redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
It snows in the morning, and waking up to winter after a few weeks of spring is like finding yourself in a foreign land with no recollection of how you got there. It's jetlag without the travel, and though the thing has passed by afternoon and most of the snow is already gone, it still leaves you disoriented.

There's a woodstove and a warm meal waiting inside, but there are chores to do first, and the low rumble of thunder is like the voice of an old friend, calling for your company. You can't bear to be inside. You check on the dogs, grab your gloves and your book, shut the door behind you and head out to the horses. The gelding and the big mare are in their usual places, waiting expectantly for supper, but your own mare is standing at the peak of the little hill, staring in the opposite direction, neck held high and ears pricked, not her usual self.

That rigid set of her neck always unnerves you a little. She's led a life in the wild, and she's wiser than you. With any other animal, you might dismiss it; with her, you simply wonder what she knows that you don't.

She comes easily at the shaking of the grain pan though, and eats her fill, and only raises her head a few times to listen to the storm that's closing in. She's wary, but she's not afraid. She's even willing to stay under the shelter with the other horses. She turns her nose easily into your hand, then buries it in sweet-smelling hay, seemingly content.

You leave the horses to their supper, tuck your book inside the front pocket of your hoodie, and scale the ladder back into the hay loft. The barn cat is there, and tries to deposit himself in your lap while you're still climbing the ladder; you push him away gently, one-handed, and miraculously you manage not to trip over him as you step deeper into the loft, brush the loose hay from a few bales and sit. You call to the cat, cluck your tongue and murmur to him, expecting to make an easy job of attracting him close enough to pet, but the sound of rain just starting against the roof unnerves him, and he's hungry for his own supper; he disappears down the ladder and leaves you to yourself.

Through the open hatches in the loft floor, you can hear the rustling of hay as the horses eat, but it's soon drowned out by the beginnings of a rain shower, a dainty and uneven scrambling like birds landing on the metal roof. A low bass-line of thunder leads into a long, cacophonous percussion solo, rain pounding the ground slick and hitting the barn roof so fast and hard that it produces one continuous roar of noise.

There's a feeling in your chest that's excitement and fear and joy and the wet air is like something alive, something reaching out. You sigh it in and feel it wind its way around your insides, laying gentle roots.

The book's pages are crisp and dry beneath your fingertips. The temperature is dropping. Bruce Chatwin writes from two decades ago about human ancestors huddled in caves, hiding from long-toothed predators. He writes about Australian Aboriginals singing their world into being, and you sit in the hay loft and listen as the world sings back.

The rain turns to hail, then back to rain, and slows to a gentler tempo, thunder still muttering to itself but further off now. Soon it's too cold for bare fingers. You slip the book back into your pocket and descend the ladder.

Two of the horses are still eating, front feet and muzzles buried happily in hay. Your mare is out in the weather, standing again on her hill, staring fixedly at some monster only she can see. You pull up your hood and slip through the gate, sloshing through the new mud until you're standing next to her, one hand light on her withers; she turns her head to greet you, then attends again to her sentry. You peer together into the gathering gloom, but your human senses detect nothing.

That doesn't mean there's nothing there.

They've been in the dry lot all day, and you're not particularly keen to open the paddock only to have to round the horses back up again to go in for the night, but a closer look might ease your mare's fears and let her get back to her supper, so you open up the paddock gate and walk through. The mare doesn't follow, not until you're nearly out of sight behind the trees, and then she charges in at a canter, unwilling to let you face her nightmares on your own. She comes to a stop at your shoulder, blowing air, brave and alert and ready to face the enemy.

The trees are glistening with tiny drops of water, as if they've put on their own decorations. The only sounds are the mare's breathing and the soft patter of rain. Nothing moves. You warm one hand against the mare's neck. Everything is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. She turns her head and breathes against your knuckles, as if checking you're alright.

You venture into the thicket and she follows you for a short distance, then stops as her pasture-mate comes charging in after you both, late to the battle but ready to wade in, if the threat had been found.

The part of you that Chatwin wrote about -- the lizard-brain that remembers being hunted by giant cats -- tells you not to go further into the thicket. Maybe it's just unfounded paranoia, or the fixed set of your mare's ears, or having watched too many horror movies in your lifetime, but you stop, and you back out of the thicket and back to the relative safety of your "herd." Whether the threat is real or imagined, you'll need to get the mares back into their lot for the night, and if there is something lurking here, you'll hardly help the situation by blundering over it in the dark. It's time to retreat to more certain ground.

You wrap a hand around your mare's lower jaw, fingers burying themselves in the thick winter hair there, the whiskers on her chin tickling your knuckles. You turn away from the thicket, leading her by the jaw, and she follows easily, willingly, with nothing but your fingers pressed lightly to her skin. The big mare comes along too, bringing up the rear, glancing occasionally over her shoulder, unconcerned but curious, as if wondering what all the fuss was about.

You let your mare go when you're nearly inside, so you can close the gate, but she refuses to leave you alone in the pasture, and you have to round her up a few times to send her through ahead of you so you can get the gate shut. She goes along with a lightness you're not accustomed to, putting herself into your hands. When you walk back to the scattered piles of hay, she follows, and for a moment she stands with her head pressed against your arm, eyes drooping shut, just breathing beside you. When you ask her to eat, she eats, her worries seemingly forgotten. She's confident that the predators treading their paths through your shared genetic memory will go hungry tonight.

You run your half-numb fingers through the fair blond hair of her forelock, and step out through the gate, leaving the horses to their hay and walking back over hail-spotted ground toward the house. You're ready now for the woodstove and the warm meal. The morning's snow is gone, along with the sense of displacement it brought. You know where you are.
redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
A few weeks ago we got our first real snow of the winter. It's gone now, a victim of unseasonably warm weather, but while it was actively happening I ventured out with my camera and captured a few photos of Juno and her pasturemate Sienna. You'll find quite a few beneath the cut.

The snow is softly falling )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
The acreage surrounding our house is beautiful this time of year -- or, I suspect, any time of year. I've taken to sitting on our deck with the dog (we have a deck!) and looking out over the surrounding woodland while I drink my tea or eat my lunch or... whatever. I mostly like to find excuses to sit outside and survey our rental kingdom. Today my roommate and I let our horses out for the first time into one of the pastures, a large-ish stretch of woodland that wraps around and behind our house. It was great to watch them picking their way between the trees and exploring, and they certainly make for attractive scenery; we could sit on the deck and watch them watching us back.

More photos beneath the cut )

Of course, having horses isn't all sublime moments of connection with nature. Today I also got a little adventurous and let my dog Trudeau off his leash a few feet outside the door when we were on our way in, and he took this as an opportunity to chase the horses. And then an unlatched gate led to our horses being discovered out on the road by the neighbors, who shepherded them back inside and closed our front gate; the horses were subsequently discovered by our landlady, who got them put away in their paddock again. After hearing this news, I nearly suffered a massive panic-related coronary. I'm fine now, I just hope that my roommate finds my new intense paranoia bearable. (She probably will. I suspect she shares it.) I'm probably going to have nightmares about horses in the road for the next oh say forever.
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
Juno's eyeTo be completely honest, I've never actually minded much that I can't ride my horse.

I realize that to the average person, that sounds slightly like insanity. Horses can be tremendously expensive animals to keep, and in my experience, most people balk at the idea of holding onto one that doesn't have a use. We're a little less sentimental about them than we are our mostly-useless dogs and cats, and I think most people who own horses want to be able to participate in the full horse-ownership experience -- trail rides, shows, incredible feats of equine athleticism, the works.

So you can probably imagine the kinds of looks I get when, after trying in vain to keep myself to myself, I have to admit that my horse isn't trained to ride. Oh, and also, she's around 16 years old. Surprise! In my defense, she hasn't been sitting around in my backyard, all potential wasted, for all of those years. She was wild until she was around 9, then she was rounded up, then she was starved and needed time to recover, and then I embarked upon the daunting task of turning a wild animal into a willing partner.

The saying in the horse world goes that "green on green equals black and blue." It's not a sentiment I'd disagree with: an experienced horse person can be paired with an inexperienced horse, but an inexperienced person should be teamed with an experienced horse. In whatever situation, one part of that horse and human duo should know what they're doing. But reality has a way of intruding, and sometimes we let our hearts rule over our better sense. Plenty of horse owners get into trouble this way... and plenty of horse owners who make the "right" choices, who buy an experienced horse, still end up in way over their heads. Horses are living creatures with ideas of their own, and some of the most seemingly docile horses only seem quiet because they're quietly planning your demise. (This is particular true of ponies. Evil, evil ponies. ILU, ponies. Call me.)

I would never recommend that others do what I did -- adopting a wild horse as a novice horse owner -- because having worked in rescue, I've seen too many times the end result of that kind of foolishness, and it's usually the horse who suffers because of our ignorance. For me and Juno it's worked out pretty well, but only because I had quite a bit of wild horse experience (just not riding experience) before I took her on. Still, in a way I'm grateful that I set out into horse ownership with an animal that isn't trained to ride: it forced me to spend a lot of time building our relationship, building trust, and perfecting ground skills, instead of just climbing on and riding headlong into anything I wasn't prepared for. For the most part I didn't rush, because I couldn't rush.

Granted, five years or so is a long time to work on ground skills, but at least now Juno and I have reached a point where it's not her lack of knowledge holding us back, it's mine. I'm not qualified to start a horse under saddle, and recognizing that is a pretty big thing for me. (Let us not speak of the long-ago days of yore when I thought that I was perfectly capable of starting Juno under saddle myself. Suffice it to say that were I not a huge advocate of wearing helmets for all equine activities, I would not be here at this moment, typing at you. Aw, bless, Juno, you didn't kill me after all!)

One of the big perks of living in Pagosa Springs and working for Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship is that I'm surrounded by people who share my philosophy on horse training, who I can count on to handle my horse as I would handle her, and for perhaps the first time I have the option to hire a trainer who I would have no reservations about. (Look, I'm really particular about my horse, okay? I won't let just anyone touch her, much less train her. I'm not going to apologize for it, because I think my overprotective mama bear impression is totally awesome.) Of course, I can't afford to pay any of those people to start her for me, and having lived with that state of affairs for years, I had thought I was getting used to it. But now that I'm finally working on my horsemanship in earnest again, and getting instruction from qualified people, and really getting somewhere with my horse, I have become sharply, keenly, pathetically aware of just how much I want to ride her. Oh, Juno, I want to ride you so badly, you poor oblivious creature, and you just have no idea.

This is how our saddle-training sessions usually go (though not usually with a borrowed Aussie saddle).

I put the saddle on and go, "Yay, Juno, you're wearing a saddle! Move around, do a little twirl, let me see how it looks! OMG, so fashionable!"

And Juno says, "Well, okay, um, I wore it for awhile. Like, maybe two whole minutes. So, I'm good. You can take it off now."

"No, really. Off now. Please. Please and thank you."

"It's not my color. Really. It's... I don't want it. Do not want. Remove. Now."

I'm pretty sure she's caught on to the fact that if she's okay with the saddle, I might try climbing into it. So instead she makes sad faces and demands that I rub her forehead to comfort her.

It was one thing when I was living at random locations around the west and watching other boarders in my barns have a series of misadventures: horses that kicked, bolted, ran off with riders aboard, ejected riders before running off, rubbed riders off against fences... the list goes on. (On one particularly memorable occasion, my then-landlord pulled up his shirt to show me the series of purpling bruises on his chest, each perfectly western-saddle-horn-shaped, which had been inflicted as his horse tried -- ultimately successfully -- to buck him off.) I've known some great riders who have great relationships with their horses, but mostly I've known people who are scared and won't admit it, who aren't scared but should be, who get on and ride by the seat of their pants but not necessarily with the input of their self-preservation-oriented hindbrain, and I've wondered what exactly about the horse experience appeals to them at all, because a lot of what I've seen just does not look like fun. It just looks like an emergency room visit waiting to happen.

Watching people play with their horses at the Parelli campus has been a different experience, though. Sure, I see students who aren't as safe or savvy as they seem to think they are, but for the most part, what I see at the Parelli campus is people and horses having a good time together, doing incredible things, and for maybe the first time I've really looked at that, and realized that most of those people haven't had some amazing childhood equine education that I missed out on -- many of their histories are much like my own. And it's made me realize not only how much I want what they have, but that it is attainable. It can be done.

My excellent and talented instructor Chris -- who I have decided is my BFF whether he likes it or not, poor sod -- has been searching for a way to get Juno into a training program, either at the ranch or with a qualified local Parelli instructor. I'm determined to make it happen one way or another. Maybe I'll just show up at the ranch and put her in Pat's barn and hope that nobody notices she doesn't belong there until after they've ridden her for a few months. Maybe I'll spray-paint her a nice chestnut so Pat's proteges will think she came from Atwood Ranch. Maybe I'll launch a Get Juno Started Under Saddle Before She Dies Of Old Age fundraiser and actually get the money together. I'm determined to get there in the end, onto that path toward excellent horsemanship, but hopefully this time doing a little less walking... I'll let my horse carry more of the weight.
redroanchronicles: Trudeau's Mighty Brow (trudeau-brow)
This is my dog Trudeau.

He is very regal. Very dignified. Sometimes he says that with great power comes great responsibility, and I can only assume that he knows this from experience.

Or else maybe he's talking about my power to give him dog cookies, and my responsibility to do so without delay.

There are more photos of Trudeau under this cut. )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Drowsy (juno)
When we were boarding in Ferndale, I had the opportunity to turn Juno out into a large pasture. (That was before the pasture was turned into a motocross track. Let us not discuss it.) I always liked to stand and watch her after I'd turned her loose, because Juno isn't exactly what you'd call a high-energy animal. In fact, it would be fair to say that she feels running is only appropriate a couple times a year. But put her out in that field, with a trio of trouble-making geldings all the way at the other end and her more excitable friends getting all riled up with vicarious turnout joy, and that mare could move.

In this post: Juno displays both athletic and culinary prowess! )
redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)
I'd like to introduce you to someone who is very close to my heart.

She's close to my heart pretty literally, most of the time. Especially if I'm sitting on a particularly delicious bit of grass.

I don't know if you realize this, but whatever bit of grass you're sitting on is always more delicious than the rest. I have a theory that it's because your body heat has pre-warmed the grass and therefore made it more tasty.

Or possibly they just like to see if they can get you to move. They want to know exactly how soft your heart is so that they can discover ways to use that to their advantage.

In any event, this is that special someone I wanted to introduce you to. This is my Juno. (No, I did not name her after that movie with Ellen Page, though I like both that movie and Ellen Page. And no, she is not pregnant. Even when she sort of looks like it.) Juno is my horse, and when I say that she is mine what I really mean is that I am the person who is privileged enough to feed her and dote on her and keep her in the luxury to which she has become accustomed.

Juno is somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years old. I think. Possibly. And she's a mustang, which is awesome, because I'm all about mustangs, and she was wild until she was about 10 years old or so, which I always like to tell people because it totally makes me sound impressive.

Here on this shiny new blog, I'll be posting a lot about Juno and our various shenanigans, so here's what you need to know, in a nutshell: Juno is my best friend. She's a work in progress as a horse living in the human world, and I'm a work in progress as a human trying to open some meaningful lines of communication with a horse. We're getting there, and we've already reached some big milestones. (The biggest one, I think, was when Juno decided I wasn't half bad. It kind of all falls into place from there.) We've got more work to do, and I hope you'll come along for the ride as I natter on about training and share epic and overzealous photo essays and perhaps write a haiku or two about just how soft Juno's nose is.

Because it really is incredibly soft. And kissable. And expressive and wiggly and fuzzy. And it smells of grass. Just look at it, and admit it to yourself: you are helpless to resist the power of that nose.


redroanchronicles: Juno - Kiss Me (Default)

August 2011

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