Hitched

Everyone has their own way of preparing for a horsemanship clinic. Some people work their horses like they are getting ready for a show, or a test. Some people read everything they can get their hands on about or by the clinician. Some people shine up every inch of their horse and their tack. Some people plan their outfits. Some people buy new tack, because who doesn’t like an excuse to go the tack store?

Many of us who don’t travel with our horses regularly (and even some who do) spend some time working on – or at least fretting over – the horse trailer. Will my horse get on it this time? Do I need a backup plan to take a different horse if the horse I want to take won’t get on? If I need the clinician to help me work on getting my horse on the trailer, how do I get my horse on the trailer so I can get it to the clinic so the clinician can help me get my horse on the trailer?

Rose and I are going to a clinic soon and we are on the step before the step about the horse and the trailer. If you have ever put together IKEA furniture with your spouse, or hung wallpaper with your spouse, you may know the step I am talking about: hooking up the horse trailer with your spouse.

We have not taken the horses anywhere for a lot of years, and in the interim, we have acquired a new horse trailer. It is much better than the old horse trailer, and I look forward to not coming home with more stories from the horse trailer wars. However, hooking it up is a learning experience. It has led to some of my less proud moments – the kind of moment when you hear yourself saying things like “We really need to work out some less frantic hand signals,” or “No, I CAN’T see the exact middle of the tailgate because I’m DRIVING THE FUCKING TRUCK, not perching on top of the cab!”

And of course after this we want to go get the horses from the field and calmly load them.

One thing I like about clinics is that no matter what I go there to work on, I always wind up learning something I did not plan to learn, or did not even realize I needed to do better. How lucky for me to have the learning start before we even leave our driveway.

 

 

Ruby

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We said goodbye to Ruby, our 18 year old truck, this week.

 

Ruby drove us and two of our horses out to Colorado one summer, 14 years back. We drove 3,200 miles round trip, blew out two tires on the horse trailer and needed new brakes on the truck by the time we got home, but she got us there and back. Still one of the biggest adventures of our lives.

On day 3 of the trip home, after the second trailer tire replacement, in the western Maryland mountains in heavy fog and light rain, we were not sure we were going to make it. One of our main cds that trip (remember cds?) was Patty Griffin’s Impossible Dream, and one of our two favorite songs on that cd was When It Don’t Come Easy. I don’t know how many times we listened to it that night.

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the waters getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight

Ruby moved us to our current home. We were in a rental that we loved and wanted to buy, but the owners did not want to sell. When we found this place, Ruby sat in the parking lot of the title company at settlement, hitched to our horse trailer loaded with all the stuff we didn’t want the movers to move, waiting to take us to our new house, which has now been our home for almost all of those 18 years.

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love 
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

She hauled our horses to horse shows, clinics, trail rides, the horse hospital, and best of all, home from the horse hospital. She hauled loads of everything we needed her to haul: hay, wood pellets, horse feed, stone, sand, lumber, boxes and boxes of books from my dad’s apartment after he died.

She carried our family on vacations from the mountains to the ocean.

She was the favorite vehicle of every dog we have had.

She carried our kids from ages 9, 11, and 15 to 27, 29 and 33, and moved them into and out of dorms, apartments, and houses.

I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home

In those 18 years, we have said goodbye to all four of our parents, my favorite aunt, three friends and mentors, six cats, four horses, and one dog.

We’ve had more jobs than I even want to think about.

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

During those 18 years Rose and I nearly split up, and then later, got married. In fact, during those 18 years, it went from being unthinkable to possible to law, that we could get married.

Those 18 years have seen our children start and end relationships, become engaged and unengaged, get married. We drove Ruby to our middle child’s wedding, come to think of it.

So many things that I had before
That don’t matter to me now
Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost
And the love I’ve never found
When the last bird falls
And the last siren sounds
Someone will say what’s been said before
Its only love we were looking for

Ruby was hard on brakes, but she never broke down, refused to start, or left us anywhere. She didn’t have a lot of oomph towing up hills, and her gas mileage ran to gallons per mile, but she went everywhere we asked her to go.

She still has a lot of miles ahead of her, and she has gone to a friend, so it’s almost like she’s staying in the family. But not quite. Our new truck has got everything we want and need, but it doesn’t have 18 years of memories. Farewell, Ruby, and thanks for taking us to where we needed to be.

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love 
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

(quoted lyrics by Patty Griffin, When It Don’t Come Easy)

Land of the Brave

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I wrote this a year ago and it popped back up in my online universe, as things will do. And, as often happens, I was struck by how easily I could have written it today. The inciting events may change, but the feelings remain the same. One thing I still am is awed by the guts and passion and power of the generation that is coming of age. I hope it will always be so, though I wish they had less to be brave about.



I went to a diversity rally in my small, rural, conservative town yesterday, and then I went out to dinner with friends. Looking around our little table of 4 I realized we had among us – if you count only us, our spouses current and former, and our children – 2 divorces, 2 lesbians, 1 interracial couple, 3 mixed race people, 2 transgender people. And that’s just what I know about.

If you cast the net only as far out as our parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, aunts and uncles, you get first generation immigrants, more gay people, people with drug addictions, autism, depression, bi-polar disorder, people who have spent time in prison. You also, in this motley little crew we are told around here is “not normal,” get artists, musicians, healers, writers, craftspeople, intellectuals, people who are skilled with their hands and their minds, people who have compassion and empathy and who welcome all the love and craziness that comes with this mix in their lives.

The four of us live in the same place now, but we come to this place from different cities, different backgrounds, different religions, different education levels, different economic brackets, different life experiences. And yet here we all are, having just listened to kids (younger than many of our own kids) talking about what it is like to live in this town and feel other, different, not normal, not belonging.

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I’m starting to think there are more of us that are “other” than there are that are “normal,” and as usual when the minority starts to become the majority, that is scary as hell to some members of the majority. But I bet if the people looked beyond their fear into their own circles, immediate or extended, and really saw who and what was there, a lot of people would find out that “those people” are “we people.”

You might even say “We the People,” if you knew the source of the particular diversity rally that sparked my thoughts. You might even say that the reason protections for individuals get institutionalized is that individuals in their fear can’t always be trusted to remember to treat other individuals like human beings. Which is why our communities have to stand up to do that, and our schools, and our local governments, and yes, our federal government. Treating other human beings like human beings is not in fact a choice. It doesn’t matter if you like them or not, it doesn’t matter if you are like them or not. It doesn’t matter if they look like you or sound like you or act like you or think like you.

I’m so proud of every young person who stood up yesterday and spoke out loud about the effect of that fear on them and their lives, who shared what it feels like to be surrounded by people who don’t accept you, and who are turning around and facing their fears and the fears around them and saying “this has to change.” May we all be as brave as they are.

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Things My Mother Kept

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Things My Mother Kept

On the floor of the entryway
To my parents’ apartment,
A Bath & Body Works bag.
My father gestured to it, saying
“There’s your mother”
As we walked by.
The brown plastic box of ashes
Fit as if it were made for the
Blue and white checked paper bag
With convenient carrying handles.

On her dresser,
A melamine plate I made for her.
Remember the Make-a-Plate kits?
We spent one first grade class
Preparing for Mother’s Day
Drawing and coloring earnestly
Green-roofed house, purple door
Bright yellow sun, black cat
The year, for some reason. 1974.

On her bathroom counter,
My earliest ceramic art.
Sushi plates before their time
A rectangle with mama and baby fish
A square with baby fish alone
Each and every scale rendered.
Anatomically improbable
And hydrodynamically challenged
But drawn with painstaking care.

In her closet,
A sweater I bought in high school
From the Tweeds catalog.
Cropped cotton cardigan, aubergine
Sleeves too long, as always, for me.
I used to raid her closet
Secretly, I thought
Not knowing, or forgetting,
That she raided mine right back.

In her locking desk drawer,
Plexiglass pendants
Made by an artist I had known
With his wife as family friends.
I once asked my mother
Why we never saw them any more
And she said, ever oracular,
“Life is short. Things happen.”

In the bottom of a wine cabinet
In the dining room
In a compartment I never knew existed,
The plexiglass chess set he made for her
Which I’m sure she told my father
She had thrown away.
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Partner Yoga

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I am a romantic. I believe that love at first sight and soulmates are real things. I like sappy love songs, country music, chick flicks, and stories with happy endings.

I’m also a realist, and I think relationships are just hard. I also think that staying with anyone, no matter how much you love them, takes a lot of damn work. Some days it seems like every single thing you can think of to say or do is the exact wrong thing. In fact, it’s hard to believe there are so many wrong things.

Recently Rose and I decided to try a partner yoga class. I hate the idea of partner yoga. Even more than regular yoga, it seems like a setup for complete disaster. It also seems like a great metaphor for why relationships are so hard. Most yoga poses are hard enough for me by myself, and adding the pressure of not throwing someone else off balance, or dropping them, just seems like too much. Not to mention getting dropped or knocked over by the other person.

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Sometimes when I am extremely resistant to an idea, it is because I should avoid that thing for a lot of good reasons. Sometimes, however, I fight it because it’s exactly what I need and I just don’t feel like working that hard, or working on that part of myself.

About half way through the class, our instructor had us all get back to back with our partners and prepare to go into half moon. Of the many yoga poses I dislike, half moon is high on my list. My standing leg gets tired , my hip on my lifted leg hurts, I don’t ever feel balanced, my bottom hand can’t reach the ground, my top shoulder hurts… It’s a pretty long list of gripes. So sure, let’s add the layer of doing that back to back with another person with their own list of physical complaints. I see no way that could go wrong. Such a good test of a nearly 25 year relationship.

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Getting into a yoga pose with another person turns out to take less think and more feel. That’s probably true of yoga in general, but left to my own devices my brain starts thinking what Anne Lamott calls its thinky thoughts. It also takes a fair amount of laughter, which fixes anything that feel doesn’t.

What I expected was awkwardness, pain, falling down, and irritation. What I felt was Rose’s back pressing against mine, and when I reached with my raised leg I had hers to search for to help extend the pose, and when I stretched my arm up and back I felt only gentle contact with her hand. What I got – and gave – was support.

Grace. You just never know where it’s going to turn up.

 

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Nothing

This is probably going to be a disjointed piece. I started it for one reason, and set it aside, and then it popped back into my head for an entirely different reason, which now seems like what I was waiting for to get to the point I wasn’t sure I had.

“Instead of trying to help the horse handle more they get more careful. And the more careful they get,the more careful they have to be. And pretty soon the horse has trained them to do nothing.” –Harry Whitney

 

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I heard this quote at a horsemanship clinic, and it sounded uncomfortably familiar. I have a horse like this, one who who has trained me to do nothing to the point that I had stopped even approaching him except to feed. He seems to be very fond of people, me included, as long as we just hang around and don’t ask anything – at all – of him. It’s human requests for work that are the problem.

Based on his past it’s a reasonable problem that he has with the requests; I can’t argue with his logic. He was clearly asked to do far too much far too young. I have always said his dressage career was like asking a third grader who shows promise in math by learning the multiplication tables easily to do calculus, and then declaring him a failure when he couldn’t understand it.

Before that he was given good basics from someone who was a wonderful and gentle horseman right up until a horse flatly refused to do something, and then the beatings began. Just till the point that the horse decided to comply, and then it was all peace and gentleness again. I imagine this is confusing to a horse.

It’s particularly easy for me with a horse with this background, who is also very large,  who is also very reactive, to back off and back off and back off till the point I am not even there. The whole idea of making myself noticeable enough for the horse to start to care what I might be asking is something I had stopped considering.

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Backing off to the point of doing nothing is a behavior I learned well from humans pretty early in my life. It’s one of those behaviors that served me in the past, and though it doesn’t actually serve me in the present I’ve gotten so adept at it I sometimes don’t even know I’m doing it. I became aware of it as a bad relationship pattern in my adult life and so I first thought it was a something I started as an adult. But then I had a conversation with my high school boyfriend, now a good friend, who told me he had been talking to his therapist about me before I came for a visit and he had said “She was the perfect woman for me because she didn’t ask anything of me.” Talk about a good opening line for me to take to my own therapist.

As a child I learned young that it was best to slide through my days without asking for anything. The less I needed or asked for, the safer it was to walk through my house. This is not a crazy thing to extrapolate later to a large and reactive animal who could actually hurt me without even trying to. It may, however, be a little crazy that at some point in my life I became proud of being so undemanding, proud that I don’t ask anything of anyone.

Not wanting to get big enough to get my horse’s attention is more complicated than “I want him to like me.” It’s also that I don’t want to upset him to the point I get hurt. It’s also that I don’t want to be the person he feels like he has to tiptoe around, because I know what that feels like. I don’t want to be the crazy person that makes everyone else afraid.

Not wanting to be demanding enough in my human relationships to get attention – well, I’m not sure if that’s a different story or not. It does have something to do with “I want them to like me,” but also with believing that my worth to someone else is defined by what I can (and will) do for them, and not by who I am. It also has to do with “I don’t want to upset him to the point that I get hurt.”

And this brings us to yesterday, when I started thinking again about what I wrote above and then tabled for several months. When I started seeing the “me too” hashtag on social media around stories of sexual harrassment, I had very mixed feelings. My first thought was that I didn’t really have any stories like that, but when I thought about it a bit more I realized that my stories are just so commonplace I don’t even think about them as harrassment. A male friend asked his friends on social media what he could read to better understand. I suggested he ask women he knows for their stories, and then I told him mine.

What I wrote to him began: “At first my “me too” was just (“just!”) about random occasional catcalls and yelled comments from construction workers or whoever, “it’s a joke” statements by people known and unknown, moments of fear on city streets, in dark parking lots, on the subway.”

The more I wrote, the more I remembered specific incidents, some with people I knew and respected and trusted, and the more horrified I became at what I have come to think of as normal. As I also wrote to this friend: “I don’t consider that anything bad has ever happened to me. I had to think long and hard about whether I had a “me too” because it’s just how things are for women. I feel like I have never not known how to walk with a purpose, how to deliberately make myself not look like a potential victim. It’s impossible to learn those skills without knowing you are doing so because you ARE a potential victim, because you can in fact be overpowered far too easily.”

The most recent articles and conversations I have read on this topic have been about one highly publicized incident that has engendered a lot of comments like “Why didn’t she leave?” and “How could he be expected to read her mind?” I think my fascination with this particular conversation has been that I can see both sides so easily, and I don’t see a clear right and wrong. I think about how I have learned to do nothing, to not react, in situations where I feel afraid, and how the more afraid I feel the less I do, in an effort not to trigger a response I don’t think I can handle.

I have a lot of places where I know that my horsemanship and the rest of my behavior in life are inexctricable from one another. As I contemplate how to work with my horses in order to get to where I want to be – knowing what I am asking for, asking for it clearly, and shaping the response I get into something that the two of us are doing together with both of us fully present – I realize how much of this work is mine alone to do.

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