Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Herbal Life

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by!

I want to apologize for letting so much time go by between blog posts, and I'd like to say it's because I've spent the time between the last blog and now enjoying married life and settling into domestic bliss. I'd like to say that, but it's not entirely true! Mostly, I've been waiting for a topic to present itself, and yesterday, one finally did.

If you've read the previous post, then you'll know that lease horse Bit and I spent considerable time in training for my wedding day. We had a set routine, and Bit learned it very quickly. He then spent a lot of time putzing around instead of working because he thought he had already mastered the routine. As I had to keep telling him, "You know how to do it, but you don't know how to do it well!" Fortunately, he performed so well on the Big Day that I bought him a 1st Place blue ribbon that hangs on his stall door even now. We're both very proud of it!

When the Big Day was over, though, I had trouble coming up with interesting things for Bit and I to do. The wedding was the climax of all our hard work, and I was left to wonder, afterward, "now what?" I spent a month or so taking it easy with him, leading him on walks around the track outside the pasture fence, and working on walking up the driveway toward the front barn and past his comfort zone, and rewarding his bravery with a juicy red apple. But after a while, that got boring, too.

Lacking any other ideas, I finally decided to put him to the test and try riding him around the track that parallels the pasture fence. This was no small consideration, given that during our walks across the back of the property, he frequently smelled what I believe is coyote urine, a thing that frightened him every single time. And when Bit's scared, Bit prances. Given his druthers, he'd most surely take off running and not look back, but I cling pretty tightly to my end of the lead rope, so all he can really do is prance in circles around me while I stand there reassuring him that all is well.

In any case, the day finally came where I felt brave enough to try riding the track. This was a big deal for me because I'd spent the last year watching Bit prance a lot of circles around me. He spooked at everything! I worried about what would happen to me when he spooked with me on his back: would he take off running and leave me behind like you see in cartoons? Would he rear up and dump me out of the saddle? I've yet to take an unscheduled dismount off a horse, and I was not keen to start now! Only time would answer my questions, though, so I put on a brave face as I tacked him up and led him outside.

Riding instructor Connie had shown me how to teach Bit to use a mounting block, so I lugged the heavy plastic steps from the arena to the front of the building and got Bit positioned correctly. After a couple of false starts in which he walked circles around the block instead of standing still like he's supposed to, I was finally able to climb onto his back and settle in. I said a quick prayer to the Gods to please keep me in that saddle, and off we went.

I learned very quickly that for Bit, there was an invisible line about two thirds of the way up the track, and he was not inclined to cross it. When he reached it, he turned around and started heading back the way he'd come. This was not good! Bit needs to turn when I say turn, not when he does! So I turned him back around and he walked a few steps, and then resolutely refuse to go any farther. I didn't push it. The day would come when we would walk more of the track, but it wouldn't be happening during our first attempt. So I directed Bit to walk around other, more familiar, areas of the property before calling it a day. Our first ride outside the fence had gone pretty darned well considering what a big fraidy horse he is! Indeed, Bit is such a fearful animal that barn owner Wendy put him on an herbal supplement.

When I told Wendy how Bit spooked at his own shadow, she decided it might be worthwhile to use one of the supplements they sell at the barn. I didn't put much stock in the idea (even though I take a vitamin supplement every day!), so I wasn't paying attention to whether it worked or not until the day came months later that he began to spook more than usual. I noticed it several times, when I took him out for walks around the property. After a year's-worth of improvement in his demeanor, it was almost like starting over from scratch. In desperation, I put a note on the dry-erase board in the barn, asking, "Did you decrease Bit's SuperHorse supplement? He's very jumpy these days." The next morning, scrawled in Wendy's hand underneath my own writing, was this: yes. sorry! back on it! So the herbal supplement had been working! Patiently, I waited for it to build up in his system again before attempting another ride around the track.

I ended up taking a week off from seeing Bit, while I waited for his supplement to kick in. The weather didn't cooperate on some days, and on others, my schedule didn't either. When I finally got back out to the barn, I had to really push myself to tack him up for a ride. Depression is like that: even when it's an activity that you love, sometimes, getting yourself motivated takes more energy than you actually have. And so it was this past week, when I dragged myself out to the barn on a wonderfully sunny fall day and groomed my pal til his coat gleamed. Sighing heavily, I brought out the tack and slowly but surely put it on him. Then out we went to the mounting block.

When we reached Bit's invisible line again, he turned himself around just like the first time. I couldn't allow that - someone has to be in charge, and it needs to be me! So I pulled on the right rein, turned him back the way we had been going, and much to my surprise, he paused briefly, seeming to make up his mind about something, then plunged on ahead toward the back of the property. He kept walking....around the corner as I held my breath, across the back while my eyebrows arched in complete astonishment, past the giant poop pile, around the other corner as I heaped praise on him, and then down the track toward the barn. Holy cow! He was doing great! My Big Brave Bit had just done his first lap! And then the ducks scared him!

There's a small pond on the north side of the property. It never occurred to me that passing mallards might stop there, but indeed they had, and when they heard us coming, they flapped noisily to life and lifted off the pond. I heard Bit let out a small shriek - finally, that horse-eating monster he'd always feared was coming to get him! - and I quickly reined him in before he could take off running. Pulling on the right rein to turn his head in the direction of the ducks, I said hastily, "It's just ducks, Bubby! You're o.k.!" Thankfully, he saw them for himself and realized that they were not horse-eating monsters, though he did do a bit of prancing as we walked away.

I chewed on the incident as we continued on toward the barn. Damn! That one small thing pretty much ruined an otherwise perfect ride. Mind you, I didn't think the ride was ruined, it was what Bit thought that concerned me. I decided not to leave things the way they were, with a scary incident at the forefront of his fraidy-horse brain. So I rode him around other, less scary areas of the property and then ended the ride on a good note, with a nice crunchy apple.

The next day, I intentionally directed him to walk the track in the opposite direction from the day before. I figured I'd trick him by going that way so he wouldn't spook in the same place as the previous ride. As we approached it, though, Bit knew exactly where that pond was and what had happened the day before, and he balked, stopping in his tracks and refusing to go forward. I gently urged him forward, and, seeing no way out of it, he finally walked on - on his own terms: veering off the track entirely, he made his way over to the field next to the track, putting as much distance as possible between himself and the horse-eating pond. After an interval of perhaps a few yards, he steered himself back onto the track without any urging from me, and continued on the rest of the ride without further incident.

Bit's creative problem-solving had impressed me, but more than that, it moved me. As we walked two more near-perfect laps around the track, the realization came to me that Bit was trying to please me, trying to find a way to be brave in the face of certain imminent disaster. In short, he was trying, period. Instead of merely tolerating the human on his back, we had, apparently, built enough of a relationship during the past year to make Bit feel invested in what we were doing. I knew full well that Bit would never attempt a walk around the track on his own; it was much too far outside his comfort zone. But he did it because I asked him to, and he tried to do it well in spite of his fear. How could I not be moved by that?!

Fall in NW Ohio is a great time to do a little horseback riding, and I'm thrilled that Bit and I have come along far enough that 1) he feels brave enough to walk the track, and 2) I feel brave enough to ride him on the track. Many times, I've lost sight of the fact that riding is a team effort. My recent experiences with Bit serve to remind me that we're in this adventure together, and that I need to put as much faith in him as he puts in me. That's a valuable lesson that all of us can learn from, and one I'll be putting to good use just as soon as the rain stops and I can get back out to the barn!

Before I close, I'd like to say that this entry is not intended to plug any particular horse supplement, but I must say, I'm now convinced of the efficacy of the one Bit's on, Confidence Plus by Hilton Herbs. If you'd like to try it (or any of the other Hilton Herb supplements) on your horse, check out They'll be glad to answer any questions you have.

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters! And before you leave the page, please leave a comment below so I know you were here!