Back In The Saddle.
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.
This Is Not A Unicorn.
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.
Let's See What He Can Do?
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!
Herd, Meet Horse.
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?
What Are We Holding Onto?
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.
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