Friday, May 28, 2010


I’m frustrated. Had a great picture to go with this post but, alas, my fancy new HP printer does not want to recognize my geriatric computer and share photos. There is no doubt a simple fix for this problem but, if so, I wouldn’t know. Despite the valiant efforts of my 16-year-old son, I remain a techtard.

It’s pathetic to admit that I am, oh, about ten years behind technology. I’m still happy with the simple cell phones that had only one function—contacting people. I’m overwhelmed with the apps offered by Blackberry (which sounds deceivingly old fashioned) and Droid (too Star Trekky). After badgering me for about a year, my husband finally gave me his old Blackberry when he traded up. It felt like betrayal when I relinquished my dated cell phone to my eleven year old daughter. After all, it still worked! Forget being awed by a phone that can GPS somebody’s house or read the bar code off a can of beans, I’m blissfully satisfied and amazed by digital cameras that download the photo you just took onto a computer screen in a matter of seconds. Well, I used to be blissfully satisfied. If only I could get my computer and printer to make amends…Seems, once again, you’re stuck with a picture-less story (that I best get on with).

A few months ago I had one of those overly introspective weeks. My husband was busy reading beside me in bed one morning when I suddenly engaged him in conversation: “Am I a prideful person?”

“No,” he answered immediately. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief he hesitated and added, “Except for maybe with your horses.”

I was first indignant, then embarrassed. “Really?”

“A little,” my wonderful man smiled and leaned over to kiss me. Even when I don’t like what he says, it is still a relief to be married to a best friend that is completely honest. This is a necessity in life.

While I heard what he said, I mulled it over quickly and dumped it in a mental round file. After all, I’ve spent a lifetime with horses and worked really hard for what knowledge I have. It isn’t really pride that I might have, its more like experience.

I’ve noticed that there is a direct correlation to the amount of experience one has and their hearing sensitivity. Maybe its just me but when I feel I have a handle on a topic I can be a pretty poor listener. Yes I know God gave us two ears and one mouth, but I still sense invisible cotton stuffing itself down my ears when someone shares something I feel confident I already understand. One could call it pride, I suppose, and horse talk brings it out in me in the worst way. My husband’s observation was proven true just two weeks ago.

I downloaded my email one day and stared at an unfamiliar address. It took a few minutes of reading the rather lengthy message to remember anything about the stranger who had sent it.

Seems the owner of a horse I looked at once—a year ago—wanted to get a thing or three off her chest. I remembered the horse: small, older mare with a dynamite personality. I forget people, names, dates, directions, you name it, but horse personalities, how they made me feel, obscure names in their pedigrees, etc. stick in my brain like flies on tacky paper. I can see myself when I’m old and senile…won’t remember my own name—or my husband’s, for that matter—but I’ll remember that the grandsire of my child’s bus driver’s horse was Peppy San Badger. Don’t ask me why this is so.

The horse in question, while sweet as the day is long, had a way of going I found odd at the time. It niggled at me during the test ride and I immediately decided there was something wrong, or about to go wrong, with the horse. If I’ve learned one thing about horses it is that when things seem “off,” they usually are. Best to listen to one’s intuition. I knew the horse’s owners were hopeful I’d be writing a check. They seemed nice and I felt bad when they inquired why I didn’t pursue the sale. Since they asked, I decided to spell out (rather nicely, I felt) the reasons I passed on their animal.

I honestly enjoy picking apart a horse in a buying/selling situation. There is not a mean shallow reason behind this, it simply gives me the opportunity to air years of experience and discuss my favorite topic in detail, ad nauseum. I have a couple friends who also enjoy this pastime and we are probably the most annoying people on earth. For the horse in question, I chose a couple of what I felt were major faults and shared them via email. Seven months later, the owner responded. They told me I was wrong, dead wrong, with my observations; the horse was the best thing since cell phones. The various and sundry reasons I was wrong went on for several paragraphs. Further more, they wanted me to know they’d sold the beast to someone obviously smarter then I (or this was the insinuation). Bummer for me. As I stared at the email I heard cotton fibers marching down inside my ears. My brain immediately began humming with the cryptic response it wanted to create—by God, I'm a writer! I would blast the senders of the message with my words, my knowledge. I felt pity for them, stuck as they were, in their ignorance.

I’m not sure what first made me pause. Probably God pulling the cotton balls out of my ears. In a sudden flash of memory (definitely God), I remembered a few things about strangers who owned a very sweet mare; some sadder details that necessitated the sale of an animal they loved. The more I thought of it, the more I could see that not only could I have been wrong, the comments I’d made stung at a time when they were probably extra sensitive. It wasn’t about whether a sale should have happened or not, it was about the way my comments had come across at the time. Without a veterinarian’s exam I couldn’t prove anything at all was wrong with the animal which left me simply with…my own opinions. Rather then blast out an email, it seemed the right thing to do was acknowledge my ignorance and apologize for what had offended. I’d talked when I should have been listening.

Now, if anyone wants to help with my picture downloading issues know I am ever so humble. Seriously, I’m all ears…

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I want to invent a bumper sticker slogan. Something short and snappy like Just Do It, No Fear, or the ever enduring Shit Happens. I am a fan of concise declarations of truth. Once I saw a bumper sticker that said Fear God. For many people, that thought goes over like a lead balloon. More emotionally comfortable is something like God Happens (Hey, I like that).

The Bible, as it turns out, is a fan of four letter words. Love and Fear turn up everywhere. Besides, God is love (politically correct), The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (politically incorrect) is firmly declared in scripture. What’s up with that?

When I think of my relationship with God it doesn’t resemble the “fear” some might have in mind. Fear, say, of dark alleys in big cities, or bungy jumping, or giving birth without pain killer. That’s real fear. I come to God without fear when I’m troubled, confused, sad, happy, or whining (His favorite, I’m sure). I sense His reciprocating grace, love, acceptance and even sense of humor. I fear God in the sense that I am afraid of being without Him and experience awesome humility when I consider my abilities and thoughts next to the Creator of the Universe. This considering of fear, respect, and love and how it all interacts has been on my mind as I work with my newest horse project, a very cute 3 year old colt named Tucker.

Tucker belongs to a friend of mine. I needed a little cash and Tucker needed to discover his usefulness to the human race so we did an exchange. Every time I work with a young horse I consider my own mortality and shocking lack of short term memory. Sorta like deciding to have a second child. How quickly I forgot the pain and exhaustion of child birth and signed up for it a second time! Starting a young horse isn’t exactly the same but it is also full of risk, uncertainty, and potential. Being part of the end result—a trusting and trained horse—is also incredibly satisfying.

Horses seem to pass through two stages before they arrive at the partnership/friend stage: the stage where there is a foundation of training and relationship and, ultimately, reward for both horse and handler. The most danger to both parties lies in navigating the first necessary stages--fear and testing.

Tucker arrived on my property in the obvious first stage of fear. He has had fair treatment his entire life, just not a lot of it. He reacts quickly to the smallest stimuli and is wary and jumpy. This fear isn’t all bad in the sense that it motivates him to respect a safe physical boundary between us. Because he is a stud colt, I appreciated his initial fear of me even more. The last thing I need is a youngster, jumped up on hormones, to shadow me like a bad rash: Fear of the trainer is the beginning of wisdom, young stallion. That said, I don’t want Tucker to remain in fear, but come eventually to see me as a trusted friend and leader.

My first time handling Tucker involved lots of reassurance: I petted and scratched him a lot, spoke softly, and assured him I liked him and thought he was a clever boy. Then I began desensitizing him by throwing ropes around his body and legs. Quickly Tucker decided I was okay, even pleasant, in his world. The first day I left him halterless in the field I was surprised and pleased when he trotted up to me willingly when it was time to be captured. We had the first whispers of friendship. Or so it might seem.Tucker is my sixth horse to start from scratch so I knew better then to trust our budding relationship too quickly.

A few mornings after I entered Tucker’s pen to let him out for the day. I opened the door to find him happy and eager to see me. Not to mention close. I spoke to him and backed him away, out of my personal space. Tucker complied but I noted the look in his eye. It said something like this, I'm not afraid anymore; maybe I don't need to listen to you at all. I have seen this look before. When I tried to halter him, Tucker was antsy and resistant. He did a subtle dance of body language and positioning, testing dominance and refusing to allow me to approach his sides. Not okay. So I made him uncomfortable, pushing him into movement around the pen this way and that. Tucker’s underlying attitude immediately erupted. He bucked and kicked out, aiming blatantly in my direction. I ignored the temper tantrum and reminded him of the invisible bumper sticker on his round pen panels: Shit happens to horses. When he stood respectfully I haltered him without further incidence. Tucker and I will have many more of these “conversations” as he figures out the difference between fear and healthy respect. For a horse there is no relationship without leadership based on respect. This grows into a beautiful friendship, not oppressive domination.

Love and fear are both four letter words with positive and negative attributes. Love, with no truth or boundaries, can be dangerous and manipulative. Fear that isolates and dominates will paralyze an individual. I know of many horse owners who ended up in the hospital because they “loved” their horses inappropriately. Conversely, fear—when it matures into respect—protects both horse and rider. The most dangerous (and future-less) horses are those with No Fear.