The CallThursday, July 22, 2016, I received a Facebook message out-of-the-blue from the son of the folks who owned the barn I worked at for a few years during high school. I say "out-of-the-blue" because while I'm still Facebook friends with all parties (those with social media) we rarely interact as we once did. Life has a way of doing that.
The message from the son simply stated, "Hey, call my dad sometime, he needs to talk to you."
My radar was officially up and whirring with that statement.
Whirring with a vengeance.
You see, while I've definitely kept up with the lady who employed me the most and her son second to that, his dad was the piece of the puzzle that fell to the wayward. The couple went their separate ways in 2008 while I was in college and have since found other partners. Everyone is happy now.
I knew there was only one reason for this man to reach out to me suddenly.
Stan, whom I've mentioned time and time again on this blog - though not for a very long while (and if you're not familiar, please click back to those links to better understand) - was always the father's horse. When the couple split, I was still allowed to come see and ride Stan, but it just wasn't the same as before.
|Peak fitness August 2007; this was the period of my life when I rode without a helmet, for shame, I know|
As I welcomed horses of my own into my life, my visits with Stan faded away as I sadly knew they would. But I was okay with that. I knew he was safe and happy as could be - and that was all that mattered.
And regardless of our time together coming to an end, somewhere deep inside, I knew it wasn't truly "over". I just had this spark of a feeling that one day he'd be mine.
|August 2006 one of the first photos of Stan and I|
Well, that "one day" came crashing down upon my life a lot sooner than anticipated!
I called Stan's owner up within 24 hours of receiving notice from his son. He unfortunately wasn't home at the time, but his wife filled me in on everything.
They were getting "out of horses". They wanted to give Stan to me. They wanted to know he was in a safe forever home that would ride him.
How could I say no?
I accepted her offer and promised to call later in the week to arrange pick up.
The Pick UpAfter a few missed calls from me to them due to schedules being crazy on both parts, I was finally able to reach them on Tuesday, July 26, to discuss pick up options. I let them know I could either do that Thursday or Sunday evening. They chose Sunday, July 31, but noted to me that if I needed more time, that was okay, too, as long as he was gone before winter because they wouldn't be buying hay. I thanked them for the leniency, but noted that I was eager to get him into work as I knew it would be a process. The sooner we started, the sooner we'd see results.
And so life whirled by crazily for another few days as I eagerly awaited Sunday evening.
Sunday arrived and they gave me a call around noon to check in to see what time I was planning to come get Stan later in the day. We agreed on 6ish. I'm pretty sure Dave was ready to just put me in a sanatorium after that call, I was so jittery with excitement. I swear I tried to contain it!
Time passed, as it does, and before I knew it I was pulling the trailer up that long driveway that I used to gallop up with Stan.
The farm looked as it always did, though the grass was a bit longer than it ever was when there was a herd of geldings and a herd of mares on site.
|October 2007, galloping in a farmer's hay field|
I turned the trailer around in the empty space where the old barn had stood from my time there, sadly remembering as I did so the fire that killed one horse and burned the barn to the ground during the fall of 2008.
As I finished parking the trailer, a familiar old face ran down the hill to greet me, Jeb, one of their dogs whom I remembered fondly. I hadn't expected any of the dogs to be alive and kicking still. They'd been middle aged at best the last time I was at the farm and it's been 5 or 6 years since then.
I loved and petted on the old man as Stan's owners walked down from the house to meet me.
We chatted amiably as we walked into the barn where Stan and the two other geldings were. One of the geldings had already left for his new home the week prior and was doing great, the other two were still awaiting someone to show interest, though it sounds like there are some leads.
I was filled in on how Stan's vaccines are all up to date, though they didn't have his Coggins done as they knew they wouldn't be going anywhere - they hadn't left the property with the horses in 3 or so years. Stan had hardly been ridden at all during that time! My vet (also their vet) had all of his records and had drawn the blood for Coggins (and will hopefully be running it for me) a week or so prior to my picking up Stan. The only health-related item they hadn't addressed was his feet which were quite long in the toe - but not neglectfully so at all. I assured them I'd take care of that [myself] in the following day or two.
They also gave me Stan's papers - he's registered AQHA - for my own records. Dynamic in a Flash, a 2001 model. I've always been told "he's Appendix" but never really investigated much further. He doesn't have any TB for at least 5 generations of his pedigree on both sides - that's hardly Appendix and much more QH! Regardless, he still has quite a lanky frame - especially when he's fit! His heart girth is smaller than both Q's and Griffin's!
I began to walk to the trailer for a halter but they redirected me to grab his halter - the same one he's had since 2005 - from the rack instead. I grabbed it, walked over to Stan who was standing with his head out of his stall participating in our conversation. As I approached with the halter to put it on, Stan put his face into it to help me, seemingly understanding what was happening and eager about the whole ordeal.
|Yep, this halter and lead! After winning English High Point (plate is etched with the award)|
August 2006 (only true show I ever did)
I opened the trailer door and his owner walked Stan right onto the trailer. As we closed the trailer door a moment later, I thanked them profusely for this opportunity. It was a dream come true. They smiled, as they had been the whole time I was there, and thanked me for giving him such a good home as they knew he'd have with me.
The twenty minute trailer ride home was uneventful; Stan hauled like an old pro.
I unloaded him at the farm and he off loaded, a little sweaty and a tiny bit wild-eyed (as wild-eyed as he gets, which is NOTHING compared to my other two, hahaha) as he looked around his new surroundings. Compared to my other two, he was so. stoic.
The horses in the field took notice, but they didn't come running immediately. I tied Stan up in the barn and set to grooming him. When his old owners said he hadn't done much, they meant it! He'd been loose in the field except for making sure his feet and health were taken care of for a long while.
His mane and tail told the story very well. While not matted at all, his thick, long tail was in dire need of brushing. It took me 20-30 minutes to get it combed out and soft! His mane on the other hand was past saving. Most of it was in one large dread that hung halfway to his knees and the rest was broken off and scraggly. Y'all know me and manes (excluding forelocks), I'm definitely not against roaching!
And so off it came. It'll grow back with time and I'll keep it much healthier.
|After shots; the mud on his legs just wasn't going to come off on this day|
Once I'd groomed Stan to my heart's content, I settled him into the "timeout" paddock for the night (and next few days) with Mare who is in there to lose some weight before she founders for true. [It's the "timeout" paddock because we put horses in there for various reasons but all result in spending time out of the normal pasture. The pasture borders the paddock on one side though, so horses can interact. Safely from behind the fence.]
I visited the barn daily for the first several days Stan was in my possession, though I only groomed and fed him on one of the days (Aug. 2) because it was the week leading up to RBTR and I had a lot to do!
Getting SettledOn Monday, August 1, I trimmed Stan's feet. I took all of his toes back to where they needed to be and left his heels as they were for the time being. I didn't want to change too much too quickly for him. His heels and a little more toe will come off in coming weeks as he slowly adjusts to the changes. These are probably the shortest feet he's had in a very long time and they'll eventually be the shortest toes with lowest heels he's had in his life when I'm done! He's moving really nicely already with his shorter toes, so I can't wait to see how he continues to feel and move with time.
Following his trim, I rode him on a trail ride with Lauren. Q was a Very Bad Pony during this ride and grabbed the bit and bolted for home, knocking Lauren off as she went through two tight consecutive turns on the way back. This resulted in Lauren and I riding Stan double back to the barn. Stan is a Very Good Horse.
On Wednesday, August 3, Stan once again played the part of the lesson horse for one of my other students and did very well. He seemed slightly confused, but he's a Very Good Horse, so he figured things out and was a doll. I told him he'd be doing this 2 hours a week for the foreseeable future - he's got to work for his board. ;-)
On Thursday, August 4, I introduced Stan into his new herd. Lauren and I pulled Q and Griffin out for RBTR and turned out Stan as soon as they were in; I didn't know how excited and crazy the herd dynamic would become with the introduction of a new horse and didn't want Q and Griffin involved prior to RBTR.
Every introduction is different. Stan was herd leader and has been for years at his place. He's been living with geldings almost exclusively for the past 11 years of his life, too. (This is at no fault of his - it was policy at The Pony Garage to keep mares and geldings in separate fields and when that business dissolved, it was predominantly geldings who were kept on the farm.) I had no idea how things would go since he'd have mares to live with and another dominant gelding who had been in charge or a herd as long or longer than Stan!
Stan whinnied to the herd as soon as I took his halter off and trotted toward them. Little Bit (LB; herd leader) came charging over at his fanciest running walk (he's TWH) with neck arched and a challenge in his eyes. The two geldings slowed on approach, necks arching, nostrils flaring. They sniffed near each other for a moment, Stan squealed, and then turned and trotted off the other way. The herd followed at a slow trot, pushing Stan along.
And that was that.
The herd followed and pushed him around with their body language, and Stan let them, grazing all the while.
By Sunday when I returned from RBTR, everyone was at an agreement that Stan would stay on the outskirts of the herd and be left alone. If he tried to be close to anyone, LB or Oliver would send him away with the threat of teeth and hooves.
The introduction of Q and Griffin back into the herd was fascinating.
The whole herd (8 horses total now with 3 mares and 5 geldings with ages ranging from 6 to 22; Mayer is still in timeout) was waiting for Q and Griffin at the gate. I used my body language to tell the to back up and give us room as I brought them in and turned them loose. As SOON as I had released them and exited the field the herd SWARMED around the two of them and drove Stan AWAY. They kept him away as both Q and Griffin had a good roll and continued to keep him away until both horses were settled and ready to communicate on their own.
I've never personally witnessed horses doing this before. It made sense to me from a behavioral ecology standpoint, but I was so surprised and thrilled to observe it.
And here we are, a week plus later and things are well. Stan has "a mare" he spends most of his time with. Not surprising at all it's the mare he was stalled beside for 5 years of his life. Can I stand her? Nope. Not at all. We've never gotten on well in the eleven years I've known her. But she's a good friend to Stan (and Griffin) regardless of my feelings about her.
The other horses have stopped chasing Stan away and he's allowed to stand with them, albeit at a slightly buffered distance. He's also allowed to spend time with the lower ranking mare (obviously) and the lower ranking gelding in the herd. He seems to have "taken them in" as "his own". Things seem pretty peaceful, though I'm sure the social dynamics will still shuffle around for awhile, but with more subtlety than before.
Q has been positively grouchy toward Stan until the past few days. Now she suddenly is obsessed with wanting to be "his mare". He honestly doesn't care one way or the other about her. He's got a friend and the other horses aren't bossing him about so aggressively, so he's content. But I'm getting a hoot out of watching her advances on a gelding who truly gives zero fucks as to her presence. She really doesn't know WHAT to do about it and so far just stands there, seemingly flummoxed for a moment or two every time he just walks by her with no more than the tiniest of ear flicks about her presence.
TrainingI've had Stan on the lunge line multiple times in side reins. He's got a lot of fitness to build back and a lot of muscling. Beyond general fitness, my biggest goal is to make that pencil-thin neck of his a bit more attractive! Lots of work using his body properly will get it there in no time, I've just got to set him up for success.
|First time with side reins|
|Second time with side reins|
|He wouldn't quit yawning on this day!|
I've also ridden him solo multiple times. To start, our sessions have been very brief 15-20 minutes. He's in a new-to-him place, he's very affected by the sight and influence of his new herd, and he hasn't had to truly *work* in a very long time. With each session, I gain more of his attention and I am witnessing him starting to "get it". He's slowly understanding what work is again and it's very exciting.
Over the past weekend I finally felt comfortable taking him out in the back field for some work. I don't distrust him or expect him to act out and hurt me, but I want to be absolutely certain he is going to have a good experience and set him up for success. He was a little bit up (for him) at the beginning, but he did settle into work and we even popped over the cavaletti and a small crossrail some!
|January 2007 I was a crazy kid|
|December 2011, bareback pad|
Also, probably one of the last rides I had on Stan
Riding him feels like HOME. He's comfortable and So Honest. I'm so, so excited to get him back into shape and have fun on the trails like we used to and finally do the jumping I always wanted to do with him. <3
So, welcome back to my life and welcome back to the blog, Stan. I'm really excited you're here and I'm interested to see how I manage to keep you and Q and Griffin in work! And that will be the most interesting thing about this whole development! Can Liz more acutely manage her time than she already does? Tune in later to find out!