I came this close to selling my young mare. She was five. When she was displeased, she snapped her big white teeth at me and she bucked, with the most beautiful light buck when I pulled her away from grass. I was simply leading her. What would she do under saddle? I don’t bounce. I don’t have those youthful anti-fear hormones. Not only that, she and my other mare roared like dinosaurs trying to kill each other. My friends told me to sell her.
I wept saying I was afraid she’d be sold to a killer. Bruce stopped me. “You have enough grief to bear,” he said. It had been a horrendous semester. Everything changed when I listed Morgen’s behaviors in the last month. I saw the lie in what I’d been telling myself: “This horse could hurt me.” She’d not hurt me when she could have.
After that, we found some trainers who gave her a job, and who preached, she is not too much horse for you. Of course, she settled down. She knew she had a place. I learned to be consistent and quiet. I trusted her when we drove down the road. I am trusting her now when I step into the saddle.
While it may well be appropriate to throw in the towel on some relationships, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes changing how we see the person, can call us both into the light. Sometimes it’s worth keeping the commitment.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
If you’d like to hear me read this click here.
(This draft has been sitting in my drafts folder since winter and thought I’d share it along with my perspective. )
The last time I rode Morgen before the long winter break, there were two horses in the arena. She was distracted and I wondered if we were over faced because I hadn’t ridden her in three weeks. But I’ve learned that I can get off the horse and try again another day. I don’t have to win. Fearful things can lay one on another until the horse explodes, so it’s important to stay relaxed. It’s important to watch for how frightening things can stack one on top of the other. The challenge is for me to bathe Morgen in my calm, spine to spine.
But I had this fear that rose like too much coffee, biting my stomach. I’ve written before how Mark Russell wiggled the air round me and began the healing. I don’t often feel the presence of people who have passed away, but several times I have felt Mark’s. He was such a gentleman, but so full of the power that is based in love. He asked permission to touch Tessie.
I see now, how I couldn’t shake my fear, how it rose again and again and again. Tessie bolts or bucks, sometimes justified, sometimes out of the blue. Then I’d get rattled again. I remember riding her in our field and she shied and bucked both. That day I had the image of riding her in Pony Cup in my mind. It was almost as if she said, Nope. Not doing that! I’ve turned up Zack Williams’ “Fear is Liar” loud, as I’ve turned into Deer Run to trail ride.
Carol Biesenthal took my fear seriously and told me to pretend I was trail riding. “Sink into the saddle, relaxed, to take up the posture of being relaxed even if you don’t feel it,” she said. I’ve learned when I’m not calm to breathe through the fear. Carol taught me how make a connection with her, how to call her back to paying attention to me. Tessie could stay steady through my fear, but Morgen needs my calm. She can be distracted, on the insecure side of Sunday. When I lose focus, she knows I’ve left her. There have been times, she has stopped in the road, when I was driving, because she knew I’d left her.
That busy day in the arena, I turned Morgen over to my trainer, whose hands flew up like sparklers to keep Morgen out of her space while the other horses were circling like planets around invisible suns–distracting horses with their own emotions. Mo wound up at a language she didn’t know, a language that is not necessarily wrong so much as different. She shook her head as if to say, “No this isn’t right.”
I walked across the arena, took her reins like Mark Russell showed me. (Did he see the trouble coming? Whisper in my ear, “You know this. Your horse knows this. Remember how I worked with distracted horses.” I remembered all right. He was quiet, waiting on horse time, saying, “Good, good” when the horse gave a little.
I took the reins, and asked her to bend toward me, my own tension a coiled fire in my ribcage, a sign of writing rising or falling in love, but now just too much caffeine. It felt like too much, but there is freedom in not having to win. I could take her home. But I took her reins and told her with my hands and voice, “You’re with me. You’re with me.” I put my right hand on her shoulder and asked her to stay out of my space, and reassured her. When she bucked , I got quieter, told her, “You’re with me.”
It was almost a religious experience. And still I could choose to let this be the lesson, but the fire, the tension spread into my limbs, dispersed like tears, so I stepped on her and asked for the same thing–twittering the reins, asking her to relax her jaw, lift her back, stay with me. I let my legs rest against her sides. Then released my reins so she carried herself. I had to watch out for the other horses, but mostly they watched out for me.
I lifted up, my heart lifted up, when I stepped off. Morgen’s eye was soft as she ate her carrots.
Then it was a long, mean winter, that seems to be bleeding into spring. I wondered if it was time to move to town and give up the work of the farm when the ice covered my path between our door and the barn. I’ve been dogged by how mortal we are, how life can change irretrievably in an instant, how if something happened to Bruce, I could not manage this place. The information sheet from a lawyer, to help him shape a will, still sits blank on my desk. I’ve pitched a bagful of paper, but binders full of emails need to be burned. Sometimes I think “numbering our days” is not such a great idea.
But, when my trainer called me to start riding again, weather has been putting me off and off, I trailered Morgen to Everbold. We rode outside for that first ride. My heart lifted up. But my leg stiffened. I could barely walk after. (When I saw the doctor to check on this nerve pain, she sent me right away to make sure the pain my calf was not a blood clot. I’ve been sore all winter, but heels down in shorter stirrups, stiffened the muscles even more.) I dropped my stirrups a hole and kept working.
But as summer as rolled towards fall, I feel more confident. Tessie bolted on the trail because the deer flies were drawing blood, and I yelled to Chris, up ahead on Ginger, “Watch out. Watch out. Watch out.” Ginger stayed quiet. Tessie stopped when she got to her. Chris said, “I heard you coming up.” “What a good mare Ginger is, that she did not take off,” I said. After a few deep breaths we continued on our ride. The adrenalin left me. I’d ridden through it, sitting up straight. Other than the bugs, the rest of the ride was non eventful, as I asked Tessie to trot to catch up when Ginger walked out ahead.
(Because driving does not have the memory of falling off, I’ve been more confident taking Morgen into our fields. We’ve backed off going down our road because we have to drive by too many cattle and we need someone more experienced than me to work through this.)
It’s time I rode Morgen on my own. My trainer, Haley, has made it possible for me to ride her and experience just how sane Morgen is. She is more predictable and kind than Tessie has been. I rode her on my own once this summer, and played St Patrick’s Breastplate on my iPhone. I will get there–riding her on my own more often. I will get there.
Speaking of getting there, I hope to publish Spiritual Warhorse, a collection of poems that talks about my horses’ work with me in the near future.
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