Re-discovering the joys of horses after 30 years
By Lawrence J. Fedewa
|HIS FIRST TIME (poem)||page 3|
|THE SUMMER OF 9S||pages|
|SUBURBAN COWBOY||page 19|
|MAlA STORIES||page 23|
|A RIDE IN WINTER||page 26|
|MORE MAlA STORIES||page 31|
|THE BEY OF CEDARWOOD||page 3S|
ABOUT THE AUTHOR page 46
HIS FIRST TIME
Cock your head, colt, and paw
the tinsels moon strewn on lake and land.
Raise your tired-of-grazing head up and up,
and challenge and charge the hoof hurt heavens!
Prance and dance your pounding sound pistons on the teasing earth,
beating her dare down to the moon shades,
the mighty, misty moon shades of the woodland.
Snort and sing, look and sing
at the sounding, echo bounding fields,
the breathing, beam sprinkled,
bale bringing fields.
Hark to the whispering hoppers’ humming
see far into the loud, lonely land
and shimmering, shining mirrors of the moon.
Then grasp the great ground flying,
and gripping go running close,
back clinging to your big mare mother.
(See “The Bey of Cedarwood” p. 35 )
I was introduced to horses as a young lad on a Michigan farm and was actively involved through my college years. As adult life progressed, however, there was no time or money to stay involved, especially as city life dominated family and career. I forgot all the joys of the outdoors, the woods, the thrills and the uniqueness of each horse.
All these memories and adventures were revisited, however, when I was led by my grown daughter back into the world of horses many years later. These little stories describe that journey with all its texture of ups and downs. I learned that old memories can be renewed at any age if a person has sufficient motivation to regain a youthful skill – even if that motivation comes from a loving, but persistent daughter! -LJF
THE SUMMER OF ’95
The summer of 1995 started at Christmas, 1993. That was when my grown daughter, Kirsten, announced she was going to learn to ride a horse, and that I was going to teach her. I learned a long time ago to do what women tell me, so I agreed to the project, thinking that it probably would never happen. But she persisted and changed my life.
I had not taught anyone how to ride since I was Riding Master at a boy’s camp during the summers I was in college. My brothers and I had been taught how to ride and how to train young horses by Jim Rooker, at that time a veterinary
student at Michigan State College (East Lansing, Michigan). Jim went on to become one of the best-known Arabian breeders and trainers in the country. My Dad had, on the advice of Professor Byron Goode of Michigan State’s School
of Veterinary Medicine, bought two Arabian yearlings and an older gelding named Don, who had been used to teach college students how to ride. He also set us up with Jim Rooker .
During my school years, I had done some training, a little showing and a lot of pleasure riding, especially on my blood bay Arabian gelding, Fleet, a son of Amador, the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. My brother, Stan, was a more active horseman than I because he was at home during those years, while I was away at school in Detroit. Thus, I always considered Stan a more polished rider than I, although I had experience in running a stable and a string of horses, organizing riding instruction and instructors, rodeos, shows, etc.
Probably the hardest work I have ever done was that first summer at Camp, when I was the only man in the whole place who could train a horse. I had 20 horses which had been picked by a local farmer without any thought as to their appropriateness for small boys just beginning to ride. None had been ridden since the previous summer. Some were green broke at best. Others were so hard-mouthed that they should have been completely re-trained. I couldn’t reject any of them, as I would have liked. I had to make do. I worked those horses from “can see to can’t see” every day for two weeks. I worried about the safety issue all summer, but accidents were minor and rare. (Who says worrying doesn’t help?)
At any rate, all this had happened many years ago. When my daughter called in March 1994 to say that she had found a place that rented horses by the hour, I had to go with her. One of my sons, John, also went with us. So, there we were, the three of us, on a beautiful Saturday morning in March at one of the few commercial riding stables in the Washington, D.C. area. I was able to teach them both the basics of horseback riding, as many things began to come back to me.
We began to go riding about once or twice a month through that whole year. After a while, John dropped out (getting up early on Saturday morning for any reason is not compatible with bachelorhood; besides, socializing with your
sister and your father just does not pass any known bachelor test.) Kirsten, however, gained enthusiasm and confidence each time we went.
As for me, I went through many transforming experiences. For example, I re-discovered the woods. Somehow, I had forgotten about the woods and the outdoors. We saw the seasons and their changes, which had been a major
source of enjoyment to me in my youth — the sounds and smells and sights of the earth and the trees and the flowers, the grasses, the leaves, the streams, and the sky.
I also rediscovered horses. My basic riding skills returned remarkably quickly, although my more complex skills, such as horse training, were much longer in coming. I was enjoying our rides immensely, but after a while I began to realize
something was missing. As we were walking back to the car after a ride one day in December, I saw a man about my own age coming toward us down a long lane on a prancing chestnut gelding, with animation and fire reminiscent of Fleet in his prime. At that moment, I finally realized what was missing — it was the horse! In fact I had found the rides at the stable increasingly confining. Limited time, limited trails, limited — very limited — horses. So, it came to pass that I decided to look for a horse to buy.
The only breed of horse that I knew anything about was Arabians. So, I began to look for two Arabians to buy. This was not easy. For one thing, there are not that many Arabians in the Washington area, as compared, for example, to
Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds. But, as I later learned, scarcity was not exactly the problem. The problem lay in the lack of a good connection between the Arabian horse industry and the general public. This lack expressed itself in
two highly significant ways: first, Arabians were initially hard to find, and secondly, Arabians for sale that were well-trained and suitable for beginners were almost non-existent. A number of breeders seem to agree with one old-timer
who said, “A lot of us consider Arabians living art.” In other words, breed them, feed them, and look at them – but don’t train them or ride them.
But I persevered in seeking suitable Arabians . I was joined by my blond daughter, and — to everybody’s surprise — by my wife, Theresa. First, we had to find a place to keep any horses we might acquire. There is an area near our home
called Clifton, Virginia, a tiny, post-Civil War-era town at the very southern tip of Fairfax County, about twenty miles or so as the crow flies from Washington, D.C. Surrounding the town in all directions are woods, hills, and pastures dotted with homes and occasional barns. Honeycombed thr0ugh the land are bridle paths which go on for miles and miles. Sometimes the woods are so dense that the summer sun can hardly penetrate at high noon. Deer, foxes, squirrels, beavers, geese, ducks, and wild turkeys are among the abundant wildlife which inhabits the woods. It seems almost impossible to believe that such an area is so close to the national capital. Yet there it is.
Actually, we had yet to discover the wonders of the Clifton countryside as the New Year of 1995 arrived. What we had discovered, however, was that the Clifton Saddlery, an amazing little store in Clifton with all sorts of horse-related merchandise, keeps a “book” in which stable owners list their facilities for rent. We consulted the “book” one winter afternoon, and wrote down several names and telephone numbers. I then systematically called down the list until I decided to talk in person to Ron and Anita Keeler.
Using our map and Ron’s directions, we found our way to their place, which was a bit out 0f the way, a characteristic we came to appreciate. The couple had built their 5-stall barn themselves many years ago. They, themselves, had stopped riding ten years before, after having ridden with the Clifton Hunt for a number of years. (In a poignant show of love, we later learned, Ron gave up riding when Anita developed a severely arthritic hip — a fact Ron never mentioned.)
They did, however, maintain the horses on which they had had all their fun-filled, wonderful years of riding. The old mare and gelding were well into their twenties, very arthritic, and probably would have been put down by any less
sentimental owners. They also boarded a younger Thoroughbred mare, about 12 or 13 years old, as I recall. Thus, they had room for two more horses. They had a clean barn in a picturesque setting, and they seemed like very responsible people. In late February, I leased the two stalls.
We had looked at horses all over Northern and Central Virginia. One day our little band traveled to a large farm outside of Haymarket, Virginia to see the Arabians of Rollingwood Farm. This is as beautiful a spot as there is in Virginia, with the mountains in the distance, acres of green pasture as far as you can see, and in the foreground, two large ponds, populated by geese and ducks. The buildings have seen better days, but the eye is drawn to a herd of 50-60 Arabian horses spread over the landscape in one of the most beautiful and interesting tableaus I have ever seen.
We were met by John R. Aldred, D.V.M., a tiny man of advanced years, who has lived on this same farm since 1949. I had called ahead (many times before I made contact, as it happened), and Doc was waiting for us. We drove up to the barns, and he indicated he had set aside some horses for us to look at, based on what I had told him over the telephone. As we walked toward the corral, I mentioned that I had grown up with a son of Amador. He said. “I rode Amador.” I was astonished!
It turned out that Doc had grown up in Jackson, Michigan, and had received his veterinary degree at Michigan State in 1949. He had been a student at Michigan Agricultural College (MAC until 1948 or so) for about ten years, with time out for the War. He had studied under Byron Goode, been a couple of years ahead of Jim Rooker in vet school and knew that program well.
I told him about Professor Goode selling my Dad the two yearlings and the old horse, Don, to teach us how to ride. “Did Don have a US brand on his shoulder?” he asked. Again, I was astonished, because although I did remember the brand, I had not thought about it in thirty years! Doc said that his wife had been riding Don when he met her! She was a student in his riding class, which he had taught to help defray his own expenses as a student. This, of course, was an
But no sentimentality g0verned Doc’s desire to sell me a horse. I had to make offers for three different horses before he would sell me one! But he finally sold me Rollingwood Maia, an eight-year-old grey mare with white mane and tail, who was green broke as an English horse.
The second horse I bought was a fourteen-year-old grey gelding named Canrith, who was promptly re-named Traveler (General Robert E. Lee’s grey Arabian) by Kirsten. He was well-trained, having been ridden by a middle-aged woman
novice and her daughter, who had now moved on to competing as a hunter-jumper. (I was trying to follow Professor Goode’s advice about an old horse for a new rider.)
My introduction t0 Traveler was not auspicious. I had had a hard time finding a mutually available appointment with the owner, so we ended up meeting at dusk. She had a young girl there to ride the horse (claiming recent back surgery as the reason she couldn’t ride herself). The girl proceeded to ride the horse at three gaits around a large ring with ease, as dark descended. After the demonstration, the girl and her mother indicated that they had to go to another appointment, and they left.
Some additional discussion followed — about pedigree, prior history and the reason she wanted to sell. By now it was dark, a condition I really didn’t notice since the lights had been on the whole time. I decided to ride the horse myself.
He did just fine at the walk and the trot. Encouraged, I asked him to canter. As we came around the ring for the fourth or fifth time, but the first time cantering, he suddenly shied at a white jump stand. I was caught completely by surprise, and off I came. Undeterred, I mounted again, and cantered again, and he shied again. And off I came again! It took another few weeks, a continuing lack of success in our search for an experienced horse, another test ride (it turned out that Canrith had minimal training in being neck-reined, as I was doing), and a lot of soul searching but Canrith finally became Traveler and Kirsten’s favorite mount.
In truth, this episode and some others during that period of looking for horses caused me to re- examine my attitude toward horseback riding. First of all, I took more spills during that three-month period than I remember taking in my
whole life before, which is to say about three or four. Secondly, I began to realize that I was approaching these strange horses with the confidence, not to say arrogance, of a twenty-year-old athlete who is in great physical condition and
who has also been riding difficult and lively horses frequently. I had an under-twenty-year-old attitude in an over-fifty-year- old body. So, it came to me that I should start acting my age and being a lot more careful than I had been. In fact, I went to the other extreme. I lost my nerve.
Had this occurred earlier in the process, I might well have aborted it. However, I was by then too committed — two horses, saddles and tack, training and transport fees, a boarding contract, and high expectations. I persisted, therefore, with ever more caution. This had two effects: the first was that my daughter, who had taken a couple of spills of her own, virtually imbibed this new caution and becoming a confident rider was made all the more difficult for her.
The second was that I found myself faced with the need for more sheer physical courage than at any time in many years. Frankly, I have lived a life where violence and the danger of injury or death are neither frequent nor real. A thousand pound h 0 r s e has almost unbelievable strength and quickness. Accidents can happen in an instant, as witnessed by the Christopher Reeve incident which occurred about this time. Fear can become a companion, and one can begin to restrict one’s actions in response. Overcoming this fear takes what I call “physical courage”, the will to do something in spite of the fear, a refusal to let one’s life be governed by fear.
This was a private battle, both because I did not want my fears to be communicated to Kirsten, and because I grew up in a tradition which dictated that a man keeps his fears to himself. So, while I did not talk with Kirsten about these matters very often, I hoped that my example of overcoming my fears might compensate for my having them in the first place. I don’t think my hopes were fulfilled. Fear is more easily seen and understood than courage.
Thus, the agenda for the coming months was evolving. First, I had both horses taken to Red Revelle, our local “horse whisperer”, who specializes in training problem horses, and in “de-spooking”. There is, of course, no such thing as truly “de-spooking” a horse, but Red does work on teaching both horse and rider constructive techniques for dealing with things the horse finds scary. Theresa, Kirsten and I all went down to Red’s out-of-the-way farm in central Virginia for our training sessions, one for each horse, a couple of weeks apart. That was a lot of fun, especially seeing the genteel and petite Theresa among Red’s friendly mules.
Then on March 29,1995, we brought Maia to her new home in Clifton. Maia had come from Red’s place, and she was uncharacteristically meek that first night. Kirsten and one of her friends were there to welcome her. We groomed her and petted her and marveled at what a calm mare we had. That was the first and the last time she was ever like that. She must have been in shock or something.
The next day I put her on the longe line, and she cantered merrily around and around for well over an hour — and did not even work up a sweat! That was more characteristic of her stamina. She is also a very sensitive and reactive horse, not unduly skittish, but just very aware of what is going on. And athletic!
One day five of us were standing by the barn talking, looking at Maia in a nearby pen. She was running and prancing and carrying on, because she was away from the other horses — which she normally doesn’t mind if she is with people.
And in fact, she had just come in from a long ride, and I was unsaddling Traveler as we talked.
I guess Maia didn’t think we were giving her enough attention. Anyway, she was running around the pen and suddenly she leapt up in the air, did a 180- degree turn and extended her front and rear legs out and back before she landed — all at the same time, looking for all the world like a Lipizzaner. All five people stopped talking and looked at each other, saying, “Did you see that?” None of us could believe what we had just seen! This is a truly gifted horse.
Then Traveler came to his new home — also from Red’s. Traveler had really been around, and he did not approach the superb physical condition of Maia. Nor was he as adaptable t0 his new surroundings. He needed a lot of tender, loving care, a lot of reassurance, and some reminding of how to neck-rein. He got all of this and more, especially from Kirsten who grew to love that horse. He never again threw anybody,
and was always the perfect gentleman. Like all Arabians, he truly loved people, especially Kirsten. We built up his muscle mass with frequent exercise and a good diet. Unlike Maia, who can (and does) get fat on hay in the winter, Traveler was not an easy keeper.
In general, though, Traveler was loving life. He got stronger and became good buddies with bossy Maia. One time he was waiting to be saddled in the same pen where Maia had put on her exhibition. He started running around with his head straight up, blowing and looking like a goose. Back and forth. The only other time I had ever seen a horse
do this was when I saw an Arabian stallion do it once when I was a kid. I thought it was stallion behavior, until I was told that it is the ultimate expression of joy that a horse ever makes. And, in fact, Maia did a similar version of the same behavior at another time.
I was very pleased that we had such happy horses. We spent a lot of time with those horses in the summer of 1995. Kirsten and I also spent a lot of time together, more than ever before in our lives, even when she was a youngster. I was pleased to get this “second chance” to enjoy her company, since we had always been part of the larger group of the whole family when she was a child, and I had been too busy to spend long summer afternoons with the children individually. I discovered a wonderful woman, full of wit and good cheer, very reactive– that is, very alert and with definite opinions on whatever was happening, but flexible also — in general, a very pleasant companion. She has risen to the top of her chosen field, political publicist, a predominantly male arena, by virtue of talent, hard work, and dedication. Luckily for me, she was between campaigns that summer and had the time and inclination to pursue our new hobby.
That summer remains in my memory as a succession of “firsts”, the first time each of the horses came into our responsibility, the first experiences with getting to know them, and especially the first time Theresa was surrounded by loving mules! And the next first: actually getting up on Maia for a ride. By this time, my fears had become
completely irrational, and part of it was a “mythologizing” of Maia, exaggerating in my imagination her lack of training, docility, and general cooperativeness. In retrospect, little of this was based in fact.
Nevertheless, the first time I got on Maia’s back took a lot of determination. And, of course, nothing happened. We were in the small pen where the chances of mishap were lessened, and we proceeded to practice neck-reining at the walk. I did this three times a week, when I was in town, for the rest of April and into May. I then decided we had to move out into Ron’s pasture, an area of about 2 acres with a number of trees. The first time we went out there was really tense. Again, Maia treated me kindly like the wimp I was and did nothing exciting as we walked around and practiced our neck-reining around trees and ponds. I remember the first time I asked her to cross the little creek in the back of the field. She did not like the idea at all. By this time, her idea of what was supposed to happen in that field was a sedate walk around various trees. Crossing creeks was just not part of the program. I persisted, however, and
eventually I won.
Then there was the first time I asked Maia to trot. After the neck-reining seemed thoroughly reliable, I decided that walking around a small pasture on a magnificent Arabian was just not worth all the investment I had made. So, I
decided I had at least to trot the horse. After all, I was an experienced rider who knew the mechanics 0f riding. What about a little trot? For some reason, I was thoroughly intimidated by the prospect. I kept imagining all kinds of pains, injuries, and mishaps. Then, late one night, I caught the first part of a John Wayne movie, made when the actor was about seventy years old. He trotted comfortably and confidently down the street on a horse that looked at least as spirited as Maia. I said to myself. “If that old guy could do it, why can’t I?” So, I did. The next time I went riding, I started Maia into a trot, and discovered her little jog. It is so smooth and comfortable that it was soon hard to remember how scared I had been.
Just about the time I was starting to trust the horse (and myself), however, Maia threw me ~-and Kirsten thought I was dying. This is how it happened. At my request, Ron had put up a white rope around some trees to make an
improvised training ring. One Sunday morning, we took both horses out to the new ring, and Kirsten said she wanted to start Maia in the ring, as she sometimes did, before I took Maia out into the pasture. I shortened the stirrups (a critically important move, as it turned out), and she got into the saddle. She went only a few steps, and said that something wasn’t right, and she dismounted. I looked at the tack and said I would start Maia out for Kirsten. I mounted and proceeded around the ring without stirrups.
As I took Maia into some tall grass on the other side of the ring, she started bucking like a rodeo bronc. Taken completely by surprise and even without stirrups, I still stuck for a few seconds. Maia paused, and I was still aboard, but before I could get off, she started again, and this time I did come off. Practicing what Jim Rooker had taught me long ago, I tried to put my arms around the horse’s neck — on the theory that a broken leg is better than a broken head or neck — and to get my feet off the saddle and onto the ground, if possible. I was partly successful but I did not get my feet under me. Instead of landing on my head or my neck, I landed on my back. The result was that I had the wind knocked out of me.
Having had this experience before , I knew I was all right, and would get my wind back momentarily. Kirsten, however, had no such experience. When I was laying there unable to speak, she was convinced that I was seriously injured. I made an “OK” sign to her, but it didn’t do much good. Finally, the great whooshing gusts of breath started to come and eventually I could breathe and, from Kirsten’s point of view more importantly, I could speak.
I got up and walked around the ground trying to see what it was that had spooked that horse. It had seemed to be something 0n the ground. I never did figure it out, but after walking Maia around the ring a few times and lengthening the stirrups, I re-mounted and walked her around some more. I had some irritating aches and pains for a while after that, but at least I discovered that my worst fear had come true and it wasn’t so bad!
Then there was the first time Kirsten on Traveler joined me outside the ring. We walked around the little pasture as though it were a mine field. By this time, I was pretty comfortable on Maia, even going so far as to canter her back to the gate. (I know it is not a good idea to let a horse run back toward the barn, but I wanted to be sure she would stop!) I discovered that Maia didn’t really do a canter; she went directly from a trot to a full gallop, a problem I would have to deal with later.
At any rate, Kirsten, who had previously ridden the rental horses on trails and at the trot and canter, was very reluctant to give up the security of the ring. To her credit, however, she did it.
Soon after, I was ready to try a trail. I didn’t really want to go alone, because I wasn’t sure enough of either the horse or the trail. Kirsten interpreted this desire for her company as “pressure” on her to accelerate her progress and resisted for a while. I didn’t want to tell her I was afraid to go alone, though perhaps I should have done.
About this time, one of Kirsten’s brothers and his girlfriend came out to ride with us. Eric wanted to get on Traveler and RIDE, although a trot was the best he could manage. Traveler’s trot was pretty choppy, if you weren’t used to it, and Eric took such a pounding that he didn’t come back for a long time. His girlfriend, Ritika (now his wife), however, took to the whole scene immediately. She liked to ride, and later picked up riding the trot Western style faster than anyone I have ever seen.
Kirsten’s competitive nature may have nudged us along, but for whatever reason, we did find ourselves one fine Saturday in May walking down a nearby trail through the woods. It was spectacular. The late spring woods in full bloom, the well-marked trails, the beautiful Arabian horses, the crystal-clear air full of sunshine — it was all I had hoped for and more.
After that, my daughter and I and our two horses had many adventures 0n those trails. As summer progressed, we discovered that the air temperature dr0pped about 10-15 degrees as soon as we entered the woods. We therefore tried to get into the deep shade of the woods as often as we could. We had adopted the practice of longeing the horses before each ride. Kirsten enjoyed this exercise immensely, and still does. Since I wasn’t as keen on longeing as she, I saddled Traveler first (I was still doing all the saddling at that point), so she could have some extra time with Traveler on the longe line while I saddled Maia.
I think this was a great learning experience for both of them, as Kirsten used longeing as a way to find out about Traveler’s skills, weaknesses, moods and fitness. And things happened. For example, one time he just stopped and looked at her. She could not figure out why until she walked around to the side and saw his saddle hanging by the breast collar. She thanked him for not panicking, which he might have done earlier, before she had calmed him down.
Kirsten was always interested in the horses’ “personalities”. I come from a “horse as livestock” background, and she sees a “horse as pet”. I learned from her to enjoy the idiosyncrasies and distinctiveness 0f each horse to a greater
degree than I ever had before. My interest, however, is still geared primarily toward learning about an individual horse as a means of achieving better performance, rather than just for the pleasure of it, as she does. But I do think
that getting to know Traveler well before testing him gave her greater confidence and allowed her to progress in her riding and handling skills.
I mention this because this is a strategy I would never have thought of. To me, a horse is supposed t0 do what you want it to do, and if it doesn’t, you have some training on your hands. It is a pretty straightforward proposition. Getting to know the horse’s “personality” was never part of the equation. Kirsten’s approach, however, has made me more appreciative of the distinctiveness 0f each animal, and how this might affect his/her performance. Also, it is another way to enjoy horses.
Traveler was not in nearly the superb physical condition when he came to us that Maia was. We worked continually on his muscle mass, wind, and overall fitness. His early lack of stamina led to a harrowing experience. We were riding deep in the shady woods, one very hot afternoon, when Traveler suddenly collapsed under Kirsten! I got the saddle uncinched and somewhat out of the way so he wouldn’t roll over on it. Kirsten was kneeling beside him pleading, “Traveler, don’t die! Don’t die!” He broke into a heavy sweat but made no sound at all. I was aware that if we had to remove him from that place, it might prove very near impossible, since there was no way in for a truck. Luckily, he got to his feet after a few minutes, cooled off, and we led him out of the woods. Our veterinarian later said he had apparently had heat exhaustion. (Since then we have always given extra electrolytes during hot weather.) He recovered enough to be ridden part way home, but after that we always worried about him. With good reason, as it turned out.
I remember the first time I went riding in the woods alone. I had been alone many times in April and May, riding first in the pen, then in the pasture. Whenever we went trail riding, however, we went together. I had then — and still do have — some safety concerns about riding in the woods alone. But Kirsten was not always available, and she was not as keen on trial riding as I even when she was at the barn. I decided that it was not fair to Kirsten to expect that she go trail riding every time she went out on the horse, especially since that was not her first preference. My desire to go trail riding, while I tried to disguise it and underplay it, was putting pressure on her that she was resisting, although she did seem to enjoy the trail when she did go.
So, I broke the rule that said we were both supposed to be doing the same thing all the time. One Saturday morning in late June, I casually indicated that I was going out on the trail and invited her to go with me. She wanted to longe Traveler a little longer and to ride in the ring after that. So, I said I would try to be back in a half hour or so and left — much to the amazement of both of us, I think. But I do believe she was somewhat relieved, and after that may have been more ready to go out and more relaxed when she did.
Still it is one thing to go off by yourself when someone knows when you left, where you are going, and when you are likely to return. It is quite another thing to go off on a young Arabian “war-mare” into the deep woods, when no one knows where you are or when you are likely to return. But one weekday in early summer, I unexpectedly had an afternoon off. I decided to head for the barn, as had become my custom. Once I got there, I decided to longe the horses, but got taken up in Maia’s energetic invitation to ride. She sometimes acted like a ride in the woods was just the thing to break up a boring summer day. The weather was perfect. The trail was dry. The temptation was too great.
So, I saddled up and off we went. In contrast to her restlessness in the ring, Maia loves the trail. She always wants to see what is around the next bend. Her enthusiasm is her most endearing quality. She just cheers me up and makes me
feel good with her energy and overall happiness. Like any mare, she has her periods of being a little cranky, but for the most part, she is very willing and always full of life.
That day, with no daughter to worry about, I was more aware of my mount. We tried new paths and even cantered a little. I felt a tremendous sense of exhilaration, like shaking off shackles of age and life and physical weaknesses. I was emancipated, freed from all the toils and tears and fears and wars and wounds and weariness and wrinkles and wobbles that separate me now from that 20-year- old youth who had loved horses and then forgotten them. With Maia’s speed and strength and stamina I could feel again like that long-forgotten youth. It is an extraordinary feeling.
Then there was the first time we went across the county road to the “big” trails. This “first” turned out to be two smaller steps. First, we went across the highway and up the side road. This road was paved in asphalt and had black stripes of patching in various spots.
Maia, who had spent her previous life on 450 acres of Virginia Piedmont farmland, had never seen anything like that. She did not relish the idea of walking over what might just be the biggest, blackest snakes she had ever seen. Traveler, who had undoubtedly seen such things before, figured that as usual Maia probably knew something he didn’t know. So, we had some balky horses as we walked down that harmless little road. We used Red Revelle’s training to let the horses smell and approach the obstacles. But Maia figured that sniffing snakes was not really a very smart way to approach them. So, we did a combination of walking around, jumping over, and hurrying by. Anyone watching must have thought we either had crazy horses who were tiptoeing down their road, or that we were crazy riders telling them to do it! But eventually we made it to the trail.
I could almost hear Maia’s sigh of relief when she found herself in the woods. But then we came to a large stream which was overflowing with spring run-off, the bottom of which could not really be seen. I was pretty sure that there would not be a stream on a well-used trail which was more than a foot deep. But I could not be sure that the bank had not dropped off from erosion, 0r that some other mishap might not be awaiting an unwary traveler. I did not have water-proof boots on, and in any event the water looked higher than a boot-top.
Now Maia is nothing if not decisive. It took her about a breath to decide she was not at all interested in diving into what might be a bottomless pond. She had no trouble convincing Traveler, and frankly not much trouble convincing the humans either. So, we left that adventure to another time.
That time came a couple of weeks later, as a drenching May moved into a June drought. We went back across the county road, with less dancing this time, and proceeded down toward the stream. The waterline had receded considerably, and we found a less used crossing a few yards upstream. It was still not a piece of cake. Maia, of course, remembered that the last time we had ventured this direction had ended in a triumph of caution. However, this was a different crossing and looked a lot less threatening. She was a little confused but she decided on general principles to resist a little. Then while she was dancing around and snorting, much to everyone’s surprise, Kirsten and Traveler walked around us and crossed the stream! Maia nearly fainted from surprise, but quickly realized that she had lost the lead position and that something had to be done immediately! She almost dove into the water to catch up.
That was one of Traveler’s finest moments — and Kirsten’s action reminded me of an incident when she was a little tyke. We were swimming in Higgins Lake in Michigan, and she and her mother and a couple of other kids were riding a surf board. It began to drift toward a nearby dock, and they all started to panic. I was too far away to do anything but watch as little Kirsten suddenly dropped off the board into chest deep water and pulled the board to a stop. She has always been good in emergencies. The stream crossing was not an emergency, but she exhibited the same initiative and cool-headedness.
Well, there we were on the “big” trail. It followed the stream around hills, through deep woods, past dramatic ravines shaped by gigantic rocks and trees, in and out of sunlit patches, till we finally came out an hour later on a road we didn’t recognize. We had discovered the real Clifton! It was an incredible ride which went on for over two hours, and which we repeated with many variations many times over the summer.
We really got to know the horses as well as the land and the trails. As we calmed down so, of course, did the horses. Maia’s enthusiasm never wavered. She grew more and more confident and became a marvelous trail horse. I still had not completely solved the trot-to- gallop problem, and it took another round of getting up my courage to do it, but that’s another story. In general, I overcame my crisis of confidence and came to trust both myself and my horse more and more as time went on. Kirsten too became more confident, though she never lost her preference for the ring over the trail, the trot over the canter. She did accompany me on many trail rides that summer, and we enjoyed the outdoors, the horses, and the companionship.
The end of the summer of ’95 was very tragic. Ron Keeler sent us a note saying he was going to reseed his entire pasture in the Fall and would not want any horses on it through the Winter and Spring of 1995-6. He intended to confine all five horses to the barnyard with its mud flooring for the next six months. The other boarder and I decided that we did not want to keep our horses there under these circumstances. So, I went back to the Clifton Saddlery’s “book” and located another farm, which appeared to have many advantages, including 100 acres of pasture (in fact, the last 200+ acre farm in the Clifton area), a round pen, and a large, lighted arena.
So, on a windy, partly cloudy Friday afternoon in late September, we brought another trailer into Ron’s yard. Traveler loaded admirably, and Maia needed a little coaxing, but they soon headed off about five miles to their new home. The
owner of the boarding business was Ed Quinn, an accomplished horseman who had been trained by the United States Army to care for their ceremonial horses and equipment in Washington, D.C.
Ed was helped at that time by Bill Holmes, his half-brother. Bill carefully led each horse around the entire fence line of their forty-acre pasture, and over the next couple of days they kept the newcomers separate from the other horses. Kirsten and I were there that first weekend, and I rode Maia out on a big trail ride with about seven or eight other horses. She was a little nervous as was I, but we everything worked out well. Kirsten stayed in the arena, working with Traveler.
Five days later, at about 11 a.m. on Friday, September 30, 1995, I got a call from Ed Quinn that something was wrong with Traveler, and that I had better get my veterinarian over to his farm as soon as possible. I immediately called
Dr. Julie Hedge, who had been looking after Traveler since before we bought him, and was lucky enough to have her call back within minutes. She said she was on her way, and I tried to call Ed back to give and receive news. I could not get any answer.
Then Ed called and said that Bill had noticed that Traveler was off his feed at 6 a.m. and that he had been checked again at 9 a.m., but that Ed had not been told until about 10 a.m., when he awoke after working a late shift. Ed tried
unsuccessfully to get some response and decided to call for a veterinarian, but did not know whom to call. He also had trouble finding my number. At that moment, he was using a cell phone out at the barn, and he gave me that number.
About a half hour or so later, Julie called and said I had better get right over there. I jumped into the car and tried repeatedly to raise Ed on his cell phone (I later found its battery had run down).
Thoroughly alarmed, I called Kirsten from the car with the bad news. I told her I did not know exactly what the problem was but that the people on the scene were very concerned. She said she was on her way. From her office in downtown Washington D.C., the trip to the farm was about 35 minutes or so. In the meantime, I pulled up to the barn. Julie’s assessment was that the horse had colic (the most dreaded word in the horse world). He was standing up
drenched in sweat when I arrived. But he wouldn’t walk. Then he slowly lay down on his side, much as he had in the woods that time. Julie gave him a pain killer, and he may have started dreaming, for he began moving his legs as though he were running free, running through the woods with Kirsten on his back, all cares and pains left behind, loving life, loping through the crystal air of the Clifton forests.
Then his legs stopped moving. His great heart stilled. His breathing stopped. And Kirsten’s Mustang convertible came to a gravel-spraying stop. She flew from the car to Traveler’s head as it lay on the ground. She sobbed his name over and over. I remembered the day she had cried in the woods, “Traveler, don’t die! Traveler, don’t die!” This time he could not hear her.
It is strange how emotions connect events that have no rational bonds. A few months before I had lost my mother, after a death by inches that took almost ten years. Her actual passing away, when it finally happened, was a blessing. But the injustice of it all had mixed my grief with anger. She had never done anything to deserve this kind of death. And the vision of Kirsten’s grief for the horse re-ignited in me all the sorrow of that other day. l too had tears in my eyes, for Traveler, for my mother, for the sorrow of my daughter, for all the sadness life sometimes brings.
Although the summer of 1995 ended in sadness, it was still the most wonderful summer I ever remember. I had scored personal victories over fear and anger, and tested for the first time in a long time my own physical courage. I believe that God gave me that summer as a way of concentrating on the simple things of life — the weather, the horses, the tests of courage, and eventually the cycle of life and death — so that I could put my mother’s experience into the broader context of life’s mysteries. Even though I had lost my mother, I had come to know my wonderful daughter on a different level. We had experienced together a summer of sun-filled and glorious adventures on two beautiful white horses. And these pictures are forever etched in the recesses of my memory.
I’m fighting rush-hour traffic in suburban Washington, D.C. on a summer Friday. It’s after 5 o’clock, and I’ve been trying since three to leave the office and go horseback riding. Now I’m working the car phone, waiting for lights, crawling along the parkway, wondering what in the world I think I’m doing. Between calls, the fatigue and frustration of a long day and a long week start to set in. I can’t say I need the exercise — compared to my push-ups, aerobics, racquetball, and occasional jogging, horseback riding seems pretty mild. So much work: grooming, saddling,
longeing, schooling. So hot and sweaty. And dangerous, too. Aren’t I old enough to know better? How old do I have to get? When I finally get home, why don’t I just relax with a tall, cold drink and watch the horses from the air-conditioned house? All the reasons. I decide to take it one step at a time. After all, I don’t HAVE to go riding,
HAVE to groom, HAVE to saddle up. I can stop at any point, right?
Thus do I cajole my tired old bones into changing my clothes and walking out to the stable, I start by looking around at everything, seeing if the workers have left any problems. This activity, of course, is a lot like the office, but the sun feels good on my back, and I notice the breeze on my face. After “fixing” a couple of little things, I decide to go the next step.
I go out to the pasture with a few treats in my pocket. All the horses notice me as soon as I get within range. It’s kind of funny to see how they arrange themselves to approach me. Maia, my beautiful grey Arabian mare, is the Queen of the little herd. She dispatches a friendly old gelding named Speedy (he isn’t) to find out if I have any treats. But before old, slow Speedy gets to me, Sir Prize, a friendly, supremely self-confident four-year-old gelding reaches me and starts begging for a treat, which, of course, he gets. By this time, Speedy has arrived, quite upset that Sir Prize got there
first, but he quickly forgets his pique when he too gets a little reward. In fact, instead of reporting back to Maia, he’s hanging around. I keep walking.
Next is Moniq, a perfectly formed young Arabian mare, whose nickname is “kissy-face” because she is so affectionate. She is also smart as a whip, and, while still chewing her little cookie, starts trying to get her nose into my pocket. This of course leads to petting (me), nuzzling (Moniq), inspection of her body (me), inspection of my other pockets (Moniq), and general fussing.
All of this is observed by Maia. As a couple of other mares start toward me, Maia decides enough is enough. She moves over to meet me and my entourage, sticking her nose aggressively into the halter, and walking proudly beside me, announcing to all and sundry that everyone else can go away, because she has been chosen by the
Dispenser of Treats as his favorite!
As we walk back to the stable, I tell Maia that I haven’t thought about business since I opened the gate to go into the pasture. Maia doesn’t say anything, but I decide to take the next step.
Maia somehow talks me into giving her a good, vigorous grooming. With the sweat pouring down my face and soaking my shirt, longeing doesn’t seem like a great idea right now. Of course, I’m not as much of an advocate of longeing or even schooling as English-style riders and trainers, anyway. So, I slap my hat on my head, and “step into the leather”, as Louis Lamour used to say.
After a few exercises around the ring just to remind Maia who is in charge, we head out onto the trail, determined to make the best use of the last couple of hours of daylight. Somewhere in my mind’s peripheral vision is the realization that I’ve gone a couple more steps without noticing it.
Maia loves the trail. She gets bored easily, and the constant newness of even a familiar trail is much more to her liking than going around and around a ring. (More to my liking also.) I bought her as an eight-year old green broke horse, and the only things I can claim I’ve taught her are how to enjoy being handled, neck-reining, and how to be what I consider a good trail horse. I’d been away from horses for thirty years, and the idea of riding around on a green, high-spirited Arabian “war-mare” should have seemed preposterous if not thoroughly intimidating. Well, they say the
muscles remember. And it’s true — but not all at once. Before long I was riding again, encouraged by my daughter and gradually remembering what I used to know about riding, horses, tack, handling, and lots of other things. But not all at once. Maia helped me remember a lot. I must say that riding this untried horse took more physical courage at times than anything I had done for years. Luckily, the horse experience of my youth began to come back, and the beginner’s learning curve was telescoped, so that my skill returned within a few months — not to the level of when I was 20 years
old, but enough.
We start walking down the trail. Maia decides to see if I’m really awake by stopping without permission and eyeing a tarp on the ground suspiciously. We discuss whether she is really afraid or just pretending. She decides she is just practicing, and we proceed. Oddly enough, she rarely balks on the trail. I think this is because I believe in listening to my mount. If the horse sees or smells something threatening, or the footing is unsure, I want to take advantage of her superior senses. Listening to my mount has saved me from danger many, many times. Maia only hesitates on the trail
when she is genuinely concerned. Sometimes, I agree with her and we go another way.
Tonight, we start down a new trail I have wanted to try. I call it the “Judy Trail”, because Judy Bragan came out one afternoon and chopped a path through the previously inaccessible foliage. Maia steps gingerly along the rough path, as I inform her that she is probably the first horse ever to use the Judy Trail. That doesn’t seem to impress her a great deal. But when we come to a steep bank leading down to a wide creek, Maia takes one look and can’t imagine that I would seriously consider going on. She takes some convincing that I am indeed serious and proceeds cautiously.
In the water we pass under a superhighway, which sounds like it is going to fall on us at any moment. But the real challenge is the creek bottom, which is strewn with construction debris. I guide Maia through the unpredictable footing, and she helps as she steps daintily around, between, and on top of the rocks. Finally, we
come to the other bank which is mostly mud with a little sand around the edges. I guide us over the sand, and with a tremendous lunge, Mighty Maia pulls us up the bank and onto firm ground. I am overcome with pride and admiration at my dauntless steed and proceed to pat her and congratulate her vociferously. Maia prances and snorts and preens and shows her uncanny ability to read my mind.
Now we enter the forest on the other side of the highway. As we leave the sounds of the cars behind, the silence of the woods descends like fog. Maia was so energized by the creek that she wants to trot down the new trail. Other horses might be afraid of the unknown, but Maia can’t wait to see what is around the next bend. The tall trees almost blot out the sun, and we come to another creek. This one is a piece of cake, and we go down our side, across the water, and up the other bank hardly missing a beat.
Every time we do this, I remember the first time I took Maia across a creek. It took me a long time to convince her that this was indeed what I wanted her to do, and even then she finally crossed because she could see that that was the only way I was going to stop bothering her. Now as she watches her footing, and checks out the other bank, she hardly notices the water.
We come to a spot where the trail is visible for a hundred yards or so, and we pick up to a canter. Maia will run as fast and as long as I let her. She is a truly enthusiastic horse. We come to a rise in the trail, and up she goes, grunting to a gallop up the hill.
At the top, we stop and look at the view that looks like rolling forest for miles on end. It seems almost impossible that we are only twenty miles or so from downtown Washington, D.C. As we trot down the trail from the top, a deer suddenly crosses the trail at full throttle about fifteen feet in front of us. Maia acknowledges the intruder with ears erect but never breaks stride. I feel a rush of pleasure at her composure, and she snorts. I think that we probably ought to slow down, and she slows to a walk. Sometimes I swear that horse reads my mind.
We turn back to where we saw the deer and stop. Just as I thought. There is a doe with one, no two, fawns about fifteen feet from the path. Standing motionless, waiting for us to pass so they can follow Daddy across the trail. Sure enough, there he is too, waiting. We turn around and leave them to their evening ventures.
Speaking of evening, the light is starting to fade. Better to get out of the woods while I can still see clearly. We can backtrack more energetically now that we know the trail better. Guiding a running horse through the woods, making decisions every second definitely raises the adrenalin level.
Trotting and cantering, we emerge from the forest to the sound of automobile traffic. Back across the creek, under the viaduct, up the steep bank, down the Judy Trail, back to the main trail. Now we are walking all the way back to cool us both off. As the evening breeze picks up and tries to dry my sweat-soaked shirt, we are bathed in the golden light the sun spreads out just before it leaves to find another day.
My heart soars at the beauty of the scene. Each of a million leaves is turned a slightly different way to catch the gold of the sunlight and spread it to the tree trunks and the grass and the sparkling brook water, all framing the deep azure blue of the sky above.
I think maybe I’ll do this again.
The other day I was working in my home office and I heard thunder in the west. I looked up and saw our little herd of four mares trotting toward the stable. Looking more closely, I could see that Maia was herding them. Maia is my ten-
year old maiden Arabian mare. She is dark gray, with white mane and tail, typey face, correct conformation, wonderful Western gaits, good sense, and everything you could ask for in a trail horse. But none of that mattered now.
What I saw now was Maia herding her little band to the safest place on the farm if you want to avoid being hit by lightning in the western sky: the back of the stable. At first, I wasn’t quite sure that the episode had to do with the weather; after all, horses move about at various speeds from time to time for no apparent reason.
The rain came down in buckets but stopped after about fifteen minutes. I noticed the horses slowly move away from the stable after the rain. By half an hour later, they were back in the pasture grazing. Then I heard thunder again.
This time I got up and watched what would happen. Sure enough, Maia started them back toward the stable, aided by her trusty lieutenant, Moniq, a younger, even darker gray Arabian mare. This time they all went more efficiently, and
were safely behind the stable by the first raindrops. Another brief cloudburst afte r which they moved out again. This identical sequence occurred twice more in the next two hours, until the front had passed — a total of four times which I witnessed. There is no question in my mind that Maia herded those horses to safety every time the thunder started. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure I’d believe it if I did know. The only thing I know for sure is that I didn’t get as
much work done as I wanted to that afternoon.
There are other stories about Maia. The most dramatic is told by John R. Aldred, D.V.M., who bred her and raised her for the first seven years of her life. When Maia was a coming two-year old, her weanling full brother, Lucky, was
suddenly orphaned when their mother was hit by lightning and killed instantly. Usually, such a young orphan will be allocated the lowliest place in the herd, and will in fact be in jeopardy of not surviving because of the meager feed, the hazing, and the constant pestering of the rest of the herd. With no one to look out for him, Maia’s little brother was in serious trouble. Doc was watching closely, because he thought he might have to remove the little guy from the herd. He was astonished t0 observe, however, that the little Lucky was in fact thriving. On closer inspection, he noticed that big sister was constantly standing up for him, keeping other horses at bay, and generally acting like his lost mother.
This from a maiden filly in her second winter. She continued to care for him until he grew old enough to take care of himself. To this day, Doc says he has never seen anything like this in sixty years of breeding horses.
Other old hands say that the only thing like this they have ever heard of was when a stallion will occasionally “adopt” a little orphan and look out for him. Neither Doc nor anyone else has even heard of a mare who has been a mother doing this, let alone a young filly.
That is the best Maia story, but here is one more. When we finished our stable, we brought five horses over to Cedarwood. Among the horses were Maia and a twenty-eight-year-old mare named Missy. Missy had become an outcast in the big herd from which all the horses had come. She was never nearer than 100 yards from the rest of the
herd; she was so gaunt, sickly, and depressed that her owner thought she was coming to Cedarwood to die.
What actually happened was exactly the opposite. Maia immediately started treating her like a foal — she didn’t let her stray, she made her follow the rest whenever they moved or started playing, she made sure no one bothered her when she was eating or drinking — it was quite amazing. Missy’s reactions were heartwarming. She started playing with the other horses, galloping, kicking, laying down (which many old horses don’t do because they are afraid they won’t be able to get up), rolling (both sides vigorously — just like Maia), going crazy whenever she was separated from the others — which her owner was used to doing as a way to protect her. (In fact, Missy’s owner took a while to adjust to Maia’s Missy.) Today, Missy’s coat shines, her muscles are hard, she has gained weight, she is eating green grass again, and she is loving life. In fact, she now goes on long trail rides again, and shows every time that she is all heart.
I say she is all heart, because she insists on trying to keep up with Maia on the trail, even though in our circle of riders, Maia has a reputation as some kind of “superhorse” on the trail. Maia carries a heavy rider and a full Western rig, goes anywhere (almost), trots and canters up and down steep hills, for four or five hours at a time, and is just as anxious to run in the last ten minutes as in the first ten minutes. In fact, until the temperature gets up to the eighties and nineties, she hardly even sweats. The first day I had her, it was early spring. I put her on a longe line to “tune her up” for a few minutes. Two hours later, I was still trying to see what kind of a horse I had, as she was still cantering happily around and hadn’t even worked up a sweat! Even over rough terrain, Maia is as sure-footed as a mule. And, if asked, she can retrace every, single step of the way home no matter how many miles — no shortcuts, no deviations, no confusion with the way we came last time, even if we made a mistake.
For Missy to try to keep up with Maia is a challenge indeed. But she is so full of her new confidence that she doesn’t want to come up short. Maybe, in her own way, she wants to thank Maia, to show her the effort was worthwhile. But Maia doesn’t seem to want any thanks. Once Missy had been “rehabilitated”, Maia left her alone, and now treats her as she does any other member of her little band. I told this story to my veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Sitarz, and asked her if she knew of other mares doing such things. “Only Arabians”, she said.
A RIDE IN WINTER
In Virginia, winter is only occasionally a matter of snow. Most of the time it is a matter of wet – rain and mud (lots of mud). There are different kinds of rain, of course: hard rain, drizzle, light rain, soft rain, freezing rain, sleet and rain, and cold, wind-whipped rain, but frequent and copious rain. Because 0f the wet conditions, we go horseback riding less frequently in the winter. The temperatures are typically moderate, in the 40’s and up. But we don’t ride in the rain for enjoyment — although horse trainers and others whose livelihood depend on their riding don’t let a little rain stop them. It takes a lot of rain.
Thus it was with more than usual enthusiasm that I set out that winter Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be an almost idyllic experience. The weather had cleared and a drying breeze was blowing. I had promised Anya, a young
woman from Germany who was visiting us that we could go on a trail ride if the weather permitted. She was very excited and very determined, since they do not have trails in Germany Iike we have in Virginia. I had tested her riding ability on an older and very safe horse a few days before (in a “light” rain). She proved to be a competent rider in the ring, her dressage training showing in her poise. She was, however, a bit too demanding for the gentle senior citizen she was riding, so I decided to let her ride Sir Prize, a six-year old black bay gelding, whose sire is a Thoroughbred racehorse, and who has a long trot which is uncomfortable for all but the most accomplished Western riders. Since
Anya was used to posting, however, they seemed a good match. I rode my usual Arabian “war-mare”, Maia, a ten- year old gray.
The horses were so covered with mud that grooming the m turned out to be a major task. It did, however, allow Anya and Sir Prize to get acquainted (and me to observe surreptitiously her comfort level with the strange horse. I was
reassured by what I observed.) So we proceeded to saddle up. This was when I discovered that Anya wanted to “go Western” – she wanted to use a Western saddle which she had never seen before and which absolutely fascinated her.
We led the horses up to the OK Corral (our ring), and I tightened the cinches. Sir Prize is a calm young horse, whose main defense against doing something b0ring (for example, all work in the ring) is to act lazy. One trainer who didn’t
understand him very well said, “His favorite two commands are ‘Walk’ and ‘Whoa’.” I was therefore not very apprehensive ab0ut Anya riding him around the ring for a little while. I was concerned ab0ut Maia. I had had her out on the trail about three weeks before, and she was a little “twitchy” which is her way of telling me that we haven’t been riding enough lately. I wanted to longe her for about 10-15 minutes per side, both to remind her who is in charge now, and to gauge her mood.
So I proceeded to longe Maia, much to the amazement of Anya, as I later discovered when she asked if the horse really stopped when I said “Whoa” or was it just a coincidence? She didn’t think so, because she had noticed it several times. I found this quite amusing, because my daughter has been the one who has kept up Maia’s early training on the longe line. Basically, I only use longeing for occasions like this. I think my daughter would find it humorous to hear that I was so good at longeing a horse. Also, I always hear from our German-trained dressage instructor that Germany is the home of all things precise and proper in horse behavior. Myself, I’m just an old cowboy.
I got Anya’s stirrups adjusted, determined that she was in control of the horse, even though he was acting a bit sluggish, and put on Maia’s bridle. Then I taught Anya how to fall from a horse (if, God forbid, it were necessary) so as to protect her head and neck, an instruction made the more important because we didn’t have a helmet that
fit her. Then I had my long suffering wife, Theresa, stand in front of Maia while I mounted, because I still didn’t know whether she would forget her very fine manners. Absolutely no problem.
Thus began a ride in which Maia showed the whole day her best, midsummer form. At her best, Maia is simply the best trail horse I have ever had. At her rarely experienced worst, she can be too “Arabian” – too skittish and a little inclined to forget who is in charge. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she does get pretty enthusiastic sometimes. So, I routinely follow the exercises shown me by Red Revelle, our local “Horse Whisperer”, which consist of several turns into the rail, stops, starts, and stands.
As we started around the ring, Anya and Sir Prize started following us, and Anya discovered that her horse might not be as lazy as she had thought. Why? Because he loves to follow Maia. Why does he like to follow Maia? Because she usually leads him out of the ring and onto the trail, which is not at all boring like the ring. Besides, he really likes Maia.
Maia did her part by leading Sir Prize out of the ring and off to the trail. Suddenly, Sir Prize perked up and started prancing a little. Anya was amazed. She said, “He is very smart; he reminds me of Christian (my cousin and her boyfriend).” To which I replied that she must know how to handle him then. She said, “Yes. Yes.”
Clifton, Virginia is a tiny, 125-year old town at the very southern tip of Fairfax County, about twenty miles or so as the crow flies from Washington, D.C. Surrounding the town in all directions are woods, hills, and pastures dotted with
homes and occasional barns. Honeycombed through the land are bridle paths which go on for miles and miles. Sometimes the woods are so dense that the summer sun can hardly penetrate. Deer, foxes, squirrels, beavers, geese, and wild ducks are among the abundant wildlife which inhabit the woods. It seems almost impossible to believe that such an area is so close to the nation’s capital. Yet here it is, as Anya was discovering.
The scenery in the winter is, of course, very different than in the other seasons. The dominant impression is of the black tree trunks and branches reaching like black fingers to touch the brilliant blue of the sky. The wind had died down, and the silence was so complete that the horses’ hoof beats on the wet leaves could be heard at every step, and the bubbling brook sounded almost distracting. The ground was varying shades of gold and rust from its carpet of wet leaves, slashed occasionally by black streaks of wet earth. Black, gold and blue, with splashes of green from
evergreens that provide a blissful constancy in the ever-changing woodlands. The sunlight washed the muted colors with a crisp brightness which slowly changed to a burnished golden hue as the afternoon progressed toward evening.
We were walking down the road toward the first trail, when Anya sang out, “LARRY!” I whipped around to see what the matter was. She was pointing excitedly at the pond, saying “GEESE! GEESE!” I could tell that this might be an interesting ride.
As we moved onto the trail, Maia stepped delicately around the water spots, and we entered the woods. That is, Maia and I entered the woods. “LARRY!” Sir Prize had stopped and was eying the possible water spots. I suggested that she loosen her reins and let him smell his way across. It worked immediately. People don’t realize that horses cannot see directly in front of their noses. They are essentially walking blind. To allow them to sniff their way across a suspicious landscape does not seem to me an error as decreed by the so-called experts who make up the rules for competitive
trial riding. Horses can smell as well as dogs, and I like to have that talent on my side when I am crossing a suspicious patch. Many times my horse has alerted me to a danger that I did not perceive.
As we headed to higher ground, Maia wanted to jog. She was blowing and snorting and having a ball. With a glance over my shoulder at my following rider whose face was beginning to glow, we moved into a canter for a few hundred feet, up a rise and along a level spot. We slowed and I asked “Ok?” “Ok,” came the answer with a little giggle. “Fun?” I asked. “Great fun!” We headed down a long slope and saw through the trees for the first time the rushing waters of the creek, very high from all the recent rain. Actually, we heard it before we could really see it. Our first glimpses
looked like brilliant moving crystals of sunlight. I pointed to the stream, and saw Anya’s eyes widen in astonishment. Down on the bank, we saw the full scene of the water rushing noisily over huge rocks as though it were late for an appointment. Very picturesque.
Coming out of the ravine, we picked up the pace again. Maia is as sure-footed as a mule, and I help her all I can. When we are really in synch, I can understand the sense of a centaur. Even though the ancient image of a man with horse body and legs probably began as a description of what a mounted warrior looked like to those on the ground, I have always thought it also a very good depiction of what a rider feels like on a horse which responds so immediately and effortlessly that it almost seems he and the horse are one being.
Just as my own feet are directed by my eyes, so are the horse’s feet directed by my eyes. Just as my thoughts direct my speed and my direction, so do they direct my horse. The horse feels like my own body in capital letters. With Maia, I have had that feeling more than with any other horse I have ever ridden. It feels as though she is reading my mind, as we weave through the trees, slowing and speeding, watching the footing, adjusting as we go, following a trail that is sometimes buried in leaves, usually I, sometimes she, finding the next step. And the faster we go, the less time there is for thought, for signals. It just seems to happen. It is an exhilaration that almost no one except another rider can understand.
We left the woods and cantered up a long hill in the open. I was maintaining a slower pace to see how Anya and Sir Prize were doing at speed. Apparently, just fine. In fact, I could have sworn that Anya’s grin is replicated by Sir Prize. But how can a horse smile? Maia kept asking if she could go faster, but we maintained a measured canter. When I first got her, she would go from trot to gallop with no in-between. We worked quite a while on a slow, steady canter. As we neared the end of the half-mile or so, I let her out for the last 100 yards. She loved it! So did I. As we re- entered the woods, both horses were panting till we walked them down. But they were ready to rock and roll!
A downed tree blocked the trail, and as I went around it, I grabbed a thick tree limb to push it out of the way. Surprise! It wasn’t a tree limb, it was a gray utility wire. I was thrown off balance when it did not give as I expected. Maia felt the shift and literally backed up under me as I started to leave the saddle. I disengaged from the wire instead of the saddle, and she walked delicately around the obstacle, as I marveled again at her responsiveness, not to mention her athletic ability. Oh, that centaur feeling!
We had rounded the outer circle of our trail and were starting homeward. For the last mile or so, we alternated between trot, canter and an occasionally gallop through the woods and clearings, over the brooks, around the worst of the mud (Maia watching very carefully), until we reached the same trail we had taken into the woods. There is a
steep hill on the other side of a stream at that point, and Maia always wants to gallop up that hill as fast as she can. (I confess, I let her.) She grunted with the effort but made the top of the hill at full stride, only to throttle down immediately as the woods closed in around us. She was snorting and prancing as though she had just won the
Tevis. We were feeling good.
From now on, it was a long walk home, allowing the horses to slow their breathing and cool down. On the way, however, I detoured down the road to see a neighbor’s new fence. It happens that the fence encloses two horses, two horses that Maia didn’t know were there. As we walked away from the home direction, she kept asking if we could
turn around. All of a sudden she saw the new horses. Ears up. Motionless as a pointer. I laughed and teased her, “What is this? Didn’t you know they were here? Why haven’t you been paying attention?” Maia didn’t answer, but I was amused anyway. I looked at Sir Prize. He could hardly believe his eyes! As we approached, I heard one of the
geldings snort. Maia twitched while Sir Prize snorted back. So, I saw the fence, our horses saw their neighbors, and Anya was further amazed at this America of ours.
The short winter day was announcing its departure as we turned into the lane. The golden light dramatized the scene, making everything glow like an old Technicolor movie. Maia’s light gray coat looked almost palomino, and the girl’s face showed her pleasure.
A great way to spend a winter afternoon!
MORE MAIA STORIES
Maia is a funny horse. Like last night. Normally, when I put the horses into the stable at night, I walk up to Maia, the leader of the little herd of four mares and one gelding, put a rope over her neck, and lead her in, knowing the others
will follow. But last night it was raining, the ground was all mud, it was late, and three of the horses were standing at the lower gate when I got there. So, I just opened the gate and let them follow me in through the front door of the stable.
I soon realized I had only four horses in their box stalls. Where was Maia? I opened the back door, through which they usually enter, and there she was. She came right up to me, but I didn’t put the rope around her neck as usual; instead
I just opened the door, stepped back, and invited her in. This, of course, was not at all the way this was supposed to be done! She backed away and went trotting up the hill in back of the stable and off into the west pasture, wanting me
to follow and play a little hide-and-seek with her.
But I was not in a playful mood. So I walked back into the stable to do some chores. Five minutes later, I was standing near the front door, reading a log from my trainer, when down at the other end of the building I saw a little white nose
stick out from the other side of the door. It was soon followed by a white head, and an inquisitive eye. I pretended I didn’t see. Finally, the whole Maia appeared.
But, instead of walking directly into her own stall, which is the first one from the back of the stable, she proceeded to walk the entire length of the building, right past the other horses who by now had their heads outside their
stall-guards into the aisle and were watching every move. I pretended I didn’t notice her. She walked all the way to where I was standing and nudged me with her nose. Whereupon I put the rope around her neck and led her back down the aisle, past her followers, and into her stall. Obviously, I had to be reminded of the proper order of things.
Maia is a 1987 purebred Arabian mare, whose dark gray dapples have by now faded into a sort of darkened silver, topped by a white mane and tail. For an experienced rider, she is a wonderful trail horse who has the athletic ability to do far more than I have ever taught her to do. But she does funny things. For example, in the pasture (though no longer under saddle) she has a habit of whipping her head like a bullwhip whenever a negative thought crosses her
mind. It may be caused by something obvious, as when her serious grazing is interrupted by someone or something. Or it may be that she is being asked to do something she didn’t think of, such as being called by a human. Or it may be something which is totally unfathomable by mere humans such as we. What is really funny is to see her laying down in the pasture, supposedly resting, but eating the grass around her and occasionally whipping her head at some unseen irritant.
When I first bought Maia at eight years old, she was green and had never been off the farm where she had been bred and raised. So I sent her to Red Revelle, our local horse whisperer to be “de- spooked”. One thing Red taught me was to
punish Maia whenever she did something she wasn’t supposed to do, by taking idea is that by the rider making the horse do something distasteful whenever certain behavior occurs, the horse will come to associate that behavior with
Well, Red had never tried to train Maia before. Shortly after I started riding Maia, I had to stop this little lesson. It seemed that Maia got the message all too well. What happened was that as soon as Maia did something she thought I would not approve of, she started punishing herself by twirling around in ever more rapid circles. Since she is a natural-born reining horse, these circles were not only not distasteful, they were kind of fun. Thus, you could almost hear her thinking, “I don’t know why this guy wants me to do this little exercise every time, but I certainly want to keep on his
good side. So here goes.”
That was bad enough. But then she got to twirling every time she even thought about doing something wrong. We would come up to an obstacle, such as a tractor or a fluttering tarp, and she would start punishing herself for evil thoughts! She hadn’t even done anything wrong yet, and she started twirling.
As can be imagined, such behavior can come as quite a shock to a rider. The last time it happened, we were approaching a tractor sitting near a barn and I was talking to someone, not watching Maia closely. We had been in sight of the tractor for five approached, when all of a sudden I guess Maia realized how close it was, also realized that she would like to shy from the tractor, also realized that this was behavior that would lead to being reined around in a circle, and so proceeded right to the twirling!
I was caught completely by surprise, and eventually lost my seat and landed on the ground right in front of a group of women with whom I had never ridden before. Talk about embarrassing! After that, Maia was “reprogrammed”. I always meant to thank old Red for that neat little trick.
When she was growing up, she somehow got the idea that she should test every tying device used on her. If it holds, she never tries again. But if it gives, she would keep trying to break free. To break her of this bad habit, I fashioned a tie-rope made of bicycle inner tubes and attached it to a hitch-rail in front of the stable. She tested it; it held; and for two years she never did it again.
Then one summer morning, when she was in heat, she forgot that she had tested the hitch and tried again. This time she pulled the inner tube out twenty feet, and her halter snapped, sending her over on her back. She was the most surprised horse in Virginia! She got up immediately and went over a few feet to eat some grass while she composed herself. We, of course, were concerned that the saddle she was wearing had not hurt her back, but she was merely shaken not stirred. The sight of her flipping over on her back has nevertheless remained in our folklore as one of the funniest sights we ever saw. (We have since taught her to stand with no tie – which we probably should have done in the first place.)
She has other peculiar little habits. When anyone goes to the pasture to bring her in, she is apt to start a gentle little game of “catch me!” She doesn’t run away, she just turns her body away from you, making it impossible to catch her. She never walks more than a few steps, and we both know she is going to come in; but she wants her little field, she rarely watches you looking straight at you. Instead, she watches you from the side. That way, if you give her some excuse to jump or run, she can take off without ever telegraphing her moves.
Sometimes, when we don’t have time or weather to exercise the horses in conventional ways, by longeing or riding, we play a little game with them, chasing them all over the pasture. This is one of Maia’s favorite things in the world. She always waits until the other horses have already left, then she runs like her life depended on winning. She always catches up, sometimes even gets ahead. But the younger, faster mares see how fast she is coming, and they start really booking. Suddenly they all stop and wait for us to do something. The other horses see us coming and start moving away, but Maia waits until one of us has almost caught up with her, then she takes off, galloping as
fast as she can go — and it starts all over again. Sometimes you wonder if horses are really very smart, but they know this is a game, because after chasing them around for a half hour, we can change our body language and walk right up to anyone of them.
Maia always takes what my daughter calls “air nips” while she is being saddled. She stands still, she doesn’t do anything bad; but she doesn’t like the cinch strap. She doesn’t object to it being tightened, only to it being introduced. In fact, one time I was talking to someone, and my daughter was reaching under Maia to hand me the cinch. I guess I took longer than Maia thought was appropriate, because she neatly kicked the buckle which was under her body at the time. How she managed that little feat is still a mystery. To register her protest to the idea of the cinch strap, she looks back at the saddle and takes a little bite of air. She doesn’t come close to anyone, and she obviously does not really want to bite anyone, but she does want to register her objection for the record. She has just the opposite reaction to the bit. As soon as she sees it, she reaches out and almost grabs it with her teeth, for all the world like it was her favorite meal.
Maia does not like to ride in the ring. She pins back her ears every time she is asked to change gaits. Again, she does everything she is asked to do, and does it very well, tremendous athlete that she is. But she looks like an angry horse. Take her outside the ring, however, and she is the most willing, enthusiastic horse you’ll ever ride. Maia’s trainer says that outside the ring she is a different horse, and that is the truth – and don’t try to change it, hear?
Extraordinary athletes, especially basketball players, are sometimes said to have “athletic arrogance”, meaning that their unbelievable feats of physical strength or agility are usually a result of their intense desire to accomplish a goal — put the ball in the basket, for example. So focused on their goal are they that they take for granted that their body can do what is necessary to achieve the goal. It never occurs to them to doubt their physical capacity to do what ordinary people would consider impossible. They have “athletic arrogance”.
Maia has her own form of athletic arrogance. Sometimes, it is just funny, as when she tries to cover up a little slip with a little buck. She is as sure-footed as a mule, and she just can’t bear to admit that she slipped! Other times her athletic arrogance leads to more complicated consequences.
I reconstructed this story by later examining her hoof prints. My daughter, Kirsten, and I were just returning from a leisurely trail ride, when all the other horses came running to the pasture fence to greet us. In the area where we were, between the fence and the road, there is a shallow culvert. I was watching the horses coming and Kirsten and I were chatting about our welcome, so I wasn’t paying attention to my own mount. Maia, we later discovered, thought I meant for her to walk straddling the culvert. So rather than stop or move to one side or the other like any ordinary horse, she was giving me a very smooth ride by trotting with two feet on one side of the culvert, and two feet on the other side. As the rider, I didn’t feel a thing. As I turned my attention back to our path, I realized that something wasn’t right. So I
asked Maia to bear to the right, without realizing that this would unbalance her. Even so, she would have made it, but the ground was wet and soft, and her left front hoof slipped just enough to drop her shoulder and tip her rider gently onto the soft uphill, a distance of about two feet. That was the easiest fall from a horse I have ever felt. But it does go to show that athletic arrogance is not always a good thing!
Yes, Maia is a funny – but always entertaining — horse.
THE BEY OF CEDARWOOD
“Bey” comes from Egyptian and Turkish usage meaning “chief’, governor”, 0r “leader”. Our Bey was born at Cedarwood on June 26, 2000, the son of Desperado V and Rollingwood M0niq. His grandsire was Bay EI Bey and his great-
grandsire was Bay Abi, all famous Arabian stallions, whose coats, by the way, were bay in color. Taking all this into account, I named him Desperado Bey C (for Cedarwood). He was the first foal born at Cedarwood, and the first one I
have ever had much to do with. It turned out to be a multi-textured and exciting
The idea of breeding our mares first appealed to me because I thought my wife, Theresa, and my daughter, Kirsten, would really be interested in it. Little did I know that I would become so involved myself. In the Spring of 1999, I was on crutches because of an unfortunate series of events which started with a broken ankle and proceeded through an incompetent surgeon, four surgeries, and the first serious medical problems of my life. Because our home was never designed with a cripple in mind, moving in and out of the house on crutches was very difficult and, until I became adept at using the crutches, it was actually dangerous. Of course, it didn’t help that every time I seemed to be getting better,
I ended up back in the hospital for another operation. In order to simplify my life, one of my sons, John, the electronics wizard in our family, rigged up an office at home, including computer, fax/printer, internet access, and the appropriate telephone lines. This set-up allowed me to function from home, and saved my sanity – not to mention, perhaps, my business – during this stressful period. By June, however, I was looking for some diversion.
I decided that this was the time to start Cedarwood’s breeding program. So, I made arrangements with our dear friend, Dana Gardner-Seeley, an Arabian horse trainer in Fredericksburg Virginia (about an hour’s drive away) to take
my two mares, Maia and Moniq, for a few weeks and supervise their breeding to Desperado V, the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen. Since Desperado is at Varian Arabians in California, we obviously were to use artificial insemination.
My Barn Manager and Trainer, Carol Alston, was good enough to hitch up the trailer one day, load the mares, and off we went to Fredricksburg, crutches and all.
The main thing I remember about that day was standing at one of Dana’s barns, which is downhill from the parking lot, and wondering how in the world I was going to get up that hill. It looked like a mountain! Eventually, I invoked what
has become my favorite saying lately, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”, dug in my crutches, and worked my way up that hill. It was like the last series in a close football game: you put your head down, hunch your
shoulders, blot out everything but the next step, and bull your way down the field, or in this case, up the hill.
Of course, no one else noticed my problem, and the most memorable thing about the day for everyone else was getting the mares settled and the breeding details worked out. Neither mare settled the first time around, and the second
time Federal Express “lost” the Desperado V semen for two days – enough to miss Maia’s cycle altogether. Dana thought Moniq was probably finished ovulating as well, but she had her inseminated just in case. Since it was already the middle of July, I decided that we would just have to try again next year. (Kirsten commented that whenever these mares see a Federal Express truck, they get all excited!) So, Carol and I made another trip to pick up the ladies, and head back home.
Since we didn’t think there was any real chance that the mares had settled, we didn’t bother with the usual ultra-sound at 21 days. Or at three months. In fact, we didn’t realize that Moniq was in foal until November, when she was four
months along. On the advice of our veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Sitarz, we began isolating Moniq from the playful geldings in the herd, to avoid any accidents. Now, the fact is that in large herds, not nearly as much is made of these potential problems. In fact, a friend of mine had 40 foals last summer, all in the field, and not a single problem. However, as you
will see, we are anything but a production line here at Cedarwood.
Another thing we did was to start putting Moniq in the barn every night, so that, if anything did go wrong, we would be able to see and hear it. “How?” You ask. Again, John to the rescue. He found and installed a little wireless camera, and
hooked it into our television set, so that we could see and hear whatever was
going on in the birthing stall in the barn about 100 yards away. All Spring I would go down to the paddock in back of the barn, where we kept Moniq, usually with Maia or My Magic, our other mare, put them in, turn on the light, and go back to the house. It really wasn’t much of a chore, since Carol left everything ready each day before she left. But I did begin to pay more attention to Moniq than ever before – and she liked that. Carol worked her almost every day, so she was very fit right up until the birth.
That was quite an experience.
I had been turning Moniq out every morning. On June 26th I turned her out in the back paddock by herself, and she proceeded to run around and kick her heels and snort and have a good old time. When I got back into the house, I told
Theresa that we wouldn’t be having a foal today, because Moniq was in too frisky a mood.
Less than two hours later, the telephone rang. It was Carol. She said, “We have a foal on the ground!”
I hurried down to the barn, and there, at the bottom of a small hill in the back paddock, was a little bay foal struggling to stand up. Moniq was standing near by, apparently unconcerned, not even very curious, as if to say, “Ho Hum, it was nothing really …. ” (One interesting detail was that the white amnion was laying on the side of the hill a good 50 feet from the foal. We’ll never know how he got so far away so fast.) Kirsten and I had been watching Robert Miller’s “Imprinting a Foal”, and one of the things he mentioned was to be sure you have someone holding the mare firmly
while you deal with the foal. Moniq not only wasn’t being held firmly, she didn’t even have on her halter. Carol had already gotten some towels, and we began wiping the foal, noticed that he was a colt.
Then, in accord with the Miller video, I scooped him up into my lap and continued to wipe him off. It was pretty hard sitting on the hill, so we decided to take him into the barn. We got him shakily to his feet and half-carried, half-walked him around the retaining wall, into the barn, and into his stall. In the meantime, Theresa arrived from the office with a camera and began taking a pictorial record of events, which we still have, and which has given us many chances to re-live that day. One amusing sight was the other six horses lined up along the fence watching the entire drama, no one moving a muscle until we disappeared in to the barn.
What followed was quite remarkable in a number of ways. The most surprising event was my teaching the foal how to suckle. I have never thought of myself, nor have I been considered, very “maternal”. But it soon became obvious that the foal didn’t know where the teat was, nor what he was supposed to do with it. The first-time mother didn’t know much about it either. In fact, her attitude was, “Why does he keep bumping into me?” Not a very solicitous mother was Moniq. I am sure that eventually they would have figured it out; but everybody (by this time there were four or five people there already) said they needed help. So I pointed the colt’s lips toward the teat. He didn’t seem to know what to do when he got there. So I put my thumb into his mouth and let him suckle it. Then I guided my thumb to the teat and arranged the switch of the thumb for the teat. About the second time, he got it, and, believe me, he never forgot it. Undoubtedly, that is the closest I will ever come in my lifetime to suckling a baby!
Within minutes of our getting mother and foal into the stall, Neda and Paul Fouche pulled up. Little IOO-pound Ned has a big, 17-hand Tennessee Walking Horse called Rusty in our bam, and she is the “horse person” in that family – or
so we always thought. She had been through this birthing process before and was very helpful as the day went along. But the big surprise was Paul. He was absolutely fascinated by the whole process. He took up a position, squatting
on his heels at the back of the birthing stall, and just watched the mother and foal for well over an hour. Turns out, he was a veterinarian’s assistant during college, and, of course, he used to breed prize cattle. Ned was as surprised as the rest of us. You wondered what was going through his mind as he watched. Paul has continued watching and loving that foal to this day.
This was to be a long day, full of participants. Next came Dr. Nancy Sitarz, on the first of two visits she would make that day. This time she gave the mother and the little guy their shots. Later that afternoon she would return and remove the
placenta from the mare, the only birthing problem Moniq had in the whole process, although it could have been fatal if the placenta had never been evacuated.
Ned and Paul stayed the whole day, as did Carol and I. Theresa went back to the office and returned late in the afternoon. Later we were joined by son, Eric, and his wife, Ritika (who would give birth less than 3 months later), Ned and Paul’s son, Jonathan Fouche, and his fiancé, Kelly Williams, and Beth Mitchell, our other boarder, a highly trained surgical nurse, who owns Tucker, the Grand Old Man of the barn, a 27-year-old Quarterhorse gelding.
The last to arrive was daughter, Kirsten. She came right from the airport, returning from a trip out of town First, she went to the barn and visited the guests of honor in her work clothes – we have a picture of her in hose and heels and silk dress with the mare and foal. Then she changed, and at 10 p.m. that night, we started the full imprinting taught by Dr. Miller’s video.
Miller’s imprinting consists of many actions while holding down the foal, such as exploring his nose, ears, eyes, body, feet, brushing, combing, rubbing with paper, plastic, and towels, using clippers, hair dryer, and so on, on BOTH sides.
It took us over two hours, but Dr. Miller says that it must be done immediately after birth, the theory being that the foal is just discovering everything, so, if you let him discover all the things you want him to deal with calmly, he will accept all these actions and substances as simply normal in this strange new world. (Our impression now is that “immediately” is not as important as “soon”.) Obviously, the smaller and weaker the foal is, the easier it is to control him. In retrospect, the Bey’s calm acceptance of human direction ever since appears to be a direct result of all the handling he has had, starting that first day. We are thus firm believers in imprinting. The Bey’s imprinting took over two hours, and bonded Kirsten and the Bey for life. He still greets her like a long-lost relative every time she comes to see him.
Finally, well after midnight, the first day of the Bey’s life was over. We left the stall light on, so we could watch the pair during the night on our television screen, using John’s remote camera, and went to bed.
In the days that followed, I was there when a number of “firsts” occurred. I watched the Bey learn how to run. It took about five minutes. We kept Mother and Baby in the stall for the first two days. Then came time to turn them out for
the first time. I led Moniq out to the paddock in back of the barn, and little Bey followed. She was very happy to see the grass and started to graze. The Bey was still looking around at the newness of it all (presumably, he had been nearly
blind when last there), as Mom wondered away. He suddenly turned around and saw her about 50 feet away. In his hurry to get back to her, he started to run.
He got about two strides and crashed to the ground. Immediately, he got up and tried again. He got a little further that time and went crashing in to Moniq’s side. Unperturbed, she simply moved further away. So, he painstakingly got to
his feet, and ran to her side, executing a perfect reining horse slide. After a snack, he realized what had happened. He then began running little wind sprints. 20-30 feet and stop. Turn around. And do it again. And again. And again. And again. For the sheer joy of running . It was this joy of living that was the most endearing quality of the colt, and indeed of the whole experience.
Many children came to see the baby horse. The Bey exhibited at a very young age a quality he still has, namely, he will stand perfectly still while a little child touches him. I don’t usually think it is a good idea to let a child stand too close
to any horse, let alone one only a couple of days old. But I soon understood that the Bey was different. I would put his little halter on and hold him while the little children would come up or be lifted up by their father, and stroke his neck, his little legs, even his face. He never moved a muscle. This happened so often, we began to take it for granted.
Later, we would even stand him in the paddock without a halter and let kids pet him. I don’t know how to account for this behavior. Was it because of the imprinting? Is he just a special horse? I used to say, “He thinks he’s a dog!” The
other day, I watched a mother and pre-teen child go up the pasture fence, where the Bey came to meet them. The other horses did not seem to be “in the mood”, so the Bey was there all by himself. I don’t know what he was doing exactly,
they were too far away to see. But they stayed there with the youngster for at least a half an hour, with the Bey obviously entertaining them somehow.
Another time, we were having a party for our granddaughter’s first birthday. There were a number of families with very small children. From the window, I noticed a row of young mothers standing at the fence. I couldn’t see what they
were doing, so I went outside. There was the Bey, then a yearling, standing by himself on the other side of the fence, entertaining three or four mothers and five or six little children, several of whom were in their Mothers’ arms. They were petting him, some were feeding him a carrot or two (which we do not encourage, but there you are), talking to him, while he nuzzled their little arms and shoulders. Sometimes, he just stood there with his eyes closed, close enough for them to pet and stroke his neck and face. He has always had this interest in children.
One of the things that was fun, was longeing Moniq. I would take her out in the pasture where the ground is more even to give her some exercise during the period before we felt we could let her and her foal out with the herd. While she
was going around in a circle, the foal would start running at her side. But he didn’t turn as she continued her circle. The result was that he kept running for 50 or 100 yards away from us. Then he would catch himself and come wheeling
back at full speed to get back to his mother. Since she just kept going around in a circle this happened again and again, the Bey running like a maniac while Moniq just kept calmly doing her circles. Every once in a while, she would have
to stop or miss a step to avoid a collision with her little maniac son. This she did with great dignity and resumed her exercise. It was really funny. It also made one feel that life must be worthwhile if such a little, newly arrived animal
could live with such infinite gusto.
When the Bey was about a month old, he was joined by a little companion, named Contessa, when she and her mother, Lady Hawke, arrived to keep our little one company. This was an arrangement we made with Rollingwood Farm, the breeders of Moniq and another of our mares, Maia. Dr. John Aldred and his daughter, Dr. Terry Kerr, offered us the pair on a loaner basis, to keep our foal company until he was ready to wean, in exchange for our feeding and
training their little filly.
The original idea was to do the weaning by taking the mothers back out to Rollingwood. That part of the deal did not happen, as we will see. In the meantime, we had two new horses to look after and the Bey had a little friend just his size (although he soon began to outgrow her). Carol promptly gave them the barn names of “Lady” and “Tess”. The two foals buddied up quickly, and the two mares got along as soon as Lady recognized Moniq as the leader which took about two minutes. Moniq is very tough. Somehow she conveys her requirement of dominance simply by a momentary pinning of her ears – just once. She is rarely challenged, although she always gives way to Maia in the larger herd. Then she more or less ignores the other horses until it comes to feeding. Food seems to be the only motivator she listens to, and her constant battle of the bulge is the evidence. She is short, just under 14.2 hands, tends to be roly-poly, but paradoxically she is the fastest runner around. Doc Aldred said she was the fastest horse in his whole herd of 55 horses. She can really move those short little legs!
At any rate, the two mares and foals mixed amiably in a separate pasture where we kept them for the first few months. We had already been teaching the Bey to lead and to load, and we added Tess to the routine, intending to add value to the foal while she was with us. From August until we weaned the foals in November, we kept the mares and foals separated from the rest of the herd.
We decided to add Moniq and the Bey to the full herd first. We turned them out first with herd leader, Maia, and our other mare, My Magic, a 10-year-old black bay Arabian mare (who looks more like the Bey than Moniq does). Maia sniffed around the foal for a few minutes, with Moniq watching but not unduly alarmed. Then Maia went about her grazing, unconcerned by the foal. Magic wisely just stayed in the background. This is how we kept things for the first month or so. Then came the geldings, one by one. Saracen was the last one, and when he hit the herd, all hell broke loose. He immediately ran up to the foal, Moniq immediately ran over to intercept him, they all started running as fast as they could, with Maia and Moniq bracketing the foal who thought he was running for his life. Within about two minutes, Maia reasserted control, and everybody settled into a playful cantor, and finally down to a walk and to grazing. The whole thing took about 5 minutes, but after that, we always separated the mares and foals from the geldings until weaning.
When we went to introduce the new mare and foal into the herd, we had a lot more excitement. Lady came from the same herd as Maia and is about 3 years older. I don’t know what Lady did to Maia when they were young, but Maia was determined to make her pay for all her past sins. We started the introduction process the same way, with Maia joining the two mares and foals. Maia took one look at Ladyhawke and made for her like she was shot from a gun. Lady
wisely turned tail and ran away as fast as she could, but Maia drove her toward a corner of the fence and kept her penned in just like a cutting horse on a calf. Lady is an athletic and well-bred Arabian mare, but Maia is a natural reining horse. She can turn on a dime and leave you five cents change. And she was using all her skill against poor Lady, who suddenly thought the whole idea of coming to Cedarwood was a stupid idea anyway! Maia would let her get away, and then run her down, and threaten to kick her broadside, though she didn’t really connect. But she scared the bejesus out of Lady – and us as well!
She suddenly broke off and trotted back to Moniq, Bey, and little Tess who thought she was having a nightmare. After composing herself, Lady started back to Tess, who started towards her mother. Maia let the two reunite, but placed
herself between the two families, clearly giving Lady the message that she had better keep her distance. But chapter two was even more surprising. That’s Tucker’s chapter.
Tucker is a Quarterhorse gelding who was 26 years old when he came to Cedarwood. For twenty years, he had been a school horse at Woodlawn Stables, where Carol was lead Instructor and where, many years ago, one of her students, Beth Mitchell, had learned to ride on Tucker. Beth had always had a warm spot in her heart for Tucker, and when she saw him old and gaunt and depressed, she talked his owner into selling him to her. She thought she had found a place to keep him, but it was not scheduled to be open until September, 1999. Suddenly in July, Tucker’s owner, who had wanted to continue using Tucker for lessons, told Beth she could have him if she moved him out within the week.
Needing a temporary place for Tucker, Carol asked me if Tucker could come to Cedarwood for a few weeks. I did not really want another “retired” horse, but for Carol’s sake, I agreed. I always knew that the chances of any horse leaving
after only a few weeks were slim. I had heard that story before. So I cannot claim surprise when Tucker’s other accommodations didn’t materialize. On the other hand, I got to know Beth and her family, who are nice people, and I was heartened to see Tucker literally come to life at Cedarwood.
This is the third old horse to find a new life here, and I don’t really know the reason. My suspicion is that a combination of factors encourages these oldsters: the plentiful feed — pasture in the summer and hay in the winter — good
veterinary care, and our use of a daily de-wormer, which seems to have a benign effect on horses’ ability to digest their food (in some cases, too benign!). Another factor, I think, is Maia’s “horse management”. As the lead mare, she at first treats these old horses like foals – she will not allow them to lag during play, she defends them from the younger horses, and she requires them to graze within her sight.
After they get established in the herd, she backs off and allows them to pick their friends. Tucker’s response to this treatment was nothing short of astonishing. His self- confidence has soared; he is now the third horse in the herd, behind only Maia and Moniq. He has become very vocal, this horse whose voice was never heard in twenty years at Woodlawn. We were told that he couldn’t run or kick, yet he runs with the herd, and even kicks up his heels sometimes. His muscle mass is that of a much younger horse, he has gained weight, and I have told people that I think he must be secretly taking Viagra.
Of interest here, however, is his role as the enforcer. When Magic came to Cedarwood, Tucker took on the responsibility of keeping her at least 50 yards away from the herd at all times. Now, Magic is 15 years younger than Tucker, and so nimble I call her “my little dancer”. But Tucker had a job to do, and by the Lord Harry, he was going to do it! Eventually, by some signal unseen by human eyes, Maia communicated to Tucker that Magic could now be admitted, and Tucker ceased and desisted, and Magic joined the herd. (One of the funnier Tucker stories is when Maia
came into a torrid heat one time and focused on Tucker. He was the most confused gelding man ever made!)
So it was no real surprise when Tucker took over Maia’s exclusion of Lady from the herd. But was he ever enthusiastic about his job! My most vivid memory is from the first evening feeding for the mares and foals. I had Moniq and the Bey in the barn, but, not surprisingly, I had to go get Lady and Tess. I’m walking the mare on a lead rope along the fence in the direction of the barn when here comes Tucker like a creature from hell!
His ears are pinned back, his teeth bared, and he’s coming at a full gallop, right for us! At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about what a sweet old horse he was. What did cross my mind was whether I shouldn’t get out of his way before he ran over me to get to Lady. Instead I charged at him waving my hat, and at the last moment he swerved away. Lady and I were both a little shaken, but we walked boldly on toward the barn, with a wary eye on sweet, old Tucker who was watching every step we took. I wonder what would have happened if we had started back toward the herd instead of the barn. I think we would have been in trouble.
The next big decision was whether to geld the Bey. I really agonized over this decision. Experienced horse breeders would probably think this was foolish, but I consider a gelding a man-made horse, who has been mutilated for the
convenience of humans. I had no doubt that we could accommodate a stallion; we have the necessary physical facilities and staffing. And I have always thought it would be fun to own an Arabian stallion. But there are also other
considerations. I consider the owning and development of a breeding stallion a business, one I do not have the time or interest to engage in at present.
More importantly, I have seen what happens to stallions. Often they are segregated from other horses, herd animals expected to live a solitary life. A friend of mine had to move to another city, and couldn’t find a stable that would take her gentle 16 -year old stallion. So she had him castrated – at 16 years old! He almost died from the operation.
In the end, I decided that the Bey could outlive me, or other circumstances could easily intervene to remove him from my care and protection. He would be far safer as a gelding. So I agreed to have him gelded. As it turned out, I was not able to be present for the operation, and Paul Fouche, along with Carol, helped Nancy. Paul told me afterwards that it was just as well I wasn’t there, although everything went smoothly.
This subject had arisen at this time, because I was advised by several sources that it is better to perform the castration while the foal is still nursing, to give him some comfort in the immediate aftermath of the operation. It is also
advisable to wean a foal between three and six months, both for the foal’s and the mother’s sakes. I let the decision go for four months, giving the little guy a month to recover before weaning.
On the 6th of November, we started the weaning. On the advice of Dana Gardner-Seeley, we decided to try a more gradual form of weaning. The old way involves suddenly separating the foal and mother from sight and sound of each other, an experience which has been known to drive mares frantic with anxiety. They whinny until their voice is gone, they race around, try to jump fences, look in every possible place they can think of, and generally go through the worst few days of their lives.
The way we weaned is much more humane, I believe. We separated the mares and foals, but allowed them sight of each other, so that they could see and hear that each is all right. We administered small doses of Bute to alleviate the mare’s discomfort at not having a foal suckling her. First Moniq and her foal, and three weeks later, Lady and her foal. The experience was totally uneventful. Neither mare showed any anxiety, other than Lady’s standing near whatever fence gave her the best view of Tess for the first week or so. I was very pleased with this experiment.
All winter, we fed them all twice a day. We put the mares in stalls, where they could
see their foals in the aisle. We use nylon stall guards for our horses most of the time,
although we closed the stall doors on the brood mares. Every morning, when I came
to let the horses out, I found the aisle empty. No foals! They were both in Magic’s
stall, lying so close together they look ed like one big horse.
Thus did Aunt Magic help her friends with babysitting. In the evening, I would bring
in the mares first, then the foals. By this time, we had all the adult horses in one
pasture, and both foals together in another pasture, but where they could all see
each other. I would walk down the lane to the barn, and by the time I got to the
lower gate, Moniq would be standing there waiting. Lady would come along later,
after I had the mangers full. Then I would go out to the east pasture, and the Bey
would be standing there waiting. Like mother, like son.
While the foals were eating, I would sit on the bench in the aisle. Our barn cat, Casper
(a black female cat, named by her first owner after a white male ghost) would hop up
on the bench beside me. She has always been pretty shy, but she got to where, if I
stopped stroking her, she would start head-butting me to get me to start again. (No
accounting for females.)
Tess was not as interested in eating as the Bey (after all, Moniq was not her mother).
She would take a break every little while and come over to where I was sitting and
explore this human whose face was conveniently at her level. She would smell
intently, my face, my coat, my hands, all the way down to my feet. She never tried to
lick or bite, just smell. The Bey would come over after he had finished eating and
Tess had gone back to her dinner, and he would do the same thing. Except that after
a while, he would start licking my face. (He thought he was a dog, you know.) I did
allow the sniffing, but not the licking.
I found it very curious that these members of another species were so curious
about a human. Human babies do similar things, except they are more oriented
toward touch and sight. I thought it was good for these foals to get so close, so
that they would always know that humans would not hurt them. I must admit,
though, that I got a glimpse of what it would be like to be looked at in the zoo,
instead of the other way around? I also practiced leading and stopping, walking,
and trotting with the foals, while their mothers finished eating.
After the winter, spring came, as it always does. Terry and Dave Kerr came and
got Lady and Tess in April. By that time, thanks mainly to Carol, Tess could
lead, stand, load, clip, be groomed, handled, have her feet trimmed, teeth
examined — everything the Bey could do. Months later, Tess’ stable hand
thanked us for all we had done for Tess, declaring her just a little darling. She
went back to a far different life than she had had at Cedarwood. One of 55 or so
horses, 6 weanlings, and several more foals under 2 years old.
The Bey, in the meantime, has continued to grow. He’s now a year-and-a-half
and just a smidgen taller than his mother. We expect he’ll top out at about 15
hands. Even as a gelding, he has plenty of personality. He’ll do just about
anything you ask of him. We pony him all over the trails, and he loves it.
Paul tells the story of one day, when three or four of us left the barn on
horseback, he followed us all the way up to the comer of the fence, until he
could go no farther. Then as we turned off, heading out, he raced back to Paul
at the barn. He stood at the gate, looking intently at Paul, who moved over to
pet him. When he saw that Paul wasn’t going to open the gate, he hung his head
and stared at the ground. He wouldn’t move. He wouldn’t come to Paul, he
wouldn’t look at him, and he just stood there, frozen in sorrow. Paul said he
had never seen anything like it.
Another time, he was running at liberty around the ring. He didn’t stop fast
enough, and slammed into a fence post, stunning himself. The next week, he saw the same thing about to happen, so he aimed his head into the opening
between the first two boards of the fence and let the latex fence stop him.
Then he trotted away, unhurt and unfazed. It was the smartest thing I think
I’ve ever seen a horse do. And we know it wasn’t just an accident, because he
has done it several times since.
Ned tells about once, he saw some kids sledding down a hill nearby in the
snow. All the horses were kind of watching them get on their sleds, and then
suddenly speed down the hill and out of sight until they reappeared at the
bottom of the hill. The Bey was puzzled and fascinated. He would watch them
at the top of the hill and then race down the fence where he could see them
end their run. Then he would run back to where he could see them start. He
just couldn’t figure it out. Or maybe he just thought they were having so much
fun, he’d like to go with them. He ran up and down the fence a half dozen
Another thing about the Bey: he has no fear. He will go up to Rusty, who is half
again as tall and heavy as the yearling and pester him until Rusty starts
playing with him. One time, Ned and I watched him get Rusty to rear up –
something even Ned didn’t know Rusty could do! He’ll stand his ground even
with Maia, which takes great courage indeed. He is definitely a force for
playfulness in our little herd. He even gets Tucker going sometimes. He jumps
up and down, pretends to take a nip out of Tucker’s rump, plays kissy-face
with him until finally Tucker has had it and starts after the Bey. That is just
what he wants. He scampers off quickly and then stops until Tucker almost
reaches him. Then he’s off again. They stay at it for ten or fifteen minutes at a
time. It is very amusing to see the oldest and the youngest frolicking about.
We have great hopes for the Bey. He was born here, and I expect him to earn his
keep! So far, I can’t com plain.