Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditions and passages

The Christmas holiday season has always been a stressful one for me, for as long as I can remember.

My mother had the misfortune of being born on Christmas Eve, and she never let a one go by without letting us know how miserable she was about it too. She always had a rather pissy attitude about her birthday, although we all (us kids) went to a lot of effort to make sure that her birthday presents were special and wrapped appropriately in pretty birthday paper with beautiful cards. No matter what, she was never genuinely happy over the holiday and this set the stage for the rest of us to be miserable too-never mind the excitement of childhood. As it became a long standing tradition of my own to get my father one pair of bright red wool socks, one quart of malted milk balls, and one Old Spice soap, so too the tradition of feeling that no matter what I did, I could not please my mother. Both have passed away, my father in 87 and my mother in 98, but the tradition of stress and unhappiness lives on in all of their children, to some degree.

This year, I find my younger sister beyond stressed. She has a house overflowing with emotionally needy and manipulative adult children (and their assorted kids too), a demanding job, and the "let's all be miserable" legacy lingering on that our mother left. It has poisoned all of us, and in my sisters' case has caused her to try to do too much: buy too many presents, do too many things, be too many places, and try to please everyone while she does it. Its a recipe for holiday failure and I don't know that she will ever be able to get beyond it. Now, my sister is a happy person in general-always ready with a smile, a quip, and a laugh. She's very helpful and generous, it's just her nature to be upbeat and supportive, no matter the situation. So when ghosts of Christmas' past rise eerily in the background, she's too busy doing things to see that it infects her own state of mind. Because our own mother was never happy no matter what we did, it is easy to fall into the trap of more and more to compensate.

I should know, I did the same thing myself, for years, lol Now, I buy gifts for those I feel I need to, not "because" someone else thinks I should. If I am tight that year, I don't worry about not having a trinket wrapped under the tree nor a gift card for each person that walks through the door. Most of my friends know its just not my style to go overboard, too. Sometimes, I have the intention, but never find the time or have the extra cash on hand when I run across something I think a person would really enjoy. I would be just as pleased to hand out goodies from the many jars of this and that from my cupboard instead, actually.

I have many more friends online than I do locally. Somehow, it's easier to connect through the computor as opposed to real life which keeps me tied to this office full time. While they may be "cyber friends" the ties are real, and thus, when I hear that Connie D. has been moved into a nursing home due to the progression of her brain cancer, it concerns me. I know Connie will not be with us much longer, and that she is at the end stage of her life now. A published author, and great advocate for children and horses, her inability to interact with her online "family" has affected us all. We are all saddened by what it is to come, yet feel fortunate to have "known" her.

Today, I learned that another online friend passed away. Younger than me, Vicki G. had suffered numerous health issues for years. Yet, she was known as much for her love of all things angels, as she was for her work with rescuing horses and the Appaloosa Club of Ohio. I sat and had a good long bawl when I read the news. We are all shell shocked and sad, and we can't believe our own angel has left us. I remember calling Vicki when she was in the hospital a few years back, sweating out a heart ailment. Her voice was light and sweet and she was just as nice in person as she was online.

If you haven't figured it out, the purpose of this entry is to remind us all, that the true legacy we leave behind is the mark we leave on others' lives-for good or bad. You can either spread unhappiness, or rise above it-and the choice is yours.

For me, I resolve to rise above :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

The consequences of poor handling skills

Today I am going to share a little story. It illustrates perfectly the real consequences of poor horse handling skills.

In general, I have found that most "problem" horses were made so by people. Perhaps the horse was not handled at all as a weanling and then introduced to the ways of man by force. Perhaps typical foal behaviors (which are perfectly natural for the species, but very dangerous for humans when they are adult) were encouraged, rather than reprimanded. That would be mouthing, nipping, kicking, rearing, plowing into people, etc.

Usually, these horses are pretty smart, and the lessons they learn-good or bad-become behaviors nearly impossible remedy. With some, it may only take one or two incidents and the horses learns: I throw a fit, and voila! I get my way. As an example, here is something we have all seen: A dog runs away from its owner. Owner is ticked off, and calls the dog. Dog knows the owner is angry by tone of voice, and is hesitant. Owner gets even more angry and eventually the dog gives in and comes. The owner promptly smacks the dog for not coming. What has this taught the dog? That if it comes when called, pain is the reward. There is a good lesson there, if only people will heed the consequences. Reprimands need to be instantaneous and fit the offense in each and every case.

Which brings me to today's entry. Seven years ago, I leased a marvelous Appaloosa mare. As part of the lease cost, I bred the owners' second mare for free. That mare was a gorgeous solid Appaloosa mare. Smart, moved like a dreamboat, and was also a ribbon winner at local shows. A truly nice nice mare, and well within my breeding criteria. The mare produced a stunning filly the following year, leggy, pretty Sully face, great shoulder and neck, etc. Leggy like her dam, but oh so pretty. The owner had some life changes and the filly was then sold on to a young gal.

This young gal was pretty confident in her training skills as she had some experience in the L48. A few years go by and I get a call about the filly (now a fully adult horse) and the gal is having problems getting the mare to move forward. I was thinking that was pretty odd, because as a rule most horses (while inherently lazy) will move out if you prompt them strongly enough. During the conversation I hear about some sort of incident between the mare and the owner's mother. No one is quite sure what happened, but the Mom ended up with fairly severe facial trauma. It's evident to me that any trust there between them-the horse, the girl, and her mother, is broken and there are probably other things happening with the horse as well. I suggested getting a professional assessment, because many times an outside, experienced person will pick up on things the daily handler might not see.

Then I don't here about the young mare for a year or so, until she starts popping up for sale on various websites. I email a couple of times, but do not get a response. I hear through the grapevine that the girls' family is having some sort of trouble during this period too, always stressful. Over a year ago, I learn from a friend that the mare has been taken to a local barn for try out, prior to sale. I am not sure what happens, but there is a small incident and the deal falls through as the horse does not have the training level the prospective purchasers were looking for. After that, she falls off my radar completely until last month.

Now, she is for sale for $700, negotiable to the right person.

For that low of a price, you know there has to be a hole there, right? And oh indeed there is, and a big one. I have not spoken to the current owners, but this is what I have learned: The mare has been allowed to get away with very dangerous behavior. Today, she is a serious danger to humans, even experienced handlers and wranglers. And most especially in family type situations.

No one recognized the dangerous behavior for what it was, when it happened. All it takes is a few times of getting away with something, and there you have it: A learned behvaior that only gets reinforced instead of reprimanded.

If you do not have the skills, or even the knowledge to recognize dangerous posturing or actions when they happen and correct them at once, you are doing yourself, and the horse no favors.

So here we have a young, sound, decently trained horse (seemingly excellent once haltered with a lead on) who will likely end up euthanized. She's 7 this year, a solid 15.2, pretty as can be, and oh so smart. So smart, she picked up the wrong lesson. It will likely cost her life. I know how I would cope with it, I even recommended that to a friend who looked at the mare. But the risks are very big, and she cannot come to my facility either.

I have run into a number of such horses over the years, and most things can be worked through with enough dedication and appropriate handling, coupled with judicious work and stabling arrangements. It all comes back to one of my own personal conclusions: A good equine citizen stands a very good chance at a long, healthy life. It is our duty as caretakers/owners/trainers/handlers to ensure that the horse has a future too.

Pretty soon, the rumor mill will churn out that it is entirely the stallion's fault that this happened (because people are oh so ignorant and blame the stallion for absolutely everything) and I will end up going to great pains to explain how this came to be, and why. Or I might take the easy way out this time, and simply say this:

It was a consequence of poor handling skills.