"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life" Prov. 13:12
It’s been an incredible week. After my first real ride in years, during which, yes, I got sick, and yes the next day was painful, I recovered quickly enough to go out again the 2nd day after. It was just a short ride, maybe an 1 1/2 hours, walking through the cattle in a few different fields to check on them and find a calf that had seemingly been abandoned the night before but luckily it had mothered up to another cow. It was far less demanding on me and I felt fine when we got back in. I have vowed to ride every other day until I am strong enough to ride daily and still do my chores. Right now, I can only manage riding a few hours then I am pretty much used up and at my limit, so I try to make up for it the following day, making dinner and cleaning up the house. The activity is reaping so many rewards, that even I, who am well aware of the mechanics and benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy am amazed. After just the initial two rides, I was able to force myself up early Saturday morning, walk not just to our corral, which has long been a challenge due to my weakness, but all the way to the corral behind the big ranch barn. I caught up my horse and led him all the way back. I was, of course, accompanied by my two giant Maremma Livestock Guardian Dogs who recently figured out their radio fence was no longer working, after 6 months of it being turned off. They worry about me. In fact, I have such a history, it seems that EVERYONE worries about me.
I knew the cowboys planned to be on the way by 8 am and TheMan, who had been putting my shoes and spurs on for me as I haven’t the flexibility to reach my feet, and was also saddling my horse as I cannot lift the heavy saddle, was still in bed with his back hurting. I had managed to get my shoes and spurs on myself which was a pretty big deal for me, and with a mighty grunt, determination and a slight injury to the muscle in my right arm, I got the saddle up. I locked the dogs in the yard with Heath, because I knew they would insist on going with me and that cannot be allowed to happen. One of the cowboys was kind enough to tighten my cinch, which is still beyond me, and we headed off. We gathered a huge field of weaned calves so they could get a head count. I, of course, didn’t work as hard and wasn’t nearly as effective as the other two, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I got my big bunch up in the corner and held them while they brought the rest of the field up and it took about 4 hours all total to do their thing. (There were close to 1300 spring calves). It was noon, cold and windy and I only had on a long sleeved shirt, and during the gather my little package with my pain pill in it fell to the ground where I looked and considered, that getting down to pick it back up would mean about a 2 mile walk on foot to get back on my horse again. I chose to sacrifice it.
At noon, we had put all the calves back into the field and had pushed them up to the feed bunks where TheMan was preparing to bring the big truck of their medicated feed. There wasn’t much else to do, so I excused myself and went back to the house for a drink. I was debating whether or not to go back out and help move pairs, as they had a full day of riding to do, or if I should start training Heath how to behave around horses. I chose the latter, as I hate leaving him home, and so does he. The problem is, he is very bonded to me and has never seen me horseback. The first time I got on Wimpy, it upset him and he was barking and jumping at us and getting underfoot. I was worried he would get one or both of us hurt, and I can’t afford either.
When I got to the yard, Heath was waiting for me at the gate and he held me there for several minutes while he jumped up to kiss my face and wiggle and make his little grateful and yet chiding whiney sounds at me, to let me know how sincerely wounded he was to be left behind. He became the obvious choice.
I had put some thought into how I was going to handle him, and decided to also kick it around with his breeder who is a professional dog trainer and always has wonderful input on how to help Heath to reach our goals. With a pocket full of dog treats we headed out to where I had my horse tied up. Heath was jumping, running ahead of me, sniffing and wandering and doing his own thing. He ran across the big corral, excited to be out loose and went under the fence to peek in the barn. One of the cowdogs lives there and isn’t especially fond of pups or other dogs in “his” territory. I was happy to see Heath take the hint and slowly back away with his tail wagging and his head turned away in a kind of submissive posture. It shows he is thinking and not acting like a testosterone crazed dipwad who loves a challenge. I prefer a dog who tries to get along. He seems to be that dog.
I called him as I got my horse up alongside the mounting block I required, but as I stepped up, Heath once again, walked under the horse and was just kinda being clueless. I had already spent some time teaching him tricks like “get behind” using arm signals so he knew what that meant and just needed to apply it to riding. I gave the signal and told him to get behind and tossed a treat behind the horse as we rode away. Heath scarfed it up then went to run past me and again, I repeated the action Each time Heath got his treat then headed past me to explore and I repeated the command. It didn’t take but a couple of minutes for him to realize, if he didn’t stay behind my horse, he was likely to miss some treats. We rode for about 20 minutes up and down the long lane toward the pastures and he placed himself perfectly behind me at a walk and trot as I occasionally praised him and tossed a treat behind me. Then we did a few sit-stays and down-stays while I rode away from him. He did a fantastic job. It felt so good to have my partner with me and to have him actually complying and still having a great time. We have a little more work to do, to be a bit more solid, as he needs to be able to perform this well with the distraction of other horses, dogs and cattle around him, but I am really looking forward to the day he can go with me for every ride.
And that dark cloud that had enveloped me for months, dragging me down and making me feel hopeless? It has disappeared completely, the Son has come out to shine on my life and I am looking forward to getting stronger and healthier in spite of my disease, and riding every possible day that I can. Hope is back.