Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Consolation

This is the horse I will ride this year. You know her already. I call her Consolation.

Many of you have commented on Consolation's name -- how appropriate it is to our journey, how you read it as Constellation for weeks, how it is strange and somehow perfect.

Well. The truth is that she was originally registered under another name. I changed it -- registry and all -- to suit the circumstances of the time. Yet even I have been surprised by how thoroughly this powerful mare has lived up to her gentle name. This is our story.

Consolation was born a very dark black-bay with an odd star on her forehead in the shape of her native state. Being a filly by Arivaca out of Dove, she was christened Idaho Dove. I first saw her as a two-year-old, one of the most awkward in the herd, when her coat was greying in patches and her star had faded like Venus into daybreak.

Among the other fillies -- the blacks, the chestnuts, the grullas and buckskins and bays -- she stood out, but not for anything good. I knew her bloodlines were strong, but was not impressed with the gangling beast I saw. The others were rounder, brighter, altogether lovelier.

This was in the fields of Quien Sabe, where I worked weekends for a year and lived for several months with the goal of training to take over care of the Barb preservation project as its founder aged. Moving to the ranch had been a lifetime decision involving the sale of my house in town and sacrifice of a decent job, but it was a dream the likes of which few people ever have opportunity to chase.

Chase it I did, but it got away. Relationships aren't always what we'd like them to be, and a few months at the ranch proved enough. It wasn't going to work out. Sadly, painfully, I made the wrenching decision to return to life in the mainstream and leave the Barb project to its fate.

A few of the Barbs came with me. They were payment for labor completed, hours spent, hopes dashed. Insider and Tuetano, Acey and Sandstorm...and Idaho Dove. Though I had hand-picked most of the others, that gray filly was not one I'd have selected. But, she was a Barb with good bloodlines, and one of the few made available as payment. I accepted her -- and re-named her Consolation.

She was, you see, a sparkle left behind when the meteor fell. A piece of Quien Sabe, beloved, carried home from battles lost. The scent of a lover, long abandoned, left upon clothing at the back of a drawer. I determined to cherish her, awkwardness and all.

But oh! As time passed and her belly grew round with the foal she carried, the rest of her body changed too. She transformed from a disorganized filly into a mare capable of stopping me in my tracks when I glanced up from farm work or from the window of my house. To this day, I find myself gazing at her, awed, stunned by her balanced proportions and regal carriage.

There is more. The part you already know. The part about the years of heart poured into dear Aaruba, molding him from a disturbed colt into a promising endurance prospect. The part about his battle with ulcers and chronic colic and, eventually, the devastating decision to retire him well before his prime.

But she was waiting, my Consolation. Waiting to occupy my mind and emotions with the challenges only a willful and intelligent mare can offer. Waiting for me to become who she needed, so she could do the same for me.

We finished a few races last year. Little triumphs, in the big scheme of things. Big triumphs, in our little sphere. And really, does anything else matter when you're among horses? This is their gift to us -- the shrinking down of all that matters. Here. Now. You. Me. There is no tomorrow. No one else. This is freedom, my friends. This is Consolation.

Related Posts

Mentor in Motion
On the Wings of a Storm
High Gloss Finish: Old Selam 2009
On Endurance

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ramping Up

Next week.

That's when Consolation's 2010 endurance conditioning program officially begins. In preparation, I'm spending this week dusting a few cobwebs off her well-rested brain...not to mention her well-rested body.

We went for another walk today. This time, I mostly ground drove her instead of merely leading. I find that long ground drives are an excellent tool for building a horse's confidence in leading the way while taking direction from behind.

Mentally, she proved to be in pretty good shape. Physically? Well, let's just say that we took a four mile loop featuring a steep, half-mile hill, where I made the amusing discovery that I am in considerably better shape than my endurance horse.

Oh, dear.

A little huffing and puffing is to be expected, however, after four months of rest. Respiratory conditioning is the first to come when a horse begins training, and the first to go when she takes a holiday. Even though last year's endurance season was short for us -- only 3 LD's and 1 55-mile race -- I'm confident that Consolation's fitness will make a steady comeback.

Let's hope that I can do as well. Earlier this week, I managed to aggrivate my hamstring injury (yes, that hamstring injury) enough that I was glad to be walking today instead of riding. It had better get back into shape by Monday!

Speaking of getting in shape, several of you have written to ask what happened to the fitness portion of my Fit to Ride series from last summer. Ummm...I might have gotten distracted and failed to write it. (Sorry!) The good news is that I'm now writing about fitness and nutrition (my views on which have changed somewhat since I wrote the series here, partly as a result of my research for that series) over at my companion blog, Nightlife. For those who are interested, I'm only a couple posts into a Primal Fitness series reviewing what I've learned over the past year. Feel free to click over and say hello.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wind in Our Sails

Consolation and I took a walk today. (After work! Imagine having that much daylight!)

It was just a walk. And yet, it was so much more. After a long winter's nap, it's nearly time to get serious about conditioning for the 2010 endurance season. I've spent some time on the AERC website lately, checking out the ride calendar for the northwest region. It includes a new ride, the Owyhee Spring on May 1, that sounds perfect for Consolation's first race of the year -- the 55, of course, because we know she can do it. And so, this walk was step one in preparing us for what I hope will be the first of many strong, sound completions in 2010.

Though unseasonably warm at 45 degrees, today's weather also featured blustering wind and all the equine antics that come with it. I set out with several purposes in mind:
  • To reintroduce Consolation to the concept of having a career. After several months off, her mind has clearly relaxed into its natural state; she was hard to catch and reluctant to stand for brushing, and our first mile out was filled with silliness that I largely chose to ignore, so long as she abided by the basic rules (no crowding, keep slack in the lead, mimic my pace).
  • To reestablish trust and leadership in Consolation's mind and emotions. I've often repeated that "the horse you lead is the horse you ride," and I want to be sure my willful mare and I are thinking together before I mount up.
  • To begin toughening Consolation's hooves for miles of barefoot travel on gravel and occasional pavement. Though she's spent the winter on a dry lot of variously frozen, snow-covered, and muddy soil, Consolation has excellent feet and showed no sign of tenderness during today's 3.5 mile trek.
  • To prepare Consolation's mind for being ridden in windy conditions. For all that we completed several races together last year, she is still a green and powerful mare. Since we'll need to condition on windy days if we're to be ready for that 55-miler in May, I figure it's best to start early on getting her accustomed to the gusty landscape.

Our training session offered benefits for me, as well:

  • Walking is remarkably good for human health. For all that I prefer heavy lifting and high intensity interval training, there's no denying that moving slowly has a remarkably metabolism-boosting hormonal effect on the body.
  • Even better, today's walk offered a simple way to ease back into the habit of horsemanship. I've said before that horse training is a discipline, like writing a novel or eating well, that thrives in an environment of commitment. It's time to buckle down for 2010, and I'm feeling more ready every day.

Yes, it was just a walk. But it was a start. A slow, easy, purposeful start start toward whatever adventures this year in endurance may hold. And out there, leaning hard into the wind that lifted Consolation's mane and whipped my hair free of its braid, I couldn't help but recall a quote by Jimmy Dean: "I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination."

Come what may.


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