Saturday, July 25, 2015

More precious than gold

By Gayle Carline
Horse Lover and Author

This is Rags. She's one of our lesson horses. We don't know a lot about her, except that she's a breeding stock Paint Horse and her registered name is supposedly Batteries Not Included. I joke that she's a repo horse - her owner walked away from her board at a friend's ranch. My trainer, Niki, needed a new lesson horse and she was a likely candidate.

She proved to be a perfect lesson horse. Nearly bombproof, she toted kids or adults around the arena, doing her best to figure out what their wiggling seats and flapping arms were trying to tell her. Her jog was slow and steady, and she's the only horse I knew who could actually sleep-walk through a beginner lesson. Her only problem was when you asked for the lope. She only knew two speeds, a slow gallop or a fast gallop. Loping, even cantering, was a pipe dream.

This picture was taken this week. Isn't she pretty? So fat and shiny. Too bad, she's foundering.

It started with what we thought was an abscess. She was walking, or should I say, limping, on her right front toe. Niki did the usual soaking, farrier, Bute treatment and Rags improved. And then she got worse again. The vet came out, and prescribed anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, etc. Rags improved again, right before she deteriorated.

The vet returned to take x-rays, the last resort. They told the complete story. Rags' coffin bone in both front feet had turned to point down. Fuzzy areas on the x-rays showed the bone pulling away from the interior of the hoof. In addition, her right suspensory ligament was shot. The suspensory might heal with enough layup, but nothing would make those coffin bones stop their descent. Her shoes were evening her out and supporting her in all the right places, but they couldn't reach inside and level out her bones.

No wonder she was limping.

Niki doesn't have a lot of options for Rags. Perhaps we could find a pasture somewhere, but Rags tends to be aggressive with other horses and kicks at them, especially around mealtime. Since she can't have her shoes removed, she might injure someone. And retirement would not help her hooves. She'd still need daily medication and someone watching over her. I'm not even sure that would extend her life.

We're making Rags comfy with Bute right now and letting everyone say their goodbyes. Niki will probably make The Appointment in a week or two.  Send tissues. We'll all need them.

Here's the thing about an old lesson horse: they are worthless and priceless. You can't insure them, they're typically scruffy, and not very well put-together. You'd never mistake them for a highly trained show horse with perfect confirmation. And yet, finding that horse with a good attitude, a quiet mind, and and understanding heart, one that will teach a new rider confidence, is like searching for that pearl among the oysters.

Once you find them, you never let them go. 

How I wish our old horses would never die! Or at least, they'd introduce us to their replacement. 

Rest well, dear Rags. We love you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is It Worth It?

                                                by Laura Crum

            (Believe it or not, this rambling post is at least partly about horses and writing—for those who wish I would return to the theme of this blog.)

            “Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” --Bob Marley

            A friend of mine posted this quote on facebook and it made me think. There is a lot of truth there. The way I often phrase this concept to my son is, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” I find this to be true of people, animals, and pretty much everything else in life. I guess it depends on how you define the word “suffering,” but my experience has been that all the good things in my life have also been a very real struggle at times.
            Take motherhood. Every mother out there knows exactly what I mean. I don’t really have to say more. There is nothing more rewarding and yet there is also nothing more frustrating. Two halves of a whole. You definitely suffer—you shed tears, are miserable, get angry…etc. But you know from the bottom of your heart that it is entirely worth it. Your love never falters. (I wove all my insights about this experience into my tenth novel—Chasing Cans—for those who are interested.)
            My relationship with my much-loved husband wasn’t always easy either. We were both strong people; we butted heads when we disagreed. But there was no moment when I didn’t know that whatever pain came to me from our struggles, Andy was and is entirely worth it. My love never faltered. I don’t believe his did either.

            “If she’s amazing she won’t be easy; if she’s easy, she won’t be amazing.” Another quote from Bob Marley.

            I can’t say I’m amazing, but I can say for sure I’m not easy. And yet Andy and I were very happy together. At the end of his life, when I apologized to him for all the ways I was difficult, he told me that he wouldn’t change our past even if he could. “You’ve been a good wife to me,” he said. (Of course, this was a guy who liked a challenge. I don’t think he ever would have chosen an easy woman. He never chose the easy road in any part of life. As he put it, “I like scary things. I’m the guy who likes going downhill fast on a bicycle.” And he was also the guy who chose to learn to play the bagpipes in his fifties—after never having played any musical instrument to speak of. Yep, not one for the easy route…)

            The more I think about it, the more this concept sinks in for me. And yet we are taught that being “nice,” being “easy to get along with,” is the right thing. Being “difficult” is the wrong thing. I still remember a friend telling me that my mother had once said to her (talking about me), “My oldest daughter can be difficult, but she has a very loving heart.” The friend thought I would be touched by the “loving heart” part, but what I heard was the “difficult” part. Once again branded, as I have been my whole life—as “difficult.”
            Yep, if you speak the truth, you are difficult. If you don’t go along with the crowd, you are difficult. If you stand up for what you think or feel, you are difficult. If you don’t knuckle under when pushed on, you are difficult. If you defy authority when authority tries to bully you, you are difficult. If you follow your dreams when others find this inconvenient, you are difficult. So yes, I am difficult. But maybe that’s not so bad?
            When it comes to horses, I have known my share of difficult personalities. Perhaps the best horse I ever rode (Flanigan), was rejected by his previous owner for being difficult. (In fact this owner tried to starve the horse into submission and almost killed him—reducing him to skin and bones.) Flanigan was cinchy and he would buck. He also wasn’t friendly and would pin his ears at you and scowl ferociously. But if you handled him appropriately, he would do anything you asked, and he was an immensely strong, competent horse that could perform in amazing ways. I was able to do many things in my life that I can’t imagine I ever would have done without this particular horse (compete effectively at team roping, cross the Sierras numerous times over some very rough passes…etc). I loved Flanigan. But he was undeniably difficult in many ways. A strong, honest, opinionated personality—with a heart of gold. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing?
            I was sitting in my barn one evening pondering my many faults and being sad for all the times I was/am difficult for those that I love. My little yellow horse walked up to the fence and nickered at me.  And then, suddenly, for a brief moment, I really got it.
            Because Sunny is the personification of difficult. Those who have read this blog for a while may remember my numerous posts about the way this horse wants and needs to test his owner/rider/handler. Sunny will periodically try to evade being caught, offer to kick, offer to nip when cinched, try to step on your foot when being saddled, try to evade being wormed or fly sprayed, refuse to load in the trailer, try to balk when he’d prefer not to go a certain way, crow hop when he’s feeling resistant…etc. Sunny doesn’t do any of these things in a very determined way—if you are firm with him he knocks off the cross grained behavior very quickly. But he always needs to try it occasionally—it’s just part of who he is. The thing is that I don’t mind it at all.

            I’m quite willing to conflict with Sunny when he asks for it, and set him straight on who is the boss in our relationship. I’ll wallop him any time he needs/demands it. But I’m not angry with him. I like him. His ornery ways just make him interesting. And it is this very same tough-minded attitude that makes him such a steady, confident, reliable trail horse—and it is for this reliable-ness that I love him.
            Because I do love Sunny. I love him because he’s come through for me over and over again—every time it counts. He’s kept me intact and helped me keep my son safe in all kinds of situations that could have gone the wrong way. I trusted him and my trust was not misplaced. I love him for what he’s given me and I will take care of him for the rest of his life out of love.
            Would I have loved him more if he was easier and sweeter? I don’t think so. It is his tough mindedness that gave him the ability to be so confident and reliable. And it is his funny, ornery personality that makes him so interesting. I love him the way he is—his cranky ways don’t bother me. And in the moment when this truly sunk into my mind, I understood that maybe Andy felt that way about me.
            Because for all my cross grained ways I am reliable as Sunny is reliable. I came through for my husband and son in every way that I knew how—I was and am completely devoted to them. Maybe being difficult is not just a negative? Sunny’s ornery, opinionated ways are honest and open—he’s not afraid to show who he is and how he feels. I like that about him. I like his strength of mind. Whatever frustration he’s caused me, he’s been entirely worth it.
            Sunny and Flanigan were and are two very strong individuals—and it is that very strength that caused me to love them. Just as it was the huge strength of character in my husband that drew me to him. Strong beings aren’t often easy. And maybe love is partly about feeling free to express who you are--even when it is difficult for others--and trusting that you will still be loved. As I say to my son, "Nothing worth doing is ever easy." Perhaps I should add, "Love isn't about what's easy, either."
            This has been true (for me) not only concerning personalities and relationships, but also events, activities, disciplines…you name it. Finishing my first novel wasn’t easy. It took persisting in the face of much undermining by “well meaning” friends and family members. Getting published by a major publisher wasn’t easy. It took years, lots of struggle, and many dark moments. Learning to train horses and compete effectively at cutting and team roping wasn’t easy. Ditto the years, struggle and dark moments. Creating a garden in these dry California hills complete with veggies, greenhouse, rambling roses, fruit trees, swimming pond…etc—yep, took years of struggle and constant effort. Not easy at all. But all those things were entirely worth it.
            So I guess my take home message is that maybe we should look past what is easy. In horses, and people and life pursuits. Instead of looking for what’s easy, maybe we should look for what’s worth suffering for. Any takers?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Magical Books

                                                            by Laura Crum

            And no, I don’t mean my books. I’m not even talking about “horse books”—sorry Equestrian Ink members and followers. I know fiction about horses is supposed to be our theme here. But the books I am writing about today are the ones that have spoken to me lately. And, as you all know by now, lately I am only interested in “what counts.” Life seems too short to me at this point to seek entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Though I will admit that some of the books that have helped me “see the light” have also been entertaining. (And I have read horse books that seem pretty magical—there have even been a few fans of my books who thought that my own mysteries were magical—so I’m not discounting horse fiction here.) Also, I am enough of a writer to find a poorly written book so annoying that no matter how touching the subject matter I can’t get through the book. (Certain self-published books come to mind-- my apologies here to all the authors of excellent self-published books, because I know you are out there, too, but some self-published books are just nightmares to those of us who wrote under the guidance of the incredibly picky and experienced editors in large publishing houses. And I also grew very frustrated with several “mass market” type self help books that were clearly written quickly in order to make the author a little more money.) But some books have been truly magical—and a great gift to me at this time.
            The first magical book I want to mention actually came to me in a magical way. Or so I see it. Several people had mentioned a book called “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander to me on facebook. I was familiar with the concept of the book. A neurosurgeon who does not believe in God or heaven has a NDE and becomes convinced of the truth of the afterlife. I wasn’t actually too interested in this book. I had no intentions of reading it. But lo and behold, when a box arrived from Amazon one day, this book was in it—along with some shampoo that I distinctly remember ordering. I do not remember ordering the book.
            Of course, I could have ordered the book after a couple of whiskey and sodas—and might not remember. But I ordered the shampoo one afternoon—completely sober—and Amazon doesn’t usually put things in the same box unless you order them close together. Go figure. I don’t know how I came to receive the book, but once it was here I read it. And it was magical.
            I know books about NDEs are relatively common—but I haven’t read very many of them. This book touched me in several ways. The author’s obvious sincerity most of all. The fact that the book confirmed many things that I have believed for a long time also resonated. But the bottom line is simply magic. The book spoke to me of the real magic that underlies this world. And that was so helpful. I recommend it highly.
            The next magical book was given to me by a new friend. I am not a Buddhist and neither is she. But the book is a collection of writings by a Buddhist nun. (“The Pocket Pema Chodron”) Many of the concepts were rather disorienting to me. But the book makes me think. It opens my mind. It speaks to suffering and loss in a different way from the western notions we are accustomed to hearing. And my husband did much Buddhist training and practice, though I don’t think he would have called himself a Buddhist exactly. He didn’t much care for labels. (I believe when he was asked his religion on a hospital form he wrote “Evangelical Druid.”) In any case, the Buddha is said to have told his followers, “Don’t listen to me. Go have your own experience.” And this is a sentiment that resonates for me.
            I recommend this tiny book of Buddhist insights—a lot. I don’t agree with everything in it. Heck, I don’t really get a lot of it. But it helps me to open my mind. It helps me move toward peace.
            The third magical book was recommended by a friend and I ordered it. “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho. This book really is about magic. A magical novel. It’s also about animals and wisdom and following your dreams and God and love. In short, all the real things. I liked it so much that I am now reading what is described as the companion volume-- “The Pilgrimage” by the same author. This book I think I like even better (so far). It is a memoir rather than a novel, and tells the story of a pilgrimage that the author made—a trek that taught him about the real magic in the world and was the foundation for his novel, “The Alchemist.”
            I just finished “Hannah’s Gift” by Maria Housden—a book written by a woman whose three year old daughter died of cancer. It is an astonishingly uplifting book about magic and faith and joy—as well as great grief and sorrow. The two halves of the whole…
            Besides these books, which have truly moved me, I have read quite a collection of other books given to me by friends or recommended by friends. Some of these spoke to me more than others, but I will list a few here, in case they help someone else. “Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula Darcy—story of a women who lost her husband and infant daughter in a car wreck and her path to healing. “A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser—story of a man who lost his wife and daughter and mother in a car wreck and his path to healing. “H is for Hawk” by Helen McDonald—story of a woman who lost her beloved father to a sudden heart attack and who embarks on a path of healing through a hawk. “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer—an international travel journalist’s exploration of going nowhere and doing nothing—and the magic to be found in such stillness. All of these books offered insights that I found helpful.
            I re-read “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis—a book I have read many times before. His clear, direct expression of his terrible grief at the death of his wife from cancer is deeply honest and moving. His faith is equally honest and inspiring.
            And I read, a little at a time, my husband’s blog ("Begonias in the Mist"--inspired by his job of raising the tuberous begonia crop for Golden State Bulb Growers--which he did for over thirty years)—to hear his steady, humorous voice, and see the magic he always found in the world. Here is a link to one of my favorite posts, "Names for Fog"  The photo below shows a display of begonias at Andy's workplace that was created in his honor.

            If any of you have recommendations for books that illuminate the magic in this short mortal life that we live, please add them in the comments. I would appreciate it very much.