Photo Challenge: Surprise

Dawdling through chores, 
then rushing to a book event,
I checked the visor-mirror, 
and eek! -a long coarse hair
sprouting from my chin.

Aging requires a tolerance
for physical betrayal
but it helps to have 
friends who wear whiskers
like upside-down halos.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Surprise

The Grandfather Horse. Not Dead Yet.

WMOldManI haven’t written about the Grandfather Horse in over a year. Most of that time, I was scared half-to-death and the rest of the time, I was laughing too hard.

I know I’m supposed to credit whatever equine skills I might have to my trainers (I worked with the best,) and the famous clinicians I rode with (they were famous for all the right reasons,) but when the scabs all healed, my greatest mentor was Spirit, a $600 spotted colt. He has done it all. Twice. And with me on his back. That last part was really hard.

No one taught me more about wet t-shirt contests and unplanned vaulting. About reining and dressage. About how to be a horse. He quite simply taught me everything worth knowing. I don’t believe in soul-mates, but if I did, the Grandfather Horse is mine. I doubt the Dude Rancher would disagree.

I’d like to say Spirit, retired to the respected place of Grandfather Horse in our herd, was such a good teacher because he was easy to understand. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He was a challenge to ride: quirky, emotional, not particularly athletic, and with a little too much try. (As I a trainer, when clients tell me who their horse is, in my mind I switch the pronouns–what she says about her horse is true about herself. Probably true in my case, too.)

These last 12 years of forced retirement have been sheer hell for both of us. Watching him slowly deconstruct with old age has taken more courage than anything I ever tried in the saddle.

We had a decrepit routine. He shuffled along, baby-stepping with his eyes perpetually teary and sunken. I learned to schedule his Annual Emergency Sheath Cleaning. The first time, I thought he was dying. His sheath doubled in size in one day; his eyes showed the pain. Now I mark Old Man Smegma on the calendar. The vet probably has a less descriptive name for it.

There was chronic diarrhea and the tendons in his front legs gave way to bent knees a decade ago. His arthritis was audible. As much as he loved a roll in the sand, he did it rarely. Neither of us thought he would make it back up. I tried being stoic like him. He was holding his own, the best he could, but he lacked his usual humor. Maybe he didn’t recognize himself. I notice at this age, I don’t.

It changed last spring. He held a good weight all winter and come February, his weight plummeted. He didn’t eat differently, but he developed a decidedly bovine appearance. He had thigh gap, significantly less cool in horses. His back dropped even more; he barely had a memory of muscle. It happened so abruptly that I thought I was losing him. It was obvious enough that people mentioned it to me, with a euthanizing look in their eyes. Like I didn’t know all of his contemporaries were gone already.

The Grandfather Horse was already getting twice as much beet pulp by the time the dentist mentioned his missing teeth. I reminded him of the one pulled a few years earlier, but he corrected me. Most of the rest on that side were gone–since his last check-up! Shouldn’t I have seen that many on the ground?

I started trying different feeding strategies, I broke a couple of my own rules and slowly, the weight came back. I scrutinized everything every day.

WMOldRoll Sometimes he trotted a few strides to his dinner when he came in at night. Then the first real sign of change: when our farrier was here and he flicked his tail in her face and actually pulled his hoof out of her hand. Both of us cackled like hens–he felt good enough to behave badly for the first time in years.

He’s laying down more again. It sounds like 2000 books falling off a table and I flinch to see it, but he’s rolling and sunbathing again.

All horses, no matter how good they are, have a tragic flaw–that rude love of a bad habit. When he was younger, Spirit liked to bolt when the halter came off for turnout. A split-second lapse of focus and you could simultaneously get your toes crushed and an arm dislocated. Zero to sixty in a joyous rocket launch. It’s happening again! On especially fine days, he even spooks.

My Christmas present? I heard hooves pounding and when I got to the pasture, the Grandfather Horse was running the younger ones ragged. He was flashing his tail and galloping along like a box of rocks.

He just seems to feel happier. My friend–with the oldest horse I know–says at a point her mare’s joints fused a bit and the arthritis hurt less. I think my Grandfather Horse may have lived long enough for this special senior discount. Either way, he’s got a second wind and he thinks aging gracefully is the worst kind of lame.

The Grandfather Horse is happy again and I’m like the teacher’s pet who raises her hand, “Oh, oh, oh!” and tries too hard. He’s had decades to get used to my awkward ways, he knows I catch up eventually. So, he’s sterling in the moonlight. He shows me how to feel the afternoon sun in a whole new way. He’s born-again beautiful; it’s irresistibly bittersweet.

This week we lost a beloved barn member and when the dead animal transport people came, they gave me a senior discount. Perhaps an ironic call to arms?

We’re still not the most graceful pair, but world, beware. It’s 16 days till Daylight Savings time and less than a month till calendar Spring. New grass is on the way. There’s a good chance we’ll plan a Spring breakout–me and the Grandfather Horse.  We’ve got nothing to lose and we’re not dead yet.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(Wishing my cootacious Dude Rancher a defiant birthday.)

PS. If you like this blog, you’ll love my book, making its way to publication at AnnaBlake.com

Enjoying the Present (Senior) Moment.

WMUnbearableSweetness

How many friends have ridden my Grandfather Horse over the years? I lost count a decade ago. He is even older than his age implies, but right now, in deep summer, his eye is kind and there’s no reason to complain. Days are long and life is good.

He gets a special breakfast mush, supplements to help him, stirred into alfalfa to settle his acid stomach.  He has become a slow, distracted eater, dropping most of it on the ground, so I pull him out of his pen where he can eat alone. Some days he waits by the gate, if he remembers that breakfast feels like preferential treatment.

Other days he seems to be daydreaming. I slide on the halter, and this horse, who has shadowed my every step for over a quarter of a century, won’t move. Maybe he hurts too much or just doesn’t want to go. When he was a colt, I put a come-along around his spotted rump to help. Now, I wait, and cluck, and eventually he shifts enough weight to take a step. Eventually he moves with me again. Senior moments keep us connected, I appreciate them.

My vet says that horses don’t get dementia, that instead he is probably losing his eyesight. I wonder what the difference actually is. Either way he is disoriented. Either way he loses confidence. I wish I believed it was as simple as blindness.

Tuesday the feed pan was just a bit out of place and he got rattled. He backed up, hit a hay tarp and froze. Maybe the fly mask makes it worse. I caught the lead rope and that kind of frightened him, too. I thought he knew where I was, but maybe not. Then he let me help him find breakfast.

If it’s a slow day at the farm, I close the front gate and let my Grandfather Horse spend the morning in a grazing stroll. Sometimes he ends up standing in an open stall. He stays stuck there with no worries, until I come and turn him around toward the gate.

In order to be a good rider, humans have to learn to be in the present moment, not languishing in the past or dreaming about the future. Certainly not thinking about work, or what some man did. The young Grandfather Horse required a lot of focus from his rider, with an in the instant connection. His confidence depended on mine, and the truth is, it still does. He has always made me stronger than I am.

This old gelding has intermittent diarrhea now. Too much information? Well, we are too old to be shy or embarrassed. We ran out of superficiality years ago. I do what I can to help him, but a change of any sort seems to bring it on, even the weather. Every few days, I clean him up. His tail is thick, it takes a bit of work to ease the clumps of manure free. How many times have I washed his tail over the years? He has always been vain, flashing it with each emotion. He said more with his tail than most folks do with an entire vocabulary. His tail has things to tell me still. Lord knows, I’m an old gray mare myself. It isn’t the worst thing.

If I can wait out the blank look that lingers, the random indifference, then I am gifted with an unbearable sweetness as he remembers me. Is this grace? Has grace filled in the missing gaps for him, like it does for me? His lessons with me are not done yet, I doubt I will ever know all he knows. Maybe the real reason to learn to be in the moment while riding, is so that when this moment eventually comes, it can be shared, forever long, too. With no worry, the future will take care of itself. Celebrating the golden moment of endless summer with my Grandfather Horse is enough right now.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu.

The word Journey seems almost synonymous with life. It’s foaling season in the horse world, filled with dreams and possibility. At the same time, the horses all score another year of their short lives. This photo is the balance between the two. But those of us who live with horses know that balance is an impossible peace, that we are always looking to cheat time and buy more journey.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone. No psych, definitely not high tech.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Hope

HOPE.

Usually this topic would have me think of the babies around the farm, but not this year. I have two older dogs with health problems, one has the prefix “end stage”. Several outside animals are showing their age, like the Grandfather Horse. Being mindful of his mortality is a pinch and an ache, all the time. Simple actions become fine art in such a precious time.

I have a HOPE -as immense as an old horse’s heart- that this time of life is kind to all of us.

Anna, Infinity Farm.