I am, to put it mildly, a bit of a planner. Some might even throw around the words “control freak,” although that sounds fairly harsh to me. I prefer meticulous, driven by detail, thorough.
It’s no surprise then that I had a plan for my widowhood. In my grief, I doubled down in planning and control. My best friend was ripped away from me, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. With him went the safe, idyllic life I had worked so hard to cultivate. In the aftermath, control was my only safety. In many ways, it still is.
Through my planning, I thought I knew what these years would look like.
Let’s be real—my plan for years two and three involved building a relationship with someone else. For a hot minute, I even thought I might know who that person would be (ha!). By now, I thought I’d be moving into the next phase with another life partner. That was the plan.
Tim came into my life with no warning. I was fixated on someone else at the time (one of my trademark moves), and had pretty much given up on dating. But then I met this kind, intelligent, absolutely funny person who, despite all reason and practical sensibility, was smitten with me. He had so many amazing qualities that led me to fall in love with him, but the real reason is this—Tim was one of the few people I’ve ever known that I could be my entire self with. My goofy, anxious, horse girl, control freak self. No exceptions, no reservations. We gave the best, and worst, of ourselves to each other. It was the kind of love you can’t plan for.
But this is not a post about how wonderful and complicated our marriage was. This is a post about today being the fourth anniversary of his death. I write about it every year, that’s part of the plan after all. The first year was about thanking him for making me the person I am today. The second on how scared I am to forget him, how isolated I feel. The third about all the things I am still afraid of.
When I wrote those posts, especially the first one, I think I expected year four to be something happy. Redeeming. Look at me living my best life! I survived, and now I’m doing great! I’m so, so healed y’all. Sign me up for a TedTalk.
There’s some truth in it. I did survive. I’m living a good life. Last week, I graduated and earned my MFA in creative writing—a degree I’ve wanted since I was 18, but didn’t believe would ever happen. In a world driven by technology trends and blazing media, I’m making a living as a professional writer. I am fortunate enough to have support to follow my dreams, whether it’s cantering my baby Thoroughbred or finishing my first memoir. Even on my worst days, I know I have a lot going for me.
But I’m not healed. This is not the kind of loss you can heal from.
The first year of widowhood was all these crazy ups and downs, legal mountains to climb, huge mood swings. The second stabilized, but became a task of remembering, memorializing, and living for Tim since he cannot. The third was trying to let go a little, but often failing. How can I ever let go of the person I still love more than anyone else? The answer, at least my answer, is that I can’t. Not completely.
When I was trying to think what to write today, I had trouble. Previously, these yearly updates contained big revelations about my grief that couldn’t help but pour out. They were so strong, they overflowed. This year was harder, because I realize now this feeling, this level of grief, is my new constant. The pain is not as acute as before. I can push it away much faster, but it’s always here. It hasn’t lessened or changed in years.
This level of pain lets me laugh with friends until my abs hurt. Go on trips without the main feeling being regret that Tim couldn’t see new, fantastic places. It allows me to find the style of clothes that I prefer instead of dressing in the ways he liked best. It keeps a handful of his framed pictures around, but not in every frame. It grants me permission to be romantically interested in other people, even though let’s be honest—most people suck.
Most days, it tells me I can stop feeling guilty.
But it also erupts in tears, especially late at night when I can’t sleep and allow myself to remember what a fantastic man I loved. It will fiercely shut down a group of young students being cavalier about hard drugs, bragging about how cool it is to do coke (spoiler alert—it’s not). It gets melancholy around the holidays. It’s sentimental about the old tin tray he kept in the kitchen or his collection of Sandman comics. It loses patience often when people complain—especially about breakups that last less than a year. It will never forget what that visceral loss felt like.
The loss that made me wake up at midnight, vomiting for weeks. The loss that made me afraid to let other people drive me around in a car, or convinced me that if I didn’t hear back from someone within an hour or so of texting them, they had probably died. The loss that changed my entire psyche as a human. Even Simon’s death, another trauma I’m not even remotely close to healing from, didn’t hurt like Tim. Nothing ever will.
And that’s year four to me, living with this constant, muffled state of sadness. Even with it, I continue to live. I search for joy. Often, I find it—sometimes even copious amounts. Don’t confuse this post with a cry for help or a fit of depression. Mentally, I feel good right now. My good is just always, forever, layered with grief.
This complexity wasn’t part of my plan, but I continue to re-learn the lesson that life isn’t something you can plan for. Despite how much I want, I can’t control it.
In about a week, I’m moving back home to start “life 2.0” as I’ve been joking. The California, graduate school life sabbatical is over. I’m still alone, not counting Pascale and Baby Dragon, and I don’t know what the next phase will bring.
I don’t have any predictions for year five of widowhood except that things will still be complicated. There will always be hurt in the joy. Tim will always be a part of my life, but I accept this because the pain is a privilege. He was worth it.
I’ve done a pretty good job balancing all my responsibilities through graduate school, but this quarter is when that’s all gone to hell. I put too much on my plate, knew it, and am suffering the consequences. Even though I only have one week of classes left, lots of grading for my TA position, and a final paper, I’m still pretty much just throwing buckets of water out of the life raft so it doesn’t sink. It’s rough right now y’all. It’s rough.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for Poet, but I guess that’s why I pay for full training. On a good week, I get one or two times out at the barn. Compared to my usual schedule of 3-4, that seems incredibly sparse. The limited time makes it hard to bond with him and establish a relationship, but I’m doing the best I can.
With the trainers, he’s making great progress. They’ve moved him up to the “big boy” ring and have started jumping him over some little X’s. The report is that he’s a little squirrely for the first ride after a few days off, but is behaving himself. He gets bored with the same thing over and over, typical Thoroughbred, which is why they’ve started adding cavaletti and little jumps into the mix. Simon was the same way with his brain, so I’m not worried about that. I’m good at doing more than just plodding around on the rail for an hour.
ADD baby does not want to stand still to model new bridle
My lesson last Friday wasn’t what I expected, but exactly what I needed. Since he’s been so good, I drove to the barn with images of moving up to the big ring myself and cantering big, happy circles. But when I got there, Poet was a turd bucket of a baby horse on the ground. He kept biting the air in frustration, wouldn’t stand still, was distracted by everything and wouldn’t listen to me. An ADD brat.
I don’t like to admit it, but when I first got him I was a little scared of him on the ground when he acted like this. Simon had saintly ground manners, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle this abrupt change. But I can (and do). Poet’s silly baby moments on the ground don’t bother me anymore, we train through them, but when I know I’m about to get on I still get nervous. I see him thinking about being a pony kite, and I immediately get visions of him leaping through the air and me flying off into a heap on the ground.
This is as close as we get to a model shot
Trainer noticed the wild look in his eye, and said she would get on first if I wanted. But I took a deep breath and told myself this was all part of buying a four year old, and that I needed to buck up.
Once I got on, he was a perfect angel. We didn’t canter circles in the big ring, rather trotted circles and worked on steering in the smaller one, but it was still a really successful day. He listened to me, did the best he could, and let me know when I was confusing him with my aids. In return, I worked on dumbing everything down to his baby-horse level, and told him he was the bestest boy every time he did the right thing.
Found his itchy spot!
Progress between the two of us is really slow right now, but that’s really my fault. I can’t ride much with my schedule, and I have to learn to be brave with a young horse. That’s not going to happen overnight with me. It’s going to take a lot of walk-trot lessons, and time with him for me to learn that just because he may be acting like a brat on the ground doesn’t mean he’s going to be a naughty boy when I ride.
For now, I’m just trying to get through school so I can breathe and then take some real time to learn my new horse. Soon!
I didn’t blog last week, because my biggest accomplishment with Poet was hand walking him around the property after turnout. This sounds basic, but turnout sometimes reminds Poet that he is a wild, unruly baby dragon. Me time means no rules! Observe.
Poet playing - YouTube
And of course, that’s fine because it’s what turnout is for (yes, I will have video ready first time he’s turned out in his much much much bigger Texas pasture). However, after I bring him in he often forgets that “me” time is over. I took advantage of a quiet mother’s day at the barn to walk him around all of the post-show setup and work on our manners. Which, after a few laps around the property, were reinstalled enough that I could take these oh-so-flattering pictures of my fancy hunter.
This week, there is a lot more to blog about. Trainers decided it was a good week to focus on riding instead of groundwork, and off they went!
He trotted, he cantered, he turned left (and right!) which is honestly even more exciting than the cantering part. He trotted poles, and he even did a few clean lead changes… although those were certainly not things we asked for.
I went out Friday morning to watch, and grabbed some video clips. It’s really exciting to watch him come along, because during every training sessions I see little glimpses of this fancy hunter I might own one day.
Poet - 5/17/19 - YouTube
I told my trainer that it feels like I’ve got my hands on something that is either going to be a lovely, lovely show horse for me, or I’m going to completely botch it up and things will end in disaster. Really, I guess that’s any horse, but it the stakes feel higher with a young one. My job right now is to work hard, listen to my trainers, and be patient. You probably don’t have to guess which of those three things is hardest for me.
After my trainer rode him on Friday, I hopped on for a super brief ride of my own. His trot has so much more suspension than Simon’s, which makes me realize how incredibly out of shape I’ve gotten. Pre-graduation comfort meals and time out of the saddle have not been kind to my body.
On Saturday, I met trainer down at the ring for my first lesson on Po po (testing out a new nickname, feedback encouraged). Since turnout tends to make him somewhat feral, I took him straight out of his stall and just hopped on.
Main trainer wants me to always be a few steps behind how the pro rides him. The pro’s job is to push his buttons, correct what needs correcting in order for his education to progress. My job as flabby amateur mom is to ride through concepts he understands. That way we’re both set up for success, and he gets to feel confident in me too.
I love this setup.
So this morning, our lesson was walk/trot in half the ring working on steering. Super exciting, except I’m not being sarcastic. I’m still giddy over it. He’s delightfully sensitive, and pays close attention to everything I do in the saddle. He also pays close attention to stuff going outside the ring, but although it was a busy day and he shied once, he never spooked or did anything naughty. And the down transitions? Oh heavenly hunter down transitions. I think I only had to ask him to slow down maybe twice, and the minute I stop posting in the saddle and start to say ‘Wa—’ he’s already walking happily. Poet, I think you’re going to like the hunters.
So it was a good day, a good week. The next might not be, but that’s okay. I’m slowly (ever so slowly) learning to accept whatever version of my horse I have that day. This week’s version though, was great.
I love blogging. Love writing. Love writing creative nonfiction specifically, but it can be hard having all my shit out there in a very public way. Sometimes this is amazing, like in the form of friends I’ve met, support and love from “strangers.”
Still, I wouldn’t change my writing decisions. Even when it’s awkward, even when my family gets upset at me, this is who I am. I’ve made the choice to put myself out there in this way, and I don’t regret it.
But it isn’t always easy, even when it’s “just” about a horse.
In the grand scheme of things, blogging about Poet is nothing compared to writing a book about my dead husband or intimately describing the parts of my body that I hate. However, I’m used to blogging about Simon. My beloved Simon who could really do no wrong in my eyes (except lead changes, but I’ve long forgiven him) and was never, ever going to get sold.
Blogging about a new horse is harder, because I have to be protective. If I write little things that aren’t perfect now, it could easily turn into a google search years down the line if I decide we’re not a perfect match and he needs a new home. If I’m honest about some training issues we’re going through, it’s not long before my messages are peppered with advice. Some welcome, some not.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the knowledge and kindness of others, but when you have a new horse and you’re trying to figure all the things out, I find it best to listen to my trainer, my vet, my farrier and my gut. There is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.
What’s a bigger problem for me though is I feel a pressure to succeed. All I want is to litter my social media with blue ribbons, perfect portraits and all of the amazing things that comes from horse ownership. The reality though? Right now it’s pretty dapples, because we had the chiro last week and therefore a light week of work while his bones settled after the adjustment.
Forgive me for inflating my ego for a second, but between this long running blog and my work with TPH I feel like I’ve become a bit of a spokes person for, as I describe myself, the flabby, weenie working adult amateur. I did great things with Simon despite financial, physical and other limitations (cough cough lack of my own talent cough). Even when there weren’t blue ribbons, we won so much.
When I try something, whether it’s graduate school or a hunter derby or a new horse, I want to win not only for myself, but also for everyone cheering me on. It feels like a community, because we all know how hard this sport is. But so early on right now, I don’t know what Poet will bring.
For now, lots of learning. Lots of thinking. Don’t mistake these ponderings for sadness, although I am still sad sometimes. This weekend, I spent a lot of time grooming Po and doing this stupid little thing I read in a book (that now I realize was probably cultural appropriation of native americans but forgive me) about how to greet a new horse. I read that you breathe a little into their nose, so they can smell you and be one or something cheesy like that. Even when I do it, I silently judge myself but I couldn’t help it this weekend.
I scratched his nose, blew into his nostrils a little and whispered what a pretty boy he was and how he has the potential to be such a great pony. While I did this, he stood there quietly and wiggled his lips a little bit as if to say, I have no idea what’s happening but do you see how much restraint I’m showing by not nibbling on your face right now with my teeth? Because teeth are BAD and I am a good boy!
And I told him he was a good boy, and that I would never ask him to be Simon. Before I put him away for the weekend, I spent a lot of time looking at his dapples. I’ve never had a gray. The hair patterns and gradient swirls are so new to me. Sometimes I think that every weekend I go to the barn, he looks a little different.
Right now, they’re dark and stormy and complicated. They remind me of storm clouds and rain, which keep hammering the city I’m moving back to in less than two months. It doesn’t seem like a bad omen though. It seems like some kind of rebirth.
Last week was a week. It had nothing to do with Poet or anything horse, but I went through the wringer emotionally and really needed the barn to be that beacon of sunshine and rainbows that can magically fix anything. Spoiler alert—that did not happen.
It’s not Poet’s fault that it didn’t. On Friday morning, I went out to watch trainer work him per usual. He got a great report last week, partially due to him slowly finding this crazy thing called “maturity” but mostly due to my trainer knowing every trick in the book. He doesn’t like having to give in to any sort of rein pressure and has a bag of tricks he uses to avoid having to bend. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to get his head down or any nonsense right that. We’re trying to get basic steering and bending.
On the line, he will pull against the bit, put his head down and buck. So trainer, being the brilliant trainer that she is, set the side reins higher. They’re not tight, but they don’t allow him to him to put his head between his knees and express himself. This led to lots of learning, and he started to give in and just do the thing. Thanks Poet. We love it when you do the thing!
Poet - Bit lunging 4/26 - YouTube
This development led to me getting the greenlight for a lesson on Saturday morning. For the first time since I’ve owned him, I woke up with excitement in my belly that I got to go ride my baby horse!
However, after I got him out of turnout and tacked him up, we discovered that he was sore on the right front. The leg had no heat or swelling, and best I can figure it’s a stone bruise from running around like a moron Saturday morning. Unlike Simon, Poet pony knows how to make good use of the turnout in California for playing.
I’m not worried about the soreness, at least not yet. He has tiny little feet (which has brought about a new set of anxieties about how he’s clearly too small/fine boned/tiny footed for big rider me and should only be owned by a tiny sprite of a person… but that’s the subject for another anxiety attack) and was shod Thursday for the first time by our farrier. He might have been a little sore from that, since his feet were overdue, or he might have just stepped on a rock.
But I will be honest and say that I was upset driving home from the barn. Like, tears in eyes berating myself for crying upset. I was really looking forward to something good after such a shitty week, and that didn’t happen. Plus, after turnout Poet’s brain kind of leaves his head. I think all of the “me” time gets to him, and he forgets manners. So not only was my horse too sore to ride, but he was also a space cadet.
On a good day, I brush that off as baby behavior and don’t think any of it. But on Saturday, I needed my Simon. I needed to be able to swing a leg over my trusted friend, have a good ride and disconnect from the world for a little while. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll feel that way about Poet.
How long does it take to truly love a horse? That answer is as individual as horses. Three days, three months, years, never. I knew Simon for about two months before I owned him, but by the time he was officially mine I was head over heels. I loved every flaw on that ribby, green-bean nerd horse.
I’m excited about Poet. I love watching him progress. I have visions of flat classes and hunter stardom in our future. I’m committed to training him to the best of my ability (and by training, I mean hiring trainers) to see this thing out. I like him (the vast majority of the time, full blown baby dragon excluded), but I don’t love him.
Some days, especially when I need my friend, I am still deeply sad. Having Poet fills a horse shaped hole, but it doesn’t fill a Simon shaped one. Only Simon can do that, and he exists to me only in memory. Sometimes, memory isn’t enough.
So forgive my melancholy in this update today. It’s emotional rather than logical, but horses aren’t always a logical endeavor.
I have told Poet more than once that if he’s a good baby Thoroughbred and learns to hunter, he’ll have the best forever home I can provide for him for as long as physically possible. When I leave the barn on Sunday to head back to the real world for another tough week of school and work, I cheerfully remind him to Make good choices!
This week he made some really good choices.
After a week plus of groundwork, my trainer decided it was time to make a new plan for him. They turned him out for wahoos, and then assistant trainer got on to ride in the round pen. I got a great report for the first day, and was told the next time they were taking him to the dressage arena for a ride.
That’s when we learned he kind of doesn’t know how to steer at all. So, there were a few days of working through that, during which he didn’t always make the best choices. Poet’s favorite things in life are to be pampered, eat and take naps. He sees the gate as the opportunity for all of those things, and tried to politely (or really, not so politely) excuse himself from this “riding” activity several times with trainer.
I think there was some backwards and sideways upper level dressage moves that they did not ask for. I’m sure there was a mini tantrum or two, but he didn’t get to go out the gate. I mean, I like naps too so I get it, but if I have to teach undergraduates on Friday afternoons Poet has to go trot trot around the ring for thirty minutes.
When I headed to the barn Friday morning and talked to assistant trainers about his antics, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had my phone ready to video, and kind of anticipated a rodeo.
Poet - 4/19/19 - YouTube
But, he mostly made really good choices! He still doesn’t like the bit pressure and likes to flip his tongue over it back and forth when he’s either bored or trying to be evasive. That’s certainly a work in progress, and there were moments of many small walk circles (Yes, you really do have to go right when I ask you to go right) that I cut from the video for your viewing pleasure, but overall—he was a good green bean. Trainer said that on Saturday I could turn him out and plan to ride at the walk to work on steering and halting basics.
Of course, I was both thrilled and nervous to actually ride my own horse at home. When I tried Poet, I wasn’t worried about him dumping me or doing anything stupid and he was quite the gentlemen. But it’s a different thing when he’s home, I’ve seen him rodeo buck in turnout bigger than I could ever hope to sit, and have (finally) fully realized he’s a green four-year-old. Still, I knew trainer was setting me up for success and I had to get on him eventually.
I tacked up with the most amazing saddle pad that Joanne and Sydney from Two Socks Designs sent me (THANK YOU THANK YOU!), took a deep breath and prepared to tackle the baby dragon.
It’s been so, so long since I’ve ridden a horse this green. Within the first thirty seconds he tried to walk backwards/sideways to see if I was going to make him listen, but I just put my hands forward and added leg to get him moving straight again. After that, he made really good choices.
EXCUSE ME HELLO AM I MAKING GOOD CHOICES?!
We circled, serpentined, changed direction and worked on our ‘Ho’ for maybe fifteen minutes or so. His attention span is like a toddler’s, and I forget sometimes that I can’t expect him to bend through a circle like Simon would have. But the benefit of doing all of this at the walk in a low key, no pressure environment is that I can just take a deep breath and ask again in baby-horse-language.
There are a lot of things I am not good at with riding. Ya’ll know I’m a chicken, that I have no “natural talent” or extremely fit muscle core, but I do have a good feel. And with babies, a good feel is a really important tool.
So while it was the most boring ride to watch, we had a really nice little session together. When I was close to being ready to finish, I could feel him getting over it all. He started trying to paw when we halted (not a good choice), so I made him stand still for five seconds and chose that as a good note to end on.
Eventually he’s going to have to learn to push through his internal timeclock, but that’s a job for the trainers right now. My job is to reinforce the lessons he learns during the week, and give us small moments of success. That’s how we’re going to build this entire picture—step by baby step.
Even though we just walked, he fell asleep in the crossties after. Using his brain right now is almost harder than using his body, and he took in a lot of big lessons this week. Trainer believes, and I agree, that his tummy is bothering him some so he’s got a month of UlcerGard on the way to treat ulcers. I had already started him on the SmartPak digestive/hindgut supplement as well as a calming one, so hoping the triple combination of things will make his body as apt to learn as possible.
Tried to take easter pictures, but this butterfly headband was too small and he wanted to eat the flowers… so fail
On Sunday, I turned him out to wahoo and have some “me” time. Lately he’s been a huge brat walking back from the turnout, and I went in preparing to fight him walking back to the barn. The plan was that he got two chances to try and drag me back, but if he didn’t listen after the 2nd correction I was to put him back in turnout for another ten minutes until he walked back like a gentlemen.
Of course since I had this plan and time to execute it, he made good choices on the walk back to his house. Don’t get me wrong—he was not relaxed. I could tell he really, really wanted to shake his head and try to drag me back to the barn, but the hamsters quickly spun the wheels in his brain and he did his very baby best to keep his feelings in a box.
After filling his treat ball with snacks, I thanked him for making good choices and told him to enjoy his nap. Who knows what next week will bring, it certainly won’t be linear, but this was a good one!
Years ago, Tim took some riding lessons to see what all the fuss was about with this crazy ol’ sport I love. After a month or so, he came home really frustrated.
“I don’t understand why every ride isn’t easier than the one before!”
I legit laughed in his face. Silly husband, progression with horses is not linear! However despite having owned horses for over twenty years at this point, I’m having to re-learn this lesson myself right now with Poet.
Short version: baby Thoroughbred isn’t as, erm, quiet, as I originally thought.
I’m a pretty typical type-A, Capricorn, planning perfectionist type, which is a really hard personality when it comes to owning horses. Baby horses? Even harder. Last week my trainer began bit-lunging Poet in side reins. He doesn’t like bit contact at all, and gets mad when he’s asked to work under such horrid conditions. When I remember that for the last year of his life, the round pen meant bucking/playing and nothing else, it’s easy to understand why he’s resistant. However, he’s not coming around as quickly as I hoped.
One day he was fantastic for my trainer, and the next horrid. The one after that, somewhere in-between. While I keep hoping that one great day will lead to another, and soon we’ll all be riding him and enjoying the new baby horse honeymoon I’m waiting for, Poet reminds me that progress is not linear.
My trainer, who has started more baby horses and OTTBs than I will ever encounter in my lifetime, simply stated. “I don’t have expectations. I train the horse I have that day.”
Bit Lunging - 4/12/19 - YouTube
Expectations are my jam, but I’m trying to think more like her instead of the obsessive planner type who admittedly has no chill.
On Saturday, I went out to the barn to turn him out so he could have a relaxing day out of the stall after a hard week of work. I read a book while I watched him sunbathe, romp and play a little. It was quite lovely, and I thought about the time I’d spend lovingly grooming him after I got him out of turnout.
Alas, expectations. When I got my baby horse out, he was a raging monster. I guess an hour of free time made him forget every manner he had ever learned in the past two weeks. While I did wash his tail, I spent more time contemplating releasing him into the wild than I did doting over his gorgeous dapples.
I’m smiling here, but it’s not coming naturally.
If I’m being honest, I went home in a pit of despair—thinking I had made a giant mistake. I missed my good, lovely horse whose every mood I could predict. Getting me and Poet to that point seemed like an impossibility.
After some moping (and ordering some calming supplements), I went out to the barn on Sunday with an attempt at a new attitude. He’s a baby. He’s going to have moments. He’s also only been at the barn for two weeks. We turned his entire world upside down and changed the rules. I have to be patient, trust the process and give him a fair shot. It doesn’t matter if I’m not riding yet. It doesn’t matter if I’m not riding in a month. He’s my horse now, and I have to do the best I can for him with the resources and expertise that I have access to.
So I took him out, tried to act as sweet as can be to him without any emotional baggage. We lunged in the round pen, and he showed me how well he knows his voice commands now. Sure, there were a few expressive moments but they were minor and when I told him to cut it out he came back down properly. His manners were very much intact, and he even let me clip his legs after and cover those gorgeous dapples with all sorts of product.
Before I left, I kissed his nose and promised I would try not to dump all my anxiety, hopes and dreams on him. It was a good day. The next might not be, but I’ll try to train the horse I have at any given moment.
Poet has officially been my horse for almost two weeks, and I’m pretty sure he thinks this is the strangest summer camp ever. Early on in this adventure, I told my trainer that he was going to hate me before he loves me. While hate is probably too strong of a word, he’s given me the side eye more than once like, Hey lady are you sure about this? I just keep telling him that if he’s a brave boy who listens, he’ll have the best forever home an OTTB could ask for.
Kind of obsessed with these salt and pepper eyelashes.
Early last week, the vet came out for vaccinations and worming. During that visit, he took a look at Poet’s teeth and determined they should be done sooner than we thought. So we had the dentist out the next day, and discovered that surprise! He still had his wolf teeth.
The dentist got those out, although had to dig for them a bit versus a super simple extraction. Poet got to rest for a few days, and having just had my wisdom teeth out as I type this (I am so unhappy. This is terrible), I can certainly empathize with poor baby horse’s mouth.
While he recovered, we’ve been resuming work slowly. Right now it’s all about groundwork. No biting, no pawing, no running people over when you want to look at someone. The name of the game is teaching him to respect our personal space. Of course he’s not perfect, but he’s getting a lot better. Every time I go out, I see improvement. Baby dinosaur is not dumb.
Next to another large friend. We sticked him and he’s right at 16hh
In the round pen he’s learning voice commands with lunging and that shuffling around is not acceptable. Currently, his two favorite speeds are extremely slow or bucking/galloping. So he’s learning that yes, there is an in-between. With my trainer, he’s starting to listen like a champ. I don’t get the results she does (that’s why I pay her the big bucks), but I’m getting there.
Poet Lunging 4/5/19 - YouTube
My goal right now in the early stages is to be consistent yet kind in my boundaries with him, and remove any physical reasons why he might say “no” to our work requests. The teeth will help for sure, but I’m also getting him scheduled for the chiropractor, looking into joint support and made an appointment with a saddle fitter. I want him to love his new job and find it easy peasy, but know he won’t if something is off.
Getting to lunge my own horse, progress! ha
If I’m being honest, and y’all know I typically am, I vacillate between being over the moon excited and extremely anxious. The first two weeks have revealed the reality of buying a baby Thoroughbred. It’s one thing to logically understand, Okay yes here goes a grand adventure that will have some low moments but hopefully work out okay! It’s another thing to physically start that adventure.
The prettiest boy
The adjustment from Simon to a baby dragon isn’t easy. Even though Simon wasn’t perfect, I could predict his every move. Poet is a whole new ball game. In some ways, it’s way better. I pulled his entire mane after I lunged him the other day, and he stood there quieter than Simon ever would have. Other days, I’m dodging him trying to bite my arm.
I do love being a horse owner again. Something deep inside me feels fulfilled again. I don’t know why I can’t satisfy that feeling with lessons or leasing, but it doesn’t feel the same. Going out to the barn to care for my creature, brush out his tail and work on our agenda for the day feels right. Even though he’s a baby dragon at times, I feel complete again.
Poet came home midday on Wednesday, and I was there to greet him with my baby OTTB starter kit: new halter, salt lick, stall toy, and lead shank.
He stepped off the trailer calmer than Simon did when he arrived a year and a half earlier. My barn is a lot more animated than the place where Poet lived before. It’s open, with multiple barns, tons of horses and kids, a road with cars that go up and down, a train, and all sorts of stuff around. But had big eyes and I could tell he was nervous stepping off the trailer, but he walked to a gentleman to his stall and promptly started eating.
Poet's First Day - YouTube
I let him settle (and flirt with his new girlfriend), and then got him out to brush him a bit. He’s totally a baby in every way. Wants to paw, wants to nibble, wants to jiggle around in the crossties, but he’s also incredibly sweet. He loves people, and hates being left alone. Definitely a needy little toddler, but I can’t lie—I love being needed.
The first day he just had to sit in his stall and look pretty, which he excels at. “Is that fancy gray your new horse?” people asked me. I never thought “fancy gray” would describe my animal, but here we are.
On day two, I showed up to the barn wearing breeches. That was perhaps a little optimistic.
Though Poet was the most quiet, lovely four-year-old I’ve ever sat on when I tried him, he’s still four. A very green four. Now that he’s gone to prep school, the rules are suddenly very different. He’s not fully sure what they are, and finding out is really hard.
Excuse me but what is it you people do here?
Nibbling is not allowed, no matter how fun it is. Pawing is not allowed, no matter how much attention it brings. Disregarding personal space and going wherever a baby dragon pleases, also not allowed.
Prep school isn’t very much fun!
But he’s a baby, and my trainers are great at knowing when to be calm and patient and when to say no. Looking at new, scary things? Totally allowed. Walking to turnout, he passed many things I expected him to respond to without a hitch, but the water trough was so scary. Still, when he’s scared he stops and wants to back up. We go back a few steps, I wait, and then we go forward to get closer. Repeat. It’s all very reasonable, and I can see his brain figuring it out. When he’s truly scared, he’s very doe-eyed and needy for my guidance and support. I can totally do that.
In turnout, bucking and playing is totally allowed. He got to do a lot of that yesterday, and will have many more opportunities in the future. Simon was a horse that thought our California turnouts were poppycock. He’d stare at me like, Okay and the point of this is? But Poet knows the deal.
Loves his new, bigger space.
The assistant trainer did a short ride yesterday walking around the ring where Poet didn’t care at all about the other horses, the giant construction truck that came up the road while he was going around, or the colorful jumps scattered everywhere. We did get a better handle on what he does and doesn’t know, some of his bad habits, and his baby dragon reaction when he’s told that’s not allowed in prep school, sorry sir.
This bridle is 32 years older than he is.
My trainer told me he needs ground driving, and more manners before I’m to get on. She said for me to give her two weeks. I agreed, because I knew that if I was going to buy a four-year-old it was going to go straight into professional hands. They will set me up for success, and I’ll follow the program.
Hello child, I have been abandoned. Send help (and treats).
So the program right now is for me to continue working on his ground manners, turnout and grooming for the next two weeks while trainers start the process of turning baby dragon into a real boy. It’s going to be a long journey for sure, but he sure is nice to look at during the process.
I have a lot of strengths, but patience is not one of them. So I’ve been dying, dying to tell y’all something.
The last week has been a doldrum of waiting for the drug panel to clear after my pre-purchase, but now that it’s finally official I’m so excited to report that I’m a horse owner again! Not only a horse owner, but a baby OTTB owner that one of my bff’s has dubbed “the greyby.”
Although his name didn’t used to be Poet, that’s new. He was born Max or technically “MaxnMacy 15” at Rosecrest Farm in Kentucky.
His big claim to fame at his breeding farm was that he got up to walk around before his mother even stood up. And, because the internet is awesome, I have video proof of that.
Max's first steps - YouTube
His dam, MaxNMacy, is by Monarchos. She showed early speed at the track, but had recurring knee issues so the owners decided to retire her without any starts.
Maxnmacy at the racetrack in 2009. Photo from Rosecrest Farm
His sire, Informed, is by Tiznow, and won a bit, because stallion.
This is a horse that has been loved and cared for by good people for his entire life. Being in the industry for a long time, it’s refreshing. As a youngster, I’m told he had quite the personality. When turned out as a yearling, he’d tear all the halters off his pasture mates to the point where people had to constantly match the right name to the correct youngsters. This is probably what earned him is Jockey Club name, Carateracho, which means grumpy/problematic in Italian.
Photo from Willshire Farm. He’s about 2.5 years old here.
He was broke in South Carolina as a two-year-old, and sent to California to begin race training. Where he impressed his owners greatly by being incredibly, incredibly slow.
Photo from Doug O’Neill Racing Stable
The seller, who is a former jockey, amazing horse person and over all solid human being, told me the owner’s wife really liked the horse. When he kept trantering down the track, they decided it was best to find him a good home. Which is when she got him about a year ago.
Believe he’s almost 3 here.
She named him Grigio, and during his year with her he learned how to horse. She grew up riding hunter/jumpers, and that plus her immense experience racing meant she knew the right things to let him down and start re-training in a proper way. He walk/trot/canters, steers (kinda!) and happily jumps little cavaletti. Basically, he’s a perfect canvas for a sporthorse home. She believed he’d be a natural hunter. Luckily for me, my trainers agreed.
First Ride - YouTube
If I’m being honest, I wanted this horse before I sat on him. For the past month or so, I’ve been horse shopping using the Mari Kondo method. It had to bring me joy. And from the first time I looked at him, he did.
Riding him, I felt very safe. He’s got a great brain. Yes, he’s super green. Yes, it’s going to be a long journey. Yes, I’m aware there are many people judging me right now for buying a green-broke four-year-old, but it feels right. So, I’m doing it.
Well, I did it.
Once he gets to the barn tomorrow, his name will be Poet. Show name Silverstein.
And so I leave you with a poem from his namesake, that I will be repeating to myself throughout this journey that will be long, and will inevitably have its highs and lows.
The Voice, by Shel Silverstein
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you—just listen
to the voice that speaks inside.