Mar 26, 2012

A Horse is Like an Onion

I’m working on the post/s about the therapeutic work we started to do on Bryan, with links to the sources and webpages per the salient info. But until I get there, here is another episode of Our Life With Bryan. As per his usual, it was educational.

Nicole and I had been so entertained and intrigued by Bryan’s first outing that morning that we decided, oh what the heck, let’s get him out again. I was curious to find out if there were any connections in his responses, or if *everything* provoked that blind nervous reaction, so, like my turnout experiment, I wanted to see if different ways of approaching riding made any difference. Comparing Bryan’s current situation with what I knew about Lisa’s riding school situation. I knew that her riders always mounted on a mounting block *at the ring*. *Not*, like we did, in the barn aisle. So, a couple of hours after our first riding attempt, we got him out again. He was the same; quiet, but pooping and head high, uninterested in cookies and not connecting with us at all.

This time we led him out to the ring. There were a couple of people riding at the far end (the ring at that barn was gigantic). He could see other horses but again, it didn’t seem like he noticed or cared. He stood the same, head high but obedient. This time he stood quietly as she swung her leg over. This time, he stood still when she sat down. This time, he walked off quietly. And so, with a look and a nod from me, off they went, around the ring.

Mar 21, 2012

Aaand They're Off!

I promise I will get to the work we did that actually helped Bryan.  And we did help him, a lot. But you might not grasp just how far he came unless I share just how complex he was, emotionally and physically (which I hope to show you through time is *the same thing* to a horse). So bear with me for another couple of days of Bryan Tales.

Since I had committed to peeling the Onion of Bryan, the next Data Gathering Point was The First Ride.  

It was inauspicious.

His back was funky with a giant narrow wither and hollows behind, but I had a medium tree wool stuffed County eventer and with a Mattes sheepskin half pad and a Thinline I felt we had him comfortable. I used a hunter bridle with a regular full cheek snaffle, no martingale. I had an assistant at the time and since I wanted to watch him I had suckered…er…delegated her to do the first ride.

Mar 18, 2012

Notebook, check. Pencil, check. Subject, Equus Erratus, check.

It was so strange watching him that day. He didn’t seem upset or hysterical. He actually looked quite businesslike as he went back and forth, never changing his rhythm or his posture. He clearly didn’t want the company of the other horses; his neighbors had come over to give a horsie hello and he didn’t seem to see them or respond in any way. ‘Places to go! Things to do! No time for chitchat!’ he might have said. He didn’t care to eat and roll on the grass. You really couldn’t tell *what* he wanted, if anything. But it was clear that none of the usual management nostrums were going to work with Bryan.  I had a feeling that I was in uncharted territory.

But for the first time since he had arrived I felt calm, interested, and intrigued. That near death experience, my unexpected and happy survival, and my acceptance of the task in front of me had utterly dismissed my previous discouraged feeling of God Help Us! Knowing that I would help him, either by rehabilitation or mercy killing, gave me a goal.

So, there he was. I remembered from Lisa that he was also…er…unnerved when she first got him but that he had eventually (note to self: ask Lisa how long 'eventually' was...) settled in to her routine. I would work him, ride him, clip him, and deal with him like any of the other boys, and get to the bottom of him, or that would be that. I would now consider all of our interactions Data Gathering, and go from there.

Mar 16, 2012

And So

I caught my breath. I wasn’t hurt, just scraped up and dirty. No one had seen what had happened. The barn was quiet. Horses nearby were grazing calmly. I could hear the ducks on the lake and a tractor in the distance. The giant eucalyptus surrounding the paddock whispered their tree noises. I stood there, watching Bryan.

The paddock was maybe a quarter mile from the barn. There were horses turned out on two sides. He could see them. He didnt care. He was on grass. He didn’t want it.  He had no interest in either. He was trotting the fence line, head raised, back and forth, back and forth. He wasn’t calling, or racing around. He had that same staring in to space look he always had. He would get to the end, turn, go back, turn. A metronome of stress. There was such a strange, helpless, inward repetition to it. It was sick and mindless. It was heartbreaking, and I hated it for him.

And so standing there watching him do his horsey version of head banging, I  knew I could never send him back.  Lisa had loved him and had done what she could for him, and trusted me enough to sell him to me, but his previous people, and the practices of the performance world, had done this to him. Either I could reach him, and help him, or I would put him down. No horse should have to live in such a closed off world. I would do what I could to alter the course that his humans had put him on, or I would set him free from it.

Mar 10, 2012

Recipero Vestri Fortuna

As fate would have it, I didn’t reach Lisa that morning. I didnt leave a voicemail. I left Bryan to his world and started my regular work. Horse chores have always provided me with quiet thinking time and that day was no exception. As I did my turnouts, fed and groomed and worked with the other boys, I thought about B.

My tears had not only been about Bryan, but *for* Bryan. He was so helpless and so lost! I know what horses can go through, having seen plenty of abuse, overt and covert, in my forty five years in the industry. I also knew Bryan had been dearly loved by his humans at least at some points in his life. So what had happened to him that had made him so wrecked physically and so checked out mentally?

And more important, what, if anything could I do about it? Could I even reach him, much less fix him?

Mar 6, 2012

The Lost Boy

I got to the barn earlier than usual the next day, a little afraid of what I might find. Troubling visions had disturbed my sleep. Had he screamed his brains out and kept the whole neighborhood awake? Had he continued to try to climb over the stall door? Had he succeeded and run wild through the property all night? Worse, had he gotten *half way* over, and hung there, half in, half out?

I brushed these unproductive visions from my mind and hurried to the barn aisle. It was early, no one was around. All was quiet; he had either given up or the barn help had shot him. As I walked toward his stall my horses whickered the usual good morning hello. I saw ten horsey heads hanging out over ten stall doors. Hmmm. 10? But I now had 11 horses. No new chestnut head hanging over the door. Ruh-roh.

I stopped outside his door, peeked around quietly, and whew! There he was, standing, head low and in the corner. Relief!!  Upright and apparently in one piece! I watched him for a moment. He had a hind leg cocked, relaxed, breathing slowly and quietly.  He had survived!

Mar 2, 2012

Queen of the Wind

Bryan and I stood there, panting. The ducks circled but they didn’t land. The horses in the paddocks were still WTF!  Lisa gave me another hug and was gone.  I could have sworn I heard “a fool and his money…” as the truck pulled out of the driveway, but it might have been my imagination.

Well, I figured it would be nice to take The B for a graze and a walk. So off we went. I walked. Bryan passaged. But he wasn’t pawing and he wasn’t screaming.  Things were looking up! I kept a soft but definite hold on the chain. I started feeling a little better.

I looked at him. Man, he was a walking equine disaster. I had to admit he was pretty funny looking. Being March, he hadnt shed out. Being a school horse, his mane was kinda long and shaggy.

 My friends are used to me. “Hey! Another project! Cool!” they say, to my face. “Hey! Another reject! Gawd!”  Im sure they’re thinking, behind my back. I knew that Bryan would *really* get their eyebrows up. I got a little insecure, lost my nerve about taking him for a walk and decided to get him in a stall before anyone noticed us. So to his new stall we went. It was all ready, with deep drifts of fresh shavings, a nice pile of timothy in the corner, and carrots and apples in his feed tub. A stall any horse would love to call home!

Well, I guess he hadn’t seen shavings in a while. He stopped, backed, and squatted slightly, clearly sensing a trap. I carefully undid the chain and unclipped the leadrope, (but left the halter on in case I lost him!) clucked encouragingly, and in he jumped. Literally.  He spun as soon as he landed, bent on escape, and I shut the bottom stall door in the nick of time. Then he seemed to get it, bless his heart, and after a few spins and sniffs, dropped and rolled. He was so happy!  Over and over he dropped, got up and shook, dropped, got up and shook. Aww!

But then his nerves checked back in and that was that. He started pawing. And screaming. It quickly escalated to kicking the walls. It then transmogrified to trying to climb said walls. Of course this started a chain reaction in the adjoining stalls as the equine version of “Save Yourselves!” ricocheted down the aisle. So much for anonymity. Mortified, I ducked into the feed room. He’ll settle down, I said to myself. Any minute now. Soon.

I reflected, sitting there on the grain bins in the dim, sweet smelling room. So, here was Bryan. My New Horse. Actually, a new School Horse. I knew Lisa had taught on him and she would have told me if anyone had been killed, but at this point, the only thing I could envision him teaching anyone was to pursue another sport.  (Something quiet!). But I tried not to worry.  Let’s give him a chance. He will be just fine once he settles down. Some horses just don’t transition well.

After a few hours of alternately screaming, climbing, and kicking, he did settle somewhat and  picked fitfully at his hay. He would stop to take a carrot if I held one out but he’d crunch it on the fly.  He called  regularly, though the best he could do after so many hours was an embarrassingly breathy heehheeeheeee!.  The rest of the barn had long since quit answering, but he didn’t notice or care. He was confident that something  was out there, was on its way, and if he just kept calling, whatever it was would come.

I soon learned that that stick-to-it-ive-ness was characteristic of him. He wasn’t one to let reality, hunger, or fatigue get in *his* way, no sirree. Giving up was for sissies. No, Bryan was nothing if not…fixed in his outlooks. 

I gave him another carrot and a pat, which he didn’t notice as he pushed his head past me and bellowed to his invisible friends. Feeling discouraged, I left, and drove home.