He came to me first over e-mail. That’s where I initially saw his pictures. Something out of the ordinary, I suppose like every proud mother says of her special child.
I told Bob I wanted a challenge. “Yes, Dear,” he said (he had to say that). I said I was ready for this, I could handle this one all by myself, and the only way for me to become better was to be challenged. Yes, Dear…
Careful what you ask for… That is exactly what I got. It just took a little bit longer than I thought. Should I look at it as “three whole long years later” or “in only three years time…”?
But the end result is the same: I have a wonderful Arabian stallion for my main mount; I am a better horseman, even a better person, than I was three years ago when he first came into my life. That’s how deep these lessons go. This little horse changed my life. He taught me to listen and to speak clearly, to be firm yet fair, to be patient and persistent, to forgive and forget, to know when to walk away and when to get up out of the dirt and get back in saddle.
I met him at the impressive Jack Tone Ranch in California, and yes, he was just as lovely in person as he was in his photo. Such a little thing! And so frightened. Everything was scary – starting with even the “simple” task of being led out of the barn. I would have been scared too. After three years in his safe, secure stall, I just came along and turned his world upside down. I was thinking I set him free, but freedom can be mighty scary, even chaotic, at first. Until we learn that even freedom has limitations.
When he finally made it back to our ranch, freedom was this fresh high mountain air, the room to roam, the pending companionship and attention in all directions. It was defiantly not the same world he had left. And he was he was not so sure he wouldn’t have been better off had he been left back home in his stalled existence. For one, the ground was covered in snow, temperatures dropped around zero every night, and winter was over as far as his natural world was concerned – it was too late for a winter coat to grow. For two, he had a large paddock to himself where he could run. And run he did. Back and forth and back and forth… Arabians don’t tire. And stallions have a higher tolerance for pain. In a paddock that no other horse had ever been injured, he ripped his chest open a little more nearly every day. We’re talking a wooden rail corral. These things are supposed to be safe! Every day, I’d inspect and treat him for the latest self inflicted wounds, and ever day Bob had to start padding the fortress to make the world a safer place for this little horse.
I began to find just how different stallions are. I had always heard they were. “You can never trust one,” people would say. By this point in my horsemanship, I had raised and trained many horses, but I realized how little experience that still proved to be, and how much more I still had to learn. A lot. Basically, the first thing I learned was how little I knew. That’s a good place, and a bad place to be.
It was hard for me (harder for him?) but very challenging, rewarding, and ultimately wonderful. I suppose if I have raised him from the get go like I am doing now with my other colts, it would have been easier for me. But then, I would not have had the opportunity to learn quite as much. As I tell Forrest, the easy way is not necessarily the best way.
He was different, and I wasn’t strong enough, emotionally or physically, to handle him at first, and he knew it. He was never malicious (I knew he could have struck me each time he reared if he chose to – his movements can be lightning quick). He just needed a leader, and I wasn’t enough for him, and he had to tell me that.
I kept trying, different ways and means and approaches – ranging from soft and gentle to yelling and screaming. Neither extreme worked, so I stumbled around the middle ground and watched him for the right answers, watched him to signal to me when I’d get it right, or when I’d tip the scales one way or the other.
He forgave me for every mistake. I often wondered why. And that’s how he taught me how to do things right – he would show me the right answer with a soft look in his eye as if exhaling deeply a sigh of relief… Ahhhhhh, she finally understands.
More often than not I would just want to find a connection with this horse. I know that may sound odd. He’s a horse. But I knew it was possible, and knew I was failing at it. There was only lack of connection, lack of understanding, and lack of clear communication between us at first.
How many nights did I lie in bed and cry to Bob and tell him that I’m just not doing it right, I’m just not learning, I’m failing with this horse, I’ll never get it right, I’m scared. He would listen and sooth me and wait for what he knew would happen the following day when I would come in elated at what progress we made that day. The yo-yo syndrome.
In one of my moments of utter frustration and exasperation, I sat on a stump in the middle of his paddock and was just silent, searching for an answer, a sign, something that could make me believe it would all work out. The horse stood near to me, calmly for a change, eating his hay. As I wiped away my tears, a sound above me captured my attention, and I looked up to see a huge crow flying overhead. The sound from the flapping of its wings made a deep, airy whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. It was the same sound that came from far within the lungs of my old favorite horse as he was running, a sound from deep inside the horses’ chest, extending itself with each exulting stride. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. I remembered how wonderful it felt to be on that horse and just run, and for just a brief moment, I believed this horse and I would be able to do the same. But there was no horse running, just the crow flying overhead. And so he got his name: Flying Crow. He would run with me through the mountains some day.
If only he came to me now, after learning all that I have over the past few years… I know now that I did a zillion things wrong, and that’s why it took so long, but at the end it all worked. Not the best way, but it worked. And nor is this the end. It’s now just a new beginning.
I got what I asked for. He proved to be the most challenging horse I have had, and the most interesting. The lessons we worked on together were ultimately the most rewarding. For here we are today working together as a team, able to focus together, push together, try, strive, and run together! We have our days, our moments, our issues still to resolve, but I know better how to handle these ups and downs, how to ask for the right answers. Fair but firm. As light as he allows, but as strong as he requires. He has accepted me as leader and has learned to follow closely. He is comfortable with me and with our relationship. Harder still, I have accepted myself as leader, and the once fearsome (yes, he’s small but he still scared me) stallion has turned into the horse I am trusting more than any other I have ever ridden.
We are not there yet. We have years to work on it together. I will continue to make plenty more mistakes, and hopefully, he will continue to show me right from wrong. I expect we will never be all the way “there,” for we will always need goals and dreams and destinations to ride to together.
At a horse clinic last month, a participant said several times, “He is so calm.” I just said, “Yes, he is.” And yes, he is… But… what I just couldn’t tell him was how he used to be, and how much work and time and tears went into helping him become what he is today. Helping me become what I am.