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!"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Miss Fit

When I was a teacher, Halloween was one of the most-dreaded holidays. Think about it.......in our elementary wing, we had (this includes the day care center, Nursery & PreK classes) almost 200 kids dressed in bizarre outfits and driven to crazy behavior by a sugar-induced frenzy! We all paraded around the school parking lot while the paparazzi, dressed as parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and younger siblings, waved and snapped more photos than Walmart could process in a week. Great fun. Right. If you're a kid.
We teachers decided years ago that we should get in on some of the fun, too, and so began the tradition of wearing "theme" costumes. The first year we all dressed up as nuns, not knowing just how the staid old principal of our Catholic school, Sister Maureen, would react. One of 2 things would happen - we would all be fired on the spot or she'd love it. No in between. Fortunately for us, she took one look at us as we "nuns" crowded into her office at lunch time and BURST OUT LAUGHING! She literally had to put her head down on her desk she was laughing so hard! Ensuing years found us dressed as the cast of "Peter Pan," (I was Peter Pan!), witches, angels, and in my last year of teaching, beauty queens. (But no one ever took me up on the suggestion that we dress as prisoners with the words "Holy Spirit School" on the back of our shirts! ha ha ha) When I first heard about the beauty queen idea, I was like, "WHAT? Beauty queens? Give me a break." But then, being me, I went, "Hey, let's be Miss Fits." No one got it. I said to the 4th grade teacher who was the Drama Club director at the time, "You know....you'll be Miss Cast. Someone else can be Miss Spelled and so on." They loved it! Everyone donned beautiful gowns and tiaras and long, white gloves, carried fake bouquets of flowers, and we made sashes that had our names on them. Me? Well, in many ways in life I've always felt like a misfit. So I became, for beauty pageant purposes, "Miss Fit." I took an old bridesmaid gown and cut the hem all raggedy, I wore white socks and my work boots, I braided my hair messily and crumpled up my tiara and wore it crooked. Instead of long, white gloves, I wore my work gloves and instead of flowers, I carried a sack of potatoes. Oh, and I also blacked out my 2 front teeth. It was great fun and all the other teachers thought that "Miss Fit" was quite fitting for me!
Over the years as I've worked with various horses, I've often felt like a misfit. I've watched silently as riders and trainers have treated horses with disrespect; cringed as "naughty" ponies were whipped or driven to bucking by someone constantly drilling a spur into their sides. I've empathized with horses and ponies cooped up 22 hours a day or who've had their joints injected so that they could go out and perform for one more show season. There was always that NQR feeling......and that feeling of hopelessness. They weren't MY horses; it wasn't MY farm; they weren't MY riding students...............
As I repeat like a broken record, my success stories, the stories I'm most proud of, happened because I was the misfit. I ignored all the "sage" advice and flew by the seat of my pants, doing what I felt was appropriate at the moment, and listening to the horse instead of all the blathering humans. I'm proud of those successes.
Why am I boring you with them? Why am I tooting my horn now and in public? Well, because those success stories were few and far between and happened a long time ago. Somewhere I lost something.............I stopped believing in myself. I tuned out the animals' voices even though they tried to talk to me. I became conventional. I bought into systems. I took off my "Miss Fit sash," so to speak.
It took one little gray pony to set me on my arse; to dump me back on the right path. I admit, I tried to veer off that path a few times but always, that little gray pony nudged me back.
It was very hard to admit that I'd been wrong for so many years. When Split ran away with me, I suffered mental anguish for a year afterward, beating myself up emotionally, questioning myself, wondering if I really was a fit horse owner. But then "click!" People began dropping into my life and telling me that yes, I certainly WAS a fit horse owner but perhaps I'd be interested in.........NO! Did you ever think about......NO. And then......I saw the power of the click and Split said (no denying it this time), "NOW we're gettin' somewhere." As you know by now, things snowballed from there and it's been freeing to say to myself, "Listen. Learn. Observe without judgement. (Thank you, Mary!) Do what's right. Listen to the NQR. Listen to the animals!"
I am happy to report that, according to many of my acquaintances, I am now proudly wearing my "Miss Fit sash" again! (Well, not literally, but you know what I mean!LOL) I like it! It no longer bothers me that people accuse me of bribing my animals with food, of being "crazy" because I "think" animals talk to me, or that I practice "voodoo" because I understand and use Bach Flower Essences. I don't wear make-up. I wear what I like instead of what's fashionable. (My daughter told me just the other day that she thinks of me as "eternally vintage.") I hug and kiss my animals. I laugh loudly and with great gusto. I declare with great passion, "I LOVE WINTER!" (HA HA - that always gets me the strangest looks.......)
I was always a misfit as a kid but it suited me. As an adult, I wanted to fit in. It didn't work.
So, for all you other "Miss Fits" out there - wear your sash and your crumpled tiara proudly!!!! I salute you!!!!!!

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Advice From A Poet

Growing up in Vermont in the '50's and '60's, I had three things drummed into my head:

*It's winter - deal with it.
*There is only one breed of horse and it's called a MORGAN!
*Robert Frost is the finest poet on Earth and no one else is worth reading.

Well, I still love winter! Relative "old age" hasn't changed that and I have no desire to fly south for the duration. In fact, I was really sad to finally have to hang up my snow shoes this year. I love those crisp, cold days when you can hear the snow squeaking under your feet and the sky is so blue it's like looking at a giant robin's egg.
As a horse fanatic from birth and a voracious reader since I discovered the alphabet, I soon learned that there ARE other breeds of horses.........you just didn't mention them on hallowed Green Mountain soil. LOL!
I've read lots of other poets (American Lit was my other major in college so I was "forced" to read other poetry) and still believe that Robert Frost is one of the best. I read his poems over and over again. Every time I pass one of the beautiful stands of birches on my daily walk, I always smile and think, "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." Ayup.
Lately, my memories of horses past and discussions on various horse group lists has made my thoughts turn to another Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken." I realize, upon reflection, that I've often opted for the less traveled path when it comes to my animals and those were the times when I was most successful.
When we're dealing with a "difficult" animal - one who has been abused in any manner - it's very often frustrating, anger-inducing, and frightening! In our quest to help the animal, we sometimes turn to systems or methods that "guarantee results or your money back!" The "beauty" of these systems is that it's all laid out for ya - read the book and proceed step-by-step. Book isn't clear enough? Well, here are some DVD's - that oughta do it! But MAKE SURE you follow the program and don't deviate......or it won't work. Yeah.
Or perhaps we send the horse off to a well-known trainer who guarantees to "cure" the horse within a month or two or three.............
The thing is that the horse isn't reading the books or watching the DVD's. He doesn't know the famous trainer and what his/her system is. We expect the horse, though, to simply do as he/she is told - no questions asked. Hmmmm.......I wouldn't like to be taught like that. Why should I expect that my animals would like it?
Several of the discussions on the horse groups lately have been about using an eclectic approach to horse "training" (I don't like that label but it's easy for us to relate to so I'll use it here), and about how we should listen to the horse and let HIM decide what method(s) to use on any given day. How interesting..............The tough part about that, though, is that we humans hate to give up what we perceive as control. WE like to decide on the training method and how and when it's administered. But what if................What if one particular method of "natural horsemanship" causes anxiety for a horse because of past experience? What if the sound of the clicker scares the daylights out of a horse or dog?
What if an animal isn't motivated by food? What if a horse has pain in their body that isn't apparent to the human eye? What if....what if......what if...........
I've come to where "two roads diverged in a yellow wood" many times in my life, and there have been those times when, left to my own devices with a horse, I've chosen the path less traveled. I've listened to my gut feeling; I've listened to the horse; I've chosen to ignore the voices of "experience" and "reason." THOSE were the times that I was successful with "difficult" horses! THOSE were the times that I let the partnership flow naturally and freely. THOSE were the times that I felt closest to the horse and felt that we TRULY communicated with each other! There were no magic tricks, no books, no dvd's. I just "did." And sometimes I "didn't!" I let the day, the circumstances and the animal dictate what we would do.....or not do.
But then, embarrassingly enough, there were many, many times when I fell victim to everyone else's advice or methods, believing with all my heart that they knew better than I. I did what they told me to do even if it went against every fiber of my being as a "trainer" and animal communicator. Which is not to say that EVERY trainer I've met has made me feel that way.....the good trainers (and you know who you are) have guided me and allowed me to find my own path and make discoveries for myself. Sally Swift and Paul Johnson were the first......many of you reading this are among the most recent and of course, I wouldn't have any of these deep thoughts or even be going down this path if it weren't for the horses and dogs themselves (who keep popping in and urging me to write this all down!).
Which brings me back to my favorite poet, Robert Frost, who wrote:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

"The road less traveled by.........." It does make a difference!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Sometimes my brain takes me on strange journeys. My thoughts wander around and I'll find myself going down a path I thought I'd forgotten. Such was the case today.........I have no idea why Attar popped into my head but perhaps he has a story that needs telling.
Attar was a small palomino Arab/QH cross who was used for lessons back in the early 80's at the farm where I took lessons. I had this propensity for taking a liking to the "odd" horses - the ones who were temperamental or goofy; the ones no one else liked to ride and only did so when all the other horses were "taken." Attar was one of those. He may have only been about 14 hh but he had a buck like a rodeo horse! He was flighty and nervous and various attempts to take him to shows had ended in disaster for whoever his unlucky rider was that day. I liked Attar. I liked his attitude - he took no prisoners and he did not suffer fools gladly. I don't know why we "clicked" but we did. It was only after we'd become a "pair" that one of the other riders commented to me one day as I was grooming Attar in the cross-ties, "He's blind in one eye, you know." No, I didn't know but it was one of those "light bulb moments." No wonder he was "flighty and nervous!" I asked what had happened to the eye because, to MY eye, his left eye seemed OK. "I dunno," the other person said, "I heard that he tried to bite whoever was feeding him a few years ago and they hit him in the head with the grain scoop and he lost the sight in that eye." Another missing piece to the puzzle! I'd be grumpy and distrusting, too, if someone had whacked me upside the head with a grain scoop!
My first dressage test on Attar was in early spring, a small schooling show at the farm where he lived and I rode. He was still hairy from the winter and I'd had a heck of a time getting him looking presentable for the day. To my dismay, the other competitors in the class were riding tall, sleek, shiny, obviously blanketed all winter thoroughbreds or maybe warmbloods. I suddenly felt small and insignificant. No matter, I told Attar we would be fine. But to make matters worse, my instructor (also the farm owner) warned me that I'd better "lunge the crap out of him" prior to my class or I'd get bucked off. Gulp!!! There was no time......We were the first ride in our class and I was grateful for that. We'd go in, do our best, and slink off quietly. I took a deep breath, smiled, and when the bell rang, entered smartly at A, working trot rising. As we departed from X (or an approximation thereof) and began to track right at C, the judge's Jack Russell terrier caught sight of one of the barn cats meandering across the ring behind me and shot out from under the judge's stand like a bullet, neatly dodging Attar's hooves, and causing him to bolt! We recovered quickly and I waited for the bell signaling us that we were politely excused but there was no bell. Instead the judge (who shall remain nameless) was frantically calling the dog and gesturing for her scribe to run and catch the little beast. I stopped and Judge waved me over. She apologized six ways to Sunday (after all, she had committed a serious breach of horse show etiquette - ALWAYS KEEP YOUR DOG ON A LEASH!) and told me that she would allow me to start over. I figured that it couldn't get much worse so we had our do-over and to my shock and delight we won the class and the women on their sleek, shiny horses were miffed! I'd like to think that we won on our own merit and not because the judge felt sorry for us!
Next up was an ENYDCTA show and I chose to ride Attar again. I could hear the snickering and snide comments behind my back but I didn't care. By then I'd developed a bond with the pony and nothing could deter us! When we arrived at the show, Instructor again gave me dire warnings about "lunging the crap out of that horse" or he'd end up jumping out of the dressage ring or bucking me off.........
Here's what is interesting to me now - I didn't listen to her; I listened to what my gut feeling was telling me and "lunging the crap" out of Attar gave me the NQR! I smiled at Instructor, looked at Attar getting all frazzled as he simply stood beside me, and thought, "No way. I'm doing this MY way today." I went with my gut feeling; I listened to my horse. I took his lead rope and we started walking. I let him stop and look at everything. We grazed beside the ring, we stood beside the judge's stand and listened to the bell, we moseyed all around the show grounds. I watched Attar carefully and could see him begin to relax. He nudged me with his head now and then as though saying, "This is neat, huh?" When I tacked up, he was calm as could be. Our ride was wonderful and we placed 4th and 5th that day - out of over 15 entries in each class. I was delighted and very proud of "my" little guy!!
It was one of those times when I listened to the little voice inside me......I trusted that voice and Attar trusted me that day. I realized that his show experience had been "arrive at show, unload, have lunge line slapped on, run in circles til I'm dizzy and sweaty, slap on tack, PERFORM!" Poor guy never had a chance to just figure out where he was or to see what was all around him and with one eye, that had to be especially difficult.
I wish I could tell you that Attar lived happily ever after but unfortunately that was not the case. Shortly after we began our "show career," I got pregnant with child number 3 and was violently ill and then got rather "large" and I stopped riding for a while. I did help out with a show just after Katie was born, tho, and someone else rode Attar. I tried to give her some friendly advice but she chose to listen to Instructor and lunged the poor guy to a frazzle before her class. As she picked up the canter during her test, Attar gave one whopping buck, launching Sarah neatly into the air, and jumping right out of the ring!
Poor Attar ended up going to auction after that
and I wasn't there to "save" him. I always felt badly about that. But I guess my point is that sometimes the "bad" horses aren't really bad - they're just misunderstood. They need us to see things from their perspective and to adjust our behavior accordingly.
Attar was a neat little pony and I learned a lot from him. I'd like to thank him for popping in to see me today (cue theme from "Twilight Zone" for those of you who aren't convinced about animal communication! LOL) and asking me to share his story. Another blast from the past...............

So live that your memories will be part of your happiness.” Anonymous

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Mrs. Ruley-Pants"

My teaching career at Holy Spirit School spanned 20 years and 4 age groups. Because my daughters attended the school, my involvement went beyond my own classroom. I was the PTA president for years, Bingo captain (there's something for my resume! LOL), my husband was V.P. of the school board, etc. When I "retired," I stopped teaching there full-time but I never actually left the building (much like the fabled Elvis). I'm still their main substitute teacher and am also the Drama Club director and do 3 productions a year with various age groups. So despite the fact that I'm not a full-time employee, I still know all the students from grades 1-8. Kindergarten is a different kettle of fish.....on many levels! Because they don't participate in Drama Club, I don't get to know them very well and when I sub for them, I really need to be on my toes. Even at 5 and 6 years old, they'll try to pull the wool over your eyes! The one thing I do know, however, are the rules and regs of the school and the Kindergarten classroom! Maryann (Kindergarten teacher) and I worked closely together for 20 years and I know how she runs that program so when I arrive in the morning, I immediately make it clear (kindly but firmly) that I'm in charge and that I KNOW THE RULES! This is actually comforting for most the children because at that age, they rely on structure and routine. A sudden change in what's expected behaviorally or in their daily schedule can truly throw off the energy in the room and things can get "ugly" pretty quickly. If the children are used to (for example) being able to sit anywhere in the room that they like and I arrive and insist that they MUST sit in alphabetic order, tears will soon follow, and sometimes even temper tantrums. They weren't TOLD there was going to be a change so simply sitting in the "wrong" chair has earned them the teacher's wrath! That's not fair in their world. So I try to observe and uphold their rules and if there are changes needed, we do it gradually, with fair warning, and try to involve the children in that change of plans.
When I taught first grade, if there was going to be a change in our daily routine, I always gave the kids a "heads-up" about it and explained the reason for that change. They appreciated being kept in the loop and it made the transition much smoother.
The current second grade teacher at Holy Spirit has a child in Kindergarten this year. She asked her son how he liked having "Mrs. Hayden" as a substitute teacher and he looked at her, rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, you mean "Mrs. Ruley-pants?" Sue didn't know what to make of this so she said, "Mrs. Ruley-pants? What does that mean?" Connor responded, "She's all about the rules. When she's in the room, it's all rules, rules, rules."
HA HA HA When I finally stopped laughing, I told her I would take that as a compliment!
And later I got to thinking about "Mrs. Ruley-pants." Even tho I may appear to be strict, the kids know what to expect from me. I don't blow in there and turn their world upside-down by suddenly changing the rules which would throw them into chaos. Hmmm......Could this apply to our animals as well?????????
It's sometimes said of horses that resort to mugging or biting or pawing or other "over threshold" behaviors that they're "not getting it" or they're being "bad." But often an experienced trainer will say, "Ah, but you changed the rules!" Perhaps a horse was being rewarded for walking up and bumping his handler with his nose but suddenly, in the eyes of the trainer, this is no longer acceptable. So...the horse walks up, bumps the handler, and expects a treat but instead is told to BACK OFF. Horse is confused but tries again, only to be told BACK OFF. "Wait a second, here," Horse thinks. "This isn't right!" So he gets a bit peeved, reaches out and tries to grab a treat for himself because, hey, he did what has worked in the past. OOPS! Owner gets angry and really enforces BACK OFF!!!! Horse gets mad, bucks, farts and runs away. Owner scratches head and goes, "What just happened? Why is Bucky being so uncooperative?" (Why can I tell this story so well?? Uh..........Yeah, that clueless owner would be ME!) Well, we've suddenly and without warning CHANGED THE RULES!
Is it possible to change the rules? Yes. And with children we can tell them, "I know you've done XYZ in the past but today because there is something going on in the gym, we have to do ABC. Do you understand? Does anyone have any questions? Even tho we're doing ABC instead of XYZ, I still expect you to be on your best behavior, etc." With our animals......not so much. We can't sit them down and have a verbal dialogue. So we have to think outside the box. It's possible to faze out an unwanted behavior (and I won't get into the logistics of that - there are very knowledgeable trainers out there who go into detail about that on their web sites or you can get a book on clicker training) but we have to remember to be fair about it. So when Split seems to get *miffed* at me now, I make an effort to stop and think.........."Did I just change the rules?" I try to see things from HIS perspective instead of just my own. I'm actually quite good at seeing things from a child's perspective but that may be because I suffer from a severe case of "Peter Pan Syndrome." LOL Now I'm trying to see things from my animals' perspective and it's hard work. I have to rewire my brain a little....Ok, a lot! But it's worth it because I think I'm beginning to have a better rapport with Split and Jingle and they actually seem to appreciate the effort, much like the children in Kindergarten. Except for Connor...........:0)
Mrs. Ruley-pants

It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.
T. S. Eliot

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For Nana

My grandmother was born in Jamaica, Vermont in 1903. The house where she was born is still standing and when I pointed it out to college friends on our way back to school one weekend, Abby from the city said, "Who do you think you're kidding? People are born in hospitals, not HOUSES!" Well, not in Vermont in 1903!
Nana was the daughter of a "dirt poor farmer" and she married a "dirt poor farmer" and when I say "dirt poor," I mean that in the fullest sense of the expression! If there was food on the table, they'd either grown it or hunted and killed it. Nana learned to plant a garden, grow the veggies and cook and/or can them. She made her own butter and cottage cheese and could soften a feed sack so that it could then be taken apart and made into clothing. My mother still remembers the time that her hand-made underpants fell down around her ankles when she was 6 or 7 years old! The teacher called her to the front of the class and the underpants - having been handed down thru 2 older sisters and stretched out from too many washings - let go and fell to the floor!! Because she was in a one room school house, literally the entire school saw Phyllis's undies that day!
By the time I was born, my grandparents had given up farming. My grandfather worked in a lumber mill and as the maintenance man at the local hospital and Nana was a seamstress for Mary Meyer stuffed toys - she sewed their prototypes which were then passed on to me! From early childhood right thru high school, I spent most weekends with Nana and Grandpa. My Aunt Marion would drive up from Hartford, CT each Friday afternoon and because she had no children of her own, would stop at our house and pick me up. Off we'd go for a weekend of fried chicken, homemade baked beans and apple pie, pancakes, bacon, Scrabble games, and the Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller shows. Does anyone else remember "Sing Along With Mitch?" Aunt Marion and I would sing along with gusto!!
One of my favorite memories, tho, was accompanying Nana to the clothes line every morning and afternoon. The line was too high to reach while standing on the ground so my grandfather built a set of steps. Nana would stand on the top and I'd sit with the basket of clothespins in my lap and hand her the pins. I loved sitting there in the peace and quiet with the sun shining down on us, Toby the dog dozing beside the steps. The squeak of the line as Nana sent it out or reeled it in seemed a fitting accompaniment to the gentle sounds around us........blue jays, the wind in the trees, the burble of the brook next to us................And nothing can beat the smell of sheets that have been dried in the sun and the wind. To this day - and sometimes to my embarrassment - I find myself bringing in my own sheets and just standing on the kitchen steps and sniffing them......
After I got married and moved away from my family, Nana, Aunt Marion and I used write each other letters every Monday. No matter where I was living, Monday was devoted to those letters. We talked about mundane things.......weather (very important if you're from a farming background), what we'd watched on TV, what we did during the week, the price of groceries. Those letters were treasured and I waited for them each week. Nana and I began having a little "contest" when I finally moved into my own house. We tried to see who would be the first to hang out their wash every spring! I don't think I ever "beat" her!
When Nana was 91, she finally had to give up living alone. My mom and her sister cleaned out the house and called to ask me if there was anything I wanted to keep. I told them, "Yes! I want the Scrabble game, the clothespin basket, and the Santa cookie tin with all the broken crayons." (My daughters had passed many an hour at Nana's coloring pictures with those crayons!) To my dismay, my mother told me all those things had just gone into the dumpster!!! I told her, "Well, then, GO IN AND GET THEM OUT!" LOL And she did! I still have that basket and it now holds my clothespins. I lose a little more of it each year as it becomes brittle and the handle falls apart but it's in good shape considering it's almost as old as I am!
The year after Nana died, when I hung out the first load of laundry that spring, the feeling of sadness was so over-whelming, it left me breathless. I realized that I couldn't call her or phone her to say, "Ha ha! I FINALLY beat ya!" Being a writer, I decided to put my feelings down on paper and for the first time ever, I'm ready to share that with others. I hope you enjoy my poem.................

"On The First Warm Day of Spring"
by Karleen Hayden

On the first warm day of spring
I miss my grandmother the most
And long for the letter that will never come,
Telling me that the tulips are up beside the house
And brilliantly red this year.
That she turned over the earth in the garden today
And hopes to get the peas planted tomorrow
And was so pleased to hang out the wash for the first time
Since last fall. Did I get my wash hung out today
On the first warm day of spring?
My hand grasps the handle of the old wicker basket
And I marvel at how it fit my hand when I was 3
And 10 and 16 and that it fits me still at 54,
My grandmother's clothespin basket.
I carried it to the clothes line for her
On the first warm days of spring.
They cleaned out my grandmother's house when she died
And threw the clothespin basket into the dumpster.
I made my mother climb in and rescue it.
I knew that I would need it
On the first warm day of spring.
I clip the clothespins onto the line and send the white sheet sailing
Out, out into the sunshine, reaching up and up for a moment,
Waving to my grandmother on the first warm day of spring.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In spring

ee cummings writes that in spring the world is "mud-lucious" and "puddle wonderful!" I love that description! (I'm still waiting for that little goat man to come whistling far and wee......)
Everything is just bursting with life! My crocuses, tulips, lilies and hostas are breaking through the soil, and out in the woods, the skunk cabbage is already about 6" high. I can hear the peepers and wood frogs every evening and the red winged blackbirds are calling from all around the pond. Our great blue heron is back, as are the mallards and Canada geese, and yesterday I saw a bluebird!! If any of you live here in the northeastern part of the U.S. perhaps you've also heard the woodcock out the in the meadows as dusk is falling. I just love their little "beep" as they call out looking for a mate.
The change of seasons is what keeps my blood flowing. Spring brings with it new hope, new life.......I love the smell of the lawn mower when I first pull that starter rope in May and can swear I get high smelling the fresh cut grass! LOL Does anyone have lilacs? On corner of my driveway is a semi-circle of lilacs - dark purple, light purple, and white - and when they're in full bloom, you can smell them even inside the house! I think it's safe to say that my olfactory system goes into over-drive this time of year!
But I have to say that one of my favorite things of all is hanging out the wash. I always think of my grandmother when I send that first load sailing out into the sunshine..........It's a lovely memory! Hey - I think that's the subject for another blog!
Enjoy the impending warm weather, everyone!!!
As a native Vermonter (or "Vermonster" - LOL), I just have to share this quote with you:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
~Robert Frost

Friday, April 1, 2011

Paul Returns

In January of 1974 I went back to college for my last semester with a heavy heart. I'd "lost" Paul and the horses.... But I did have new engagement ring on my finger! The semester flew by as I got lost in classes, partying (hey, it was senior year! LOL), wedding planning, and riding the new QH gelding my fiance had bought me as a wedding gift.
Because I grew up in a small town, Paul couldn't disappear completely and my parents did run into him occasionally. He told them his lease at the barn had expired and he'd had to move quickly. Uh-huh. He did inquire about me, though, which was nice, I guess. When it came time to send out the wedding invitations, I insisted on sending one to Paul. It was neither acknowledged nor RSVP'd.
After the wedding, I moved out of town, my husband got accepted to graduate school and we moved even farther away, and life went on. Fast forward to January 1977.
My parents called to tell me that they'd run into Paul while out shopping and he'd requested my phone number; said he had something to discuss with me. They also said he'd been fighting cancer for quite a while and wasn't looking very good. I was very nervous when the call finally came. What was I going to say? I had so many questions that needed answering.................In typical Paul fashion, he said "hello" and then cut right to the chase. He said he had cancer and wasn't sure how much longer he had to live and he wanted to do the "right thing" for his beloved K.T. He said he had only 2 options - give K.T. to me or put him down. He said (all of this came out in a rush) that I was the only person he would ever trust to take care of K.T. but that if I couldn't take him, it was OK. Paul would have him put down so that he knew K.T. could never come to any harm. And there I sat................I was living in a little dingy apartment in Burlington. Our horses were at my father-in-law's farm in southern Vermont where he graciously cared for them and fed them for us - I couldn't ask him to take on one more. I was working full-time and then working in the evenings at a dressage barn where the board was outrageous and the horses were stalled most of the day. K.T. would be miserable. I had to tell Paul that I couldn't take K.T. but that his faith in me was truly humbling and meant the world to me.
I finally managed to ask the burning question, "What happened to Bret?" Paul hesitated and said, "Owners didn't want him any more. I gave him away to a kid. He's OK. He's got a good home." I said, "Where? Can you tell me where he is?" "No, I'm not going to tell you," Paul replied. "Cause you'll go lookin' for him and I don't want you to get your heart broke." I started crying and apologizing for not being able to take K.T. Paul was stoic, as always and said, "Well, thanks anyway. I know what I have to do. It'll be OK. Bye." Click and he was gone............
That was the last time I ever heard from Paul. My parents claim they never saw an obituary in the newspaper and that would be just like Paul Johnson......gone with no fanfare, no wailing or gnashing of teeth. His wife had predeceased him and he had no children except for K.T.
I had no idea how badly this story was aching to get out. I've held it close to my heart all these years. I mean, it's nothing special. There's no mystery or magic or life-changing occurrence. It's just one chapter in a very mundane life. But it's my chapter and and my life and I'm very happy to have shared it with you.
Paul Johnson gave me confidence. He believed in me and in my ability to relate to horses. He showed me that we need to relate to our horses - all our animals - on a level that transcends that of simply owner/animal. I began to understand that our animals will speak to us if we keep an open and honest heart and mind. You can't fool a horse. I honestly believe that he set me on a new path all those years ago but I diverged over and over again, not really trusting what I learned that summer.
But now I've found my way again. Paul said, "Talk to the horses. They'll listen to ya."
Thank you, Paul Johnson, wherever you are.
To this day, when I drive south on I-91 in Vermont and pass the site where once stood Paul's little barn, I don't see the big, ugly food warehouse........I see a gray barn, a big oak tree in the middle of a green pasture, and ghosts.........The ghost of a big black horse (K.T.) and the ghosts of a small chestnut gelding and a young girl. They're cantering along and her braids are flying out in wild abandon behind her. And a voice whispers, "Talk to the horses. They'll hear ya."