The crab and I are trucking right along getting to know one another.
On Monday we had a short discussion about bridling and then visited the mounting block for a while. We played with clicker training at the mounting block but finally Sebastian made it clear he was just going to keep stepping that right hind away from the block when I got up there. So I brought out a stick and tapped him on the right haunch when he stepped aside, which resulted in Sebastian suggesting that I never ever ever visit the right side of his body ever again. After we got past that ridiculous offer, I gave him another cookie while I stood on the mounting block, he crunched on it while I got on, and then looked at me like “Oh well if that’s all you wanted, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I got off and on a few more times then called it good.
On Tuesday, we did the same thing. Bridle a few times, visit the mounting block a little, casual walk around the arena, lots of clicks and treats. I also started clicking for hoof picking (less Spanish walk, more civilized school pony please) and that stuck immediately.
On Wednesday I dashed out after work for more of the same. This time I tried to really consciously relax my seat and thighs, as Sebastian had jigged and fallen into the trot more and more often in our rides. I suspected I might be clamping on a little bit too much and conveying too much energy to him, and I was partially right. A more relaxed seat led to more relaxed pony. We meandered around the arena and I practiced steering just with the movement of my hips. I visited the far end of the arena a lot and after a calm walk circle there would get off, give the crab a cookie, and walk back to the mounting block for another go. I wanted Sebastian to think of all parts of the arena as neutral (not gate = cookie = good / far corner = spooky wet patch = scary, something I picked up at a Tik Maynard talk last year).
Thursday evening I ran out to drop off some things and stuff cookies in Sebastian’s face before returning home to sit in front of the fireplace (because the PNW is fucking cold and damp and I can’t ride in that shit every day ffs).
Did you catch that? My basically day-by-day recounting of time at the barn?! I just slipped back into making time for the barn every day like I haven’t been a less-than-fifty-percent-time-er for the last 2.5 years. Yes, the pony continues to be fun and we are enjoying ourselves getting to know one another. Almost as much as that, I’m enjoying being an every-day-barn-person again! I did not realize how much of my life was just zapped away from me when Murray went into retirement and I became horseless. Even with a half lease, it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t just duck out to the barn to dawdle around and talk to my friends and look at my cute horse — I mean, I guess I could have and just never did? It would definitely have been weirder to go to the barn on not-my-riding-day to hang out with not-my-horse. Whatever the mental block was, it existed.
I didn’t realize quite how much I missed it. I knew that I missed having control of my own horse and getting to make all the decisions not being beholden to anyone else’s schedule. And I knew I missed not getting to ride every day and make a training plan and track progress in a specific way. But there was definitely a “getting to the barn every day” feeling that I missed, and that I’m very glad to have back.
I never thought I’d say this, but Kate has done me wrong. What?! How?! How could that sweet, intelligent, kind, apologetic mid-westerner do anyone wrong?!!!
Well might you ask.
It’s a PONY. She sent me a PONY.
This is not a horse. This is not a small horse. This is not even a hony. THIS IS STRAIGHT UP A PONY IN A SLIGHTLY TALLER THAN PONY DISGUISE.
Friends don’t give friends ponies.
So far, Sebastian has played such pony games with me as:
Look, I can turn all the way around in the cross ties!
I’ve never been asked to stand still before.
I’ve never been fed before and need to eat all this hay on the ground.
I’m extremely hungry and must climb back in through my stall window to get at my grain.
Thank you for putting that half pad on the saddle rack, I have kindly put it inside my feed tub in my stall.
I don’t pick my front feet up for cleaning, I only Spanish walk.
My real mother doesn’t make me stand by the mounting block.
Oh was your saddle on that rack? I put it on the ground for you.
I don’t wear a bridle at home.
IT’S SMOLL, IT’S CURIOUS, IT’S DEVIOUS, AND IT’S CUTE AS HELL.
IT’S A PONY.
In all seriousness, I’m really enjoying getting to know Li’l Sebastian. He is totally testing the limits right now while settling in — which is fine. He’s been here less than a week, there are a ton of horses he’s never met walking by him all the time, he’s in a whole new routine, oh and also it’s literally 40* cooler than it was at his last home. Also the feed thing I can kinda forgive. TrJ goes to great lengths to source incredibly high quality grass hay for us here, and it’s quite hard to get hay this nice in California, especially the bay area. I get it. Shit’s delicious.
I’ve also realized that I must give off “bully me” vibes to horses. Or at least very strong “you can play hard with this one” vibes. Murray, Flounder, Timer, Fergus, Sebastian… I’m sensing a trend in horses casually stepping all over my boundaries and not giving a fuck about it.
What Sebastian doesn’t know? I had a Murray. And if that horse taught me anything it’s… well, realistically, he taught me almost everything. I’m not going to say that Murray pulled out every trick in the book, but I learned a whole hell of a lot about handling goofy shit from that horse, and Sebastian is going to have to get really creative to one-up him.
But that’s the thing — Sebastian totally does not act like a horse who wants to one-up Murray. He doesn’t even act like a horse who really, legitimately wants to get away from me and what I’m doing to him (er, yes, I also know what that looks like because that was also Murray). The second I free him from pressure he’s like “great, what’s next weirdo?” and when I put him back in his stall, he turns around to check in with me after a bite of hay.
Sunday night we went five rounds over putting a bit in his mouth. First, Sebastian said no. (NB: he said “okay” on Thursday and “ugh, fine” on Friday soooo) Next, I worked on shaping him to put his face down into the bridle. After a bit of clicker training and a bit of negative reinforcement and tussling, I got the bit in his mouth five times, each one quicker than the last. And then I gave him a big handful of alfalfa pellets and untacked him and put him away.
Another thing I learned from Murray: it takes the time it takes.
I’m not tripping about not being able to ride on Sunday. I’m sure I’ll need to skip a few more rides over the next month or so as the crab and I revisit some basics. And that’s cool too. I’ve ridden Sebastian at Kate’s before, and he’s a solid citizen there. So I can be pretty sure that this is just the “new home, who dis?” attitude some horses get. We will be trucking along as cute as can be before we know it.
There’s a special pit of despair you get admission to when you suddenly lose a horse. Painted on the wall is a door with a sign above it that says “ESCAPE via INAPPROPRIATE REBOUND HORSE”. I had never really understood before why and how people would make such terrible decisions on potential life partners right after losing a horse. I thought a lot of things would stop me from doing that — needing some time, trying to retain a scrap of common sense, friends who would caution against poor choices.
I get it now. A week ago Monday I would have paid a stupid amount of money for something to pour my excess emotion into and some hope.
[And here’s the thing: I already believe that many humans lay waaaay too much emotional baggage on to their horses. The language I hear some people use about horses — that they are their therapists, their best friends, the only thing keeping them sane — I don’t think that’s fair to horses. I don’t think it’s kind to ask them to carry their burdens AND ours for an indefinite period of time. To get a new horse and dump all your sadness and expectations and dreams from your old horse and broken hopes and dreams for a new horse and expect that to heal you seems triply unfair.]
Fergus died on Monday. On Tuesday, I decided I would ask my old trainer if she had an ottb project she could send me for a little while. With Fergus gone, I had nothing to ride. TrB’s program doesn’t have a whole lot of catch rides available, and most of the ones that come up go to her teenagers — it’s a big soft spot she has and that’s okay. But I knew that without Ferg, I was shit out of a ride.
And because I talked to my friends pretty much nonstop Monday and Tuesday (and they were there for it — <3), when I mentioned this plan Kate asked “So do you want Sebastian for a couple of months?”
And so the next day I started calling haulers and the day after that I had his trip booked and on Tuesday, Kate’s working student put Sebastian on the trailer for me and on Wednesday morning he walked off the trailer to a brave new cold, wet world in Oregon.
Li’l Sebastian is one of Kate’s incredible Craigslist finds. He’s a certified Pupper Horse, and mostly wants to be right next to you so he can lick you and you can scratch his neck. He’s got some pretty solid training on him (thanks to Kate and her students!) and is a very cool creature who, just the Sunday before he came up here, became unemployed by virtue of his rider heading back to college. He has been the perfect distraction.
So far Sebastian’s greatest flaws are wanting to be too close to me for good photos and screaming in loneliness after having his life torn apart and a 17 hour trailer ride. Criminal, I know. Oh well, that and discovering that he could trick the Big Poppa of his pasture into playing rougher than an old man should.
Maybe it’s hypocritical to fill Fergus’s stall with a loaner horse less than two weeks after his death. I certainly was pretty judgmental about it a few hundred characters ago. But new horses are full of hope, and planning and preparing are distractions. So I’ve promised Sebastian that he has no shoes to fill, and if we don’t get along, he has a home and can go there at any time. (Because, I reiterate: my friends are the best.)
I’m so grateful to have friends who know what the pit of despair is like and how a super cute hony can help you find your way out of it. I’m so grateful to have a community (you guys!) who knows what this is like, whose words and sympathies are more than platitudes.
To paraphrase Malcolm Reynolds, if you can’t walk, crawl. If you can’t do that, find someone to carry you. Thanks friends, for being willing to do some heavy lifting.
He colicked acutely and severely in the early hours of the morning. When surgeons opened him up a few hours later, they discovered that most of his small intestine was necrotic and entrapped. They euthanized on the table.
I didn’t write about Fergus as much as I could have. A combination of time and the weirdness of writing about a horse that isn’t your own. Thankfully, that is my only regret.
Fergus made it easy to love him. He was so genuine and honest, there wasn’t a deceitful bone in his body. You had treats? He wanted treats! You could be his new best friend.
He was just particular enough to make it feel special when it was apparent that he really liked you. TrJ topped the list, then me, then his real mommy, A. And I only came before A because I was a much more plentiful treat dispenser, and she was the Evil Needle Poker of Adequan Times.
But he was just fussy and zippy enough under saddle that it was really apparent when he was working with you or was doing his own thing, and you could tell from the rail who he appreciated riding him.
Fergus was the first horse I’ve known who really did enjoy a good cuddle. He wasn’t much of one for wither scratches — I only found a good itchy spot on him once — but he would happily stand there, resting his head on your shoulder, even taking a little nap if you’d allow it.
He was always tolerant of stupid human games. Go for a walk in the early morning with a coffee mug? Into it. Play unmounted games and fling yourself off his body? Into it. Canter bareback on the track and nearly fall off the side? Confused, but into it.
He was fun, and talented, and an excellent teacher. I could have enjoyed learning from Fergus for years to come.
I am so grateful that this little horse let me be his person. That he made me laugh and groan and smile and sigh exasperatedly and think and wonder and dream.
Through some kind of prophetic wisdom, I was really gentle with myself in terms of goals this year. Seriously, I could not believe it when I couldn’t find a “2020 goals” post on the blog today, and had to literally go back and back (okay not that far back, not deluding myself about how much I wrote this year) to find “slow and steady wins 2020“.
Despite the fact that 2020 was an absolute shitshow for the world at large and for many people personally, I was lucky enough to have a good year. I did not get sick, and nobody in my friends and family circle was significantly affected by illness — pandemically or otherwise. My partner didn’t lose his job, so even when I wasn’t getting paid, we were fine. There was plenty to do on the farm and we live in the country, so got to spend tons of time outside and never felt trapped or cramped. My barn stayed open and safe, and Fergola stayed magnificent.
And the biggest thing: horse shows getting shut down literally saved the farm this year. It may sound melodramatic but in March I was getting ready to drive to California to scribe for Megan’s L program (I was so excited!) and start ramping up for the horse trails, despite the utterly massive to-do list I had for our orchard in the spring (pruning and fertilizing, but when you’re one person with 8000 trees, the list is a biggie). Then California was like “no, don’t do that” and USEF was like “nope, none of that either!” about all horse shows. And suddenly I had the time I needed to get those orchard tasks done. More than that, I was forced to step back, slow down, and tidy up all the “high priority” things in my life that always seemed to get bumped by “emergency” things.
I was really very, very lucky. For which I am grateful.
My biggest goal for 2020 was to journal every ride. And holy shit, I did that. I have a small moleskine notebook that I was journaling in personally, and Ferg’s owner and I shared a notebook in her trunk to keep notes and let one another know what was going on. The sight of my very full journal pages gave me so much joy as I filled them out, and looking at it again I’m excited to read back on our rides!
I also had pretty good success with “shut up and just do what my trainer tells me to.” I’m not perfect, by any means. But I took my own advice to heart and listened to TrJ, even when my gut was like “no! GRAB THAT RIGHT REIN NICOLE!” If I was confused or her instructions felt counter-intuitive, I made a point to get a better understanding of the why, so I could better enact the what.
I completely forgot about12 months of position fixes.I had some great success with position fixes this year! My hands and position over fences are wildly improved, as is my body-awareness generally. But I did not tackle this in a month-by-month fashion, and probably didn’t dedicate as much time to them as I could have.
In terms of horse plans, I was absolutely successful: I kept leasing and I did not buy a horse! I also rode way more horses! Not in the semi-regular way I had been hoping (since everyone being home made it so that many fewer catch rides were needed at the barn, plus there’s a literal bevy of teenagers for me to compete with), but I tried six horses this fall and got to rid several friends’ horses. This helped to give me a way better idea of what I want in a horse. And, as an added bonus, I managed to save a goodly sum for New Horse as well! I don’t think I’ve ever been so successful with my horse goals before. This is amazing.
As a very brief update, the horse search is super weird and borderline insane right now. I didn’t go to California over the holidays, I haven’t seen any more horses, and I’ve basically stopped looking seriously at ads lately. After coming to terms with the fact that I probably can’t afford ($$ or time) the horse I really want to compete and grow on and meeting the perfect hony candidate for fun, games, and learning, my MIL floated the idea of helping me get that horse. In Germany.
So now we’re exploring how realistic that idea is. (It may very well not happen, but for now, that’s the post-vaccine plan.)
On the other hand, I had wild failure on the blog front: I did not, anywhere near it, blog once per week. I wrote 15 blogs this year, which comes out to about one every four weeks. Oops. In my defense, it turns out it’s super weird to blog about not-your-horse. So hopefully I can solve this own-horse problem sooner rather than later and alleviate that block.
Personally, I wanted to have no zero days; i.e. to chip away at the long and delightful to-do list that comes with being a grownup and living in a 70s farm house. This one’s hard to quantify, but I’d consider it successful. For a while I wrote down my no zero days activity in my planner in lavender after I did it each day so I could see my progress. But holy shit, once you get to cleaning the cabinets and the inside of the fridge and behind the oven you realize HOW MUCH that stuff needs to get done on a regular basis and just ugh.
I also planned on 12 months of personal improvements but, once again, I promptly forgot about that. Without some kind of journal-reminder, that’s going to be a hard one to stick to. (And I hardly ever look at my planner from June-August, so those months might get forked anyway.)
In the garden, my goal was to grow all the produce I needed for Thanksgiving (I had a couple of personal caveats like carrots and potatoes, since we have rodent problems that make those crops a bad idea right now). We didn’t really have Thanksgiving this year, so this turned out to be kinda a wash. But I did grow enough to host a fully functional Thanksgiving: winter squash, onions, celeriac, celery, and tons of corn! I somehow flunked out on the green beans though which is super embarrassing, since they are crazy easy to grow. A halfsie-success, and a great goal for this year also.
Sadly, I do not think I succeeded at my goal of reading 40 books. I could only list 30 when I tried just now, and though there may very well be some that didn’t make the list, I have a hard time believing it was a full 10 of them. In roughly reverse chronological order:
Words of Radiance, Fool’s Fate, Fool’s Errand, American Gods, Hidden Figures, Golden Fool, The Cooking Gene, Mythos, V for Vendetta, Guards! Guards!, Feet of Clay, The Shepherd’s Life***, Monstrous Regiment, Unorthodox, Ancillary Mercy, Ancillary Sword, Artemis, Elantris, Ancillary Justice, The Raven Tower, The Realms of the Gods, Emperor Mage, Wolf Speaker, Wild Magic, Ride With Your Mind, Ship of Destiny, Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, Wyrd Sisters, The Long Earth
*** Highly, highly, highly recommended if you take only one book of interest from this list
Finally, the horse show goals. The biggie. The multi-part-er. The goals that would make our shows better than ever before! Well, obviously, with pandemic we didn’t really do shows. We tested the waters toward the end of the year with a dressage show. It was great, and super relaxed compared to a full on HT. In terms of my personal goals for our team, I did manage to delegate more tasks to trusted team members and come in under budget, but we didn’t have a weekly social media presence.
This is definitely a “better luck in 21” situation. It didn’t make sense for us to run our HTs with all the weirdness of 2020, but we are all in for this year!
A few other highlights from this weirdo year:
We hatched a boatload of (20!) chicks.
Some were freaking napping champions.
The last one out was a slowpoke and I had to warm her up in a snood next to my neck. She grew up into the magnificent Becky with the Good Hair, and was the first of the new crop to lay.
We had a new family member join us.
I cleaned out the last bay of the tractor shed and found FIVE mummified opposums!
This magnificent tripawd and his parents came to visit for some quarantine-farm time.
Ferg and I got to go cross country schooling!
I went kayaking on one of our creeks, only got about 200 feet in either direction, and found a beaver dam!
We harvested >120 pounds of paste tomatoes, and a whole lot of other things.
Including 25 pounds of the most beautiful corn I’ve ever seen.
We cleaned up a huge part of our basement! I mean, it’s probably less than a quarter of the basement but compare it to before (and that’s after we removed a full 30yd dumpster of trash).
So. It wasn’t too awful of a year. Let’s do it again, but better.