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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Morgan Horses and Making Due

Photo: Jane Kennedy O'Neil
When I'm stressed out I like to think of 'other' things; things that are far removed from all that's worrisome. I think about horses a lot. I always have. In one form or another, horses have been a bastion of strength and protection against the intrusion of life's occasional unpleasantness. There's something about a horse that makes us more than we are. They offer us their friendship (if we allow them to) and lend us their power and speed. There's something in the spirit, the soul of a horse, that connects with the soul of a human being in a way that is unique and special. When I feel cursed with the absence of this connection, I need to remind myself what a blessing it is to know such a bond and to have the capacity to experience it so fully. I don't have a horse right now, but I will again. It's not something I hope for, but something I know on a soul level. My connection with horses is my connection to the 'real' world, the source of my strength and my greatest passion. People like me don't thrive without horses.

I'm filling my horseless days ruminating about my next horse. Who will he be? What do I want to do? It is natural for me to immediately assume I will look for a dressage horse, and that would be fine. But the idea of spending all or most of my time in an arena makes my insides feel restless and squirmy. Yes, I would like to do some showing. I didn't get to do nearly enough of it as a child. There's still an itch there. But I also fantasize about dirt roads, corn fields, miles of trails through the woods. I remember seeing the world through pointed ears, an explosion of fall color, the soothing, rhythmic sound of my horse's footfalls, the sharp aroma of leaves and refreshing fall air. I'll never get tired of that, and as a child that is what I loved the most. My sister was always right there too, a ready riding buddy who shared my enthusiasm. Our farrier used to comment on the wear of our horses' shoes; they could never be reset because the daily mileage had worn them so thin. We would ride in all weather, getting caught in the rain more than a time or two. We rode bareback as a matter of habit; youth is fearless with an effortless balance and agility. Back then I had a Morgan.

I hadn't considered a Morgan again until recently. But why not? My show-trained Morgan was up for everything I was into and well suited for it too. Isn't a Morgan a natural choice? They are beautiful, strong, sensible, versatile, respectful of those who respect them. They have energy to burn and endurance to spare. You get an awful lot of horse for a fairly reasonable amount of money (exceptionally reasonable when compared to the cost of a warmblood) .When I was a child the good Morgan ads read like this: "Morgan for sale, rides and drives, excellent family horse, old (fill in blank) lines". As it turns out, that's still largely true. As a Vermonter, not only are these the 'horses of my people' but they are everywhere. That's kind of awesome. How great it would be to actively seek out the right horse for me as an adult, knowing what I know now and participating in the process. I look forward to that day with anticipation :-)

When I was a child, each horse that I had was a stroke of luck. Each foible was a lesson learned the hard way. I think about how children learn about horses today. How different everything is! I am so grateful for my daughter's experience with Pony Club, and I highly recommend it. Pony Club doesn't just produce pretty riders, but real horse people who know as much about safety and the care of their horse as they do about riding. It seems these days that many children are being taught to ride but know nothing else. They have to have perfect footing in their well-tended arenas, the most fashionable tack and clothing, and a coach at their side for everything they do. I think it's sad. Those children are missing out on a lot. It's hard to have a real relationship with an animal that you don't understand, that you have relegated to nothing more than a competition vehicle. Without that relationship the best part of the experience is lost.

My sister and I didn't take a lot of lessons. The ones we took we paid for ourselves with money we saved from birthdays, Christmas, mowing the occasional lawn. We didn't come from a horsey family so lessons and showing weren't a priority (or at least not a priority to those who held the finances!). We were very fortunate to have the horses at all. After years of begging, we started out with free-leased ponies from a local summer camp. My grandfather had put up a fence and built a barn and run-in, and that's what we had from that point on. After having more free-leased ponies and horses than I can count, my family finally purchased two horses. Kudos to my Mom here; she was a single, non-horsey parent and we had horses. That in and of itself was impressive.

Most of our education was provided by horsey neighbors, working at the summer camp (if we got all the chores done, we could RIDE! Thank you Mom for getting up early to fed us breakfast; thank you Papa for all the rides to the farm!) and a pretty terrific 4-H leader. This same woman helped my Mom find our horses and helped us to get set up with tack. I mentioned that my Mom was not a horsey person. So it is really no surprise that she bought us a saddle (yes, one for us to share) from an ad in the paper for $50. I think we even tried to use it, but it was pretty scary. I think it was a polo saddle, and part of one of the panels was missing. Eventually the torn stirrup leathers went to shoe repair to get sewn back together. This is when our 4-H leader stepped in and helped out :-) It couldn't have been easy to buy our nice tack and it was done piece by piece.

When we took our lessons, my sister and I had to ride to the local park and use an outdoor hockey arena as a riding ring. My sister had her saddle before I had mine (the first saddle just fit her horse better) so the instructor would kindly bring her saddle for me to use during the lesson. We thought nothing of this, it was just the way it was. We eventually participated in horse clinics at the local fairgrounds. I remember my saddle arriving by bus the day before the clinic started. I was SO EXCITED to get my new saddle (I had never had my very own saddle before!). I was beside myself. My wonderful Morgan took all the strangeness of the clinic environment in stride and performed beautifully so I could focus on my riding. All my friends were there, we got to sleep in tack rooms and we were able to focus on nothing but horses for a whole weekend! The clinics were awesome.

We eventually did some showing, but our participation at shows was limited by our lack of transportation. We could often hitch a ride with friends if they were going, but it didn't happen nearly enough for me. It didn't matter to my horse though. His lifestyle had changed completely when he came to live with us. He was living the life of a mere backyard pleasure mount. But when he entered the ring he became a different horse. He knew his job and he strutted his stuff like he had never been away. Perhaps that is one one of the things that fascinates me the most about Morgan horses. Some interpret versatility as an ability to perform in different tack. The truth is, horses aren't terribly mindful about the style of tack we choose for them. It's really only important to us. But the versatility of my Morgan was an adaptability in his performance, an understanding of what is needed in a given moment. This horse who would take me calmly down the trail (and through the occasional frog-pond) knew when and how to 'turn it on'. I always felt so proud of him in those moments, and the smile I wore in the show ring was genuine.

That's what I need. I need a tough, flashy little fellow who's up for anything. So why not a Morgan? Why not an animal I have a long history and share a kinship with? Why not the 'horse of my people'? It's certainly something worth considering. Thank you for joining me on this trip through memory lane :-)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Another Day at Calahan Park

Murphy
This morning I wished Karma Girl and her Shillelagh of Doom were real things and that they existed outside my imagination. Of course, it's not the first time I've had need for them, or they wouldn't exist. While I am capable of being more than a little..."prickly"...myself, I would rather not have to be. I would much prefer it if others would manage themselves then I could simply manage myself and then we could all just sing songs and tiptoe through the tulips in a state of blissful serenity. But alas, it is not to be. People, especially when it comes to their dogs, seem to be relentlessly obtuse and inconsiderate and it is an almost daily trial by fire for Murphy (and the many, many others who actually possess the mental acuity to comprehend and obey leash laws). Today was the WORST day in that regard that I can remember for quite some time.

I have had numerous encounters with the legally-challenged during my mornings at the park with Murph, some of them are even funny when I look back on them. For instance, one day we went and did our thing peacefully enough, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, we were accosted by an overweight boxer. Murphy doesn't appreciate a rude approach since he was attacked, but doesn't react 'bearishly'. Mostly he just tries to get away from the rude thing jumping on his head, but he does have a limit. My fuse is much shorter and I tend to do whatever I need to to keep loose dogs away from my dog. It's entirely not fair for Murphy to be forced to put up with these shenanigans! Finally the owner caught up with his dog and, predictably, had no vocal control over it whatsoever. I was getting really frustrated with his complete uselessness in managing his own dog, when out of nowhere a second overweight, out of control boxer joined the first in tormenting Murphy. In my mind, all went silent. Then the little dude who manages the switches in my brain unceremoniously switched on the "bitch switch" and control was no longer mine. I unloaded on this guy in a way that almost never happens, but I think it made a dent in his "leash laws don't apply to me" idea. Oh, I'm not proud of it. I'm perfectly capable of being "prickly" while being perfectly under control. In fact, under-control-pricklyness is far superior to white-hot-rage-pricklyness both in structure and effectiveness. But this jerk had not one, but TWO out of control dogs in a public park with a leash ordinance, AND they were actively harassing my dog AND HE WAS NOT FIXING THE PROBLEM. I grabbed each of his dogs and handed them to him myself so he could leash them up (they were still squirming and trying to get to Murphy...grrr...) And this upstanding citizen and responsible dog owner had the nerve to say to me "Looks like somebody should have stayed home today". Apparently, this dude knows absolutely nothing about women, or when it might be pertinent to shut the hell up. He had no idea how close he came to being on the receiving end of a throat-punch. It took every once of self control I had left to say: Yes, and since you're the one breaking the law, I'm assuming you are referring to yourself."  He left the park and I haven't seen him again. So THAT'S alright, anyway. Maybe I scared him. I certainly scared ME a little, hehe :-)

But while the encounters are rarely this bad, they remain frustratingly frequent. I do what I'm supposed to: I avoid dog parks, I follow the laws. I just want to exercise and play with my dog in peace. But some dog owners think all parks are dog parks. All dogs in public want to be accosted. How is this possible in this day in age?

Some of the weirdest things I've encountered are almost too rude to be true. For example, one day I was heading back to my car with Murph and saw a woman get out of her car (parked near mine). She glanced at Murphy and then she opened her car door to let her dog jump out. Of course it made a beeline for Murphy, who had moved behind me and started whining by this point. I walked toward it and bellowed "NO" as loudly as I could. I used to sing a bit so I'm pretty good at projecting my voice, but I always feel a bit of disdain when it sounds less melodious and more 'raging bull'. Oh well. It usually does the trick. It did the trick long enough for Murph to jump into my car. The woman was close enough for me to ask "What were you thinking?!" She replied that "My dog needs exercise and some manners so I thought your dog looked like a good playmate". I can't make this sh** up.

My other favorite person had to be a guy with a Rotti who walked around the park for a bit, then let his dog off-leash to wander about while he lay down and took a nap in the middle of the park. Unfortunately his chosen napping area was between me and my car and the Rottie's chosen wandering location was pretty much wherever the hell it wanted to go. I had to holler loudly enough to wake the guy up to grab his dog so I could go home. Seriously.

I've talked to the police about all the loose dogs (they like my dog and sometimes will come over and talk to me about Dobermans) and they are frustrated too. They issue tickets and people just keep doing it. In fact, the fines just doubled, and people are STILL repeat offenders. I keep Murphy on a long line so he is free to wander about and sniff, we play a bit of fetch, we wander a bit more but we comply with the laws. I actually had a police officer chuckle at me for using a line on a dog as well-trained as Murphy while untrained dogs are running loose all over the place. At the same time, the police appreciate my respect of the laws. It's good to feel validated. I feel validated by other dog owners too. As ridiculous as some of the dog owners can be, most of them are conscientious and are as frustrated as I am. I recently even saw a fellow with a young, obviously well-trained German Shepherd. This guy was walking around the park with his dog on a long line. Kudos to this young fellow! He smiled at me, I smiled back. it was a warm-fuzzy exchange of respect :-) Some have suggested we find a new spot, but there are no spots where this isn't occurring. I look forward to the day when we have our own yard (and I can put a big fence around it, and perhaps a moat), but we aren't there right now. I depend on public spaces, as do many others. Having consideration for other people is the only way that works.

Truthfully, despite all my bluster and blow, I have no problem at all with the loose dogs who are under control or actively engaged in a game with their person. My problems begin when my dog is being interfered with, and I think that's perfectly reasonable. I have ZERO tolerance for the folks who wander around in oblivion while their dogs do whatever, wherever. When I asked one of these people why they let their dogs run at others the response was "Well they have to greet". No, they don't. I'm not even sure where that idea comes from. Thankfully, most people know better!

This morning it was just a loose-dog onslaught. One guy had two dogs he let loose, then a woman arrived and let her dog go. Then a golden retriever dragging a guy behind him joined the melee the instant it was released. Somebody threw a ball and all hell broke loose. When all hell broke loose, the owners all stood around and watched placidly and didn't do a damned thing. That was all I needed to know, and Murph and I cut our play time short. Oh, no worries. He's just a service dog with a few minutes to himself to have fun and be a dog. What right does he have to enjoy himself unmolested? OF COURSE it's more important that you aren't inconvenienced by pesky little laws. Having to manage your animal in public is just so unfair.

Okay, enough snark for the day....

Friday, August 2, 2013

Goodbye, "Sweet Prince(s)"

Ok, not really the Prince I mean...
I was talking to my mom the other day about relationships. I think she is secretly relieved that I am legitimately happy being single, given my history of...impulsiveness. The reason I'm so happy is because I have a theory: There are only so many types of guys out there, and I've dated most them already, often several times over. They are different ages and shapes, but share a few similar and predictable behaviors and characteristics. My mom thought my descriptions were hilarious (okay, she's my mom and she has to say that, but I dig the reinforcement just the same) and she encouraged me to write about these "Princes". I will do one better; I will say an individual "goodbye" to each of these dudes (who represent many) and in setting them free from my psyche, leave that space available for a new kinda guy. I know you guys like it best when I talk about dogs or kill people, but I though I would go a little off the rails just for fun. Here we go...

Goodbye, control-freak "Prince". While I appreciate the idea that chivalry is not dead, I feel perfectly capable of choosing my own food, clothing, occupation, etc.  In fact, not only capable, but much more capable than you. No, I definitely do NOT like a guy to take charge and have no desire whatsoever to be "taken care of". Have I mentioned I'm a grown up? I also don't respond well to you volunteering my time to your friends prior to discussing it with me...BOO! No, Kristel will NOT cut your friend's hair because you did NOT check with Kristel about it beforehand. I will admit that I am too old now to be a "trophy" to wear on your arm, but would still like to point out that I'm too good and too smart to be relegated to "ornament" status. Always have been. Feed your ego via your own accomplishments; just sayin'. While I "appreciate" your insidious nature and the way your control-freaky-ness gradually snuck up on me, you will not be missed. Fly free!

Goodbye hot but manipulative "Prince". Yes, there was a time that your hotness could buy my forgiveness for just about anything, but alas, the time is gone. I have learned that you will say or do whatever you have to to get whatever it is you want or need in the moment. You also have a knack for dating really...simple (that's the nicest way I can think of to put it) women so you can maximize your manipulative prowess and be the smartest person in the room. SURPRISE! Bet you didn't see me coming;-) Even when I learned exactly what you were, I still hung around for the fun parts. You're cute, you're fun, we click and you have a great sense of humor. HOWEVER, your tendency to cause trouble and then run and hide like a little wimp instead of being a grownup, using your words and learning to cope with confrontation (that you cause!) is such a major turnoff that it entirely negates anything good about you. Auf Wiedersehen!!

Goodbye to you too, superficial "Prince". You and I had our moments, but being blamed personally for your shortcoming gets incredibly old, as does the weird ego-thing that allows you to believe that you are the center of my universe, even when I've strongly indicated otherwise. It took a long time, but I finally realized that a woman could have a PhD, be a millionaire, have a successful career, be smart and beautiful, but the only thing you would say about her is "She's got a big ass and I don't like the color of her eyes". You have a massive blindspot that extends in two directions and you may never be able to understand that. It's true that some incarnations of this prince are attractive, but just as often they are total trolls. Oh well. No longer my problem! Enjoy the single life, and keep on dreaming of that supermodel (who has your ideal hair and eye color!) who loves to clean, is a first rate chef and wants nothing more than to take care of your every need. I just know she's out there waiting for you. Take care!

Goodbye buff "Prince". The size and shape of your man-muscles was interesting for a bit. But then I realized that you love yourself more than anyone else could ever measure up to. You need to be worshiped. I just wasn't up to the task. I learned quickly that the whole "muscle-thing" was pretty much ALL you were about. Once, you failed to see someone trying to steal my purse because you were too busy looking at your reflection (re-flex-tion...hehe) in a shop window. Oddly enough, you were pretty quick with your fists when someone insulted your car. Go figure. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but a tool nonetheless I suppose. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted (when I say fun I mean "fun" in the way that it was not actually fun to sit around waiting for you while you finished your workout), but...have a nice life! Give yourself a kiss for me (or you, if you haven't already).

Goodbye coyote "Prince". I don't mean that you are an actual animal, more like you are the coyote to my roadrunner. You chase relentlessly, almost stalking but not quite. You are filled with compliments and you miraculously love all the things that I love. You pursue and pursue, you are relentless. You buy gifts. You "work it" until I finally give you the time of day. The moment I give a damn, you're like "Yeah, maybe I'll call ya". On the upside, you tend to reveal your jerk-ness rather early on so I don't really get invested in you, but you're also the type that likes to pretend that I was chasing you. Seriously? You're a tough one because interactions with other humans are just a game to you (in fact, I almost lumped you in with hot Prince, but you aren't always hot, just persistent) and seem to involve some low-self-esteem issues, or something. I want to send you a gift from ACME a la Looney tunes, perhaps something explosive or an anvil, but in true coyote fashion I suspect Karma will help me out there. Spank your inner child, grow up and have a nice life!

Okay, there at least one "Prince" who I haven't dated yet. He is genuine "Prince". He wants to be in a relationship because he is ready for that sort of thing. He doesn't need someone to make him happy, fix his life or my personal favorite: to "complete" him *shudder*. He is a whole person who likes and respects himself, and by extension, others. He has no hidden agenda. He just wants a best friend (that he is attracted to, obviously;-) to share his life with for no other reason than because life is better that way. My personal version of this fella is also bookish, kinda nerdy with a nice face and a sense of humor. I know I've seen this fella around, but he's not known to exhibit attention-seeking behavior due to his lack of need to have his ego stroked, so he is tough to recognize. But he does exist!

Phew! That was kinda fun :-)