Friday, June 20:
Morgen honored me today, the last day before the world tips as close as she can get to the sun, and then starts swaying away, dropping us towards darkness and winter. I’d taken a week off from training and was worried that she’d go deep inside herself and be hard sided. I wondered if she would go so deep that she would not remember me.
But she came up to the paddock fence when I walked up and then called, when I disappeared around the corner. When she has her voice I know she is closer to the horse I will bring home, because at home she talks all the time, often calling from over the fence.
She has been mostly quiet. I don’t blame her because I feel the same way, settling into a calm, where I don’t need to say much. Neither one of us wants to step wrong, say or do the wrong thing. And she’s not close to any horses like she is to Tessie.
That Friday it was hard getting in the car and driving away from my house that is a mess. I have desks to clear from school, an annual report to write, and a fat inbox to answer before I can lean into promoting my novel.
Klaus said she was very nervous going out on the road. She was looking and tense and heavy in the bridle, not the same horse that was in the field. “I didn’t see that when I drove her last fall,” I said. My heart sank as I thought she’d need many more weeks of road driving before she came home. And the daily hour long drive was wearing me out.
He gave me the reins and we turned left onto the road. We headed towards the busy intersection of Business 20. I felt rusty, driving Morgen like a drunken sailor, turning her left, then right. Klaus has said she is harder to steer the slower she goes. She bowed around a mailbox but stopped and stood as we waited for cars to pass.
When we got to 20, Klaus lead her across the road. When he stopped, he patted her, told her what a good horse she is. She listened carefully, enjoying the praise. We walked down and up a hill until we got to the bridge over bypass 20, the four lane I speed in on.
He lead her across the bridge over Rte 20, trucks and motorcycles roaring underneath. I’m not sure he did it for her benefit or mine as I have never liked bridges, all that air underneath and rumors of cracked concrete. I think of the mule I rode in the Grand Canyon, how the bottom was worse than the top as we hung out over the Colorado river, the cliff straight up, the water straight down, until we got to the bridge and the terrible feeling the mule might jump. Other riders talked about suicidal mules and I had to wonder if they were telling us something. Morgen, on the other hand, has good instincts, bowing away from deep ditches.
But with me she softened and relaxed. She did not slam hard against the bit. She drove like she drove in the field, listening, attentive. When I asked her to walk on, she stepped more lively. Oh my. She really does trust me. I really do make a difference to this horse. There is hope that maybe I can drive her without Klaus, on my own, because I’m her person, not his.
Klaus told me about a horse he sold that acted fine until several months down the road when he started bucking. The woman sent him back and Klaus sold him to another person. The same thing happened, the horse getting worse, even with other trainers. But when the horse came back to him, he behaved because he knew Klaus and trusted him. He praises the horses so generously, but if they step out of line, he sets the boundary. He says, It works best for horses to be black and white.
Morgen honored me by relaxing, by showing her trust. Sure she looked at things but she wasn’t heavy in the bridle. She wasn’t afraid because I am the person she trusts. It wasn’t Klaus that reassured her, but me. He said he couldn’t think of a saner horse for me. “You made two good decisions. The first to buy her. The second not to sell her.”
I was running late, shell shocked by the arrival of my novel, my actual novel, on my doorstep, my mind numb. The book had been sent out to anyone who pre-ordered it. It felt like people arriving for dinner and my kitchen was a mess, toilets unflushed, cat box redolent. People said to be happy, but I felt unsettled, deeply unsettled and frozen. It’s a big difference, my book gone from a sheaf of paper in a notebook, to a lines of words between two covers, and beautiful itself.
We were driving Morgen around the field and I asked Morgen to drop from a trot to a walk and she stopped but I didn’t even see it, I was so far away. Klaus said something. He said it again, “Did you hear me? Did you ask her to stop?” My mind was so far gone I barely understood what he was saying. We drove around the field a time or two more and quit for the day.
But the thing is, Morgen took care of me, gave me a good drive, even though I wasn’t much there. I was told last fall that she was dangerous, that she’d take advantage when my mind blanked, and to be honest, I saw that myself, when I trained her, if my mind left, she’d tug on my sleeve, pull me back. I was asked over and over, Do you trust her?
The clouds congealed into a rain storm so soft, the valleys blurred. Then the rain faded. We drove left towards the Pecatonica River. Morgen picked up her trot, to avoid mosquitoes that clustered on her cheek and hind legs. The air was cool and she moved out, leaning into the harness, especially when we drove in the grass. Her butt bounced up and down, up and down, a lovely cadence.
“She must be getting fitter, that she wants to trot this much,” Klaus said. “You’ve come up in my estimation,” he said to her. I’d told him she was a lot of horse at home. But in training, she’s quiet to the point of lazy. (I think because she’s out all the time, when I bring her in at night, and because she was missing her place. I think horses are rooted to their ground, more than we think. They are creatures of specific pastures, barns, companions. I saw this when Tessie ran up nickering when I brought her home. And Morgen called back to her. She had missed her friend.)
“It’s good I she’s been lazy to build my confidence, for when she is more forward.” (This mare trots or canters from one end of the paddock to another at home.) Because the weather was cooler, her walk was more forward, and she stayed along the right side of the road without me pulling her there. Klaus reminded me to loosen my reins, especially on the right. “If you keep a tight rein, then their mouth gets harder and you have to increase your strength or make the bit more severe.” I leaned back against the seat and put my hands on my lap, took a very light feel of her mouth. I laughed when she jumped over some mud.
We joked about her going into the trot zone (why they calld her dangerous last fall) because neither one of us saw it. We saw her listening to my voice, even turning without contact when I said left or right.
When I left, Klaus said not to hitch Morgen if we had a wreck, to call him first. Well, all right. He said to drive her at least two times a week.
We hitched her July 4 morning, my first time driving her without Klaus behind me, lending his confidence to us both, the day glorious with blue sky and clouds that did not congeal into rain.
Ever since we moved here seven years ago, I’ve wanted to drive a horse around the five mile loop, but the dream died. Trainers before this were too harsh and if that’s what it took to drive a horse, I didn’t want it. I sold my harness and my stock trailer, and gave up the dream, even though I had a vision of driving Morgen out the driveway at sunset, while I lay still, and claustrophobic in an MRI tube. I could hear the carriage creaking, hear her footsteps, see the sun throwing gold light.
Besides there are tough things for my horses–cattle, mules, donkeys, railroad tracks, traffic. I didn’t dare show them to either mare while leading them, afraid I’d be dragged or Morgen’s bucking in hand would nail me.
Somehow this dream found me. I could tell you the details–being at wit’s end with positive reinforcement training, seeing how Morgen was worse off (in some ways) than when I started it two years earlier and calling Bob Long, asking for help, and finding a young trainer, Jake, who built confidence in Morgen and began to show me what a sane, sound mind she does have. And then coming to Klaus Biesenthal where I could take lessons every day because he’s right, it’s my confidence that needed building not hers. I think that’s what Klaus affirmed the most, that I have good instincts and reflexes to know what to do. I’ve learned that I have to trust myself, to do right by Morgen and if I trust myself, she will draw on my confidence, will move past what frightens her and settle back down.
Since everyone was going to be at the parade I figured we’d have a quiet drive. We pulled out of the driveway and walked on a loose rein down the road. And Morgen met her challenges well. She looked at the neighbors’ cattle, but not much more, crossed the tracks just fine, and didn’t skitter to the side when Jumbo’s mules trotted to the fence. She got strong in the trot when some dogs barked behind a fence, but I held her, braking the carriage, let the reins out when we were past. She flinched when a guy shot his twenty-two, but that’s all. She got strong when the neighbors’ donkey brayed, but calmed down. (By Jumbo’s farm and Dale’s farm the road becomes a gauntlet for Morgen, but she walks through it, looking, strong in the bridle, but listening. Most of the time I drove her with my hands in my lap, my back against the seat, the contact light.)
“Well, what do you think?” I asked Bruce.
I sighed with happiness because this is a way he can enjoy the horses; this is something fun we can do together. And it was glorious, the trees bordering the fields, the clouds and sky radiant.
Do you trust her? Yes, I do. Does she trust you? Seems so, yes.
Today I’m linked up at Kelli Woodford’s place.