I will never forget walking down the street in Dublin, Ireland. I found myself in The Oliver St. John’s Gogarty Pub, in the Temple Bar District. The pub was packed and rough looking man in his 60s immediately recognized that my friends and I were no locals. He paused his tune and asked where we were from.
“West Virginia,” we said sheepishly.
The seafaring looking singer smiled and immediately began to mumble the words, “Almost heaven, West Virginia…”
Together we belted out the rest of the lyrics to John Denver’s anthem like we were singing them for the first time. That was it. A bond had been eternally created with little more than a song.
Today the state of West Virginia turns 154 years old. Yes, 154 years ago the state of West Virginia chose to separate from Virginia. I happen to call this Virginia home and I am more than thankful Jean-Luc does as well. Though the mountains of the Midwest are vast, beautiful, and challenging, there is just no place quite like West Virginia, especially to own a horse it. Take a look at the incredible terrain from my friend Liz’s most recent ride at place known as Dolly Sods. It’s hard to believe a horse can tackle such terrain, but they can.
I said it often when searching for a horse. "I just want something I can sit back on and enjoy the view as it passes by." I'm so thankful that Jean-Luc helps bring me closer to that view. As the years go by, I find my home among the hills more and more unique. Words fail me every time I try to describe what makes West Virginia so, but I believe it has to do with the resilient brother/sisterhood that comes with being a West Virginian. And trust me, this is not an exclusive club. Born, or transplanted, once you’re in, you are in for life.
West Virginian’s are funny people. If you are a West Virginian (or say you are) and you happen upon another one anywhere outside of West Virginia, they’re immediately your family. Period. Any barriers of discomfort are immediately removed. The experience I had in Dublin, though amazing, was not unique. I have repeated nearly that exact same scenario in Manila, Buenos Ares, Lima, Delphi, and several other countries throughout the world.
I have thought about this phenomenon for years, and I believe it has to do with a few shared experiences nearly every West Virginian has in common. The first - at some point someone has inevitably asked you, “Western Virginia? How far do you live from Richmond? Are you near Blacksburg?” (If that doesn’t make sense to you please review any map of the United States newer than 1863).
The second shared experience is a bit deeper, though likely all the same. As a West Virginian, at some point, you have both been looked down upon for being from West Virginia. Sad as it may sound, this experience is a shared one for many from the Mountain State. At some point, someone that is unlikely to know your name has considered you “less-than,” thanks to stereotypes, accents, or some other identifying moniker. Please don’t misunderstand though, this isn’t something people from our state see as a reason to be pitied – it is just a fact of life that comes with living in a state that ranks pretty low on most things people give rank to.
Regardless, I’ve personally had the opportunity to leave this place many times, never to return. I passed them all up. Not because I am scared or afraid of what the world may hold out there. I do not consider myself a martyr for staying. I love visiting other places. However, I passed up the opportunities because of something that may make me sound insane but I truly have no other way to describe it. There is magic in these hills. I live here for the unexplained, breathtaking beauty. I believe people long for West Virginia because it offers an experience that is not found elsewhere.
I live here because it is almost heaven.
COMING THIS FRIDAY:
Fictional Fridays occur on the Horseback Writing Blog every fourth Friday of the month. The idea is to fill your feed with a horse-related short-story or chapter of a larger novel. These stories are entirely made up, and the direction of next month’s tale is often determined by YOU – the reader. So, share your comments, plot twist, and character suggestions and more below.
JUNE, 23 | Sneak Peak
“The records speak of a vast power that your city once brought to a halt in its insolent march against the whole of Europe and Asia at once - a power that sprang forth from beyond, from the Atlantic Ocean. For at that time this ocean was passable, since it had an island in it in the front of the strait that you people say you call the ‘Pillars of Hercules.’ This island was larger than Libya and Asia combined, and it provided passage to the other islands for people who travelled in those days. From those islands, one could then travel to the entire continent on the other side, which surrounds that real sea beyond. Everything here inside the strait we’re talking about seems nothing but a harbor with a narrow entrance, whereas that really is an ocean out there and the land that embraces it all the way around truly deserves to be called a continent. Now on this Isle of Atlantis a great and marvelous royal power established itself, and ruled not the whole island, but many of the other islands and parts of the continent as well.
What’s more, their rule extended even inside the strait, over Libya as far as Egypt, and over Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. Now, one day this power gathered all of itself together, and set out to enslave all of the territory inside the strait, including your region and ours, in one fell swoop. Then it was, Solon, that your city’s might shone bright with excellence and strength, for all humankind to see. Preeminent among all others in the nobility of her spirit and in her use of all the arts of war she first rose to the leadership of the Greek cause. Later, forced to stand alone, deserted by her allies, she reached a point of extreme peril. Nevertheless, she overcame the invaders and erected her monument of victory. She prevented the enslavement of those not yet enslaved, and generously freed all the rest of us who lived within the boundaries of Hercules. Sometime later excessively violent earthquakes and floods occurred, and after the onset of an unbearable day and a night, your entire warrior force sank below the earth all at once, and the Isle of Atlantis likewise sank below the sea and disappeared. That is how the ocean in that region has come to be even now unnavigable and unexplorable, obstructed as it is by a layer of mud at a shallow depth.” (Plato’s Timaeus, 24e-25e, Translated by D.J.Zeyl)
CHAPTER I –
My name, is Solon. Theories of the city of Atlantis have graced the lips of those intrigued for centuries. Few were ever made privy to the truth of her vast secrets. I hesitate to share that I am one of those few. I bore witness to those truths. I know of what happened within the glorious structures on the eighth continent between the seas. I have seen the civilization unlike any before nor ever after. And I know why she fell.
Long have held these secrets. Long have I crossed the plans of existence, listing to the few who do little more than guess at her tragedy. However, the time has come. A shadow may no longer be allowed to besmirch her legacy. The task now falls to me to unlock the door and share with you the tale of her demise, for the city was real. The city did exist. And her name was Atlantis.
I would say one of the most terrifying, yet simultaneously fun aspects of purchasing a horse is shopping for all the accessories that go with buying the horse. One thing I never realized, was just how much emphasis riders place on the overall look of their tack. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about quality. I am a firm subscriber to, “you get what you pay for.”
I am referring to the overall look that riders strive for. Shortly after bringing Jean-Luc home, people started to ask me a question I found strange.
“What’s your horse’s color?”
“Ah, he’s a palomino paint?” I cautiously would respond. Clearly, I mean those asking the question had eyes.
However, like usual, I was the one confused. What they really wanted to know, is what color scheme would I be using for my tack? Clearly. Since Jean-Luc is white and gold, our options were numerous.
Choosing his particular color scheme is a story for another day, but it suffices to say that we went with burgundy (wine color!)
Now, together Jean-Luc and I have several fun new tack items, but I’ve been purposefully slow to pick up one crucial item – the saddle.
Saddle shopping is intense! This singular item could very easily surpass the price a person pays for the horse. Taking the purchase seriously is a must, because the saddle will largely contribute to the success of the horse and ride as a team. So, where does one even begin?
I started by asking myself what type of riding I primarily wanted to do with Jean-Luc. The answer – trails. Long, obstacle filled, slow going, trails.
Because most of my riding will be on trails I began to look at endurance, western style saddles. I went back and forth with this though as I am currently rolling around in a pretty large 40-pound western saddle that belongs to BM’s man. It’s a beast to haul around, but it reminds me of a Cadillac – too big, too heavy, protective, and something you can roll in for days. It’s basically everything I’m looking for, minus the too heavy part.
From there I asked myself if I wanted leather, or synthetic. Synthetic is often easier to keep, clean and cheaper, but I do love the smell of a good leather saddle. In the end, I find the comfort in a leather saddle a little higher as well. So, leather then.
All these answers pointed me towards a saddle introduced to America the early seventies and made popular thanks to, The Man from Snowy River. Honestly though, people have used this style of saddle for generations all over the world.
Traditionally, Australian stock saddles were created to hold a rider in securely and comfortably through some of the most intense terrain on the planet. The earliest versions borrowed heavily from traditional English saddles as the premise for their design. Since everything is out to kill you down under, they added a much deeper seat, higher cantle, and front knee pads to really suck a person in when their equine counterpart comes into contact with one of many outback terrors.
By adding these design features, the Australian saddle also became one of the most comfortable to spend days, upon days in. So, light weight – check. Conformable – check. Sticky, and holds me in when Jean-Luc doesn’t agree with what’s on the ground – Check. Check, check and check!
Everything seemed to fall into place. I knew what type of saddle I wanted, but now what brand? This decision came after reading as many reviews as I could find, and settled on the best reviewed saddle brand I could comfortably afford without making my you know what pucker.
Finally, there was really only one conundrum:
Horn, or no horn - that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer being skewered
Like a pig on a modern western horn
for the fortune of looks and copious amounts of bags hanging
Or to take arms against the horn,
And by opposing modernity end a fine riding utensil without such ornament?
Seriously, being on the trail all the time might mean wanting the option to ride with a saddle horn bag, so that makes sense. Plus they're often more affordable than many English front bags. The Australian horns aren’t made for roping, but neither were Jean-Luc and me. Truthfully, we’re about as coordinated as a synchronized swim team made entirely of kittens. Horns are great, right? They look cool, they can serve a purpose, and they can stab your sides out if you ever end up in the wrong place at the wrong time!
The man from Snowy River didn’t need a horn. He tamed the wilds with no such thing.
Oh, the options? Whatever shall we choose?
Suggestions, comments, and rants are welcome, but I must confess, whatever I ordered is on its way! Stay tuned and see what Jean-LucPonycard and I #boldlygo forth in.
Jean-Luc and I have been making pretty great progress in the month we’ve come together. One huge leap forward comes in the form of being able to lead him to and from the field without total melt downs and without the fear of being trampled. We have fallen into routines that I believe are teaching him “safe spaces”. For example, he’s learned that the barn is a safe place. Going to the barn means there will likely be grain with some light grooming – all for the price of some quiet standing in place.
Depending on our headspace, we then either tack up and head to the round pin for some ground work, or we just go straight over sans the tack. As a point of validation, those who say, “solid ground work is the foundation for everything else,” aren’t kidding! Since I really started understanding how to communicate through intension and body langue, things have really changed.
Our first few sessions together were tough. Jean-Luc acted like a hot horse, running as fast as he could with his head cocked to the outside, trying desperately to get to his buddies. But, more recently he’s started to perform a very calm and collected canter. In fact, in the past four days I’ve witnessed something I’d really like to sit. (Nope, haven’t tried it yet.)
Like I said, things were progressing nicely. Something new we tried last week involved saddling up and making our way into a field used for training. The field itself is full of jumps the aforementioned Wonder Woman Liz uses, and plenty of other terrifying things – like deer. On this particular day, we were alone. A thunderstorm was making its way towards us over the mountains. Jean-Luc and I made our way across the creek, and overall, he seemed to be in the mood for exploring – I encouraged him. Together, we walked around Liz’s jumps, and managed to keep our cool when two does darted through the far pasture.
Upon surviving all those scary things, I figured this was a pretty big step and took Jean-Luc back to the barn to unsaddle. The week continued on, and while I had some great quality training time in the round pin, I was unable to carve out enough time to repeat the field session until nearly four days later.
Cue literal hell. Occasionally I suffer from panic attacks. I can’t always pinpoint when or what triggers them, they just happen. However, the world isn’t going to stop, and nor should my breathing. Usually, that’s how I pass them – breathing. It just wasn’t working on this particular day, though. Nope, instead a thousand-pound imaginary critter had parked itself on my chest with zero intensions of moving.
At 10:00 AM it was already balmy. The temperature was a West Virginia seventy-two degrees. Meaning, without checking, I knew the humidity had to be floating around 100 percent. I didn’t care, it was Sunday and I had the entire day to work with my horse!
I rolled into the barn, exchanged pleasantries with BM, and started my usual routine, making ready for my session with Jean-Luc. In my head I was thinking, “Hey, I have the time. I’ll saddle up and maybe even find my way to the rail trail! It’s just over the river and through the woods. Or, something like that.”
And this is the part where my mother would chime in, “Dream on, Alice”. However, she clearly was not there to do so.
I retrieved Jean-Luc from the field. I could tell after a few minutes that exploring our way to the rail trail might have been a little too ambitions. “Fine,” I thought to myself, “adjust.”
That’s another realization I’m learning – patience and fluidity are paramount. Though I may have more patience than most, it still takes quite a bit of mental awareness to recognize things you or maybe your horse just are not ready for. I mean sure, others would clearly see the fact that Jean-Luc, a buddy sour horse, and me hadn’t even completed two successful sessions in a field on our own yet. Setting a goal to hit the rail trail alone was beyond unrealistic and unattainable.
The adjustment came in the form of tried and true routine. I typically do some round pin work before ever even getting on, so that is what we did. I saddled up Jean-Luc and lead him to the round pin. He is getting pretty good in there. He turns to the inside usually, and has started looking at me more while working – until that day.
On that day, he decided he’d try something new. Rather than running around the arena like we’d practiced, and turning when I stepped in front of his drive line, backed up, and pointed – he just stopped. He just stopped and did not faced me, but looked forward. He would not go left. I’m pretty sure hellfire and brimstone could have rained from the sky and he would have considered running off to be one of the four horses of the apocalypse was a better idea than going left. I tried all the things I remembered from the training videos I’d watched and eventually got one painful lap before we finally quit that part of the session.
I hate how frustrated I let him make me. Looking back now, I know it was only because I just didn’t have the answer. That must be where most trainers, and people for that matter, go wrong. When you’re trying to communicate, and your message just isn’t getting across, or someone just doesn’t seem to care. It is only days later I realize that some things require more patience and more understanding. Trying something that doesn’t work is okay, so long as you can both end on a positive note.
Regardless, the goal I had set for that day was to make it to the field, and we had to try. I hoped on Jean-Luc and made a few passes in the yard I felt safe working in. He really wanted to head to the shade where the other horses were. I could feel his energy every time we came within eyesight of the herd.
Eventually, I got to the point where I felt like we were waiting time. In retrospect, more time working in the small yard might have been good for us. Nevertheless, I took control with my hips and pushed us onward through the little creek that leads into the big field. The flies were terrible. A giant horsefly even managed to bite through my spandex tights. Though I fly-sprayed him, they were no less forgiving to Jean-Luc.
Things were far from perfect. Jean-Luc desperately wanted to head back to his horse-friends, but I knew that three laps around that field equaled one mile and we were not heading back until we did at least one mile. I did not care what direction, but we were completing one mile together, in the field, under saddle.
So that is what we did. I pushed through one very prissy, head shaking, prancy, pacey mile – but we did it. I can’t say I finished that afternoon feeling very good. In fact, I was pretty disappointed things went so far south. I had all the best intentions of have a magical afternoon with my Jean-Luc, and none of it happened. Instead, we fought like an old Italian couple – loud, tossing things around, with our limbs flailing everywhere at each other.
The silver lining is that we did complete our goal. We had never actually done a full lap in the field. Three laps in the field was huge step forward. Again, I am only able to grasp that notion upon retrospect.
Today, I didn’t have time to head back out into the field, and with the promise of a real trail ride tomorrow alongside Liz and Q, I felt we needed to revisit this developing bad habit in the round pin. I still cannot put my finger on what started the unwillingness to turn when asked, but I believe it has to do with the heat, and the fact that Jean-Luc is actually quite the cold-blooded creature.
He has learned how to get out of moving and thus takes full advantage of it. To combat this, I simply had to become more firm and direct in my body motions. I called to memory my first lesson with BM. She talked about how the communication link between a horse and their person is almost psychic. One key is to literally envision what you want the horse to do – so I did, and it actually worked.
It took time, but when Jean-Luc started to protest, I managed to rein in my frustrations. I reacted with patience, direct cues, and practically willed him to listen. I don’t have any better explanation that that. It wasn’t the prettiest session in the round pin we’ve had thus far, but I believe we’re back on track.
Who knows what tomorrow’s trail ride will bring? The past few days were a reminder to set goals, but realistic, attainable goals. Otherwise, you end up feeling like a failure, robbed of your hard-earned confidence. Surpassing a properly set goal helps to earn and maintain much that needed con
These three things have been the focus of work between Jean-Luc and I over the weekend. He’s really quite smart. I honestly can’t believe how much he learns and retains.
We are still really focusing on leading. He just needs to be a bit more respectful. I found a new trainer online that I really like. She is very “step-by-step”, and easy to follow. Her name is Missy Wryn, and her training techniques are known for being exceptionally gentle. I like her because she appears fair and very calm. Horses literally rear around her and she’s still cool and collected.
All the trainers I tend to be drawn to are trainers that do not take calculated risks. They put the work in first, and build upon it gradually. Warwick Schiller, Clinton Anderson and Ivy Schexnayder (pronounced shex-snyder) are those I respect most.
Thinking about the things I worked on over the weekend, Saturday was a big surprise. I actually was able to get on Jean-Luc. Now, I guess this should not be any sort of surprise, after all, Jean-Luc is broke. That said, for various reasons, my confidence isn’t what it once was. I did not believe I was leader enough for him to work that well with me.
Thankfully, Liz, being the confident and clearly knowledgeable buddy that she is, popped right up on Jean-Luc bareback first. Even though we had to have another horse in the barn at all times (in this case it was Stan), Jean-Luc did everything he was asked. He didn’t even need a bit – probably the most shocking thing of all. We rode him with a hackamore.
Overall, I didn’t ask anything that made him (or really me) incredibly uncomfortable. I’m learning that confidence is something that just cannot be given – it has to be earned. Though slow moving, hopefully I’ll start to earn some back soon.
The last two nights have been the first few I really worked with Jean-Luc. For anyone who thought this would be some sort of dreamy unicorn experience – you are wrong. I knew this experience would not be easy, but there have been a handful of moments already have me wondering, “What the hell have I got myself into?”
That said, there were several lessons from last night I learned, and intend on building upon today. The first lesson: Baby steps. Like any new born, before you can walk, you must crawl, and before you can crawl you have to spend some serious time wiggling around on the ground – that’s the stage Mr. Jean-Luc and I are in – flailing like a newborn all over.
Yesterday, he honestly freaked me out. His need to be near the herd is a little intense at times. I put him in the barn and before I knew it he was squealing and carrying on. He even managed to untie himself and take off through the field. Luckily, my forever chill and trust friend, Liz, was walking around on her mare Q, but still, I felt a little embarrassed that I was not able to take control.
After grabbing Jean-Luc, I tossed him in the round pin outside to just run some energy out of him. BM caught me backing away from him and quickly told Liz to correct me from doing that.
“You keep that up,” Liz warned, “and he’ll learn he can run you over.”
To be clear, the thought of being trampled by a 1,200 pound hoof-laden creature sounded absolutely terrifying – strike two for the confidence today.
The rest of the evening went better though. Liz reminded me that Jean-Luc had only been at his new home four days and this was only our second day of working together. She suggested we just walk around together. Before leaving Liz showed us how to play our own version of the childhood game “Red Light / Green Light”. Playing this game will greatly contribute to Jean-Luc and me to find success together. In my opinion, nothing is more intimidating that a horse with no breaks. Playing this game allowed us to learn more about each other in a productive manor.
When I finished around 7:30 PM I turned Jean-Luc into the field. Talk about lazy, rather than running around to be with the other horses he acted like he wanted to jump the fence. The result was something I did not want to do but I also did not trust him to not hurt himself, so I chased him away from the gate with a swinging lead rope. I left the barn feeling more than defeated, and yet again wondering, "What on earth have I got myself into!?"
However, today is a new day. Even though it's dumping the rain outside, let's see what wonderful behavior I am greeted with this time, eh? I keep wondering if the bond will really come? I mean, I'm the person that took this guy away from a privileged life to encourage constant work. Then, I am also reminding myself, that like most things, he has a purpose now. Going to work is a good thing. Using your brain is a good thing. Jean-Luc is not a unicorn, but he is mine.
After bringing Jean-Luc home, and watching his introduction to the heard go far better than expected on Monday, I rested him on Tuesday. I figured he would use the time to really get to know his buddies, and I had made plans weeks ago to attend a local play with friends anyway.
Wednesday was Jean-Luc’s third real day on the farm and I had just received my new Oster brushes in the mail, along with his Starfleet uniform (burgundy rope halter) – it was time to work. When I arrived at the barn, Jean-Luc was hanging near the fence. He really likes people because he’s been trained, up until this point, that people equal sugary horse treats. This is a habit no one at the barn is particularly fond of and I expect it will take some time to reprogram his brain. Regardless, I was thrilled to find him waiting at the gate when I arrived.
Quickly, I popped into the tack room to grab him an apple (cutting someone off cold turkey is rough after all) then I made my way over to the gate. He anxiously took the apple and easily let me walk in, fumble with his new rope halter and walked unceremoniously inside the barn where I tied him up and begin brushing him. I knew I would be a little distracted yesterday since my husband, Austin, decided to come meet Jean-Luc. He has never spent any time around horses and was happy to learn a thing or two.
I handed Austin my new Oster curry brush and explained how to use it. In retrospect, I wish I had taken more time to work with Jean-Luc on the lead rope, rather than rushing him in to the barn. I know that I cruised passed a bad habit that needs worked on. He bobs his head and is pushy on the line. What I should have done was correct the action with several quick jerks to his halter making him back up, stand in place quietly and repeat until he would walk calmly by my shoulder. However, today is a new day and those actions are absolutely in the agenda.
Anyway, after getting Jean-Luc in the barn and giving him a rub down, Liz arrived with a lunge line and whip in tow.
“Let’s see what he can do in the arena,” she said.
Inside the barn is a small round pen made from dusty red metal gates. The sod on the floor is perfect moving around in. When you’re as clumsy as I, you tend to like places with soft landings. Liz, took Jean-Luc’s lead and showed me what she was looking for.
“Line your shoulder up with his shoulder, making a forty-five degree angle. Point in the direction you want him to go and give him a cluck,” she said. She made it look easy, and I keep reminding myself just how long she’s been at this.
Eventually, it was my turn. Liz handed over the thick brown lunge line, at the end of it, my Jean-Luc. She then passed off the lunge whip and basically told me to have fun. I was nervous. Could I do this? How many ways will I screw this up? What am I am even asking Jean-Luc to do? Man, he’s big.
All these thoughts began racing through my mind, and looking back on it, I should have taken a moment to collect myself. I should have really focused on the purpose of being there. Yesterday, my signals were confused and awkward because, well I was confused and awkward! Eventually, our barn owner (for the purpose of this blog we will refer to her as Barn Momma, or BM). She is the person who taught Liz much of what she knows, stepped in – and boy was I grateful.
BM is amazing. She’s five-foot nothing and cute as a button, and a silver fox to boot. But don’t let that fool you, she is also a nonverbal communication guru. Impressive doesn’t even cover it. BM asked me to retrieve her shorter lung whip she referred to as a “carrot stick” and showed me how to use it. Body position and an almost psychic connection is what she said helped her get a very stubborn Jean-Luc to perform.
I did feel a little better when after working with my horse, BM determined he may have never been introduced to the methods of teaching she was using. (Australian Horseman Clinton Anderson, and the school of teaching nearly everyone at the barn prescribes to, teaches that horse are inherently lazy. Only after watching several of his videos can I say that he tends to effectively utilize rest as the animal’s reward. When a horse doesn’t do what he is asking, he adds pressure and various other techniques to assert his rank as number one in the herd of two.) BM continued working with Jean-Luc for nearly a half hour before handing him back over to me.
I wish I could say that the rest of the evening went much better, and that I picked up on the lesson quickly – cannot. These things take time, and practice. It’s only after digesting everything that I can say I’m prepared to give it another go today. Today, I know what my cues need to be and result in. However, just because I understand what I was doing wrong yesterday, doesn't mean it's going to be perfect. The work will be much more focused, though, and begin from the moment I catch my horse to lead him to the barn. #Engage!
Around 2:15 PM we were back with then, Jean-Luc in tow. He unloaded well, and frankly, for having no expectations of anything, I am happy to report he exceeded all of them! He even backed off the trailer, on his tippy toes, but still – he backed off.
I walked one very excited Jean-Luc over to the paddock that was prepared for him and basically turned him lose. Talk about lack of excitement. The horses in the field didn’t even bother to come meet the poor boy for nearly twenty minutes. Honestly, this lackadaisical reaction by the herd is exactly what I was hoping for. In my line of work, I often here the phrase, “less is more.” I am learning the phrase absolutely applies when working with horses as well.
For the rest of the day I watched Jean-Luc walk around the paddock from the comfort of my folding chair. The weather was cold, rainy, and overall terrible, but I just could not leave him. His introduction to the herd was as important for me as it was for him. My head once again became full of questions. Will they like him? Who will boss him around? Sure, he won’t try to become leader of this herd?
Our day was simply filled with each other’s company. I made no excuse to dote on him and show a little extra love, because I understood this week was going to be pretty traumatic for him. Finally, around 7 PM Sunday night I packed up and said my goodbyes. It was honestly hard to leave. My brand new 1200 lb. fur baby chased my car and squealed at me from the road. I paused only long enough to feel guilty for leaving, and drove off praying he would be okay through the night.
If I haven’t already mentioned it, this horses’ prior owner let him get away with murder and definitely spoiled him. Over the past few days I find myself wrestling quite a bit with the idea of making the horse comfortable and doing what I know to be right. In some ways, I assume this is same guilt any parent feels when reprimanding their child’s adorable antics? You never want to make them uncomfortable, however, you what you’re asking is best for them.
The following day went much better. According to Diana, the woman who owns the place Jean-Luc is staying, he finally calmed down around 9 PM. The next morning I received a report that he was continuing to act pretty chill, he just really wanted to visit with the herd.
By the time my friend, trainer, photographer, and all around she-woman arrived, he was less pleased.
“You may want to consider letting him out today,” she said. “He’s squealing and acting a’fool.”
I agreed with her and sped to the bard as soon as could after work. Sure enough I found my horse’s head perched prominently over the gate, looking wistfully at the rest of the herd. He desperately wanted to meet them, however Liz, Diana and I all felt it might be best to tie him up in the barn for a bit while I groomed him. Liz put her best boy, and the herd’s all-around welcome wagon, Griffin in the barn in an effort to help keep Jean-Luc calm.
After pulling into the barn and parking I met another friend of Liz’s, paid for Jean-Luc’s board, and at Diana’s suggestion, went to the barn to grab a halter and bring my horse inside. Calm is not at all the adjective I would use to describe him yesterday. In fact, “act a’fool” was pretty accurate. Although, he was an easy catch, since he desperately wanted out of that paddock.
The walk from the paddock to the barn was less than smooth. He kept bobbing his head, stress eating and trying to get as close as possible. I hate when horses assert themselves like that over a person, unfortunately I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I ready where you need to stop, and make the horse back up, do a circle, do whatever you need to gain control again. I tried some, but unfortunately gave up too quick. I just wanted him in the barn. I knew I wouldn’t accomplish much with him until he met the others.
I began grooming him as he waddled around. This is absolutely one of those moments I believe ever new horse owner has. It isn’t quite “buyer’s remorse”, but it is an overwhelming feeling of, “What the heck have got myself into?!”
A short while later my dad came back. Him being there meant a lot to me considering the fact that, out of nowhere, he actually helped contribute to nearly half the price I paid for Jean-Luc. (See _____ story for more on that). Dad’s financial help meant there were a lot of things I just didn’t need to worry about as much now. I was excited to see what he thought of my new boy – of course he too was in love.
“Man!” I remember him exclaiming. “That’s one pretty horse!”
Happy that my dad thought I spent his help well, it was finally time to let Jean-Luc meet the herd. The farm has about four different gates into the fields where the horses are kept. The one closest to the barn seemed to be appropriate since the herd was pretty far away and Jean-Luc had the space he would need to not feel trapped.
Together Liz, Dee, my dad, and I opened the door and freed Jean-Luc into the fields with great anticipation. He was off! He ran to his new herd members and kicking out little bucks of joy. It was only after watching him run around that I realized, this is biggest patch of land he’s ever been on in a while. It has to have been some time since he was able to really run around with so many other horses and just - be a horse.
Jean-Luc’s previous owner took amazing care of him. She loved him like a child. I would never want to confuse anyone to think that he was anything but loved. That said, he had spent the last several years just trail riding and living with one other horse. His previous owner knew he was meant for more potential, and thus made the difficult decision I will forever be grateful for.
Oliver is very handsome brown horse. He is also the herd leader at the farm. Jean-Luc learned this quickly. Though, we witnessed no real fights initially, it was clear Jean-Luc would need time to discover his place among the herd of eleven.
Overall, the rest of the evening went on with little no drama. Dad and I stood watching the sun go down over the fields for at least another twenty minutes or so. Eventually, he and the others had places to be. I stayed a little while long just watching my new many graze on fresh grass in his new home, and hoped he would be alright.
I remember feeling like that over protective parent when I seriously considered what it would cost to outfit the farm with Wi-Fi and rig up one a pet monitoring camera. I desperately wanted to watch overall him all night, but I knew this is something he would just have to do on his own, and so I left. Meanwhile, our great adventure together had just begun.
It’s official, yesterday, Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he will henceforth be known as, Jean-Luc Ponycard, became mine. Talk about having all kinds of feelings. While the pit that occupied my stomach has since abated, it has been filled with an entirely new set of emotions. Prior to acquiring my drop dead gorgeous champagne painted gelding, I was filled with worry, anticipation, and basically a genuine terror that something would go wrong. Will he load on the trailer? Will the lady that has agreed to haul him to his new barn back out? Will his owner change her mind and decide not to sell him? Is there some unknown health issue he has that she just didn’t tell me about? Am I being duped and this horse is really a psychopath?
Just before 9 AM Sunday, my best friend Hannah, and our newest friend Tina, a nearly retired school teacher met us out at the barn I chose board Jean-Luc at. Both Tina and Hannah literally have decades of horse ownership under their belts. For me, bringing them along was more than comforting, in my head, it was a necessity. Together, I knew we would be able to cope with whatever trouble may encounter during our trip.
I made them each an egg, sweet pepper, and spinach falafel for breakfast. (As an aside, it is always important to remember that when asking for favors, I believe the least a person can do is make those helping happy and comfortable.) By the time Hannah and I arrived Tina already had her trailer hooked up to her rig. She was ready to go. (Inside my head I was pretty excited to check at least one box off the list.) Tina’s king cab truck provided Hannah and I with a more than comfortable ride. The seats were leather heated with heavy duty Weathertech floor liners any car owner would be jealous of.
Rolling along the backroads of West Virginia it truly struck me: A.) I am my mother’s daughter, and B.) Being a control freak is exhausting. No, it isn’t worth it, however, I also have yet to figure out how to change that particular characteristic about myself. On the drive over to pick up Jean-Luc, as I yakked with my best friend and the woman who agreed to trailer him, it hit me.
“Wow,” I told them after spewing out everything that had been in my brain all week. “I think this horse is going to be better for me than I ever realized.”
Thinking of it now, nearly every horse owner I know is a very “go-with-the-flow” kind of person, something I often envy in others. Perhaps horse ownership has something to do with it? The truth I am learning is that, like it or not, is that you don’t really own a horse. If anything, it owns you. The dance of communication, at least in the beginning, is far more, horse telling human what he needs, and the human works within their means to provide it. Once Jean-Luc and I establish our bond and trust for each other, I look forward to revisiting that topic.
(As an aside, I am not ashamed, but rather proud my mother instilled this extreme sense of independence in me at an early age. To this day, she will profess the importance of always being able to provide for yourself, on your own, if need be. Relying on others for anything is not frowned upon, but we’re usually surprised when people actually follow through with something – especially when it involves asking for favors.)
Jean-Luc lived in Keyser, West Virginia in a beautiful barn built by a husband that is beyond devoted to his wife. Wendy loves Jean-Luc more than words can say. I believe she is the type of person who would subscribe to the idea of, “if you truly love something, then let it go.” Though affection to her horses, she hasn’t had urge to work much with them recently. She, like many in her situation, struggle with the idea they are going to waste as “pasture pups.” For this reason, and perhaps a few others, she chose to sell him. It is my intention to never make that choice.
Just after 11:30 AM Tina, Hannah and I crossed the final bridge and meandered up the road into Jean-Luc’s previous owner’s driveway. She waved affectionately at us, instructing us where to park. Tina introduced herself, as Hannah and I both climbed out of the King Cab to greet her as well.
Beyond Wendy, I could see Jean-Luc in his stall. He was extremely excited. He paced back and forth a like popping his head over the stall door to see what was going on – he knew something was happening. If I’m totally honest with myself, the entire situation was uncomfortable, and I’m sure he sensed that. Wendy, had sent me a text the night before warning me she may cry. Jean-Luc, no doubt understood her depression, and after seeing the trailer, and being split from his only other herd member, he was not pleased.
Wendy decided to release my energetic man into the field while we filled out the bill of sale, exchanged money, paperwork, and went over any other bits of information worth knowing. The entire experience lasted roughly fifteen minutes.
“Well, do we want to load him up?” Tina asked.
We all agreed there was little else to do. Tina grabbed the lead rope she had brought along and Jean-Luc met her at the fence. All this time Hannah had been the best friend every running around documenting the experience with my camera. Again, I was thrilled to have them there because the overall feeling and general intensity of the situation rendered my brain somewhat useless. I recognize now that after signing the paperwork, I basically watched things happen like a Netflix documentary. I wondered over to try and be helpful, but ended up being more in the way. (I’m learning that sometimes, in situations like that, it’s okay. Be ready. Be on hand. But don’t be in the way.)
Tina started to load the jittery horse on her trailer, however she was not entirely comfortable loading an animal she did not know – can’t blame anyone for that. Wendy shared that he usually just walks right on and took the lead from Tina to show her. Sure enough, he did just that. In under five minutes Jean-Luc had gone from the field to the trailer and exceeded any kind of expectation I had in my head.
The rest of our time with Wendy and her husband was even shorter. Tina was great and apologized for leaving so quickly, but since Jean-Luc was antsy, it would be best to get on the road. Wendy and I hugged, she rubbed my shoulder and after briefly saying our goodbyes, I hopped back in the passenger seat – we were off.
Although it may have felt rude at the time, heading out as quickly as we did was likely the best course of action for everyone. Drawn out heartfelt goodbyes are like slowly removing a Band-Aid. Rip it off. Acknowledge the hurt. Move on.
The drive home was quiet and short. The three of us shared our level of shock at how smooth things were going, how fast we loaded, and played through the scenarios of what might happen when we got back to the barn. But other than that, that’s it – Jean-Luc was mine. I bought a horse . . . Now what?
Elation. Terror. Anticipation?
This sentiment has been flying through my head regularly since last Saturday, when atop a hefty red roan gelding named Tucker, I decided I’d found my, “Dream Horse.” For clarification, though a good boy, Tucker was not it.
Perhaps that isn’t exactly where my story really starts? Perhaps it starts like nearly every little girl’s? Some magical four-legged creature trots into her eyes for the first time, and that is it. She (and honestly, I’d bet boy too) wants a horse. The idea of barreling atop a giant furry dog-like animal, through a hayfield, trying to catch the setting sun is more than alluring. The idea is pure, honest, freedom.
That said, I personally cannot remember the exact moment I saw my first a horse? However, I have a pretty good guess. Growing up, one thing I would say defines my father is the fact that he loved John Wayne, Walker Texas Ranger, and Westerns. While the term “fanboying” hadn’t been coined yet, the fact that my dad was known for is brown felt cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and dawns a bright red beard to this day (it’s just gray now) might mean cosplayed every day. My introduction to all things equine, whether he knows it or not, likely comes from him.
Growing up on films and TV shows like, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Alamo, Wyatt Erp, Zorro, and of course McLintock!, These became my to first impressions of what the bond between a rider and his, “trusty steed” should look like. The best protagonists were always accompanied by a horse. To this day, nothing makes me feel more like a hero than dawning my favorite straw hat, a worthy pair of boots, and swinging a leg over into the saddle. That feeling is honestly hard to put into words, but I hope I never lose that sense of adventure.
Truth be told, adventure seeking lives within nearly every person I call friend. Growing up in the rolling hills of Appalachia seems to cultivate individuals predisposed to explore. Couple that with the fact that many of the places to ride in West Virginia resemble the vast landscapes of the Shire, Lothlorian, or Rivendell, (lands brought to life in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of Rings film trilogies), and it becomes a little easier to understand why climbing into the saddle might make me want to scream, “I’m going on an adventure!”
The nerd flag is about to go full-mast now, but here’s the thing, it’s no secret the world can be an ugly place. Age and experience will eventually rob us all of our innocence. Over time, everyone needs an escape if they ever wish to retain their sanity.
With every passing year I find one scene in The Lord of the Rings to be both more true, and more inspirational. The scene occurs between two very unlikely hero’s – Samwise Gamgee and Mr. Frodo Baggins. The pair are stranded amidst the ruins of what was once a glorious city. Their future looks bleak as the world is literally crumbling around them.
“I can’t do this, Sam,” Frodo cries to his friend.
"I know... It's all wrong,” agrees Sam. “By rights we shouldn't even be here,” he continues. “But we are... It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the ending, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand... I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only the didn't. They kept going, because they were holding onto something...”
“What are we holding onto, Sam?” Frodo asks of his friend. What possible answer could Sam give that would make another step worth taking?
Then, just like that, Sam offers up his revelation as though it is the simplest of things by telling his friend, “That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... And it's worth fighting for.”
Yes, I happen to believe that sentiment. Though seemingly unrelated, I find horses might just serve as the “good in this world” many are looking for. The bond between a horse and rider is pure. There is no place for lies, deceit, or a lack of truth. That bond literally cannot happen without the presence of good and honest intentions. Thus, perhaps the reason I, like so many others, am drawn to horses, is because they provide a much-needed escape. Every day a horseman spends with their horse is a reminder “That there’s some good in this world.”
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.