AGED LIKE A FINE WINE
I have come to realize that my 15 year old Morgan mare, Gwendolyn, has finally matured. I think.
I don’t know if she’s finally matured or has just gotten too old to fight about it anymore. Dunno. But, for sure, something is different…
Don’t worry. She’s healthy. She is the most robust horse I have here. I cannot think of one day in her 15 years where she has been sick. Her feet are like saucers, her conformation is solid and even, her teeth never really need floating (although we try), she eats like a horse and is strong like an ox.
To most observers, she’s kinda witchy (OK, she IS witchy)… Or at least she used to be.
She was born right in front of me. Tess, my mare, was maiden and had no idea what was happening. So she let me watch because, well, she didn’t know what was happening…
Truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing either. This was my first equine birth and I had no practical experience. (Book smart just doesn’t cut it here, although it helps.) Gwen fell out of her standing mother and hit the ground with a thud. I picked her up and cleared the sack away from her. But, not all was fine and she was declared a ‘dummy’ foal.
Dummy foals have had a lack of air during the birthing process and don’t behave normally. For Gwen, she circled the stall with her nose against the wall and had no interest in her mother or nursing.
Now, if I knew then what I know now, I would have been doubly impressed that she survived all this. You see, I called the vet and he told me that he would “put her down in the morning”. Great. Thanks. That really upset me and I was determined to do what I could to help Gwen survive. So, I dragged her over to her mother and practically forced her little lips around Tess’ udder.
Between Tess kicking at me and Gwen fighting with me, I was black and blue. Finally, I was able to squirt milk right into Gwen’s mouth (after hitting her eye and cheek and everywhere else) and then I held her there, against her will, and made her swallow. We did this for about 10 minutes until Gwen decided that she liked this milk thing. And then, typical of her, she pushed me aside and guzzled. By morning, she was fine. I called my vet and told him I wouldn’t be needing his services then, or ever.
As a sidebar, after birthing several equines here I firmly believe that the personality you see at birth is what you are going to see later. They come out showing their true nature. Gwen was strong, stubborn, willful and a survivor. Oh, and she reared a lot. Today, I would describe her as strong, stubborn, willful and a survivor who used to rear a lot.
CAN YOU TRAIN A WINE TO BE GOOD?
Nope. It is either a good wine or it isn’t. You just gotta wait.
When Gwen was 4, I sent her to start her training.
She wanted nothing to do with trainers. That’s the strong, stubborn, willful and survivor part of her. Oh, and the rearing didn’t help either. After about 3 months, I realized that this was not working and decided to home school her. After all, we had done OK with the basics and I had already ridden her around the place. So I thought I could probably train her myself. Hee hee.
At 4.5 years old, as we were just beginning to trail ride, she and I went out with my saged horsewoman friend and her horse. We went to a State Park which was well known to us. What wasn’t well known to us was that they harvested their hazelnut crops at exactly this time of year. And, when harvesting, they use HUGE vacuum tractors that are the width of a row of trees.
Did you know that if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction you cannot hear the monstrous roar from one of those machines? Me neither.
We turned the corner happily and innocently and were now facing in the direction of the wind. It was at that exact moment that we heard and saw the huge Transformer-looking nut vacuum. Oh My Heavens. You have never seen a Horse Shuffle Spaz Freak like this one. Both of the horses were sure they were going to be sucked up and spit out. Gwen did what she does best… She reared. And reared. And reared. Luckily, I became ‘one’ with her neck and we stayed forward. But, it kinda set us back a little.
For the next 7 years, she reared when she was upset. For the next 7 years, I only rode her if I had to. And, when we did ride, we both felt extreme anxiety. Not good. So, I rode her in the arena, I rode her with others and I rode her white knuckled.
So much for my Home Schooling skills…
ON THE GROUND
But, oddness of odd, Gwen became my Go-To gal on the ground. She loved doing the Parelli tapes. She was fabulous in an arena. She loved challenges and trail classes. She has perfect ground manners and will respond to hand signals and voice commands. She would have been a great trick horse — especially with that rear! So, that’s what we did. She kept all the other horses in line and she behaved very well, as long as I didn’t ride her.
Fast forward those 9 years to Aladdin getting sick. Now, I had no one to ride but scary 13 year old Gwen. Yikes. I was petrified to ride her. She was petrified to have me clinging to her back. We were not a good team to say the least.
But, I had no one else. So, I rode her only with others and I chattered about what a scary horse she was throughout the rides with my friends. For two years, I fussed about how difficult and unreliable she was.
Nothing ever happened. Sure, she was skitty and nervous, but she wasn’t bad. She played games and tried to get me to bring her back to the trailer, but she didn’t rear. However, I continued chattering to my friends about what a scary horse she was to ride.
And then one day, my new friend who was a bit confused by my prattling said, (ala Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride) “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“Well, she seems to be behaving and seems to be a really nice mare… you keep saying she is a witch but I just haven’t seen that in her.”
And you know, she was right. My mare had aged. But I hadn’t, apparently.
I had the ‘Ah-Ha’ moment and took some time to reconsider my mare. She truly had left the stubborn back at the barn. She had decided to be part of the program. She was a good mare. She was a very good mare.
Well, Gwen still hates to trailer and is very insecure to trail ride alone. However, she has not been bad or done anything untoward for 2 years now. So, I don’t ride her alone in new places and I don’t trailer her far. But, we do go to neighboring ranches where she is a total dream to ride. Sure, she still spooks at scary things but not in a stunt horse kind of way.
My strong, stubborn, willful and survivor mare had decided to be her new self in spite of me. She aged like a fine wine. No more sharpness, no more bite. Just a smooth ride. And then she just waited for me to notice.
I could learn from her…
Atta girl, Gwen.
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The October Bucket Fund will benefit Honey Bandit, the most neglected BLM mustang baby who is struggling to survive. To learn all about the Bucket Fund and to donate to this incredible foal, please click on the photo (photo credit, Trish Lowe)