Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The dance

On Weds. I finally got up to the ranch again, yahoo!

My friends, K__ and M___, were kind enough to give me a ride again. When we got there I couldn't help but give Bo a hug. I had really missed everyone so much.

Then I got something in my eye (honest) and had to walk it off up to the pasture.

I've been healing really really well, and now mostly it's just the medications that are making me unsteady. By the time we got to the ranch I wasn't having many dizzy spells, and I felt confident about going in to see my boy.

On the way there I noticed a fuzzy little horse lying on the ground. It was Cali! She's almost a year old now. Well, she's roughly 11 months. I approached her very carefully, keeping my energy low and talking to her soothingly. Cali has gotten used to me over the months, and feels just fine with me. She was so comfortable that she did not get up!

I was able to kneel down beside her and give her lots of hugs and loves. There's something so great about snuggling with a horse who is lying down. Make it a baby horse and your heart just might explode from the cute!

After I'd given Cali some attention, I got up and walked away, leaving her with a comfortable, happy experience. She has never had any reason to fear humans. She is going to grow up to be a great horse. I just know it.

Solomon is in with the main mare herd these days. Remmy is in with him as well, but he has plenty to keep him occupied. Sol is pretty low on the pecking order, but he seems happy to be there.

Of course, this being a big herd of mostly mares, proper social protocol had to be observed. First Breezy came up to say hello. She's the alpha mare. Then Jewel, who is the beta. After that, I greeted a number of mares, until I was down to I think Sissy. She didn't want to let me past to Solomon, as she wanted the attention all to herself. Solly was making his "MOM MOM MOM" face, but he knew his place and knew he couldn't dare try to push past her.

I said hello to Sissy, and then maneuvered my way around her, disengaging myself from her little sphere of influence. I am not sure how to explain to you how I did it. It's kind of a dance. It's all about how you move and position your body, changing direction and just disconnecting. It's very much a matter of knowing how horses communicate, and having a feel for them. Now, I am very clumsy when it comes to speaking horse. My vocabulary is limited, I only have two legs, and I don't even have ears that can swivel or a tail. Despite these disabilities, I have learned a bit about how to make myself understood.

So then I was able to say hello to my boy, who was very happy to see me, and very glad that I made the effort to come to him, since he was not permitted to come to me that time.

Bo was feeding some buckets and some hay snacks at the front of the pasture. He whistled and everybody headed over towards the gate. Solomon and I went as well. I was feeling pretty happy, and pretty good, too, so I took off running.

Have you ever gone running with a herd of horses thundering around you? Maybe it's not the safest thing to do, but it's such an amazing feeling. And I was near the back of the herd, with my Solly. I can't run very fast or very far, but still I ran, and Solomon trotted along beside me. He got a bit excited and ended up a little ways ahead, but as soon as he saw that I wasn't going to be able to keep up, he actually stopped and waited for me, letting the rest of the herd go on without him. Then he walked beside me the rest of the way.

I cannot explain to you what a powerful gesture that is, but maybe you know.

At that moment, he chose me over the herd.

Of course when we got close to the gate, we went to work, maneuvering so that he could slip out without anybody else getting through and running either of us up against the fence. Remmy made a break for it but as usual he didn't quite make it in time.

Solomon and I have this down to an art form. Of course I can lead him through the gate by hand with a halter and lead rope, but I am going to do things in the safest, softest way possible. With a big herd that includes some pushy horses that are higher up in the hierarchy than Solomon is, the safest way is the fastest way with the least chance of things getting tangled up, or me getting caught. If I don't have to focus on leading him, I can focus on getting the gate opened and closed a lot faster and more efficiently.

When I put Solomon back, if there's no one by the gate I will lead him through, just as a reminder for both of us on how to do it. If the situation looks too hairy, we'll wait. If it's only a little hairy, I'll let him assess the risk and tell him to go in. If he feels it's safe, he'll usually take the opening and just go on in. Of course, sometimes he doesn't want to deal with herd dynamics just yet, and sometimes he wants to eat more grass, so then I have to close the gate up again, hook him up, and lead him through. I like to give him the option of free will first, to give him the chance to really succeed because he wants to. I like to give him a chance to learn to do things in softer and softer ways. Just a command. Or even a gesture. When we are moving through the herd, sometimes we just coordinate with body position. It's a great feeling.

Solomon got to graze, eat some hay right off the feed truck, and eat a pan of senior feed with probiotics and sand clear. This coming month he will get his teeth floated. He is looking much better than he did in January. Looking at those photos I posted, he looked just a little bit too thin for my tastes. This was something I was aware of, and we've all made an effort to get him up to a better weight. Thank you, Bo and DeDe!

The grass coming in has helped as well as the warmer weather. Next year if it gets so cold I might just blanket him.

Solomon got a major spa treatment. He had THREE people brushing and loving on him while he ate his senior feed. Happy hoss! I managed to get the dreadlocks out of his mane and brush it out a bit. I cleaned his feet, which are looking scary again because the winter frog is shedding out. They're softer and mushier than I'd like, but that's just the nature of the beast in the wet season. There isn't any sign of thrush. We got a ton of caked on mud off him, and while he wasn't exactly white when we finished, he was soft and a lot cleaner. I'm sure it felt great. He's also shedding out, so we pulled off a large tribble worth of winter coat.

After he grazed for about an hour and a half Bo said I should probably take him off that rich spring grass, because it was going to blow right through him. Glad I gave him probiotics!

Solomon was so relaxed and happy that he stuck his nose right in the halter and let me lead him back to the pasture, completely soft. He went through the gate like a pro and immediately spun his butt out of the way so I could safely close it. I let him go and instead of him going to drink water like he normally does, he went off to stand next to Teddy Bear, who lives in the next pasture over. The two of them stood near each other for the rest of the day. I guess she's in heat, because she didn't kick the fence or yell at him at all.

K___ and M___ laid out a little blanket and we all laid down to stare at the clouds and have a little nap. I'm not really the napping type though, and once they started snoring I hopped back up again and went to find DeDe. She was mucking stalls, which I was happy to help with. Then we fed the horses. Someday I'll learn to always check the direction the wind is blowing so that I don't get a bunch of oat hay down my shirt. DeDe has been feeding so long that she automatically knows without thinking about it, I'm pretty sure. I'm always covered in hay and she never is, haha!

I don't know if I help things go much faster. Maybe a bit. But she always lets me help. It feels good to feel useful, you know?

Every once in a while we looked over and my friends were still passed out on the lawn. Hah!

Well maybe I have something in common with Remmy, because after I chatted briefly (too briefly really, I miss our long conversations) with Bo, I saw that K___ had woken up, but not M___. M was still snoring away, and as soon as I put my shoes on I was looking for a nice long foxtail. They're green this time of year, so they're mostly soft and they stay on the stem instead of sticking to you. I found a good one and snuck over to the blanket with it. I was hoping for his ears but he had his hoodie pulled up over them. His nose was vulnerable though!

I entertained myself by tickling his nose with the foxtail, which made him twitch and make little noises in his sleep. Unfortunately I couldn't contain my giggling fits, which woke him up. He tried to pretend to be asleep so he could lunge out and startle me, but thanks to working with horses a lot I've learned to be a little more observant about things like breath rate, and I could tell his had changed. I was ready when he popped his eyes open and said "BOO!"

So then we ended up sparring on the lawn. M has over 20 years of martial arts experience, and I would say the real testament to his skill is not how good he was, but how much he slowed himself down and made sure to not hurt me. He even let me get some shots in. I'm a rank amateur- I don't think 5 or 6 months of karate in Jr. High really counts for anything, haha.

See the thing is, the real contest is not strength. The real contest is will. It isn't how much you can control others, it's how much you can control yourself. When Remmy, say, charges at me and tries to steal the halter I'm holding, I COULD smack him, but that wouldn't prove anything. What I need to prove is that I have a will strong enough to keep him at bay. Remmy isn't really a horse you subdue. Or at least, I can't subdue him. So he's playful and he comes at me, but my job is to redirect his energy so that we are both safe. And that's what M was doing with me.

Heh, of course eventually he pretty effortlessly swung me around and locked my arm behind my back, at which point I tapped out.

Later on in the parking lot I started jumping around (hey I was REALLY happy to have gotten out to the ranch, and feeling good!) and I stepped on M's foot. He just shifted it in a certain way and I was on my back in the road, hahaha!

I said "I am SO AWESOME that I can THROW MYSELF!"

M laughed and shook his head.

It's all a part of the dance.

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