames for Grayson and David's pictures, and then we went over to their house to give them the presents. They LOVED them. The photo of Emma really seemed to move David, as she is his favorite. Their horses are their family, most have been in the family for 10+ years, and they can't imagine selling them. I can only hope that one day I'm as lucky as they have been.

Today I also had the opportunity to talk briefly with one of the boys I developed a bond with in Honduras. Kevin is seventeen years old, and lives in Flor Azul, a community of boys funded by donors to Hope For Honduran Children, and by sustainable business practices that the boys work on everyday. Our conversations always start off simple and are usually short, and he doesn't have much internet access, but speaking with him always brightens my day. Today was "do you know that I miss you so much? and its hard for me, because I cannot see you."

He is a person I admire more than most people I have ever met. He has seen things that many people couldn't dream up in their worst nightmares, and yet he is resilient, and knows how to put on enough of a front to let everyone around him think he is okay. I'm not sure why, maybe its because I connect better with people and animals that are damaged in some way, but Kevin was the only boy at Hope for Honduran Children that I really got to know at all. He began to let me into his deep dark world, and the bond we forged was unlike one he claimed to have ever formed with another volunteer. He says he uses the front even to fool Mama Karen, the woman who saved his life, and who founded Hope For Honduran Children.

Leaving Proniño had been really difficult for me, as I had immersed myself so fully in the program and given my heart so freely to those boys. I was distraught upon leaving, and wrote many of them letters letting them know how I felt about them. There were two boys there though who really got under my skin. Juan Carlos, a cheeky 12 year old with eyes as clear and free as the sunrise. He was a child that could portray anything he chose to portray, but upon getting to know him, he too let me into his past. He told me about his addiction to crack cocaine, the time he spent living on the street, and the things that happened within his family.
Juan Carlos, Me, Eddie

 And then there was Eddie, a seemingly carefree ten year old whose laughter could make anyone smile, but whose eyes could tell a story to anyone who cared to look. These were my boys, mis hermanos. But to say that I can relate to them would be a joke. How can I possibly relate to the experiences these kids have had at such an early age? But I never tried to pretend that I could understand what it was like to watch deadly violence between two parents, or to not know where my next meal was coming from, instead I simply listened.

I'm not sure exactly what role we were expected to play while we were there, I just know that I was able to give what I could, and I have no regrets about the experience. I guess the point of this post - for whoever actually reads this blog - is that if nothing else this holiday season, tell the people you love what they mean to you, and take a second to be thankful for everything you have. There are too many people out there that have none of this, but still have the ability to be thankful for the simple gift of life, and those out there who are willing to help others along the way in whatever way they can.

Juan Carlos left, Eddie right at La MontañaMe with Kevin in Nuevo Paraíso

Friday, December 11, 2009

60s to ice

The ground is frozen in North Carolina today, and so Sticky has the day off. I was really hoping to free jump her, but there is no point in asking her to do anything on the ground while its like that. But I had my lesson with Anne this morning, and the ground was frozen there too, so we didn't too much. We talked a lot about lengthenings, and practiced an exercise where we picked up the canter, came back to a walk in the corner and turned down the diagonal, and walked towards a pole set 6 strides away from a cross rail. The idea was to pick up the canter from the walk as the horse is about to step over the pole, and then canter down the line picking up the left lead over the cross rail. After the cross rail we turned left quickly (to avoid the icy part of the ring) and continued over the outside line. We cantered into the line, walked, and completed the last fence as a walk fence. This does not mean that we simply walked through the fence, but instead, walked up to the fence, and at the base then asked for the horse to jump.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Progress Report

Well today was a good day, for the most part. Jim Bob agreed that the pony has come a long way, but he is still livid about the way the situation with Heath turned out. The thirty days I have put into her prove just how little he had done with her. The pony hasn't been my priority, and still I have gotten her from a nervous wreck that reared at every chance, to a pony that only rears when she is nervous, and can walk, trot, and canter and jump cross rails. I told Jim Bob if he ever has another horse that needs work, to send it my way instead.

We are coming up with the plan for the little one, which includes her going home to Jim Bob's house for the next six weeks. He will be working with her, and cleaning up her attitude, and getting rid of some of the nervousness that is so inherent in her. We talked about different methods, and not surprisingly, Jim Bob and I disagreed on the best way to train her. Its not a fundamental disagreement in training, but a rather simple one. He thinks that she would learn best if she was tired out before every ride, and I think that its more productive for the particular pony to learn to obey commands while she is still hot, as a kids pony that needs an hour of lunging before every ride is useless. I think she needs to learn to how to listen at all points when someone is on her back regardless of the amount of energy she has.

Today also marks the day she graduated to a martingale. Until today I had been using the tie down and halter over the bridle. I finally feel safe enough on her to just depend on the standing martingale for support.

Part of the plan for the spring, include Jim Bob bringing her back in February with her attitude adjustment, and the getting her out to some shows. She will likely be ready to go into full time jumping training, and it won't be until then that we find out when she is capable of. I think I may try to free jump her before I go home for break. Larges in the regular pony divisions jump 3' at the A's and 2'9 at the Schooling shows. I'd like to see how she reacts to a jump of any real consequence.

In the spring she will go into full time jump training, and will continue to learn how to carry herself effectively and use that hind end.

The Sticky Pony in action:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


So I don't know what's going on, but I found another dog on the street this morning. This time Sarah was with me, and the dog was an adorable brown and white Shitzu (sp?) wandering around on Shoe Road on our way to the barn. Of course, we are not people who can just see a dog wandering loose and just keep driving. I pulled over my car, put down my window and said "PUPPPYY" - same as yesterday. This dog too was a very friendly dog, though like most small dogs, was nervous about coming close enough to be picked up by a stranger. Eventually though, she came to me and I saw that she had a blue collar on, lined with fake pearls. We got back in my car since it was cold out, and called the number on her tag.

When there was no answer, we got out and began walking towards the nearest house (which was not close on a road of farms!). As we began walking towards that house a car pulled up and put his window down. Turns out it was his dog, though I'm sure in reality it was his wife's dog. The man was a larger man probably in his fifties, and he was burly - the kind of man who owns an auto shop (as the dog's tag indicated). We happily sent them on their way, and I left the pup with a nice big kiss on her forehead as she had her feet on the window looking out at me and Sarah.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The responsibilities of an animal owner

My morning got off to an emotional start, after I left my apartment I went to Head Start to get my hours sheet signed. As I was driving down Front St. on the way to Burlington, I saw a dog loose with a broken coated wire dragging beside her. As I watched several cars inch past the dog, trying not to hit her but also not try and do anything about the situation, I decided to pull over.

 As I pulled over I put my window down and said, "Puppppppy" in that voice you can only talk to an animal with. Immediately the dog's ears perked up and she came right over to my car, though she was still shy and nervous - head down, tail between her legs etc - her hind end was shaking like she was wagging her tail in excitement. She came all the way over and I pet her for a solid two minutes while talking to her, and clearly she was starving for attention. I picked up the end of the broken wire line, and began to walk towards the neighbors house whose property she was on when I first saw her.

I have only ever found a dog once before, and it was in Westfield, so the dog was in perfect health, was relaxed and friendly, and the first person I talked to was the owner. I hoped for the same luck for my new found friend. Instead, when the neighbor whose doorbell I rang opened the door, a grumpy man in his sixties stuck his head out through the door. He told me that he didn't recognize the dog, but it didn't belong to any of the neighbors he knew.

He pointed to a run down house on a small hill across the street and said she might belong to them. He mentioned that he nor any of his neighbors will associate with them in any way, and that he doesn't blame the dog for chewing through its wire leash to get away. I joked about taking the adorable pup home, but thats just unrealistic. While she was skinny and I could feel her ribs, she didn't seem like she was in that terrible of a situation.

As I began walking across the street and up the driveway I was met by a large skinny white dog that started barking his head off at my presence. Since I couldn't walk onto the porch as the dog looked mildly dangerous, I assumed the dog would alert the woman to my presence, as he did seem to be a guard dog. The woman who came off the porch didn't touch the white dog. But asked about the dog I had. I asked if she was hers, she confirmed, and took the dog off my hands. We spoke for a few minutes, and I was talking about what a sweet dog she had.

 After all the dog had stolen my heart when while talking to the other neighbor, sat on her back legs and put both paws on my legs looking up into my eyes with a look that said "I just want to be loved on". It was a look I saw hundreds of times from my chocolate lab Maggie who passed away the summer before my senior year of high school. Maggie used to do that trick for a treat, but later in life simply did it to be loved on.

As I walked away from the house, and down the hill towards my car, I turned to see the woman I had just handed this beautiful creature off to, begin scolding the dog with low harsh words and short swift knocks to the head with her hand. In this part of the country though, there seems to be nothing you can say to a person in this situation. As I have learned from my month with Sticky, owners will treat their animals how they choose to treat their animals, and there is really no changing it. My heart broke as I realized that I just put the dog back in an abusive home, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change that. While I realize you can't just take someone's dog, it almost seems like it would have been a better decision. Even the neighbor thought so before I went to the owner's house. Never before this gorgeous creature, have I ever felt like I have done so wrong by an animal. Its like after all these things that I have been preaching through my trials and tribulations with Sticky, I have failed one of these poor creatures too dependent to care for themselves.

Though I spent the car ride to the barn in tears, the yellow pony had no sympathy for me. Being the small crazy she is, it took me 30 minutes to catch her. Despite all her success yesterday, we were off to a rough start. Once Grayson came out to help me catch her, I was able to bring her inside and get her tacked up.

Our riding routine was same as yesterday, but I put the cross rail up two holes on either side. There is no reason why she should learn to drag her feet through a jump rather than making an effort to get over it.

I decided that on Thursday I'm going to have Jim Bob come out so that he can see her improvement before taking her home for the winter (if thats what he chooses to do). I think that in the next seven days I will be able to solidify the two most important things enough for there to be some remembrance of them if I get her back in the spring. I want her to w/t/c quietly, and I'd like her to jump a bit more as well.

On emotional days like today, I think about the fact that despite my passionate love of animals, my heart feels empty with no beast to call my own. And on days like today, when I have to realize that I can't hold myself responsible to all the creatures in the world, I think of my old mare Vanna. In the eight short months I had her she taught me more about life and responsibility that I could previously comprehend. We epitomized teamwork, and were so perfect for each other that it got to an extent that made her unsalable. Looking back, I know I failed her too, as I wasn't able to hold out to find the best possible home with four years of boarding school looming ahead of me. By nothing more than dumb luck, I found her after an excruciating four years, and she is sitting in a field that I can drive by when I get a chance. Not all creatures are so lucky, but then again, not all people are lucky enough to have a bond like the one I had with that gorgeous mare - the only horse I have ever be privileged enough to call my own.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A day of firsts

I'm so proud of the little mare! Sticky (like Post-It, as Kaitlyn has affectionately named her - you're welcome!) had many firsts today, and what a good girl she was! Though I haven't been spending nearly as much time with her as I should, what with volunteering, classes and the heavy workload my teachers have decided are appropriate, combined with the fact that I'm not getting paid to ride her in any way, has led to her becoming a thing on the backburner.

Today, however, was the first time we cantered under control, that she stood while I mounted, jumped a cross rail under saddle, ground drove, and long lined.

I know this sounds like a lot to introduce to a horse in just one day, but I did go out twice today. Before I got on I decided to set up some trotting poles because she has consistently been working well at the trot. She is finally moving straight, responding to my voice commands, and staying in control. I decided after 15 minutes of walking, trotting, and transitions, that we could start playing over the poles. I did a similar exercise with her that I did with Fox over Thanksgiving, and after those poles I halted on a straight line with just a "woah" and body language. After three or four times through she got it. After she was consistently moving through straight I got off and set up the smallest possible cross rail - probably 12" high. We only did this twice. She picked up her feet, and didn't have a melt down - I was happy with that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

On Christmas

Today Sarah helped me with Grayson and David's Christmas presents. I came up with an idea that Sarah is helping to pull off. I thought that the best gift that I have to give is my photography. So I thought for Grayson and David, this would be a very special present because from what Sarah said, they don't have any horse pictures in the house since they just moved in recently. They have seven horses, Maddie, Gabby, Emma, Prince, Max, Peppy, and Cinnamon. They also have two cats, Bob and Tabby, and a dog, Elton. Today Sarah and I got photos of the seven horses (not as discreetly as I would have hoped) and Bob. We will get Tabby and Elton another day. I thought that we could print all the horse photos as 8x10 and frame then in a simple black frame, and then print each dog/cat photo as a 5x7, and also put it in a black frame. Grayson has been like a second mother to us down here, and we wanted to find a way to show our appreciation. I think she will love it. Anyway, here are my favorites of each horse, and the cat.