November 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what’s good in your life.
Like the pumpkin pie and ice cream I had for breakfast.
Like the late, lingering fall ride I recently took with Kate. She snapped a photo of Mystic and me, with Ginger frolicking in the background.
Like having my son Gabe living with me here in North Carolina, celebrating our first Thanksgiving together in six years.
Gratia. Gracias. Grazie.
October 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
Fifteen years ago I wrote a fan letter to Jay Neugeboren after reading his extraordinary memoir, Imagining Robert, about his brother’s mental illness and their deeply intertwined lives. He wrote back, we met, and I gained a lifelong friend, mentor, and role model.
Last week Jay came to Greensboro to speak at several events sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, where I work. He read from Imagining Robert and his latest novel, The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company. He spoke to a broad range of people, from mental health professionals to individuals with psychiatric conditions. He touched the hearts and minds of all.
Jay had just one request during his visit: He wanted to meet Mystic. The letter below is Jay’s account of that historic encounter.
I miss you.
It’s a gorgeous fall day here in New York City—the air crisp and clear, the pale blue sky flecked with misty clouds—but nowhere near as gorgeous as it was a week ago when you and I met, and when you let me ride you. Did you know this was the first time in my life that I rode a horse? I hope so, because although I had a wonderful few days in Greensboro, and met many good and fascinating people, for this kid from Brooklyn meeting you was the high point of my stay.
On my first morning in Greensboro, Mary Seymour, your proud owner—and my dear friend—introduced us. The day was stunning, and Flintrock Farm, where you live, sparkled in the morning light. We walked past stables, looked out on grazing horses, and Mary found you where she knew she would, hanging out with friends. She introduced us, and I was—love at first sight?—enchanted.
You were strong, proud, gentle, and, when you gazed at me sideways there was a look in your eye that I can only describe as wise and knowing. Mary put you through your paces with her stick and her voice. You were mildly contrary at first, but soon responded eagerly to her prompts. And you were playful! Then Mary rode you, and when you went from a walk and trot to a canter—oh my, what a wonder you were, your silver mane and tail flying in the wind!
And then came Mary’s question: Would you like to ride him? The answer had been there from the first moment we met, and I mounted you, held a fistful of your mane in my left hand, and was amazed to be up there. Mary led me around the ring, then into the world beyond, and what surprised me was that the movement was not at all an up-and-down camel-like motion, but a gentle almost diagonal movement—a bit to the left, a bit to the right. Mary pulled on the reins so that you turned in small circles, this way and that, and I was astonished at how solid you felt under me, how comfortable I felt on you, and—most of all—how high up I felt.
I remembered riding on my father’s shoulders when I was a boy, and I remembered the crystal clear views I had had the day before, from the airplane, as it headed south along the Eastern coast line—but the view I had riding on you was best of all. I felt tall in body and in spirit.
For the next three days—while meeting people at the Greensboro Public Library, Mental Health Association in Greensboro, Women’s Hospital Education Center, Interactive Resource Center (where I also met the extraordinary Liz Seymour, founder and director of the IRC, and Mary’s sister), FaithAction International House (where I met the vibrant Abigail Seymour, immigration assistant and Mary’s sister), and Temple Emanuel—I thought of you, as I did on my flight home, and as I do now. My purpose in visiting Greensboro was to talk to people about mental illness and mental health—about sources of recovery from the emotional troubles many of us experience on our journey through this life.
The talks went exceptionally well, I thought, but what went best of all were the ways in which meeting you, and riding you, enhanced not only my own mental health, but a state of being that went far beyond what those two words can conjure up, for they enhanced my very joy in being alive, and being able, in the middle of my eighth decade on this earth, to have a new experience that made my heart glad.
September 8, 2013 § 4 Comments
Meet Laea, a five-year-old Arabian mare who floats when she runs and has a smart, darting mind.
Laea belongs to Tim, who wanted a young Arabian for endurance riding. She’d spent her earliest years on an Arabian farm near Charlotte; when the owner died, all the other horses found homes. No one wanted Laea, however, because she had a crooked tail. She went to a foster home, where Tim found her and took her in. He didn’t care what her tail looked like; he saw her capacity to go, go, go.
That go combined with spookiness made her a challenging green horse. One trainer got her started so Tim could get on her back, but she still had a long way to go. Tim learned about Cooler Horsemanship and brought Laea to Flintrock Farm for 60 days of training this spring. Both James and Kate helped her advance by leaps and bounds, teaching her how to focus, relax, trust, and gain confidence. She proved to be a highly responsive student, albeit with strong opinions.
When Laea’s training finished, Tim decided to keep her at Flintrock for a few months, figuring the busy environment and big pastures and trails would be good practice for her future endurance career.
Meanwhile I found myself without a horse while Mystic recuperated from a strained tendon, and asked if I could play with Laea now and then. Tim generously agreed. I began doing simple groundplay—lunging at walk and trot, sidepassing, backing over poles—and fell in love with Laea’s extreme sensitivity. Playing with her was like driving a Maserati (or how I imagine it would be).
Her desire to bond and her quickness at mirroring movements made me curious what she’d be like at freedom. Jane, who is a master of groundplay and freedom play, had the same thought. We did a fun session one day, with Jane keeping Laea moving until she joined with Tim. She got a good workout in the process, though I had the sense she could run for another 20 hours.
Riding Laea requires a bit of bravery on my part. She’s as wiggly as a fish and spooks easily (i.e., she recently ran straight into a gate when a herd of deer dashed through the pasture).
The other night I put a bareback pad on her, gave her the loosest rein possible, and let her explore wherever she wanted, nose low to the ground. I could literally feel her gain confidence, and I relaxed accordingly.
She now navigates a tarp with ease and puts her front feet on the pedestal, even taking me up on her back. She’s learned to hop over jumps instead of bump into them and freak out.
However much Laea has learned, I’ve learned way more from her. She’s taught me to refine my body language, to understand that sensitivity requires only a whisper, to take infinite joy in every one of her accomplishments.
After six weeks of stall rest, Mystic is back to his usual self. Yesterday I took him for a stroll around a capacious pasture, with Tim and Laea as our riding companions. I watched with motherly pride as Laea walked with a low head, looking relaxed and curious. I realized that a piece of my heart lay with her, even as I felt supremely happy riding my beloved, unwiggly horse.
I guess that’s what horses do. Steal our hearts.
August 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Two months have passed since James and Kate Cooler left North Carolina to spend the summer in Montana. They’re training green horses and yearlings at the R Lazy 6 Ranch in Lewistown, holding clinics and demos, and honing their colt-starting skills for the upcoming SEFHA Colt Starting Challenge on October 19.
I feel melancholy every time I pull up to Flintrock Farm and see the space where James and Kate’s horse trailer used to sit. I miss the sight of James teaching Deuce to stop on a dime, or Kate cantering Kleo in a graceful arc. I miss the thrill of watching them play with horses in training, a tremendous source of learning for those of us hanging on the fence. I miss their dogs, Cali and Ginger, and their affection for me as “the biscuit lady.”
And yet I’m thrilled that James and Kate are having a western adventure. Really, I am.
It’s just…I miss them.
Internet and cell phone access to the mountains of central Montana is spotty, to say the least, so I haven’t been able to connect with them often. But we’ve been collaborating on the next issue of Cooler Horsemanship News, which will come out in September. They’ve sent me some breathtaking photos for the newsletter, so I urge you to subscribe if you’re not already on the recipient list.
James and Kate will be back at Flintrock on September 20 or thereabouts.
Twenty-seven days to go. Just 27 days.
August 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Mystic has been on stall rest for two weeks due to a strained tendon in his foot (actually the vet called it something scientific, but this is my translation). For a horse that doesn’t like being stuck in a stall, he’s been surprisingly accepting of his confinement. He gets to spend a few hours in a small paddock during the day so he can stretch his legs and eat niblets of grass.
The upside to stall rest is that Mystic stays pretty clean. I’ve been giving him a weekend bath anyway, partly because I’m a compulsive horse washer and partly because it gives me something to do with him. We can’t do groundplay, we can’t ride, so we do baths.
Yesterday I did my usual: I hosed him, soaped him with Quic Silver, rinsed him off, flicked away surface water with a scraper. He looked amazing: his speckled white coat was luminescent.
Then I put him in a round pen so I could muck his stall (the downside of stall rest).
“I have to go clean your stall,” I told Mystic. “Do not roll in the mud while I’m gone.”
He looked at me; I looked at him. I felt we’d established an agreement.
Off I went to make his bachelor pad more presentable. I checked on him from afar a couple of times; he was happily grazing. I congratulated myself on my efficiency: clean horse, clean stall, good day.
Then I went to get Mystic.
He had only half-kept his promise.
And so it was time to go back to the Quic Silver and the hose. This time the washing took longer. He’d absorbed a lot of mud. But we got it done.
Until next time.
August 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
A friend once told me I like to “hot rod” things–a Tom Wolfe-ian phrase for souping up an existing object. By that standard, my little house here in Greensboro is the ultimate hot rod. A couple of months ago I sent photos of it along with a first-person essay to O.Henry Magazine. To my delight, they accepted the essay and sent photographer John Gessner to immortalize my house. The results are visible in the August issue of O.Henry, which is available in print for free just about everywhere and is also online.
If you run into my sister Liz, she’ll probably have a bunch of copies in her bag—that’s how it was last night when we strolled downtown Greensboro for First Friday. She showed the article to everyone she met (and she knows a lot of people!) while I stood to the side, slightly embarrassed and mostly thrilled. Thank you, Liz, for believing in me, bringing me to Greensboro, and carrying me in your handbag.
Here are a few of my own shots, just for fun.
July 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It’s been a wet summer here in central North Carolina. Really wet. Freakin’ wet. This is how my neighborhood park looked yesterday afternoon.
I got caught in the downpour coming back from Flintrock Farm, where I was ministering to Mystic. He’s mysteriously lame on his front left foot/leg. Boarders are saying most of the horses have waterlogged hooves, and he probably stepped on a stone and bruised it. I’m giving it a little more time before I freak out. He’s also had a cough, cuts, and has developed a sour attitude due to complicated herd dynamics.
Driving home yesterday in rain as thick as a waterfall, I leaned forward, squinted, and held the steering wheel tighter. None of these actions made any real difference, except they made me feel a little more in control. I passed downed trees, sparking power lines, and screaming fire engines and police cars. I drove through a two-foot flash flood in my tiny car, tightening my hands even more on the wheel. We made it through.
This morning I set out to see the impromptu lake in my local park. The water had receded and the little park creek was back to its small, innocuous trickle.
Although this soggy summer (the most rainfall in Greensboro since 1908!) has not been my favorite, I’m working on merging the attitude of my incurably optimistic father with my own understanding that everything is always in flux.
Friends at the barn are helping me with Mystic. Elizabeth gave me some horse Ibuprofen and balm for Mystic’s bug bites. Alicia offered antibiotic ointment for a stubborn cut. Margaret put fly spray on him last week, and Angela has been taking what I call “nanny cam” photos of him. Farrier James Hunter trimmed Mystic’s hooves at a moment’s notice and carefully checked for potential sources of lameness. I’m blessed to have such good, caring people around me.
And all those rainy days mean the sun has to start shining soon.