Friday, March 11, 2011

Be Careful Whose Advice You Follow

This is another long one.  But if you're ever going to learn a lesson from any of my stories, then please learn it from this one. Be careful whose advice you follow.

After the accident, I got a lot of unsolicited advice.  You know about all of the unsolicited questions. But, trust me, there was plenty of unwanted advice, too. 

I know, generally, people want to be helpful.  But, you need to be careful whose advice you follow.  Whether it's advice on your horse or otherwise, think about who you're listening to before you act on their advice.

For me, the boarding barn owners and their trainer were giving a lot of advice.  It was advice I didn't want to hear.  They wanted me to get rid of Tar.  That wasn't going to happen.  I knew who Tar was and he was not a horse who purposefully hurt me.

I'd had two and a half years experience with Tar when the accident happened. I knew his nature.  I knew he never tried to hurt me.  The people at the boarding barn were well intended, but they were wrong.

Yes, his behavior had been erratic since I moved him there. But, remember, we now know that was related to his digestive issues with Coastal Bermuda hay, not with me.  His belly hurt and I kept throwing a saddle on him, cinching him up tight and going for a ride.  That had to be painful--even though my stoic horse rarely showed signs of pain, we know that about him NOW.  All things considered, no wonder he was so fussy!  Since his surgery, since the corrections have been made to his diet, his erratic behavior has stopped.  It stopped immediately, in fact.

Tar and I had been in other situations at RW's barn in the mountains where he could have chosen to hurt me.  Instead, Tar went out of his way not to hurt me. Let me tell you what I mean.

I came off over his head once on a trail when he stopped quick, startled at a tree in the path.  He stood still and waited for me to get up.  I got back on without incident.

We got into yellow jackets on a trail another time.  Yellow jacket nests are in the ground.  I couldn't see the hole to the nest because Tar's foot was on it.  But, those yellow jackets were starting to sting his foot.  And, buddy, he started dancing.

I got off because he was dancing around so much, I thought I'd end up falling down the mountain, because there was no were else to go.   Once I was off and he moved his foot enough to unblock their nest entrance, those yellow jackets got him.

He ran off. I stepped up on a large rock to get out of the way before the other three horses with us started similar gyrations. Thank goodness we were all experienced riders.  No need getting killed in all of that.  I'd already lost my horse in the woods, or so I thought.

Then, Tar came back and straight to me.  I was so relieved! I put my arms around his neck to hug him, without thinking about those damn yellow jackets. Oops! Yellow jackets got him again and he took off. I slipped off the rock when he jerked at the stings... and fell under him.

He jumped over me.  I watched all four hooves go over my face.  It happened so fast, I didn't even have time to roll out of the way.  He only grazed my little toe in his exit.  Yeah, it broke my little toe, but that's what happens when a draft horse grazes your toe. He didn't hurt me.  He was trying not to hurt me.

After he ran away, and came back again that last time, we all got out of there.  Believe it or not, this all happened in a matter of a few seconds--two minutes at most.  None of us got hurt, save a few yellow jacket stings.  Again, thank goodness we were all experienced riders.In the end, my boy was covered in no less than 16 whelps.He had reason to run!

I tell you these two stories to illustrate my point.  I know my horse.  He's not dangerous.  He's not a problem horse.  He has a lot of personality, but he is not a problem.  He did not need to be gotten rid of.

Tar is a smart horse.  Tar is a mischievous horse.  Tar requires respect and intelligent leadership.  He does not do well with arrogance.  If you want to see a person's arrogance backfire quickly with a horse, just put them with Tar for an afternoon.  Tar accepts calm, confident leadership.  If you think you're his boss, "Well," he says, "We'll just see about that."

In the end, I think we never really fit in at that boarding barn.  It was a hunter-jumper show barn and I am a western girl.  The barn was full of show horses and we were just clunking around by comparison.

How'd I ever end-up there in that case?  Well, their trainer was the granddaughter of one of my dad's best friends.  Her grandparents really thought we'd hit it off.  We liked each other fine, but we're very different when it comes to horses.

We have very different preferences.  We like very different horses.  That's ok.  I don't harbor any ill will towards her.  I'm ok with her. I respect her accomplishments. In horses, you begin to understand that respect and total agreement are different. And in the end, that you can certainly learn from someone you respect even if you don't agree. In fact, she came to work for me once when she needed some extra cash.

She said how surprised she was at how much better behaved Tar is now.  No kidding.  He's not in a state of chronic low grade colic.  He's also not being trained by someone who thinks he is the problem.

Your attitude towards a horse makes a huge difference in how that horse will perform for you. And, how he will react to you in daily interactions.  Knowing this, as his owner, don't stay at a barn where people don't like your horse.

You don't stay where they think your horse, that you've known for years, needs to be gotten rid of.  You get out of there.  Even if it's all well intended, you get out of that barn.  When someone tells you to get rid of your horse, especially if they don't know either of you well, stop and think about it.  Don't just do it.

That's why I moved Tar, not because I was angry with them nor they with me.  We had different perspectives.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  As I always say, "Horse people all have very strong opinions, and we all believe we're right."  It's true.

I would say it to their faces today.  I've said it to the trainer. I don't harbor ill will towards her.  Tar just isn't her kind of horse.  And, she was wrong about him on several occasions.  Telling me to get rid of him was one of those occasions.  It's ok, she's entitled to her opinion.

But, in our case, Tar and I needed someone who knew us at our best.  We needed someone who did not believe either of us were a problem.  We needed someone who believed we could get our horse and rider partnership back together.  Someone who would share my opinion that Tar never tried to hurt me.  Of course, the only person who could help us was RW.

RW lives five hours away from me.  He is in brokerage now.  This means he buys and sells horses for people.  If you want a horse, he'll find the perfect one for you.  If you're ready to trade for a different horse, he's your man.  Weekends are his busiest time.  It is no small task for him to take a weekend off to come help me.  But, he did.

He's also been riding his entire life.  He's had accidents.  Horse people have all broken bones.  We've all got some story of our adventures.  I'm not unique in that.  If you've ridden for any length of time, you're going to fall off.  Eventually, you'll get hurt.  Whatever.  Sh*t happens.  Get up and get back on.

RW has had big accidents, too.  He had one almost exactly like mine four years ago.  On a trail with other people, a person on a mountain bike came out of nowhere.  His horse spooked.  His horse slipped and rolled over on him. He was deeply bruised. He was surprised he didn't break a bunch of bones.

He was just the right person to understand where Tar and I had been at our best.  He was just the guy to know the accident we were coming from.  He would know how to get us back on track.  And, he did.

RW came to work with me and Tar for two weekend intensives nearly a year after the accident.  He got us back on track.  We did not get to ride much the first year post-accident due to Tar's surgery.  So, we needed a good deal of tuning-up.

Of course I discussed with RW all of this well intentioned advice to get rid of Tar.  RW bought Tar for me, for goodness sakes.  Tar was to make things better when Gus died--which is another story.  RW would not set me up with a dangerous horse.  He would not advise me to keep one either.  And, obviously, he did not advise me to get rid of him.

He said, "No one can tell you what to do with your own horse.  You have to decide that for yourself."  He confirmed my decision.  I'd listened to my heart.  I did what I felt was right in my gut.  I made my own decision about my own horse.  I kept Tar.

The worst thing RW said I'd done with Tar is spoil him.  That's true.  I spoiled him rotten.  I put all of my emotional energy into him as my marriage was dying.  I didn't use leadership.  That part was absolutely my fault.  But, I didn't make him dangerous.  And, he's not dangerous.  Period. End of discussion.

Remember, whether it's about your horse or something else that's important to you, be careful whose advice you follow.  Listen to your heart.  Do what you know is right in your gut.  Make your own decision.  So much of what RW has taught me about horses, he's also taught me about life.  I just have to be smart enough to use it.  Thank God for RW.

Have a lovely Friday.  Thanks for reading.

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