Wednesday, August 2, 2017
I am flying home from a week in Reno helping my fantastic fabulous fine Faygo transition to a new home in the desert.
She was my first horse and now the first to move on. It's almost 10 years since I first rode her and over time I've watched the mare age and get left behind more and have considered deeply what she needed and what I should do about it.
At 20, she is too young to fully retire- but increasing heaves and gradually building arthritis meant she didn't need to be along on the 20 mile mountain climbs on humid warm days. In the past she was the horse few could keep up with, now she's the one we wait on to catch her breath and try to keep her from killing herself to lead the way (she still wants to be young and fit!). What she needs is moderate trail riding to keep her joints moving and her lungs working without such stress on the system.
I knew selling her was out of the question.
Over time the answer seemed to become increasingly clear. My mom.
She had picked up a young filly and had worked for a year on getting horse property and ability to keep her at home with the one problem remaining: she didn't have a buddy.
Yes. You can keep a horse alone. However it's not usually best for them mentally.
If anyone could have a shot at making that work it would be my mom who spends half of her day in and out of the barn and was with her horse a LOT. Still. A human doesn't substitute for one of their own kind. This horse came from a feral herd in northern CA and grew up in the safety of a herd. Her little filly Shine was 'ok' but suffering from hyper motility and no diet, vet or acupuncture seemed to really solve her low level stress. This also made it hard to keep her in work (because she truly didn't feel well) which made it worse and the cycle continued.
My mom just wanted to be able to do some light trail riding with friends and have some buddies in the backyard to care for and enjoy. Add in the fact that the climate (dry) would help Faygo's heaves, this seemed like a no-brainer. There was no one that would love and care for that horse like my mom would. Of that I was certain.
So the question become on of how. It's a long haul and commercial services would cost twice as much as she was worth if we were being generous.
It so happens mom lives just miles from the Tevis start and there were people hauling horses to ride the famous endurance race who might have some room in the trailer.
The bonus to this plan is I knew that anyone taking a horse to ride Tevis would be getting healthy horses through that long journey with as little stress as possible for the circumstances and the animals would get the best care. We were lucky enough to get a spot on the trailer with some of the herd of a rider and vet I deeply respect: Claire Godwin.
We all made plans and I reserved my plane ticket. The herd arrived on Monday night and stayed two days with my parents before heading on to Auburn enjoying the comfort of a barn and room to move around and stretch their legs, and my mom enjoyed seeing 5 horses fill up the space that had held for the most part one lonely filly since the move in October.
I arrived Wednesday evening – the day the herd pulled out. Since then it's been constant work around the barn to make the transition comfortable for everyone. My mom is just a couple years into horses so helping her move forward as best I could with the time I had was the secondary assignment. It was a solid couple days before we'd left the property except on horseback.
My first order of business was to reassure Faygo I hadn't just thrown her on a trailer to a new life without seeing the process through. I don't know what horses understand but they do understand something. I'd told her when I sent her on that I'd see he again when she arrived. And I followed through.
When I first arrived I sensed a little instability in her. And who could blame her?
She'd just landed on the moon.
After leaving lush (humid) VA she spent a week with strangers with a strange herd. She'd maybe begun to get comfortable with that scenario (?) then they end up in the desert somewhere very foreign and after a couple days she is left there and the herd she'd been traveling with leaves her behind with this dumb annoying 4-year old for her as her only friend.
Then I showed up and I hope at least someone familiar could reassure her this wasn't an accident.
My mom is in a horse community with trail access from her backyard.
Yes- the trail is along properties with horses, dogs, trailers, tractors, lawn mowers and a gauntlet of human things for a horse to get used to. But they are dedicated horse trails and could be easily mix and matched to ride 2 to 10 miles depending on your needs. The trails are sandy with some rocky sections and mostly flat.
Mom had been struggling to get her horse on the trails due to inexperience in riding, the horse being slightly sick with hyper motility on and off, and lack of confidence going through the gauntlet. If you can get a horse comfortably through the neighborhood trails there you should be able to ride just about anywhere!
The next morning we got right to work. Barn chores and saddle up to hit the trail. I borrowed a bareback pad and rode Faygo and mom rode Shine. The poor filly had been out of work for a good while and truly plodded along without any care that Faygo and Marsha's horse Justina were walking twice as quick. We'd occasionally wait for her but also wanted to see her make the effort to get those legs moving. At least she is calm and doesn't care about being left behind.
We did the 5 miles in about 2 hours (slow) but we did it. Earth moving construction tractors were the biggest challenge on the farthest end of the loop – dogs rushing fences, quail popping from bushes, jack rabbits everywhere, a couple random coyotes and cars and bikes. Nothing they couldn't handle.
The next day Shine got a 'light' day. She and mom rode around the yard to work on their in-saddle conversation (mostly steering) and mom rode Faygo while I rode along on one of Marsha's geldings.
Rhett is a handsome 12 year old but a bit of a handful for me. He wanted to stick with his mama who Marsha was riding and threw fits when Faygo went on ahead with some bucking and crow hopping. I don't spend a lot of time on other people's horses and this was good for me in many ways.
Hopefully my practiced ability to stay calm and focused answered his question that I wouldn't be ok with that behavior while I'm riding him, but I'm also not afraid (right?) and I wouldn't get emotional when he did. Just relax and walk along which he eventually did. He tested me on and off (and even showed me his nice TN Walker smooth moves a few times). It was a challenging ride because I had my hands too full to help mom with her questions. Stopping and standing still to sort anything out was hard for me as this guy had feet that really needed to keep moving at the time. I preferred not to frustrate him entirely on our first ride while still asking him to stay 'with me'.
That meant mom just had to 'get it done' that day with Faygo. Also help me out by keeping her out of Rhett's space. And she did great.
Next day was Shine and Faygo going alone the perimeter trail in reverse and I was pleased to see Shine picking up a nice walk right from the start! Those legs got working and she even willingly added some trotting intervals. Great ride!
We alternated the riding days getting the girls exercise and getting my mom some confidence until the last day she took Faygo and the dog's GPS tracking collar and headed out alone. I took her phone with the tracking program and the bike and pedaled around the neighborhood intersecting with her a few times to be sure she was comfortable and answer any questions she might have had.
I watched her at a turn around point deal with the fiery 'I want to go home' horse that can get pretty heated up. Mom just sat down and insisted she walk and they settled back in and continued walking – also taking a different trail than the one straight home which is great training.
She's got this.
I watched Shine improve through the week with some appropriate exercise and the herd dynamics settled in as easy as one could hope. Faygo established quickly she was the leader and Shine said she was glad to have her. There was minimal argument although occasionally Shine didn't move out of the way quick enough and got a nip or warning kick. She's learning 😝
Her hyper motility that had been going on and off for weeks now and has been a recurring issue since she came from CA a couple years ago cleared up in less than 2
days and she just looked better all around.
Faygo who seemed at first a little unsettled became right at home and relaxed in the comfort of the breezy open barn stalls or relaxed under the locus tree and the constant hay isn't a bad switch for her as she's always a little heavy on the VA grass as her workload has been decreasing.
My last night I went into the stall for something and she came walking in from her hay fest under the tree. I assured her that I was leaving and she was going to be great here. She was calm and relaxed and I hope she understood.
Of course goodbyes always mean some tears for me- but as my friend Byron Katie put it: tears are not about sadness but about love.
There's no question I'll love that mare the rest of her life. And I believe I will see her again. But there's also no question that she is exactly where she belongs. And there is not only love, but peace too.