Sunday, January 8, 2012

Things Look Different From Down Here

I recently moved to a "country" property....5 acres. Not too much, but enough. Enough to fulfill a life-long dream of having land and, particularly, horses. Where does this desire come from? I feel I share this desire with other "like" individuals. I've heard about the desire to "move to the country" from many....fellow homeschoolers, colleagues, family members, friends, and individuals at church.  I've watched others do it - and followed their journey intently, soaking up every word of their blog, Facebook post, or conversation.

So I find myself in the middle of that dream. Almost 2 months have passed since we moved and a day short of a month that I have been a horse owner. Every day I marvel at the lessons I have already learned. And my vitae grows daily. I don't have the patience or the creative writing experience to develop a long, rich, interesting lead-in so I will just dive into the list of experiences that are "firsts" and "learning experiences" and THEN I will explain the title of my blog.

So far I have learned:

1) I need to go to bed by 11:00 in order to be rested enough to get out of bed by 7:15 am and feel truly rested.
2) Carrying full water buckets is better than any bicep exercise I have ever done.
3) If you aren't getting out of bed by 7:30 am, you are probably missing some very beautiful sunrises.
4) There is no modern-day solution to keeping the "barn smell" out of your hair, but tying it up and tucking it under a hat helps tremendously.
5) Cats really aren't that bad - when they are kept outside.
6) Picking up doggie poo is a breeze after mucking stalls every day (sub-lesson: it's all perspective).
7) Never get so comfortable with everything you do that you aren't challenged in some way.

There are more....but I shall leave those for future essays. 

And now, for the explanation of the blog title and #7 above. Being a horse owner has knocked me down. In a good way.  What have I spent the last 10 years doing? Things that come easy to me...or at least, if they take any work, it's work that I am successful at quite quickly.

Example: Parenting....always found it easy and just "knew" how to do it. Of course, all the babysitting of my nieces and nephews had something to do with that.
Another example: School. Although it was harder than childbirth to earn my PhD, school was something that I was always good at. I studied. I got A's. I graduated. Easy, right?
Yet another example: Working in higher education. How do I state this as to not sound boastful? (please tell me I'm not boastful)....I'm not too bad at what I do. Not the best, I'm sure. But I have always earned high teaching measures and good reviews from my faculty and superiors. Higher education has come easy for me.

So, you see, I have been up on the ladder......not at the top, but on a higher rung, for awhile now. It creates a sense of comfort. Is it a good thing? Sure. It's always a good feeling to be successful at something. But I realize now that something important should happen now and then to make a person better....and that "thing" is being knocked down a few rungs on the ladder.

That is what has happened to me since I have been a horse owner.

I prepped well. Read LOTS of books, articles, and paid attention during my kids' riding lessons. We leased a horse (Tango) for 9 months and learned how to retrieve him, lead him, bathe him, groom him, tack him up, ride him, and the kids even showed him at the local 4H show. The time came to get a horse and we chose "Jake" - a 6 year old haflinger who had been trained English and was used to kids leading him and riding him on the trails. Why a haflinger? Well, for one they are cute! OK, should not choose your horse because he/she is cute. But, he seemed to fit what we wanted for our family. A horse who had some training, was not too old, and a breed that we liked.

So Jake not only came to live with use (purchased) but we were blessed enough to have Tango (our leased horse) come live with us. His owner was gracious enough to allow us to have him for a few years...give or take...until we found our forever second horse.

Lesson One: You can't learn everything from a book.  I took Jake out to lunge him since he was not getting any exercise (we didn't want to ride him until Tango's owner, our trainer/instructor, was present). To make a long story short, Jake did not take too kindly to this, bolted in the pasture pulling the 20 foot rope from my hands and it broke my left middle finger. Yes, he came back....quite quickly actually. I didn't remember reading anything about what to do if your horse is afraid of lunging and thus bolts. I took off Jake's halter, called the trainer, and then went inside and cried.

Now, don't feel sorry for me - this was a pivotal moment. I was knocked down a few rungs and found myself in a new place. A place that was scary but a place that was recognizably one of growth. And not just growth as in "a lesson or two and we got it down pat." Growth that is characterized by baby steps of learning. And I was still crawling. Doubt, fear, uncertainty, lack of confidence, frustration, regret, pain (remember the finger actually broke), and defeatism. I felt it all. And I found myself in a new place.....personally. Not physically (as I had moved several times over the past 15 years) but emotionally, spiritually, and "gutty." Yes, I know that is not a word but it was a place in my gut I cannot explain.

Lesson Two: The need for companionship, friendship, acceptance, and love is not limited to humans.  Last Friday it was a beautiful day....warm and sunny and very unusual for Michigan in January. I thought it would be a great day to groom the horses with the kids. So my plan was to take them into their stalls and then set them up for grooming - we would take turns brushing, picking, petting, etc. Sounds like a perfect way to spend the afternoon, right? Well, I walked out to Tango and put on his halter (he's so trained....stands there so still like a statue) and led him to the barn. Of course, Jake was right behind him as he always is. I led Tango into the stall and, as I was closing the door, had to push Jake's large head out of the opening and shut the door quickly so he wouldn't follow.  The minute I shut the door, Jake freaked. That's not an understatement - he freaked. Whinnies, gallops, bucks, pacing. Anything and everything he could do to show his disapproval of my taking away his buddy, his leader, his new friend.

I tried to calm him down by going back outside the fence and calling him over to me, offering a carrot for comfort (he's a foodie). He took one snip and off he continued with his tantrum.  I, of course, was quite panicked and found myself at the bottom of my ladder. Almost like I had fallen completely off. Laid back Tango was still in his stall, waiting for his beauty appointment. I knew at this point that I did not have time to run inside and Google "buddy sour" or "horse freaking out when you bring one into the barn" so I let Tango back out into the pasture. My teacher/Mommy instincts told me NOT to do that because that would be rewarding Jake's tantrum. But my inner self, who had just been knocked down another few rungs, knew that it was all I could do with my experience and knowledge.  Tango immediately went out to Jake and nipped him on the butt, as he often does to tell him "you idiot." The two of them went back to their easy, posh life of grazing.

Luck would have it, the trainer called within minutes and I explained the entire ordeal. I was broken, tired, frustrated, again feeling all the incompetent, awkward feelings that you feel when you are a "beginner" at anything. I was ready to sell Jake - or even just give him back to his owner - because I did not get into horses to train them. I just wanted to enjoy them.  Which leads me finally to lesson three for this entry.

Lesson Three: Don't give up so might miss an incredible opportunity to learn. A lot! By the next morning, I was ready once again to tackle horse ownership - and apparently horse training - and was actually excited and looking forward to the new lessons I might learn. It was a new day. A new opportunity. A chance to learn something new. How many times had I advocated lifelong learning in my role as an academic administrator for online and professional/graduate studies? It was time to take my own advice, stand up and put my foot back up on the bottom rung. Time to start climbing again.

I wonder what I'll be able to see this time from the upper rungs of the ladder? I'll never find out unless I commit to this new experience. Buck up, Kerrie. God has some new plans for you. New lessons to be learned. New experiences to live. And ultimately I believe some new nuggets I can share with others as I learn to climb back rung at a time.

Thank you for sticking with me through my unedited ramblings. I have so many more lessons I'd like to share, so please come back soon.


  1. Kudos,Kerrie, for putting together an enjoyable and memorable first post! I'll be back...

  2. Kerrie-this is wonderful and honest! Owning horses is a new adventure everyday and if you're like me, the best lessons learned come from making mistakes and experiencing the I wish it had gone differently moments! Jake sounds a lot like my Easy. We always laughed at his name, because he definitely wasn't.

    I was wondering- do you have cross ties in your barn hallway? I never found it easy to groom in a stall. You will find what works best for you and your guys!

    Keep writing my friend. You're doing great, you farm girl, you!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Kerrie! It really is a big deal to have sole responsibility for a horse. It's easy to be intimidated - they're big and strong and unpredictable. I'm glad to see the end end of this particular chapter of your story ends with you going to face another day with hope in your heart.

    Boy, sometime I'll have to share some of my harrowing "Horse Tails" from when I owned my horse "Candy", a retired S. African police horse ... and before that when I was using and almost bought "Arrola" - a retired thorougbred racehorse. Whatever you begin to imagine ... multiply that by several degrees of scary. :-)

    If Jake WAS a good horse, he'll BE a good horse. Still, they have personalities that play out in their behavior. You'll know - give it your best shot and time will tell.