Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Rest Of The Story

As promised, from long ago, here is the rest of Gretchen’s story. The story is not all mushy and sweet, as some stories are. Gretchen was the bane of my existence for the entire time I had her. However, she was directly responsible for one of the major break-throughs I had as a horse trainer. Gretchen taught me that some horses just are not going to change. To ask those horses to change, or to make it a mission to change those horses is futile. From Gretchen I learned that you can not train away a horse’s personality. Sometimes, the trainer is the one that has to adapt.

Once I gave in to Gretchen and let her live outside, stopped taking her places in the horse trailer and got used to having to periodically change her feed because she didn’t like it anymore, she became a lot easier to live with. She was still horrible. But she had her moments. She was very sweet when getting her ears rubbed or her face brushed. She’d bite and kick when you groomed any other part of her body though. She loved to go riding, but she hated being caught, getting groomed, having her saddle put on (she did like her bridle) and having the rider get on, but once the rider was up, she was quite happy and willing. If one could survive the process of getting ready, she was nice to ride.

Gretchen was a perfect longe lesson horse. She was consistent and obedient on the longe line so that I could use her for students when they needed position work. She became a good horse to learn cantering on because she would make a smooth transition. As she got older, her canter got weirder with a sort of corkscrew action going on, but she was good about cantering and staying in the canter and staying on the rail. She loved to do lateral work and was great for teaching leg-yield to beginners. She had a fantastic extended trot and loved to do it so she was good for teaching students what a real extended trot felt like.

Gretchen was actually very good at horse shows, it was just the trailering that was a nightmare. She did some very nice Dressage tests although if you were not paying attention, she’d turn around and leave when you made your centerline halt.

Her next to last trailer ride was on the way to a horse show with her best buddy, Pooh Bear. I thought that this would be the one trailer ride that she might enjoy because she had Pooh along with her. She was fairly good until we got within 15 minutes of the showground. Then, she decided she was going to kill Pooh Bear. When the trailer started lurching around with screaming and banging issuing forth, I pulled over immediately and promptly removed her from it. In her efforts to make mincemeat of Pooh, she had lacerated an artery in her leg and was spraying blood like a fountain from just above her shipping wraps. I called for someone to come and get Pooh so he could get to the show (there were 3 students there waiting for the horses to arrive) and called my husband (at the time) to come and get Gretchen and take her to the vet. There was nothing I could do with her leg as each time I even tried to look at it, she went into a screaming rage and tried to kick my head off. My assistant and I could only stand and watch her, tied to the outside of the trailer, spraying blood on all the shrubbery near-by and occasionally making threats to kill everybody. I had a tranquilizer that the vet recommended I give her, but it only seemed to agitate her more. After Pooh left and husband arrived, we put Gretchen back in the trailer and he quickly drove away with her. His instructions were to not stop for anything and I’m sure it was a harrowing hour long drive. As I watched the trailer pull away,swaying with each mighty kick she gave and listening to her bellowing inside, I was relieved that I wasn’t the one making it.

She got to the vet and was stitched up in numerous places and x-rayed for other damage. Even with quilted shipping wraps and bell boots, she had many lacerations and had even fractured a splint bone. I can’t even imagine what damage she would have done without the wraps on. After she recovered from her anaesthesia, I was then faced with the problem of getting her home again. Thankfully, the vet loaned me the use of his 4 horse stock trailer. Gretchen was crosstied in the middle of it and tranquilized enough to make her drowsy, but not so much that she couldn’t keep her feet and I took her home. That was the most peaceful trailer ride I ever had with the old Sasquatch. It was also the last.

Some may say that there could have been a way to trailer her without so much distress; a different type of trailer, or having her stand diagonally, or rear-facing, maybe. The truth is, it just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth the headache nor the financial distress of trailer repairs and vet bills, to keep experimenting. So Gretchen was grounded. Everybody was happier.

Gretchen was used in horse camp and a lot of lessons. She was a good horse for teaching kids and adults to be careful. If you were careless, she’d bite or kick. You had to be on your guard all the time. If you paid attention, you were okay, but let your mind wander for a second or get too complacent and she’d give you a swift reminder. She was also a great one for teaching someone to stand up for herself. If you backed down from Gretchen’s threats, she only got worse; the way a school bully preys on the weak and defenseless. If you gave as much of a threat right back at her, she’d respect you and settle down. If you coddled her or flinched, her power increased ten-fold and she became the wicked step-mother of all the most hideous fairy-tales.

Off the subject for the moment, but why was the step-mother always the wicked one in those stories? There were no wicked aunties or cousins, no evil father-in-laws or great-uncles. The step-mother got a bum rap.

I could write volumes about Gretchen’s exploits here on the farm. There was the time she trapped a student behind a tree. There was the time she tried to kill Rocket in the horse trailer, a half mile from home, and got hung up on the divider in the process so that I had to push her off of it. There was the time she ran away with a little girl in the field (all the school horses ran away that day) and the poor student ended up falling off Gretchen and onto a rock wall. For each of those times, there were more moments of her giving students a good ride in a lesson. For all of her quirks and disasters, I was fond of the cantankerous old mare.

She finally passed away at the age of 29 and she died the way she lived: on her own terms and making my life difficult. She passed away one evening after eating her dinner normally and giving no indication that it was her last meal. It is true that she was not in great health. She had Cushing’s, she was losing weight, her appetite wasn’t good, her teeth and eyesight were in poor condition and she was relatively feeble. She was discovered in the morning, dead in her paddock, with no signs of trauma or distress. It must have been a heart attack or aneurysm that took her quickly. I had a busy day planned with many important appointments and places to be that day, but it all had to be canceled so that I could arrange to have her buried.

Even after all of the times I cursed her, and all the times she hurt herself, I still grieved her passing. I accepted her for who she was and kept her until the end.

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