Patience and Persistence
By Betsy Kelleher
Isn’t it wonderful to feel that you’ve accomplished something with your horse? Maybe you’ve worked to get one ready for a show and you get the blue ribbon. Maybe you’ve paid for a trainer’s help and now the horse is working for you better than before. Or maybe you just realized that your horse is more relaxed on the trail and you are starting to really enjoy riding!
I can identify with all of that at the moment. Rocky earned a few blue ribbons in the last two shows (well, yes, we were the only entry in two classes, but I was still proud of him. His gait is improving, he didn’t spook at something blowing in the wind, and the yellow raincoat in the trail class didn’t faze him). He is doing better on the trail as well.
When I “listen” to my horse—learn to “read” him—I can begin to understand how his mind is working. And I need to know that. During a recent ride, we were walking up a slight slope in a field, approaching an area of homes. I could see someone on a riding lawn mower moving back and forth behind the trees. Suddenly, Rocky stopped and his head went up, ears forward. Oh, oh, I thought, do we have a problem? Before I could do anything, he apparently decided all was well, and he went on, feeling positive and relaxed. We walked past the yard with the lawn mower, and he looked and that was it. I was pleased that he made the right decision and was secure enough to go forward on his own. Rocky is a very alert and curious fellow, and I appreciate his awareness of things; I also appreciate his growing confidence.
I remember previous rides when Rocky suddenly whirled around and I found myself going the opposite direction! Luckily, he responds quickly to rein pressure and turns back easily without further trouble. Once he had spooked at a pool cover blowing in the wind and a white utility trailer parked on the other side of some trees. A sudden opening in the trees revealed all of this at once and Rocky reacted, apparently deciding to run first and ask questions later.
He hasn’t done that kind of thing for several months. He turned eight years old this spring, and I have noticed he seems more mature in body and mind. I’ve ridden him more this year, which has helped of course. Rocky has always been a slower gaited horse rather than one who loves to go fast. He has been good in traffic but he has his own set of fears. He hasn’t spooked at motorcycles on the road, or big trucks. He HAS spooked at a hunk of white Styrofoam on the ground, which seemed almost as scary as that big blue tarp! And when he heard an unidentifiable noise behind a shed as we passed (someone was either sawing wood or using a weed whacker where we couldn’t see him), that was the day I actually grabbed mane and hung on for a few minutes. He didn’t buck or run away; it felt more like a hop, skip and a jump. The more I’ve ridden Rocky, the more confident he becomes. Even now, when he is getting plenty of grain and alfalfa and vitamins. He improves a little with each ride; it has just taken lots of rides!
In contrast, Lady is now twelve, and getting older hasn’t seemed to calm her fear of big trucks, tractors or four wheelers. It was an actual session with the four wheeler, and a very careful approach using ground work first, and a confident rider (Cindy Medina, not me), before Lady quickly accepted a four wheeler enough to walk along beside it on the road. And she stayed calm as it passed her from front to back or back to front. The efforts and patient planning paid off.
Lady is doing something new. When I take off her halter to put on her bridle, she curls her head around to my chest, sort of like a hug, and looks me right in the eye. We stand there a moment, and honestly, I can just FEEL the bond we share. I wonder if she’s heard the talk about selling her and is trying to convince me it can’t happen. She also has been taking the bit better than before without my having to stick my finger in her mouth.
Not long ago, I actually rode Lady alone all the way to the woods behind the pasture, and we went into the woods alone for the first time. We didn’t go far, just a small circle. Lady seemed reluctant just before entering the woods and more relaxed after we were inside the trees. I think we’re making progress in lots of ways. I can remember when I only rode her half way back to the woods on that narrow trail. We got all the way by going a little further each time, doing it again and again. I realize that it took all those gradual steps for my own benefit. Working on a horse’s confidence means first working on my own. That has come from taking small steps that I could easily handle at the time.
I am thankful for progress with both Lady and Rocky. Yes, I’ve had help with both, and I’m glad for that—nothing wrong with asking for help when it’s needed. Progress has come slowly over the last few years, as I gradually worked through each challenge and just kept at it. I don’t know how many times Cindy rode Lady while I rode Rocky, venturing down the road by the barn. Each ride helped, for Lady and for Rocky, and for me, taking one more step toward the goal. I feel as though we’re almost there.
Of course, November is the month to count our blessings. I’m glad that Traveller and Ginger, our two old reliables, still have energy and seem healthy enough going into winter. Rocky, Lady, Traveller and Ginger are among my blessings and I am thankful for each one of them. Even if hay and grain costs more than ever—and I like to buy extra supplements and all kinds of horse stuff—and even if I don’t have the energy that I once had to do as much with them as I’d like, I still find a definite source of satisfaction and happiness being around my equine friends.
While waiting for cold winter winds to take away this beautiful fall weather, I am thankful for the chance to bask one more day in the sunny warmth. One more ride—one more blue sky—one more day to live and enjoy being alive. As much as I dislike the cold of winter, I have always loved fall. I remember riding through woods of golden Maples, feeling the yellow glow surrounding me with an uplifting joy. I miss those woods now; I haven’t been able to ride there for a long time. Our little wooded place behind the pasture is a small essence of what I used to enjoy. It will do for now. I want to see the glass half full rather than half empty.
I used to feel scared when things were going good—scared that something would soon go wrong. Now, I’m more able to enjoy the good days. I remember my grandpa saying God has always taken care of us—we’ll take the bad with the good. My folks were thankful people, even though we didn’t have much, and that spirit in itself made the journey of life better.
It helps to remember good times with family and friends. My best friend, Pam, died a year ago, just three days before her birthday. I miss her, but I cherish many years of special friendship. Another good friend, Ed, once said “these horses are keeping us alive!” And soon after he lost Buck, we lost him. Ed Stroud had been a special friend for almost as many years as I’d known Pam Tockstein. He had cleaned my stalls many times without being asked to, while I was at a hospital watching over a son I almost lost. And I am very thankful that my son is doing well today, a transplant recipient with twenty years time out (longest living liver recipient that we know about—and that’s a scary thought!).
So yes, I know about miracles and about being thankful. I’ve seen God at work. As I walk around, I often pick up a fresh colorful leaf and just stare a moment at its beauty. I see the miracle of fall, of changing season and change of life. I feel the coming of winter and I sense the need to get ready.
Time to get out the horse blankets and maybe buy a can of cooking spray (I’ve heard it helps a horse’s hooves from balling up in snow—have you tried it?). Horseshoes will soon come off until spring, to give the feet a chance to grow naturally and give better traction on snow and hard ground. On cold mornings, I will try to remember to bring a few gallons of hot water to help melt the ice in the water buckets. Or maybe I should give in one of these days and buy some water buckets with warmers! After that first hard frost, it will be time to worm the horses again. I like to use Quest Plus (once a year) to get any tapeworms, and rotate other times with cheaper brands. It’s also time to clean up the tack room and remove any spray cans that might freeze (I take them home and tuck them away in a closet).
Let me offer a few other words of “wisdom” for November of 2008. Don’t neglect your privilege and responsibility to vote in this important election. Be thankful for our country’s freedom and work to keep it alive. Support our government with prayer. And think about II Chronicles 7:14 (NIV): “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Is there anyone who feels our “land” doesn’t need a healing touch?
So feast with family and friends this Thanksgiving and cherish those precious moments. Count your blessings, and don’t forget to thank the One who gives them. If you haven’t found the reality of His Presence, it’s time to seek it. If you haven’t felt His loving arms about you, it’s time to humble yourself before Him and receive His merciful comfort. And if you haven’t known His power working in and through you, it’s time to surrender to His Sovereignty and find the true victory of following His will. When you believe that Jesus gave His life on the cross for you, you will know the true meaning of thanksgiving.
(Originally published in the November 2008 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)