In April I wrote the first of two posts predicated on the maxim that if it has tires or testicles, it is going to cause you grief. Post 1 was tires, about my car needing two unrelated expensive repairs two weeks apart. This post was supposed to be about wrestling with the decision of whether to geld my stallion—i.e. removing the testicles to reduce the grief. I will get to that testicle talk later, first I have other grief to recount, including on the tires side of the equation.
|Too little to ride here.|
|Being silly, and still too little to ride.|
|Bigger here, but still too little to ride.|
I've been waiting four years for my little fuzzy guy to grow up enough for me to ride him. I have had him in training for a few months now and my trainer said he was ready for me to get on him anytime. In his training, he has always been docile, willing, as obedient as you can expect from a youngster, and accepting of each new piece of equipment or lesson. He's never shown the slightest fear—no anxiety, no spookiness, nothing seemed to faze him. When he colicked back in December, the vets at the hospital remarked on how amazing it was that they could do anything to him without sedation. I got lucky with his sweet temperament. If I could fault him for anything, it would be a short attention span (attributable to youth) and laziness.
So, I expected to sit on him gently for a few seconds, have photos taken of my Friesian grin, and post them to all the Friesian groups to receive congratulations from the Friesian peeps who have followed my Friesian dream.
That's not quite how it went.
Silas is cared for by a generous friend who knows how much he means to me and also knows I can't afford him. She keeps him for me for free and I just pay for his food and other bills, and any training I can intermittently afford. I've only had him in consistent training since mid-May. I'm very lucky to have such a friend but the drawback is that she lives 250 miles away. So, seeing Silas means a long & expensive 500 mile round-trip drive. It breaks my heart to see him so rarely but I can only get out there once a month, if that. I can't board him closer because I can't afford normal board rates; it's as simple as that. Either I have a horse I see rarely or no horse, there is no other option for me unless I marry money like a Jane Austen heroine.
For the first 3 ½ years he lived in her gelding pasture with a rotating herd of her geldings and boarders. He was happy so, whenever I missed him unbearably, I consoled myself that he had a good life, getting to be outside 24/7 and enjoying lots of friends to play with. He wasn't stuck in a stall with limited/solo turnout. He had a shelter in the field for inclement weather but he never used it, to the point that my friend once put some hay in there to check he wasn't afraid of it. Nope, no fear; the weather just didn't bother him. Nothing really bothered him. He was sweet and easy-going. The only problem he caused was playing in his water, which meant extra work for the barn slaves refilling it multiple times per day. A toddler could have led him using dental floss. Well, unless there was food—I admit the toddler would have been dragged to the food. I felt I had won the temperament jackpot with this cute little stinker.
That all changed abruptly in mid-March. He was rising 4 years old and when the mares in the barn went in season this past spring, he suddenly realised he was a stallion for the first time. Like any horny teenage boy, he began humping the nearest thing that would stand still, which in his case turned out to be the geldings in his pasture. As you might imagine, the geldings weren't as enamoured of this new game and it quickly became apparent that he could get hurt, or might inadvertently hurt them. He had to leave his friends, but my friend did not have any place else to put him. For awhile, she put him in the empty stall of a gelding who was turned out during the day, whilst her stallion was in the stallion paddock, then when the gelding and her stallion came in, she'd switch him to the stallion paddock for the night. He hated being in a stall and started to act up when he was led from the stallion paddock into the barn—shaking his head and even rearing, and charging out of the stall when they went in to put his halter on. The barn slaves began carrying a whip when they led him. He also became vocal, calling to other horses. He called to geldings as much as mares—I don't think he is clear on the concept; his hormones are simply driving him crazy and he was now perpetually excited about everyone and everything. Later, my friend started putting him in the round pen during the daytime, since he hated the stall, but that is set up near the mare pasture and he tried to bust out of it when a cute little mare who was in season flirted with him. So, he went in the stallion paddock full-time, with my friend's poor stallion getting little turnout. Then he started taking down the boards in the stallion paddock. They reinforced it but there is still worry about him getting out. I have felt terrible that after living unobtrusively in a field for so long, he is now causing so much difficulty around where to keep him safely. This would all be so much easier if he were a gelding and could just be thrown back into the pasture, but I will get to that later.
I saw him for his birthday on June 1 and, after he'd only been in training for two weeks, my trainer was able to long-line him like an old pro. His newly difficult behaviour disappears in the ring. Like Jekyll & Hyde, once he is in that indoor arena, away from flirting fillies, he becomes his old self again, docile and obedient and quick to learn and accept everything. I came back a month later and long-lined him myself, which was wonderful. I consider long-lining an important training technique but not an easy one to master. I am far from an expert, but the fact that we did a passable job together was exciting and felt like a good start.
Yesterday, I groomed him and tacked him up with great difficulty—there was a mare in season in the stall next to where he was cross-tied and he would not stop screaming at her and dancing around. At one point, I took him outside to hand-graze him so someone could get access to the wash stall, and he reared as we went out the door. I'm not sure if it was because he was leaving the mare behind or because he could see more mares outside. It was sudden, and he had never reared on me before, nor done anything worse than pull when I was leading him (usually in the direction of some appealing grass). He caught me under the chin with a hoof as he went up. I was shocked and upset. He would never hurt me on purpose but I am always acutely conscious that he could hurt me accidentally. I have a sore, bruised chin that could easily, with just a bit more force, have been a broken jaw and broken teeth. Instead of enjoying watching him graze on a lazy warm August afternoon, I was wary, being careful where I stood in relation to him and watching him like a ticking bomb, getting his attention back swiftly with a tug on the lead rope and a sharp word every time he raised his head to look at the mares. I didn't like not being able to relax, having to be on high alert for my own safety.
I was shaken up by that, and also by the fact that it took two people to get him ready. I could not have done it by myself and it bothers me that I cannot handle my horse on my own. Without someone else holding his head the whole time, he would have busted out of the cross-ties in his eagerness to go say hello to that mare (not that I blame him—she's a nice chestnut Irish Draught, but he'd need a ladder to mate with her).
But I was mollified once we started working. He was his old self, so I decided to go ahead with the plan to try sitting on him. I was nervous, and there were a lot of people watching. Everyone at the barn knew that no-one was allowed to sit on him until I did so first; it was extremely important to me to be the first. I have been waiting for his moment for four years, and I kept putting it off to let him grow and mature, and until I had the money for the preliminary groundwork training that had to precede it.
He stood calmly at the mounting block, as expected. I leaned over him, draped like a sack of potatoes, and lifted my feet off the mounting block until he was supporting my full weight. He didn't even flinch. This is where things went pear-shaped. My trainer said to drape myself over him so that she could lead him a few steps like that and I misinterpreted her command as being to swing my leg over and sit up properly. As soon as I did that, he got scared and took off. He was on a lunge line, so he could only go in circles around my trainer. I gave her a minute to see if she could stop him, if we could still redeem this moment and get that Friesian grin photo. But he was just getting more amped up and she told me to bail before he learned to buck.
Now, we were all taught as kids how to do an emergency dismount. Something about propelling yourself away so you don't land under the moving hooves, relaxing, rolling into a ball, and landing gracefully on your feet. But I had never parted company with a moving horse voluntarily before. I've done so involuntarily on more occasions than I care to remember, but doing it on purpose is different. I was trying to remember all this as my trainer was urging me to get off NOW so I just flung myself off as far away as I could. It was not graceful; I landed on my face, not my feet. I was not hurt, but I was spitting out dirt for the next hour, and I have a fat lip, scraped cheek, and sore ribs on the side where I landed.
My own fault entirely. I do not blame Silas. He lulled me into thinking he would accept me on his back as he had accepted everything else, and I am still certain he would have if I had not rushed it. What scared him was not the weight but the height—it was me sitting up that was the problem. I should have done the sack-of-potatoes exercise a few times, then stood on the mounting block and petted him and talked to him from above, waved my arms, gotten him used to my presence up there. But he was always so calm, so amenable to any new thing you threw at him, and I see him so rarely, I didn't want to wait another month to try again. I put pressure on myself because people at the barn were eager to get on him and I was delaying his training by insisting on being the first and not being able to get there to do it. And other people were beginning to wonder why I hadn't ridden him yet when he had turned four already. I just kept replying that I hadn't had money for training and besides he was physically immature for his age—and I am not a small person, and wouldn't be even if I weren't fat. I also felt rushed because I was running late—I had that long drive home ahead of me, and so many people were watching expectantly. But I should have just leaned on him and called it a day, insisted on no-one sitting on him even if I could not get back for a month or two, and just stopped making myself crazy feeling like I have to make up for lost time every brief visit.
When everyone asked me if I was ok, I replied that only my ego was bruised, and that is the most difficult injury to repair. I feel so stupid for misinterpreting what my trainer was asking me to do, for not realising he'd be scared if I suddenly sat up on him with no warning. As little as I am there, I have tried not to send him mixed messages or make any mistakes, or teach him bad habits, etc. I've been worried that my startling him might have made his future training under saddle more difficult. This incident intensified my ongoing misery of feeling like a failure as a horse mom trying to make this work long distance on no money. He should know me and trust me by now but I don't see him often enough for him to think of me as mom and I am not confident enough in handling him and commanding him for him to trust me as an alpha leader. I just don't have the experience because I see him so infrequently. Yet, I remind myself I am lucky to have him at all. A Friesian I rarely see is much, much better than no Friesian at all. I would never sell him for any amount of money; I couldn't love him more if he were my own biological child. But we don't have any kind of bond, and that breaks my heart. If he knew me better, he might not have been so scared, I might have been able to redeem the situation by talking to him and getting him to calm down.
It was a nightmare, not what my long-imagined first ride on my very own Friesian was supposed to be. I'm not the sort of person who naturally looks for the positive; I usually find it too Pollyanna-ish. If I do look for the positive, it has to be slightly snarky & sarcastic. So, I am gonna go with this: Most Friesians can't balance themselves to canter with a rider at all, let alone on a small circle, until they are 6 or 7. Ok, I'll add these, too:
1) I had the sense not to touch the reins, nor squeeze with my legs to stay on. I held onto the strap on the front of the saddle, that's it. I didn't attempt to pick up the other stirrup, or do anything but hang on to that strap quietly, with as little movement as possible, and wait until he calmed down. I knew if I picked up the reins and pulled on his mouth, it would be all over. That would have scared him more, and he would have reared or bucked or bolted and it would have set his training back years. I made a stupid mistake in misunderstanding my trainer and sitting up on him, but at least I did not compound it by pulling on his mouth.
2) When I did in-hand work with him before our ill-fated attempt at backing, his lateral work was amazing. He crosses both front and back legs at the slightest urging as if going sideways is as easy as going forwards. This is not typical of Baroque-style Friesians, and I have seen advanced dressage horses of many breeds who can't or won't do lateral work like that. So, for what it's worth, there seems to be potential there. Next I need to see how he likes jumping.
Believe it or not, the day gets worse: About halfway to the barn that morning, the battery light on the dash had started flickering. I didn't pay it much heed as battery was fairly new, car was running fine, and the warning lights are notoriously flaky. On the way back, it came on steadily and was joined by the SRS light. About halfway home, the gas and temperature gauges started to droop, the car slowed. I stayed in the outside lane, doing about 45mph. As the car's performance lagged, my goals shifted: First I wanted to make it home, then I wanted to make it within 100 miles of home because that's AAA's towing coverage, finally I just wanted to make it to the Starfucks on I-84 in Danbury, CT, where I always stop, because it's open late and I could wait there for AAA. From frequent travel on that route, I know it's exactly 110 miles from my house. Unfortunately, the car died completely just 2 miles from the Starbucks. I was in the outside lane but barely made it onto the shoulder—I was just over the white line and my wing mirror was in traffic. I rang AAA. If you've ever called for roadside assistance, you know their first question is always "Are you in a safe location?" "No!" I replied. They said they'd get a tow truck out right away. I figured it was the alternator, not the battery, but just in case I asked about their battery changing service. AAA said that ends at 7pm and it was now 8pm. I pointed out that was asinine, that car batteries don't only die before suppertime.
About 10 minutes later, some state troopers pull in behind me. I hate and fear cops but these guys were surprisingly nice. They lit some flares behind me (since I couldn't turn on my hazard lights, or any lights), and they pushed my car well onto the shoulder so it wasn't so close to traffic. But then they asked me what towing service AAA had called, warning me that AAA's national dispatch sometimes doesn't know which local towing companies are licensed to pick up on the Interstate and they had to verify this one was licensed. Great, I thought, I may have to wait longer if the cops insist on AAA getting a different towing company. Luckily, that turned out not to be an issue, but there was a different problem: that towing company wouldn't tow the 112 miles to my house and AAA was having a hard time finding one that would. They tried to persuade me to get it towed locally. I explained to them that wouldn't do me any good. They asked if someone could pick me up, and the car could be towed later, or if I could stay in a hotel or rent a car. I was flabbergasted. Of course no-one could pick me up, nor could I afford a hotel or rental car. Even if I could, how would that help with my car? I'm not going to trust it to some random mechanic in Outer Bumblefuck, CT, nor did I have time to drive back in a rental car on Monday to get it. No-one would be available to work on it over the weekend anywhere I left it. This was bullshit; I needed to get home asap, and get it to my Volvo specialist mechanic on Monday.
After an hour and a half, AAA finally found a company that would take the job. The cops had left but they came back about 45 minutes later. This was useful because it was now pitch black and they used their floodlights whilst the tow guy loaded the car on the flatbed. He bitched about how my car didn't have a good place to attach the chains and he was having difficulty getting it on the truck. He asked me to work some levers whilst he moved the chain around, which I thought was odd, but I was happy to oblige and just get the fuck on with it. I was aching, miserable, exhausted, dehydrated, covered in dirt, and desperate to get home for a shower, dinner, and to decompress and try to process everything. I was also terrified of driving in the truck with a random stranger. I spent the time I was waiting for the tow truck, as darkness fell, wondering if he would be a serial killer or a rapist and planning what I should do: Keep phone in hand, keep passenger side door unlocked, etc. So, I was relieved when he said he had his fiancé in the truck with him. He said it would be a little tight but he'd brought her along to help him stay awake on the drive back.
Even though I am introverted, misanthropic, and sometimes anti-social, I find that I am more capable than most normal people of making conversation when necessary because I never run out of questions to ask people. I asked them all about their wedding next Saturday—the venue, the food, the cake, the dress, the music, etc., congratulated them, asked them how they met, about their jobs, where they're from, what their ambitions are. But it didn't distract the driver from ranting the whole way (and we got caught in two construction-related traffic jams, one in Waterbury, one in Hartford) about how he hadn't wanted to take this fucking job, he'd told his boss no, this was a huge pain in the ass, he didn't want to make this long fucking drive, etc. I curse like a sailor, but I sound like a nun compared to this guy.
To top it off, any extra mileage above 100 miles has to be paid directly to the towing company and he would only take cash. I don't usually carry cash because I am broke and live off my credit cards, and he said we'd have to stop at an ATM, he could not take credit cards or a cheque. I don't use ATMs because I refuse to pay their fees; I only get cash back at stores that offer it, all of which were closed. I didn't want to pay for extra mileage to have him drive to a bank but we figured the petrol station right near my house would have an ATM machine. It did, but it had a $3 fee. To add insult to injury, the driver refused to give me change, and the ATM only dispensed twenties, so I had to pay more than I owed for the 12 miles.
It was midnight when I got home. I was hoping to ride my bike into town for my usual brunch to cheer myself up (although my face might cause some weird looks), but it has poured rain all day. I'll have to call AAA to tow my car to my mechanic on Monday—they could have towed it straight there last night but the guy would not have given me a ride home—and see if they can repair it in time for me to get to a job interview on Tuesday. I made a total of $400 in July—freelancing is pretty dead over the summer—so I will need to charge this repair, although I vowed not to use my credit cards anymore and pay off the $34K I owe on them. Right now, I am feeling like that is a hopeless goal.
So, that was testicles and back to tires. The testicles post I intended to write was about agonizing over the decision whether to geld Silas. But I now feel like this post has gotten too long and I will save it for another day.