Experience – Gratitude

 photo Basjan01.jpg For those of you who’ve been here a while, you’ll remember that I’m quite into horses and purchased a gelding a few years ago named Basjan (short for Sebastian). Originally the idea had been to purchase a horse that I could utilise for endurance and competitions but meeting Basjan changed that. He wasn’t young, he wasn’t necessarily in peak condition at the time of purchase and he was too small for me. He wasn’t even really a horse, falling just short of the 15hh cut off line.

But, from the first day I saw him I knew that he was mine. Circumstances had brought us together and throughout the past few years, he’s been an anchor in my life. I’m not terribly good with people, though I’ve become very good at pretending to be. Horses have always been my kind of folk, the kind I understand and actually want to be around. Being with them is freeing and Basjan especially has proven to be an exceptional companion simply because he is mine. We understand a universal truth about each other and that is that almost everybody else in the world is simply background noise. Basjan fears that noise, shying from anybody but myself when they interact with him. I understand that fear because it used to be mine. I’ve never pressured him to be more than he is. A mount, a ride. A pleasure pony and happy hack. I don’t expect him to compete and I certainly don’t expect of him to change.

He’s is simply mine.

Yet, that nearly changed this year. One day in February I noticed that my horse was somewhat lame when arriving on the farm. He walked with the others, but it was certainly not easy. By the end of that afternoon he could hardly move. The farm workers told me that he had slipped and fell in some mud, but he had gotten up quite quickly and sped off regardless. I had figured that he was simply stiffening up from the ordeal and didn’t really think about it again, deciding to give him rest for another week before riding him again. The next day however, he couldn’t stand. That Sunday proved to be a very long day in my life. We gone to the farm and watched as he painfully tried to make his way around. Every attempt to get up was clearly excruciatingly painful and when he did manage to rise, he tried not to put any weight on two of his legs, particularly his front right. I watched him most of the day and knew that something was very wrong. I tried to contact the local vet but to this day he has not yet returned that call. The other vet in the area killed one of our horses a few years back in a gross misjudgement of treatment so HE was out and the other most reliable vet was in the Kruger National park castrating elephants. This combination of circumstances and perhaps my own mounting sense of dread, forced me to wait a day or two.

The world moved to darkness in those few days. The horse did not get any better but all attempts to keep him quiet were met with the full force of his human fear. Struggling with my own work at that time, I couldn’t stay at the farm to make sure that he was quiet so we let him struggle along with the others while I waited for the vet. It was painful to watch because he spend most of the day lying in the grass or struggling to get up or run on three legs, his front always raised off of the ground. The professional one ended up coming one afternoon, bleary eyed and travel weary from his trip back from the Kruger Park from which he had just returned.

His prognosis wasn’t good though not confirmed by an x-ray. Basjan had a possible broken leg. He had most certainly torn one of his muscles and ligaments because most of his leg was swollen at that time. He told me that I had very few options. We could arrange for him to be x-rayed and have the diagnosis confirmed (and then make a call as to whether or not to put him down) or we could try and medicate him with some pain medication and anti-inflammatories and see how he responds. It was going to take time, the vet said. A lot of time, money and patience.

I didn’t have a lot of money at that time but when it came to Basjan, I’ve always had a lot of patience.

And, I had time.

I could give Basjan time to heal.

I didn’t even bother going for the x-ray because my decision would’ve been the same. I wouldn’t be able to put him down unless I’ve exhausted all options. I didn’t care whether it took weeks, months or even years. I’d have waited. And I did, though it was hard in the beginning. Because of his inactivity, Basjan lost a lot of condition. Despite his original owner selling him to me as a 10 year old, he had been closer to 18. I had known that I was being lied to when buying him but I hadn’t cared. I had always known that this was the animal that I had to take responsibility for.  And that responsibility is something I take very seriously.

My problem with people and their pets sometimes is that they don’t take having an animal seriously. Whether this is a dog, a cat, a fish or a horse, people tend to dismiss how much responsibility it is. Buying a dog, gives you an animal that can live for 13 years. Buying a cat, one that can live for 16 and a horse one that can live up to 36 to 40 years if you take good care of them. It’s a long time commitment through thick and thin. I’ll elaborate a little more on this in later posts but the message is essentially – if you own it, you’re responsible for it. Animal cannot take care of themselves, so it is your responsibility to meet all their needs above your own because you can fend for yourself. They can’t and shouldn’t have to.  photo 9d728029-af86-441a-94f1-234c547ff5c5.jpg

My patience paid off in the end. Nearly nine months after his accident, Basjan was completely healed again. I didn’t ride him for most of the year. Although he became soundish after about two months of rest, he was still very lame and I didn’t want to push him. Because I had given him time and didn’t want to mess it up. And, I had my own problems to deal with, so I figured that we both needed  a bit of a break. I’ve also since moved him to a stable yard where he can be better taken care of. On the farm he was hardly handled by the hands, only fed once a day. Now he’s at a place where someone can give him joint supplements on a daily basis and I know he’s being given three meals a day. He’s not a young horse anymore, but he’s good and, with luck, he’ll be good for a few years more.

This experience, however traumatic for me at the time, taught me to be grateful and it was one of many lessons on this topic I was to learn in the next year. Basjan’s miraculous recovery and the hope that it gave me proved to be the first in a series of events that would sometimes knock me to my knees but which always gave me a moment to bow my head, fold my hands and simply be grateful because inevitably, everything worked out.

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Saying Good Bye to Jakes

The problem with raising horses is that you cannot keep them all.
Normally we try to sell our babies when they are ready to be weaned from their mother, at about 7 to 8 months old. You don’t get as much money for them, but then again – you don’t really put a lot of work into them either.
And, you don’t get attached.
Jakes was different. Is different.
He was our first boy from The Golden Stallion – a chunky, beautiful baby colt. He wasn’t as trusting as his older brother in the beginning and actually gave us hell in the beginning. But, he changed. We started working with him in the time that I was still a waitress so I had quite a lot of time to put into him.
I worked with him, I saw his potential and I liked him. At that stage of course, I knew that we would sell him so I managed to keep my distance emotionally. But, time passed and it began clear that people weren’t really interested. I started hatching a plan, an idea.
I’d keep Jakes for myself. I’d only be able to ride him properly in four years, roughly in the time that I would have to start thinking of retiring Basjan.
The timing was perfect and it felt like fate because we couldn’t find an owner for him.
But then one crawled out of the woodwork and my riding companion (and the actual owner of the horse) insisted that we sell him.
I argued. And pleaded. And begged but it was to be as she had her heart set on selling him. And, it was a good sale. The truth is that I’m quite proud of Jakes. Perhaps because of all the time that we had put into him, he had become an amazing horse. We have a quiet way of working with our animals. We insist on obedience naturally. But, we never shout, never hit. Never pull on them or do anything hard.
I like to think of the ones that we rear as pure. The one that we trained last year was so tame that we literally just put a saddle on him and started riding him (with work naturally). He never protested. Never reared or bucked or showed any signs of fear.
He was unspoiled, just as Jakes is.
They came to load him today and bitterness of it is that we didn’t even have trouble boxing him. He trusted us so much that he did this without protest, even though he had never done it before. He trusted us, and we let him go and that hurts.
His new owner is great. And, she has a lot of time and a lot of money to invest into him. More than we do.
But, it still hurts, because in my heart I had already seen him as mine.

I can bounce on hardened tar…

I seem to remember bouncing as a child, falling down and just getting back up again. I’d fall off of a horse, dust myself off and get back on again, storming ahead with more vigour than I did before.

Now… Not so much.

Gravity and a horse decided to conspire against me yesterday when I was pulled mercilessly from the beast’s back and deposited right in the middle of a busy tar road. I fell so hard that I felt my hip bounce off of the tar and strike it again. Unlike in my pre-adult youth, I didn’t just get back up again. No, I was still dragged around as the horse struggled to get away as well (with me clinging to the reins like an idiot…). I should add at this point that I didn’t fall from my own steed. He has more manners than the gelding I rode on Tuesday. I ride this horse as a favour for a friend. He’s… considerably wilder than Basjan. More full of boisterous youth and certainly youthful manners (read none).

And he’s bigger.

And he bucks.

I should’ve known that it was going to happen at some point or another. Let me rephrase, I knew that it was going to happen at some point or another. It was inevitable. I haven’t fallen from a horse in more than 18 months. I have a pretty firm seat in general and it takes quite a lot to get me unseated.

Of course, yesterday it only took a couple of seconds of dropping my guard.

The accident happened like this. We were trying to get over a busy road (my friend on her stallion and I on this gelding). I should’ve gone in front, but the gelding was fussing so I made a small circle. Meanwhile a gap in traffic opened up and my friend decided to push her horse over the road. He didn’t like it and stopped dead. Seeing a potential problem, I pushed my own horse forward, kicked him perhaps a bit too hard and was rewarded by a wonderfully high rodeo like buck. I sat the first one (sort of) but then there was the second. The horse jumped into the air again and spun around in a tight circle. I lost my balance, fell over his shoulder, got my foot caught in the stirrup so that I was wrenched around in the air so that I fell on my right side even though I was tipped off on the left. Sometimes I don’t remember falling, but this time hitting the tar road was unforgettable. My hip exploded in pain and my arm was almost wrenched out of my shoulder socket as the horse tried to run home. The only good this did was drag me out of the tar road. I got up as quickly as I could, my ego bruised and mentally tallying all the witnesses and my friend dutifully grabbed my horse as I took stock of my limbs. I could tell immediately that my ankle was going to be a problem. Although I doubt I broke it or tore the ligaments, it’s most definitively sprained. It’s swollen enough to be. And, although it’s not very blue – my hip (the initial contact point) certainly makes up for it in colour.

I got back on again, and we completed a 5 mile ride, but towards the end of it, I told my friend that we had to slow down. I was in agony. Years ago, I’d have stepped away from this fall without a scratch. Now, I could hardly move, let alone drive back home when we finally reached the stables.

They say that gravity is a constant, that it affects all of us in roughly the same way, but I would like to disagree with that. The moment your DNA’s telomeres start shortening past the prime mark, you’re done for. Your body composition alters and… Where you are left at the mercy of the force that Newton discovered at the hand of an apple.

 

I might bounce on tar, but light be, I don’t do it gracefully.

 

Being Basjan – Part 3

And quite suddenly, a year had passed.

Exactly a year.

365 days ago, I had left my home early in the morning to go and collect my horse. The scruffy horse who had cowered away in a corner whenever anybody tried to get near him. The horse who would not let me catch him and used to run away from me for hours. The horse whose coat was dry and his skin flaky. The horse whose feet were in a mess.

The horse, who became mine and changed my life.

A lot has changed in the past year. It had been an interesting time for me, adjusting from a life abroad where I worked as a professional in my profession to a life here, in this country with all its politics, where I worked as a waitress for twelve months. It had had its ups and its incredible downs but one thing had remained in place, had settled me and anchored my soul.

Basjan.

My horse had changed as much as my life has in the past few weeks. Gone was the frightened animal that I had gone to collect from his previous owner and in its place was a steady horse, with a quick grasp on matters, a strange sense of humour and a gentleness that was so fragile, yet so precious. He wasn’t scared of me anymore, didn’t shy away when I went to him. When I got Basjan, he was tired and thin, with a series of bad habits I thought I would never get out of him. I made my mistakes and he made his and at some point, when I had shattered his comfort zone by accident, I found myself wondering if I had made the right decision to buy him, whether I was doing more harm than good.

But, we learned together and I believe that we triumphed at the end.

Basjan was now an energetic, stocky horse who was incredibly quick on his feet and absolutely loved running. I had discovered that both he and I liked using voice commands a lot more than we did the physical aids of hands and heels. I trained him to stand on command (and stand he will until I ‘unstood’ him). It had proved invaluable when I had to go and catch him in the field, where one (or sometimes two) clear ‘stand’ commands would get him to patiently wait for me to mount. I could ride him without a saddle and a bridle, guiding him with my voice and touch alone.

He had learned that I won’t hurt him and in turn I had learned that his fear would always be something to consider. Whatever had been done to him in the past would never leave him and that sometimes, we will have bad days but that they were no reflection of his trust in me, only of his trust in people. And I had learned that I could trust him, that he would never do something intentionally to hurt me.

He wasn’t the horse which I had seen myself buying, but he was the horse that I needed. When my Other Half met him, it was remarked that I couldn’t have found a horse that was more like me if I had put out an add. As it turned out, Basjan and I were very much alike, our moods, our emotions, our perception of other people and I think that in the end, that was what had made me willing to work with him and able to for that matter. I treated him as I wanted to be treated. I respected him as I wanted to be respected.

You see, when I was younger, I mused that horse riding was build on three corners. Trust, Love and Respect. I’ve seen a lot of things in the 15 years that I have been riding and I have realized that very few people realize that, that you cannot be a good horsewoman or man if you didn’t respect the animals that you worked with. In turn then, they wouldn’t trust you and if they could not trust you, they could not love you and, that – that defeated the whole object of the exercise.

I have never seen myself as a horse’s master, but his equal and his other part. These strong beasts allow us to ride them, to work with them and they put their trust in us to ride them in places where they won’t be in danger. In turn they ask a tiny bit of our soul, which is why for those who truly understand what I’m talking of, it is so hard to be apart from them, why you’ll always find a bit of yourself yearning to be where they are.

Basjan holds my soul. Not all of it of course, but a tiny part, a precious part which I cannot live without and in a strange way, he’s not mine – but I am his.