Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Are We Feral Yet?

I have, on occasion, posted on equine forums, and a question that often comes under discussion is "How long can a horse be allowed to be off work before he becomes unworkable?" I've been prone to blowing off this concern, based primarily on my great good fortune in owning horses who would have been as happy in the living room as in the pasture. There's a lot to be said for a highly domesticated animal.

Now, however, I've had cause to rethink this issue. Only one of my horses has been ridden since mid-December. Leo, long-in-the-tooth light of my life, has been patiently awaiting our next riding adventure, and he will continue to be patient for another week at least. As for the others, Dakota hadn't been ridden regularly for 18 months before I bought him, and Pinky is fine with a once-yearly blow-out. That leaves Zip.

To say I feel some trepidation at the prospect of riding Zip after so many months off is vastly off the mark. I'd ride the big momma bear in the back field first! But the time is coming soon, and I feel the need to assess to what extent Zip has returned to nature. Toward that end, I've been spending some time in the barn and pasture running unofficial studies. What I've learned is at once heartening and equally intriguing as a subject for further research.

All of the horses have become more and more amenable to pretty much anything I ask of them. The sole exception is Pokey--Zip's mom--who, despite her gentle appearance and willing attitude, would rather die than be caught in the pasture for any reason. This is not news. That she's the only one still engaging me in pasture tag is. By now, particularly given the erratic nature of their schedules since Garrett the Barn Slave took over their care, I would have expected bad attitudes and endless games of hide-and-seek. Instead we seem to have solved the problem of horses lagging in the farthest corner of the back field at meal times. Since they can no longer count on their internal clocks to alert them to mealtime, they have become attuned to the sounds of car engines and gate latches. Regardless of time of day, let a truck pull up the drive (they seem particularly attached to the diesel UPS van) or a gate latch rattle, and they come at a gallop and line up at the gate.

Fussiness at being cooped up during our recent strange weather patterns has been replaced by begging for confinement. Morning naps are a given. Now they want afternoon bug breaks as well. And if no one cares, they'll just stand happily in their stalls until someone comes to let them out.

Grooming is a joy. Doctoring boo-boos has become so easy I feel as if I could give each of them a first-aid kit and they'd be fine on their own. Fighting? Nah. Not at all.

What about Zip? Well, his manners have improved beyond my wildest dreams. Ground manners have never been his strength, despite training that began on Day One and continues unabated. Suddenly he seems to have regained some level of interest in my whereabouts and physical well-being. I haven't ridden him yet, but his entire demeanor has changed so drastically that I'm not so worried anymore. Oh, I'll ride Leo first--I'm calm, not insane--but as soon as possible I'll saddle up ol' Zip and have at it. Who knows? Maybe six or seven months off was all he needed. We'll see. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time Heals All

By this time one would think I'd have some intriguing insights to offer on the subject of cancer, chemo, and the hoopla that surrounds them. Sorry. You're barking up the wrong blog.

What I do have to share is that the horses are fine. They've gotten used to multiple caretakers and less-than optimal daily routines. They may not be entirely aware of the details, but they know I'm not quite right. I'm sure I smell wrong. Heck! I smell wrong to me, too. The supportive drugs I'm taking make everything taste like tin foil, and I'm sure that odor comes through in my breath. And I'm not as quick as usual. I don't hop fences; I go through the gates. I take the tractor when possible.

But at this point I'm delighted that I've got the horses shedded out and clipped, and I'm back to being Miss Picky Barn Owner as far as my employees are concerned. It's amazing how quickly things have changed. After all, it was only ten weeks ago that I was lying in a hospital bed wondering if I'd ever be able to sit up again. Now I'm itching to get back in the saddle and whining because I've got a few aches and pains.

As for attitude, I've got plenty. Chemo has done nothing to change that. Would I feel differently if my prognosis were worse? Probably. Maybe. Possibly. Maybe not.

So my minor insight is that, as noted in a recent Psychology Today, optimism isn't about seeing the bright side. It's about believing that your behavior influences your outcome. Horsemen don't have a corner on that level of irrational belief, but no one can bully a 1200-pound beast without self-confidence and a willingness to suspend fatalism. It's not that I think I can control my fate, but that I believe I can make things better, for me, for the horses, for the world at large. And that's no small thing.