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The Present

Seeing as it is the holiday season, there is much attention given to the topic of presents.  So I thought I’d tell you about a profound gift I was given this fall.  To me it represents the true meaning of a present  and has a way of putting things into the right perspective.   If you are in a mood for a little introspection, click here and watch this, before you read on.  Click at the top of each picture to go to the next page. You just might not believe how it can change your outlook, and how that can in turn shape events. 

My gift did not start out as profound at all, and it sure as heck was not nicely wrapped or presented.  It was a hell of a mess, on one of those cold wet and windy September days – you know the kind, after its rained about four days and is really working itself into a glorified snow storm.  I was extremely busy, and Glenn was away, both of which is very usual.  It seemed as though I was having a harder time than normal settling back into the routine of September and the rigidity of the schedules ushered in with it.  I couldn’t seem to get straight what time everyone needed to be everywhere, and was having difficulty organizing dancing and skating bags, committees, excutives and school lunches, and early nights to bed.  I just wanted to RIDE.  Pure and simple.  Well, be careful what you wish for!

We had four outside horses at the ranch that were to be ridden for a month, 20 days – five days on, and two days off.  This was day 8.  I was working on the computer with the wind and rain howling outside, when the phone rang and a voice came on “the little black slipped and I put my arm out to break the fall when we were going down...and I think its broke.”   Two hours later, it was confirmed.  “Not even to hold a coffee cup” said the doc.  Right about then big fluffy flakes started drifting to the ground, and the reality started to sink the very least, I now had a couple hours worth of chores added to a day that  already felt far too long, and would have to phone some disappointed horse owners and tell them the inconvenient news that they would have to come get their ponies, which for one lady, meant time off work and 12 hour trip one way.  Dang it.  I didn’t have time to do what I was already supposed to be doing, plus add chores to it, let alone add about 10 hours of colt starting.  

Oddly enough, about an hour after I got the broken arm phone call, one of the very people who owned one of the colts sent me an email, with “The Present” attached to it.  She could have no idea how timely it was, or the signifigance it would have with me.  As I sat there and watched it, the thought clicked into my mind...I wonder.  I really wonder.  What if.  And then a little voice in my head said...”Well, maybe I could do it.  Maybe I could finish those colts myself.” My perspective changed in an instant, to one of excitement and possibility.

Hmph.  There are so many life lessons in this story.  Here’s one - Opportunity knocks when preparation meets hard work.  The night before, my office was a mess.  I got up at 5 that morning, and by mid morning things were looking pretty good and I had fulfilled many obligations and promises that had kept me awake. Had I not got this stuff done I would have said no for certain.  I didn’t know what to do about the colt situation, but I knew I had to go to town and take the girls to dance and figure skating, hit the bus depot, ship out tack orders at the PO, go the bank and get groceries, and by the time I would be back it was going to be blacker than the inside of a cow.  So I told myself as long as everybody and everything got fed that night, really nothing else mattered.  Another life lesson – Take care of today and tomorrow will look after itself.  I added flashlight batteries to the list and went back to thinking about the possibilities and what if I could finish the colts myself.  I called Glenn, and he said “Send them back!  You don’t have time to add this to your plate.  But if you really want to, do whatever you think but only do what you can, don’t knock yourself out.  Whatever you figger is fine with me.”  OK fine.  Well, the next step – No man (woman?) is an island.  When the going gets tough - I call Glenn’s mom Ethelann (who I also think of as a mom and one of my best friends) - if ever there is a person to be counted on it’s her.   I gave her the scoop and I asked if she was up for taking on the driving duties of delivering the girls to their stuff for the next two weeks, no small endeavour, sometimes this means five hours a day we are gone.   She said “Bring me the schedule and we’ll be fine!”  But I don’t think you should be doing that, what if you get hurt!”  Yes indeed, what if, that thought crossed my mind too.  But having that stop me would hurt worse.  After we arrived home that night, I pulled on my gum boots and big-girl panties, and slopped through the snow and the muck appreciating my newly loaded flashlight.  Loaded the wheel barrow up, then spun out on the clay and rolled ass over tea kettle down a hill.  When I got to the bottom all I could do was laugh, and I thought of some of the folks out there who think being the wife of a "horse whisperer" must be a glamorous and romantic thing.  (Well sometimes it is but that moment sure as hell was not one of them!)

The next day, being a bit of a commitment phobe that I am,  I thought well, I’ll think laterally here, I don’t have to do the whole shot, I’ll call the lady who is closest and I’ll just do two of these colts and send the other ones home.  Nice try at being sensible, she couldn’t come for a week and I would have to keep doing the chores anyway. So then I thought, well, I’ll just start and see how things go.  One horse, and one day at a time.  And some of the time it went good, and sometimes it not so good, but it always was sweeter than the day before.  We worked it out, and began to understand one another.  Glenn would call, and ask what I was doing and the words “I’m riding...still...again” would echo proudly in my ears. Anyway, after about 4 days the sun finally came out, and I found I was happy.  There was not a soul around.  It was cold.  But I felt like I was getting my feet underneath me, and that I was really doing what I always wanted to be doing.  The hours fell away, and so did the mind cleared, my sense of humour found its way back, and the worries that plagued me fell away as the time rolled on and I just kept on trying.  Truly happy.  Exhausted, yes.  Exhilarated, oh yes.  Then it dawned on me...I was doing it.  I was living my dream.  By God, I was a colt starter.  
The learning curve was steep on both sides, mine and the colts. There were so many things I wanted to badly know and couldn’t wait until Glenn got home so I could show and ask him.  I had asked him earlier what all needed to be accomplished in 20 days, and he gave me an outline of what needed to be in place...comfortable at a walk, trot, and canter on the bush trails, over logs, up and down hills, turning properly on the fore and hindquarters, side passing, simple leads, nice backup with the weight balanced over the HQ, swing, rope and drag a barrel, ride with a flag, stick and string, tarp, as well as all the ground games and have a good introduction to the bit, and a start on their liberty, smooth canter transitions, vertical flexion, trailer loading nicely, good to catch, comfortable having their feet handled...the list went on. The icing on the cake was when he got on the one that tapped my resources the most, and was full of compliments, ooing and aahing, which he is not prone to doing.  He kept riding for an hour, because the horse felt so good to him.  I was so happy, as were the owners, when it came time for them to come and pick them up and see what Cochiese, Scout, Brandy and Buddy were now able to do.  The sense of accomplishment was immense.
So that was my present.  It didn’t have nice wrapping, and it sure didn’t seem like something I wanted to receive.  But I could not have asked for anything better, and there would have been no way on earth I could have orchestrated that much riding for any other reason.  It was not what I wanted, but it was exactly what I needed, and will be gratefully remembered as one of the richest, most liberating experiences I’ve had.  Since then, it’s made me wonder about all the rest of you that have received gifts through horses.  Pretty ones, homely ones, timely ones, humbling ones.  Maybe ones that saved your life or improved it in some way.   If you have had a “gift” given to you by the way of a horse and you would like to share it, either with me or for everyone to brighten perception, send it in.  Go well. 

Merry Christmas!

"All my life, I have wanted to be a “Colt Starter”.  It didn’t matter that it was impractical, that it was just a matter of time before I got hurt, and that I could be doing ‘nicer things’.  I just wanted to so badly.  And I tried.  And hit many walls and had to give up, because since I had not nearly enough knowledge I would try to outmuscle them, and being a girl, it didn’t take too long before I ran out of strength and lost the battle I shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place.  So about decade went by, and I still hadn’t forgotten, but just filed that particular ambition away under “It bugs the hell out me that I can’t seem to get this done.”  And then a particular set of circumstances unfolded, and I saw something that made me realize “Here is the way I can do anything I want with horses, and I do not have to be 200 pounds of muscle to get it done”.  My life has truly never been the same since that moment of illumination, and has changed in ways a girl who grew up on the Minaker Flats could never have dreamt in her wildest dreams.  And I had a lot of time to dream...before I was 10; I rode a horse more than I had ridden in a car.

However.  Nearly two more decades went by, and I still was not a colt starter!  It didn’t matter so much, because a lot of other things happened that were even better that satisfied my love of horses, plus two wonderful daughters came along and there were a lot of other things to think about.  Plus I now had a resident phenomenal Colt Starter – my husband!  I didn’t need to do it. Plus....I wasn’t in good enough shape to do it justice, nor were my reflexes  fast enough, and my timing was not what it should be.  I would miss things that need to been seen.  Truth was I had seen so much good and bad, many wrecks and ruined horses, while on the other side of the coin witnessed so many exquisite acts of shaping horse behaviour bearing the most subtle of nuances and timing. The reverence I hold for the act of colt starting and the thought of how fast it can all go to hell in a hand basket coupled with the lasting effect it can have on a horse terrified me.  (Not at all unlike parenthood!) I persevered with my horsemanship throughout the years, watched and listened to Glenn.  He must have seen more potential in me than I did, because he gave me the encouragement I needed to start my first horse.  That little fellow was sent straight from heaven I am sure.  Talk about make you feel like a star.  There has been a few since, and I’ve been lucky enough not to get too hurt and I sure learned a lot.  Will I quit while I am ahead?  Not on your life – for if I was of the mind to do that I’d never started in the first place.  And it will be worth every knock I have coming to me."