This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Great Expectations

It was the summer of 1973 (can you believe I can remember that far back?) and life was good. As with all my blogs, the stories are true and I've not changed names to protect the innocent. If they deserve to have their name dragged through the mud, so be it! LOL
'73 was the year I met the irascible Paul Johnson. He was a successful, albeit small-time, standardbred trainer who had retired from the game and taken on the lease and managing of Hillwinds Farm, accompanied by his retired trotter, Korwin Time (K.T. for short). Paul rented me a stall for $20 a month but I had to earn my keep! I swept the barn aisles (he reamed me out good for not sprinkling them down first!!), helped put in hay, did daily turn-outs as my schedule permitted, etc. Little did I realize it at the time but I was in the presence of greatness. Paul was truly a "horse whisperer" but he went about his business quietly and with no fanfare. He just did what instinct and experience told him to do. And he talked to the horses constantly! Humans, not so much. They annoyed him no end and he made no bones about it! LOL He once "caught" me talking to one of the old standardbreds I was grooming and when I stopped in embarrassment, he said, "Keep talking. The horses like it. They'll listen to ya."
There was a small apartment at the barn that Paul rented to a hippie couple........southern Vermont was "hippie central" in the '60's (there's some talk of trying to get the abandoned communes on the National Historic Register....go figure) and this couple was drifting through life hoping to save the planet one animal at a time. They did maintenance and chores and feeding and cleaned tack, and were constantly amazed that I smelled like lemon shampoo. No, I'm not kidding but I AM digressing.............Anyway, one day they went out and bought this standardbred gelding who'd been injured on the track and brought him back to Hillwinds. The first time I saw him, I was speechless.....this horse's left front knee was literally (and I'm not prone to exaggeration) the size of a basketball!!
But the hippies thought they could save him. Paul took one look and muttered several epithets under his breath and finally said, "What the hell do you think you're going to do with this horse?" "Make him better," the hippies said. Paul was disgusted, I could tell but, being Paul, he simply said, "OK." He disappeared and returned a while later with some sort of gooey glop he'd concocted in a bucket, a roll of wax paper, and a rolled bandage. He told me to open the stall door and "go hold onto that horse" so I did. He proceeded to slather the glop generously on the knee (gotta say, this horse lived up to his name - PRINCE Brastius because he was a prince about the whole thing!). Then he ripped off a chunk of waxed paper and wrapped that around the knee, followed by wrapping the entire thing with the bandage. When he was done, he simply picked up his stuff and left the stall. This routine was repeated twice a day by any of us who were handy. To my total amazement, that knee began to go down quickly and within a week was looking almost normal! To make a long story short, "Brat" as we came to call him (a total misnomer!), made a full recovery and I ended up riding him almost every day! The hippies soon moved (in the middle of the night) on to greener (or maybe "weedier" - ha ha) pastures and left Brat behind so Paul told me I was to take care of him and treat him as my own. When Paul left Hillwinds in September, Brat stayed there with a new owner. I wish now I'd thought to ask Paul what was in his poultice!
If any of you are of my vintage and from southern Vermont, you may remember a mare from the '60's show circuit named "Doe Girl." I remember watching her cantering around the hunter courses of my youth (and back then you had to jump OUT OF THE RING and put your horse over a course of x-country fences and then jump back INTO THE RING to finish your round!) and being in awe of what this little horse could do! Imagine my surprise when she showed up at Hillwinds one afternoon. The trailer pulled up, a guy jumped out of the truck, unloaded her, talked to Paul for a while and left. Paul said, "You recognize that horse? Doe Girl?" My eyes popped out of my head. "Remember? Yeah! Really, that's her?" Of course by then she was close to 20 years old but she still had plenty of git up 'n go left in her. "Well," Paul scratched his head. "You wanna ride her?" Well, DUH! (Was that an expression in the '70s??) I asked why she was at Hillwinds and he said that the guy who'd delivered her had bought her for his daughter but that they didn't get along and he was thinking of selling her.
Doe Girl was an amazing pony!!! She would do whatever you "thought." I'd think "trot" and we'd go trot. I'd think "canter" and off we'd go, always on the correct lead. I'd think "let's jump that" and over we'd go. One afternoon, the guy who owned her showed up when I was out on the hunt course and stood beside Paul, watching me ride Doe Girl. Paul hollered, "Hey! Take her over a few jumps but not the coop, OK?" Alrighty. We warmed up a little and then popped over a few post and rails. Then Paul hollered, "Now the coop." No problem. Over we went! Paul hollered, "Do it again from both directions." Piece of cake. I brought Doe Girl to a walk and was about to ask Paul what he wanted us to do next when I saw him laughing (yes, Paul Johnson was laughing!) and accepting some money from Doe Girl's owner. Later on I asked him what that was all about and he explained that Doe Girl had come to Hillwinds for "training" because for some reason she had started refusing jumps with his new rider and had steadfastly stopped in front of every coop the girl had tried to get her over. Paul had bet the girl's dad $10 that I could get her over the coop!! Turns out Paul had told the guy that he had "just the trainer" for Doe Girl and that "trainer" was me! I said, "But.......but........why was she refusing with her other rider?"
"Well," Paul drawled, "Y'know, you pretty much get from horses what you expect to get. You just expected her to take that jump, didn't ya?" And he walked away. (And he didn't offer to split that $10 with me!)
I remember that conversation to this day. It's stuck with me like a stubborn stain and pops into my head now and then when I'm getting frustrated with one of my animals. "You get what you expect to get." Wise words, indeed!

Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.
Wendy Wasserstein

Do it for your horse!!

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