Stop Trying Part 3

My grandpa was probably the kindest person I’ve ever known. Our horses loved him, and when he went in with them, they all ran up to him. I remember the first time he taught me to shake hands with a horse. I have no idea how old I was, and to see it, I need to close my eyes. It is more a sensory image, because I was so small. I know that my mom was standing behind me. My grandpa urged me to hold the back of my hand up to the horse while tucking in my thumb. He always said that you don’t want the horse mistaking your thumb for a carrot. I’m not even sure which horse it was…I think one of the mares. Maybe it was Chiller, our racing quarter horse at the time. I can feel the soft nose on my hand, that warm breath, and a smile that emerged not just on my face but my entire being when the horse accepted me. I then looked up at my grandpa, and there was that smile of his that I lived for.

He had a way with horses that I’ve never come close to. I loved it when my mom dropped my brother and I off at his home, because he almost always took us to see the horses. When we were there, except for the time spent following Charlie the turkey around, I watched him. I watched how he caught the horses, brushed them, checked out their legs, loved on them, played with them, and how he simply stood with them. I think a lot of us forget to do that; just stand with our horses. We’re always doing something….picking their hooves, brushing them, training them, taking them for rides, but we rarely hang out with them. He did and the horses would walk up to him and then walk off. He never chased them.

One day I wanted to pet my horse Big Ruckus. I followed him everywhere, and I never could get a hand on him. The faster I walked the faster Ruckus walked to get away from me. Frustrated and broken hearted feeling like my horse hated me I went up to my grandpa feeling like an utter failure. When he asked me why, I explained how Ruckus would never let me pet him. He told me, “Stop trying.”

He didn’t mean give up and walk away. Rather, in order to find that connection with Ruckus, I needed to let go of my need for it and chase Ruckus around with it. Horses don’t always agree or understand our goals that we impose upon them, so they run away from them. Sometimes the best way to get anywhere is to surrender it and simply be with your horse. My five year old mind wasn’t too sure about what he meant, but I decided to copy my grandpa. I went back down to their pasture, and I stood there doing nothing. Within a few minutes Ruckus came trotting up to me, and I got to pet him. He then grabbed my shirt, and he started dragging me all around as we played.

I’ve spent hours asking myself what was it about me that caused that to happen that day. We were riding around so relaxed, and when we went to a trot, it all changed. He had been a bit nervous in the arena, and this is why I spent a lot of time introducing him to it. When he seemed settled, I asked him to trot. Was he settled? I don’t think so. I think he was anxious horse, but he knew how to bury it like all horses do. However, that day something gave, and he showed me what he had been burying. My failure to acknowledge that the muscles underneath me were saying, “I don’t like this place or this situation,” pushed Dulce to that watershed moment where I could finally do the bodywork he needed, which is a good thing, but…..it isn’t good that I misread him.

Now that it seems time to ride him, I’m hesitant. I finally got him to such a great place, and even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all, missing out on what his body is telling me.

I can hear my grandpa whispering in my ear saying, “Stop trying.”

I think I was trying too hard with Dulce. I wanted to show everyone what a great OTTB he is by what he could do instead of paying attention to the fact that his mind needed extra help. Work for him meant anxiety, and I want work for him to mean fun. So, I need to stop trying.

I keep thinking about Shandoka, and how we always played together during training. I don’t want to trigger Dulce again, so the other phrase my grandpa said a lot about horses that is being whispered into my mind is, “Get creative.” The word “deconstruction” keeps going through my mind. I need to deconstruct. I need to deconstruct the way he looks at what work is, and recreate a new and better way for us to enjoy our time together.

Some may say he is a hot horse, but that really isn’t it. He gets anxious the moment he sees a saddle, he paws and shakes the trailer when loaded, and that day in the outdoor arena, he went into a posture I never asked for, and began grinding his teeth. Work stresses him out, because it caused him pain. I need to deconstruct everything with him in order to rebuild. I want to show him that our work together won’t cause him any discomfort, and if it does, I will stop. I’m listening to him. Currently, I’m breaking everything down into small blocks, and going over them slowly with him. If I notice any anxiety, I immediately do the Masterson Touch on his TMJ area until he relaxes, and then I break up what we are doing into smaller blocks.

This means that I need to deconstruct my views on training, and explore new and different ways of working with a horse. I never thought my training methods were harsh or wrong, but I do think that there are other more creative ways. I’ve been looking at Mark Rashid, Tik Maynard, Alexander Nevzorov, Carolyn Resnick, Manolo Mendez, Ray Hunt, and others.

I have the chance to create something so different for Dulce and Sueño, and to do that, I need to change me as well. No more goals the way I’ve used them. Throwing out expectations is required, and time to work in a way that allows their bodies to stay in balance. I have no idea what this will end up looking like, but I’ve begun to experiment.

For the past three days I’ve gone out and done what I would call interactive groundwork. What is that? I have no idea how to tell you. All I can say is that I am as involved in the groundwork as they are. We move around together. I keep my eyes on theirs. We yield hindquarters and forelegs, but it is all through a dance that I do with them. Twice I’ve done it without a lead rope and once with. I’ve never done Liberty work before, but it amazed me at how quick Dulce and Sueño picked up on what I was asking them to do. Most of the time we work at the walk, but every now and then we go up to the trot. The thing I like about it so far is that Dulce and Sueño seem to be having fun. They let out these great sighs, their heads and ears are up and on me as we dance with one another. Will this help in the saddle? I have no idea. Time will tell. All I know is that I stopped trying, and that part of me that died with Shandoka came back….that creative side that loves to play with horses….that five year old standing in the pasture imitating my grandpa as Ruckus walked up to me is coming back to life and my horses seem to love it.

Dulce’s Uncomfort Zone

Ever since I brought Dulce home, I found pain in his body. His poll was locked like all racehorses, but his seemed to be locked up in a super max prison. He guarded his entire body, and would pin his ears wherever I touched him until he realized I wasn’t going to do anything but pet him. Petting him with the back of my hand eased his anxiety. His entire body was on guard against any outside force no matter how light the touch was.

The areas where I found the most pain in the beginning were the poll, TMJ, shoulders, and psoas area. I also spotted three straight white lines on his withers.

I tried Tellington Touch first, and he hated it. He stomped his hooves, his tail swished, and those ears became glued to his head. I switched to the Masterson Method, and he responded immediately. I used the lightest touch, or what Masterson calls “ethereal” touch. I barely skimmed the hairs with my fingers. I searched and searched for blinks, which indicate a source of pain, and stayed there with that ethereal touch until he released. A release is expressed through yawns, movement of the jaw back and forth, sighs, head shakes, and my guys like to rub their heads on me. At the end of this blog, I will post links for you regarding any of the massage methods mentioned here.

The thing is if I ever tried to take anything a bit deeper with him, he’d go back into protective mode. His body would tighten up, and we were back to ground zero. He constantly teaches me that my goals are not his.

So, when we had that moment in the arena, it was a watershed moment for us. Somehow, the door opened wide, and he couldn’t slam it shut. He let me in completely; not half way.

He released more and more with the Masterson Method, but I could tell that his ribs were stuck. Yes, I took him to a chiropractor, but it didn’t last. His muscles brought him back to ground zero again. I needed to create the change on a muscular level for his bones to stay in a healthy place, and that rib cage of his was screaming out to me for help.

I began researching and watching video after video. I ordered a book on Osteopathy. We have no osteopaths on the Western Slope, and I feel that osteopathy addresses the muscles and resets the bones. I didn’t feel comfortable doing any of the thrusts, but several of the other moves were easy for me to do. The most important thing is that Dulce responded.

Layer after layer came off. His body was healing, and he was able to bend better as we did his active stretches out of Helle Katrine Kleven’s book Physical Therapy for Horses. I love doing these stretches every day, because they tell me where my horses are at. What can they do or not do? As we progressed, he became more and more supple.

The pictures below are a few of the active stretches she suggests.

Dulce used to struggle with doing this one. He could reach his head straight ahead with a twist, but not straight ahead and up. After all of this work, he now does it easily.
This one used to be difficult for him to do while keeping his head straight. He used to turn his head to the side. Now he can easily reach to the side with his head held straight.
He never could bow before I successfully reset the muscles and his C1 and C2.

The ribs, the ribs, and the ribs. He was so tight in the ribs, and this is when I found April Love who had a very simple method to release the ribs. I fully expected him to bite me, but luckily I got through it before he could. With this one maneuver, I could tell he felt better. He could lift his stomach! He never could lift his stomach before. Often horses for many reasons, saddles and us being on their backs, get their ribs stuck on the inhale position. He had a few stuck there. Love also talks a lot about the first ribs being out. I did the test to see if they were, and lo and behold, on both sides his first ribs were out. I enrolled in her class, and before you know it, I was able to reset his poll, first ribs, ribs and hips.

Before I reset his ribs, he could only go back to mid barrel. Now he can reach all the way to his stifle easily. This stretch is not only great for the neck, but also the outside shoulder and all of the ribs.

Did I stop using the Masterson Method on him? Absolutely not. I used it in conjunction with all that I was learning. The Masterson Method brings him to such a deep state of relaxation now that I am able to use that first before moving to a maneuver that brings about a deeper shift.

I then enrolled in a class on myofascial release. I feel that to keep his muscles relaxed, I needed to keep the fascia supple, and his was not especially around the pectorals, sternum and rib cage. If I even approached his pectorals or his sternum, his guard went up, and he let me know to back away. I went back to the ethereal touch of the Masterson Method for a couple of weeks on these areas before he finally allowed me to do some myofascial release on these areas. I still have a ways to go, but we are making a lot of progress.

His TMJ though was a continuing problem. I could get it to release and the next day or hours later it was tight again. No matter what I did, an I found a wonderful maneuver from the late Dr. Kerry Ridgway, that TMJ was always in pain throwing off his entire body.

Finally, I got an appointment with his dentist. Covid and the Holidays made it challenging. He wasn’t due for another six months, but I knew I needed to get him in. Last year I took him to someone else, which was an absolute mistake. I had a good intention, but that intention blew up in my face in so many ways. I learned the hard way to stay with what you know, and I know my equine dentist is fantastic.

I expected him to tell me that Dulce couldn’t be helped. Instead he showed me how his front incisors had a slight diagonal to them from right to left. He told me that horses with this slight diagonal have severe TMJ pain, but horses who have severely diagonal teeth don’t. He was able to fix his. He told me in a month, his TMJ pain would be completely gone. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I found a reason behind all of this.

He also suggested something I already do. I feed all of my horses on the ground. This stretches out the TMJ and the poll muscles as they chew keeping these areas supple. He said feeding on the ground helps the teeth stay as well, because it allows the jaw to move from side to side. When you feed at a higher level like a hanging hay net for instance, their teeth get locked. Instead of moving from side to side they only move from left to right or right to left instead of back and forth. At least I’m doing one thing right!

Dulce was always a lovey horse. He’d follow me everywhere after I brought him here, and he was always the first to greet me in the pasture. However, he also had a very grumpy side that Chaco was often the recipient of. This whole journey to bring his body back into balance opened another door for our relationship. He is sweet, happy, playful, and relaxed. He is back to coming up to me each time I enter into the paddock or the pasture. He wants to cuddle and is more willing to move forward with me..and he wants to play.

I haven’t ridden him yet even though I can. I’m hesitant. Even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all. Mainly, I keep thinking about Shandoka. He and I used to dance with one another, play with one another. We’d play hide and go seek, chase….. When he died, that part of me got buried with him. As I stand and look at my horses, I realize how much they need me to resurrect this.

For us to move forward, and by us I mean Dulce, Chaco, Harley, playful Sueño, and myself I need to deconstruct and rebuild……

If you are interested in learning equine massage techniques, there is a wealth of information on YouTube. First, in no way am I recommending that you do any of this with your own horse. Please consult with your veterinarian before embarking on any of this with your horse, and I am in no way responsible for anything that may occur to you or your horse while working on your horse. Horse massage can be very dangerous to you and the horse. When I discovered a sore spot, I’ve nearly been cow kickek out at; all of which are ways the horse is trying to tell you that he or she is in pain. I never punish a horse for trying to communicate with me. Proceed at your own risk.

April Love’s Channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6rjOjHZRuq4dS7gUKM263w

Jim Masterson’s Channel is: https://www.youtube.com/user/mastersonmethod

Margret Henkel only has one video posted about myofascial release: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcN_6l691fSUD8u68HyXHg/videos

Jim Masterson has two books and three DVD’s that you can purchase. I love the DVD for Dressage horses, because quite frankly, OTTB’s have all of the same issues. However, you need to start with the first book Beyond Horse Massage. https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Horse-Massage-Breakthrough-Interactive/dp/1570764727/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751836&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-1

Here is a link to his second book on the Dressage Horse https://www.amazon.com/Dressage-Horse-Optimized-Masterson-Method/dp/157076722X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751931&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-2

If you wish to learn more about Myofascial Release, Margret Henkels has a good book called Is Your Horse 100% https://www.amazon.com/Your-Horse-100-Limitations-Conformation/dp/1570767912/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=margret+henkels&qid=1612752094&s=books&sr=1-1

She also has a DVD of the same name.

There is another great book on myofascial release, but the pictures in it leave a lot to be desired. However, the book offers a lot more different methods of maneuvering the fascia, and this book really helped me begin the release of Dulce’s shoulders and Nuchal Ligament. It is called Equine Structural Integration: Myofascial Release Manual.https://www.amazon.com/Equine-Structural-Integration-Myofascial-Release/dp/0979053501/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1AOES6UMCJMFP&dchild=1&keywords=equine+myofascial+release&qid=1612752199&sprefix=equine+myof%2Cstripbooks%2C249&sr=8-2

The Devil Is In The Side Reins

When I was a kid, my dad would take us up to my school’s baseball field, so he could practice throwing his curve ball. I stood in the batter’s box nervously waiting for him to pitch that curve ball from hell. I took every last nerve and ounce of courage for me to stay in that box while praying to every possible deity that the ball would curve and not hit me in the head or ribs. No offense to my dad, but he was no Clayton Kershaw. Sometimes I jumped out of the batter’s box and other times I stayed put facing that ball down until I either landed my bat on it or it whizzed by. (My dad’s curveball always did curve thank goodness!). This is what it’s like having horses at times…hoping that curve straightens out and goes over the plate rather than hits you head on.

At the beginning of summer, things began to go wrong with Dulce. Part of it was the death of Mojo. As I wrote in an earlier blog, he took it hard. Whenever we went on the trail he was fine, but if we went to the arena, which he used to love to do, he suddenly was miserable.

I am 100% sure he was trained in side reins. They are used quite a bit in horse racing and all horse disciplines due to the belief that it helps the horse get off the forehand and move their driving force to their hind end and gets the horse on the vertical. I listen to Simon Callahan on TVG praise their use quite a bit (for the record, I really like Callahan just disagree with him on this), and if you are in my presence, you hear me have a few words with him through the TV.

Imagine you are in a yoga class, and the instructor asks you to bend forward and touch your toes. Now imagine that the instructor puts his or her hand on your back after you get your hands down to your toes and says,”Okay, I’m going to keep you in this position for the next fifteen to thirty minutes, and I’m going to make you walk around like this.”

Horrified, you start to move around unable to get out of this position, and you notice that you are bringing your chin into your chest. The instructor praises you for your collection when in reality you are trying to figure out a way to escape the pain. At first you can walk on your legs, but your hamstrings and glutes begin to burn bad all the way down to your feet from the constant pull on all of the muscles and ligaments/tendons. What do you do to try and escape this? You lean on your hands trying to walk on them to give your legs a break.

This is basically the same thing that happens to a horse when they are in side/draw reins. Instead of trying to figure out why a horse won’t collect, they go to an easy solution; force them with the side reins. So what happens to the horse? First they move into an incorrect frame bending in a horribly painful way at the pole and in the neck to get behind the vertical to try and find some relief. You never want a horse behind the vertical. The nuchal and supraspinal ligament are constantly being pulled on. While this does cause the back to lift, the sacrum is incorrectly and painfully being pulled too far forward. The pelvis will tip and go flat causing a strong pull on the flexor muscles of the hindquarters. Thus, the hindquarters are pulled towards the back. This causes tension to build up in the ischium muscle, longissimus muscle of the back, and the gluteus medius.. The loin and the abdominal muscles are no longer able to raise the pelvis, thus the hindlegs can not step under. What this all means is that a correct and healthy collection for the horse is impossible to attain.

They then move on to their forehand putting a lot of stress on their chest and shoulder muscles causing the front legs to lose their ability to absorb shock. Why is that important? The muscles of the forelegs then lose their ability to bring the legs forward in a healthy way, and their tendons and ligaments can become injured or strained from the the inability to absorb the shock.

The world renowned equine physical therapist Helle Katrine Kleven writes in her book Physical Therapy for Horses:

“The cervical spine becomes kinked in a way that is physiologically unnatural, which causes tension and blockages in the small, deep muscles. This can cause irritation where the nerves leave the spinal column, as the incorrect positioning of the spine causes the spinal canal to become too narrow. Over time, this can lead to instability of the spine and/or calcifications on the ligaments as these are constantly overstretched. In addition, inflammation that eventually becomes calcification on the nuchal ligament can result.

“When the horse is ridden….nose behind the vertical, the rider is automatically locking the first cervical vertebra opposite the head. Therefore, a sideways longitudinal bend is no longer possible. The horse makes a compensatory movement, in that he turns his whole head between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae when asked to turn.”

She goes on to say that the more the rider pulls and keeps the horse’s neck in hyperflexion, more of the vertebrae become locked, and the mobility of the horse’s spine is diminished.

Can you imagine how painful this is for a horse? There are some auxiliary reins like Vienna and Lauffer reins that can be helpful. I prefer in training to use none of these. I believe in working with the horse’s natural confirmation whatever that might be. That is just me.

Dulce and I were having great rides together on the trail and in the arena until one day I took him to the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds. That is the day that everything changed, and the curve ball hit me.

When I asked him to canter on a loose rein, he suddenly went into the stance of a horse in side reins. He nearly pulled me off of him and over his head his nose was so far down and behind the vertical along with being heavily on the forehand. I stopped him. Pet him. Talked to him. Walked him and when he was relaxed, asked again. He did it again. I thought I would try to ride him through it, but it got worse. He suddenly started to canter with his head sideways. We came to a stop. I got off, checked his bitless bridle. Everything was in the correct position. I hand walked him, longed him, and everything looked fine. I decided to try one more time.

We walked calmly, I gave his verbal cue, and again he went into a side rein stance, then the head went sideways, and he bucked. I got him to stop, hopped off, and this began a six month journey of healing for Dulce that I will begin to cover in the next two blogs, although he and I are still on it as we move back into training. It involves a lot of bodywork that I studied and took classes in and dentistry work all because of side reins that I am 100% sure he was trained in. Something happened that day that triggered him, and for the life of me I don’t know what.

And Then There Was A Herd

It lightly rained throughout the night before turning to snow. The drought’s tight grip on our area eroded enough for good mud to develop, which we haven’t experienced for a long time. As I walked out in the fading darkness of morning I slid here and there trying to get to the horses. Sueño was the first to greet me at the fence. I shined my flashlight around, and all of the horses were safe and sound. I made my way back to the house to make up their food for the morning.

When I headed back out with their buckets, I saw both Dulce and Sueño waiting for me at the fence covered in mud. Dulce went to the muddiest spot in their dry lot for his morning roll. Sueño who wants to be just like Dulce when he grows up, went to the second muddiest spot for a morning roll. I shake my head and count my blessings they had their blankets on. Otherwise, I would be trying to brush it out all day long.

Harley and Chaco are perfectly clean. “Why can’t you be more like these two?” I ask Sueño as he gives me a nose kiss.

The fact of the matter is that Dulce is like Sueño’s big brother. He wants to be near him as much as possible, and he copies a lot of the things Dulce does. Dulce teaches him how to play, and for the most part is real gentle with him.

Harley is like Sueño’s favorite Uncle. Sueño looks up to him, admires him, feels safe with him, and has a lot of fun with him. Harley is his protector, and if Sueño crosses the line, he gently scolds him. If there is a wild animal roaming around the fields at night, he likes to stand right by Harley until any perceived danger is gone.

Chaco is a whole other story. He is my gentle giant, and he loves everyone he meets. Children fascinate him, and he would love to stand with a baby all day long. He never wants to hurt a soul, but as I’ve mentioned before he has a huge mischievous streak. He also ranks at the bottom in the herd. He is more like the middle child regarding Sueño, and he wants to pick on Sueño constantly.

When Chaco came here, he learned how to socialize with other horses. I’ve mentioned how he was scared to play at first, and Shandoka gently taught him how. Once Shandoka opened that door, holy horse he plays every chance he gets. When I introduced him to Harley, Harley was anything but accepting, Harley was on the attack. His ears were back, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him run so fast after anyone or anything. It took a long, long time for Harley and Chaco to become close. It wasn’t until Harley spent a night alone when Chaco had his surgery that they finally became a two horse herd that Harley was the boss of.

Dulce was a lot easier to assimilate, but when he got to feeling stronger, Chaco quickly learned that he was not going to be the ruler of Dulce. Instead, he was at the bottom of the herd once again. Chaco simply would rather have a friend than be the boss. He accepted it easily, because he now had a companion that understood him; two veterans from the track.

When Sueño arrived, Chaco knew things were going to change. No longer would he be at the bottom. He now had a fellow horse that he could push around for a change, and he was on a mission to make sure Sueño understand that. I think he learned a bit too much from Harley.

Usually, when I bring horses together, I take it slow, and I lead them around together letting them munch on the pasture while I stay in between them. Once this goes well, I usually get on the horse that has been there for awhile, and pony the new horse around. I’ve found that when two horses work together, they come together pretty easily. I didn’t have this option with Sueño. For one thing, Sueño wasn’t the best at leading around, and the thought of being between the two of them wasn’t a good thought to me. I tried several other options all of which were a total fail with Sueño scared to death of Chaco. If I even tried to have them in the same area together, Chaco would immediately go after and corner him. Sueño would come running for me and hide behind me if he could get away. If he couldn’t, I had to go break it up. There were a few very scary moments. Chaco who is three hands taller than Sueño simply overwhelmed and terrified poor I began to wonder if I needed to keep them separated from one another.

Finally, I came up with an idea after Doc left. I suddenly had another pen available to me. For two nights in a row I put Chaco in Doc’s/Mojo’s pen away from Harley and Dulce, so there was no other horse for Chaco to get jealous about or drag into his shenanigans. I put Sueño in the pen right next to him. This way if he got a bit too stressed about Chaco, he could walk over to the other fence and visit with Harley or Dulce. However, I put all of his hay and alfalfa along the fence he shared with Chaco, and I did the same to Chaco. When it was feed time, I put their feed buckets right next to one another’s on each side of the fence. This way they HAD to eat together, they would socialize more with one another, and it would only be the two of them; no interference from any other horse.

Chaco and Sueño learning to play with one another

After the second night I turned them all out together one morning. As I put hay in one of the feeders they both walked up to the feeder on either side of me. Chaco began eating, and then Sueño watching him with a little bit of hesitation dropped his head down and snatched some hay for himself. They then touched noses. I stood there wondering if I was going to be body slammed by two horses, or would this remain as calm as can be? It was perfect! They got along! I couldn’t believe it.

A half hour before I brought the horses down from the pasture, I decided to see how they handled being together. Prepared to break anything up, I opened up the gate, and Chaco immediately sauntered down to be with Sueño, they nipped a little bit at each other playfully before settling down to eat some more grass. It worked!

Does this mean that Chaco stopped giving him a hard time? Not really. When Chaco gets playful, he enjoys chasing Sueño around, and when I think, “Okay, I need to go out and break this up,” Dulce will step out of the barn to block Chaco. Dulce and Chaco start playing, and Sueño heads to Harley who then plays with him or they eat together. Sueño is getting braver though. I noticed this morning when Chaco went after him, instead of running away, Sueño turned to face him, and they played together. I beamed all morning.

Chaco is no longer at the bottom of the herd. Sueño will always respect Chaco. When I walk Chaco, Sueño loves to follow him.

We were a herd of three plus one.

Then one day something changed, shifted, and they became a herd of four.

Freaking Cajones

Sueño as you know is now a gelding. My vet warned me that if the wound closed too soon, I would have to squeeze the ball-less scrotum to open up the wound and get the fluid to flow out of the wound again.

Well, despite working him for 20 minutes the next day as instructed by my vet, and letting him be turned out with everyone for the entire day, the wound closed. You can do everything right, but there is often an outside force working against you; weather has been my downfall too many times this year.

My kingdom for some humidity please! Colorado is not known for being a humid climate, and we keep flip flopping between fall and winter.

His swelling was the size of a big cantaloupe from the fluid build up. I tried to exercise him to see if the swelling would go down, but that dang cantaloupe was banging all around like a piñata being hit by a pro baseball player. He couldn’t move forward well at all; it hurt getting smacked by that cantaloupe. Time to call the vet.

A plan was forged, and off to the vet I went to get a sedative. I didn’t mind what I needed to do; I’ve done much more challenging as a medic, but I was a bit concerned about getting kicked, I’ve been hit and bit, and kicked many times as a medic by people not happy that their highs were ruined or because they were angry at their situation. Getting kicked by a horse is a different story. It hurts a lot more, and a kick can easily break a bone.

******************Disclaimer******************

Do not do what I do without talking to your vet first. Your vet may want to do a different procedure or feel that something entirely different is going on. Always talk to your vet first. If you follow what I do, you are doing it at your own risk. Even with a sedative on board, you can get hurt. Let your vet help you.

When I got home, I quickly gave him the sedative, which he took easily. I kept him separated from everyone and waited for it to take effect. It seemed to take forever, and I swear that cantaloupe got a bit bigger since the morning. After thirty minutes, it was time.

I took a warm rag and wiped off all the dried blood. His legs flinched but remained down. I then pried the wound open with my finger, and this is when a flailing leg came at me. Luckily, it was weak from the sedative, and there was no kick in it. As I worked, I held the flailing leg with my other hand. I then grabbed the warm rag after making sure everything was cleaned out of that wound, and I began squeezing gently trying to get the fluids to flow. Once it began dripping, I left him alone to sober up. The next part was trotting him for 20 minutes.

However, the wind, the wind! The wind keeps tormenting me, and it was no different this day. A cold north wind began to blow, and it had a mission; close up the wound.

“Oh no you don’t Wind! I’m going to beat you this time!” Every 15 minutes, I’d squeeze again and wipe along the wound as he sobered up to keep it open.

When I realized we had about fifteen more minutes before he was sober enough to trot, I went in to get a quick bite to eat. When I returned, gosh dang it that wound closed up solid.

“Freaking Cajones!” I yell at the Wind.

Beyond frustrated and feeling like a big failure at something that should be simple, I convinced myself that his blood must be filled with a plethora of platelets.

I took him to the work area, and we began to longe. After 15 minutes, I knew longing wasn’t the answer. The wound and cantaloupe remained.

I decided to try something different. I got Dulce and Harley, and I round penned him for twenty minutes with the other two horses. This means that since it is such a big area, I chased them around the whole time keeping them moving at a good clip.

The great thing about this idea, even though I worried they would wreck or someone would clip someone else’s heel, was that they went at different speeds, they cut, and came to sudden stops; all creating the possibility of opening that wound. I drove and drove determined to get that wound open. Dulce wouldn’t let Sueño stop. Harley was baffled as to why he was included in all of this.

Finally, and this would normally be a gasping moment, his right hind leg slipped out sideways on a bit of mud, and that’s when it happened. His tail clamped down, swished hard, and clamped. I heard a big “Kasploosh” sound. The wound busted open. The cantaloupe busted out, and a huge amount of bloody, serous fluid burst all over both of his legs. If he weren’t a guy, I would have thought his water broke.

He was not happy about me jumping up and down in total glee. I yelled at the wind, “Ha! I beat you! Finally!”

I cleaned up his legs, and the cantaloupe was now one of those oversized tennis balls. The draining continued. I grabbed his light blanket, covered him up to create a wind block for his private area. We walked around, and I apologized to him for everything he was going through.

Harley stood in a corner continuing to be baffled as to why I would pull him into all of this. His nostrils were flared, breathing a little hard, he stared at me hard waiting for me to send him off in another direction. We did have an agreement that he was semi-retired and only needed to go on trail rides for now on.

“I apologized to you too. I needed your help the most. You move and it become a run. Thanks Harley.” I stroked his head letting him know it letting him know it was all over.

I kept Sueño out with the boys that night, and a steady drip could be seen the following morning thanks to Chaco chasing him around every now and then. The swelling was gone. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, it closed again. I called my vet to ask him for suggestions on how to keep it open. All that I could do is rub the inside of the wound with Vaseline, but then you run the chance of dirt getting in there and later causing an infection.

The next day he had an oversized tennis ball of fluid in there, but from here on out it has been easy to manage with exercise. Two hours after each exercise, the swelling is gone. He now only has a tiny bit of fluid/swelling each morning that disappears after his 20 minutes of exercise.

All of this exercise with Dulce and Sueño has confirmed some of my suspicions about Dulce that I will talk about in my next blog. Hopefully, the loss of Sueño’s cajones will lead to healing Dulce’s pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Sueno’s Tomorrow

So, Sueño can jump. He can really jump. The other day I was standing in the field, and he ran by, took a jump, and he was way above my head. This is the second time he did this, and afterwards all I do is run my hands down his legs all day to make sure he is okay. He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, I stop breathing.

He is also really fast. He has another gear that I only see from time to time, but when he kicks into it, I again stop breathing.

We had a horrible windstorm the other night, and I needed to move him into a smaller pen. The winds were howling, visibility was dwindling, and a moment of chaos was erupting everywhere around us. Instead, he stayed calm, followed my lead, and stayed beside or behind me the entire time until I got him safely moved.

I can put my arm across his back and put weight down on his back without him flinching or raising his head. I can jump up and down next to him, and he doesn’t move a step. I can also put a rope around his girth, and he is fine with me slowly tightening it.

He has a graceful trot that would make any Dressage rider drool.

He is curious about the things that scare him. I hang objects along the fence before I bring him down from the pasture. He notices each change, gets a little bit nervous, yet walks up to each and every one of them to explore.

He loves to help, or hinder me depending on how you look at it, with everything I do. He loves the mini, Doc, and Harley adores him. Harley only took to Shandoka immediately. When he met Chaco, I thought he would kill him. With Dulce and Mojo, he was indifferent ultimately coming to accept them both realizing this is my way. Sueño is like Shandoka for him; he is totally smitten. He loves to play with him, and these two run around together quite a bit. If Sueño gets nervous when Chaco tries to play with him, he immediately runs to Harley, and Harley protects him.

Today, my sweet boy, was gelded. I miss my grandpa every single day of my life, and today I missed him even more. He always took care of this stuff. However, if he were alive, he’d tell me if I took in the horse, time to buck up and take care of him; no passing it off. The horse always comes first he would say. If you are hungry, it can wait until you get everything done with the horses and dogs.

I was the adult, and I took care of him. A mare rode by a week ago, and I thought he was going to try and jump the five foot fence we have. I know that some people wanted to breed to him, but I couldn’t handle the idea of any of his foals ever ending up in a kill pen. On Saturday, Breeder’s Cup Day, nine yearlings ended up at a kill buyer auction. They were bought at the Fasig-Tipton sale first before ending up there. Luckily, they were all purchased and will hopefully end up in a good place, but I can’t be responsible for any foal of mine ending up in that position. The Safe Act needs to be passed. Period.

My vet came out today, which is cold and wet from a snow the night before. A cold wind blew, but the sun kept peaking out from the clouds trying to warm up the ground. We knocked him out, and I sat at his head while the job was done. I told him I loved him over and over, and when he finally got back up, I was relieved it was all over. He kept giving me the side eye though, and really wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t blame him at all. It took some time before he finally warmed up to me again.

Tomorrow I trot him for 20 minutes before turning him out on the pasture to encourage the healing process and preventing anything from closing up too soon. Tomorrow we begin the rest of his journey as a gelding, and let me tell you, geldings are awesome. People put them down a lot, and I have no idea why. They are wonderful, energetic, and the best partners in adventures.

Not Taking Any Bull

It’s a crisp, chilly Fall morning. Chaco, Harley, and I are gearing up for a trail ride. The scent of pine and moist soil wafts through the air, and all of my tension evaporates. It is election day, and we headed to the woods to get away from all of it for a bit.

I notice there is still some snow all around, and I’ve never ridden Chaco through snow. I constantly want to protect his leg, but he is doing really well of late. I pat him on the neck and whisper, “I know you’ve got this.” I hop on, and the three of us saunter into the depths of the forest.

My friend Laura Lee talks about how I always look up. I love looking up at the clear, blue sky through the boughs of the trees and today is no different. It always helps me relax, and that is where my eyes go.

Chaco is really swinging his back, and Harley is staying right by his side gazing all around. We come to our first patch of snow, ande he walks through it without hesitation. We then hit mud, and he is as sure footed as one could be. I relax even more. My brain empties, and I’m completely within the moment.

We then come across a big pile of steaming bear scat. Yep, the storm and the cold didn’t drive them into hibernation. Chaco stopped, looked at it, and looked around. I whisper not to worry. The bear moved on. He steps forward and off we go again. The rest of the ride was uneventful, fun, enjoyable, and I relished every moment with Chaco and Harley. They are such blessings in my life.

As we work our way back to the truck, I think I see a black blur moving up ahead of us. So does Chaco. He stands perfectly still. Harley takes a look and moves a few steps backwards. Not seeing where the black blur went, I ask Chaco to go forward, which he does. We move about a hundred steps when I see a bull up ahead of us. He is huge, white, with brown spots, and he has huge horns. He looks like he belongs in the NFR tossing some cowboy in all sorts of directions willy nilly before throwing him to the ground. Gulp.

Chaco has seen cows across our irrigation ditch and across the street, but we’ve never had the chance to work them together. I wanted to, but because of his leg, I never wanted to put him through it. It can be a lot of hard physical work for the horse. I decide to try and avoid this behemoth and do huge loop around him.

We plunder through thick trees. Since Chaco is so tall, by head is hitting branch after branch. Luckily, I have my helmet on. Crunch, crack, squish are the sounds we make. We finally head back towards our final destination, the truck, when I see that the bull is right in our path again. He is determined to keep us from going where we need to go. I see a black blur, and I know why; he is protecting a calf.

There is a rule to never get off your horse when cattle are around. They are erratic, dangerous, and the human usually comes out on the losing end of any tussle. My grandfather in Oregon had his knee dislocated two times, and once I was chased by one of his bulls out of the pasture right into a hot wire. My arm buzzed for an entire day after that. I don’t like bulls at all. Gulp.

“Chaco, I need you to get some attitude. This is no time for you to be sweet, and Harley, no hiding behind him like you used to with Shandoka. Chaco, if you decide to toss me, toss me away from his horns and the trees please. Let’s see if we can do this.” I then cluck, and lightly swing the rope back and forth over Chaco’s withers. He immediately tucks his chin into his chest, tossed his head from side to side and walks straight for the bull surprising the heck out of me. I didn’t want him to trot, because I didn’t want the energy level of the bull to go sky high. I wanted to push him off gently. Chaco got that, so he walked towards him with energy,attitude and assertiveness, but not enough to get the bull angry.

The bull stared at him hard as if to say, “You aren’t moving my feet dude.” However, Chaco is 17.1 hands. He really puffed up when he moved forward, so I’m sure he was even taller for that short amount of time. Harley may not be tall, but he is a wide Quarter Horse. We became a wall made of horses that even the bull decided he didn’t want to mess with, and off he went! He trotted away from us. I quickly patted Chaco’s neck and Harley’s. I’m over the moon proud! Thoroughbreds can do anything, and Harley, who is expected to chase off cows but doesn’t like to, was so brave.

We then make the turn for the truck, and I see that the bull wasn’t protecting one calf. He was protecting ten or twelve and three cows. One of the cows was almost as big as the bull. Chaco and Harley come to a dead stop. There is no way for me to get them to the truck, because my truck is surrounded by all of them. They are probably wondering why in the world they are still on the forest during hunting season and want to get a ride the heck out of there. Usually, they are off by now.

And then the bull emerges to join them.

“Okay, Chaco, I have a plan. You and Harley, please work with me.” I then loop them around to the left where the cows aren’t. I hear a truck heading up the road towards us as I ride my boys along the road’s edge and then I loop back to my truck, and we gently push all of the cows and bull back into the forest keeping them safe from the big truck that barrels down the road.

However, one youngin’ remains staring us down as I hop off. Chaco is feeling good. Harley is wondering where his hay is. I quickly unsaddle Chaco and load them both up before everyone returns. The kid stands there as if to say, “I will be in the NFR one day. You watch.” He has no fear of me at all.

I get in my truck and drive off with the kid watching us as we leave.

A Little Bit Stubborn

When Sueño jumped off the trailer, Brandon, the shipper said, “He’s really sweet except he can be a little bit stubborn.” He then told me all about the troubles of loading him.

For the first few days I kept Sueño in a smaller pen to give him time to decompress from the trip, adjust to the higher elevation, and to give us some time to get to know each other before I let him up on the pasture.

What I didn’t know was how the walk up to the pasture and back down were treacherous paths for us. It became obvious immediately that he knew how to walk on a lead rope, but it wasn’t always a joint venture. He flung himself all around me, into me, and tried to go over me. When I decided that we needed to work on this before I turned him loose, he decided he wouldn’t leave the pasture refusing to budge. Each time I moved his feet, he’d try to drop his shoulder into me to knock me over, or rear up and over my head.

I don’t like this at all.

This is dangerous….

Bill has to push him from behind to unstick his mind, and this is when I planned our first training session for the next day. I hoped to not do anything with him for at least two weeks, but alas, three days and that stubborn streak screamed for my attention.

Two things were going on:

  1. He didn’t know about respecting space
  2. He used physical intimidation to get his way like he would with his fellow yearlings.

There are several different ways to teach about space. One is that you draw a circle around yourself, and each time the horse steps into it without your invitation, you back the horse out.

This is where we started, and within five minutes he picked up on this. After we got this down, we started practicing walking. I got my long stick (the same kind that most trainers use), and I first sensitized him to it. I let him smell it, mouth it, and then I rubbed his entire body with it. I wanted him to know that this stick isn’t anything to be scared of.

We started to walk the outer edges of the big paddock. Anytime he tried to drop his shoulder into me, which he did a lot, I’d poke him with the stick in his shoulder. At first it was a light tap, if he continued, the pressure graduated to a constant pressure with the end of the stick, and if he still continued, he got a stronger tap. He only got the strong tap twice. Usually, he moved off the pressure with a light tap. Of course as soon as he moved off of the light pressure, I stopped applying any pressure to let him know this is what I was looking for.

He picked up on this lesson really quick. We practiced going in both directions several times.

Where we had the most problem was walking back and forth between the paddock and the pasture. Bill was at work, so I had no help with me if I couldn’t get him down from the pasture.

All horses will challenge you. All horses.

We approached the entrance to the paddock and then backed up. We did a lot of approach and retreat. All went well.

We stepped one stride in and backed up. Went well. Repeated successfully two more times.

I then walked him in, turning him immediately to walk back through the paddock…

Total fail.

Feet locked up, head in the air. I tried to move him again, and here came the shoulder to knock me over. I poke him with the stick requesting my space, and then he rears up, and if I wouldn’t have moved, he would have landed right on me.

The challenge is on.

I start moving his feet, and before I know it, he’s longing a tight circle around me trying to drop his shoulder into me. I push him off with the stick. I get him to move in the other direction. He stops to rear up again. I’m waiting this time. I back up, so he can’t land on me, and then I go back to moving him in both directions and backwards without any reaction from me. This caught him by surprise; he expected me to give in.

We then stop moving. I walk up, pet him, hug on him, and we start walking and trotting in circles slowly moving towards the paddock’s gate. Holding my breath, the moment of truth is here.

He walks right through without any issues. I immediately let him stop, he drops his head to my chest, and we love one one another for about five minutes. After a good rest, we start walking back and forth from the paddock to the pasture. No more stubborn streak….just willingness and walking alongside me in a safe way.

I wish I could say I haven’t run into this again, but I have whenever he’s unsure of something or doesn’t want to do something. Usually, it takes a little bit of approach and retreat along with approaching from a different angle. There are times when he gets nervous about something, and he forgets about my personal space.

He’s a baby that wasn’t handled much. Thus, he’s a little bit wild, because he isn’t sure of what I’m asking all the time, which means he’s a little bit stubborn and impulsive. Everything I do with him is basically a new experience, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed for him. I put him through a lot bringing him here, and he’s gone through so much adjustment in a short amount of time. At times I feel really guilty about it. He takes it more in stride than I do sometimes.

I said it before, and I will say it again, he’s the sweetest horse. He is full of love, and he loves to be loved on. Time will smooth all of this out. We’re just beginning.

My Four Legged Baryshnikov

Tales from the trail #341

Suddenly, the forest heats up. Chaco and I are meandering down a narrow path. I put my reins on his withers and pull my hoody over my head. Chaco is the most sure footed horse I have, so I don’t worry about doing this on the trail until it gets stuck on my head and I can’t see for a few seconds. I ask him to stop, and despite my muffled voice, he does on a dime. I finally get it off, tie it around my waist, and off we go.

Chaco, despite his stifle injury from his racing days, has the most fluid walk. My hips slide with his, and his rhythm hypnotizes my mind into silence. I listen to him breath, I feel his footfalls, and I’m completely aware of how blessed I am to ride such an amazing horse. My dogs Chewy and Winx are ahead of me, and Bella follows behind sniffing everything when suddenly Chewy and Winx scatter.

Snapped out of my reverie, Chaco and I find ourselves face to face with an elderly couple and two dogs. Ever since Covid, it is next to impossible to go for a ride in the forest without coming across another human. Rides where I never saw another human are suddenly filled with them. Also, a lot of the dogs accompanying humans have never been around horses, and this can be a dangerous mix. Luckily, my horses love dogs, so it keeps things calm.

Chaco curls his neck with his chin to his chest as he tries to see the two dogs sitting at his hooves. “This can’t be happening again,” I mutter to myself.

I back Chaco up, and the dogs follow. One stands on Chaco’s hoof looking up to him wagging his tail in glee. Chaco is immediately smitten, but I worry about him stepping on their paws by accident. I look at the owners with a big smile, and say, “You really need to get your dogs.”

They look at me flustered. The woman speaks in gaspy sentences, “Well, but….he’s a horse! Will he bite me?”

Oh my gosh, the female version of Bill Abendroth is standing before me. Bill is a friend that went to the same high school I did a few years ahead of me. Several years later, never mind how many, we are friends. He is absolutely sure that horses are carnivores, and I found his unknown biological twin. Here she is standing in front of me sweating terror down her face.

“No, if he were mean, you’d know by now. He is a gentle giant. You can get them. I have a hold of him. I really don’t want to move him, because I don’t want him to accidentally step on your dog’s paws.”

She looks at me in utter fear, and it appears her stomach may be ready to join in. Her husband is behind her, and he is as immovable as a petrified forest. I try to help by backing Chaco. The dogs follow him, and the same dog now tries to reach his nose up to kiss Chaco by propping himself up on his hind legs and leaning his front paws on his left fetlock.

His owner makes several feeble attempts to get her dogs. She reaches out to them while standing frozen to the ground gasping something. Her voice is dried up. I back up Chaco again and turn him around to try and ride off. Her dogs are on his front hooves immediately.

I could get off Chaco, but I don’t want to. I’m in an area of the forest where there is no place for me to climb up on, so I can easily climb back on him. He’s really tall. I didn’t wear my stretchy jeans. I wore my normal jeans, and if I get off, these jeans are in trouble. I can get my toe into the stirrup, but the amount of effort to catapult myself on would mean my jeans would rip, and I’d be riding in my underwear. Nope, I’m not getting off this time. They can get their dogs.

I’m about to turn Chaco around to face them again when Winx sweeps in from out of nowhere and herds her two dogs off back to them. My hero! They pick up there dogs yelling sorry scuttling off in the opposite direction.

I love on Chaco for being such a good diplomat. He really is a gentle giant at 17.1 hands. I decide then that he will be the one to help train Sueño for trail riding. Nothing phases him, and he moves so comfortably and confidently through any environment and situation.

We ride off into another area of the forest luckily finding no one else ahead of us. The forest desperately dry still brings me some sort of peace. I gaze upwards through the aspen and pine trees at the clear blue sky popping through here and there. There is nothing like riding a horse through the forest. I always feel as if I’m reaching back through time reconnecting with one of my ancestors who once upon a time did the same thing. Or at least I imagine it to be so.

Winding our way through the forest I hear the couple’s dogs bark. Chewy, my scaredy cat dog, takes off at a full run back for the truck, which is a half mile away. No amount of calling stops him. I know that he will jump into the back of the truck waiting for us, but…..

I don’t like this at all.

I only wanted to walk Chaco, but now I gather up the reins clucking at him to step into the trot with moving into the two point position. I cluck again to ask him to long trot, and off we go. He flies over the trail with ease. I barely feel his hooves touch the ground. Are we touching the ground, or riding through the clouds? I need to crouch over his neck to keep from getting hit by pine boughs, yet he doesn’t change his gait. His ears are on me and the trail ahead. Chaco has the most beautiful gaits, and I often say he is the four legged version of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Riding him is a privilege. My thoughts blow away with the wind he creates as we quickly move over the ground. I feel his foot falls gently touching the earth. I feel the muscles in his neck, my breath moves with his, my body and his become one as we fly threw the forest in a magical moment I will never forget. Reluctantly, we stop when I see the truck. I lean forward wrapping my arms around his neck. He brings his nose back to my foot holding my toe in his mouth.

I look at the pickup, and I see Chewy sitting on the tailgate panting wondering where the heck we’ve been.

.

Lemonade Anyone?

Tales from the Trail #212

I close up the trailer and slither into my truck feeling defeated. I drop my head to the steering wheel trying to breath. The trailer starts to rock as Dulce tells me to get moving; he doesn’t like being in the trailer unless it’s moving. I start the engine, and as soon as the diesel purrs, he mellows out. Down the winding washboard roads and hills we plunge.

I try to shake off the bad feeling of a ride that appeared to go wrong at every turn. I pump up the volume on Michael Franti singing Stay Human. Doesn’t help. I put my window down to let the warm, summer air hit my face, and I shift my focus. “What good happened today?”

The ride started out well. Dulce handled descending down the hill while going over polls incredibly well. When he did get nervous about anything, he never panicked. He simply took a few steps back. I gave him time to examine whatever made him nervous, and when he relaxed, he’d step forward easily. He was relaxed yet alert. Nothing seemed to make him nervous. He responded to me, and what more can a girl ask for? A green horse doing all of these things on a trail he’s never been on is beyond perfect.

We weren’t riding alone though. My dogs were with us, and I brought Harley, my 20 yo quarter horse, along. Harley has been on every trail around this area. I thought he would keep Dulce calm on this brand new trail and be a good teacher. Harley was more interested in high elevation grass. Every time I paid more attention to helping Dulce through another obstacle, he tried to drag me off the saddle as he dove for a big bite. If Dulce and I went to the left, he’d turn right. Harley’s mind was on green grass and that was it. Being in a drought, who can blame him? My right arm sure could as I tried to stop him from snatching. He jerked me around in every direction. I tried to keep my frustration with Harley at a minimum, because I didn’t want my emotions to agitate Dulce.

When we finally got down into the small canyon, I noticed a camper up ahead in an area that made me wonder how in the world they got it there. My experience with riding by campers isn’t always the best, so I decided to ask Dulce to climb a steep hill to the south of them through thick brush and over some rocky spots, which I’ve never had the opportunity to do with him before. All we can do is try.

As we climbed, I shoved any doubt I had out of my mind. He is so athletic, and he relished the challenge. He climbed over obstacles with ease. His enthusiasm to climb the hill became contagious, because Harley didn’t try to snatch one blade of grass. Dulce jumped up onto a rock cliff, and before I knew it we were at the top of the hill. I think my smile extended a lot more than from ear to ear when Harley tried to yank me down to the ground hard yet again.

“Harley, stop it!” I yell. He looks at me with a mouthful of grass and a smirk.

“I’m going to ignore you Harley.”

We ride into this one area that used to be a homestead. Unfortunately, a lot of wire from old fences was all over the place. When I spotted it, I asked Dulce to back out of the area, and he did it without any problems. Harley didn’t want to back up. An old spring still flowed, and the grass is five feet tall. No wonder they had their homestead here. It was the greenest most lush spot I’ve seen all summer. The old trees created the most beautiful, cooling shade. I didn’t want to leave.

We head off when we came to a dried up water crossing. Any type of water outside of his home environment is the one thing that seems to scare Dulce, and this dried up area held on to all of the smells of water was no different. Dulce refused to walk over it.

“Okay Harley, you’re up. Time to teach Dulce that this isn’t scary.” Harley crossed a lot of water with Shandoka and I years past. He has this. I try to get Harley to lead the way, but he refused. He and Dulce both begin backing up.

“Are you kidding me Harley? You and I have crossed over this I have no idea how many times. Come on Harley, help me out.”

Harley backed up a few more steps with Dulce following. Frustrated with Harley that he was teaching Dulce this was scary, I give him one more chance to show Dulce how brave he is. Total fail.

He looked at me as if to say, “Listen woman that feeds me and makes me go on these long walks, if he’s scared, why am I going to take the lead? There is some really nice grass on this side of the crossing. I have no incentive to go across.”

I hop off and walk them back and forth across this area easily. I climb back on, and we ride across it. I throw Harley a side glance of displeasure. He could care less until I shorten up his lead rope keeping his nose by my knee. We work our way up another hill where a creek that usually runs across the path is dried up. We go through the same thing as the last crossing with Harley refusing to be the teacher….again. After climbing back on, the ride goes well until we head back and hit the same water crossings. Even though we ended up riding across them once before, they wiped it out of their memory. Back to hopping off, teaching, hopping on, and riding across.

“Harley, you are not earning your hay today at all!”

“Well, let me try to drag you off your saddle again for some yummy grass right over here!”

Harley with my husband Bill

That was our discussion for most of the ride back.

We get to the hill where we need to drop off back into the canyon. Dulce did fantastic at navigating the steep grade while climbing over poles. I decide to cut to the left around a big aspen, so we can hit an easier part of the hill, when Harley decides to go around the opposite side of the pole. I nearly went off the back of the saddle this time.

“Harley!” I yell out of total frustration. He is usually the best trail partner rarely giving me any problems. “Why are you doing this to me?” I exclaim as I hop off Dulce again, and get Harley on the right side. I climb back on, and ride down the hill into the canyon when a strange dog comes running up to us.

I look around for his humans who obviously are in the camper. I call out to them several times asking them to come get their dog because he keeps following us. I ride towards their camper calling out for them to get their dog again. Dulce AND Harley were fantastic about it all. The dog was great, and he only wanted to play with my dogs. No answer. I call out again, and this time they close the door of their camper.

“Really? Instead of getting your dog, you’re closing the door? Seriously?”

My pot was boiling at this point. I didn’t want to chase the dog off with the horses, because I didn’t want to teach him to go after horses out of fear. I hop off for the upteenth time, and I chase the dog back to his camper where he finally stayed. I walk my guys over to this huge, downed Ponderosa, and climb back on Dulce.

By the time we make it back to the trailer, I’m frustrated, exhausted, and beating myself up for being the worst horse trainer in the world. I load them up, and this is when I tried to find something good from all of this.

My answer was that I never got bucked off. Dulce took it all in stride no matter what Harley or those campers through at us. He overcame new obstacles with ease and struggled with the same issue of water. I’ve exposed him to deer, elk and black bear scent, walked him through my irrigation and where my irrigation forms a huge puddle with ease. I need to find some water out in the woods and go sit by the water’s edge with him until he finds a way to walk up to it. A strange dog didn’t even phase Harley or Dulce, and Dulce is extremely athletic. I get excited about the rides that we will be doing one day. So, this is how I made some lemonade out of huge lemons.

I unload the horses, Harley last. I look into Harley’s eyes and shake my head. He did help teach Dulce to deal with all sorts of negative stuff.

“Okay, okay, you earned your hay.”