Thursday, March 18, 2010
In Memory on his birthday - Mango's first and last rides
It’s a beautiful spring day (two days away from spring). And a lot is going on that is wonderful for me over here in lala land. ;) However I realized on my drive home from cleaning at the therapy barn that it’s also the day that would’ve been Mango’s 9th birthday. He was born in the wee hours of a very cold March 18th morning in 2001. It’s odd how we’re having record highs this year to remember that in that year it was heavy jacket and cold-breeze weather and the notion of grass was at least another month away.
Anyhow, I post this chapter in his life here today because I’d like to share a little bit about him & his personality in memory of him on this day.
In going through tack this past week I’ve been reminded a lot of his training. And was rather surprised to realize how similar and perfect he was undersaddle, from his first to his last ride.
When he was 3 he went to a trainer for 3 months to be backed. They taught him to carry a rider, steer off of leg and walk-transition to-canter. I was actually the first person to really sit a trot on him and I still giggle to remember his surprise the first time I posted (having had 2 western riders only to that point who’d sat through trot only as a transition gait of a few strides). Prior to my first ride on him I was just absolutely terrified before hand. Friends came with me, the trainer and everyone had gathered around to watch… I have it on tape I believe somewhere. They’d made the training process for youngsters very simple by following a rote pattern so the babies knew what was expected when, walk (like a drunken sailor) out to the wall from the center (stopping for the rider to mount was optional at first). Walk around a little ways and then next came kissing noises plus a little commotion on the rider’s part which meant to start cantering away. In all my experiences of riding fresh young (or sore old) horses, if there is going to be a problem, this is the time. And with Mango, canter was his easy preferred gait but occasionally the initial start up was filled with leaps and cavortings. Which is why I chose an outside trainer. I’m in the camp of letting a horse warm up at their naturally preferred/easiest gait. However I didn’t wish to be the first to piss him off when he disagreed under saddle the first time about something – he had mighty tantrums when he had them. I might win, I had with other horses, but he also had an excess of opinions too and was quite athletic to match me with. And as we age we just get tired of injuries and learn to leave it to the professionals sometimes, even if you have the same ‘tool kit’ so to speak.
Anyhow, I was quite nervous that he’d behave badly for me, over the trainers. Just on principal because I had always been the one in his life to do things that were more fun. Grooming, feeding etc. Even the training I had done wasn’t anything confrontational. I’d lain across him plenty, long lined, done lots before he went there to be backed but now I was going to get on and tell him to do something he might not want to. He turned to me for support and I just really didn’t want to let him down or worse, have to get into a pissing match the first time if he balked or had a tantrum. So I actually drank a triple-strength tension tamer tea that morning instead of coffee… They rode him first briefly, stopped in the center and he seemed all pleased that things were coming to an end fast today, he must’ve been very good, right? Then they went through the motions of getting ready to have me hop on. His first reaction was to raise his head in alarm and annoyance and he became the a caricature of thinking “WHAT –NO! I thought we were done!!”. However then his second reaction totally took all of my concerns away –> When he realized it was me about to hop on and he immediately lowered his head & perked his sourpuss ears back from being pinned & relaxed. From there on in every moment I had in the saddle with him was perfect. I have never felt safer on any horse ever. Even when he spooked or was scared.
I’ve retrained a lot of exciting horses. And I’ve always seemed to get the ones you just don’t want to ride regardless. Everyone goes “oh you have lots of experience” and throws the least fun horse at you. To this day I'm haven't ridden in years and don't "miss it" per say. I'd like to again, for the exercise.. but for me it's about working with a partner. And now people wonder why at 37 I’m sore as hell and torn to bits? Lol! And I’ve only had a few actual parting of ways from horses undersaddle (actual falls). 5 I think. Still, a horse can yank pretty hard on your shoulders in bucks and games. Still, with my young guy there he just never had me the least bit concerned about riding alone. Even after dark with spooking ring lights. After that first ride I knew he really liked the riding work and had inherited his parents’ great work ethic completely.
My first ride on Mango was just amazing. He picked up the canter easily (for most this would be considered a working canter or in western, a hand gallop but it was 3 beats– it was quite ground covering and fast – something like only 7 or 8 strides down each long side of the arena). I’ve never before or since ridden a horse who’s canter was so smooth. Even when he spooked at one point because someone flung open a door on the arena door and literally stuck their head out a couple strides ahead into his path down one side (perhaps he was quieter than most too?), he veered almost into the center of the ring and then went back to the wall (a shoulder fore movement), without breaking stride with just a little hip and shoulder steering from me. Just was so balanced as Thoroughbreds are. I’m not doing it justice with words. We simply synced under saddle. Turns, adjusting speed, it was all so easy I practically only had to think it from the get go.
They sent him home a month early (my wallet was very happy about this) because the head trainer felt they couldn’t do more than I could do with him at that age. Just ride him very forward and develop his muscles and turn in for the winter.
So that fall into the cold months I rode at home transitioning to English tack. Slowly bringing him along with side reins and by the end of fall he’d already started to develop some really nice muscle in front of the wither – in one photo he looked a little like a Spanish cross. As the days grew shorter we worked later into the evenings. One night the temp dropped about 15 degrees and the wind picked up, when I hopped up I realized how absolutely frigid it was and when I asked him to walk off he proceeded to give an extremely tense prancy passage across the arena. I think that was about the most naughty he ever got – he was always a horse with a super thin haircoat and he quite clearly saying he was definitely cold too so I said “hoe” rather than touch him with the reins and praised him for his prompt obedience and hopped down. On that vein I was also on a mission to get a good saddle fit, knowing full well that the mad amount of padding I needed to use wasn’t ideal at all. His shoulders were uneven and so I had been going through (no exaggeration) 12 different saddles in working with a saddle fitter. On the last day of trying those out it was snowing and the ground had gotten to firm to really ride.
The following spring I started up with the lunging/long lining. .Sitting on him in the end and walking around on a loose rein. He’d grown/leveled out more over the 4-5mo off he had. He’d been moving in some ways that concerned me when we started up training again so I took it super slow – there were no ‘goals’ for competing. He couldn’t seem to pick up one lead easily I’d noticed. And he’d slipped a # of times behind over the winter and a couple of times on the lunge. I won’t go into it more than that, I talk about it a tad in my former blog post when I’d overcome my denile and faced up to the fact that I wasn’t going to ride him anymore – essentially he’d hurt himself at 18mo old and had developed with crooked hips – his stay apparatus on his right hind failed on him when he didn’t step properly.
One extremely bad fall that spring put off all training plans for months – he was walking out of the barn, jumped a little about a cat that ran out from the shadows, and did a split behind. It was the ugliest fall I’ve ever seen a horse have – and (after a long time of laying on his belly like a dog with his legs out to the side) he stood up and wouldn’t put his leg down for about a half and hour. I really thought then and there that was the end of the line for him. Fortunately lots of banamine and a major colic that night later, he slowly seemed like he would have a fighting chance. LOTS of vet and chiropractic endeavors followed for the rest of spring and summer. Finally I made an appointment for him to have a bone scan at Fairfield Equine center. The WAY he fell that spring on the barn aisle and numeous other little issues led me to suspect there was something going on biomechanically with him. For example now and then (since he was 18mo there) there was a clicking in his hip (which turned out to be the ligaments across the stifle snapping and echoing up the bone so you heard it in the hip). There’s a lot of great things you can do to improve the stifle’s strength but combined with his crooked shoulders and a forefoot that was developing a very underslung heel, it all seemed related and a very focused approach to strengthen it all seemed necessary. So a hip bone scan and overall lameness workup at Fairfield was done.
He had a dreadful trailer ride for the 1hr over there. Leaned against the wall of the super-delux van I hired to bring him (they had video and told me all about it). Arrived soaked in sweat and dehydrated. Then they put him in this empty barn where a german woman freaked out on me and told me I couldn’t be in there due to the radiation (whereas another vet had said it was fine since no horses had been in it for weeks). Anyhow, I brought him his toys but he was utterly depressed all the same. They ran a bone scan, some astoundingly clear x-rays and a # of other tests.
I was working at Fox Ledge when I got the call that they wanted to ride him. I’ll never forget it and this is sorta key to my point here. Remember now that I’d only ridden him for 6 months, a full year ago. And he was this young TB, stalled for a full week now. So I’m doing the groom thing at Foxledge when the vet assigned to his case calls and says “hey so we’d like to ride him and we need your permission”. Me -> massive pause. “Uhmmm…” [and then I explain how little training he has to date]. The vet assures me they have “this guy” from Germany who rides all the babies in auctions and is very used to greenies. They also assure me that they just can’t tell what they need to know from just watching him on the lunge. Me.. uhmmmmmmmmm… “ok – well have fun with that” and I’m laughing trying to picture how this will go. Well apparently it went just great. The rider did all 3 gaits and tons of variations (posting on the wrong diagonal apparently was a big clue for the vets). Apparently his issues were also fascinating enough that the whole staff came out to watch on the bleachers and something silly like 5 vets all watched and weighed in on it. I have to say I really felt like I got my money’s worth from it all. And obviously I was very proud of my very good boy who tried so hard – they really had lots to say about his wonderful gaits and good attitude under saddle.
His final prognosis was guardedly optimistic about having a future under saddle, although they obviously hadn’t seen him fall. I guess I should mention too that we talked a lot about it and they felt from watching him go that warming up at the canter was absolutely how he should be ridden – at least I’d gotten that right. Lol! Of course sadly what they couldn’t necessarily have predicted was that he continued to grow uphill (growing along well into 6 years) which only served to put more weight behind on the weak stay apparatus that lay over crooked hips. Ultimately everyone (well the few) who saw how he fell felt the same as I did – no way would you get on such a horse. At least wobbler’s sort of give you that wobbly feeling before they fall. This was worse, just like a table with a bad leg that gets kicked under.
Anyways, all this is leading up to his last ride. He’d been home for several weeks now after his hip injection and was feeling great and moving wonderfully. Once again it was late fall/early winter. The ground was going to freeze the following day so I knew I had one last chance to ride that year – with very almost no preparation/work leading up to it. And he’d had one real ride in a full year.. and was only 4 and half.. and it was suddenly cold. Lol!
My good friend Lori who was a new boarder (first visit) came in and saw me standing there with my giant antsy wiggling around guy there and I’ll never forget her comment “you’re going to ride him???”. I don’t remember what in particular he did that looked so alarming but he really was being a bit of a handful. It didn’t concern me at all. I don’t know why or how you know these things when you have an animal partner you work with, but you just do. I don’t remember if Lori stayed or not. I probably lunged him first. Don’t remember. All I know is that when I did get on we walked (not like a drunken sailor anymore), purposefully out to the rail taking up contact nicely, and then immediately picked up a canter wonderfully to warm up. I hope I never forget that amazing feeling of just resuming where we’d left off and being thrilled to ride (in comparison with the horse’s I had been riding at Foxledge), such a wonderfully light and perfect zooommmm… I actually said “weeeee!!” laughing loudly. He really enjoyed work and gave it 110%. In picking up the harder lead’s canter in the other direction, he got the lead wrong, so I brought him onto a circle thinking I’d take a trot and then have the circle to help – but instead (being that he was going so strong and nicely in front of my leg), I decided to give a big cue for a lead change. Voila – first time I’d ever asked and smart smart horse that he was he ‘got it’ with no effort at all and settled nicely into the correct lead. I was so completely thrilled with him for being such a great and game sport about being asked to do so much, that after one lap on the harder lead I decided to call it a day then and there.
Whenever I got down I always made a big fuss over him and I know I made the biggest one that time. Of course at that point I had no idea it would be our last ride but well, it’s always important to seize the moment to praise as much as you can when it’s so well deserved. I’m so glad I did.
Since I put him down a year and a few months ago, I haven’t been able to say much more about our relationship. I can talk about “things” we’ve done and a little bit about how he turned to me for support and looked to me for guidance, which he did, a lot. This is about the most I can bring myself to go into in explaining how special he was to me. I hadn’t planned on keeping him when he was born. He grew on me so to speak. He was a hellion before he even came out (kicked hard if you put your hand on his mom’s belly). Came out bold and bratty – and since I was handling him and mom alone he needed the hands on halter training and all that asap. After 3 days alone of just imprint training I was honestly ready to put his “for sale” ad up for when he was weaned. What I did instead was write Allen Pogue (http://www.imagineahorse.com/ImagineCover/default.htm ) and discuss his relaxation/baby training stuff instead (the ball tapping thing was sorta key to him as a foal to prevent him from kicking and running, he just plain ole didn’t want to be touched at first unless he was sleepy or trying to ‘dominate’ you by climbing on you). Anyhow, it worked and it definitely made Mango tune into his thinking brain from the start. Gator and Mango were born the same year and it was fun to read/see where Allen went with Gator. Mind you I wasn’t trying to teach tricks, there were only a few that I taught him – mostly verbal things (‘head down’, ‘look away’ and ‘back up’ were big ones). I later looked into every aspect of training and found ones that worked for us and his rather unique personality. We had some bumps along the way. He was “ok” for other people. Most experienced horse people who handled him said he sorta seemed more focused on you than the average horse, but not in a good way. In that way where you have an animal watching you waiting to see if you’re a slouch and they can get away with stuff. One trainer friend of mine said he reminded her of a stallion the way he led, you had to keep your eye on him or he’d try something sneaky/subversive to see how you’d react. BUT, then again, with casual carefree oblivious people he would be just bland as toast. He knew they weren’t going to ask him to do something, and he never seemed ‘at the ready’ to challenge them. “Challenge” isn’t the right word – he liked to defy, but in really hammy ways. I don’t know how to describe it better, but he had a sense of humor and was eerily smart. Everyone remarked on it. He watched everyone and everything and really ‘was a character’ as people tended to say.
And of course he was the caricature “momma’s boy”. People called him a ‘nerd’ too – because he’d just try so ridiculously hard for me or turn to me to ‘save him’ (from raindrops, from the evil farrier man he disliked, anything of concern would have him call to me if he could see me). I wasn’t happy about that side of him – but over time he got a little more confident thank god. There’s a documentary where Reiner Klimke is reminiscing about Alderich and describing him as ‘being frightened of the people and flowers’ and called Allie a “woman’s horse”. I have to laugh because this is exactly how Mango was, constantly seeking human reassurance. But we could get in the zone so completely (workaholics that we were) that one time we actually rode right into the mounting block (plastic thing fortunately). He really was one of those types of partners – we were sooo well suited in that regard. I’m no longer interested in jumping as much and he would never would have made it over anything more scary than a cross rails. Oddly there were few horses he ever respected too. He wasn’t top-dog at first with some but in the end, I never came across a paddock pal for him that he didn’t bully. A ham and a chicken. So I named him after a sickly sweet fruit. Fitting. Lol! No no, he wasn’t a bad horse- but he wasn’t easy for some people or socially amongst his own kind. And again, like so many partners we come to cherish, at first I was completely underwhelmed by his bratty nature. There were plenty of times he formed opinions about things that sincerely made other people unbelievably frustrated too. Especially about vet and foot care work ups. Yet he loved the ‘tooth fairy’ dentist I got in the last few years there – he could float him without holding the lead, loose in a paddock. And once he figured out that the chiropractors (I used a few different ones) and massage people were not going to hurt him, he was reasonable for them (although suspicious – he did have a lot of body soreness). The natural hoof care trimmer I got in the end he loved too – so I’m glad I found one who took her time and allowed him to move around until he was comfortable & balanced to do those trims.
Anyhow, mostly his ‘bad side’ related to expecting pain or at least discomfort. Sadly in the end, whatever was happening to him physically with whatever it was - his asymmetry and his endocrine/liver/whatever else issues, bottom line was that he very clearly was constantly aching or in pain somewhere. His desire to convey his displeasure became a real nightmare. It started in fits and spurts that fall, at first seeming like a behavior issue solely because of how it manifested (new and outrageously rude/dangerous behavior)… then eventually it became pretty clear it was a physical or biochemical issue – no doubt about that in the end when he had stopped eating almost entirely. Unfortunately it was never clear where/how/why and that aspect definitely will always haunt me to some degree. His autopsy showed no ulcers what so ever. That floored me. Just given his behavior I rather expected them at least as a secondary side effect of being so stressed out for the past few months so much. I wonder sometimes if horses can suffer from things akin to fibromyalgia. I’m completely convinced animals have things like headaches – why on earth wouldn’t they? They have sinus issues (some do), and muscle tension issues and get dehydrated just like we do. Well at any rate, my time spent in the past year and a half has moved away from trying to guess what/why/how I possibly could have lost him to. If it wasn’t clear in autopsy what caused his woes, it certainly wouldn’t have been likely to be found with a 16.3hh gnashing and thrashing patient between me and any vet. All I do know is that in the end he’d stopped eating and spent his last few days highly distressed and miserable. In his final hours he was just delirious and didn’t seem to know where he was anymore. And with no solution and avenues to try left, it was the kindest thing to do.
It’s funny how we humans tend to assume that someone will die of this or that, when so many other things can come up out of the blue. I really thought I’d lose him to a fall and a ruptured organ at the soonest, or else in his teens due to arthritis from all the biomechanical issues. I’ve been meditating a lot on those sorts of things lately because these past few years I’ve lost a lot of people around me too. With these friends and family members there too I just don’t find myself capable of talking about “what they meant to me” very easily. I really hope I never have to speak at someone’s funeral because honestly, I would just not do anyone justice. I have so many stories I would love to share celebrating what various people and pets have brought to my life in joy. It’s all just so sappy though, lol! I can’t say them out loud. I would just crack up and cry – it would get ugly – lol! Anyways though, to the point about assuming someone will be around for a long time or even, a short one, it doesn’t matter really. I say just enjoy your time together and live in the moment and hopefully with few regrets. Don’t dwell on the trivial and make great memories.
I’ve finally started to sort through my horse-possessions as well as other items in preparation for selling off old tack and trinkets at a tag sale. I’d be somewhat unwilling to do so for the longest time, in the mentality of “this is all I have left of them”. Well that’s idiotic, I really could use the money and there is SO much of this junk that I can’t move for tripping over it all. And they aren’t what’s important about (in this case), those horses. The tack may have been part of the memories but it’s the characters that wore them that I cherish.
Anyhow, and on that note.. I leave you with a video that has Mango in it, but also has all the horses lost in 2009 by members of a BB that I’ve been on for over a decade now.. it was quite hard for me to pick out my favorite picture so I chose 2. However when I viewed it I found myself more impacted by HOW MANY people lost loved partners on that board (well it has thousands of members of course). Which cathartically only served to remind me to cherish the living and the making of memories more.