Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ode to Jeepers

Jeepers has passed on to greener pastures. I promised her that she would be going to a place where she would be black, shiny, and fat. She would be able to stand in fields of grass up to her belly. And that she would be able to eat all the grass she wanted, all day long….without my looking at my watch and saying enough.

I had to make the decision of when. She’s been ready, just waiting for me to be ready. We’ve been together for 12 years. We both started off scared and a little spooky. We gained trust and confidence together. It’s been a fantastic journey.

We started out at a barn with a group of friends. We rode “dressage”. When I asked her to work a bit harder she would always, always check with me to make sure I understood what I was asking. Did I really want this? Really want her to engage her hind end? Really want that leg yield? Really want her work?!?!?!

I used to part lease her to help pay her bills. One of the people I leased her to was a beginner. A real beginner. When I rode Jeepers the day after Rowan rode her I’d have to remind Jeeps that this was me riding and she could walk bigger, trot bigger, hey maybe even canter. Later I part leased her to Cindy for lessons. Mostly kids. I’d often saddle her up and walk into the ring and then tighten the girth. When I was tightening from the left Jeeps would turn her head to her right side and snap her teeth. When I was tightening from the right she would turn her head to the left and snap her teeth. Cindy told me that she did not do this with any of the kids who tacked her up. Jeepers was just fine expressing herself to me.

One day she was in a grooming stall. I was just reaching under to get the girth and she was turning her head away to snap. Two of the young girls who regularly rode her were walking down the isle. She saw them coming and turned her teeth baring snap into a smile as they walked past!

After a few years of riding in rings, in lessons, I realized there had to be more. I wanted more of a relationship, better communication, more confidence. I had a dream and wanted to continue towards it. I heard about Parelli Natural Horsemanship. And began a new journey. I spent the next three months only doing groundwork. No riding. Then I started riding Jeepers in just a rope halter. The moment I stopped with the bridle and bit she was more responsive, lighter, happier. Once I was asking her for bend and engagement. Working on a circle. A friend watching yelled to me, “You have her on the bit.” I responded, “I don’t have a bit!”

The last several years I’ve been trail riding her with just that rope halter, and my dressage saddle. Even trailering to local places for long walks in the woods. This was a BIG deal for me. But she handled it fine. And made it possible for me enjoy. I would think each time we were out, “My God, I am now one of ‘those’ people.” People I have seen through the years riding their horses in the woods. Not only was I riding with just a rope halter, but with the rope reins hanging down loose. I would laugh to myself as I rode with one hand on the rope and the other hanging down by my side. Confident and unafraid. Because my horse had become confident and unafraid.

Jeepers loved the trails and the woods. And has left me with many wonderful memories. She had a fantastic big swinging walk. I never experienced this in a ring. She could out walk anyone on the trail, no matter their size. She would walk over anything. Bushwack with the best of them. Straddle logs on the trail. Walk over branches and tree limbs and trees that had fallen across the trail. And never, ever would she willingly walk over a ground pole in a ring!

I told her that she had turned into a great trail horse. And she told me I had learned to relax! When we first went out on the trails I used chant to myself, swing swing breathe breathe swing swing breathe breathe. On one of our very early trail experiences, the horse we were riding with was freaking out. Prancing, leaping in the air, rushing. I was asked if Jeeps could lead. I was thinking she can but can I? She made it clear to me that she would take care of us, all I had to do was continue with my breathe breathe swing swing and leave the rest to her. She lead us all back to the barn quietly and steadily.

We have seen fisher cats climbing trees, black snakes, come across deer and more deer, and once a fawn was standing right in the middle of the trail. Jeeps never took a misstep, never spooked, stayed calm and focused. I was riding with my friend Vivian and we were chatting away. I heard Vivian say, “Up ahead to the side of the trail is a large bird feeding on the ground. We will probably startle it as we get closer.” I thought okay I can deal with this since I know its there. Vivian and Georgie walked a few more steps, a red tailed hawk exploded from the side of the trail and flew off. Georgie spooked and Vivian wheeled him around. Jeeps and I just watched the hawk. She never even moved. I thanked Vivian for the heads up. “What are you talking about? I never saw the bird, the last thing I said was where was the next green dot trail marker?”

She carried me through woods, up and down hills, over wooden bridges, through mud, still water, streams and rock walls. We walked on deer paths, wide groomed trails and everything in between.

She never let me down. Always took care of me. I tried to mother her, but she out mothered me. We have been through a lot together. I know I’ve made the right decision. Its over, done quietly and peacefully. Before she left she told me she would see her foal again, who apparently died very young. Jeepers had searched for her in this world endlessly. About a year and a half ago, she fell in love with a black mini, Casey, who is now part of my family. She considered him her foal. She is now with her own true foal. Live in Peace Mama.

8 May 2009

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