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Saturday, October 22, 2011

One mud puddle at a time...

My mother's scar from her accident in
June, with me leading Forrest in the
background, in the same place it happened.
Between the bipolar Indiana weather (a drought one minute, a flood the next), a crazy month of September (one of my friends got married, another was killed in Afghanistan), horrible allergies, the hitch on my truck breaking, and the lost shoe fairy frequenting my barn more than normal thanks to all of the mud (once again, bipolar Indiana weather) I have not had the best luck when it comes to actually riding my horses. So far, October has definitely been better, but I'm still not where I'd like to be. I haven't had a lesson with Linda in weeks, and I haven't been down to Dorothy's in MONTHS.

In June, my mother got stepped on (yes, by Forrest) during a freak unloading accident. It was not anyone's fault--including Forrest's--but it did take a toll on both my life and my mother's life. I know it sounds cliche, but my mom is the glue that holds my family together. She is the fuel that keeps the machine that is my crazy family running. While she was laid up in bed all summer, I had the housework, the errand running, food preparing (I am not the greatest cook in the world... and I'm not going to lie, we had a lot of take out this summer) my younger sister and my father and our assortment of dogs to take care of... Never mind 7 horses and the barn chores. So, as I've said before, my summer did not go according to plan at all and I am fighting to get back into some sort of routine.

But now life is slowly returning to normal.

Yesterday was a big day in the life of Forrest. First of all, we started out the day with my mare, Edna, having a particularly scary choking episode. I already have two chokers in the barn that get soupy feed(ahem... Forrest may or may not be one of them, and the other is--ironically enough--the only other chestnut in the barn. Pattern?) I thought Edna was dying. My mom thought Edna was dying. I have never seen a horse throw itself down, spin around in its stall while striking out, get down on its knees or hack up phlegmy-looking goo, along with blood--all because it's choking. When Beau and Forrest choked, they coughed out whatever was lodged in their throat and that was the end of it. And Edna is the one horse I have that doesn't have any health or soundness-related baggage. She's the healthiest, sturdiest thing in the barn. Once again, I was sure she was dying. So I called Pat, who is the wonderful woman who works in the office at Farmstead, and she sent Ken out right away. Edna's episode was over by the time Dr. Ken arrived, and he said that her lungs--and everything else--was in perfect condition and not to worry, that she probably had gotten a brier or small stick out of the hay and that she'd be fine. The upside to this craziness was that Forrest got to see his dad.

Now before I go further, let me just warn you that I'm one of those people that likes to think that MY horses love ME the best. It was hard to send Halo home for the winter and transition from being totally in charge of her feed, turnout schedule and time under saddle to letting her owner, Leanna, take her back over at least until next spring/summer and do nothing more than give her the occasional lesson. Which I am totally fine with--with school and my own horses coming along, I was grateful for the break from having ANOTHER horse to ride and work with. And I was thrilled that my sister's retired reining/dressage/eventing/trail horse, "Beau," who spent the summer at Leanna's barn keeping her other horse company, got to come home. Beau is a grumpy old man and very, very cute in a naughty chestnut pony sort of way. The thing I have a hard time with is Halo nuzzling Leanna's cheek and looking to her for treats or the occasional ear scratch. I like to believe that I have a special bond with Halo, because of our experience sort of growing up together. I have memories of braiding yellow flowers into her mane and playing with her in the big paddock at our farm when she was a foal. And I know that Halo and I will always have that experience, but it still--to be quite frank--sucks. So, when I saw Forrest's face light up when he saw Ken walk into the barn yesterday, I wanted to cry.

Forrest was orphaned as a foal and raised by a nurse mare. I believe this makes him sort of socially awkward, around both people and horses. He seems confused about who or what he is. I think that this contributes to his lack of ground manners, his problems making friends with other horses and his lack of natural horse instincts. When he was at Farmstead, he loathed practically everyone there except for Ken. And Ken loved him. When I first brought Forrest home with me, a few days later I had to haul another horse in to the clinic for x-rays, and he confessed that he almost came back to get Forrest because he missed him. He said, "I looked out at the pasture this morning and thought, 'Where's my big red horse?'" But he knew Forrest would be happier at my house, with the outdoor schooling ring, the jump field and another huge Thoroughbred gelding to be his playmate, versus being at Farmstead where he had an outdoor ring that we could sometimes use when horses weren't being turned out there, a 50x50 indoor that gets boring really fast--especially for a left-brained extrovert like our dear Fufu--and a grouchy broodmare and a retired dressage horse for playmates.

So, while Forrest might be happier living here, it was blatantly obvious yesterday that he still misses Ken. The usual ears-pinned, teeth-bared, "don't mess with me" face that Forrest usually puts on anytime someone who isn't me comes into the barn melted as soon as he saw Ken walk in. If horses could smile, Forrest would've been grinning ear to ear. And Ken looked like any other proud dad when I told him how great Forrest had been doing. And, really, he has been stellar. His flatwork has made a complete one-eighty from where it was even a month ago. That awkward, lopey, sideways right-lead canter that has plagued us all summer has turned into a lovely, lofty, easily adjustable joy to ride. Over jumps he is much more rideable and his scope feels infinite. He remains one of the most naturally talented horses I've ever sat on. But it was hard to watch Forrest snuggle up to Ken.

I like that my two top horses, Forrest and Stormy, are definitely not overly friendly. Edna, Beau, and the two ponies--Comet and Cupid--will come up to just about anyone. Even Hercules, who can be a little shy, makes friends quickly. Stormy and Forrest are extremely picky about who they socialize with, and that makes me feel extremely special. I think that event horses should have a special bond with their riders simply because of the difficulty and danger in our sport. But no matter how jealous it makes me (or how ridiculous my jealousy is) I get that Ken and Forrest will always have a special bond too, and that's okay... Especially since seeing Ken for 20 minutes left Forrest in a cheerful mood for the rest of the day, which worked to my advantage.

After Ken left, Forrest's big day continued. First, he got his tail, bridle path, and chin clipped with REAL CLIPPERS! Not scissors, CLIPPERS. As sensitive as he is, I was thinking that clipping might be a huge ordeal--now I have hope that he will let me at least trace clip him this winter, if need be.

Then, Forrest and I had one of our best schools to date. I trotted him over ground poles and he trotted over the scary blue tarp (part of my fake hillbilly liverpool) that he wouldn't even go within ten feet of when he first came home. Now he loves it. We're going to try making it a jump today and see how that goes.

To end Forrest's big day, I walked him down to the lower paddock where a small pond (glorified mud puddle) has formed. Forrest, notorious for having "water issues" (not promising for a prospective eventer) was reluctant at first. I've had him down to the creek at our farm, but never in "real water." It only took one apple-scented cookie for him to say, "Yes, I absolultey will walk through this shallow pond with you." Which makes me think that this "water issue" of his is not fear-based, but merely stubborn chestnut Thoroughbred syndrome. We are officially once more on our way, one mud puddle at a time.

--Kate