Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Golden Pony

A little girl lives a quarter mile up my road, on a three-acre plot with a battered farmhouse and rickety fence. She runs to the mailbox when I ride by, and she calls me "her Highness" when she thinks I cannot hear.

I find this embarrassing, but sweet. After all, I have not been adult too long to perceive how an imagination, just ten years old, might transform a neighbor woman with long hair and a gray horse into a princess astride a milk-white steed.

"You know what?" the girl asked one day, when I paused to let her stroke my noble charger. "Horses are my favorite animal." She cradled this truth in conspiratorial voice, as if it contained a wish too great for hope.

I understood. Oh, I understood!

That was two summers ago, but I thought of it today when I drove by that house to discover in the pasture something like a pony. It's an awkward little beast of indecipherable heritage, pieced together of breeds that ought never to meet, yet blessed with a coat of palomino dapple that I'm sure its young mistress believes is solid gold.

I've smiled all afternoon at the thought of that girl. Though stifling hot and thunder torn, today is, for her, that perfect day. It is magic, but it is real! She knows nothing of devastating colic, mysterious lameness, a crushing fall. She's never borne the weight of a thousand training hours destroyed by one bad step, a gate left open, a twist of wire buried in the weeds. She sees nothing in that pony but her fondest dream come true.

I had that magic once. We all did. And yet, somehow, it slipped away. The travesty struck in silence by the same, subtle shift that degraded running and jumping from play to exercise, contorted sleeping on a friend's floor from adventure to necessity, and ravaged the sensuality of meals with stomach-turning guilt.

Conditioning our horses has become a duty. We want not so much to ride as to have ridden. Because we are supposed to, because we said we would. We focus so hard on the minutiae of tack fit, of hoof care, of speed and feed, that we forget to cast our hearts over the horizon and ride to find them.

And so, our hearts are simply lost.

I was recently gifted another chance. Two weeks after our race at Owyhee Fandango, Consolation tied up. It was my fault; I cut her grain ration while she vacationed post-race, but I should have eliminated it entirely. The excess carbohydrate crashed her system only a few minutes into our first warm-up as we started back to work -- and the result was a month of no work at all.

Disaster! Disappointment! The angry slap of goals thwarted again. Again. Again! All the things of which my little neighbor is innocent, because she knows things that matter more.

Consolation is back at work now. (Forgive me -- back at play!) Today we trotted through the world, all shifting skies and wind abluster, and I smiled to think of that little girl and her shambles of a pony. I may have better horses than hers, better tack, better technique. But she has something better still.

She has, in full measure, that which I clasp like water in my hands: The sunshine sense that a horse -- any horse! -- is spun of purest joy. And to have one of your own? Such is heaven, most of all.

You might also like Timing Isn't Everything.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweat Stains

I must apologize for my long absence. The stressful situation to which I've alluded in previous posts continues, and it seems that more often than not lately, I arrive home with no energy left to draft a post worth reading.

I'd be lying if I said the same stress hasn't affected my training; it has. More than once, I've given up my weeknight training plans in favor of a few hours' escape through cooking or a book. Horse training takes a great deal of emotional intensity, and I often feel I have little left to give.

And yet, I have kept on. It's well past time I updated you on my 2010 plans for the equine residents of In the Night Farm. Mind you, I've learned my lesson about setting hard and fast goals when it comes to training and endurance conditioning. Something is bound to go wrong, and having expectations too high only makes the fall too painful.

These, then, are ideals. I'll work toward them and get as far as I can, and take the pitfalls in stride. Stay tuned for updates on each of the following horses:

Inara -- As part of her purchase price, Inara is to go to her new owner with basic groundwork complete. She'll catch, lead, lunge, pick up feet, deworm, and trailer load.

Alternating Current (aka Acey) -- It's time to start this fiery, little mare under saddle. It would be fantastic to have her ready for her first LD by the end of the season, but I'll settle for getting well into a foundation of long, slow distance work in preparation for next year.

Ripple Effect -- Can you believe she's four this year? Yes, it's time to start her under saddle, too. A significant part of the project will be getting her comfortable with leaving the other horses and facing the great, wide world.

Sandstorm -- You haven't seen enough of this fantastic mare. The tallest Barb in my herd, she's an astonishing mover with a sweet but cautious personality and potential I'm just beginning to tap. I'd like to finish gentling her (she's another that arrived at In the Night Farm completely untouched) and get plenty of groundwork done so I can start riding her next year.

Consolation -- Endurance, of course! We had a setback in mid-June that has taken us out of conditioning for a while (details in an upcoming post), but it's about time to hit the trail again. Hooray!

Crackerjack -- See "Ripple Effect." These half-siblings were born just a few days apart, but CJ isn't quite as physically mature as his lookalike sister. Still, it won't hurt to proceed with his groundwork as soon as I'm done with Inara to free up a time slot. Maybe, by the end of the season, it'll be time to step aboard.

I must say, it's nice to come in after a long day in the round corral, pour a tall glass of iced tea, and look out over so many sweat-stained equine backs. I know just how they feel. We're working hard, the ponies and I. We'll get there.

By the way, I'm still encountering spam problems despite having enabled the word verification feature for comments. Sadly, this has forced me to take the next step -- comment moderation. So, you'll notice a delay between commenting and seeing your comment posted. I'll try going back to just word verification after a while, when the Chinese-character blighter decides to give it a rest.
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