"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mental Status

In which I whine and ponder, and then I get over myself. You have been warned. :)

After Lily's injuries (yup, plural...) there always seems to be a period of emotional estrangement from her. She is a really good horse with many many redeeming qualities, but most of her more serious injuries have also involved smaller complications that drag the process out and make it both exhausting and frustrating. I have spent the last month since she returned to under-saddle work fretting over one thing or another. She actually developed a huge abscess in the heel of her left hind 2 weeks after she was back out with the herd that required daily bandage changes with applications of No Thrush to the hoof to keep it dry + ichthammol on the abscess along with booting of the hoof for almost 2 weeks to allow her to heal. Thankfully abscesses heal better with the horse turned out, so she just stayed out in her pasture with one boot on and was just fine.

She was going stir-crazy with lack of work though, even turned out. She becomes hypersensitive to everything (<- go to that link to see exactly HOW bad she can be during a rehab process...) and neurotic if not being worked. If she is not being worked while on full turnout, she also gets somewhat herdbound. The problem is that when I'm stressed out over her physical issues, any additional behavior issues on top of that rapidly and unreasonably anger me. She can be insanely ridiculous. Like her spooking at a carrot. Rehab periods with Lily do not strengthen my bond with her; in fact, they weaken it. I listed her for sale back in FL; I almost listed her again were right after the ligament strain two years ago. I didn't almost list her this year, but the thought crossed my mind for the first time in a long time.

Lily and I function best together when we are working. She can be quite frustrating otherwise, though maybe it's because I tend to take it all so personally given the amount of time her and I have been together...hence why I omit the frustrations from the blog: because in the big picture, they are dumb. She loves me, but she loves her herd mates more, and there are days when she takes off running the second I remove her halter in the field, something that unavoidably hurts my feelings. Especially when Gracie will wait by the gate after being released until I get in the car to leave...a behavior that I've reinforced more recently by giving her the occasional mint.

Except for this day. On this day she was following me around the field just cuz.
Pretty girl.
 I've lately tried setting Lily free in the arena to try to play with her like I do with Gracie, and all I succeeded in doing was getting Lily stuck in a corner and start changing direction by turning away from me in fear...Ummm, it was supposed to be fun, mare. :(  She didn't understand the concept of "play." I just gave up and worked her as usual instead. I can't even ride the mare bareback because she freaks out. Sometimes it feels like "fun" is not a word in her vocabulary. This is not an indication of lack of permanence with our relationship: I can threaten until I am blue in the face but the fact of the matter is that she has earned her place with me, I'm the only person that truly gets her, and so she will always have a home with me, even when the day comes that that stupid left hind finally earns her her retirement. However, the reality is that her and I are truly friends when we are working together. And even then there are days that I just want to scream...like when she sucks back over going out on the same trail for the eleventy-millionth time alone, when she spooks at everything because she is in heat (the hormone injections after the stallion really effed her up...I swear she's been in season for the last MONTH) including the goddamn mounting block (this really happened...this week!), when she won't eat because she is worried about a nonexistent issue.

The not eating because she is stressed about an invisible offending thing is probably the most frustrating quality of all, and the whacky hormones have not helped with that. This has been an ongoing issue since the stallion barn. Actually, it's been an ongoing issue for even longer than that, as it would happen periodically at Kathy's too. She has been better about this recently, but I simply cannot keep her on GastroGard for life, nor should I: keeping a horse on anti-ulcer meds long term can be detrimental to their health. She finished her last round of GastroGard a couple of days before returning her to full turnout, and she was started on SmartGut recently to substitute for the UGard I had had her on prior; she seems to prefer the SmartGut to UGard pellets by far. She is currently on 5,000 mg of magnesium a day since our soil is deficient, and she has also lived on SmartMare Harmony for the last 2 years. SmartMare Harmony has helped her far more than any raspberry leaf supplement prior, but I can't erase the fact that she had to receive a grand total of 6 prostaglandin shots to ensure she didn't become pregnant from the stallion...so we have screwy hormones to deal with. I honestly am looking forward to the cold weather because once she goes into anestrus for the winter, she calms down considerably. If for some reason she continues to cycle into the winter, she will get an ultrasound because I am not one to just sit around and wait for problems to disappear. I can deal with her issues at the moment because I know her so well now, and though her issues are not what they used to be precisely because she knows me, because she knows that she is mine, it doesn't mean that I enjoy it. It will get better again, like it always does, but at the moment we're at a sort of emotional stalemate, her and I.

"This is what I think of solo trail rides right nao!"
There were some issues with the hitching post after things were back to normal with Lily's turnout + work schedule. The hitching post was repaired in such a way that it would be impossible for a horse to pull back and split it into separate pieces like what happened with Lily, but in theory it can still be yanked from the ground if a horse pulls hard enough. I've seen horses pull much larger, heavier posts clean out of the ground.

So for a while I just threaded Lily's lead rope through the post, leaving it untied. Until she figured out that she wasn't tied up. Random invisible things would upset her: I would walk into the barn (which is within sight of the hitching post) to put something away and return to find Lily standing 10' from the post, flaring her nostrils in fear, while Gracie dozed next to her with a leg cocked, completely unperturbed by whatever upset Lily. Numerous times Lily backed away from the post over some unseen offense while I was standing right there to confirm that there was NOTHING to upset her. No bomber flies, no changes in the herd next door, Gracie didn't do anything, nothing happening in the barn. It made me extremely upset because a horse that pulls back is a very dangerous one, to itself, other horses, and the people around it. When Lily came to me 4 years ago, she would pull back in fear, both while handled on the ground and while tied. It wasn't something that she did all the time, but she did it often enough that I kept a couple of spare replacement halter crowns on hand at all times. Yup, I had a breakaway halter for her. I still do: it's what she wears for trailering. The problem was when she learned that she could break halters. I couldn't keep enough safety crowns on hand...she would sometimes snap two crowns in the same day. So in frustration I just started hard tying her with a rope halter. And she quickly learned that she couldn't break free.

This mostly solved the problem for a very long time. Years. She reverts to Pulling Away Horse when she is not in consistent/hard enough work +/- is hormonal. Back when she had her annular ligament injury, I wrote a post about how angry it made me when she tried to run backwards away from me unprovoked. (And no, I never did train her to long line because it freaked her out so much. It wasn't worth it.)

This time, I was debating getting a blocker tie ring. My BM in FL had a couple throughout the barn but I did not find them effective. Actually, let me rephrase that: they were not effective at keeping a horse tied. I watched more than one horse pull slowly away until they were free from the tie ring they were attached to. Apparently they work for a majority of people, based on all of the online reviews...so maybe we just had a barn full of smart horses? I dunno. It's touted as a cure for pulling back so I might still eventually get one or two when the vet bills are paid off...it's just that $30 for a steel ring with an extra piece of metal seems awfully expensive.

Anyway. My current BO had been asking how was Lily handling the hitching post and when I brought up the recent issues, she suggested baling twine. Um, can I say DUH? Our trailer ties are attached with baling twine and I have baling twine loops for attaching haynets to on the trailer as well...I've been known to go around attaching cross ties at barns with baling twine. You'd think I would have thought of this but alas I did not. So I created baling twine loops at the hitching post, to which we tie the horses. So far so good.

We have had a lot of great rides in company: the ride with Gail and Nimo, and a variety of rides with Charles and Gracie. Lily is going through a phase of not wanting to lead all the time, so until she is over that, we aren't going out on the trails solo. Why? Because Lily does great on the trails alone only if she is feeling self confident enough to lead while all the time while in company. We've worked through it before. At the moment, I'm not pushing the issue because it's not worth forcing it. She will be mentally ready again when she is ready and not a moment sooner. Wait for the jump.

The famous landfill. It's huge. I sometimes come out here and pretend it's my own personal giant arena. Note Lily's question mark ears. She still can't deal with the color changes of the earth. But that's okay, because Gracie doesn't care.
That hill on the right drops off into nowhere.
The mare is so much like me and Gracie is so much like Charles that sometimes I wonder if the best bonds wouldn't be had if we swapped horses more often. Because Charles gets me and I get him, so if we each rode the horse that was most like the other...? Except Lily requires such a light, sensitive ride...I'm not sure Charles is quite ready just yet. But I think his sense of humor and lightheartedness would be good for her. We joke about it but Charles riding Gracie has been a key factor in her progress: the fact that he doesn't take her shenanigans seriously is what allows him to work her through them. Seeing his successes has made me braver with her in turn. "If he can do it, why can't I?" By pretending to be like him, I can have the same success. There are a million things in life that I have tried because of him, that otherwise I never would have attempted. Like jumping off a tree into the ocean. Or climbing to the top of the stairs of an abandoned lighthouse. Or camping on a deserted island. Or surfing...I got into that because of him. He continues to be an inspiration now with the horses too.

<3 him.
Pic from when I took him through the new loop I had discovered with Gail.
So when Charles is working and I'm off, I've just been riding Lily in the arena. We have had some really stellar dressage rides unlike anything we've done before. We've been doing a lot of transition work because it's great for muscle-building, and she has been nailing my requests with an unheard-of accuracy. During a recent ride, we were doing 5 trot strides-5 canter strides-5 trot strides, etc, with correct bend and on a circle, with a smoothness that made it appear like our communication was telepathic. It was awesome, and I called it quits after 30 minutes because she was giving her all and it needed to be rewarded in the best way possible: by dismounting.

Seriously: when I really want a horse to learn a particular skill and I want to give them the Ultimate Reward, I simply dismount and call it a day.

So rides have been great, though I'm not necessarily doing what I would prefer to be doing with her. Which is going out and exploring new trails solo when Charles is at work.

Same ride, same section of river. This is at our current barn!
I've been doing that with Gracie.

When Gracie came into my life a year ago, I looked at her and thought, "This is the horse with whom I will be able to do everything." The one I'd be able to toodle around with bareback. The one that could be ridden in a halter. The one I could just randomly take out solo on the trail. The one that would be good in company or alone. The one that I'd be able to gallop on with wild abandon. The one I could put Charles up on and trust that she would both take care of him and show him just how much fun riding could be.

It has taken a year of hard work and dedication, of slowly unlocking each of those things, but I am thrilled to announce that Gracie has turned out to be exactly the horse I knew she could be. I think this video says it all:

Turn up the volume for the full effect. 
Charles is holding the reins on the buckle. Gracie goes, "Oh grass!! Om nom nom..."
(And let's also note the cocked leg and relaxed stance of Lily!)

We have been doing a lot of bareback riding.

Yup, we canter bareback consistently nowadays!
And the other day she was out in the field, hovering on her side of the fence while Lily had her second meal of the day...I grabbed my helmet and her rope halter and just swung on.

Not only am I riding in a halter & lead rope...there is slack in the lead rope!
She was gaiting in all of these photos except for the very first one.
She wasn't exactly thrilled about being ridden instead of fed, but she patiently tolerated my wishes, even allowing me to use the gate so I could climb onto her back, and listening excellently once I was on. I kept the ride short in reward.

This past weekend Charles was working. So I took Gracie out alone on Saturday. For the first time in a long time, I just tacked her up and went on a trail ride. And it was just so incredibly awesome. We didn't go through a 10-minute period of arguments (this used to be her norm); we just went.

Made it back to the barn before the thunder & lightning started.
She was enthused about everything I asked her to do. We tried hill sets, which she attacked with gusto, but she coughed after the 4th set and scared me, so we just continued on our usual route around the barn trails. She really wanted to continue doing hill sets though, and she did let me know! I laughed at her enthusiasm and asked her to continue on. She gave me a spectacular speed rack around the property, nailing 6 miles in only 50 minutes, which is impressive for this mare that used to be so out of shape she would have to stop to catch her breath halfway up a hill!

On Sunday I was feeling lazy, so I took her out on what I call a "Whatever Ride": no goals, no expectations, and the horse gets to decide what speed we're going at and even where we are going (within reason). I don't do true Whatever Rides with Lily because if you let her, she'll just turn for home. *sigh* Though she is happy to pick the pace when allowed, and some of my best rides with her have been the ones of this sort. This was my first time really doing this with Gracie and she did not let me down.

She was game to go wherever and do whatever. It was a constant conversation with her.

Me: "Let's go into the river!"
Gracie: "Can I splash in the water?"
Me: "Sure, as long as you don't lie down!"
Gracie: "Don't give me ideas!"
Me: "LOOK! A new trail!"
Gracie: "Where?"
Me: "Over there, on the other side of the river!"
Gracie: "Let's check it out!"
Me: "Let's!"
Gracie: "Can I canter up this hill?"
Me: "Of course. Just slow down around these low-hanging branches here."
Gracie: "Lean on my neck and I'll get us through them!"


We discovered 2 new trails. Both were ATV trails. One of them ultimately led up such a steep hill that I decided to leave further explorations for a day when we had company. And a long rope so Gracie can be tailed back down that hill if we need to backtrack.

Have some random photos to break up the text. ;)
The second trail led us away from the train tracks and up through the woods. We climbed up a slope, which Gracie chose to canter, then gaited on along the side of a hill through mature forest. Until I heard ATVs revving in the distance: I instantly swung Gracie around mid-stride and feeling my urgency she broke into a canter as we made our way back down the way we had come. She slowed to a beautiful surefooted trot to tackle the downward slope, not placing a single hoof wrong. I was SO proud of her.

We slowed back down to a walk when we were on the barn side of the train tracks. 

We went bushwacking here, following some of the deer trails to see where they would take us. Gracie went forward with pricked ears, trotting through the brush and young trees while I ducked down low  next to her neck to avoid getting whacked in the face. Gracie lowered her neck just enough to keep the branches from even scraping my back. She had full opportunity to drop her head all the way to the ground to eat grass (which would have resulted in me toppling off, and is something she would have done at a previous moment in time), but she didn't even try. She simply marched on in whatever direction I had pointed her, at whatever gait I had requested, until told otherwise.

"Human, I do not approve of this."
"Can you please take this thing off of me? I look ridiculous."
I really wished during this ride that we had a helmet cam, because it would have made for some pretty cool footage!

After arriving at a dead end, we turned around to return to our familiar trails. It was fun to explore though, and see my horse be so happy and willing about it. 

We were walking around the perimeter of one of the hay fields, following the tree line. I was holding the reins with one hand on the buckle while wiping off some of the spider webs I'd collected in the woods.  And suddenly there was a huge crash in the forest less than 15' away from us.

Gracie spun sideways in a 180-degree turn and...stopped. To my utter amazement.

She could have: 
1. Dropped a shoulder while spinning and dumped me.
2. Bolted after the spin, since the 180-degree turn had her facing a wide open field that would have taken her straight back to the barn.
3. Done any sort of idiotic thing that horses will do to throw their unwary rider.

She did none of those. She simply stopped. Of her own volition. Thank God, because I had no rein contact to stop her with.

We both turned to look into the trees and saw the flash of white tail of a young buck that had been surprised by us walking past. The crash had been him leapinng away.

I turned Gracie around, put both hands on the reins and we walked on nonchalantly, still on a loose rein. She relaxed and happily picked up her gait at the far end of the field, as if nothing had happened. 


We came out on the landfill. It is constantly changing and during our ride the day before we had discovered a raised strip of loose asphalt forming a sort of partial road halfway down the landfill area. It had an 18" drop at the far end that I had showed Gracie how to negotiate the day before. 

On this day she picked up a canter the second we hit the asphalt strip and continued on cantering as we neared the end of it. 

"Remember the drop!" I told her, but let her choose the direction and speed anyway: I wanted to see what she would do.

"I got this," she said. She slowed to a trot  of her own volition, hopped off the asphalt strip and continued on at a lovely extended trot, across the red earth of the landfill.

About halfway down I asked her to canter and she strode forward, ears pricked. Grinning, I leaned down low over her neck and whispered, "Gracie...GO!"

Her ears flicked back and then forward again as she surged into a gallop, flattening herself as she reached forward with each stride, her blonde mane flying back like flames. We chased our shadow across the ground, a trail of dust rising up behind us in our wake, and I laughed into the wind.

It was glorious.

Not from the ride I describe above, but you guys can get the effect of Gracie's mane flying when she canters at the end. :)

As we neared the end of the landfill I sat up and she slowed to a trot and then halted. We made our way back to the barn at a bouncy happy walk. 

Once untacked, she had a bath and I set her free. As is her norm now, she stayed...and I hugged her face and thanked her for such a wonderful time. 

I really hate selfies with a vengeance but couldn't resist taking one after this particular ride!

And so we live in the present while I work on my bond with Gracie and wait for Lily's hormones to settle.

Goofy mare. Still love her though!


  1. I like that blonde mare a whole lot. Haha. Lily, Lily, Lily...strange card that one. But at least you've got things figured out with her much more than you once did!

    One of my unspoken goals this year has been to not take things so seriously with the horses. I've gotten infinitely better at seeing them for what they are as a result. Q is suspicious of the world by nature, though she can learn to be better about it. Griffin is like Gracie (as you know, haha) except for the moments he has to try to test me because he's young or in the moments he's got some pain (flies almost always - he's got small tolerance for the buggers; his teeth until this week).

    Recognizing these things - seeing them for the animals they are and not the personalities I anthropomorphize them to be, I rarely take offense when either animal acts out any more. It's done wonders for me and for my relationship with them. Removing myself emotionally is definitely a habit I had to work on forming, but definitely worth it! Added bonus? Horse time has become even more relaxing than it once was and I'm far calmer a person for it.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the girls tomorrow/Saturday. I'm particularly excited to see how much fitter Gracie has become. I hope you're ready to hear me squeal about her gaitedness again. Because it will absolutely happen when we do our riding tour of the farm. ;-)

    1. Thank you Liz. <3 I'm usually pretty good at remembering they are animals and they don't plan the things they do in advance but I think part of the stuff that was happening in my personal life (which you know all about!) was altering the way I reacted to Lily's behaviors.

      There is also this: http://thoughtcatalog.com/johanna-mort/2015/08/17-signs-youre-an-overly-attached-pet-owner/ One of the girls at work was reading it out loud recently and I burst out laughing with #2: "You’ve locked them in a room with you as a way to force them to spend time with you. However, this plan always backfires because they end up hanging by the door waiting for you to get over yourself and let them out." Because I have been guilty of doing something similar with Lily. I can't lock her up in a room, but I've held her next to me with the lead rope after removing her halter to make her be with me while kinda sorta at liberty. That's when something finally clicked and I went, "Wow, I'm really being too emotional myself about all of that!" And wouldn't you know it: the day I consciously stopped doing that, she started wanting to be with me in the field, like that day she followed me around all over just because.

      I stopped taking things personally with Gracie over the winter while working through the concussion repercussions; I need to be better about doing that with Lily *all the time* as well!

  2. I'm not quite sure what to say. (I believe I've mentioned my unenviable skill of being able to say exactly the wrong thing, so please forgive me if you read this and end up in the floor crying). Some of what you wrote about Lily's spooking and lack of focus is similar to what I've gone through with Nimo. And while a few weeks off work doesn't cause a complete regression, I do notice some not-so-positive changes with things like more spooking, more sucking back, and just general stupidity. And sometimes it makes
    me feel bitter because I know so many horses that aren't like that. But for Nimo, his routine is everything to him. It doesn't matter what that routine is, as long as he know what to expect. Even if what to expect is an unknown amount of time in the trailer, arriving at someplace we've never been, and riding on trails by ourselves.

    I wonder if the same might be true for Lily to some degree. It seems like you ride her frequently and challenge her, so maybe when she loses that predictable part of her life, it's hard for her to be mentally stable. I was a raging bitch the other day and it took me awhile to remember it had been a week since my last ride. No matter how full my life is, if I don't get a couple of rides in each week, I become a basket case. Maybe the same is true for Lily?

    And I think mares can have more complex
    personalities than geldings. After all, they have more hormones, and Lily got a triple shot of them at the stallion barn. Plus, it sounds like Lily has had some intense experiences before you had her. Unfortunately trauma can have long-lasting mental impacts, so maybe that is part of the issue too.

    Anyway, at least you can relax on Gracie to recharge. And, when you think about it, it's pretty amazing that we can communicate at all with such a different species. So easier said than done, please cut yourself and Lily some slack:) You're both amazing! (Remember Lily's charge up the steep river bank at Foxcatcher? I mean, wow! And the fact that you bailed at just the right time to save both of you? Another wow!)

    1. Gail, the beginning of your comment actually made me burst out laughing. ;) No worries, and no offense taken. Thank you for reminding me of the stuff that Nimo does too! He always acts like such a solid citizen in company that I forget you've had similar issues with him as well.

      And you're right: whenever Lily falls out of her routine, she regresses somewhat. There just comes a point where I start wondering if I'm doing something wrong, that it feels like we have to start over every time we stop doing what we normally do, and I get frustrated with myself. Like, "Why haven't I been able to figure this out yet once and for all?" You know? Thank you for reminding me that this is just part of the process with some horses. There have been a lot of outside factors at play recently too: I'd been stressed about work, as in really, really stressed, and I was having to step back and just let her be when I felt myself taking things personally. Because of mares' unique ability to mirror your emotional and mental state back at you, I've gotten pretty good at leaving baggage behind when I go to the barn, but baggage can still make me react differently in my interactions with them; I know this was a factor too. She has also dropped in ranking in the herd more recently: she's close to the bottom of the totem pole. She is at ease with it and no one is picking on her, but it also changes how she behaves elsewhere in her life. This is a beneficial change, as it makes her *less* herdbound (when she is top mare she doesn't like to be away from her herd because she worries about them) so that's one good thing at the moment. I'm guessing things will be back to normal in another two weeks or so, hopefully.

      The good news is that thanks to the fact that we have gone through this pattern before, I know that taking it easy on her and being patient is what works best. When she is hormonal, training doesn't help because she isn't a green horse: her reactions that seem irrational really are irrational and trying to work her through those reactions just makes her more upset "I can't control my brain right now, why are you trying to make me get over myself?! I can't!"

      Which is the same as me: if I'm having a bad day and/or being hormonal, I get exactly the same way. The poor hubs can't try to reason with me because I'm being unreasonable and I know it. So he just leaves me be and I eventually come around.

      So yeah: her and I, we are total twinkies. Hahaha...

      So I keep on keeping on, but I was kind of beating myself up about it. Thank you for your comment!

      And yes, the bank! That's one of the things I remind myself when I get frustrated with Lily. I forgot to mention: during that last ride on Gracie, she was eyeing the steeper river banks and trying to make a beeline for them. I kept asking her, "Have you been talking to Lily??? Going up a high bank is *not* going to score you more points!" I was laughing though.

      Horses are funny creatures. They really do make us better human beings. :)

    2. I no longer ride as I moved into a city that was too expensive for me to keep horses.
      Back when I did ride I had a mare that even if I wasn't riding I still had to go out and give her a groom and do stuff with her, be it part of her injury re-hab or something else. If her routine was not kept up she became rather interesting. She was an ex-racehorse and grew up with a very fixed routine, so that was what was her normal. she was slow to adapt to change. It was nothing personal, she was just that bit more aloof and really needed her routine.

  3. Gracie reminds me so much of my Paige in this post. Game for everything. :) I hope Lily gets straightened out soon. I have a mare that pulls a lot. Mainly when left tied alone. Oh mares.

    1. Your girl Paige sounds like such a great mare!

      Mares can be really good at keeping us humble, that's for sure!

  4. Maybe you just need a complex relationship somewhere in your life, since it seems like all of the other relationships seem to be easy and comfortable (does not mean not passionate - just not difficult). I prefer to have comfortable and easy myself - I hate fighting with anyone and truly am a lover not a fighter. I think sometimes when I start feeling out of sorts with Ashke (like spooking, throwing his head up and bouncing from lead to lead at the canter in the indoor) it's because I don't like working through emotional difficulty. In the back of my mind I think he's doing this "to" me, not just reacting differently on that day, because the last ride we had he was perfect. He's not reacting the way I expect him to and he's reacting in a way I find irrational (I mean, come on. It's been a year.) and because I'm projecting how unhappy we are both going to be doing the same kinds of rides three nights a week during the winter. And then I think of how much easier Queenie was (although I don't know how Queenie would have been had I been doing dressage with her, or reining. Or any other difficult riding discipline - although I think she would have loved the EOH phase of WE, because she always kicked ass on the trail course.)

    I think the biggest challenge is to let all of the expectations go (you told me this) and meet our horses where they are. That's not to say we should still have boundries (no bucking, no getting out of work) but maybe we both need to take what is being offered us instead of demanding something they can't, at the moment, give. Working with an animal that reflects back to us those things we most need to work on is a humbling, frustrating, but sometimes rewarding experience.

    1. "Maybe you just need a complex relationship somewhere in your life" -> Interesting perspective and one I had not thought of! It sometimes feels like there are so many other aspects of my life that are complicated that it's a huge relief when the closest relationships are comfortable. But you are right.

      And yup: no expectations. My biggest issue with her was the one day I went to the barn with absolutely no intention of working with her at all other than to just feed her...and we had that horrendous fight over her pulling back at the hitching post. I ended up working with her for a full hour on the ground, and then I realized that she was in heat and I had just wasted an entire hour of my life and stressed out both of us for no reason. I was beating myself up about that one for days. She has gotten really good about forgiving me for that kind of thing. She didn't use to be that good...it was the day after that that she sought me out in the field. Which kind of made me feel that much more awful...*sigh* I know you've been there too with Ashke.

  5. it's so hard not to take it personally when they're flighty and aloof... even when we know better! glad things are going so well with gracie right now tho!

    1. Very. You'd think after having her for so long things would get better for good, but we still go through this type of phase. The good thing about having two horses that have such dramatically different personalities is that when things aren't going as planned with one of them, you can usually count on the other one.

  6. I love this post for so many reasons- namely being the fact that you are so honest about the detailing the bad days that happen to everyone but no one likes to talk about. I haven't met either you or Lily in person (yet!) but I know without a doubt that you belong to her as much as she belongs to you. I look up to you and others for taking chances on unwanted horses with and trying to do right by them. I'm still so new to it all and know I'll have more than my fair share of rough days ahead- but when times get bad, we have to keep it all in perspective and move forward.

    1. Exactly! The good days always outnumber the bad, but when we're going through a series of bad days it can feel like we're slogging through mud, if only temporarily.

      I'm glad you enjoyed this post. :) Usually I try to focus on the positives on the blog, but I think it is also important to note the difficulties we go through with our horses and how we get through them for future reference.

  7. This is why some people will never own a mare ;) I love my mare, but there are days I look fondly over at Pete and wish I had a steady Eddy gelding instead. Hang in there and big hugs. She will come back to you once you get back into the swing of things and go off to conquer all the things again.

    1. That's the good thing: these phases are always temporary. Lily is one of the toughest horses I have ever worked with but ultimately she has also been one of the most rewarding precisely because of that. I'm looking forward to getting back on the upswing again!

  8. This too shall pass my friend, but I think you may be on to something with the comparisons of Charles' riding to yours.

    When I used to work as a trial guide, my unofficial stats were: women riders involved in train wrecks - equal numbers experienced and not - tons. Happened on a daily basis. Men (90% newbie riders) - zero. Never saw a man come off.

    Not saying that they don't ever, but there is something about male anatomy + confidence + expectations (or lack thereof) that seemed to soothe many horses. Then on the female side, factor in human + equine hormones... this is a big struggle for me anyways.

    No place for emotions around horses, except generosity and a sense of humor. ;D

    Riding Warehouse has blocker ties for 15% off of 24.95, fyi.

    1. Loved your comment as always, Calm. <3
      And thank you for RW's sale reminder!!

  9. You can make a blocker tie ring, with half a snaffle bit.

  10. My gosh I can so relate to this. This spring I went through a rough time with Pokey. I can't remember if I mentioned it on the blog but my sweet old beginner safe horse took to BITING me! He actually broke skin - twice! I took it way too personally at first. Then I realized he was just spoiled rotten and I had no one to blame but myself. He would buck and bite to express his displeasure at being asked to do things he didn't want to and I had to be serious with him and nip it in the bud. We had some serious round pen sessions this spring. :-p

    1. I'm glad he returned to being his happy laid-back self! I love your Pokey, and it is always good to know we're not alone when we have difficulties with our favorite horses!

  11. I'm going to do a Mel and comment on my own post. :) Liz wrote an excellent post on the subject of anthropomorphizing our animals, which I think we all do to some extent in our attempt to better understand and relate to our pets. You can read her post here: http://liz-stout.blogspot.com/2015/09/anthropomorphizing.html

    I think this is a subject that we has humans need to be very much aware of when interacting with our animals, especially with our horses, who ultimately are our partners.

    My main problem with Lily in this post was that I have recognized when I was having a rough day and chose to not work her at all...(I have learned from my past mistakes! :) But I wanted to note the current issues for future reference, since lately I've downplayed issues a lot on the blog because I don't want to focus on them enough to write about them.) The incident that set off this post was when I literally went out to the barn to only feed Lily (because I am in charge of feeding my own horses and I'm not skipping my hard keeper's meals just because I'm having a bad day) and still ended up dealing with a neurotic horse that wanted to freak about nothing. I wasn't even standing next to her when that happened. I'd love to be able to take the blame for upsetting her, but if all I was doing was bringing her in from the field, putting food in front of her at her usual spot and walking away...that's barely an interaction.

    I do want to clarify that I have a huge background in animal behavior: my ultimate goal when I went for Biology initially in college was because I eventually wanted a phD in Animal Behavior, and later in tech school I wanted to specialize in small animal behavior way before I decided to stick with emergency & critical care. We took behavior courses throughout my tech degree and I've done so much independent reading and studying on the subject, especially from a scientific standpoint. The main reason why I didn't seek out this particular vet tech specialty was because of the lack of compliance from pet owners: they don't want to put in the work to fix their animals' behaviors (they want a quick fix, just like a lot of parents out there: "Oh this pill will fix the problem!" Pills don't truly fix true behavioral problems; only behavior modification does), they don't understand the importance of communicating with the animal in a way the animal understands in order to modify unwanted behavior, and/or they think that animals can comprehend human body and verbal language from a human's perspective. They can pick up on a LOT of words we use + their correct meanings (the horses in particular constantly amaze me by the small words and gestures they've picked up on by my constant subconscious use of them) but that doesn't mean they understand spoken language as a whole. We had a behaviorist at one of the hospitals I worked at, and after seeing her endless frustrations with clients and their lack of compliance, I decided to go with a different branch of vet med altogether.

  12. Because of all of this, I am very, very careful about not anthropomorphizing in my daily interactions with animals, both in work and out of work. I am around animals more than I am around people, and I often find myself having to consciously switch my body language mindset from "dog" to "cat" to "horse": that's how involved my wordless interactions with them have become over the years. They are all so very different! :) But they do have emotions, with fear, trust, anger, and pain being the ones I get paid to deal with the most. I also get to see a lot of love: the dog that is dying on the table in front of us, whose owner comes into the treatment area to say one last good-bye, and the dog wags their tail and brightens so visibly that the owners second-guess their decision. If that's not love right there, I don't know what is. And an animal's love is far more unconditional than a human's, in most instances. Hence why I also get to work with such an overwhelming amount of grief at work too: for most people, losing a beloved pet is as significant, and sometimes even more so, than losing a human family member. My main feeling of burnout with ER stems from the helplessness I feel in the face of a fellow human being's grief over the loss of a pet that you simply cannot (and sometimes shouldn't) save.

    But I think knowing, seeing, and experiencing these things on a daily basis is also what feeds into my reactions when I take things personally with my own animals, even though I'm fully aware that I shouldn't. They are animals and their behavior is driven by so much more than thought process: instinct, past experiences and whatever personal perceptions they have of the world (because they each have individual personalities) drive their behaviors in ways that we can barely comprehend. They'll react to things that we can't perceive: changes in barometric pressure (male cats get stressed enough by barometric pressure changes before big storms to cause urinary obstructions. It's our # 1 most common emergency before snowstorms. There is also a known link between barometric pressure changes and increased incidence of colic in horses), in the moon's cycle (we get a lot more dog attacks when there is a full moon), sounds and smells that we can't pick up with our limited senses, the changing hormones of a herd member, a housemate's failing neurological condition (a pet that is not neurologically right is more likely to be attacked by housemates because they stop recognizing the mentally unstable pet) and our own personal emotions: I have been able to touch animals at work that no one else could handle simply because I was in the right mental place to do so. Energy is a HUGE thing that they respond to, and it's something that is constantly confirmed in my daily grind. It really is not a coincidence that on days that the entire ER staff is stressed, all of the animals that come in the door end up being aggressive.

    So because of all of these things, I will wonder what on earth set this horse off now and then I will be hard on myself when I overreact, because I know I shouldn't. And that's when I take a step back and stop trying to force an issue or train through it, because it is simply going to make things worse when I become too emotionally involved in a situation. I think, though, that it is important to be able to recognize when I take something personally so that I can then correct it. :)

    I do think it's perfectly acceptable to recognize that animals do have emotions, probably with less shades of gray inbetween their range of emotions than humans have, and also recognizing that they don't take things personally. Or at least, not in a way that we can understand as "taking things personally."

    Which again reinforces, for me, the thought that animals can be really good at making us better people! :)

  13. I'm way late and still sort of pondering this in my head.
    I have rarely, if ever, ascribed any of my mare's actions to malice. I do see intent: when she bucked me off, it was a very clear 'I am pissed off and you are not getting the message'. I do not think she meant to hurt me, but I am confident she was going to keep bucking until I was off. And once I was off, that was it: she got the message across, I got back on, we walked home and it was non-eventful. Some days she is willing to ignore my emotional disturbances and give me a polite ride, other days she needs/demands me 100% present and calls me on it when I'm not.

    I notice it most with shows/endurance rides. If I can get my energy level to be appropriately nonexistent, we are more likely to have a decent ride. If I transmit any anxiety, we escalate off eachother and it can go badly.

    Lots to think about still. First I wrote this thinking I was anthromorphizing way too much.. I don't know. Thank you!